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?

These days

I’ve been making a real effort not to say I’m so busy, although truth be told I catch myself doing it all the time. Yesterday afternoon, collecting Ilse from my parents house, I found myself doing my usual must dash! – and it was true. John has been out of the country for work this week, which has been the cherry on the cake of a very full life.

The trouble is that the word busy doesn’t have the best connotations. There’s something self-important about it, as well as pointless. They call it busy work for a reason: something to keep children occupied and make them think they are getting somewhere whereas, in fact, they are standing still. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with a bit of busy work, as long as it’s a conscious choice. I’d count knitting something simple as grown up busy work, really. But I don’t want to think of my life as busy. I want to think of it as full of the things I love.

These days, I am working four days a week outside the home and one day on my pattern designing business, and I am loving it all. Around the edges, though, I’ve chosen to keep going with the other things I enjoy, rather than putting them on ice for when the work dries up, or, worse, the last of the children leaves home. Like most people, I like finding out about how other people spend their time and, as this has been so much on my mind lately, I thought I’d share a week with you.

On Mondays, I just go to work. Normally, nothing happens in the evening, which is the loveliest end to the first day of the week. John and I take it in turns to come home and take care of the children and the chores, or stay late at work. As a result, I either switch off by cooking and doing the ironing, or walk straight into a house with a lit fire and tea on the table. I like both.

The lack of clubs means that Monday nights are when I tend to finish off – or at least work on – whatever craft project I started at the weekend. This Monday just gone I finished a couple of waistcoats for an upcoming ballet show (don’t worry, I’m not actually in it. I wouldn’t inflict that on any audience).

On Tuesdays, I go for a swim in the evening. We decided to enter an outdoor swim this summer, so since December I’ve been swimming twice a week (more in the holidays) at our local pool. There’s a women’s only session on Tuesdays, which is the perfect time to do interval training in the pool as everyone is very polite and knows that you are not trying to race them for a couple of lengths before going maddeningly slowly for a bit. At least, I hope so. Maybe they all just think I’m annoying.

On Wednesday evenings, I have a music lesson. At the moment, I’m working on the piano. You might remember that I also play the flute, but I find that one instrument to practice (hopefully) every (most) day(s) is quite enough to have on my plate at the moment, thank you very much. One day I am going to do my flute diploma. But I am enjoying playing the piano so much that I’ve decided to go for my grade 8 on that first. It might take forever, but I’m enjoying the journey and I’ll get there eventually.

Thursday is my day when I work at home on my business, and in the evening I head out to my adult ballet class. To be entirely honest, John often has to give me a shove out the door. Having spent a day blissfully cacooned in my own little world of sewing and knitting and writing, the thought of donning a leotard and going out into the cold and doing what is always a really challenging class is not a little daunting. Then I get there and I love it. Every. Single. Time.

On Fridays, I like to come home and cook and then watch something in front of the fire with everyone. I might, if I’m feeling energetic, do a little knitting. I always have an early night. Now that I’m forty, I don’t even pretend to want to stay up late.

Saturday mornings are probably the hardest part of the whole week, involving cleaning the house, planning meals and generally catching up with the debris of the week. Suffice to say that I have streamlined this to within an inch of its life. I will never enjoy it, so it may as well be got over with as quickly as possible. I know that there are people who love this more than anything, but I just don’t. If I could travel through time, I’d go and get myself a Victorian housekeeper – you know, one with really high standards who would take care of everything. Sadly, I can’t. At least everyone pitches in.

I do, however, love Saturday afternoons, because this is often when I start a big new crafty project. If you remember, I did a lot of cutting out of fabric during the Christmas holidays, and last week it was a joy to be able to just pick up those waistcoat pieces and start to sew. There is no way I would have had the wherewithal to grade and cut the pattern, but sewing? I can do that. Especially with a pot of tea, some Christmas cake and some good company.

If I’m not sewing, I’m swimming, because the weekend is the best time to get into the pool and just swim for as long as I want. Sometimes I have company that gets bored after about an hour, and sometimes I go on my own and stay in much longer. I don’t mind when in the weekend I go, or how far I swim, as long as I go and do at least 60 lengths of crawl. I am astonished by how much progress I’ve made in two short months.

