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: 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?

 

And so to bed

Brace yourselves, because that was the only vaguely pretty photo that this garden post has to offer. November is descending into darkness and we spent a final Saturday afternoon putting the garden to bed together. I snapped a few quick photographs on my phone just as the sun was threatening to slip below the city-stunted horizon, and empty beds are not the most photogenic of subjects. Yet when I’m reading about other people’s gardens, I want to see the work behind the scenes, and not just the glamour shots of sweet peas in all their finery.

My task this weekend was to clear the cut flower bed and protect the tender plants. A couple of old fleeces, too full of second cuts and noils to be worth my limited spinning time, had been put aside for just this purpose. They’re protecting the incredibly productive alstroemeria, some freesias and, for the first time ever, my gladioli bulbs. I’ve always dug them up and overwintered them in the garage before, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I still have a mountain of compost and leaves to dump on top of the whole bed, to protect and feed it over the coming months, but I’m waiting for some muscle to come home from university for that particular task. That, or a burst of energy and enthusiasm one bright morning. I have shifted a lot of compost over the last couple of weeks and need a bit of a break.

The veg patch is done, for now. Before dealing with each bed, I worked out the crop rotation for next year so that I can treat each accordingly.

Two beds got a few inches of compost.

This one will have roots in it next year, so it only gets a layer of cardboard.

The fourth bed (just out of sight to the left) has this winter’s roots and other veg still in it, but it’ll get a mountain of compost dug in come spring, and the beans and peas that will be planted will be perfectly happy in there.

I still need to prune the fruit bushes, so didn’t think to take a photo of the fruit patch. It’ll be pruned and each bush given a top dressing of organic fertiliser. I love growing fruit; you get maximum output for minimum input.

My PSB are loving the colder weather, as are the leeks.

The perpetual spinach still has a couple of meals left in it,

and although the parsnips look unimpressive above ground, they are one of my consistently huge harvests every year. We virtually never buy them, and we dig them up all winter.

I do need to bring in and use the end of the beetroot though, before we get any serious frosts.

The flower bed by the patio has been mulched by the apple tree above it, and I’m inclined to leave it like this, apples and all. The birds and other wildlife love them and it makes a convenient blanket for this bed.

I have to say, fresh air and excercise apart, there is something faintly sad about a November garden. There’s a line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem that pops into my head every time I go out there at the moment: The trees have wept their leaves. They certainly have. But there’s also pleasure to be taken in doing things for the very last time this year: the last bit of strimming, the last mow, the last weeding of a bed. The garden is fast becoming a blank canvas, ready and waiting for spring.

Not all is asleep out there though. For the first time ever, I filled our hanging baskets with violas and they look so pretty, these little flashes of colour either side of our front door. Seb spent some of his pocket money at the pet shop this weekend, and filled his bird feeders with fatballs again. Bulb lasagnas have been planted. The hens are still laying, just about. We’re planning a night-time birthday party out there, with a big fire and a barbecue and hide and seek in the dark. The garden might have been put to bed, but it’ll be lying awake for some time yet.

Madeleine

Have you put your garden/ pots/ patio to bed for the winter yet – or are things just waking up into spring where you live?

 

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 two: the back

Welcome to the second part of the Little Flurries knitalong. This week, you’re going to be working the back of the sweater. As the bottom hem of the back is identical to that of the Snow Day sweater, I’ve used the text and photos from that tutorial for the first part of this one. However, you’ll notice that the colour of the yarn changes partway through this tutorial. That’s because the neckline of Little Flurries is completely different to the neckline of Snow Day – so that part of the tutorial is brand new.

Let’s begin at the bottom hem. You’ve had a bit of practice casting on and knitting while you were making your swatch, so this should be a breeze. In fact, if you get the first 26 rows done over the weekend, you’ll have lots of lovely mindless stocking stitch to relax with in the evenings throughout the coming week.

The first thing you need to do is cast all the stitches onto your larger needle (the one you swatched for). This just makes knitting that first row much easier, as the stitches will be a bit looser than if you cast them onto your smaller needle. However, the smaller needle is used to knit the rest of the hem. So you literally hold the larger needle (with all the cast on stitches on it) in one hand, and the smaller needle in your other hand. I’m right handed and knit in the UK way, so in the photo below the cast on stitches are on the larger needle (on the left), and I’ve just started to knit them all across onto my smaller needle (on the right).

