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Socks and Politics

I’ve been pondering what I what write in this post for a while. These days, I mainly write about knitting , with a little bit of family and food thrown in. I’m aware that if you read this blog because you’re after those sorts of posts you wouldn’t necessarily be expecting an exposition of my thoughts on rights to sexual freedom and political expression. Nor would you necessarily care to hear a probably too personal story from me explaining how I came to believe that, love, celebration and creativity is a great way to face down hatred and destruction (I do believe that, by the way).

 My pondering, in case you’re wondering where this is going, stems from the fact that during this Winter Olympics I’ve decided to take part in my first Ravellinics. So on the one hand, knitting and watching highly skilled people do impossibly dangerous stuff on snow and ice without injuring themselves (too much). On the other, all that (important, shouldn’t be ignored) stuff about freedom, hatred etc. You’re here for the knitting. Therefore I will stick to writing about the knitting and you can read what you will into the significance of choices I’ve made. Or just enjoy the knitting stuff. It’s very pretty and there are even some penguins involved…

Picture copyright Brenda Dayne

Picture copyright Brenda Dayne

Let’s get it out of the way straight off the bat. My chosen Ravellinics event is Sock Hockey. People who know me and my knitting, please stop laughing. I know that the point of Ravellinics is to complete your chosen project within the time frame of the Olympic Games but it’s meant to be a challenge, okay? For me, there’s not a lot more challenging than trying to complete two whole socks in…okay, in any time frame.

To try and give myself a fighting chance I’ve found a toe-up pattern so that I can complete at least some of the socks two at a time. As I’ve mentioned before, I learned how to do this recently and have used the technique successfully for sleeves since. The pattern is Brother Amos Hellfire Lace Socks by Brenda Dayne, which I think will have enough interest in the lace patterning to keep me going but doesn’t look too fiendishly complicated. The lace patterning should also hold its own against the yarn I’m using, where subtler texture would probably get lost.

Old Maiden Aunt Nothing to Hide sock yarn

Ooh, the yarn! I’m knitting for Team Old Maiden Aunt. If you aren’t aware of indie dyer Lilith’s work, you should go and have a look immediately. I’d bought some gorgeous blue/grey/purple yarn from her a while back, which is currently awaiting cast on as part of a new design once I’ve cleared my current backlog a bit. When I saw her special Olympics yarn, ‘Nothing to Hide’ with its gorgeous rainbow hues, it brought out the magpie in me and I had to have it. Pretty enough in the skein, it was one of those yarns where you squeal with joy when you wind it into a ball because it’s so lovely! I seriously cannot wait to get it on the needles and then wear it (if I keep saying things like that it will happen, yes? Positive affirmation and all that.)

Japanese Knot bag by Anna Elliott

With yarn and pattern in place, I needed a kit bag (imagine me standing in a sporting pose and doing some stretching at this point). Not finding anything I really wanted to buy, I ended up scouting about on Pinterest for those Japanese Knot bags you see around the place. I used a mish-mash of a couple of different patterns and how-tos and made up my own template. The fabric was some of the penguin print cotton left over from my pyjama pants and a tiny flower print I had stashed away for another purpose.  The finished result is cute, if a little on the small side,  possibly. I’ve got some ideas for refinements for future attempts.

Hiya Hiya circular needles

Naturally, the kit bag had to include the best kit for the job. This was one of my excuses for yet another order to Meadow Yarn for Hiya-Hiya circular needles. I could also add that the pattern calls for the use of two circular needles. Or that I need to use circulars to do two-at-a-time. Or that possibly the reason I don’t get on with sock knitting is that I appear to be incapable of handling a clutch of dpns without periodically losing one of them and/or stabbing myself in the chest with them. Obviously, buying more of these silky smooth metal needles does not mean that I’ve recently developed an obsession with them. Obviously.

Details of the project are on Ravelry here. I’ll see you at the finish line. In my new socks.






