Little Flurries knitalong part five: making up

Hello, and welcome to the fifth and final post of the Little Flurries knitalong! This week you are going to be making up your sweaters. Don’t worry, though, if you aren’t at this stage yet. These posts will remain up indefinitely, so you can come back and use this tutorial whenever you’re ready, free of charge.

When I was designing Little Flurries, I knew that I needed a child-friendly neckline. Toddlers heads are disproportionately large, and there are few things more annoying than spending ages knitting a jumper and finding that it won’t go over the recipient’s head. (Yes, I’ve been there.) So I went for a lovely, traditional envelope neckline, which will stretch really wide to go on, but then sit snug and warm over the little person’s shoulders.

The making up starts with this neckline. Lay out your front and back pieces as shown in the photo below. It’s really important that the back shoulder pieces lie on top of the front ones.

You need to overlap the pieces enough so that the curve of the necklines just about meet, like so:

Once you’re happy with your layout, pin the edges of the sweater front and back to the pointed ends of the shoulders:

I started with the right shoulder.

Next, you need to sew these pieces together. The shoulder pieces are actually quite curvy, so don’t expect them to lie flat. Using your fingers and your common sense, start with the tail of yarn at one end and sew the shoulders together, adjusting the fabric as you go.

This isn’t a seam that’s going to be opened out, so you just sew up and down through both layers. Try to make sure that you pick up a whole stitch on both pieces each time. You can see me doing this in the photo below. However, that isn’t always possible, particularly on the pointed ends.

Keep going until you have sewn the shoulders together. The edge should start to look nice and neat in your wake:

When you reach the end of the seam, weave in your end to secure it.

Now you need to find the centre, or topmost point, of the shoulder. Carefully rearrange your sweater pieces so that the neckline is sitting nicely and, using a knitting needle, extend the line from where the front and back meet around the neck to the outer edge of the shoulder. Mark this point with a safety pin.

Now fold the top of your sleeve in half (vertically) to find its centre, and pin the centre of the sleeve to the centre of the shoulder, as shown below.

IMPORTANT: If you have knitted the foldover ‘mitten’ extensions onto the bottoms of your sleeves, make sure that they both lie towards the back of the jumper.

Next you need to measure the specified length from the centre of the shoulder to find where the back underarm point will be. Use your tape measure to find this point, like so: (Ignore the fact that the image is mirrored – it is correct like this.)

Attach the back corner of the sleeve top to this point with another safety pin, and do the same on the front of the sleeve and sweater. Your sweater should look like mine, below.

The rest of the sleeve and body is sewn together in exactly the same way as the Snow Day jumper, so I’ve used that tutorial below. Please don’t be alarmed by the sudden change in the colour of the yarn; it’s just a different sweater. The instructions are correct!

Cut a long piece of yarn and thread it through your tapestry needle. Pull it through the centre of the sleeve top and the shoulder seam, stopping halfway. You’re going to sew the sleeve from the shoulder seam to the armpit in one direction, and then the other, using the same length of yarn. I tend to sew towards the left first, because I am right handed.

Sew the sleeve to the body. The body stitches are easy: stay one stitch (one complete V) in from the edge and pick up the little bit of yarn than runs across the back of the stitches. You can see me picking this up in this photo, below:

The ‘knit’ stitches of the ribbing are picked up as little Vs. The ‘purl’ stitches are harder to pick up as neatly. Just stay a full stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, don’t pull your stitches too tight and honestly, don’t sweat it. Trust me, as long as you get the stitches on the body right, and keep the sleeve spread evenly against the body, the sleeve will look fabulous. Here’s mine:

and of course it will look even better after blocking.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Now it’s time to sew down the side seam. Align the top of the garter stitch notches on both the front and the back edges, like so:

and pin in place. You’ll notice that the back of the jumper is longer than the front; this is as it should be. Pin the seam, making sure that it is evenly joined all the way from the top of the notch to the underarm.

This is a really easy seam to sew. Just stay one stitch (V) in from the edge and pick up those little horizontal strands of yarn that are hiding behind the stitches. The rows should match up almost exactly. If not, just skip the odd row on either the front or the back, keeping things nice and smooth and even. Again, don’t pull your stitches too tight.

See? The seam is almost invisible already, and it will disappear altogether after blocking.

Now sew up the other side seam.

Finally, it’s time to sew up the sleeve seams. Pin them, taking care to match the bottom edge and the decreases that you made.

Starting at the armpit, thread either a long tail of yarn or a new length and start to sew the seam together. You’ll notice that there are two knit stitches by the edge on one side (looking very neat and V-ish) and two purl stitches on the other side (looking very chaotic). Starting with the purl side, pick up a horizontal strand – or something similar, it really doesn’t matter that much – one stitch in from the edge. Here I am doing this:

On the other, tidy knit stitch side, pick up a horizontal strand. Take care to work exactly one stitch in from the edge, so that you have two lovely neat columns of Vs left outside of the seam:

The reason for this is that when you’ve made a few stitches and pulled them through, it looks virtually seamless:

See? The knit two purl two rib is uninterrupted. However, let’s be honest, this is a seam which is in the recipient’s armpit. Anyone who’s looking that closely probably loves them enough not to mind if your seams are a bit wobbly.

Carry on down the length of the sleeve. May I remind you one last time not to pull those stitches too tight? You’ll find that the increases mean that you have more or fewer knit and purl stitches on each side, and that sometimes the knit stitches and purl stitches even end up on opposite sides to where they started! It really doesn’t matter. Keep stitching things together, one stitch in from the edge, and you’ll end up with a lovely sleeve seam like this:

If you are making a jumper with foldover mittens, you need to fold the mitten extension up onto the outside of the back of the sleeve, and pin it in place along the sleeve seam and the vertical centre fold of the sleeve. Starting at the underarm, sew the seam in the same way as you sewed the side seams. (Sew the vertical mitten seams, but do not sew the horizontal top opening of the mitten shut.) Do the same to the other sleeve.

Now it’s time to weave in all those ends.