Done? Right, now before you forget, put that larger needle away and pick up the other smaller needle. You should now be working exclusively with your pair of smaller needles. The pattern tells you to knit some rows of garter stitch. Just to remind you, that means that you knit every row. Don’t purl anything.

Once you’ve knitted the required number of rows of garter stitch, you’re ready to work on the notches. In this next section, you’re going to be knitting stocking stitch in the centre of the work, and garter stitch at either end. It’s actually really easy.

You also need to start using your larger needles again. So pick up one of your large needles and use it to work all the stitches of the following row.

We start on the right side, and just knit the whole row. Put the smaller needle (that you’ve just emptied of stitches) to one side, and pick up your other larger needle. You’re going to be working with your pair of larger needles for the rest of the back. Turn your work.

Then, on the wrong side, you need to knit the first five stitches only. In the photo below, that’s precisely where I’m up to. Can you see how the first five stitches are still in garter stitch? That’s because we’re still knitting both sides of those first five stitches.

However, we want the central section to be stocking stitch, so you need to purl all the way across the row until you are five stitches before the end. Don’t forget to bring your yarn to the front of your work before you start purling, like so:

When you get to those last five stitches, stop. Move your yarn to the back of your work again, ready to knit. Then knit those last five stitches, to create the garter stitch notch on the other side of the back.

Take a look at your work, without turning it. From the wrong side, which you’ve just finished working, it will look like the photo below. Those are the first five knit stitches (on the right), and then the purl stitches stretching off to the left. There will be five more purl stitches on the far left edge of your knitting.

Turn your work, and knit the whole row. By the time you finish this row, your work should look like the photo below, on the right side (the side you’ve just finished working).

Can you see the garter notch beginning to emerge on the right hand side? Work a few more rows (in the same way as the previous two) and it’ll be much clearer:

Carry on in this manner until you’ve worked as many rows as the pattern tells you to. Then stop and have a celebratory drink/ dance/ pat on the back. That’s the hardest part of the back done.

Now all you need to do is work the rest of the back in stocking stitch until it reaches the required length (see the pattern to find out what this is in your chosen size). That means that you knit all the stitches on the right side and purl all the stitches on the wrong side. Easy.

Done that? Then it’s time to create the neckline and work that envelope opening.

Working the neckline

The first thing that you need to do is knit the garter stitch section at the front of the neckline, while keeping the shoulder sections in stocking stitch. This is much easier than casting off and picking up stitches to work a separate collar.

All you have to do on the first row is knit the whole thing. On the next row, which is a wrong side row, you need to purl the first 17 stitches. This ensures that this bit of the work will remain in stocking stitch. You can see that I’ve done this in the picture below.

Your yarn will be at the front because you’ve been purling. Move it to the back, ready to knit, like so:

and knit all the way to the last 17 stitches. In the photo below you can see the difference between the first, purled, stitches, and the knitted ones. My pencil is pointing at the first knitted stitch.

Bring your yarn to the front again:

and purl the last 17 stitches. Turn your work. It should look like the picture below, with the stitches at either end still in stocking stitch, and the garter stitch edging beginning to emerge in the middle. My pencil is pointing to the place where the change occurs.

Work the next 4 rows in the same way, knitting the right side rows and doing a combination of knit and purl stitches on the wrong side rows, as directed by the pattern. Please note that the number of stitches you purl changes each time.

Now you’re ready to cast off those centre stitches. Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern. You can see that I’ve done this, below.

Then knit two more stitches. My metal needle is pointing at the stitch that we are going to bind off first (below). Can you see why you needed to knit two more stitches? If you hadn’t, you would have bound off too early.

Bind off that stitch as normal, by carrying it over the end of your right needle. In the picture below, my metal needle is pointing to the bound off stitch.

Continue to knit one stitch and then bind off the previous stitch until you’ve bound off the required number of stitches. Remember, when binding off you count each stitch as you actually bind it off, not as you knit it. When you’ve done the correct number, you should have one stitch remaining on your right needle (plus the shoulder stitches at the far end) and the number of stitches you are supposed to knit, minus one, on your left needle. You can see this in my photograph below.

Knit the rest of those stitches, and you’ll have the correct number of knit stitches on either side of the bound off section. Your work should look like the photo below. Can you see the two shoulder sections, with the bound off neckline in the middle? (Ignore the bobbles: the front neckline is worked in exactly the same way as the back, so I took these photos while working the front – hence the bobbles.)