Knit in Colour

Knit in Colour was the name of one of the first boards I created on Pinterest. I suppose it’s a celebration of the way that knitting with colour, or even looking at knits in colour, is a way of connecting and feeling colour so that one can push back the dreariness the rest of the world sometimes presents. I could therefore very much relate to the ‘rule’ put forward in this recent Soulemama blogpost, that “February knitting (in wintry parts of the world, anyhow) is not meant for white, grey or black“.

winter colour

I present my works-in-progress as we say goodbye to a dreary, damp January and welcome a February that is looking a similar way at the moment, weather-wise. A great hit of colour, in my favourite ‘Amelie’ (as in the Audrey Tatou film) shades. The blue cardigan you saw last week, when I was discussing its second sleeve cap. Said sleeve cap is now completed and I am onto the decreases and stocking stitch of the home straight.

I’d be crossing the finish line a little bit quicker if it wasn’t for a bout of startitis that hit during the weekend. I was watching a new podcast from Joeli’s Kitchen and I entirely blame her! She was talking about how she frogged a red cardigan-in-progress to make the yarn into a sweater instead, because she’d realised that her wardrobe didn’t contain the sort of things she’d wear with a red cardigan. It got me thinking that I, on the other hand, very rarely wore the red sweater in my wardrobe (this one- an early but somewhat misguided adventure in designing) , but would absolutely find things to wear with a red cardigan. My nearly completed dress for one thing.

Thus I spent a merry few hours last weekend sitting on my bed, listening to the radio and frogging that jumper. I dutifully wound it into skeins, washed it (it was very wiggly after all that time in rib and smocking stitches) and waited as patiently as I could for it to dry. As soon as one or two skeins were ready they were on my swift. I cast on Samovar by Laura Chau- I liked the idea of a lace stitch instead of cabling for this aran-ish weight yarn (Manos Wool Clasica). The pattern calls for worsted weight, but I think the thick and thin singly ply squishiness of this yarn will mean it’s okay. So far, so good and I can almost feel the energy of that red warming my bones as I knit with it.  A bonus is that, in contrast to the slow but sure progress of my 4ply Deco, this baby is growing quickly- it won’t be far behind the blue to be finished, I feel.

Finally, in the green corner, it’s the return of the socks. I’ve been working on these Lilybet socks by Rachel Coopey, in lovely Eden Cottage Yarn for far more time than is sane for a pair of socks. They must be nearly at their one year anniversary. Needless to say, one is complete and it’s my usual issue of not getting around to completing the twin. I’ve dug them out again because I’ve decided to take part in the Ravellinics for the first time this Winter Olympics. My challenge is going to be Sock Hockey so I’m seeing my work on these as a kind of warm up. I’ll say more about what I’m doing next week.

Fair Isle Style

In other colour news, I was very happy to receive a belated birthday present from a very dear friend this week- a copy of Fair Isle Style by Mary Jane Mucklestone. There are all sorts of scrumptious colour combinations to be found in it- including the beautiful Mirry Dancers pullover by Cheryl Burke that features on the cover. My heart is set, however,  on the Bressay Dress by Gudrun Johnston. Yes, it’s a lot of 4ply stocking stitch, but I could see myself wearing one so much over leggings or thick tights. I think I’d go for red again- something rich, dark and tweedy.

Eden Cottage  Yarns Milburn

Finally, if you want more of a colour fix, you could do worse than having a look at Eden Cottage Yarn’s first venture into mill-dyed yarn- Milburn. Vicki has blogged about it here so go and admire the lovely palette of colours she has put together. Having worked with her and her other gorgeous yarns before, I’ve dropped some heavy hints and am hoping a few samples might find their way to me!




Much of my making- and thinking about making- this week has concerned sleeves. There are those who will tell you that designing is a simple business, if you consider that clothing the upper part of the body is basically about making a big tube for the torso, then two smaller tubes for the arms. Even ignoring the fact that that big tube has to accommodate and flatter a significant few lumps and bumps, this theory neatly side steps the issue of joining those small tubes to the large one. There are quite a number of ways to approach this issue, as any maker or designer is well aware. As for which is the best? Answers on a postcard please….