There is no magic way to weave ends in, but here are my top tips:

  1. if the end is within spitting distance of a seam, wend your way over there and then go up and down the seam a bit,
  2. 4 inches is plenty to weave in,
  3. work on the wrong side but remember to keep checking the right side in case you can see the woven in end,
  4. work in one direction for a few stitches (up, or left) and then the opposite direction (down or right) before changing direction again, and
  5. resist the urge to tie knots.

As you feel that each end is woven in, snip it off with an inch to spare. The end will adjust when you block it, and then you can snip it right off. This bit of extra length stops it annoyingly poking out or getting loose after blocking.

To block your jumper, soak it in lukewarm (tepid) water for about half an hour – it should be sopping wet. Drain the water and press the jumper against the sides of the basin to get rid of excess water. Lift the jumper out, taking care not to let any parts of it dangle or stretch. Lay it out on a clean towel, roll it up in the towel, and press (or stand!) on it to get the water out of the jumper and into the towel.

By now it should just be damp, rather than soaking. You need a flat surface that won’t be damaged by (or cause damage to) a damp jumper. Take some time to arrange the jumper on this surface, smoothing out any lumps and bumps and making sure that the neckline is lying just so. Use your tape measure to make sure that it is the right width and length. Then leave it to dry.

However, if you’ve knit this in the superwash wool specified in the pattern, and you washed and dried your swatch in a different way, then you should be fine to go ahead and wash and dry the sweater in that way also.

Doing this ‘sets’ the stitches – if you unravelled them now they would be very wiggly indeed. This helps the jumper to hold its shape. It also evens out any uneven stitches in your knitting and smooths the seams.

 

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: Introducing Under the Ice socks

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

It won’t  come as a surprise to anyone that I like to knit my own socks. Hand-knit socks are the warmest, softest, best-fitting socks of all. They are, as Ilse says, like little jumpers for your feet. With the first frosts biting in our part of the world, I’ve been reaching for a pair every day.

Nor will it surprise you to learn that I don’t have an impressive drawer full of socks. I tend to have three or four pairs at any one time, switching out the baggiest and most holey for a new pair each winter. That’s enough for my needs (and our laundry routine) and enough, as they say, is as good as a feast.

Hand-knit socks are expensive, if you buy them – and rightly so. Someone, somewhere in the world, will have spent literally hours and hours on them. If you would like some hand-knit socks and don’t want to knit  them for yourself, you could do much worse than to buy a beautiful pair through a fair-trade concern, ensuring that the maker is properly rewarded for their effort and skill.

I prefer to spend less money on some yarn, and make a slightly larger donation to a development charity, because I love knitting socks. At this time of year, when the frenzy of carol concerts and nativities and children’s parties hits fever pitch, there is nothing I like more than a quiet evening in front of the fire, working round and round on a pair of socks. Sometimes I decide I want that so much that someone gets a pair for Christmas, on top of the pair I knit for myself. This year Ilse has been lamenting her outgrown pair, and I have been happy to oblige her by making her these ones, rather than the hats that the others are receiving. Everyone – including me – is happy.

Socks are one of those things that really make me stop and think about fast fashion. Really, the amount of time it takes to knit a pair of short socks like these pales in comparison to the effort involved in keeping your family in fine-knit woollen over-the-knee stockings. Prior to machine knitting, socks must surely have been a highly-prized possession for all but the very wealthy. And while, nowadays, there are people who devote themselves to knitting the most spectacular sock wardrobes, I can’t imagine having the time to do anything of the sort with a whole family to clothe from scratch. There is a reason we darned socks rather than starting afresh. In a time when I can pick up a pack of socks along with my groceries, they have become hugely underappreciated.

Last winter I wanted to see how much effort it would take to make a pair of socks from raw fleece. There is a wonderful documentary series, made by RTI in the 1970s, called Hands, which explores a whole range of traditional Irish crafts. In one episode, a woman spins yarn from their own sheep to knit her husband a warm new pair of socks. Armed with a fairly fine sheep’s fleece and some alpaca (for strength), I set about doing the same, and I’m wearing the resulting pair as I write this. They are the nicest pair of socks I’ve ever had: soft and warm and strong and elastic. But more than that, I’ve learned a lot of new skills and have a deeper appreciation of the true value of clothing.

I went back to basics this year, creating a pattern along the lines of the first pair that I ever knit, with short row toe and then the heel formed in exactly the same way. It’s a forgiving first pair, because you get to master the hardest part of the sock straight away, and so there’s no danger of having to frog any previous work. Given the fact that I’ve written the pattern out in full English as well as knitters’ abbreviations, there’s little danger of any frogging at all. In fact, I’ve written a full four-part photographed tutorial of every step, just to make things crystal clear. If you can knit reasonably confidently in the round (magic loop on circular needles, though there’s no reason why these couldn’t be worked on four needles), you can make these socks. Even if you’ve never used magic loop before, it’s pretty easy and I do explain it in the tutorials – socks were my first magic loop project and I didn’t come a cropper.

We’ve named these socks Under the Ice because that is what they look like: a  cross-section of a frozen pond in winter. As I wrote for the pattern notes:

Each year, early December is when I realise that the November weather I had mistaken for winter was merely autumn. There are fewer and fewer eggs in the nesting boxes when I go thaw the hens’ drinker, and the birdbath that we keep filled for wild visitors is more often filled with ice than water. I smash the ice on both into a million tiny crystals which glisten on the lawn until the sun finally touches them. But in our little pond, the ice is left intact. There, it sustains life, acting as a strange blanket against the harsher cold above. Under the ice, life goes on. Dormant creatures, from dozing frogs to larvae too small to see lie in the still-wet water beneath. The very depths of the pond are the warmest, where even the coldest Yorkshire night can’t reach.

There is, however, nothing to stop you knitting these in another colour way (my sister is making an ombre pair in two tones of pink), or omitting the stripes altogether. I’ve also included basic instructions on how to knit a pair with contrasting heels and toes. This is a bit of a blank-slate pattern; get this down and you’ll be able to play with colour as you like.

I’ll release the pattern on Monday 3 December, in my Ravelry and Etsy shops. It’ll be available for free for the first 24 hours on Ravelry, so do pop over and pick a copy up if you would like one. After that it’ll become a paid-for pattern, but the tutorials will remain available for free indefinitely.