The next thing to do is to decrease those shoulder stitches so that they can be sewn together later to form a toddler-friendly envelope neckline.

You are going to work the right shoulder (what would be the right shoulder if someone was wearing it) first. The stitches for the left shoulder will still be on your needle, but just ignore them for now.

The right shoulder actually uses slightly more complicated decreases than the left. They aren’t difficult at all, but it might take you a while to remember them as they have a few steps. However, they are important because they make the collar curve away in the correct direction as the stitches are decreased.

You start with a wrong side row. Purl the number of stitches specified by the pattern. Then stop. This is all I’ve done, below.

Now you need to make your slip, slip, purl (ssp) decrease. In order to make the decreases point in the right direction, you need to twist them by slipping them onto your right needle as if you were going to knit them. So you insert your right needle into the next stitch, as if you were going to knit it, as shown here:

and just slip it off your left needle. Do this again, and you should have two slipped (but not worked) stitches with all those purled stitches on your right needle. You can see them in the photograph below.

Next, you need to get those two stitches back onto your left needle, so that you can work them. But you don’t want to twist them back to how they were in the first place. So you need to insert your left needle into both stitches, from left to right, and slip them straight back onto the left needle. You can see how I’ve inserted my left needle to do this, below. Don’t work those stitches at all, yet.

You can see in the picture below that they are back on my left needle, in their new orientation, and not worked.

Now it’s finally time to work those two stitches. You need to insert your right needle into them ‘through the back loop’. This means that you insert your needle as if to purl, but you pick up both stitches at the same time, and you insert your needle from the left hand side at the back. It might all feel a bit tight and awkward, but persevere. You can see my right needle inserted in the picture below.

Then you just purl that stitch as normal. In the next picture, you can see that the last stitch is just a purl stitch, except that it has purled two stitches into one. That’s the slip, slip, purl stitch (ssp) done.

Move your yarn to the back of your work (as shown below) and knit the rest of the stitches. All of your wrong side rows will be worked in this manner, although the number of stitches to knit and purl varies. Just follow the pattern.

When you get to the end of the row, turn your work. Now you’re going to work the first right side row.

Knit four stitches. Now it’s time to work the slip, slip, knit stitch.

Slip the next stitch onto your right needle as if you were going to knit it – but don’t work it at all. You can see my needle, inserted as if to knit, below. We are slipping stitches knitwise again in order to twist them around – just as we did for the slip, slip, purl stitch.

Do the same for the next stitch. You can see two slipped stitches on my right needle, below.

Now you are going to knit those two stitches together, but ‘through the back loop’. You do this by inserting your left needle into both stitches at the same time, from right to left. I find it easiest to hold my needles almost parallel:

Once your left needle is inserted, move it so that your needles are perpendicular again, and knit those two stitches together as if you were knitting a normal stitch. You can see my needles in position, ready to do this, below.

Then knit the rest of the stitches in the row.

Carry on working all the wrong side rows with the ssp stitch, and the right side rows with the ssk stitch, until you only have one stitch left. Don’t be put off when you have to work an ssp at the start of a new row, or a ssk at the end of a row. Just carry on working the stitches as explained, above. Your work will decrease by one stitch in every row.

Then snip your yarn with a nice long tail and pull it through that final stitch, to secure it. Your right shoulder is done! It should have a nice curve, and the decrease stitches should all point outwards, as below:

Now it’s time to work the left shoulder. You start working this on the wrong side, and you need to rejoin your yarn. The first stitch is a knit stitch (even though you are working into a purl stitch), so insert your needle as if to knit, and lay your yarn across your right needle with the loose end to the left (see below). Knit the first four stitches.

Now you are going to work the ‘purl two together’ (p2tog) stitch. Bring your yarn to the front, ready to purl.

Insert your needle as you normally would to purl, but instead of just inserting it through one stitch, you need to insert it through two stitches at the same time:

Then purl those two stitches, just as if you were purling one normal stitch. That’s the end of the p2tog stitch. Now you just purl to the end of the row.

Turn your work, ready to work a right side row. Knit the number of stitches specified by the pattern, then stop.

Now it’s time to work the ‘knit two together’ (k2tog) stitch. Insert your right needle into the next two stitches at the same time, from left to right, just as if you were knitting one normal knit stitch.