Sleeve cap: Kate Davies Deco cardigan

The first of my sleeves this week came when I finally reached the top of the Deco cardigan I’m making for myself in John Arbon Excelana. Joining the shoulder seams took me somewhere you may be surprised I haven’t been before- into the realm of the three-needle bind off. Obviously I’d read of this method for joining two sets of ‘live’ stitches before, but whenever I’d had cause to do this type of joining I’ve always used Kitchener stitch. Here, Kate Davies said to use three needle bind off so I thought it was about time I tried it- I’m nothing if not obedient when I’m following other people’s patterns. Wow. So simple, so neat- why haven’t I discovered it before?

Detail of sleeve cap: Kate Davies Deco cardigan

Onward to the sleeve caps and I found myself juggling several circular needles as I picked up stitches around the armhole (I love Kate’s ingenious use of the slipped stitch pattern on the body to guide where you pick up from by the way). This done, the pattern uses short row shaping for the sleeve caps, picking up one stitch at a each end of the short rows to join the body to the sleeve. Again, I stuck with the recommended method from the pattern- in this case Carol Sunday’s short row method- for the turns and I just love the way everything comes out so neatly. You wouldn’t think the join of a sleeve could be such a thing of beauty. One sleeve is completed and I am chugging my way through that second set of sleeve cap shapings. It feels like slow work but I know I will appreciate it in the wearing.

Sleeve detail Megan Nielsen Darling Ranges dress

Next it was time to (literally) dust off my sewing machine as I’m after a new dress. I’ve decided to make myself a ‘Darling Ranges’ dress by Megan Nielsen. I chose some organic woven cotton fabric from Ray Stitch and happily discovered that I had just enough to squeeze the pieces of an Oliver + S Jump Rope dress for M onto the layout. All well and good, but when I thought back to the school dresses I made using that pattern last year for M, all I could think about was wrestling with setting in the sleeves. Working back and forth on all those short rows when setting in my cardigan sleeve might take a long time, but it’s guaranteed that they’ll end up neat and even. Even on the fourth time of asking (I made two dresses last time and therefore set in four sleeves) I wasn’t quite happy with my last sewn sleeve caps.

I decided to slightly duck the issue by starting on my dress first. Darts on the bodice went okay, then I put in pockets (you have to love a dress with substantial pockets) and attached the skirt. Then it was sleeve time and as you can see, it went okay. The visible stitches are those put in to gently gather the fabric to ease the sleeve in, but I hardly needed them and will get rid of them later. The seams under the arms line up and everything! It was after this first, successful sleeve that I took the advice my mother gave me (it was about wallpapering, but the same applies to dressmaking) to whit: always stop for the day just before a difficult bit. If you try to do a difficult bit when you’re tired, you’ll mess it up. If you do it first thing on a new day, you’ll have the energy and patience to get it right. Just in case it was pure luck that got that first sleeve in, I quit while I was ahead and I’m still waiting for the opportunity to have another go. That’s the thing with sewing- things grow more quickly that with knitting, but there’s an awful lot more setting up and putting away before and afterwards.

Armhole detail: Georgie Hallam Milo sweater

This final sleeve is really just an armhole and proves that sometimes this whole area can be approached with simplicity. This knit is a ‘Milo’ sleeveless pullover, from the pattern by Georgie Hallam. The armhole is formed with a neat little cast off after working some mitred corners. This Milo has been made to replace the rainbow version I made my nephew when he was born, as he’s now grown out of that one.

This time I used some West Yorkshire Spinners Aran Prints from their ‘Country Birds’ collection- this colourway is called ‘Pheasant’. I’ve been impressed in the past with the quality of WYS yarn for the money but I have to say when I was given this yarn to play with I didn’t really fall in love with it in the ball. However, when I began knitting it absolutely grew on me. I particularly like the way the muted shades work together in garter stitch and it’s very soft. On the subject of not appreciating things on first sight, ‘Milo’ is one of those patterns that may not be appreciated by the recipient (or rather, their parents) when it’s first made as a gift. It doesn’t have the cute or pretty factor of a little cardigan in a lacy pattern. However, my sister is like a number of others I know in that she grew to love the Milo I made for her little one. It’s easy to put on, with no fiddly buttons; it works in any number of non-sickly sweet ‘baby’ colours and it keeps baby’s tummy warm without them grumping about having their arms restricted. It’s also worth mentioning that the pattern is very clear and well written.