What with all my Christmas knitting (which is moving along nicely) and the other projects I have lined up, I won’t be getting to my own pair of socks until the new year, but that’s fine by me. I’ve chosen some deliciously soft yarn in Old Pink and am looking forward to a bit of soothing knitting to carry me through those cold, dark evenings. So if you don’t have time for sock knitting this December, I hope you’ll join me in January instead.

Madeleine

Are you an aspiring sock knitter, or an accomplished one? Anyone fancy having a go at these?

 

A-line skirt sewalong part four: the hem

Welcome back to the final part of the A-line skirt tutorial. You’re nearly there: follow these steps and you will have finished your skirt!

The first thing you need to do is try your skirt on, ideally with some of the other things you will be wearing with it. This is so that you can decide precisely how long you want it to be. With the help of an assistant, try pinning it up to various lengths. When you find a length you like, ask them to use tailors’ chalk, a fabric marker or pins to mark the desired length of your skirt.

If necessary, trim your skirt fabric so that there is an even 5cm/ 2” seam allowance all the way around. (If you have less spare fabric available, make your hem thinner.)

Then turn 2cm/ 1/2” under all the way around and press. (Mine looks really wobbly, but this is an extreme close up – and it’s linen!)

Then turn a further 3cm/ 1 1/2” under and press again.

Pin this seam into place. Try the skirt on to check that the hem is even. Adjust it if necessary.

Then hand stitch the hem into place all the way around. To do this, work with your skirt inside out. Secure your knot in the seam allowance on one side of the skirt. Insert your needle under just two or three threads of the skirt.

Then push the needle into the hem. Run it along the folded edge and bring it out a centimetre or so further along.

Insert it into the skirt directly underneath where it emerges, picking up just two or three stitches.

From the right side, you should only be able to see tiny little stitches, if you look closely.

Sew all the way round, removing the pins, and then you’re done.

Give it a good press, put it on and enjoy!

Madeleine

I hope you’ve enjoyed making your skirt, and have found these tutorials helpful. Have you learned any new skills during this project?

And so to bed

Brace yourselves, because that was the only vaguely pretty photo that this garden post has to offer. November is descending into darkness and we spent a final Saturday afternoon putting the garden to bed together. I snapped a few quick photographs on my phone just as the sun was threatening to slip below the city-stunted horizon, and empty beds are not the most photogenic of subjects. Yet when I’m reading about other people’s gardens, I want to see the work behind the scenes, and not just the glamour shots of sweet peas in all their finery.

My task this weekend was to clear the cut flower bed and protect the tender plants. A couple of old fleeces, too full of second cuts and noils to be worth my limited spinning time, had been put aside for just this purpose. They’re protecting the incredibly productive alstroemeria, some freesias and, for the first time ever, my gladioli bulbs. I’ve always dug them up and overwintered them in the garage before, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I still have a mountain of compost and leaves to dump on top of the whole bed, to protect and feed it over the coming months, but I’m waiting for some muscle to come home from university for that particular task. That, or a burst of energy and enthusiasm one bright morning. I have shifted a lot of compost over the last couple of weeks and need a bit of a break.

The veg patch is done, for now. Before dealing with each bed, I worked out the crop rotation for next year so that I can treat each accordingly.

Two beds got a few inches of compost.

This one will have roots in it next year, so it only gets a layer of cardboard.

The fourth bed (just out of sight to the left) has this winter’s roots and other veg still in it, but it’ll get a mountain of compost dug in come spring, and the beans and peas that will be planted will be perfectly happy in there.

I still need to prune the fruit bushes, so didn’t think to take a photo of the fruit patch. It’ll be pruned and each bush given a top dressing of organic fertiliser. I love growing fruit; you get maximum output for minimum input.

My PSB are loving the colder weather, as are the leeks.

The perpetual spinach still has a couple of meals left in it,

and although the parsnips look unimpressive above ground, they are one of my consistently huge harvests every year. We virtually never buy them, and we dig them up all winter.

I do need to bring in and use the end of the beetroot though, before we get any serious frosts.

The flower bed by the patio has been mulched by the apple tree above it, and I’m inclined to leave it like this, apples and all. The birds and other wildlife love them and it makes a convenient blanket for this bed.

I have to say, fresh air and excercise apart, there is something faintly sad about a November garden. There’s a line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem that pops into my head every time I go out there at the moment: The trees have wept their leaves. They certainly have. But there’s also pleasure to be taken in doing things for the very last time this year: the last bit of strimming, the last mow, the last weeding of a bed. The garden is fast becoming a blank canvas, ready and waiting for spring.

Not all is asleep out there though. For the first time ever, I filled our hanging baskets with violas and they look so pretty, these little flashes of colour either side of our front door. Seb spent some of his pocket money at the pet shop this weekend, and filled his bird feeders with fatballs again. Bulb lasagnas have been planted. The hens are still laying, just about. We’re planning a night-time birthday party out there, with a big fire and a barbecue and hide and seek in the dark. The garden might have been put to bed, but it’ll be lying awake for some time yet.

Madeleine

Have you put your garden/ pots/ patio to bed for the winter yet – or are things just waking up into spring where you live?

 

Little Flurries knitalong part four: the sleeves

Welcome back for the next Little Flurries tutorial. This week you’re going to make the sleeves. Because little people’s arms are so small, you’re going to use your smaller needles. This will ensure that the ribbing stays nice and stretchy, keeping their arms warm but unencumbered.

You cast on at the top of the sleeves. It is vital that you use a stretchy cast on, and one of your larger needles, as you’re going to need this cast on edge to be able to stretch right around the armscye. If you already have a stretchy cast on that you like to use, then go ahead and cast on the correct number of stitches on one of your larger needles. If not, I’ve included some instructions for a stretchy cast on method here.

Make a slip knot and  place it on one of your larger needles, like so:

Make sure you’ve left a long tail, as you’re going to use the yarn from your tail – as well as from the ball – to create the cast on stitches.

