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.

***

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?

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?

Introducing Little Flurries – and a giveaway

November is upon us, and any knitter worth their salt is casting around for ideas for Christmas. Enter Little Flurries, a could-be-for-Christmas, could-just-be-a-lovely-jumper pattern for ages 1-5.

At its most festive, this is the jumper that gives you a cosy crafternoon with the little people in your life. Knit it for them, then present it to them with a jar of buttons, tinsel, embroidery silks, little trinkets – the more the merrier. Show me a 3-5 year old who wouldn’t want to wear a jumper with a Christmas tree that they’d decorated all by themselves on the front. And for the under 3s, you get to retain full creative control, as there will probably be far too many choking hazards involved for them to get involved. But as long as everything is securely sewn on, there’s no reason why even the tiddliest toddlers can’t be dressed for the festive season.

My children started by playing with buttons…

before raiding the real Christmas tree basket for some tinsel…

when Ilse suddenly remembered a bracelet which had snapped, leaving her with lots of lovely beads.

I still rather like the button option, especially for younger children. And of course, you could use embroidery, little badges (or buttons, as I believe they are called on the other side of the Atlantic), or whatever you have lying around, really. This is the ultimate project for rooting around in your craft drawers.

Of course, for the budding minimalists among the pre-school set, there is always the refined option of simply wearing it as a lit up tree. Or a tree with multicoloured baubles knitted in. Or even an entirely green tree, to make an understated environmental point.

Being someone who doesn’t like waste, I do like the fact that you can remove the tinsel and the trinkets and turn this back into a simpler sweater to wear for the rest of the winter, before passing it on to someone else to decorate the way they’d like the following year.

Or you can knit one of the three everyday options: bobbles in the same colour as the rest of the jumper, no bobbles at all, or a two-tone version with darker sleeves and bobbles against a lighter body. One model’s mother went for the latter version and I have to say, I love it in the teal. It is pretty and practical and very cosy indeed. My tiniest model will be showing it off next week, but here’s a preview of it in progress:

The bobble-less version, for those who are not so keen on bobbles, still has lots of texture thanks to the warm ribbed sleeves.

I’ve put a huge amount of thought into the development of this pattern. Even before the launch of Snow Day, I was toying with the idea of a pint-sized version. The bobbles and ribbing look lovely in the adult pattern, and I had some ideas for turning them into a sweet little toddler sweater. It wouldn’t be enough to simply resize the pattern; small children would be simply swamped by all that texture in an Aran weight yarn. Mealtimes, playdough and time spent outdoors meant that the jumpers would need to be machine-washable. Yet I wanted the sweater to retain its warmth and its characteristic bobbles and ribbed sleeves. 

So along came Little Flurries: a toddler-sized, DK, envelope-neck version of the Snow Day jumper. I’ve kept the uneven hem, to cover nappy-enhanced bottoms, and added a traditional neckline welcoming to even the most enormous of heads. Instead of thumb holes, the toddler version offers an optional foldover mitten, for quick trips outside when wrestling with real mittens is a step too far. And, of course, I’ve had a lot of fun with the bobbles. The Christmas version – outrageously silly as it is – is my favourite. My children had a huge amount of fun decorating the sample jumper, and as they’re all far too big to wear it, they have started a campaign for bigger ones. Maybe next year.

Whichever version you use, it goes without saying that there will be a knitalong, with a tutorial each week explaining each step with photographs to help you out. This is about the same level of difficulty as Snow Day. It uses some of the same skills (those bobbles and that ribbing) and some different ones too (the shaping is worked with decreases, and there is no increasing at all). The making up is, if anything, slightly simpler, as there is no neckline to knit on.

I’ve knit two of these in the past three weeks, and my mum knit the other one for me. They fairly fly together, if you set your mind to it, in little flurries of knitting on autumnal evenings. For those little flurries otherwise known as small children, of course. Make one. Make two. Make more, if you’re a speedy knitter. However many you make, and whichever design option you choose, I hope you enjoy making your Little Flurries as much as I have.

As with my A-line skirt pattern, I’d like to run a little giveaway for the Little Flurries pattern. I’ll be giving away one copy of the Little Flurries pattern to every ten people who enter. I will round up the number of commenters to the next ten – so if 11 people enter, I’ll give away two copies of the pattern, for example.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment! You are very welcome to enter both giveaways.

The pattern is suitable for confident beginners. It will be available through my Ravelry shop  from Friday 2 November, and my Etsy shop from Monday 5 November.

Madeleine

Dare I ask if you’ve started any Christmas knitting yet? How would you decorate Little Flurries, if you were to make one?

