for your babies

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think finding a few cute cardigan patterns for a baby boy would be too difficult, but I’ve spent the last few days going round in circles and coming out in the same place, namely, this pattern from Drops, called Little Hadrien. I’ve knit two baby jackets already this year, the first for my niece’s baby, the other being the one I posted about last time, but both were for baby girls. (The last pattern I knit is a unisex design, but is still more of a matinee jacket than a cardigan, I think, and as well as that, it’s always nice to try something new.)

I was getting pretty frustrated until I widened my search to include 4ply patterns. The yarn I have is Drops Safran, and so I was just putting sport weight into ravelry’s pattern search, and adding 4ply opened up my choices a little. I only had a few criteria, in that I was looking for something that would work in a cotton yarn, and most importantly, something in the smallest size; this one, for instance, caught my eye – Sunnyside, by Tanis Lavallee. The cable detail is lovely, but sadly, it only starts at age 3 months (I’ve queued it for future reference though!). Still, by the time I’d sifted through the rest of the results, the only other real contender was this little jacket, which has an interesting stitch pattern, and is part of a set that includes a hat and trousers – Heim, from a Danish company called Filcolana

I sent the two links to my cousin’s daughter yesterday, and this one is the pattern she’s chosen. I’ve already swatched twice in preparation, but one swatch has come out very slightly too big, and the other too small (the larger one is only off by 1 stitch and 1 row, but as well as that, the fabric’s just not right). I knit the first with a 2.5mm needle a couple of days ago, as at that point I wasn’t sure which of the two patterns I’d be knitting eventually – the first calls for 2.5mm, and the second for 3.0mm, so that was my second swatch.

This means that despite this yarn apparently being a sport weight rather than a 4ply, it looks like I’m going to have to use 2.75mm needles to get my gauge right (probably down to the fact I’m using a cotton rather than wool yarn, I suspect). I don’t think I actually own a 2.75mm circular needle – hard to check for sure when you don’t know where your needle gauge has gone, and a fair number of needles are wedged in UFOs, but I have no recollection of ever buying one, anyway.

Now, at this point I have to say that I as I typed that last sentence, I mistyped the word don’t as dpn’t, which made me smile, and also nudged a braincell or two into action. I quite possibly have some small 2.75mm double pointed needles (charity shop sweeps have left me with random collections of sock needles), but – more usefully – it reminded me that I might have a pair of straight needles in that size, somewhere in my tins of hand-me-down needles, and being a cardigan, it’s not going to need circulars (or DPNs) until I reach the sleeves. So I ran upstairs and had a rattle about, and found these little beauties –

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All of which means I can cast on straight away, hopefully get gauge this time, and get cracking (and have a look for my needle gauge so I can find out if I actually do have any DPNs that size, or if it’s time to go shopping when I get to the sleeves).

Now, all my hand-me-down needles were passed on to me by my mum, who came into possession of them when my (and also my cousin’s) grandmother passed away, and as she said to me ‘you have these, I’m not much of a knitter’. It was my grandmother who taught me the basics of how to knit – and this little cardigan will be for her great-great-grandson, which is lovely, and heartwarming, and precisely the kind of situation that springs up when you’re carrying on family traditions. I honestly believe it’s this feeling of connection that keeps a lot of crafts going, and a lot of knitters knitting. Myself and my brother and sister spent a lot of time with her when we were little, as did our cousins who lived just round the corner from her (though we called her Mamma – pronounced ‘Mamm-ar’ or ‘Momm-ar’ – which is a Derbyshire thing as far as I know). It’s going to be very satisfying to use her needles to make this little cardigan, and I reckon the fact that I’m using Mamma’s knitting pins to knit her grandson something is my cousin will appreciate, too*.

Incidentally – this week’s blog title is brought to you by another song, which popped into my head as I finished this post, possibly as it’s also similarly unashamedly sentimental, but being around new babies can have that effect (it’s what brought about Hucknall’s penning of the song in the first place, by all accounts). And, in a bout of universal symmetry/spookiness, it’s just about the same age as my cousin’s daughter. Just in case anyone hasn’t heard it, unlikely as that seems to me, or in case you have and you fancy hearing it again – here it is (with a big shout-out to baby R, and his mum and dad and grandparents!) –

*Of all her grandchildren – and I’m sure she probably let us all have a go at knitting at some point, if only to keep us amused while we were round there! – I’m pretty certain I’m the only one that’s a knitter now. When I met little baby R a week or so ago, his mum told me that ‘she wouldn’t know how to go on with knitting’. Maybe next time we meet up I’ll bring some needles and yarn along – I suspect, though, she’s going to have her hands full for a while.

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socks & books & blogs & bowls

(No apologies for bad puns on this blog, and if by chance there’s anyone out there that doesn’t know what the title of this post refers to – click here!)

