When it rains

We’ve had the most beautiful weather this past week, perfect for pottering round the patio with a watering can,

visiting the pergola in the evening light,

and even enjoying a rest under its blooms at the weekend.

At no point have I had the time to get stuck into any really big jobs – it’s all just watering and weeding at the moment – but little seedlings are popping up left, right and centre, and sometimes it’s enough just to have a look while I give them all a good long drink.

Before last week, though, we had some truly miserable weather – for May, that is – with low temperatures and seemingly interminable rain. In truth, I didn’t get into the garden at all. Instead, I caught up with a little stitching.

You might remember my starting a new embroidered holiday diary while we were in the Lakes this Easter. From sketchy beginnings on a sun-drenched shore,

that first motif is now complete.

It won’t be framed until the year is out, and of course I haven’t pressed it as there will be more sections to add. In fact, you can still see the purple disappearing pen in places, but it will fade.

In the end I decided to add to my meagre selection of colours and now have this pile of beauties to choose from:

which made the pebbled shore,

woodpiles,

bluebell woods,

and hilltop stream so much more fun to do.

In fact, it was so much fun that I started retrospectively stitching a view of Pale Hall, where I spent my 40th birthday in January, before the sun reappeared. It’s good to know that I have something on the go, given our unpredictable British weather. Garden on good days, craft on bad. At least, that’s usually the summer plan around here.

I do have plans to launch another dress pattern later this year – it’s all ready to go, apart from the tutorial – but for now I’m just enjoying doing smaller bits of stitching in the smaller pockets of time available. I’m a great admirer of those who can whip out a sketch book and capture a moment on a page – and perhaps one day I’ll learn to draw – but for now I’ll keep doing something similar in linen and thread. And it’s the simplest thing in the world to throw a little inexpensive embroidery kit in my bag when I go away, and enjoy revisiting the scenes of our holidays as I stitch away at them when it rains.

Madeleine

Do you keep a holiday diary of any sort?

The magic of kits

Last Thursday, as soon as I’d published my post about our Easter holidays, I wrote another post about my dismay at discovering that I have a stash. Yes, I know that this is a problem that I am privileged to face and yes, I know that many creative people love nothing more than a great big stash full of possibility. But the thing is that this is my life and my time, and I don’t want to spend it making things I neither enjoy creating nor really want in the end. Life is short, and our planet’s resources are limited. I like to make things that I need, want and will treasure, one at a time, using up scraps as I go. That’s what brings me creative pleasure.

Part of the reason I was so fed up about it was that I’ve spent a lot of time using up yarn scraps this winter. I’ve knit two lace baby bonnets and crocheted two snoods, as well and knitting colourwork wrist warmers and a long fairisle snood for my mother, amongst other things. The final snood was finished in the lake district, and in my mind, that was the end of the materials in stock. As I found, that wasn’t the case at all.

We’ve had the pleasure of a long weekend this week, with a Bank Holiday Monday, and with the luxury of time I took myself off to my little studio to finish off another nearly-there project – hand binding my new sewing machine cover.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I’d grabbed the hoover and a duster and was giving the whole room a spring clean. I emptied out all three desk drawers, moved all the books and generally had a really good sort out before putting things back differently to before. Rather than having a drawer for all things woolly (spinning, knitting, crochet) and another for all things sewing-related (garments, embroidery, patchwork and quilting), I consolidated all the tools into one drawer and all the materials into another. (Various papers, including patterns and writing materials make up the third.) This time, though, I was a bit more ruthless about what constituted a material. Food dyes? Yes, actually. Brown luggage labels? Yes. Essential oils and seeds for the veg patch and bits of beeswax? Yes again.

I also did something very uncharacteristic and donated a length of viscose to the charity shop. It’s not that I’m against donating – in fact I’m all in favour of it. I just think that donation has become a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card for many of us when it comes to thoughtless consumption. Normally, we really do use things up and wear them out to the extent that they are only fit for recycling by the time we’re done with them. But that fabric was making my heart sink every time I looked at it. I didn’t want to sew with it, and I didn’t want to see it on Ilse for a year or two.