Sunday has long been family day in our house, and in winter that often means a walk. Last Sunday it was just a short one: an hour along the Fulford Ings and back. The week before we all went to see Mary Poppins, instead. Next weekend is Residents First weekend in York, when all the local attractions and restaurants and so forth are open at a very reduced rate to anyone with a YorkCard. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’m hoping for a trip up the Minster tower as it’s been literally years, and perhaps a visit to Barley Hall or the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. We’ll see.

I can’t quite decide whether this is the most boring post in the world (I suspect it is – sorry) or actually vaguely interesting to those of you who don’t know me in real life. But I think I’m going to publish it anyway, for my future self. There’s been a lot of dedicated diary writing in our house, lately, and I caught myself thinking that I really ought to keep one again. And then I remembered that I do, after a fashion, right here on this blog. One day, when this big old house is much emptier and I have time on my hands, I’d like to look back at the way things used to be. The longer I live, the more I realise that life changes, imperceptibly, all the time, and what was just the norm one year is completely forgotten the next. So this is a little record for myself, really, of these fleeting months at the start of my fifth decade, and how I chose to fill them.

Madeleine

What are you choosing to fill these days with?

Under the Ice socks knitalong part three: turning the heel

Welcome to the third part of the Under the Ice socks tutorial. This week you’re going to turn the heel. Having already made the toe, this will be a breeze, because it is exactly the same process all over again. The only difference is that this time you have stitches on both of your needles. That doesn’t complicate matters; you just totally ignore one set of stitches.

You’ll know that the foot of your sock is the right length when it reaches the point where the top of the foot becomes the bottom of the leg. Alternatively – and especially if it’s a gift, as these are – you can measure it against another sock that fits the recipient well.

Now it’s time to turn the heel. The first row is a purl row, and you are going to work back across the last row of stitches that you have just knit.

Turn your work so that the stitches you are about to purl are further away from you than the stitches on the other side of the sock (these are the ones that you are going to ignore). Purl across the row:

Stopping before the last stitch:

Put your yarn to the back of your work:

Slip the stitch purl wise (as if you were going to purl it, but don’t actually purl it):

Turn your work and put your working yarn to the back of your work again:

Slip the stitch purlwise back onto the right hand needle. It is now wrapped. You can see this in the photo below.

Knit the number of stitches that the pattern states for your size. You will stop one stitch before the end of the row:

Bring your working yarn to the front:

Slip that last remaining stitch purlwise, from your left needle to your right:

Turn your work and bring your yarn forward again:

and slip that unworked stitch purlwise, from your left needle to your right.

The stitch is now wrapped. Purl the number of stitches that the pattern says. You will stop one stitch further in each time you work a purl row, and each time you work a knit row. So in this (purl) row and the next (knit) row, you will stop two stitches before the end, and wrap that stitch.

Continue working like this until you reach the number of stitches stated in the pattern. Finish last final knit row with a wrap and turn, as directed by the pattern.

Turn your work and purl across the number of stitches stated in the pattern. Your work should look like this:

Now insert your right needle into the next (wrapped) stitch, as if you were going to purl it (but don’t purl it), and slip it onto the right needle, like so:

Then insert your left needle into the wrap around the base of the stitch that you’ve just slipped:

Slide it onto your right needle, along with the slipped stitch.

Then slide the slipped stitch and its wrap together onto the left needle, like so:

Then purl  the stitch and its wrap together – just as if you were purling one stitch.

That’s the wrapped stitch picked up. Your work should look like this:

Now you need to wrap the next stitch. Move your working yarn to the back:

Slip the next stitch purlwise from your left needle to your right:

Turn your work and move your working yarn to the back:

and slip the same stitch purlwise from your left needle to your right again.

That’s one pick up and wrap done on a purl row. Now this is how you do it on a knit row.

Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern. Then you need to pick up the wrapped stitch. Slip it, as if you were going to purl it, to the right needle, and then use your left needle to pick up the wrap around the base of the slipped stitch. Move both the slipped stitch and its wrap to your left needle. This is just the same as the last wrapped stitch you picked up. You can see both the stitch and the wrap on my left needle, ready to knit, below.