In the last week or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be helpful for me to get some project bags sorted. I was checking out the blogosphere to see if I could maybe find some knitters out there that were working with plant fibres exclusively, and also to catch up with some old favourites (my reading of blogs has gone the same way as my writing), and two of the first blogs I managed to wander through/stumble into contained links to bag patterns. The first, Nicola Knits, had several beauties, though they were either sewn or crocheted, neither of which are crafts that I can honestly say I excel at. Her workmanship is certainly something to aspire to. This is the first time I’ve come across her blog, so I’ve added her to my Reader list. She’s also a plant based crafter, so I’m hoping I might pick up more useful info when I get a minute to leaf back a little through her posts. (She also has links to free knitting and crochet patterns of her own.)

The second blog was one I’ve read before, The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done. It stood out when I first stumbled across it years ago because I’m a fan of Neil Young – as, presumably, is she. Not project bags particularly, she’s recently posted a pretty comprehensive list of patterns for knitting all manner of bags, though many of them are felted, which is generally a wool thing so those are out (also another area I’ve not really any experience of, aside from a few laundry mishaps). I quite liked a couple of the shoulder bags, and there was a link to Amy Singer’s book, ‘No Sheep for You’

It’s been out for years and I’d forgotten all about it, so that was a handy reminder, and I need to check out the rest of the patterns on ravelry. It’s not entirely plant based (many of the patterns use silk), but I’m sure there’s some useful info in there. Actually, I’ve just noticed that the ravelry blog’s most recent ‘Eye Candy’ post was all about bags, so maybe something subliminal happened there – I certainly wasn’t aware I’d noticed that post until just now! Anyway, I’m still looking for ideas and who knows, project bag envy may motivate me to get a bit more use out of the sewing machine I bought last year.

Last week also saw my dad’s birthday, and I managed to get a pair of socks knitted up and sent to him, though there was a last minute cock-up because he has two letterboxes, one of which is large enough to fit an A4 envelope through, and one of which isn’t, and it obviously wasn’t the regular postie delivering his mail that day so he had to go and collect it from the sorting office the day after. I didn’t manage to get a photo of them before I sent them off, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, but they were navy blue – the same shade of Drops Fabel as the Tardis socks that I knit for my husband, and made to similar measurements (nothing complicated, 68 sts on 2mm needles, 2×2 rib for an inch or two, then decrease to 64 sts and carry on, working top down with a short row heel and a grafted toe).

With those finished, I went back to working on my Sarah Jane Smith Sweater, which had finally reached the stage where I needed to pick up stitches for the collar, so obviously it’d sat about for a bit waiting for me to get round to it. I got that done in one evening, and now it’s at the stage where I have to graft the underarms and weave in some ends. I’ll be honest, that isn’t great for late night tv knitting, so it’s been sidelined again, and I ended up rifling through patterns on ravelry, for a sweater I want to knit for myself with some yarn I bought around about this time last year (or whenever it was that Drops were doing their end-of-summer cotton yarn sale). It’s Drops Safran in white and blue –

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(I was obviously in a slightly seasidey mood when I bought it.) I was on the hunt for a good stripey boatneck sweater pattern, but after a couple of evenings I still wasn’t getting very far. I was browsing on my phone, mostly, and it’s not terribly easy to navigate your way round ravelry with a teeny screen, particularly when your eyesight isn’t the greatest and you’re overdue a trip to the opticians by a good few months. I couldn’t bear not having anything to knit whilst watching telly, though, so I ended up starting another sock, this time for my sister –

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Turns out I need to frog this and start again with more stitches, because after speaking with her, she’d most like a pair of knee lengths for wearing with wellies, so they’re not quite wide enough. I’ll have to go and have a browse of the Drops site, they have plenty of long sock patterns.

Anyway, I switched to pattern hunting on the laptop and found something that looks like it’ll work a treat, namely, Purl Soho’s Striped Spring Shirt. I’m thinking it’ll probably be spring by the time I get it finished if my track record with sweaters has anything to do with it – and possibly not next spring, either. The good news is that it looks like I’ll have enough yarn to do both this, and a little hooded cardigan and matching stripey socks for my cousin’s brand new baby grandson, who I had the pleasure of meeting this Monday. He’s a real cutie, and I’ve promised his mum I’ll pick out some suitable patterns so she can choose the one she likes best (I’ll share my picks in my next post, because why not, eh?). I’m hoping this yarn will be better than the Drops Paris I was knitting him this pattern with, which, at the halfway point, started to have patches of grubby looking dye distributed liberally through the yarn – it almost looks like machine oil marks, but it’s not. Either way, it was very frustrating as I’d hoped to give her the finished item as a gift while we were down there. I’m going to have another trawl through ravelry, and last week when I took the kids to the library, I picked up a couple of books for myself – ‘Tag You’re Knit!’, by Mary Bonnette & JoLynne Murchland, and ‘The Knitter’s Year’ by Debbie Bliss.