Out also (to recycling) went a couple of other well-intentioned projects, one of which was the beginnings of my handspun blanket. It is made from my handspun yarn, crocheted out of leftovers from various projects. But I have been making it for three or four years now, and it is just over a foot long. Again, I only have one lifetime, and there are other things I’d rather spend it on.

Thinking about long term projects led to me cast a critical eye over my scrap quilt squares. I’d already used up the postage stamp blocks I’d made for the other side of the sewing machine cover, and honestly felt like I’d had enough of that. Instead, I put together a kit for an EPP sewing roll. Everything is planned and labelled and a beautiful lining fabric has been assigned. All of a sudden, what was a languishing long term use-up-the-scraps project is a new and exciting portable craft, ready to come out and about with me this summer. I can’t wait.

There’s a lot to be said for trying your hand at something before committing to a major project, and the drunkard’s path blocks were something that I had my fill of very quickly indeed. It wasn’t the curves – I quite like sewing curves after all my dressmaking – but rather all the pinning of the aforementioned curves that was just tedious. So the fact that the first sixteen blocks were trimmed too small (don’t sew when you’re sleep deprived) turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I turned them into a lovely new pair of much-needed potholders:

and went on the hunt for a new quilt pattern. In the end, I chose to make something very similar to this, only with a grey background instead of the white. I cut up my 10″ blocks and a bit of Liberty and all of a sudden my I’ll-make-it-as-I-create-scraps quilt is now a kit complete with everything I need to construct the top, bar a border. It is going to be my autumn project, with a view to getting it onto our bed by Christmas, and once again, I can’t wait.

What with a washed and dried fleece paired with some food colouring (Ilse and I have a date set for this) as well as all those frozen elderberries and avocado skins, I’m ready to see how much I can get spun during the Tour de Fleece this July.

The jar of tiny scraps is ready to transform my old handspun yarn tags into reusable Christmas tags (the magic of pencils and rubbers) and some cards.

A favourite pattern and the right sized needles have been selected for some September sock knitting:

and a couple of other quick and easy projects have been finished off and cleared out of the way, such as some visible mending of a much loved (and very much on its last legs) jumper.

When all was said and done, I had a total of eight projects lined up for the next few months, all of which I am delighted about. I genuinely can’t believe just how much impact a simple shift – just collating materials into kits – has had on my attitude towards these materials. They have gone from being millstones to a series of treats that I am looking forward to getting stuck into, one by one. In fact, I was so keen to get started that I finally made some more progress on my holiday embroidery yesterday, and am planning another pleasant afternoon’s stitching very soon.

It has also inspired a flurry of other creative endeavours, with old projects being pulled out and dusted off all over the house; especially gratifying was finding some more scraps being added to a strip quilt last night.

It’s been such turnaround, from dismay to pure pleasure, over the past few days and I’m relieved that only the latter seems to be catching. I don’t know what the psychology of all this is, but I do know that there is something truly transformative about the magic of kits.

Madeleine

What are your tricks to make yourself excited about your materials again? Do you make up kits for yourself? Or do prep/ cutting sessions? Or is there another method that we should know about?

Small pleasures

This little bonnet took an inordinate amount of time to knit – or rather, not knit. February wasn’t a particularly productive month, what with all the other commitments we had as a family, and in the end I spent a couple of very pleasant days over half term finishing off a few odds and ends. As well as helping Fliss with her Jane Eyre dress, I sewed through the remainder of the projects I cut out in January, and had the pleasure of wearing my new tulip skirt to work yesterday. Best of all though, I spent a few hours in the bay window at the front of our house, listening to dramas on the radio and finishing this new baby gift.

