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?

Under the Ice socks knitalong part four: working the leg

Welcome to the fourth and final part of the Under the Ice socks tutorial. This week you’re going to work the leg and weave in those ends.

At the end of the last tutorial, you had just finished turning the heel. Now you need to place a stitch marker (to mark the start of each new round). I’ve used a scrap of white wool.

Then you need to knit two rounds, still working in the blue yarn. You’ll notice that there’s a little hole on either side of the heel. Don’t worry about this; we’ll deal with it later.

After two rounds of blue, it’s time to start striping. Insert your right needle into the first stitch of the next round, ready to knit. Lay your white yarn over your right needle, so that the tail is on the left.

Knit the first few stitches. You may need to go back and pull your ends tight. Carry on all the way around.

Then you need to pick up your blue yarn and start working with it again. Just pick it up and knit with it.

Make sure that your working white yarn runs up the inside of the sock.

After the specified number of rounds of blue, it’s time to knit with the white yarn again. Now, because you’ve knit a few rounds of blue, you don’t want to pull the white yarn too tight, or you’ll cause ruching up the side of your sock. So make sure that you leave enough white yarn to run up the inside of your sock and cover the distance of those blue rows.

Knit the specified number of rows of white.

Carry on in this way until you have finished the striping section.

Then cut your blue yarn, leaving a long tail.

Tuck the tail inside your sock and continue to knit, in white, until the leg is 2″ shorter than you want the finished sock to be.

Now it’s time to add the ribbing at the top of the sock. Knit the first two stitches, as usual.

Bring your working yarn to the front of your work, ready to purl:

and purl the next two stitches. Then move your working yarn to the back again, ready to knit. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below.

Establish a 2×2 rib all the way around the sock. You should finish on 2 purl stitches. Then work 2 inches of the ribbing, all in white. You should always find yourself knitting into the knit stitches (the ones wearing v-necks) and purling the purl stitches (those sporting turtlenecks).

Once you’ve worked all that ribbing, it’s time to bind off. When binding off in rib – and I cannot emphasise this enough – you need to keep everything very very loose indeed. Otherwise you will not be able to stretch the top of your sock enough to get it on. So throughout all of the following bind-off steps, keep everything even looser than you think it needs to be.

Knit the first two stitches.

Bind off the first stitch that you knit by lifting it over the other stitch and right over and off the end of the needle. Now, the next stitch you need to work is a purl stitch, so move your working yarn to the front. You can see that I’ve done this in the photo below.

Purl the next stitch. Your working yarn will still be at the front of your work.

Now bind off the previous (knit) stitch by lifting it over the other (purl) stitch and over and off the end of the needle. The next stitch you need to work is a purl stitch, so keep your working yarn at the front of your work.

That’s it – you just carry on working one stitch at a time and binding off the previous stitch. Remember to check what your next stitch will be and move your working yarn forwards and backwards, just as you would if you were working ribbing normally.

When you get to the last stitch, cut your yarn with a tail of about 6″ and pull it through the final stitch.

Now you need to weave all those ends in. Weave the end you’ve just cut into the inside of the ribbing. You shouldn’t really be able to see it afterwards, even from the inside. Leave a little 0.5″ – 1″tail on each of your woven-in ends until after you’ve blocked and worn it, and then snip it off when everything has settled. I’ve done this to my sock, below.

Use the long blue tail to work your way down to the heel again. Use it to close the little hole on one side of the heel. Then work your way around the heel, stitching round the short row shaping and across the base of the heel, up the short row shaping and finally closing up the little hole on the other side. There’s no need to overdo it, especially in the heel (which would be uncomfortable to wear), but closing up the little holes like this does make the sock look really professional. You can see that I’ve done this, here:

When you’ve made both of your socks, soak them for half an hour or so in tepid (lukewarm) water. Then roll them in a towel and press on it, to removed the worst of the water. Leave them, spread on something flat, to dry. Then wear them! They will block to the shape of your feet, and be sublimely comfortable.

Then cast on for the next pair…

Madeleine

How did your first sock turn out?

 

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…

 

Under the ice socks knitalong part two: working the foot

Hello, and welcome back to the second part of the Under the Ice sock knitalong. We finished last week with a little sock toe in blue, with a provisional cast on in white, like below.

Before you can work the foot, you need to unpick the stitches of that provisional cast on. Hopefully you took my advice and cast on in a different and lighter colour, because that will make unpicking these stitches so much easier.

Set yourself up so that you can reach the provisional cast on stitches with one empty metal needle. The other metal needle will be closer to the blue toe stitches that you’ve just knit; don’t use that end.

Make sure that you have the correct side of the toe facing you (i.e. it is the right way out), and work from the left to the right. Insert your needle into the first blue stitch before you even start to unpick the white yarn. You can see this in the photo below. I’ve pulled the white yarn out a bit to make it clearer for you.

Now that you’ve got that stitch safely on your needle, you can pull that white yarn all the way out. There will still be a second bit of white yarn in the stitch.

Now pull the white yarn through the rows of white, where it is being held in place:

and all the way out of that stitch.

Now you can move on to the second stitch, and do exactly the same thing:

Keep doing this until you have worked your way through all the stitches. You will get to a point where you think you are probably done. The white yarn will still be attached to your sock. Resist the temptation to pull it out! Count your stitches carefully. This is the stage I’m at in the photo below:

When you count your stitches at this point, you’ll find that you are still one stitch short of the number you should have. That last bit of white yarn is holding the last little very-hard-to-see blue stitch. Find it, insert your needle into it and then pull out the end of the white yarn. That’s it! You’ve unpicked your provisional cast on. Your work should now look like this:

Arrange your needles so that the stitches you’ve just picked up are on the metal needle, but the stitches on the other side of the toe are on the plastic part of your circular needle. You should have a loop of plastic sticking out of the other side of the toe (to the left of this picture).

Insert your free end of the needle into the first stitch, ready to knit it. Your needle is now set up ready to knit on a magic loop, and your working yarn should be attached to the stitches on the plastic part of the needle. When you make your first stitch on this side, make sure that you pull your working yarn nice and tight, to stop there being a gap up the side of your sock.

Now all you need to do is knit round and round the stitches, moving the needles round in magic loop each time. That means that each time you finish a row, you put the other stitches onto the metal needle end closest to them and shift the stitches you’ve just knitted to the plastic part of the needle. You should have the two needles working on one side of the sock, and a plastic loop of needle sticking out on the other side.

In the photo below, I’ve just finished a row and turned my work so that the stitches I’ve just knitted are at the back.

Then all I need to do is pull the plastic part of the needle until those stitches at the front are on the metal part, ready to be worked, and pull the needle through the stitches at the back so that that end of the needle is free and ready to work those front stitches:

Make sure you pull the working yarn tight on the first couple of stitches of each new row. Keep knitting until your sock is long enough. That will be when it reaches the point where the top of the foot turns into the bottom of the leg, when you try it on.

Madeleine

Happy knitting! The foot is a fun and easy bit, so enjoy knitting your way round and round this week.

 

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?

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?