Sleeves will continue to be on my mind into the coming week and not just because I’m hoping to get a few more of them finished. Having been recently reunited with my yarn swift (long story, don’t ask) I’m positively itching to wind more yarn and cast on, even though I know I should finish the other projects first. But look at this bundle of loveliness:

Yarn stash

Could you resist getting that on your needles? I have plans for this which will require me to work out what I do regarding sleeves and their joining (I’m intrigued but slightly scared, by this for example), but that is thankfully not the case with this:

Sock yarn

On the other hand, I am determined that this will be SOCKS. Two of them. Made in a sensible time frame. Hmmmm….more on this another time.AUDREY-LOGO-AVATAR-SMALL


Katie Morag Sweater

A month or so ago I had one of those days when my chronic failure to achieve a work/life balance with my day job got to me. I decided to write off the marking and planning and spend the afternoon with my little girl, just going with the flow.

We started off eating our lunch while watching the Cbeebies adaptation of the ‘Katie Morag’ books. That led us to go and find our book of Katie Morag stories for a snuggle and a read. Before long we had hatched a plan to make the ‘porridgeys’ Katie’s Granny Island makes- the recipe being included in the book.

Baking PorridgeysA sweet little baking session ensued, with the results being a something like a supercharged flapjack- rich with syrup and supremely comforting. Feeling a lot more peaceful in general I decided that my own little girl needed a jumper just like Katie Morag.

Studying pics from the TV series, I reverse engineered the yoke using my trusty Stitchmastery. Then it was back to good old Elizabeth Zimmermann to use her formula for a yoked sweater. Having made a gauge swatch and taken measurements, it was a case of doing some fairly simple maths to make sure that once the arms and body were joined I had a multiple of 17 to accommodate the pattern.

Anna Elliott's Katie Morag SweaterAs you can see, the body and arms are simple stocking stitch with a 2×2 rib border, knitted in the round from the bottom up. Having recently learned the art of knitting two socks at a time (what do you mean, have I managed to complete a pair of socks? Of course not! Maybe this year…) I used the technique to make the two sleeves simultaneously. It doesn’t make any logical sense, but I could swear that it takes less time to make two sleeves this way than doing one after the other, even though there are the same amount of stitches being worked. Perhaps it’s just psychological, but I heartily recommend learning this skill.

Anna Elliott's Katie Morag Sweater

I used the super-soft and very reasonably priced West Yorkshire Spinners DK for this sweater. It’s lovely to work with and seems very comfy to wear. The dark blue colourwork is Blacker Yarns Blacker Swan DK- another buttery soft yarn. M is far more up for wearing knits than her brother, but it still helps to make sure things feel good against her skin.

Anna Elliott's Katie Morag sweaterThe hawk-eyed amongst you might notice some pilling on the elbow in this shot. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of the yarn, as it has no more tendency to pill than any other pure wool yarn, but rather a reflection of just how long it’s taken me to get a shot of the jumper. While it hasn’t been very cold, the winter weather up here has been incredibly dull and drear these last few months- although thankfully the sun is actually shining today. Trying to find a day when madam and I were both available and there was enough light for photos seemed almost impossible, but meanwhile she was wearing- and growing out of- her jumper. As you can see, it wasn’t ideal even on the day we took these shots at her Granny’s farmhouse but at least I have a record of her wearing it before it gets too small. With luck they will also remind me that every now and again it’s important to take the day off and make porridgeys.

Project Ravelled here.


Polska Cowl and Mitts

I just gasped to see how long it’s been since my last post. The festive season flew in and past so quickly and somehow all my good intentions to write during my time off got lost among the present exchanging, travelling, cooking and catching up with friends and family. All at once a new term has begun and another issue of Knit Now is out with one of my designs in.

