As I’ll ever be

I have spent quite a bit of this holiday getting ready for the new year. There’s a lot on the books for 2019: a significant increase in work hours, a big birthday, work on the house, more patterns to publish, an outdoor swimming event, a couple of nice holidays… Then there are all the things I want to carry on with: parenting and gardening, ballet, music lessons, reading and crafting and working on my writing. Enough to keep me out of trouble, at any rate.

Yet for all my planning, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t see the logic in having just one shot at changing habits every year. If I want to change something, I’ll change it, no matter what the calendar says.

I do, though, always feel a shift during the Christmas holidays. It’s less to do with dates than the passing of the winter solstice, the subtle lengthening of the days, and the inevitability of the spring to come. Winter is here, and it won’t last forever. So I find myself making preparations, and urging others to do the same.

This year, as every other since we’ve lived in this house with its big old garden, we’ve had a family day out there, hacking and chopping and pruning until it is in a fit state to leave until it greens again. We filled two enormous builders’ sacks with evergreen waste to haul to the council compost facility, and have a heap of branches by the fire pit just waiting for den-building and a spot of chicken-proofing before an enormous bonfire one dull weekend to come.

As is also always the way, my focus has shifted away from knitting to sewing. I love to pull all my fabric out in the quiet days after Christmas, and write little labels assigning projects to each length. This year, though, I tried something new. Conscious of the fact that my time and attention are going to be stretched, I went ahead and cut every single one of my projects for the coming season. I have to give full credit for this to Jo at Three Stories High, who wrote a post about this in November. I have to admit, I read it and thought that while it was a good idea, it wasn’t for me, because I don’t like to have more than one work in progress on the go at a time. But when I was writing my labels, I realised that I probably wasn’t going to want to draft a new skirt pattern on a Saturday after the cleaning and shopping and ballet runs. I certainly wasn’t going to be in the mood for grading boys’ waistcoat pieces for the upcoming dance show. And I would probably put off dyeing the background fabric for my 5″ scrap quilt when faced with another week’s worth of laundry. Besides, in my head, a length of fabric is a work in progress the moment I pay for it. So I got on with it.

First I pulled out my tailored skirt block and drafted a new style I want to develop.

I drafted a bias-cut cami, and some new underthings, and cut up a stack of old clothes into scrap-quilt squares. There are also three bags and two lined zipped pouches, ready for some simple evening stitching.

I bought a couple of packets of Dylon and turned a ripped sheet, old pillowcase, stained dress shirt and boringly white fat quarter into grey background fabric.

And then I cut out 197 background squares in various shades of grey.

I dealt with all other the leftover pieces straight away, and now my quilts are ready to sew.

I graded a waistcoat pattern for Seb and the other boy in his ballet class, and cut all the pieces.

Then I tidied my little studio, including my sewing drawer. All that’s left uncut are two lengths of fabric for pattern tutorials (because I need to photograph the process) and one piece of rather lovely Liberty that I suspect is destined to be used whole, on the back of a quilt.

Everything else is ready for garments, bags, pouches or quilts.

And then I set my space up to carry on with my 2 1/2″ postage stamp quilt.

Not all the days have been quite as purposeful, though. I’ve been going for lots of long leisurely swims with John or one of the children for company. I’ve done some very relaxed piano practice. There has been a lot of lounging around watching films and knitting up my latest design. We’ve been for a few lovely sunshine-y strolls, including one down into the Hole of Horcum yesterday, when the purples and greens and oranges of the winter landscape delighted us all. We’ve been planning lots other of walks for the coming Sundays, with the odd pub lunch thrown in, as well as other nice things to do together in our downtime. And there’s a fiendishly difficult jigsaw in progress on the dining table.

Mostly, though – and especially in the week to come – I am going to be attempting the impossible, in trying to store up as much rest as possible for the weeks ahead. So yes, I will definitely be having that second cup of tea in bed, and perhaps doing a few rounds of colourwork before I get up. There’s nothing urgent, just now. Everything is as ready as it’s going to be for the weeks and months ahead. Now we just need to remember to enjoy them.

Madeleine

Are you ready for – and looking forward to – the new year? What does it hold for you?

Merry Christmas, everyone

Whether you’re someone I know in person, or an online friend, a subscriber or someone who just drops in from time to time, someone who celebrates Christmas or for whom it is just another day, may I wish you all the best over the coming days. I hope that the final days of 2018 are peaceful, and that 2019 brings good things to you all.