Of course, now that I’ve made it, I think I’ve enough wool left over to make an even tinier version, too. It’ll look good in blue, with a white trim and strap.

There are a few more projects that I’d like to complete between now and Easter, because my lovely aunt in Scotland sent me home with two bags of fleece last weekend. Come Easter you’ll find me skirting, sorting and washing these. They came with plenty of lichen, and what with the elderberries that I never made into syrup, and the bag of avocado skins I’ve been amassing, there’s lots of dyeing on the horizon.

Before I get to that, though, there are a few other odds and ends that need using up. I’ve had my fill of colourwork knitting, having done so much of it over the past few months, so I’m going to crochet these piles of leftovers into a couple of snoods. There’s a ball of mustard yellow on its way to lift this little pile:

and a bigger crochet hook to enable me to crochet all three strands of these yarns at once.

It seems that I won’t get around to making another Winter Flora this spring, and while part of me feels that I ought to, another part of me just wants to play with these colours in a different (and quicker) way. And that’s okay. After all, hobbies are meant to be a pleasure, not a chore.

One very definite pleasure is the book on my bedside table this week, lent to me by a friend. The night I started it I stayed up far too late, reading long after my bedtime. As a result, I’ve set it aside as my weekend treat, when I can finish in long greedy gulps.

Between the fleeces, a good book and a spot of patchwork in the evenings, I’ve a lot to look forward to at the moment. Really, nine tenths of pleasure is in the anticipation. With that in mind, I’ve set aside half an hour this afternoon to start one of those yarny projects with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle, and I just can’t wait. Small pleasures, but pleasures nonetheless.

Madeleine

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

What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

Preparing for spring

Over the past few years, I’ve come to make the winter months precious by filling them with winter-only activities. Come spring, I’ll be needed in the garden, and I’d like to immerse myself in a fleece or two on rainy days. That means that there won’t be much – if any – time for knitting. So I’m doing a little pre-spring cleaning, and using up the bits and pieces left over from other makes.

So far, three such projects have graced my needles: a long-awaited (we’re talking years) tea cosy for our house, a pair of colourful wrist warmers and the start of a sweet little bonnet for a soon-to-be-born little person. I started the bonnet on Sunday afternoon while watching a film with the girls and went wrong twice before finally reading the pattern properly. I have to say, I didn’t mind a bit. I was so cosy, wrapped up on the couch in front of the fire, and working on something so small that it was the work of an hour to pull it out and start again. The yarn is leftover from the socks I designed, with the idea that the busy new parents will be able to throw it in the machine when it gets grubby. I’ve been there.

The wrist warmers were a bit of a slog, if I’m honest. Not because they were hard (they aren’t) but because there were three yarns used in every colourwork row, so I had to keep dropping and picking up two of them. They were one of those projects that I had to set an end date for. I’m glad I did, though, because Fliss loves them and I’ve set them aside for next Christmas.

Bringing me the most pleasure, though, is the new tea cosy in my life. This is going to sound ridiculous, but why did I not know how effective these things are? They keep the tea piping hot for ages, even in our somewhat chilly house. I used a pattern from this book, and have plans to make little birds with the last of my leftover scraps. More Christmas presents, you see. The pile on the present shelf is growing, as there have been some little sewing additions too, of late, and it is so satisfying to reach for a gift you made a few months earlier with just that person in mind. Come next Christmas, it really will feel as though the elves had made it all.

With the lengthening days, the urge to read about the natural world has come again, and I found myself scanning the library nature writing section. In the end, I plumped to reread The Shepherd’s Life. We’ll be going to the Lake District in the spring, and journeying through its pages feels almost like setting off on that little jaunt a few weeks early.