Knit the stitch and its wrap together, as if they were just one stitch:

so that it looks like this:

Then you need to wrap the next stitch. Just as a reminder, you bring your working yarn to the front:

slip the next stitch purlwise from left needle to right:

turn your work and bring your yarn to the front again:

and slip that same stitch purlwise from your left needle to your right.

Keep working back and forth, picking up the next wrapped stitch and wrapping the subsequent stitch each time, until you have picked up all the wrapped stitches. In the final two rows, there won’t be another stitch to wrap after you’ve picked up the wrapped stitch (because the wrapped stitch will be the last stitch of the row). That’s fine – just pick up the stitch and turn your work, ready to work the next row.

That’s the heel turned! Next week we’ll work the leg of the sock, and the ribbing at the top.

Madeleine

Did you find working the heel easy, having worked the toe? It really is exactly the same process again. By the end of two socks, you’ll be doing it in your sleep…

 

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?

Under the Ice socks knitalong part one: making the toe

Welcome to the first part of the Under the Ice socks knitalong. This week you’re going to be working the toe of your sock. The nice thing about this is that you can practice your short rows at the very start of your project, so that if it all goes wrong (and it shouldn’t, if you follow this tutorial!) you can rip it out and start again.

Cast on the number of stitches indicated by the pattern. Use a spare length of yarn to cast on with – NOT the blue yarn that you intend to knit the toe in. I used some of the white yarn. Whatever you use, bear in mind that it’s easier to unpick later if it’s smooth and light-coloured.

You’re going to knit the toe stitches back and forth, so don’t join them in the round. Knit 1 row:

Then purl 1 row:

Then you can cut the waste yarn, leaving a tail so that it doesn’t accidentally unravel.

Now join your project yarn – the blue yarn in this case – and knit a row with it. You join it by just laying it over the needle to knit the first stitch – don’t join it any more securely than this, as you need to unpick the waste yarn later. You can see me doing this here.

Don’t worry if your stitches are loose at the join; you can just pull on the ends to tighten them up.

 Now the pattern will tell you to purl a certain number of stitches before wrapping and turning the final stitch on this row. Purl the correct number of stitches, then stop.

Move your yarn from the front to the back of your work:

 Then insert the right needle as if you were going to purl the next stitch (but don’t purl it):

and slip the needle from the left needle to the right. This is known as slipping the stitch purlwise. You can see that I’ve done this, below.

 

Turn your work. It will look like this:

Move your yarn to the back of your work, ready to knit:

insert your needle right needle into that slipped stitch again as if you were going to purl it (but don’t purl it):

and slip it from the left needle to the right:

Now you need to knit the number of stitches that the pattern tells you to, until you get to the next stitch that you need to wrap and turn.

When you get there – and it will be the last stitch of the row – move your yarn from the back of your work to the front, like so:

Then insert your right needle into the final stitch as if you were going to purl it (but don’t actually purl it):

and slip it from the left needle to the right:

Turn your work. Bring your yarn to the front, ready to purl. Insert your right needle into the slipped stitch again, as if you were going to purl it (but don’t actually purl it):

and slip it from the left needle to the right:

Now purl the number of stitches that you are told to for this next row. You’ll notice that the number of stitches goes down by one for each row you work. The stitch that you are going to wrap is one in from the end this time. So there will be two stitches on your left needle when you are ready to wrap and turn this time. Move your yarn to the back, and slip the next stitch purlwise again, just as you did before. The only thing that’s changed is that there’s another stitch on your left needle. Don’t do anything with that stitch. You’ve already wrapped it, and it just stays where it is for now. In the photo below, I have moved my yarn to the back, ready to wrap the stitch.

Here I’ve slipped the stitch:

turned my work and moved my yarn to the back:

and slipped the stitch again.

Now you are ready to knit the stitches on this row. Knit the number that the pattern says. You’ll stop two stitches before the end of the row. Bring your yarn to the front:

slip the stitch purlwise, ignoring the previously wrapped stitch:

turn your work and bring your yarn forward:

and slip the stitch back again:

That’s it. Just keep going, working one less stitch on each row and wrapping and turning at the end of each row. So in the next row, you’ll purl all the way to the last three stitches. Keep going until you’ve worked the number of stitches that the pattern dictates. You should finish on a knit row.