Then knit the two stitches, exactly as if they were just one normal knit stitch. That’s the k2tog stitch done.

Now knit to the end of the row.

Continue working the wrong side and right side rows just like this, remembering to follow the number of knit and purl stitches for every row, because it changes. Don’t be put off when you have to purl two together at the end of a row, or knit two together at the start of a row. You just do it exactly as you’ve done it before.

Keep going until you only have one stitch left, then cut your yarn with a nice long tail and pull it through that final stitch to secure it.

The left shoulder should look like mine, below, with a tail from the joined-in yarn, and the decreases pointing off to the right.

That’s the back done! Come back next week for the knitalong tutorial for the front – time to start working those bobbles…

Madeleine

Who are you knitting your Little Flurries for? Have you gone for a Christmas tree version, or one of the other options?

 

 

 

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?

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 jumper knitalong part four: the sleeves

Hello there – ready for the next part of our knitalong? This time you’re going to master two skills: knitting in rib and increasing. Yes, it’s time for the sleeves.

The first thing you need to do is cast on the number of stitches that the pattern tells you to for your size. Then you need to establish your rib.

All that ‘2×2 rib’ means is knit two stitches, then purl two stitches, then repeat these four stitches until you get to the end of the row. So you need to knit the first two stitches as I’ve done below:

Your yarn will be at the back. Bring it to the front, like so:

and purl the next two stitches.

Take  your yarn to the back again to knit the next two stitches, like so:

then bring it forward again to purl the two stitches after that, and so on and so forth until you have reached the end of your row. You now have one row of ribbing on your needle. Voila! You can see mine below.

Turn your work and rib the next row, as established. This just means that you knit into all the knit stitches (which look like they are wearing little v-neck jumpers) and purl all the purl stitches (which look like they are wearing turtlenecks). You’ll find that you knit two, purl two, all the way along the row. Keep working back and forth like this until you have an inch of ribbing. Make sure that you finish with a wrong side row. It’s impossible to tell right and wrong sides from ribbing alone, so a good trick is to remember that your cast on tail will be dangling from under the last stitches you knit on a wrong side row, and the first that you knit in a right side row. You can see that I’m just about to start a right side row in the photo below.

So that’s the ribbing mastered.

Now it’s time to start increasing. If we didn’t increase, our sleeves would either be too baggy round the cuff or too small around the top of your arm. But increasing is easy. While we’re increasing, we want to keep our ribbing looking good, so follow the instructions to the letter.

First, you need to purl the first stitch of the next row. I know that it’s a knit stitch, but you need to purl it. Trust me. You can see mine here:

You’ll notice that there’s only one knit stitch now, before the next pair of purl stitches. Move your working yarn to the back of your work. What you’re going to do is make another knit stitch, which is known as making one knitwise. You do this by knitting into the strand of yarn which runs between the knit stitch on your left needle, and the stitch you’ve just purled on your right needle. In the photo below, my pencil is pointing at the strand of yarn in question.

What you need to do is insert your left needle under this strand from the back to the front. The strand should now be lying over your left needle, like so:

Now you’re going to knit this strand of yarn as if it was a normal stitch. So you want to insert your right hand needle under the strand from front to back, and left to right. It can be a bit awkward at first, but don’t worry, it is right. You can make it easier by pulling more of the strand forward over the needle with your left index finger, to make a bigger gap for your right needle to get in under. Once inserted, it should look like this:

Okay? Now knit it, just like a normal stitch. You’ll now have a knit stitch and a purl stitch on your right hand needle, and the next stitch on your left hand needle will be a knit stitch too. Here’s mine:

That’s it. You just made a stitch, knitwise. Work the rest of the row in the established rib, stopping one stitch before the end. That means you’ll knit the next stitch, then purl two, knit two all the way to the end of the row, stopping before the last stitch, which will be a purl stitch. Leave it on your left needle. We’re going to make a new purl stitch from the strand of yarn lying between this last stitch on the left needle, and the one you’ve just purled on your right needle. My pencil is pointing at the strand in question:

Now, making one purlwise (for that is what we are about to do) follows exactly the same principles as making one knitwise, only we insert our needles differently. This time, you want to insert your left hand needle from the front to the back of the strand of yarn.

Once you’ve done that, you insert your right hand needle into the strand from back to front, right to left, ready to purl:

Then purl as normal. There! You just made one purlwise.