I don’t normally do pictures from around the house, but the elves have been at work so it seems churlish not to.

From a change of lightshade in the hall:

to a set of nesting Father Christmasses:

a row of paper trees:

and a fully festooned bedroom:

everyone has been decorating in their favourite ways this year.

Today we’ll put up the tree and bring in the holly and the ivy. I’ll cook a ham and decorate the cake, and wine will most certainly be mulled. It’s my favourite day of all.

Whatever your plans, I hope you have a lovely time. Take care, and I look forward to seeing you again in the new year.

Madeleine

The best bits

Sometime in October we decided that we were going to keep Christmas really simple this year, and just do the best bits. So over a few evening meals (and telephone calls to Ben at university) we established what everyone’s very favourite parts of Christmas were, and got rid of the rest.

Some of the choices were things I could have anticipated: the roast dinner is staying, as are most of the trimmings. John and Seb – its biggest fans – are taking care of that. A visit from Father Christmas is mandatory and, as I told the children, fine by me as I have nothing to do with it. Ben and Ilse insist that it wouldn’t be Christmas without an afternoon spent watching Christmas films, eating lebkuchen and making paper chains from the recycling bin. Fliss loves snuggling up to watch whatever children’s special the BBC has conjured up, as they are always her favourite books from when she was little. There will be presents. And candles. And I am going to boil and glaze a ham on Christmas Eve, and serve it with garlicky potatoes dauphinoise and a mountain of steamed brussels sprout tops. That’s my favourite moment.

While we have never gone in for extravagant Christmases, this one feels especially relaxed. We’ve gone to the odd advent service, including the school one, held in York Minster, where Fliss sang in the choir. John and I made a list and did all the Christmas shopping in town in a single afternoon. We took the children in a couple of weeks ago to enjoy the lights and buy their little gifts to one another. By far and away the biggest effort I’ve made this Christmas has been in all the knitting, and that is neither stressful nor a chore in my book. We’ve put up the children’s advent calendars and a few strings of fairy lights, and the house feels just a little more twinkly than usual. I haven’t even been tempted by a poinsettia, happy instead with the cyclamen blooming festively on the dining table.

What I am looking forward to now is the coming weekend, when Ben comes home for the holidays and we’ll all be together again. There will be a couple of highly excitable days where the house gets festooned in paper chains and greenery from the garden. We’ll decorate the tree on Christmas Eve and I’ll enjoy watching Ilse’s face as the presents emerge from hiding places all around the house.

And after the day itself, I’m looking forward to a few long walks, a bit of non-gift knitting and probably the start of a new scrap quilt. Lazy mornings and lackadaisical breakfast-come-lunches. Long evenings in front of the fire. Watching the children play endless rounds of Monopoly and – the new favourite – Dungeons and Dragons. Just a restful winter holiday at home, really.

Before you start thinking that this all sounds a little too lovely to be true, I can assure you that there are bound to be some squabbles, let-downs and grumpy moments. There are also, given my total lack of a list, bound to be some things that I’ve forgotten (crackers? pudding?). I’ve just decided not to care, because nobody else seems to. After all, as long as we’ve all got our very best bits of the festival, everyone should be happy, and that is probably the best bit of all as far as I’m concerned.

Madeleine

Are you doing anything differently this Christmas, or do you do it exactly the same every year? However you’re doing it – or whether you’re not celebrating at all – may I wish you a peaceful, restful break.

Three more

This weekend I finished off all three of the hats I’ve been knitting for the children for Christmas. Having knit to the top of the last one, I spent a couple of hours on Sunday evening weaving in ends, making pompoms and sewing name tapes in. (Yes, even Ben got a name tape. He’s just about old enough for it to be ironic, and I still have about a hundred of his in my studio upstairs. Better safe than sorry, when it comes to lovingly hand-knit hats, I always say…)

These were not fast knits, as hats go. The yarn is fine (a jumper weight 2 ply), and there’s a lot of colourwork. But they were very enjoyable knits, as it is so much fun to watch the patterns emerge as you knit. The book that they came from, Knitting from the North, is full of beautiful projects, and I do have a few more earmarked for a later date. That said, I have to be honest and say that there are a surprising number of errors in the patterns. It’s not uncommon to find the odd mistake in a pattern, but every pattern my mum and I have tried so far from this book has had something or other wrong with it. As a confident and experienced knitter, this didn’t faze me at all, but I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone who wouldn’t spot the mistakes for themselves. I ran out of yarn on my first hat, too. Admittedly I was using a different brand, but it was the same sort of wool (Shetland woollen spun 2 ply) and actually had more yardage than the pattern suggested. I also had to do a bit of rethinking of the colour distribution for Fliss’ hat – again because I could see that I was going to run out of yarn. It wasn’t a problem for me, but it might really throw a newer knitter. So in short, these are stunning projects, but you need to pay attention and correct as you go.