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Polska was an idea that took a while to come to fruition. I started this Pinterest board a good while ago, inspired by the gorgeous costumes worn on special occasions by the little Polish girls at the school where I teach. I loved the floral headbands and the way the bright colours of the ribbons sang against the black of their embroidered bodices and skirts.

How to capture that in a wearable, modern knit though? It took the boot up the backside of the subs call for the ‘Folk Song’ collection to get me really thinking. In the end I thought a cowl and mitts was the best plan- it means knitting in the round, which is so much easier for stranded colourwork, and also means that anyone slightly phobic of the busy patterns and bright colours of folk style could add just a flash of it above a plainer outfit.

Much as I love using Shetland yarns for colourwork, in this case I chose something a lot smoother- Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply. I wanted the colours to be really vivid and crisp, like those ribbons I mentioned, and this yarn is perfect for that. It also came in exactly the colours I wanted- a deep fuschia pink, bright turquoise and pea green. Just as I hoped, they do sing against the black background and although this isn’t the traditional ‘sticky’ yarn you’d associate with colourwork, it’s soft enough to be quite forgiving so that after blocking the colourwork settled well without the lumps and gaps you can sometimes get with smoother yarns and stranded colours.

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Image copyright Practical Publishing

The final touch was the Latvian Braid edging. I’d fancied having a go at this after seeing it on Emma Welford’s Wallpaper Cowl for Holla Knits Accessories. It seemed like a great choice for finishing my cowl too and it’s a lot easier than it looks. Emma made a great ‘how to’ video for it as part of the KAL for her design- you can find it here.

As for the rest of 2014, well I started the year sending off a couple more samples of new patterns I’ve written. They’ll be published in Spring and I’ve another one coming up in a month or so. I’ve still got some other patterns in the pipeline for independent release but I’m currently seized by the desire to knit a whole load of garments for myself- could this cold and wet weather have something to do with it?! How about you? What’s on your needles to get you through January?

Ziggy and Porthmeor

This post is already a week overdue and it’s going to be a short one as I’ve strained my wrists moving our chickens’ house (!) which is making typing really uncomfortable. However, I just wanted to write a few lines about the two designs I have in the current issue of Knit Now.

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Ziggy was all about the yarn really, or more specifically the colours. There’s been a huge amount of (well deserved) fuss about the launch of Baa Ram Ewe’s Titus yarn, not to mention some lovely designs using it. When I got to handle the real deal at Woolfest it was the Parkin and Aire colourways that really caught my attention. Not the most obvious colour combination, I know, but I think that subconsciously I’d been absorbing all the Bowie fever that was around this year. The red/orange of his Ziggy-era hair, the blue of his eyes…and of course the colourwork had to include that lightening flash zig-zag. The headband of the Ziggy set is a sort of Spirograph #2, as it has slight shaping at the top so you can wear it as a lidless hat over tied up long hair if you want. The wrist warmers are just a little bit rock ‘n’ roll really, but super warm in the double layering of colourwork and this cosy yarn.

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Porthmeor (above) is maybe a less assuming and out-there design, but I still have a lot of affection for it. Knit Now always has a mixture of beginner’s patterns as well as more challenging designs. You might assume that designing for beginners is easy, but coming up with something that will be achievable to a novice but still produces a stylish and interesting result is a challenge. I hope that the Porthmeor stole fits this bill as its pattern is formed entirely from knit and purl stitches and would be a good introduction to using a simple chart. Despite the simplicity, the texture and rhythm created is really satisfying. The textured pattern was inspired by the St Ives artists I love- Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham. I loved the way these painters and sculptors explored line and form, hence the circular forms and lines and the name, which comes from the beautiful beach in St Ives overlooked by the Tate gallery there. I originally envisioned this in a sea-foam green, although I do like it in the warm terracotta I used for the sample- maybe someone out there will make it in a green/blue colour so I can see how it looks!