Arrange your yarn so that the ball is on your right and the long tail on your left. Then, holding the needle in one hand (or under your arm, if you’re an Irish lever knitter like me) use your left hand to create a diamond as shown in the photograph below. Make sure that your thumb and forefinger are holding out the sides of the diamond.

Move your needle so that it is pointing towards your thumb:

keep going until it goes past and over the yarn held out by your thumb, and then bring it back towards the centre again, going under the outer strand of yarn in the process. It should look like the photo below.

Now keep the needle moving towards the right, so that it goes past and over the yarn held out by your forefinger:

and again, bring it back in so that it comes under the top strand of yarn held out by your forefinger, picking it up on the way, as shown below.

Now take the loop of yarn on your thumb and pass it over the pointy end of your needle:

until you’ve looped it over the top.

Now you can let go of both of your ends and pull them tight. You’ve made a beautifully stretchy cast on stitch. Ta da!

Keep casting on in this way until you’ve got enough stitches on your larger needle. Then, picking up one of your smaller needles, work the first row of the sleeve, which is in 2×2 rib (knit 2, purl 2, etc). Don’t forget that you need your working yarn to be at the back for a knit stitch and at the front for a purl stitch.

Keep going until you’ve worked all the stitches in that row. Then put away your larger needle and work the rest of the sleeve on your pair of smaller needles.

The pattern will tell you how many inches to work before it’s time to start decreasing. You’re going to use exactly the same decreases as you used to shape the envelope necks on the front and back: a combination of k2tog (knitting two stitches together), p2tog (purling two stitches together), ssk (slipping two stitches knitwise and then knitting them together through the  back loop) and ssp (slipping two stitches knitwise and then purling them together through the back loop).

Don’t worry about whether the stitches you are working are knit stitches (i.e. wearing little V-neck sweaters) or purl stitches (wearing turtlenecks). Just follow the pattern as instructed. It’s written so that the 2×2 rib continues uninterrupted, despite the increases.

Here’s a quick reminder of how to work those stitches.

k2tog: simply insert your needle into two stitches instead of one, and knit them at the same time.

p2tog: Bring your yarn to the front, ready to purl.

Insert your needle as you normally would to purl, but instead of just inserting it through one stitch, you need to insert it through two stitches at the same time:

Then purl those two stitches, just as if you were purling one normal stitch.

ssk: slip the next stitch onto your right needle as if you were going to knit it – but don’t work it at all. You can see my needle, inserted as if to knit, below. We are slipping stitches knitwise again in order to twist them around.

Do the same for the next stitch. You can see two slipped stitches on my right needle, below.

Now you are going to knit those two stitches together, but ‘through the back loop’. You do this by inserting your left needle into both stitches at the same time, from right to left. I find it easiest to hold my needles almost parallel:

Once your left needle is inserted, move it so that your needles are perpendicular again, and knit those two stitches together as if you were knitting a normal stitch. You can see my needles in position, ready to do this, below. Then just knit those two stitches as if they were one.

ssp: In order to make the decreases point in the right direction, you need to twist them by slipping them onto your right needle as if you were going to knit them. So you insert your right needle into the next stitch, as if you were going to knit it, as shown here:

and just slip it off your left needle. Do this again, and you should have two slipped (but not worked) stitches with all those purled stitches on your right needle. You can see them in the photograph below.

Next, you need to get those two stitches back onto your left needle, so that you can work them. But you don’t want to twist them back to how they were in the first place. So you need to insert your left needle into both stitches, from left to right, and slip them straight back onto the left needle. You can see how I’ve inserted my left needle to do this, below. Don’t work those stitches at all, yet.

You can see in the picture below that they are back on my left needle, in their new orientation, and not worked.

Now it’s finally time to work those two stitches. You need to insert your right needle into them ‘through the back loop’. This means that you insert your needle as if to purl, but you pick up both stitches at the same time, and you insert your needle from the left hand side at the back. It might all feel a bit tight and awkward, but persevere. You can see my right needle inserted in the picture below.

Then you just purl those two stitches together, as if you were purling one normal stitch.

Once all your decreases have been made, and you’ve knitted to the length specified by the pattern, you’ll have a choice about what sort of cuff you want to work. If you want to just make a normal sweater cuff, cast off loosely when you reach the specified length.

However, if you want to work a foldover-mitten cuff, cast off (loosely) only half the stitches of the sleeve at this point. Keep working the remaining stitches for the specified length. Then, once you’ve done that, you can cast off the remaining stitches (loosely).

Have fun working your sleeves, and see you next week for the ‘making up’ tutorial!

Madeleine

Have you used any of these techniques before making this jumper? Are there any that you’ll adopt for future knitting projects?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: toiletries

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

When I was packing for our trip to Derbyshire, I realised that all I needed to do in terms of toiletries was empty my shelf of the bathroom cabinet into my toilet bag, add a clean muslin face cloth, and I was done.

I think this was the first time that I didn’t have the odd thing to leave behind, and I put that down entirely to the effort I’ve been making to use fewer disposable plastics. There were no cotton wool pads to count out, no big bottles of shampoo to decant into something smaller, no opaque canisters of dental floss to shake and wonder at their contents. For the first time ever, I just put everything in my little bag and went.

Now, it won’t take a genius to work out that I am not a connoisseur of beauty counters. I have never been interested in spending my time and money on that sort of thing, and that’s unlikely to change now. I am quite happy to go barefaced much of the time, and when I do wear make-up I don’t wear much. But I do like to be clean, care for my hair properly, look after my teeth, and look reasonably well presented when I’m at work or socialising. And, because I love reading this sort of post on other people’s blogs, I thought I’d include it here in the spirit of sharing solutions to some of the tricker challenges I’ve come up against in creating a smaller, more sustainable set of toiletries. Without further ado, this is what is currently on my bathroom shelf, from top to bottom, left to right.

Everyone needs a toothbrush. I need a bamboo one, and will be asking a certain someone if they might pop one in my stocking. I’ve never used an electric toothbrush and I’ve never had a single cavity, so I’m going to stick with what works for me.