Knit the last stitch. Yes, I know that it’s a purl stitch, but if you look at your right hand needle you’ll find that you’ve already got a pair of purl stitches. So the final stitch of the row now needs to be a knit stitch. Here’s my completed row.

You’ll have noticed that, from left to right, the stitches are knit, then two purls, then two knits and so forth. This is correct.

Follow the pattern for the rest of the sleeve, paying close attention to whether each increase is knitwise or purlwise, and whether you need to knit or purl the first and last stitches of each increase row.

When you get to the top of your sleeve, you need to bind off in rib. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that you BIND OFF LOOSELY. You’d be hard pressed to bind off too loosely and to be honest, it wouldn’t really matter if you did. No-one is going to see this top edge as it is going to be sewn to the inside of the jumper (sweater). Bind off too tightly, though, and you won’t be able to get your arm into your sleeve. This is because the ribbing needs to be able to stretch right across that top edge, and if there isn’t lots of extra yarn available for it to stretch out nice and wide, it simply won’t be able to. So be generous with your yarn, and keep things looser than you think can possibly be necessary.

The other thing you need to know about binding off in rib is that you have to keep to the purl two, knit two pattern whilst binding off. That’s perfectly straightforward, but I’ll show you how it’s done anyway.

First, purl two stitches NICE AND LOOSELY. See below how the purl stitches on the right needle are loose?

With the left needle, lift the first stitch that you purled over the other one and off the end of the needle – just binding off normally. Resist the urge to pull anything tight:

Now, because we’ve just purled two stitches, the next stitch will be a knit stitch. You don’t even have to keep count; just have a look to see what the next stitch will be. You can see in the photo above that it’s wearing a v-neck (rather than a turtleneck) so it’s a knit stitch. Move your yarn to the back, ready to knit this stitch, like so:

and knit it.

Now you’re going to bind off the purl stitch which is sitting to the right of the knit stitch. Just lift it over and off the end of the needle, keeping everything very very loose, so that your work looks like mine, below.

The next stitch is another knit stitch, so knit it very very loosely. Fight the urge to pull that working yarn taut!

Then bind off the previous stitch. In this photo you begin to get a sense of how loose my stitches are – can you see how big that most recently bound off stitch is? That’s just what we’re after.

The next stitch is wearing a turtleneck, so I know I need to purl it, and so I move my working yarn to the front again like so:

and I purl it very loosely and bind off the preceding stitch and so on and so forth.

Once you’ve bound off a few stitches, just take a moment to check that you are binding off loosely enough. To do this, pull on your bound off edge and see how far it stretches. If you’ve done things loosely enough, the ribbing will be able to stretch to its full extent. In the photo I am stretching mine, and it is lovely and stretchy.

Keep binding off very loosely in rib all the way to the end of the row, stopping every now and then to check that everything is still lovely and loose and stretchy. When you get to the final stitch, as shown in the photo below, cut the yarn with a long tail and pull it through that stitch as you take it off the needle.

Now for the moment of truth. (Don’t worry, if you’ve kept things loose this is guaranteed to be fine.) If you take a look at the ‘Making Up’ section of the pattern, it tells you how far to measure for the armhole down the front and back. Multiply this number by two (for my size it says 7.5″, so that makes 15″.) Using your tape measure or ruler, see how far the top of your sleeve will stretch. You can see from the photo that mine stretched to at least 17.5″ without pinging out from under the speaker that was holding the far end down while I took the photograph. That’s brilliant, because I only need it to stretch to 15″. It’s got stretch to spare!

That’s the first sleeve done. Well done! Making the second will be a walk in the park, now. Happy knitting, and see you again for the final tutorial next Friday: making up.

Madeleine

How are you getting on with your Snow Day?

Balm

We have a habit of collecting those tiny pots of jam. You know – the ones which arrive with a B&B breakfast, or a cream tea, containing an individual portion of conserve. Waitresses smile as the children pocket them, still half full, to eke out onto slices of toast at home. Honestly, you’d think we didn’t have a cupboard full of homemade conserves just waiting to be eaten.

But I don’t mind really, because I know that jam, like most things, is more fun in miniature. I also know that, once nothing else can be scraped out of the tiny pots, they’ll go through the dishwasher and then they’re mine, to refill as I choose.