Knit Now Issue 29 is in the shops now.


Knittivation #1

Trim for my winter coat in Louisa Harding Luzia yarn

It may be that someone else already uses the word ‘knittivation’ to mean something else, but I’ve decided to use it to describe how I’ve used knitting to innovate and tittivate something. The ‘something’ in question here was my new winter coat. I’ve needed one for several years and somehow never got around to finding one. I was reluctant to spend too little on something cheap and nasty but never got around to saving up at the right time of year to get something decent. I’ve therefore survived with a mixture of the old and the charity shop.

This year I actually did manage to put money aside for something nice. I had my heart set on a parka-style Barbour waxed jacket so that I had a combination of weatherproofing, warmth and style, but when it came to the crunch they were either too short for what I wanted or beyond my budget. Then it occurred to me that it didn’t have to be a Barbour, so I searched around and came across another, much smaller, British brand: Peregrine. More specifically, I came across their Pensford Waxed Cotton Jacket. It was almost perfect except that I really fancied a fur trim for the hood.

With the money burning a hole in my pocket and the cold wind blowing down my neck on playground duty, I decided I would go ahead and order the coat. Surely it couldn’t be beyond me to fashion some sort of trim myself? I’d seen recent ads for Louisa Harding Luzia yarn- definitely not my usual choice as there’s nothing natural about it! It looked as if it had some shades that knitted up into very realistic-looking fake fur with the only disadvantage being that it couldn’t get wet- not great when trimming a waxed jacket intended as a very practical garment!

Determined that this was an idea that would work, I ordered the yarn in the shade called ‘Otter’  and soon both it and the coat arrived. The yarn is slightly unnerving in ball form- slightly heavy for its size and therefore bearing more than a passing resemblance to a small rodent wearing a ball band. However, it’s actually surprisingly easy to work with- so long as you don’t drop a stitch. I cast on about a dozen stitches and worked in garter stitch back and forth until I had the right length. The fur fibres fluff outwards so profusely that you can’t see any of the knitting underneath so you are left with a piece of double sided fur fabric.

I tested a small piece of the yarn to see what happened when it got wet and although it looked very bedraggled at first, it seemed to recover pretty well on drying. However, to be on the safe side I attached the doubled-over trim to a piece of cotton tape along one edge, then used snap fasteners on this and the inside edge of the hood to attach the trim. This way I can quickly remove the trim if the weather is very wet or alternatively, I can get rid of the trim altogether if it starts to look tired, without leaving any lasting trace on the coat.

I’m really pleased with my ‘knittivation’ but it’s only part one of what I’ve got planned for this coat (which, I must point out, was fantastic in the first place and is likely to appear in a lot of future pattern shots). The next knittivation is rather more ambitious and likely to take a lot longer than the couple of hours this first effort took. As for the Luzia yarn, I’m really pleased I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried it, as I think it could work really well as a trim on vintage-style cardigans, for example.

As for what’s been on my needles since then- well, I’m back in my usual habits, with pure wool British breeds and colourwork loveliness…


Sweater Surprise

This, my friends, is an amazing view. No, I’m not talking about the early winter landscape of Tarn Hows (beautiful though it was) but rather the sight of my son wearing a sweater I knitted with neither complaint nor the motivation of chocolate-based bribery.

West Yorkshire Spinners Yarn sweater

The sweater began life as a bit of research really. I have an idea for a saddle shouldered sweater I wanted to make so I decided to try making a basic one using the inimitable Elizabeth Zimmermann’s instructions in Knitting Without Tears. As well as trying out this specific construction method, I was acting on the advice of a friend I chatted to at the Rocking Kitchen retreat, who thought that going back to EZ principles would help me in general with putting together children’s sweater designs (I have another that’s rather stuck at pattern writing stage). The friend was right. Although knitters used to modern writing will tend to find EZ’s style of writing something of a challenge- used as we are to row by row detail, a multitude of sizes laid out for us and a stitch count every time an increase or decrease occurs- once you take a deep breath and go for it, you get so much more of a feel and confidence for how the garment is put together. Unless, that is, you are knitting the Baby Surprise Jacket, in which case you will be mystified and disconcerted until you cast off and put it together.