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I’ve only had a quick flick through so far, but it looks like the Debbie Bliss has some nice things for children in there amongst the other patterns (and there’s also a bag or two!). The other is obviously all kids patterns, but I’m not sure how many will be suitable. I did spot some cute little boots in the Debbie Bliss book, and they’re knit with Eco Baby which is a sport weight yarn, as is the Drops Safran –

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They’re not socks, or a cardi, but if I think I’ve got enough to do those as well, I will.

I thought I’d maybe make a start by breaking the habit of a lifetime (and considerin my track record with previous sweaters) and knit a swatch, so set about looking for a longish 3.5mm circular. I didn’t think this would be so difficult, given that I distinctly remember that the last time I went on the hunt for a 4mm circular, I kept finding nothing but 3.5mms. But it seems that since then, I’ve broken one of the interchangeable wooden 3.5mm needles I had, and all my Addi circs had presumably gone on some kind of summer migration. After checking pretty much every box and bag that I could find that I thought might have a lurking WIP in it, I managed to find one – which was nothing if not serendipitous, as it was stuck in a baby cardigan that I was aiming to get done for someone whose baby is due later this month.

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I’d forgotten that I’d still not finished the sleeves, and we were off down to visit my dad for a few days, and I’d planned to nip round to hand this over. So I set to, and this has also now become a Finished Object (with five dotty pink buttons shopped for, and sewn on) and been delivered – and again, I forgot to take a photo before I did that, but in my defence our visit was nothing short of hectic.

The other lucky thing about that, was that I could tell what size the needle was from the pattern –  otherwise I’d have been reduced to rolling it on the table alongside other needles to find out what size it is (it’s a KnitPro rather than an Addi, so it doesn’t have the size printed onto the cable) because my needle gauge/ruler thingy has also gone AWOL. I’m hoping it’ll turn up soon, though I’ve been eyeing up this most fabulous of needle gauges (and it’s my birthday at the end of the month). Wandering into Etsy is a dangerous business, of course, and I ended up also looking at yarn bowls (hence the title of this blog post).

Now, I’ve never used a yarn bowl, much in the same way as I’ve never used a project bag, and so generally my yarn is rolling about in whatever ziploc bag it went into when I bought it. I’m trying to wean myself off those – aside from the plastic issue, they don’t last long with pointy needles, really. I like the fact I can seal them up and keep the bugs and dirt off my yarn (except obviously they’re not very sealed once they’ve been punctured with a set of DPNs) and I don’t think I can afford to buy cedar boxes for all my yarn (apparently a wood with natural moth/insect repellant properties?), but I have to admit they don’t really work either as project bags, or as a place to keep my yarn while I’m knitting with it. Obviously Etsy also has Doctor Who yarn bowls, though mostly they seem to be US based sellers, and the shipping is quite considerable as they’re heavy ceramic bowls. I think I might be better off with something made of wood, to be honest, as I’d be in constant fear of breaking a ceramic bowl that I’d paid fifty quid for and so would likely be too afraid to ever use it, which kind of defeats the object. Mind you, I’m amazed that so far no one seems to have incorporated the seal of Rassilon into a bowl, as I think it might lend itself particularly well to the curly holey bit that catches the yarn in most of the bowl designs I’ve seen –

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And finally – speaking of Etsy, I still have a couple of pairs of socks that I knit for my business last year, but didn’t list in my shop as I never got it together before Christmas! If you’re interested, comment below/email me at aminspaceATgmail.com (the AT replaced with @ – it’s removed to avoid my email getting spammed even more than it usually does). I’m happy to post to anywhere in the world, and can quote a shipping price based on your location. I take payments via Paypal.

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These are thick, hand knit socks with a traditional Nordic Snowflake pattern, and contrasting toe.
100% merino wool, calf length socks, to fit size 4 to 7 (UK). Foot length is 21cm, leg length (top to heel) is 27cm. They are £20 plus postage.

I also have a pair of wool/alpaca blend ankle socks (they’re very soft) –

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Foot length is 20cm, to fit size 3 to 7 (UK), and they’re £15 + postage. 

journey to the unknown

At the end of my last post, I hinted at something that’s been bothering me in recent months – namely, my growing unease at continuing to use animal products in my crafting.  I’m not going to go into great detail about the whys and wherefores, so I think the simplest thing I can say is that at this point, the obvious solution seems to be to move to plant based fibres for my knitting and spinning, and that’s what I’m going to do. I suppose I could have just not mentioned all this, as my dilemmas are precisely that – mine – but that’d feel weird, so there we are.