A little jar of homemade balm serves lots of purposes. I use mine on my face (especially before bed), but also on the ends of my hair (and any flyaway bits), and any dry bits on my hands, elbows and so forth. It’s also a great lip balm. This one is scented with lavender, but I’m going to make some more next weekend in wintry scents.

A lone remaining toothpaste tablet. We switched to these this summer, when I finally found them with fluoride (controversial, I know, but that’s our decision). I buy 240 at a time and we keep them in a little jar, as it stops them getting damp in a steamy bathroom. They are such an easy plastic-free swap, and we all like them.

Dental floss. This comes in a little glass jar with a metal lid, and refills come in cardboard. It’s made of silk, so I can put it straight into our bathroom bin after use. (Our bathroom bin is lined with newspaper and goes straight onto the compost heap.)

A wooden comb – I’ve had this for years and only ever use wide-toothed combs as I have curls.

Solid conditioner. Again, I have curls. At a recent party a man (who I later found out was a hairdresser, and not just odd) started talking to me about my hair and how I look after it. He advocated conditioner-only washing, which made me happy because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for a couple of years. That bar had been on the go for nearly four months – they are a bit pricey but they do last.

An old lip balm tin with one remaining pill in it. My prescription tablets (nothing alarming, but essential) do come in a plastic blister pack. I can’t do anything about this. I decant them, a week at a time, into this tin, so I know that I’ve taken the right amount.

Foundation/ concealer. I don’t really want to name brands here, but let me just say that I’ve finally changed my foundation after a very long time and this stuff is amazing. It’s also plastic-free, completely natural and very moisturising. I am a convert. (And if you really want to know what it is, ask in the comments.)

Mascara, from pre-plastic-reducing days. This is on its last legs. I’m holding out until Christmas for a tin of eyeliner/ mascara and a double ended mascara/ eyeliner brush that I found on Etsy. I’ll let you know how I get on with them.

Nail scissors.

That white thing is a crystal deodorant. They last for years and years.

A muslin face cloth. I have a few which came free with various natural beauty products. They are gentler on the face than a normal flannel (which I’ve just realised I should also have included in this photograph.)

Lip balm. Like the mascara, this is from my pre-plastic-reducing days, and is nearly empty. I’m hoping it’ll last until Christmas, because I have politely requested a pot of lip and cheek colour/ moisture from the same company as the foundation.

Eyeliner. Once again, this is pre-plastic-reduction. It’s been sharpened since then, so I really hope I get that tin of kohl for Christmas…

That’s it. There is of course a box of shared/ rarely used things in the cupboard – hairdressing scissors (my sister trims my hair and that of the girls), a tin of sunblock left over from the summer, some basic medical supplies – you get the picture. Please don’t go away thinking that I am a paragon of plastic-free living, because I can assure you that I am not. There is still far too much waste generated in this house for my liking. But we all do as well as we can, for now, and have certainly reduced our consumption of single-use plastics considerably. And if you’re questioning whether toiletries are part of a wardrobe, I think they are. After all, they are part of what we use on a daily basis to present ourselves in our preferred ways. I really like the simplicity of my collection, but am not averse to raiding the kitchen cabinets to make up a face mask or a hot oil hair treatment. I’ve never got into painting my nails, or wearing eyeshadow, which keeps things simpler. But simple needn’t mean austere – I’ve discovered some really lovely new products since July and have all sorts of sustainable smellies in mind for my kids for Christmas. If anything, this part of my wardrobe has pushed me further out of my comfort zone than any other, and that’s always a good thing.

Madeleine

What does your toiletry collection look like? Have you been trying to use natural/ plastic-free products, or given up on any conventional ones? Any tips would be gratefully received!

A-line skirt sewalong part three: the zip and side seam

Welcome back to the third week of the A-line skirt sewalong! This week, we’re going to insert the zip and finish the second side seam. Invisible zips are the easiest to insert because any little wobbles are, well, invisible. Lay out your skirt right side out, so that the unattached edges B and D are on centred and on the top. The back of the skirt (piece 2) will be on the left and the front (piece 1) on the right. You can see this in the photo below.

Now lay your zip, with the invisible side (teeth hidden) facing down, at the top of edge D. Line up the top of the actual zip (not the extra tape at the top) with the top of the waistband. Line up the teeth of the zip with the sewing line of D. Pin into place. Remember to fold down and pin the protruding top end of the zip, too. In the photo below, I have pinned the zip into place but haven’t folded the top of the zip down yet.

Now, this next bit is crucial. It takes a bit of time but saves a lot more time with a seam ripper later on. Hand sew the zip into place. Use medium sized stitches. Doing this means that you’ll sew it in neatly and accurately when you get to the machine. Then remove the pins. Unzip the zip all the way, taking care not to inadvertently pull the zip-pull right off the end, or your zip will be useless.

Fix your zipper foot to the machine. The key to inserting an invisible zip invisibly is to sew as close as possible to the teeth, by actually rolling them out of the way as you sew. In the photo below, I’m pulling the teeth out of the way. The point of the pin shows you how close I’ll get to the teeth. You can achieve a really neat job if you go slowly and carefully. Your basting stitches will stop everything shifting about, so you can focus on getting as close to those teeth as possible. Stitch the zip into place from the top to the bottom. The zip pull will stop you from being able to get all the way to the bottom; just do your best. Remember to backstitch at either end.

Now you’re going to sew the other side of the zipper to the front of the skirt. Press the seam allowance of edge B towards the wrong side, so that you have a crease where the sewing line is. Lay the skirt wrong side out this time, but still with edges B and D on top. Piece 1 (the front) will be on the left and piece 2 (the back) on the right.

Zip up the zip. Mark the point where you stopped sewing on the other side of the zip, with a fabric marker or pen. (This will be the point where you couldn’t get any closer to the bottom of the zip, because the zip-pull was in the way.)

Arrange the zip so that the unsewn side of it is invisible side (teeth hidden) down on the seam allowance of B. Making sure that the tops of both ends of the waistbands line up nicely, pin it to the top of the waistband. Don’t worry about folding the top of the zip over at this stage.