I have been so busy knitting and working and generally living that I completely forgot about Ginny’s yarn along last Wednesday, so I am joining in a little late this time. I’ve been reading a little more slowly than usual, managing just a couple of chapters a night before I fall asleep, but that is par for the course in December. A good re-read is always a wise idea when you know the going will be slow, so when John brought The French Lieutenant’s Woman home from the library I was happy to pick it up. I know the story well enough not to lose the plot, and the constant shifts in scene and time are holding my interest despite my lack of pace. The first thing I ever read by John Fowles was The Collector, which I borrowed from the school library when I was about 15. I might need to read it again.

What with the socks for Ilse, and John’s present out of the way, that’s five Christmas presents made. I’d love to say that I’ve finished all my Christmas crafting and that it’ll all be downhill from here, but the truth is that I have two more projects to get on with. One is very nearly done – I’ve been working on it in between each hat, as it is a much bigger knit – and the other is a not-yet-started but should-be-reasonably-quick-once-I’ve-made-a-pattern job. I’ve given myself until next Sunday to get them both done. My evenings are reasonably free, so it should be doable.

And after that? Well, I have some leftovers plus a ball of pink wool I bought specifically to tie them all together, and I’m going to knit myself a fairisle tea cosy in a very footle-y, no pressure, meandering way in the last week before Christmas. That will be fun. I’m not sure whether I’ll use a pattern, hack a hat pattern, or just make something up. Whatever I do, I intend to enjoy every single stitch, in front of the fire, while I wait for the Christmas holidays to begin.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things.

Do you have any recommendations for tea cosy patterns? And how’s your Christmas crafting going – or are you not doing any this year?

Trying for a lower-waste Christmas

Having been trying really hard to reduce our consumption of plastic this year, it goes without saying that we’re trying to have a lower waste Christmas. We don’t tend to produce much more rubbish than usual over the holiday, but there are some improvements that can be made. Having said that, I’m not going to announce a plastic-free or zero waste Christmas around here, because that simply isn’t going to happen. So, as usual, I am counting every bit of plastic avoided as a little win.

One area that we don’t have any control over is how friends and relatives wrap presents for our children. Some of them are very like us and reuse paper and ribbons, which makes life easy. Others use plastic or ‘foil’ wrapping paper and copious sellotape. Things come in shiny (read: plastic) gift bags, and cards come with more ‘foil’ (plastic again) or glitter (yes, more plastic) which render them unrecyclable.

I can’t actually remember the last time we bought any proper wrapping paper, because for over a decade we’ve been cutting off the tape, smoothing it all out and reusing it. We deal with the plastic paper by reusing it the following year. Cards – whether plasticky or not – are cut up to make labels and the remnants recycled. Envelopes are opened up and added to our scrap paper ‘notebook’ (a pile of paper held together by a bulldog clip) and we often give gift bags to the local charity shop to sell again next Christmas.

Our own presents – those that will be unwrapped in the house – are usually ‘wrapped’ in a (reused) cloth gift bag or a (again reused) pretty box tied up with a ribbon. I keep good bags and boxes when we are given them, and you don’t need many. I don’t use tape unless I’ve run out of ribbons, and when we do, it’s the paper stuff. When there’s nothing big enough, plain brown recycled paper (which we found in red last year) does the job, and can easily be rolled up and used again. And thankfully Father Christmas is most obliging, wrapping everything in either newspaper or scraps of wrapping paper too small to be of other use, and because it’s all plastic-free it becomes ready-scrunched tinder for the stoves.

Perhaps this might sound Scrooge-like, saving paper from one year to the next, but to tell the truth I rather like it. It’s much more creative, finding ways to make everyone’s present look pretty without just turning to the latest shiny offering from WHSmiths. Sometimes the children like to potato-print the brown paper packages, sometimes we attach pine-cones and the like to ribbons. I’ve some rather nice two-coloured handspun that I’m going to use, left over from a project, on people who I know will use it again. And there’s always a medley of colours and patterns under our tree.