In the last forty years or so that I’ve been a knitter I’ve accumulated a fair bit of yarn, the majority of which is animal based, mostly wool, but there’s also alpaca, silk, cashmere, and even a bit of angora lurking in there somewhere. I do have some cotton, and also a fair bit of acrylic yarn, but it really is just a smattering in comparison to the rest of it. This does of course pose the question of what to do with all that stash, but I expect I will use up what I have on useful items for my family, and just not buy any more animal fibre from now on. I’m also wanting to work with plant rather than plastic derived fibres for the most part, and again, this is another thing that I’m not going to argue the toss for here, as the internet already has plenty to say on the subject. (That said, in the case of socks it’s long been the case that a little nylon goes a long way, so I’m not seeing that as a hard and fast rule, more an aim, at least until I find useful alternatives.)

In a way I feel like I’m stepping into a whole new world of fibre, as there’s so much out there aside from the cotton and acrylic that I’ve previously knit with. Adjusting to the way these new fibres behave is certainly going to be an ongoing process. I feel most daunted by the idea of moving away from wool as a spinner, as that’s the one area I’ve really had very little experience with any other fibre – in comparison with the amount of knitting I’ve done, I’d still consider myself a beginning spinner. I guess one could argue, however, that this should mean I’ve less ‘habits’ to undo.

The main result of all this musing, basically, is that I have new stash!

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(Lego hobbit for scale…)

I bought the two braids of fibre on the left hand side of this photo at the start of the year from a seller on Etsy, Catriona Stevenson of Flora Fibres. All her fibre and yarns come from plants, and she dyes all her products herself using natural plant dyes, many of which she collects herself. That in itself piqued my interest, as I’ve always been one for foraging and growing all manner of plants and herbs, and I’ve toyed with the idea of dyeing with plants myself, but have to confess to being a little daunted by the idea of mordants (I did dye with some turmeric when I first started dyeing, but it was far from colourfast, because I didn’t use a mordant). She’s also relatively local to me, being based in Fife – but most importantly, her shop looks glorious. My first choice was a braid of rose fibre, because I love roses, and also because it’s something I’ve never, ever come across before. It’s dyed with hawthorn, and the kids all think it looks like Goldilocks’ hair, and they’re not wrong. It’s soft and silky, and in fact does spin up quite like the silk I spun for my wedding shawl/veil.

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(About 4g, all I’d managed between the start of the year, and the start of this week.)

There’s a few thick bits in there, but I’m aiming for lace-ish weight (given that I’ve only got a small amount), and overall it’s not too shoddy an effort, I think. That’s about 5 of 50g spun so far.

At the same time I also ordered a skein of bamboo, dyed with rosemary (my mum’s name, and a plant I like to have in my garden, even when the wet winters here conspire against me), which is a soft green colour and similarly silky to the touch. I haven’t spun this yet so have yet to find out how it compares with the rose fibre – I’m currently spindling, as that was how I spun the silk I’d had previously, so I thought I’d have more success that way. I’m not sure how my big ol’ Louet S10 will work with fibres such as this, as a wheel it’s very ‘grabby’, and I think I may just get myself a batch of undyed fibre first to practise on, and see how I go.

A month or two later I found out that was there going to be a yarn festival in Aberdeen in May (‘Aberdeen Yarnfest’, unsurprisingly!), just around the corner from my inlaws, and Catriona was going to have a stall there. As with many things, seeing fibre and yarn in person is so helpful, particularly if it’s something you’ve never used before, and it avoids the whole ‘colours may differ according to your monitor’ that is the main drawback of online shopping. I won’t lie, I also thought it would be a great opportunity to quiz her a bit about all the fibres she stocks, and pick her brain about the spinning qualities of each of the different types, as they’re so new to me. It just so happened that the yarn festival also coincided with the weekend before my youngest’s birthday, and we were all headed up to Aberdeen anyway, so myself and my younger daughter went along and had a nice wander round (I did take a couple of photos, but they were on my phone, and indoors, and mostly came out a bit shaky!)

It was great meeting Catriona, and she was very helpful regarding all my newbie questions. After much procrastination and discussion, I came back with another two braids of fibre, and a skein of yarn. I had a little help from my daughter, who chose the skein of pink cotton yarn, which is dyed with madder, and a pink/blue marbled braid of fibre, which is a fibre called ramie, dyed with a combination of red cabbage and madder (aside from the colour, it’s called ‘Unicorn Dreams’, which was what swung it, I think). Ramie is a relative of the nettle, generally grown in India, and I’d say in terms of softness, it feels midway between the silkier bamboo and rose braids, and the flax. The flax was my choice, and is dyed with red cabbage (far right, below) –

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(Left to right – 50g braids of rose fibre, bamboo, ramie and flax)

I think this photo illustrates the difference between the flax and the other fibres pretty well – the fibres are very much thicker and coarser than those of the rose and the bamboo, and even of the ramie, though I understand that flax (which once spun becomes linen, of course)  becomes softer every time you wash it.