Then unzip the zip again. Aligning the teeth to the sewing edge of B, pin it into place from top to bottom. Make sure that you only pin the zip to the seam allowance, and not the outside of the skirt.

Check that you’ve positioned the zip correctly by arranging the skirt pieces as if they were all sewn up. The zip should be enclosed within the skirt, with the pull on the outside. If it’s incorrect, now’s the time to change it. If it’s correct, fold down the top of the zip, and hand sew the zip into place. Remove all the pins as you go. Zip it up and down again, just to check that everything is nicely aligned.

Using the machine, sew it into place, just as you did for the other side of the zip. Take your time and get as close to the teeth as you can. Stop when you reach the mark you made.

Now zip up the zip and turn your skirt inside out. Pushing the unsewn bottom part of the zip up and out of the way, insert a pin to hold the seam BD together along the sewing line. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below. The pin needs to go as close as possible to the bottom of the stitched down portion of the zip.

Pin the rest of seam BD along the sewing line. Sew this seam, from as close you can get from the bottom of the zip all the way to edge E, making the join as smooth as possible. It should look like this from the right side:

Then turn it inside out and press the seam open. By now, it should be looking nice and neat.

That’s it! The zip and second side seam are done! Next time, you’ll finish the hem of your skirt.

Madeleine

Have you inserted an invisible zip before? What about other types of zip? Or have you been wary of them in the past?

 

All the knitting

There is definitely a seasonality to making. I don’t just mean gift-making in the run up to Christmas, or cotton-frock making in May. Of course I do both those things, but there’s a deeper pull towards certain kinds of crafting at different times of year. In the new year, I want to do nothing but sew. Come spring, I’m ready to spend most of my time in the garden, perhaps with a bit of hand-sewing or embroidery for rainy days. The long summer holidays open up time for spinning and the dyeing of wool. And when September comes, I want to spend all my evenings knitting in front of the fire, right up to the end of the year.

There are always things that I end up doing out of season – I sewed a skirt last month, for instance – but on the whole I’ve come to anticipate this yearly rhythm. Which is why I thought I’d better pull out my stash of wool and remind myself of all the knitting I want to do before the year comes to an end.

First up are the Christmas knits. Just to be clear, I am the sort of person for whom Christmas starts on December 24th. That’s when we put up the tree, festoon the staircase with lights and ivy, and put holly everywhere we can. But the Christmas crafting needs to start quite a bit earlier than that. In fact, once I’ve made the Christmas cake  in October half term, November is upon us and it is high time to get started.

First on – and off – the needles this year was Ben’s hat. A quick and easy knit, it’s just waiting for its bobble. I’ll have a bobble-making-hat-finishing afternoon when all three hats are done, so this one is put away for now.

In progress is a longer project, which I am not going to write about here for tip top Christmas secret reasons. I’m knitting bits of it in between each of the other projects. Suffice to say that it is going swimmingly and it will be a test of my love to give this one away.

Currently on the needles is a second sock, which is both a first-time-sock-knitters’ pattern I’m writing, and Ilse’s Christmas knit. I’ll finish it off this week, but have to keep stopping to shoot the next part of the tutorial in daylight.

Fliss’ hat will be next: this lovely snuggly one in shades of heather. I love it, she loves it, I can’t wait to begin.

Seb’s hat  – the same as Ben’s but in different colours – will be the last of the knits for my children. My auntie Fiona gave me  the lovely book that all three hats are from in the spring, and it is just full of beautiful patterns. I have my eye on a hat I’d like to make for myself, one day, as well as a couple of the snoods. It has inspired practically all my Christmas knitting this year.

There are two more projects that I’m not even going to post the materials for here, as they’ll give the game away. One is a knitting project that I’m collaborating with one of my children on, and the other is a sewing project. Enough said.

Once the hats are all made, I have plans for all the leftover Shetland wool. First up will be a fairisle tea-cosy, as I’ve been meaning to make one for literally years. I don’t have a pattern yet and will probably just make one up.

I bought the pink wool especially, to tie it all together. I like pink a lot, just now.

And then I need a new pair of cuffs. My last pair were discovered hiding in a white wash that had just gone through at a hygienic 60 C. Let’s just say that while the sheets were better for the cycle, the cuffs were not. I might make some from the book, or make up something more fairisle-y and colourful.

Then there are three balls of Drops Alpaca for a new knitting design that is floating around my head. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that it involves some of my very favourite winter flowers.

And finally, when all that is done, I am going to knit myself a new pair of socks. This is a bit of an annual thing now: making a new pair to replace the oldest and most worn out. I suspect these will be cast on in the new year, because despite my love of wintry sewing you do need to have something to keep your hands busy while you’re relaxing by the fire of an evening.

I make it five weeks until Christmas, and then another week until the new year. I’ve got five Christmas projects to finish, not counting the first hat, the sewing project or the collaboration. Then three more to work through after that. Then there’s the small matter of a job, patterns to publish and oh, a family. The knitting might just go on a little further into the new year that I’d planned. Ahem. But then again, there are worse things in life than a surfeit of knitting.

Madeleine

Are you making anything for Christmas this year? How’s it going? Wishing you good luck and happy crafting!

Little Flurries knitalong part three: the front

Welcome back to the third part of the Little Flurries knitalong. By now, you should have completed the back of the sweater. If not, just carry on with it – this tutorial will be waiting for you whenever you’re ready to get started on the front.

Just so you’re aware, I’ve used the same text and photographs for the first part of this tutorial as in the Snow Day ‘front’ tutorial. This is because the bottom of the front and the bobbles are exactly the same on both sweaters. However, unlike the Snow Day jumper, Little Flurries has a few options for the front.

Option A

If you’ve chosen option A, you just need to refer to last week’s ‘back’ tutorial to see how to create your notched hem. Bear in mind that the notches are shorter on the front than the back; the pattern tells you how many rows to knit. Then work in stocking stitch (knit all the right side rows, purl all the wrong side rows) until you reach the desired length. Once you’ve done that, scroll down towards the bottom of this tutorial for instructions on how to work the envelope style neck.