This is the tip of the toe. On the very next row, you are going to start picking up those wrapped stitches again. Purl the number of stitches indicated by the pattern, then stop. Your work should look like this:

Insert your right needle into the next (wrapped) stitch, as if you were going to purl it (but don’t purl it), and slip it onto the right needle, like so:

Then insert your left needle into the wrap around the base of the stitch that you’ve just slipped:

Slide it onto your right needle, along with the slipped stitch.

Then slide the slipped stitch and its wrap together onto the left needle, like so:

Then purl  the stitch and its wrap together – just as if you were purling one stitch.

That’s the wrapped stitch picked up.

Now you need to wrap the next stitch. This is exactly the same as when you wrapped stitches earlier in the toe. Move your yarn to the back:

slip the stitch:

turn your work and move your yarn to the back, before slipping the stitch back to the right needle again. Like I said, you do this just as you wrapped your stitches before.

Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern. Then you need to pick up the wrapped stitch. Slip it, as if you were going to purl it, to the right needle:

use your left needle to pick up the wrap around the base of the slipped stitch, and move both the slipped stitch and its wrap to your left needle. This is just the same as the last wrapped stitch you picked up. You can see both the stitch and the wrap on my left needle, ready to knit, below.

Knit the stitch and its wrap together, as if they were just one stitch:

and then wrap the next stitch, just as you’ve been doing throughout the toe.

Keep working back and forth, picking up the next wrapped stitch and wrapping the subsequent stitch each time, until you have picked up all the wrapped stitches. In the final two rows, there won’t be another stitch to wrap after you’ve picked up the wrapped stitch (because the wrapped stitch will be the last stitch of the row). That’s fine – just pick up the stitch and turn your work, ready to work the next row.

By the time you have picked up all your stitches, you’ll have made a little sock toe! It looks like this on the side you’ve just been working:

 

And like this on the other side:

As you can see, it still has the provisional cast on (white yarn, in this case), and we’ll deal with that next time.

Madeleine

How did you find making the toe? Any questions or comments?

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…

The new Under the Ice sock pattern is available free for 24 hours only

Calling all aspiring sock knitters! My Under the Ice sock pattern is now available for free via Ravelry. Please pop over before 9.30 am GMT on 4 December 2018 to download your free copy.

If you’d like to find out more about the pattern, here is the introductory post.

The fully photographed, four-part tutorial starts here on Friday, 7 December 2018.

The pattern is available for purchase via my Ravelry shop and on Etsy.

I hope you’ll join us in making a pair!

Madeleine

Are you a sock knitter yet? Several people are making this their New Year cast on – including me – so I hope you’ll join us.

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: Introducing Under the Ice socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeleine

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

 

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 one: gathering and swatching

Welcome to the Little Flurries knitalong! I’m so pleased that you’re making one, and hope that these tutorials make it a fun and confidence-building experience for the even the newest of knitters. The pattern has been designed to be as simple as possible, while still incorporating lots of details to make it a cosy, cute and comfortable sweater for the little people in your life. It is suitable for confident beginners, and assumes that you can cast on, knit, purl and bind off.

Rest assured that these tutorial posts will stay up on the blog for free indefinitely, so there’s no need to rush. Take your time and feel free to leave a comment with any questions or suggestions you might have. If you’d like to receive email notifications of future tutorials and other posts, sign up in the Join Our Community box in the sidebar/ near the bottom of your phone screen. Oh, and don’t be confused by the changing yarn colour. It seems silly to photograph and write up the process of swatching for every different design I make, so I’ve used some photos from the Snow Day tutorial, as well as some new ones.

The yarn that I’ve chosen for Little Flurries is Drops Karisma, for a number of reasons. First, it’s pure wool, which provides the structure and warmth that the pattern calls for. However, I was careful to choose a superwash wool, because I know from first hand experience that most busy parents do not have time to hand wash baby knits. Karisma can go in your machine on a delicates cycle at 40 degrees. Thank goodness for that.