Sometimes they are simply filled with jam again. Whenever I make a batch, I tend to fill a tiny jar and put it aside to go with a certain red-suited gentleman’s festive gifts. Recently, since we made the change to plastic-free toothpaste tablets, we pop a tiny jarful in our toilet bags for travel. Sometimes they liven up a packed lunch, full of mayonnaise or mustard or ketchup. This week, I filled a few with balm.

I used to make beeswax balms a lot, until, somehow, I fell out of the habit. Instead, I’d taken to buying similar products. There is no moisturiser on earth as richly nourishing as a beeswax balm, and, homemade or not, I wouldn’t face the winter without one. They don’t contain any of the wonder ingredients touted on expensive face creams, but they are the most protective and healing thing I know of. And you can use them anywhere: on your face, of course, but also on chapped lips, hands, knees, elbows, to smooth down flyaway hair, to highlight a cheekbone. Depending on your choice of essential oils, you can use them for other purposes too: as perfume or decongestant, an aid to sleep or a special treat for weary skin. In case you can’t tell, I love my balms.

This week, I made a single pot of lavender-scented balm when I came in from work one evening. John was busy making tea so I took advantage of the hot Rayburn to quickly melt some beeswax. I hadn’t made balms in some years, and wanted to test my proportions before making a larger batch. Happily it was a success, so with John and Fliss requesting pots of their own, and the fact that I wanted to make a Vicks substitute for the approaching cold season, I made three more this weekend.

Follow my method by all means, but do remember that I am in no way a herbalist, doctor or anything of that ilk. This is just a commonsense approach to getting some goodness into your skin, hair and nails. Beeswax is incredible stuff, and forms a protective barrier on your skin which keeps the cutting winds out and the moisture in. I used almond oil this time, but I’ve used olive oil in the past, and will no doubt try something different in the future. None of us are allergic to anything, which makes it easy, but do bear such things in mind, especially if you’re going to give these as a gift.

Finely slice – or grate – some beeswax from your block. Put it directly into your jars. I aim for a quarter to a third of beeswax by volume, and just judge it by eye, but if you were using pellets you could get your measuring spoons out. Top the jars up with your olive, almond or alternative carrier oil.

Now fill a pan with water, drop a steamer basket in, and add your jars. You want the water to come partway up the sides of the jar, so that the beeswax melts in the water bath. Put it on to come to a gentle simmer.

As the beeswax melts, give it a stir to mix the oil and wax together. I happened to have some wooden skewers to hand, so I used one of those. It’ll make an excellent firefighter, later.

When all the wax has melted, carefully remove your jars from the pan, and add some essential oils. I used ten drops of lavender for a very gentle fragrance, ten drops of eucalyptus to invigorate John, and about 40 drops of eucalyptus for my pot of decongestant. Give them a good stir, taking care not to mix the scents. I used both ends of my skewer.

Put the lids on and admire. They should look like tiny jars of liquid honey.

And then, once cool, they look like my very favourite set honey, with a hole in the middle where I presume the mixture contracts as it cools. Aren’t they soothing, just to look at?

Next time, I’d like to try some different scents – perhaps something orangey and spicy to carry me through December. I also adore the smell of wintergreen and might make a pot of that for my soon-to-be dry, sore hands.  Fliss wants to find some tiny tins and fill them with a more highly scented blend, to give to her friends as solid perfumes. I might make some with honey in, as lickable lip balms, and I’m on the lookout for rosehip oil.

This time, though, I happy with my choices. Lavender is nothing short of a wonder oil, in my opinion. Ever since Ilse was badly burned on the upper lip by a stickily hot marshmallow, and a doctor advised lavender essential oil to combat scarring, I’ve been complete convert. It’s one of the few things I pack in my little toilet bag whenever we go away. It was what the midwives added to my bath, after Seb and Ilse were born, to help with healing, and what I drop onto people’s pillows when they can’t sleep. Just the other evening, Seb was still awake some time after going up, and a smear of balm under his nose sent him off to the land of nod in no time.

Eucalyptus, on the other hand, is invigorating and cleansing. The pot of stronger balm will be what I rub into the children’s chests – and my own – when we come down with coughs this winter, and around their poor sore noses when they have a cold. It is antibacterial and antifungal and a very effective decongestant. Plus it just smells wonderful.

So there you have it: beeswax balms. There are recipes for these all over the place, I’m sure. However you end up making yours, I hope you enjoy using them as much as I do.

Madeleine

Do you make any medicinal or beauty products for yourself? Do tell…