Filling the advent calendars took a little thought, because I have used plastic-wrapped sweets and chocolates until this year. I made the children’s calendars years ago, and they were one of my very first crafting projects. I sketched out the scenes, worked out a colour scheme and set to work doing some simple embroidery and appliqué. They are far from perfect, and no doubt I’d do a better job now, but the children love them and that’s all that matters.

I toyed with the idea of unwrapped sweets, but they would make the pockets sticky and I don’t want to wash these. In the end, we visited one of the lovely traditional sweet shops in central York, where the woman was incredibly helpful in making sure that I’d have at least the 72 sweets I needed. Then Seb and Ilse spent a happy afternoon wrapping them in scrap paper and stuffing them into the pockets. Before you ask, they always fill their own calendars. They like to put their favourite sweets into special days, and love the whole process.

Christmas cards are not something we’ve ever really got into, and we have no intention of starting now. But there are certain relatives who we do give them to, so a pack of ten is ample. We like to buy them from Oxfam, and I was pleased to find this almost plastic-free pack there. (It has a pointless velcro tab holding it closed.) There’s a hare on five of them…

and a partridge on the others.

Needless to say I’ll be cutting up the cardboard case itself and using it as a couple of postcards.

Food is another thing that won’t really change: we buy most of our Christmas lunch direct from the market stalls and little local shops that we buy from week in, week out. Our butcher will have an unwrapped bird ready for us. The greengrocer will have everything unwrapped, as usual, on his stall. Milk comes from the milkman, and I’ll add a couple of reused glass bottles of juice to our order, for the children. And there are a few glass bottles of frozen elderberry cordial waiting to be paired with some sparkling water from the sodastream. I just need to make sure that the prossecco comes with real corks…

Everyone in our house gets a handmade gift from me, which is pretty low waste, given that I’ve got plans for a tea cosy and some wrist warmers from the leftover yarn. Ilse, Ben and Fliss’s knits are almost done (the hats still need bobbles), and I’m casting on Seb’s later today. I won’t post about John’s here, because he sometimes reads the blog, and Mother and Father’s are going to remain tip top secret. But the children know about their hats, as they no longer all go to bed early enough for secret knitting to take place.

Which brings me to the biggest change we’ve made this Christmas: shopping locally. In previous years we’ve done a mixture of local and online shopping. This year, we’ve enjoyed going into York and getting it all done in just a couple of focused outings. If you take your own bags and choose wisely, it can be virtually waste-free. There have been just a couple of things that I’ve not been able to find in the shops, but I’ve made sure to request minimal plastic, and it hasn’t been too bad.

We took the children into town late on Saturday afternoon, to see the lights and do their little bit of shopping. If you’ve ever been to York in December, you’ll know that it gets absolutely packed, with coach loads of tourists bussed in to enjoy the medieval shambles and independent shops. York feels very Dickensian in the winter, and I can see why people love it. After a while though, the crowds all got a bit much, so we went for a stroll through the deserted Minster Gardens. The stained glass of the minster was glowing, and coming out on the far side of the park, the Treasurer’s House was all lit up for Christmas.

We popped into a favourite little Italian for supper, and it was lovely, sitting there in the noise and the bustle, the last of the shopping at our feet, getting warm and cosy in the ancient heart of the city. Of all the changes we could be making, this must by far be the most pleasant.

I know that we could make even less waste by avoiding Christmas altogether, but we’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re just being that little bit more careful. Over the years we’ve become increasingly conscious of how we celebrate, and to my mind, little shifts made over many years are more effective than one big gesture. Nothing feels painful, the changes are sustainable.

No doubt we’ll do something else differently next year, and then again in the future when the children have all grown up. But for now, this is how we’re trying to have a lower-waste Christmas, and still celebrate the occasion.

Madeleine

Are you trying to reduce your waste/ consumption this Christmas? How are you doing it? I’d love any hints and tips…

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.

 

 

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?

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 two: the back

Welcome to the second part of the Little Flurries knitalong. This week, you’re going to be working the back of the sweater. As the bottom hem of the back is identical to that of the Snow Day sweater, I’ve used the text and photos from that tutorial for the first part of this one. However, you’ll notice that the colour of the yarn changes partway through this tutorial. That’s because the neckline of Little Flurries is completely different to the neckline of Snow Day – so that part of the tutorial is brand new.

