Introducing Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeleine

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

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?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: everyday mending

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

***

The very first thing I did today was mend a pair of trousers. I have a pair of chinos from a well known high-street store that I have worn and worn and worn over the last couple of years, and as a result I have worn a couple of holes right through the fabric by the back pockets. They are pretty baggy and saggy and out of shape. The fabric is fraying all along the waistband, pocket edges, and anywhere else that it possibly can. I could quite legitimately stick them in the rag recycling bag, except that they are now the most buttery-soft, not-in-the-least-bit-fussy, I-don’t-care-if-I-get-them-dirty trousers in the world. There’s room for them in my wardrobe yet.

The reason they were finally mended today was that I wanted to add them to a lights wash, and as anyone with experience of such things will tell you, adding things with holes to a washing machine is a recipe for disaster. Your little holes will grow. Sometimes they even turn into huge, unmendable rips. It was time for a quick fix.

Mending is one of those things that a lot of people just don’t do any more. It’s seen as fiddly, and difficult. There’s still some sort of myth that mends need to be either pretty (think Liberty patches) or invisible. So it’s no wonder that those of us who do intend to mend end up with a basket full, waiting for several hours of our attention.

In the real world, mends need to be quick and functional. If this had been a dropped dress hem or a snag in a pair of expensive woollen tights, I would have taken more time over a bit of handsewing. But these trousers are not going to be worn anywhere fancier than around the house, in the garden, or to the shops. I don’t care if people can see that I’ve stitched them up. In fact, I rather hope they do, and that it encourages them to do the same.

This particular job took less than the time it takes to make a cup of tea. I threaded my machine, set it to a narrow zigzag stitch and ran  over both holes a few times.

I didn’t even bother to change the thread on my bobbin: no-one is going to see the inside anyway.

People of a certain generation tend to mend their clothes because they were taught to do so as children. Most of us don’t. For some people, mended clothes feel like poverty, and I understand that. But for the rest of us, mending is a choice, and it is one that we really ought to take. A new pair of cotton chinos costs much more than £30 or £40. A quick search throws up all sorts of figures for water usage in the production of a single pair of jeans – any where from 3,781 to 11,000 litres. Whichever figure you choose, that’s an awful lot of water. Cotton chinos will have a similarly outrageous wet footprint. These weren’t organic cotton either. Cotton is the most pesticide-hungry of all major agricultural crops, and I’d like to get as much use as I can out of these to make up for the havoc they have already wreaked. The last thing I want to do is go out and buy another pair to do the gardening in.

The truth is that I won’t be wearing these to work or out to dinner. I do now have a reasonably-smart-and-warm trouser-shaped hole in my wardrobe. But these will serve beautifully as a way of keeping a new pair clean and smart for much longer than if I chucked these and went out and bought a new pair to wear for everything from cleaning my bike to public speaking at work. After all, that’s what people used to do with their clothes: keep old, mended ones for everyday, and enjoy something new as their Sunday best. No ordinary person would have dreamed of going out and buying something  new to dig the garden in.

I like to mend things as they need it, rather than letting it grow into an intimidating pile. Mostly it’s a quick fix – I’ve been known to use duck tape to keep old slippers going – but I do take my time occasionally. As a rule, though, no mending job should take more than ten minutes, which isn’t much to give in return for a freshly functional garment. You don’t need much in the way of skill, or even a sewing machine. Everyone should be able to sew on a button, pick up a hem and whipstitch a rip, in my opinion. It’s as much a life skill as being able to cook a meal, or change a tyre.

There has been a surge of interest in mending lately, with the most beautiful visible mends all over the internet. Some of them are truly gorgeous: sashiko stitching, fussy-cut patches, floral embroidery over holes. Visible mending is a rabbit hole that I could very happily fall down, given the time. Mostly though, I’m sticking to the fast and furious everyday mends that just keep everything ticking over. Five minutes, and the job is done, and I can get started on the washing.

Madeleine

Do you mend your clothes? Are you skilled at it, or do you take the fast route, or (like me) do you use a mixture of the two approaches?

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?

 

A-line skirt sewalong part four: the hem

Welcome back to the final part of the A-line skirt tutorial. You’re nearly there: follow these steps and you will have finished your skirt!

The first thing you need to do is try your skirt on, ideally with some of the other things you will be wearing with it. This is so that you can decide precisely how long you want it to be. With the help of an assistant, try pinning it up to various lengths. When you find a length you like, ask them to use tailors’ chalk, a fabric marker or pins to mark the desired length of your skirt.

If necessary, trim your skirt fabric so that there is an even 5cm/ 2” seam allowance all the way around. (If you have less spare fabric available, make your hem thinner.)

Then turn 2cm/ 1/2” under all the way around and press. (Mine looks really wobbly, but this is an extreme close up – and it’s linen!)

Then turn a further 3cm/ 1 1/2” under and press again.

Pin this seam into place. Try the skirt on to check that the hem is even. Adjust it if necessary.

Then hand stitch the hem into place all the way around. To do this, work with your skirt inside out. Secure your knot in the seam allowance on one side of the skirt. Insert your needle under just two or three threads of the skirt.

Then push the needle into the hem. Run it along the folded edge and bring it out a centimetre or so further along.

Insert it into the skirt directly underneath where it emerges, picking up just two or three stitches.