For now, the other fibres will just have to wait until I finish the rose. I haven’t been doing a lot of spinning recently, hopefully that will change now I’m trying to take things a bit easier. I’m going to try and stick to the 10-minutes-a-day mantra, but we’ll see how I do with that. On Thursday I had to have a break, as on Wednesday I’d overdone it and spun for an hour without stopping – not a good idea after not doing any for months, and my back wasn’t happy! Still, the spindle’s looking a bit healthier now –

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(A slightly more respectable 10g)

As such, it’ll be a while yet before I get to find out how these fibres knit up and wear, I expect, but hopefully my spindling mojo will kick in and it won’t be too long a wait.

I’m pondering buying some undyed ramie and trying that with my wheel. I read on ravelry that ramie is a little less like silk in terms of spinning (though so far I’ve not found a lot of discussion on ravelry regarding spinning any of these fibres except in wool blends), and it certainly looks more like a wool fibre than the others, so maybe that’ll be less of a culture shock.

rationalising

Once again, life has put a spanner in the blogworks, and it’s been months since I last posted. Nothing especially serious has happened – a few health wobbles, which seem to so far be confined to relatively standard mid-life stuff, for which I’ve made several visits to my GP. It’s still ongoing but I’ve stepped away from Dr. Google, and stopped panicking unnecessarily, and lo and behold, the whole business isn’t disrupting my life as much as it had been. Being preoccupied with my health also had a knock-on effect on my studies (and it’s possible that the stress from trying to catch up with those after each wobble compounded the issue), so I’m currently leaning towards putting my degree on hold for the foreseeable, because apparently you can’t do everything, and I’ve come to realise that, for now at least, it isn’t a priority. I’m a little disappointed as I could’ve been going into my final year as an undergraduate this October, but I really want to get a grade that properly reflects both the efforts I’ve put in, and my capabilities. I know for a fact that I need to whip my maths skills into shape before proceeding any further, and I’m not certain that two months is going to be enough time for that to happen, so putting it on the backburner for a while and focusing on getting myself back to ‘normal’ seems like the right thing to do, right now. On the bright side, this should mean a little more time for relaxing with my knitting, progressing with the spinning I started a few months back, and blogging (and once I’m feeling a bit more confident with my maths, doing myself, Schrödinger, and Maxwell, proud!).

In the intervening months since my last post, I’ve done 99% of the work on my Doctor Who scarf, so it’s a Not-Quite-Finished-Object, for nerdy reasons. At the end of April, myself and my husband Andrew attended The Capitol 3 (a convention organised by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society), having been very generously invited by a very dear friend who has, for many years, been one of the driving forces behind these conventions, and who also happens to be a splendid chap. We had a terrific time, it was a whirlwind weekend which contained little in the way of sleep, and lots of immersing ourselves utterly in the worlds of Doctor Who and con-going – the latter being something neither of us had never experienced before – and I’m really hoping to be able to repeat the experience in the not-too-distant future (ie The Capitol IV next April, funds allowing). It has something of a family get-together atmosphere to it, the result of many of the people there – organisers, con-goers, and even some of the guests – having been part of the DW fanbase for so long, and while in comparison with other, larger, conventions, the ticket price seems at face value more expensive, all the panels and a reasonable number of autographs are included.

Anyway, myself and himself flew down to Gatwick early on the Saturday morning (also a first for me, as I’d never flown previously!), clutching minimal hand luggage, partly because we were clueless as to the amount we could bring, ha. I did, however, stuff my scarf into my bag, as all(!) I needed to do to get it finished was weave in most of the ends from each colour change, and attach 24 tassels. I’d precut the tassels the night before we left for the airport hotel in Glasgow, and I knew I’d get plenty of time for relatively simple finishing tasks while sitting listening to the panels on Saturday, so I was reasonably confident that I’d be wearing it by Sunday – just in time to get my picture taken wearing it whilst twiddling bits of the TARDIS console that Tom Baker himself stood beside for the new sequence that he filmed for the end of the newly released Shada reconstruction. And I did!

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Off to the left you can see the prop that also appears in that same scene, knitted especially for the reconstruction. In that photo you can see that mine hasn’t been blocked to the same extent – ie, ferociously, to mimic the hard use the scarf got since its creation. I didn’t have time to do more than hang it in the bathroom on the Sunday morning while the shower was running, as I didn’t fancy traipsing about the con with a damp scarf. Currently it also still contains the section that needs to be removed to make it an authentic season 13 scarf, according to the instructions at doctorwhoscarf.com.

(We also seized the opportunity for a photo in the TARDIS and with a Dalek, because it would’ve been silly not to.)