However, like most superwash yarns, Karisma does have a tendency to g-r-0-w, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you wash and dry your swatch as you would wash the finished jumper. Then you can pick a smaller size/ change needles as necessary.

Second, it’s a DK yarn. When I designed this pattern’s big sister, Snow Day, I wanted a thick enough yarn to make it almost chunky, and ended up choosing Drops Alaska, which is an aran weight. That would have been far too thick for little people, though – I’m not sure they would be able to move their arms in 2×2 aran weight ribbing! – so I scaled down to a double knitting weight instead.

Third, I loved the colour range. Karisma comes in lots of bold and bright colours, perfect for cheering up a grey and wintry day. (Ignore the pinks in my box above; they were part of the same delivery but for a different project.)

Finally, it’s inexpensive and widely available. We don’t all have big budgets for expensive yarn and overseas shipping costs – although it’s lovely if we do – and I wanted everyone to be able to make this little jumper.

 

If you’d like to make your jumper in another yarn – perhaps an acrylic for those sensitive to wool, or a more luxurious yarn for a special gift – go for it. I’d love to see how they turn out. Just make sure that it has a fairly rounded structure (3 plies or more) to make the bobbles and ribbing pop, and that it has a gauge of 21 stitches and 28 rows over 4×4 inches/ 10×10 cm.

Once you’ve got your wool, you’ll need to determine what size needles to work with. Cast on 21 stitches using the size recommended on the ball band – 4mm for Drops Karisma. Work in stocking stitch as this is the main stitch used (knit 1 row, turn, purl next row) for 28 rows. This is enough to establish the width and length of your knitted swatch. Gently uncurl the edges and hold it flat, without stretching it at all. Measure the width. It should be 10cm almost exactly – you can see from the photo below that mine is.

But what if it isn’t? Not to worry. We all knit with different tension, and even needles purporting to be the same size can differ. All you do is go up a needle size (if your swatch was under 10cm), or down a size (if it was over 10cm).  Knit two rows (no purling) to create a garter stitch line across your swatch. It should now look like the photo below (see that row of purl stitches at the very top?).

Carry on in stocking stitch again, until you’ve done another 28 rows and can measure your swatch again. Keep adjusting your needle size until your swatch measures 10 cm across. Here you can see that by changing up a needle size, the same number of stitches yielded over 11cm, instead of 10. Needle size makes a big difference.

 Don’t worry overly about how many rows you knit per 10cm, as long as you are in the right ballpark (28 rows per 10cm). The pattern will tell you how long each part needs to be, not how many rows to knit (apart from at the hem and neckline). The important thing is to use the right sized needles to be able to consistently knit 10cm across with 21 stitches. I used 4mm needles with the Drops Karisma. Wool and knitters vary. As long as your gauge is right, your jumper will fit.

You will also need a pair of needles 1mm smaller than the size you have decided upon. You don’t need to swatch with these needles, as they are just for the collar, sleeves and hem. For example, because my larger needles (the ones I swatched for) are 4mm, I’m going to use 3mm needles every time the pattern calls for my smaller needles.

Having said that I never wash and block my swatches, you should when trying out a superwash yarn, because it does stretch – quite a lot. Many people suggest putting superwash items in the dryer to shrink them back to size; I don’t have one. Instead, I pressed mine gently, using a pressing cloth. Whatever you plan to do, try it out on your swatch first. Then you won’t get any horrible surprises when you finally wash your finished jumper.

Speaking of the back, that tutorial – including photos – will be available next week, same time, same place. Hopefully you’ll have gathered your wool and needles and made your swatch by then. If you have any questions at all, you can either post them in the comments below, or send me an email direct at mrscecilygraham@gmail.com. In the meantime, why not snap the odd photo of your parcel of wool arriving/ swatching in front of the fire/ general knitting love and send them to me so that I can include them in next week’s post? Alternatively, you can add your photos to your Ravelry account. I look forward to seeing all the yarn that everyone chooses!

Madeleine

Who are you making your Little Flurry for? And which of the options for the front have you chosen?