Options B, C and D

For options B, C and D, you also need to know how to make bobbles. Before you do that, however, you need to create your notched hem. It’s shorter than the one for the back, but made in exactly the same way. So head on over to the tutorial for the back, and work your notched hem. Please bear in mind that the front hem is shorter than the back; the pattern tells you how many rows to work for the front.

Once you’ve finished the notched section, it’s time to start on the bobbles. Regardless of what colour your bobbles will be made in, they are all made the same way. Read the following instructions, then see the instructions on creating two tone bobbles (option C) and yellow bobbles (option D), below.

You begin by knitting however many stitches the pattern specifies for your size, in order to reach the point where you will make your first bobble. So take a moment to knit to that place, and then have a quick read of all the bobble instructions before making your first bobble.

You’re going to make a bobble out of the next stitch. In the photo below, the metal needle is pointing at the stitch that you are going to make the bobble out of.

Knit the stitch, but don’t slide it off the left needle. In the photo below, the newly knitted stitch is on the right hand needle, but the original stitch is still on the left hand needle (being held on by my index finger). You’ve just made two stitches out of one original stitch.

Put your yarn to the front of your work, so that you are ready to purl.

Now purl into the same stitch (the one that my index finger is touching in the photo above). You can see my inserted needle, ready to purl that stitch, in the photo below.

Again, don’t slide this stitch off your needle. You can now see, as in the photo below, that you have two new stitches (one knit and one purl) on your right hand needle, and still that same original stitch on your left needle (my index finger is holding it in the photo below).

Move your yarn to the back of your work again, as in the photo below.

and knit into this same stitch again, as you can see me doing below.

This time, you are finally allowed to slide that stitch off your left hand needle once you’ve knitted it. So you can see, below, that my thumb is indicating the three new stitches that we’ve made out of that single initial stitch. There’s a purl stitch in the centre, and a knit stitch on either side of it.

Okay? So you’ve turned one stitch into three. This provides the breadth of the bobble. Now we need to give it some height. To do this, we’re going to work just these three new stitches for a couple of rows of stocking stitch, as follows:

Turn your work so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front, so that you are set up like the photo below.

Purl these three stitches.

Turn your work again so that the right side is facing you, and move your yarn to the back, as you can see below.

Knit these three stitches.

Turn the work again so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front once more, as shown in the photo below.

Purl the same three stitches again.

Finally, turn your work so that the right side is facing, and move your yarn to the back again, as shown below.

This is the special bit. You’re going to knit all three of these same stitches together into one stitch. To do this, you literally knit the three stitches as if they were one. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below. In fact, treating all three stitches as one even makes them look as if I’m only knitting one stitch. I’m not; my needle is inserted through all three stitches knitwise (i.e. as if knitting normally) at the same time.

Wrap your working yarn to make a knit stitch as normal, move the right needle under the left as usual and slide all three stitches off the left hand needle as if you were just knitting one stitch.

That’s it! You’ve made a bobble! It’ll look more like a proper bobble once you’ve worked a couple more rows. For now, just knit a few more stitches, keeping count so that you know when to make the next bobble. In the photo below you can see that I’ve knit my bobble stitch, with all that bulk below and to the right of it, and then three more normal knit stitches.

I assure you that it’ll look much more like a proper bobble in a couple of rows’ time, at which point you’ll be able to give it a prod and a poke from behind to make it more rounded and full. For now though, just concentrate on getting to the end of the row. Remember, count your stitches and stop when it’s time to make the next bobble.

By the time you get to the end of your row, it’ll look something like this:

My empty needle is pointing at one of the bobbles.

Carry on in stocking stitch (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) for the specified number of rows, then work the next bobble row in exactly the same way. You’ll notice that on the next bobble row there are fewer bobbles and more knit stitches in between them.

Option C only

For option C, you make your bobbles in the same colour as the sleeves. In my sample, the bobbles and sleeves are in a dark teal and the body is in an aquamarine colour.

Knit the number of stitches specified before making the first bobble. You are going to make the bobble on the stitch that the empty needle is pointing to, below.

Insert your right needle into the next stitch, as if to knit. Pick up your bobble yarn, and lay it over your right needle, with the ball to your right and the tail to your left. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below.

Using this yarn, work the bobble as explained in the instructions above. You’ll find that you need to pull the tail tight from time to time, but don’t worry if it’s a bit loose. You can make it tight when you weave all your ends in later.

Once you’ve worked the bobble, pick up your body yarn and knit the next stitch. Pull the yarn tight across the back of the bobble as you work this stitch. Then knit either 3 stitches (if there are 7 stitches between your bobbles) or 4 stitches (if there are 8 stitches between your bobbles). Now you want to carry your bobble yarn across the back of your work, so that you don’t have great dangly loops on the inside of the jumper.

Insert your right needle as if to knit, as shown below.

With your left hand, gently bring the bobble yarn across the right needle from right to left, as shown. Your tension is important here. Don’t pull it so tight that your jumper looses its stretch, and don’t leave it so loose that you’ll have a big loop at the back of your work. You’ll know when it feels about right.

Then wrap your body yarn as if to knit that stitch as normal (i.e. from left to right):

before moving your bobble yarn to the right of the needle and downwards, effectively taking it off the needle. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below.

Then finish knitting the stitch as normal. You can see my knitted stitch below. It’s the one furthest to the left on the right hand needle. It should look like a perfectly normal knit stitch in the body yarn.

What this does is twist the bobble yarn into the body yarn at the back of your work, meaning that the bobble yarn is only carried for 3 or 4 stitches before being attached to the jumper again. This way, the loops are kept small and neat, and won’t catch on the child when they are putting the jumper on or taking it off.

Your work should look like mine, below, on the wrong side. Can you see where the bobble yarn has been used to make a bobble (just above my fingernail), and then again when it’s been carried by a normal stitch (at the right end of the work)?

Carry on in this manner until you’ve knit the final bobble of the row. You will probably find that your bobbles are all sitting on the wrong side of your work. This isn’t a problem at all. Once you’ve knit a couple more rows of stocking stitch, you’ll be able to push them through to the right side. Mine all came out on the wrong side:

but I pushed them through later.