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However, today it has taken another step closer to being 100% finished, in that I have hung it over the shower rail, doused it, squeezed out a fair bit of water by wrapping it in a towel and kneeling on it, and then hung it over the line (folded double, as while wet it’s so long it would be touching the floor).

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Once it’s dry, the next job will be to remove the section that was cut out mid-way through season 12 – the large, dark grey section in the photo above – and then reattach the end THE WRONG WAY ROUND. The fact that this will make it Correct in terms of the original scarf will hopefully go some way to assuage my knitter’s horror at the carnage and general wrongness this will involve. (If you zoom in on the red section of that photo you may notice a small mangle. I’m not entirely sure what happened there – if it was a dropped stitch, it did well to survive as long as it did, because there was a lot of knitting and carting about of that scarf before I noticed it, so I suspect it came a cropper when it was stuffed in my bag with the pair of scissors I borrowed whilst at the con (I didn’t bring any with me, as I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed to take them on the plane!).  However, if it did suffer such a mishap, it strikes me that this is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original, incredibly mishap-riddled, scarf.

Aside from scarf adventures, the fabulous panels we attended, and spending a good part of an afternoon in the company of Katy Manning (whilst queuing for her autograph!), I managed to get my K-9 autographed by Lalla Ward –

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(I didn’t take the whole K-9 with me to the con, just his panel!). Andrew also spotted a knitting book Lalla had published in the 80s that I’d no idea was even a thing while browsing one of the merchandise stalls, so obviously I bought that –

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and asked her to sign it –

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Lalla Ward in an oversized intarsia sweater is a very 80s thing indeed – I’m not really sure I’ll ever use any of the patterns – but I love her illustrations and poems, and the fact that I have a knitting book that bears the inscription ‘love to Anne-Marie’ from Lalla Ward makes me a very happy fan indeed.

Finally, a small explanation as to the title of this blog post. Aside from attempting to rejig my priorities in a wider sense, I’ve also been scrutinising my priorities as a knitter since I last posted. My last big acquisition of yarn was intended to kick-start a move toward knitting finished items in order to sell them online. Shortly after doing this, however, I started to think more about the yarn I was using, and of its provenance. I have, in the last year, stopped eating meat and dairy. Primarily I did so for health reasons, but as time went on, the idea of returning to my previous diet seemed less and less like something I wanted to do, in terms of the animals themselves. And I found myself wondering whether I could also continue to use wool in my knitting, or whether to make the move to entirely plant based knitting, much as I had made the move to plant based eating… and this became another spanner in the works, to the point that the momentum I’d begun to pick up stalled, and massively so.

But this blog post has already passed the 1400 word mark,  so I’m going to leave you with that thought, and return to it in my next post with a bunch of photos of the beautiful new yarn and fibre I’ve acquired in the meantime.

float, float on…

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since the last post, what with Halloween and then Bonfire night to contend with. For the first week of the month I was mostly working away on the sock I’d charted for last time, and once again found myself learning a new skill. I got to the end of the pattern I’d charted (it did change somewhat, in the end), and was chugging my way in blue almost to the point where I needed to start my heel when I noticed that not only had I neglected to switch the dominant yarn from blue to white when I switched them as main/contrast colours – but only for the first few rows. I’d obviously put down my knitting, and then picked it up and started doing it properly, just to make my mistake even more obvious. It’s possibly not so obvious from the photo, I don’t know, but it bugged me. (Apologies for the iffy lighting – it was a gloomy day, and I was sat by the smallest window in the room, too!)

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However, as if this wasn’t bad enough, this closer examination meant that about 25 rows down I spotted a dropped stitch. I’m thankful that I spotted it then, not when I’d started the heel – though the discrepancy in stitch counts might have alerted me to it I suppose. If I hadn’t also got the dominant yarn thing freaking me out, and the sock had been for me rather than anyone else, I’d likely have attempted ‘making’ a stitch in all those rows and pulled the stitch up the ladder between the existing stitches with a couple of DPNs. It was just one stitch out of 72, but I was convinced that doing so would make a difference to the overall tension, so I ripped the whole thing back and started again.

Now, up to this point I’d been keeping my longer (like, more than 3 or 4 stitches long) floats tidy by bringing the yarn over, as I’ve always done. It’s always worked fine, but seeing as I’ve now got the point of taking one above/one below with the whole yarn dominance issue, and learned to knit stranded with both hands, thus speeding the whole business up, it was annoying me that the little float catches were throwing the whole thing out. I was having to stop at the end of each round and untangle the yarns as I’d been having to previously, and it occurred to me that, knitters being ingenious and all, this had to be a thing that I could also find the answer to out there on the internet. And, lo and behold, Youtube came up with the goods. There are a bunch of how-tos out there, as you might expect, but this is the particular one I used. I don’t know if it’s as obvious to anyone else, but I can definitely see the difference between that first sock and this one, in terms of the contrast yarn standing out better –

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I have to confess, these three new techniques alone have basically transformed my stranded knitting. If only I could learn to pay attention better (the perils of knitting while watching tv, I suppose), because even then I still had to rip back a couple more times after putting the wrong number of blue rows in between my snowfall rows before finally getting past the stranded section, and for the sake of my sanity (and because I was starting to feel less than charitable towards what is, essentially, an inanimate object), when I reached the heel I put the blue and white sock down, and cast on a nice DK weight pair, with a simpler chart.