I love having so much to look forward to, but instead of thinking I can’t wait, I find that really, I can. I can because I have so much to enjoy doing between now and then. Next up will be another pair of wrist warmers, and a second snood, and perhaps even a second little bonnet to tuck away for another, as-yet-unknown baby. A few little birds might find their way into the children’s rooms. There are winter walks to enjoy, still, before reading about the rest of the year indoors, in the warm. Come the spring, I’ll be out there all the time, with my hands in the cool dark soil. For now, though, I’m preparing for spring in the most pleasurable ways I know.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

How are you preparing for spring? Or is it not on your mind just yet?

Two quilts, maybe three

Not so very long ago – within the last five years – the airing cupboard held bulging bags of would-be quilts. There were old wool blankets from our grandparents’ homes, a stained batik tablecloth of my mothers, a tired feather duvet, ripped sheets, leftovers from dressmaking projects and more than a couple of bags of old clothes in patterned fabrics. One summer holiday I got the whole lot out and divided it up as best I could, never having made a quilt before. I divvied up the blankets and other bits of wadding, assigned backing, and estimated how many scraps I’d need for each. Armed with a pair of scissors and the fact that a coin quilt really couldn’t be all that tricky, I set about making my very first quilt, which Seb has had on his bed ever since. It took far more scraps than I’d anticipated, and I wouldn’t use such a heavy backing again, but it still looks nice enough.

Ilse’s Irish Chain took several months more, even with the loan of a cutting mat and other game-changing equipment. It took so long, in fact, that I wondered if the library would allow me to keep renewing the same book for so many months. But eventually that, too, was done, and the bags in the airing cupboard were a little bit lighter.

That summer I got organised and made up two more ‘kits’, dying white sheets for backgrounds and setting myself up for the next two quilts. That autumn I ended up making three, two of which have never been blogged and Ben’s fast and furious leaving-home quilt. And, finally, the airing cupboard was empty and all the children’s beds were covered in a bit of homemade warmth.

Five quilts down the line, a huge kingsize one is next, for John and I. In my head, I place a glorious order with Liberty and spend a happy month or so making a starburst of truly cosmic dimensions, radiating from its epicentre in a blur of colour and light. One day.

In reality, all the sewing I’ve done over the past couple of years has generated a significant number of scraps, and this is what I quilt with. I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping them quilt-ready. Inspired by professional quilters who keep their bins full of precut fabrics in every size, shade and scale, I’ve been keeping on top of my own cutting in a rather more specific way.

The thing about using scraps and old clothes is that for every nice big 8″ square you get, you end up with fifty much smaller bits that simply can’t be used. So I’ve chosen three quilts to have on the go, in sizes that can be cut down into each other if I change my mind.

First of all, there’s a postage stamp quilt, designed to use up all those pesky little 2.5″ square pieces (anything smaller goes in a scrap jar and gets used for making cards, and crazy quilting and the like. Ilse loves digging through it). I don’t think I’d have the patience to sew 1936 little scraps of fabric together in one go, but it’ll take years for me to accumulate that many scraps. In the meantime, I’m stitching them into 16 patch blocks with no rules other than that no fabric can be repeated in each block. When I’ve made 121 of them (or earlier, if I get sick of this project) I’ll sew them all together and finish the quilt.

The quilt that I’m really excited about is the next size up. I cut anything that would allow into 5″ squares, so that I could cut them down into 2.5″ squares if I wanted to speed the postage stamps along, and spent a very pleasant few months considering what to do with them. For a long time, I pondered a hand-stitched clam quilt, but in the end Christina’s gorgeous Drunkard’s Path sent me on a little pathway of my own, and I am planning something like this beauty. I’ve dyed and cut more than enough grey squares (yet another worn out sheet) in various shades to pair with the number of coloured squares I have so far, and am looking forward to some steady piecing as and when the fancy takes me.