Let’s begin at the bottom hem. You’ve had a bit of practice casting on and knitting while you were making your swatch, so this should be a breeze. In fact, if you get the first 26 rows done over the weekend, you’ll have lots of lovely mindless stocking stitch to relax with in the evenings throughout the coming week.

The first thing you need to do is cast all the stitches onto your larger needle (the one you swatched for). This just makes knitting that first row much easier, as the stitches will be a bit looser than if you cast them onto your smaller needle. However, the smaller needle is used to knit the rest of the hem. So you literally hold the larger needle (with all the cast on stitches on it) in one hand, and the smaller needle in your other hand. I’m right handed and knit in the UK way, so in the photo below the cast on stitches are on the larger needle (on the left), and I’ve just started to knit them all across onto my smaller needle (on the right).

Done? Right, now before you forget, put that larger needle away and pick up the other smaller needle. You should now be working exclusively with your pair of smaller needles. The pattern tells you to knit some rows of garter stitch. Just to remind you, that means that you knit every row. Don’t purl anything.

Once you’ve knitted the required number of rows of garter stitch, you’re ready to work on the notches. In this next section, you’re going to be knitting stocking stitch in the centre of the work, and garter stitch at either end. It’s actually really easy.

You also need to start using your larger needles again. So pick up one of your large needles and use it to work all the stitches of the following row.

We start on the right side, and just knit the whole row. Put the smaller needle (that you’ve just emptied of stitches) to one side, and pick up your other larger needle. You’re going to be working with your pair of larger needles for the rest of the back. Turn your work.

Then, on the wrong side, you need to knit the first five stitches only. In the photo below, that’s precisely where I’m up to. Can you see how the first five stitches are still in garter stitch? That’s because we’re still knitting both sides of those first five stitches.

However, we want the central section to be stocking stitch, so you need to purl all the way across the row until you are five stitches before the end. Don’t forget to bring your yarn to the front of your work before you start purling, like so:

When you get to those last five stitches, stop. Move your yarn to the back of your work again, ready to knit. Then knit those last five stitches, to create the garter stitch notch on the other side of the back.

Take a look at your work, without turning it. From the wrong side, which you’ve just finished working, it will look like the photo below. Those are the first five knit stitches (on the right), and then the purl stitches stretching off to the left. There will be five more purl stitches on the far left edge of your knitting.

Turn your work, and knit the whole row. By the time you finish this row, your work should look like the photo below, on the right side (the side you’ve just finished working).

Can you see the garter notch beginning to emerge on the right hand side? Work a few more rows (in the same way as the previous two) and it’ll be much clearer:

Carry on in this manner until you’ve worked as many rows as the pattern tells you to. Then stop and have a celebratory drink/ dance/ pat on the back. That’s the hardest part of the back done.

Now all you need to do is work the rest of the back in stocking stitch until it reaches the required length (see the pattern to find out what this is in your chosen size). That means that you knit all the stitches on the right side and purl all the stitches on the wrong side. Easy.

Done that? Then it’s time to create the neckline and work that envelope opening.

Working the neckline

The first thing that you need to do is knit the garter stitch section at the front of the neckline, while keeping the shoulder sections in stocking stitch. This is much easier than casting off and picking up stitches to work a separate collar.

All you have to do on the first row is knit the whole thing. On the next row, which is a wrong side row, you need to purl the first 17 stitches. This ensures that this bit of the work will remain in stocking stitch. You can see that I’ve done this in the picture below.

Your yarn will be at the front because you’ve been purling. Move it to the back, ready to knit, like so:

and knit all the way to the last 17 stitches. In the photo below you can see the difference between the first, purled, stitches, and the knitted ones. My pencil is pointing at the first knitted stitch.

Bring your yarn to the front again:

and purl the last 17 stitches. Turn your work. It should look like the picture below, with the stitches at either end still in stocking stitch, and the garter stitch edging beginning to emerge in the middle. My pencil is pointing to the place where the change occurs.

Work the next 4 rows in the same way, knitting the right side rows and doing a combination of knit and purl stitches on the wrong side rows, as directed by the pattern. Please note that the number of stitches you purl changes each time.

Now you’re ready to cast off those centre stitches. Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern. You can see that I’ve done this, below.

Then knit two more stitches. My metal needle is pointing at the stitch that we are going to bind off first (below). Can you see why you needed to knit two more stitches? If you hadn’t, you would have bound off too early.