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As you can probably tell, these have been moving along much more speedily (though my jogless stripe is still definitely the start/end of the round). Heyho.

The second sock was half done when we took a trip to my inlaws in Aberdeen at the weekend, which boded well for having a second pair of finished socks to show you… However, at some point on Saturday night I set the second sock down – and when I went back to carry on with it, discovered that one of the needles was snapped in two right by the metal joiny-on-bit (how this happened I’ve no idea, but they are made of wood, and not very thick). There was a bit of rassafrassing, as I thought I’d neglected to bring my needle bag with me (I hadn’t, but I’m not sure I’d have been up for switching to my 3.5mm DPNs at that point). So they’re currently still mid-heel.

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Sunday morning I picked up the blue and white sock again, which is now very nearly finished, I’m on the toe decrease (a ‘star toe’, I think?). Once I’ve finished that I’ll cast on the cuff for the second and then return to the red pair with my DPNs, which should only take a little while as it’s just finishing the heel and a bunch of nice happy stocking stitch. And then I might order some metal 3.5mm interchangeables, while I’m at it. In the meantime, here’s the purple/damson socks, still not washed and blocked, but hey, at least there’s two of them!

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my 10 year blogiversary!

And it’s been a reasonably eventful ten years, both for the blog and for myself. Since my first tentative post, it’s had over 140,000 views, very many of those due to ravelry (unsurprisingly!) and Knitting Pattern Central, but the second highest referrer here is still The Toast. The day they linked here it got over four thousand hits, and despite winding down a little themselves, they continue to direct traffic my way. It’s also been linked to from the BBC America site, something which makes me extremely happy indeed.

This post will be my 130th, which works out at an average of one every four weeks, though it’s been a little bit more feast and famine than that in reality. The most popular post remains that which properly kickstarted things and launched me into designing, namely, the Bokaclava page –

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I do love that photo. (That is me, yes. The grey bokaclava pics are my husband – we’re well matched.)

On a more personal level, during those ten years I’ve moved house twice, got married, given birth to my third child and studied just over two thirds of a degree – those last two events hit the blog pretty hard, it has to be said! And I’ve learned a few new fibre related skills. Ten years ago my Addi circs were still quite a novelty to me, and I’d not even seen a spinning wheel, let alone used one – I bought my first drop spindle that same October, but it took me another nine months to actually get round to trying it out – and once I’d got the spinning bug, it wasn’t long before the Louet appeared. (My tiny helper in the first photo also turned ten this year, she’s six months older than the blog, give or take a few days.)

I’d hoped to coincide this post with the launch of my Etsy shop, but a week away for half term at my dad’s house didn’t half eat into my knitting time, and consequently I haven’t as many finished articles as I’d been hoping for at this point. Not that this is down to anything other than good things – like going out for long walks, in the last properly warm sunshine this year had to offer, exploring woods I haven’t visited in years and marvelling at the changes in a place that, when I’d played there as a girl, seemed ancient and eternal (which I realise just means I’m getting old). And driving out to Calke Abbey, collecting sweet chestnuts, and spotting deer, and fungi (I don’t know what kind this is, and no, we didn’t pick it) –

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as well as catching up with family and friends down south, and taking one or two or four visits to my dad’s local to round off our days. It was a good week.

I did finish the long red sock, but didn’t start the second due to being totally unable to locate the 3mm needle I’d cast it on with (another good reason to cast on your second sock immediately). I suspect I didn’t take it with me from home, although now I am home, it’s still AWOL and I’ve ordered another, rather than turn the house upside-down. Anyway – I cast on another pair of socks… well, initially I just cast on some stitches, and thought I might knit a glove, but in the end once I’d got past the cuff, I realised that while it could quite reasonably become a mid-arm-length fingerless mitten, it could also be a sock. And I’m kind of on a sock thing right now. I used a very slightly smaller needle than DK usually calls for (3.75mm instead of 4mm), so they’re a little denser, which should mean they wear well, and they’ll be toastier (they’re more a lounging about sock than a walking about in the out of doors sock anyway, I think, but would stand up to that a little better with the tighter knit). This is Sock 2, a couple of days ago –