Finally, I’d like to make a very simple, large scale quilt of half square triangles. Whenever I can – and it isn’t often – I cut a 10″ square. These seem to get used up faster than I can collect them: twenty went into the back of a baby quilt, and several more were cut up into 5″ squares. I’ve got eleven at the moment, and think the duplicates will hit the cutting mat soon. That leaves just eight, which is a very small beginning indeed. Perhaps that pile will grow, and one day there’ll be a kaleidoscope of all my favourite fabrics on our bed, in triangles large enough to show them off. Or perhaps I’ll need just a few more squares here or there to finish off the other quilts, and that’ll be the end of that. Whichever happens, it doesn’t really matter. All things being equal, there’ll be a quilt on our bed in the next couple of years, and another for the guest room. Two quilts is what is really planned, and a third would be a bonus.

Madeleine

How do you plan your quilts (or do you not plan them at all)? Do you make them fast, or over months and years? With new fabric or old?

Introducing Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers

Like many others, I greet the autumn with wool in hand, my to-knit list growing faster than I get get through it. But by the time December arrives, my appetite for knitting is sated somewhat, and I start planning my New Year sewing.

I love to sew in the cold and crisp new year. The winter is the only time when I can fully turn my back on the garden, and so any spare daylight hours can be given over, guilt free, to sewing. We light the big stove in the dining room and I’m happy in there all day, cutting and pressing at the big table before moving to the armchair in the bay to hand finish garments in the last of the afternoon light.

I do almost all our sewing for the year in the winter months. By February, the emphasis is very much on summer clothing: simple cotton frocks and skirts and whatever else is needed. I like to have an easy quilt on the go, so that I can make a block here or there when a spot of making is required and I don’t have time to dive into dressmaking. But in January, you’ll usually find me making any winter clothes that my wardrobe is lacking. And this year, what was lacking was most definitely a warm pair of versatile trousers.

These trousers are inspired by all those button-up trousers that men wear in period dramas – you know, the pale beige trews sported by Mr Darcy and his friend Bingley, for example. Rather than a complicated fit involving a fly, or the unflattering bulk of an elastic waist, I wanted a simple button front. I also wanted a appealing cut, and the simple lines of peg trousers look elegant on everyone, in my opinion. The beauty of this design is that the button closure, combined with the easy fit of the peg style, means that you don’t have to worry about fit. Simply make your trousers in the correct size, try them on, and sew the buttons in the right place for a perfect fit. Trouser fitting doesn’t get any easier than this.

I made my first pair of these last winter, from a gorgeous dotted chambray, using scraps of Liberty Maybelle for the pockets. As you can see from the photos, they look equally good styled for older and younger models. The lovely Ella wore them in a way I never would, and I loved their funked-up cool. In fact, I loved them so much that I wanted a version to carry me through the cooler months, so made another pair from a soft wool tweed. They work equally well in any soft and drapey fabric and are ridiculously comfortable. What’s more, they look good with everything. Dress them up with heels for work, or down with boots, pumps or sandals for home. Make the pockets from scraps of something beautiful, as they do peek out in the most delightful way. They also provide the all-important modesty needed with button-up trousers, ensuring that there’s no chance of an unfortunate gaping moment. And because these are a feminine take on the style, and we all know who was really in charge in that particular marriage, I’ve named them after Miss Elizabeth Bennett as was.

This is very much a beginner trouser pattern. If you can sew straight lines and curves on a machine, you can make these. There is some pleating involved around the waistline, and pockets to insert, but these are clearly explained. As you might expect, I’ve put together a fully-photographed tutorial which will be published beginning in January on this blog, and will remain freely available thereafter.

I’d like to run a little giveaway for this pattern, so if you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy, please leave a comment below. To be eligible to win, you need to tell me who you are making the trousers for, and whether or not they will be your first pair. The deadline for entries is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 9 January 2019. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 10 January, which is also the day that the pattern will become available in my Etsy shop. The tutorials will be published over four Fridays from Friday 11 January.

Madeleine

Who would you make these trousers for? Will they be your first pair? Leave a comment answering both these questions to be eligible to win a free copy of the pattern.

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.