Snow Day knitalong part 5: making up

In the photo above I’m wearing one of my auntie Fiona’s lovely hand crocheted snoods. She makes all sorts of vintage-inspired items, from gorgeous snoods to new baby bunting and traditional Irish willow baskets to modern Christmas trees. You can find her in Derry’s Craft Village, or online.

Welcome to the last tutorial of the Snow Day knitalong. This week you’re going to be making up the jumper: knitting the neckline and sewing all the different parts together.

You start by laying the front and back right side up, with the right shoulder edges together. These are the bound off stitches which will sit on your right shoulder. Thread your tapestry needle with some yarn, either straight from the ball, or a tail.

Insert your needle under the first bound off stitch on the front shoulder. You’ll get a neater finish if you insert your needle under a stitch that looks like an A, rather than a V.

Now do the same with the first bound off stitch on the back shoulder (ignore the red thing; it’s just the circular needle that I was holding my live neck stitches on):

Work your way across the shoulder seam in this way, until you’ve sewn five or six stitches. Your yarn will still be very loose, like this:

Gently pull the yarn through, so that the shoulder seam is neatly drawn together. Don’t pull so hard that you cause the shoulder seam to bunch up, though.

The seam should be virtually invisible. Carry on like this until you reach the end of the seam, then stop, leaving the tail of the yarn hanging for now.

Next, you are going to knit the garter stitch neckline. With the wrong side facing, and starting at the left hand side of the front, transfer all the live stitches along the front neck to one of your smaller needles.

Continue along the back neck, doing exactly the same thing, until all the live stitches around the neckline are on one (smaller) needle.

Join a new ball of yarn (by looping it over the end of your needle with a tail of six inches or so) and knit all the way along the row.

When you reach the end of the row, turn your work and knit the next row. You are making a garter stitch neckline. Continue until you have knitted four rows in total.

Using one of your larger needles in your right hand, bind off all of the stitches (in knit) along the neckline.

Try to keep your stitches reasonably loose – don’t pull them very tight. They don’t need to be anything  like as loose as the ones you bound off along the top of the sleeves, but nor do you want an inflexible neckline. After you’ve done a bit, stop and pull on it. It shouldn’t be stretchy, but it should have a bit of give and look nice and neat. Mine is pictured below.

Keep going until you reach the end of the row. Cut your yarn and pull the tail through the final stitch. The top of your jumper (sweater) should now look like this:

One shoulder seam is sewn and the other is not. Sew up the other shoulder seam in exactly the same way as the first.

Bear in mind that you’ll also need to sew together the two edges of the garter stitch neckline that you’ve just knitted. You do this by working your way back and forth in the same way as you did the shoulder, only there aren’t nice even As to stitch together. However, garter stitch is very forgiving. Work one whole stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, like so:

You’ll find that there is a small gap at either edge of the front neckline, like this:

You need to weave a bit of yarn gently in and out of the fabric at the back of this, to pull the edges of the gap together. There’s no specific way of doing this, but it helps if you incorporate the adjacent stitches as well. Here I am, doing some weaving:

Don’t fret about it; just have a go. It’s only knitting, after all, and you’ll be surprised how easy this is. Before you know it, the gap will have disappeared and no-one will ever know it was there.

Leave all your ends for now; you’ll weave them in later.

Now it’s time to attach the sleeves. Lay your jumper out, right side up, and measure the distance indicated in the pattern down both the front and the back sides. I’ve marked the distances here with knitting needles but safety pins would have been more sensible…

Find the centre top of your sleeve and align it with the shoulder seam. Pin the sleeve to the body between the two markers (in my case, knitting needles) and spread the ribbing out evenly. Pin it in place.

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 stitch 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 – kind of like you picked up the shoulder seam stitches as little As. 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 is 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 increases that you made. If you’re going down the extra-long-sleeve-with-thumbhole route (and it is very cosy), mark four inches and two inches from the bottom of the sleeve as well.

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 your armpit. Anyone who’s looking that closely probably loves you 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:

By the way, if you are including a thumb hole on a longer sleeve, stop four inches before the bottom edge and backstitch a bit along the seam that you’ve just sewn, to secure the end of your yarn. Then use the tail from the cast on edge of the sleeve to sew the seam upwards, towards the thumbhole, for two inches. This will leave a two inch hole for your thumb.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Put your jumper on, crazy ends trailing everywhere, and spend a long time admiring yourself in it. Don’t worry about any little imperfections; a good blocking goes a long way.

When you’re ready, take it off again, put on a good film and 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.

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.

Wear with pride. And every time someone compliments you on your lovely new jumper, say, with studied casualness, oh, thanks. I made it myself.