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(We had some sunshine on Tuesday so you can actually see it properly.) I cast that off yesterday, but they need washing and blocking so there’s no finished photo yet, and they’re destined for the shop, when it appears. They’re 100% alpaca, some Drops Lima which I stashed for no particular reason a while back other than I just liked the colour. It’s called Ruby Red on the Drops site but to me seems more like a damson, it’s a warm, rich, reddish purple I think. The yarn’s nice to work with so I’ll definitely buy more, and currently they’re selling all their alpaca yarns at a 30% discount, apparently till the end of the year. I’m going to order some of their Lace too, it’s alpaca/silk and I’m curious to see what it’s like in comparison to the only other similar yarn I’ve worked with, some KnitPicks Shimmer that I was sent many years ago as part of a ravelry swap. I used it to knit the narrower version of the Aberlady Stole, seven years ago, so if it turns out they’re comparable I’m thinking I might use the Drops to knit one of the larger version, if not something entirely new.

After finishing the relatively mindless socks (it’s amazing how many times you can forget whether you’re on a decrease row with those toes), I went for it and cast on some 4ply, with 2.5mm needles, in ‘proper’ sock yarn (a wool/nylon blend, for extra sturdiness, so they’ll be good’n’stompy boot socks). I’d done the cuff by the end of breakfast time so spent most of this morning charting some cheery Nordic decoration for them –

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which – if I can remember how to do it, it’s been that long – I’ll convert from my pencil drawings to something a little more shareable as a pattern (though I’m looking at that and seeing a few things I’m going to tweak before it ends up on the sock). That might also have to wait till the shop-sock-pile looks a little healthier, mind you!

stockpiling

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Albeit in a small way, and some of it has been waiting in my stash until I found a purpose for it (the dark grey and purple balls were bought for the DW scarf but I found better matches and used those instead). The new stuff arrived yesterday, and is destined for a couple of pairs of socks and other warm and squishy winter woollies.. and maybe a christmas stocking, though I’m still undecided on that. I do enjoy making them, they’re fun and there’s no second sock syndrome to worry about. I’d like to offer them as personalised items though, and I’ve yet to work out the best way to go about that. Hopefully I’ve have some finished articles of some sort to list on Etsy in a week or two. It’s all Drops yarn, Karisma and Lima DK plus some 4ply sock yarn, Fabel – I do like their yarns, the shades are good, the price is good, and in my experience so far, they knit and wear well.

I’ve done a little more reading up on jogless fairisle in the round since last week, and it seems that many knitters just live with the jog – with sweaters, the traditional method is to place it under the left arm. This generally translates with socks into placing it at the back, as far as I can tell – though I think I’d be just as inclined to put it on the inside leg. The knitting-the-stitch-below method I tried for the most part (with the white and grey socks that I posted about last week) definitely works better with stripes than with stranded/fairisle; the helical technique, whereby the stitch that begins the pattern travels around the sock, moving forward one stitch each round is apparently better suited. It’s described well in this pattern. I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a bit vague this week and mostly just nodded and uhuhed when I read through this a day or two ago, and haven’t got as far as trying the technique out yet – with the white socks I did, in the end, just do a bit of frogging and reknitting with the jog in, so that I’d at least have a finished pair that matched. Washed and blocked they don’t look too shoddy, I think, though the jog is on the other side from the one you can see! And they’re toasty, great lounging about socks.

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I’ve started work on a knee length pair in red and white, and had almost finished the first when I came across a section of yarn that became so thin it seemed more like 4ply, if not laceweight, rather than the DK it’s supposed to be. Now, this isn’t the most expensive of yarns (Hayfield DK with wool, an acrylic/wool blend – basically the DK equivalent of the yarn I made the original red Bokaclava with), but it’s still part of the Sirdar range and I’d have thought that at least they could keep the yarn consistent. It seems they’ve discontinued this yarn very recently, while the 100% acrylic Bonus DK still lives on, so maybe they weren’t happy with it any more. The only similar yarn they now produce is Sirdar Country Style DK, which doesn’t have the same bold range of colours, though it does have Cherry (the shade I knit Bok with) and having 30% nylon in the blend, likely makes a much better sock yarn. It’s the grey yarn I used in the white/grey pair, shade 434. They’ve introduced a new Hayfield DK yarn in the same blend, but it’s variegated, plus a new Sirdar DK called No. 1, but that has no wool content, being 50% acrylic and 50% nylon, and has a very limited palette – they seem to have given green, yellow and black a miss, for some reason.

Anyway – I knitted on with the narrow section thinking it might right itself soon enough, but it went on for about three rounds, creating a distinctly thin section, and right at the ball of the foot where you really don’t want that! So that got frogged, and the yarn broken and rejoined at the point where it picked up again at a more DK-like weight.

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(This is from just before the heel was finished, and before I reached the thin yarn). I’m reasonably pleased with the two-colour snowflake pattern I charted – simple but suitably festive, I think.