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?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: practical knitting

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

***

My copy of Practical Knitting Illustrated: The Key to Hundreds of Garments You Can Make Yourself doesn’t have a date inside. Looking at it, I thought it looked quite 1940s, and the fact that all the illustrations are black and white would fit that theory. A quick internet search gave me one copy dated to 1947, which sounds about right.

I don’t think that a volume entitled Practical anything would sell particularly well nowadays. Despite the resurgence in craft, knitting and dressmaking patterns seem to be sold as novel! easy! quick! or fun! This book doesn’t claim to be any of those things – although it does bill some of the resulting items as such. Instead, it focuses on how hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile the garments inside will be. And although I wouldn’t want to wear all of the garments listed (a knitted beach suit, anyone?), those are the values that I like to apply to my own designs.

It goes without saying that British knitters of the late 1940s were approaching their craft from a rather different place than we do today. At the height of rationing, each adult civilian was entitled to the equivalent to one new set of clothes and shoes a year. Clothes – and materials – rationing was on the cusp of coming to a close, but there would continue to be shortages for several years yet. Although you could theoretically go out and buy whatever your wardrobe needed after 15 March 1949, you were unlikely to be able to in practice. Goods in short supply were managed by price control. Despite this, clothes were expensive and had to be made to last.

This issue is reflected in the advice given on buying yarn. Sold by the ounce, yarn quantities are one of the most confusing things about vintage patterns because how long is an ounce of wool? It seems that it depended on the quality, and readers were instructed to buy the best they could afford. The best qualities although more expensive to buy, are cheaper because they go farther in the knitting through having more rounds to the ounce. And it only took 5 ounces – about 140 grams – of yarn to knit a women’s 2 ply jumper. How’s that for economy of materials?

I would imagine that higher quality yarns would also work out cheaper in the long run because they would wear better and not need to be replaced as quickly – saving both money and labour.

It’s the labour in the book that I can’t quite understand. Although the book pictures 24 different types of yarn, it’s clear that finer yarns were the order of the day. Shetland yarns – which I assume were like the traditional Shetland jumperweight 2 ply yarns still available today – cannot be recommended too highly. Having knit a 2 ply fair isle allover myself, I know how much longer it takes to knit a jumper in a finer yarn. John’s cabled cardigan – in DK as it was – nearly finished me off. Yet here, women (because this book is clearly aimed at women) are encouraged to knit everything for the entire family. No wonder virtues such as hardwearing and plenty of room to grow were included in the descriptions of products. Keeping a family in vests and socks must have been a Herculean task indeed.

I don’t suppose that any women, no matter how dedicated, fulfilled all their family’s requirements in this way. I’m told that my husband’s grandmother, who must have bought or received this book as a newlywed, was a prizewinning knitter, and I would love to have been able to ask her about what she did and didn’t knit for her family. While I keep myself in socks, other people receive them from me as gifts rather than as a matter of course. I’ve never knit a vest (undershirt) in my life. But baby knits and children’s jumpers? Yes, I’ve knit many of those in my time and it’s true: the more hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile they are, the more wear they’ve had by one child after another.

I’m as guilty as anyone of wanting things done yesterday. I knit almost a whole jumper in a weekend recently. And yes, it is hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile. But I didn’t enjoy making it more because it was fast! In fact, I definitely enjoyed it less. So when I cast on for a new pair of socks last night, I opened Practical Knitting for company, and enjoyed its words of wisdom on the subject of socks for your sons. These three-quarter length socks are excellent for sturdy schoolboys who are always on their feet, it told me. For holiday times, make them with Fair Isle tops. Now if that isn’t taking pride in your craft and making the most of the materials you have, I don’t know what is. Practical doesn’t have to be boring. It can be as fun and creative as you like. Just like the rest of the deeply practical wardrobe I aspire to.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

Do you prefer to make things quickly or slowly? What’s the most painstakingly made thing in your wardrobe? Did you make it yourself? And is it practical?