West Yorkshire Spinners Yarn sweater

Anyway, back to this particular sweater. I made it in my boy’s size just so as to have some measurements to base it on. Perhaps it was my lack of interest in whether he was going to wear it that attracted him to do just that. More likely, though, it was the yarn. It’s West Yorkshire Spinners’ Aire Valley Aran Fusions. This a 75% British Breeds wool mix yarn, available in several variegated shades- in this case ‘Coffee and Cream’. The ply is quite loose, although I didn’t find it splitty or (so far) to prone to pilling, so it feels very soft to the touch. Now, my boy is a sucker for soft things, so every time I ‘borrowed’ him to try out the length of the body or a sleeve, he lingered, stroking the sweater-in-progress, maybe even bonding with it. It certainly fits him well and its old fashioned style suits him, I think- a little bit rugged, a little bit poet/philosopher…

West Yorkshire Spinners Yarn sweater

By the time I’d finished- fairly successfully I think, although I did have to fudge the ‘saddle’ stitch count and shaping to make sure the neck was big enough- this was not a ‘try-out’ sweater, but very much P’s new sweater. My handknit- phobic boy is (perhaps) converted. As for me- well both the WYS yarn and the EZ method were winners as far as I was concerned. I’ll be honest, if it hadn’t been for WYS being one of the generous sponsors of the Rocking Kitchen weekend I probably wouldn’t have picked this yarn to work with. I love their gorgeously soft Bluefaced Leicester DK, having used it in my Christmas collection, but usually variegated yarns aren’t my thing. However, so many people have commented on how much they like the soft striping effect this one creates that I’ve grown to appreciate it much more. It knits up like a much more expensive yarn than it is and is very nice to work with.

Just to be on the safe side, ahem, I’ve cast on yet another EZ based design- a yoked sweater this time- and I’m using WYS yarn again. This time I’m back to the BFL DK but I’ve more of their range to experiment with from my goodie-bag yet as well as maybe some to giveaway, so stay tuned!


Ballet cardiganShe loves her ballet lessons more than this picture shows- she just wasn’t in a photographic model mood that day. She also loves the new ballet cardigan her Great Grandmother knitted for her. My little girl appreciates hand knits- in fact appreciates all clothes gifted to her, telling anyone who will listen the person who sewed it/knitted it/bought it.

What I love about this cardigan is that Grandma made it for her. As well as keeping me and her other 7 grandchildren in knits during our childhood, Grandma taught me to knit, some 30 years ago. I may have gone on to learn some new-fangled methods and techniques since then, but sit us side by side and you’ll see that the way I knit is the way she knits- the memory of her patient instruction one long ago summer permanently programmed into my fingers.

We may knit in that same way, but our relationship with knitting is quite different. I’m not sure how much knitting Grandma did in the war, since she served in the WRNS rather than keeping the home fires burning, but she is nonetheless part of the Make Do and Mend generation. I know that when my mother was growing up making clothes was not an indulgence or hobby, but often the most economical route- my mother and her sisters therefore had clothes made by her and by their own Grandmother. Grandma has seen this situation change as ready made clothing has become cheaper (at the cost of human lives in sweatshops) and the materials to sew or knit clothes become harder to source.

Perhaps because of her sense of the practical necessity of knits, Grandma finds my allegiance to wool, especially if it’s artisan (e.g. expensive) baffling. Man-made fibres are washable, durable, soft and inexpensive- qualities which I suppose she won’t always have been able to guarantee in a knitting yarn over the the years and she can’t believe how much I’m happy to spend on wool.

I, on the other hand, was brought up with a mixture of shop-bought and hand-made clothes but with the understanding that most of my friends only had shop bought. Their mothers either wouldn’t or couldn’t make clothes because they’d either shaken the dust off their feet after leaving their last home economics lesson or gone to schools where those lessons didn’t exist anymore. For me, the hand-made clothes were usually the Sunday Best and party dresses- something special and therefore more valuable- a feeling that has continued into my knitting now and probably underpins my preference for using materials with quality and integrity (to say nothing of a bigger price tag).