From the right side, you should only be able to see tiny little stitches, if you look closely.

Sew all the way round, removing the pins, and then you’re done.

Give it a good press, put it on and enjoy!

Madeleine

I hope you’ve enjoyed making your skirt, and have found these tutorials helpful. Have you learned any new skills during this project?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: toiletries

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

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When I was packing for our trip to Derbyshire, I realised that all I needed to do in terms of toiletries was empty my shelf of the bathroom cabinet into my toilet bag, add a clean muslin face cloth, and I was done.

I think this was the first time that I didn’t have the odd thing to leave behind, and I put that down entirely to the effort I’ve been making to use fewer disposable plastics. There were no cotton wool pads to count out, no big bottles of shampoo to decant into something smaller, no opaque canisters of dental floss to shake and wonder at their contents. For the first time ever, I just put everything in my little bag and went.

Now, it won’t take a genius to work out that I am not a connoisseur of beauty counters. I have never been interested in spending my time and money on that sort of thing, and that’s unlikely to change now. I am quite happy to go barefaced much of the time, and when I do wear make-up I don’t wear much. But I do like to be clean, care for my hair properly, look after my teeth, and look reasonably well presented when I’m at work or socialising. And, because I love reading this sort of post on other people’s blogs, I thought I’d include it here in the spirit of sharing solutions to some of the tricker challenges I’ve come up against in creating a smaller, more sustainable set of toiletries. Without further ado, this is what is currently on my bathroom shelf, from top to bottom, left to right.

Everyone needs a toothbrush. I need a bamboo one, and will be asking a certain someone if they might pop one in my stocking. I’ve never used an electric toothbrush and I’ve never had a single cavity, so I’m going to stick with what works for me.

A little jar of homemade balm serves lots of purposes. I use mine on my face (especially before bed), but also on the ends of my hair (and any flyaway bits), and any dry bits on my hands, elbows and so forth. It’s also a great lip balm. This one is scented with lavender, but I’m going to make some more next weekend in wintry scents.

A lone remaining toothpaste tablet. We switched to these this summer, when I finally found them with fluoride (controversial, I know, but that’s our decision). I buy 240 at a time and we keep them in a little jar, as it stops them getting damp in a steamy bathroom. They are such an easy plastic-free swap, and we all like them.

Dental floss. This comes in a little glass jar with a metal lid, and refills come in cardboard. It’s made of silk, so I can put it straight into our bathroom bin after use. (Our bathroom bin is lined with newspaper and goes straight onto the compost heap.)

A wooden comb – I’ve had this for years and only ever use wide-toothed combs as I have curls.

Solid conditioner. Again, I have curls. At a recent party a man (who I later found out was a hairdresser, and not just odd) started talking to me about my hair and how I look after it. He advocated conditioner-only washing, which made me happy because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for a couple of years. That bar had been on the go for nearly four months – they are a bit pricey but they do last.

An old lip balm tin with one remaining pill in it. My prescription tablets (nothing alarming, but essential) do come in a plastic blister pack. I can’t do anything about this. I decant them, a week at a time, into this tin, so I know that I’ve taken the right amount.

Foundation/ concealer. I don’t really want to name brands here, but let me just say that I’ve finally changed my foundation after a very long time and this stuff is amazing. It’s also plastic-free, completely natural and very moisturising. I am a convert. (And if you really want to know what it is, ask in the comments.)

Mascara, from pre-plastic-reducing days. This is on its last legs. I’m holding out until Christmas for a tin of eyeliner/ mascara and a double ended mascara/ eyeliner brush that I found on Etsy. I’ll let you know how I get on with them.

Nail scissors.

That white thing is a crystal deodorant. They last for years and years.

A muslin face cloth. I have a few which came free with various natural beauty products. They are gentler on the face than a normal flannel (which I’ve just realised I should also have included in this photograph.)

Lip balm. Like the mascara, this is from my pre-plastic-reducing days, and is nearly empty. I’m hoping it’ll last until Christmas, because I have politely requested a pot of lip and cheek colour/ moisture from the same company as the foundation.

Eyeliner. Once again, this is pre-plastic-reduction. It’s been sharpened since then, so I really hope I get that tin of kohl for Christmas…

That’s it. There is of course a box of shared/ rarely used things in the cupboard – hairdressing scissors (my sister trims my hair and that of the girls), a tin of sunblock left over from the summer, some basic medical supplies – you get the picture. Please don’t go away thinking that I am a paragon of plastic-free living, because I can assure you that I am not. There is still far too much waste generated in this house for my liking. But we all do as well as we can, for now, and have certainly reduced our consumption of single-use plastics considerably. And if you’re questioning whether toiletries are part of a wardrobe, I think they are. After all, they are part of what we use on a daily basis to present ourselves in our preferred ways. I really like the simplicity of my collection, but am not averse to raiding the kitchen cabinets to make up a face mask or a hot oil hair treatment. I’ve never got into painting my nails, or wearing eyeshadow, which keeps things simpler. But simple needn’t mean austere – I’ve discovered some really lovely new products since July and have all sorts of sustainable smellies in mind for my kids for Christmas. If anything, this part of my wardrobe has pushed me further out of my comfort zone than any other, and that’s always a good thing.

Madeleine

What does your toiletry collection look like? Have you been trying to use natural/ plastic-free products, or given up on any conventional ones? Any tips would be gratefully received!