Bind off that stitch as normal, by carrying it over the end of your right needle. In the picture below, my metal needle is pointing to the bound off stitch.

Continue to knit one stitch and then bind off the previous stitch until you’ve bound off the required number of stitches. Remember, when binding off you count each stitch as you actually bind it off, not as you knit it. When you’ve done the correct number, you should have one stitch remaining on your right needle (plus the shoulder stitches at the far end) and the number of stitches you are supposed to knit, minus one, on your left needle. You can see this in my photograph below.

Knit the rest of those stitches, and you’ll have the correct number of knit stitches on either side of the bound off section. Your work should look like the photo below. Can you see the two shoulder sections, with the bound off neckline in the middle? (Ignore the bobbles: the front neckline is worked in exactly the same way as the back, so I took these photos while working the front – hence the bobbles.)

The next thing to do is to decrease those shoulder stitches so that they can be sewn together later to form a toddler-friendly envelope neckline.

You are going to work the right shoulder (what would be the right shoulder if someone was wearing it) first. The stitches for the left shoulder will still be on your needle, but just ignore them for now.

The right shoulder actually uses slightly more complicated decreases than the left. They aren’t difficult at all, but it might take you a while to remember them as they have a few steps. However, they are important because they make the collar curve away in the correct direction as the stitches are decreased.

You start with a wrong side row. Purl the number of stitches specified by the pattern. Then stop. This is all I’ve done, below.

Now you need to make your slip, slip, purl (ssp) decrease. 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 that stitch as normal. In the next picture, you can see that the last stitch is just a purl stitch, except that it has purled two stitches into one. That’s the slip, slip, purl stitch (ssp) done.

Move your yarn to the back of your work (as shown below) and knit the rest of the stitches. All of your wrong side rows will be worked in this manner, although the number of stitches to knit and purl varies. Just follow the pattern.

When you get to the end of the row, turn your work. Now you’re going to work the first right side row.

Knit four stitches. Now it’s time to work the slip, slip, knit stitch.

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 – just as we did for the slip, slip, purl stitch.

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 knit the rest of the stitches in the row.

Carry on working all the wrong side rows with the ssp stitch, and the right side rows with the ssk stitch, until you only have one stitch left. Don’t be put off when you have to work an ssp at the start of a new row, or a ssk at the end of a row. Just carry on working the stitches as explained, above. Your work will decrease by one stitch in every row.

Then snip your yarn with a nice long tail and pull it through that final stitch, to secure it. Your right shoulder is done! It should have a nice curve, and the decrease stitches should all point outwards, as below:

Now it’s time to work the left shoulder. You start working this on the wrong side, and you need to rejoin your yarn. The first stitch is a knit stitch (even though you are working into a purl stitch), so insert your needle as if to knit, and lay your yarn across your right needle with the loose end to the left (see below). Knit the first four stitches.

Now you are going to work the ‘purl two together’ (p2tog) stitch. 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. That’s the end of the p2tog stitch. Now you just purl to the end of the row.

Turn your work, ready to work a right side row. Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern, then stop.

Now it’s time to work the ‘knit two together’ (k2tog) stitch. Insert your right needle into the next two stitches at the same time, from left to right, just as if you were knitting one normal knit stitch.

Then knit the two stitches, exactly as if they were just one normal knit stitch. That’s the k2tog stitch done.

Now knit to the end of the row.

Continue working the wrong side and right side rows just like this, remembering to follow the number of knit and purl stitches for every row, because it changes. Don’t be put off when you have to purl two together at the end of a row, or knit two together at the start of a row. You just do it exactly as you’ve done it before.

Keep going until you only have one stitch left, then cut your yarn with a nice long tail and pull it through that final stitch to secure it.

The left shoulder should look like mine, below, with a tail from the joined-in yarn, and the decreases pointing off to the right.

That’s the back done! Come back next week for the knitalong tutorial for the front – time to start working those bobbles…

Madeleine

Who are you knitting your Little Flurries for? Have you gone for a Christmas tree version, or one of the other options?

 

 

 

Little Flurries – we have a winner!

I’m delighted to announce that my Little Flurries sweater pattern is now available via my Ravelry shop and also my Etsy shop! Please see this post for further details of this 1-5 years beginners’ knitting pattern.

Thank you so much to Carol and Susanne for entering my Little Flurries giveaway. As there were just a couple of entrants, it seems churlish to pick just one, so you both have a pattern on its way to you. Happy knitting!

Madeleine