Despite the differences, I think deep down Grandma and I share the belief that you knit more than yarn (acrylic or otherwise) into a garment and that knitting for others is therefore an act of nurture and love. I’m just not sure that Grandma realises how much her daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren also recognise this. She knits all the time, making bears and clothes for charities if no other projects are available, but she was holding off from offering to knit for my children because she knew that I knit all the time too. She didn’t see that for me, M having more ‘Great Grandma’ knits in M’s wardrobe has a much greater value than having more of my knits or even shop-bought stuff. They represent that thread of love that runs through and binds together the generations, the one that I hope will continue long after I’ve put down my needles and turned up my toes.

This little ballet cardigan was therefore the result of a little plotting on my part. Having sounded my mother out on the matter, I put it to Grandma that I was too busy to make M a cardigan (the three things I know that my Grandma thinks of me are that I am always busy, I knit prolifically and that I spend too much on wool. I can’t really argue with any of these points) and asked her if she could find time to make one. The swift reply was ‘yes’ and by the wonders of the internet within days she had a parcel of pink yarn and a paper pattern (this is Grandma. She texts but expecting her to download patterns from Ravelry is too much). Several texts about measurements immediately followed, the returning parcel with love from Great Grandma for our tiny dancer was not long after. Happiness all round. And before you ask, yes, the yarn was pure wool :-)


Why you can’t beat a (Rocking Kitchen) retreat

Rocking Kitchen Yarn StashA weekend in Yorkshire, staying in a huge old stone house with a whole bunch of very talented knitting designers for the sole purpose of knitting, talking about yarn, playing with yarn, swapping yarn…seriously, could you come up with a better idea? The people behind the first ever Rocking Kitchen Designer’s Retreat were the lovely and very talented Joeli Carparco of Joeli’s Kitchen (as well as being the tech editor usually responsible for knocking my patterns into much better shape she also designs super-gorgeous children’s clothes and regularly podcasts) and the equally lovely and very talented Ruth Garcia-Alcantud of Rock & Purl (also a super tech editor and designer, she also taught me how to grade patterns, a miracle in itself). Thanks to these guys, the idea of a few of us designers (most of whom met through designing for Knit Now) getting together for some quality time away grew into something really special. Also quite a lot bigger!

It ended up with the weekend being sponsored by a wide range of yarn and knitting related sponsors, from some of the big guns to some lovely indies, which meant we had yarn-tastings and goody bags to die for. The pic here shows just part of the booty I hauled home- my husband paled visibly as he watched me empty the car and simultaneously double (at least) the total yarn stash now residing in our home. I am trying to persuade him that it’s a form of energy saving insulation for the house and planning on sharing more about products from individual sponsors- in word and also giveaway form!- over the next few weeks, but Ruth tells you more about who’s who over on her blog.

Whenever I’m in contact with the knitting community, whether in the virtual world (usually) or real life, I’m always struck by what a warm and supportive lot we are. Yes, of course there are the occasional spats and clashes of opinion, but in general you get the feeling that people want to share what they have in common rather than looking for differences, to see as many people as possible grow the culture and resources of the craft we love, rather than fight to be top dog. So it was on this weekend away, where advice, ideas, yarn, talk and food were freely and happily shared. The plan is that this event will lead to more in future- let’s hope this is so, and if you’re wondering whether to join in, the answer is YES!

PS Yes, I know this is the first blog in about three that I haven’t mentioned hats (whoops, now I have!) but I do need to quickly say a big ‘thank you’ for all the lovely attention/downloading my Mimi Clochette hat got for its individual pattern relaunch last week. It got to Number 2 on Ravelry’s ‘Hot Right Now’ list at one point, which was hugely exciting, and so many lovely comments about it. Hope everyone managed to get their free copy- if not, it’s still available for a small price here.