Now you have a choice. You can either cut your bobble yarn with a nice long tail and resign yourself to weaving in lots of ends. If you’re new to carrying your yarns, that’s what I’d advise, in case you get your tension wrong on the next row. It’s only a little jumper, so there won’t be too many ends to weave in.

However, if you loathe dealing with ends (I don’t, really), you can continue to carry your bobble yarn all the way to the end of the row, making sure that you attach it to the final stitch, as I’ve done here:

Then, when you turn your work, you need to carry the yarn every few stitches but in reverse, as you will be purling your work. Then, as you work the next 8 rows of stocking stitch, be sure to twist the bobble yarn around the body yarn as you start each knit row, so that the yarn is carried up the side of the jumper. Then the bobble yarn will be in the right place when you go to knit the next bobble row. It’s up to you.

Option D only

Joining the yellow yarn to work the bobbles in a contrast colour is really easy.

Knit the specified number of stitches, working any green bobbles as specified. When you get to the place for a yellow bobble, insert your needle into that stitch as if about to knit it, as below:

and then lay your yellow yarn across your right needle with the tail on the left and the ball of yarn on the right, like so:

Take hold of your yarn and knit that first stitch, remembering not to slide the worked stitch off the needle, as you’re about to purl into that same stitch. Can you see how there’s now a yellow stitch in the photo below?

Keep on working the bobble, as normal. Don’t worry if it looks a bit loose. Mine does, in the photo below, but that’s normal. Feel free to give the tail a pull to tighten things up, and just keep working that bobble.

Once the bobble is done, snip the yellow yarn, leaving a nice long tail of 3-4 inches. You can see in the photo below that my bobble is hiding at the back of my work – again, that’s not a problem.

Knit the next stitch, as normal, and carry on as instructed by the pattern until you reach the end of your row.

My bobble ended up on the wrong side of my work, this time. Can you see it against all those purled stitches on the wrong side, below?

You would barely know it was there, from the front. All you can see in the photo below is a stitch on the needle and what looks like a purl stitch underneath it.

Poke it through from the back, just using your finger,

give those loose ends a gentle tug from the back,

and you’ll have a nice, neat, yellow bobble sitting on the right side of your work.

Don’t worry about the loose ends yet. You’ll weave them in when you make up the sweater.

All options

Carry on knitting the front of your jumper until you reach the length specified for your chosen size, or your desired length (but only if you bought extra wool to allow for extra length). For options B, C and D, don’t worry which row of the bobble-making pattern you finish on; it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you make a wrong side (even numbered) row the last one you work.

Done that? Then it’s time to create the neckline and work that envelope opening. This is done in exactly the same way on the front as it was on the back. Head on over to the back tutorial, and follow the instructions from where it says Working the neckline.

There you go! You’ve finished the front and back of your Little Flurries jumper! Just the sleeves to knit now – see you for that tutorial next Friday.

Madeleine

Do you like the way the bobbles look in your chosen colour(s)? Any winning combinations out there? Do make colour suggestions in the comments below!

A small, sustainable wardrobe: just the right amount

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

Before writing this post, I ran upstairs and took a quick photo of my side of the wardrobe.

Now, I am well aware that most people would consider it to be a little… empty. To be honest, sometimes I open it and think Goodness, is that all? But my surprise doesn’t stem from a feeling of scarcity. On the contrary, it comes from an ingrained suspicion that just the right amount shouldn’t look so sparse.

A combination of marketing, media and social norms makes us think that we ought to have full and varied wardrobes. That we need a selection of tops, a selection of bags, a selection of cashmere sweaters. Of course, as soon as you stop and think about it, you realise that we don’t need this sort of variety. We might want it, but we don’t need it.

Sometimes, though, we don’t even want it.

As a twenty-something, trying to put together what I thought was an adult wardrobe, I felt swamped by the sheer quantity of items in my fairly modest collection. In my early thirties, minimalist guidelines felt rigid and dull. Over the past few years, I’ve given up caring about how many things I have. Sometimes I add an extra couple of items, sometimes I pare it right back. I go with my gut and make only the clothes that I know I will love wearing. Even though the quantity is loose and undefined, I always know when I have just the right amount of clothes, and I suspect that you do, too.

The fact is that I love designing clothes. I love knitting or sewing or embroidering them, and watching them come to life in my hands. I love making things fit properly, and choosing colours, and learning about historical dress. I love dreaming up collections that work well together.

I do not love getting dressed. I do not love having a surfeit of choices. On an average day, I have other things that I would far rather think about than which top goes with which pair of trousers. You might find that fun, but I don’t. I want to have a couple of clean, practical options for the day ahead. I want to know that I’ll wear all my clothes out while they are still my favourites. I want to know that I will look reasonably well turned out with minimum effort.

I don’t think that sustainability need involve clearing out of much-loved clothes, just to chase a smaller number, because people will only go out and buy more to replace what they’ve discarded. If you find that the twenty-three tops that you own are just right, then the twenty-three tops that you own are just right. It’s mad to throw half of them out, feel unhappy about the lack of choice, and gradually refill your wardrobe. If you really want to want a smaller wardrobe, get there slowly. After all, you’ve already acquired all those items. If they bring you pleasure and stop you shopping, they are serving a valuable purpose.

Most of us are lucky enough to have wardrobes as full – if not fuller – than we want. If we want to dress sustainably, we need to make sure that we are conscious of our consumption. That when we do buy more, we buy from sources that we know and trust. That we stop to ask ourselves whether a purchase really is going to be worn again and again. That we aren’t shopping out of habit, or making for the sake of making. Given this approach, most wardrobes will naturally shrink over time.

On a purely personal level, much of my pleasure in my little wardrobe comes from the fact that I just don’t care about whether I conform to those particular social norms any more. I care about my family, my friends, my hobbies, my work, the wider world. After all, a wardrobe is only clothes. For those of us lucky enough to have all we need, there are more important things to be worrying about than how many we ought to have.

Madeleine

For those of you who like to know such things, of course the odd thing was on or in the wash, or lives in a drawer.

Are you happy with the size of your wardrobe? Do you love everything in it? How could you make more sustainable choices?