Two’s company

I’m sitting in the garden. It looks like it’s going to rain any minute, but actually it’s quite nice. The birds are singing, and aside from that it’s quiet and fresh. I’ve just made tomorrow night’s dinner and there’s a plum clafoutis in the oven too. Actually, I tasted half a plum while I was prepping it, and it was completely tasteless, so we’ll see. Might sound like an episode of the good life, but we’re not there yet.

I’m still in sock and gardening mode at the moment. (Although I’m also making a pink elephant.) After the woolly-wholesomeness of my last socks, I fancied knitting socks in a really bright colour. So I bought some Cascade Heritage yarn which seems to get good reviews – and actually, is quite cheap for the amount you get in a skein.

I started the stripy one first. Then, we went to see friends (finally!) and I thought it would be good to take something easy and mindless with me, so I prepped the second sock. Sometimes I like knitting while I’m talking. In the end it was such a joy to see them, and to sit in their beautiful garden, I didn’t knit much. But I carried on with the simpler sock when I got back. I was intending to make a corresponding pair for each, but now I’m not so sure…

Originally, I was going to reverse the stripes on the stripy one. Thinner at the top, wider apart at the bottom. But now I’m thinking I could just make another 2 socks using the same yarn in any way I fancy and mix and match them. If they all use the same colours, who’s to say they’re not a pair? Plus, I’ll only wear them at home anyway, so does it matter? Not really. So I’m using these as ‘trying it out’ socks and knitting whatever I feel like. I’ve got a hunch I’d prefer this yarn on a smaller needle, actually. We’ll see about that.

Last summer I made some bunnies for the children of friends abroad. I have no idea when I’ll get to see them and hand the bunnies over. The kids’ll probably be fully grown at this rate. But a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to reknit their clothes. Just suddenly decided I didn’t like them. I was going to knit them in the Krea Deluxe cotton I bought – but it’s so splitty! The colours are absolutely beautiful, and it’s organic cotton yarn, but it really does split and if you’re knitting on small gauge needles you’re forever picking up the single strand of thread that gets left behind. So I put the clothes on pause. Then inexplicably decided to knit a pink elephant with the yarn instead.

How this is different to knitting clothes, I haven’t worked out. But the beauty of a hobby is the option to abandon all logic and/or quality control when you feel like it and just get on with things.

This project bag is lovely – a xmas gift from the friend I mentioned earlier.

If you’re the sort of person who might make the elephant pattern using the Krea Deluxe yarn and wonder if the yarn is strong enough to take the weight of curling up the trunk, the answer is no. It took 5 attempts at sewing that up before it did what it was supposed to. Krea didn’t cut it, nor did some random (what I thought was strong) yarn I found in the drawer. Eventually I used a bright red yarn – maybe a cotton glace? Luckily it’s true – you can’t see the thread you use to sew up mattress stitch. It does get buried in the stitches themselves. And now the head is done, she’s quite nice. I’m making an elephant with shoes on. I haven’t made an animal with shoes in ages. We’ll see from the finished article if there was a reason for that I’ve forgotten.

Sunshine and showers

I’m a bit soggy. Just come in from the garden where it’s started to rain. But you can practically hear the happy sighs of the plants as their leaves stretch out in satisfaction. I’m really enjoying the garden at the moment. Everything’s coming back to life. I took a risk and planted out 2 small sunflower seedlings. I’ve been bringing them in each night for the past week or so. I hope they’re ok out there tonight. I think I might plant a couple more just in case.

I also planted some bleeding hearts the other week – which are doing really well, and some phlox this week. Fingers crossed for them. They’re all from bare roots I got in the post.

My dad (a master gardener) gave me 3 of his bonsai. Obviously bonsai are little trees – that’s literally the point. So of course they drop their leaves in the winter. But I’ve been waiting anxiously for them to sprout again. I’m happy to report all is well. The larch is as larchy as the day it arrived, the ginko (“It’ll never make a decent bonsai but if you want it, you can have it?”) has some wee ginko leaves and the 40+ year old chestnut grown from a conker has sprouted and is doing very well too.

I planted anemones in the winter. They’ve been amazing all spring – red ones, white ones and these blue/purple ones. Actually. All the anemones everywhere have been amazing all spring. I planted different types at different times, but didn’t really register that they were all anemones.

These little ones have been great. They open their petals when the sun comes out. Watching them open up each day and raise their faces to the sun was like having a little heard of pets.

Once I realised the small blue ones were also anemones I realised the white flowers in the woods were anemones too. Good year for anemones all round. I try to go for a walk every morning before work, and seeing the woods coming back to life has been really nice. It’s full of bluebells at the moment. And the field is full of oilseed rape.

I feel incredibly lucky to’ve had access to the outside over this last year.

I’ve been knitting too. I completely finished one sock, and while I was sewing up the toes, got distracted (mentioning no names…). This meant I lost my place and screwed it up. I guess I could’ve saved it but I was so annoyed I unravelled the toes, then the foot, then the heel and then the entire sock. A meltdown. A lot of swearing. I guess that’s frustration with the whole world manifesting in one sock.

Whatever. I started again. Realised I actually like knitting really boring socks.

I like it when you get past the cuff  – which I do on DPNs – and on to the relaxing joy of just round n’ round with a circular needle. No need to count. No need to concentrate. Do when you’re watching TV, having a meeting, waiting for the kettle to boil. Like more productive worry beads. I like this picture above. A little knitted campfire.

Can you believe it? I bought the grey because I wanted to use up the yellow and orange. And then I ran out of grey! I didn’t think it was a good idea to buy more, so I ended up improvising. Maybe the next pair will match? Who knows. I’ve started a new pair now. They’re actually stripy and in different yarn. I’ll write more about them next time.

Someone I know also mentioned she’d really like a rabbit. She can knit. Probably better than me. But I said yes anyway. It was nice of her to ask.

I used Cascade 220 yarn (‘antique heather’) and the kidsilk haze – which I’d only used once before on a smaller rabbit. I like the extra bit of fluff. Seems to work quite well. The face of this one intimidated me a bit. It’s a big responsibility giving something a face. Sometimes you need to wait till you’re ready. And actually, this one was right first time.

Here she is. It’s quite hard to photograph bunnies actually, as their eyes are quite far back on their heads. Trust me, in real life she’s got a nice face. Something about her feels quite old fashioned. Not sure why. She’s been given away digitally but not physically yet. The recipient (who is in the process of moving house, hence the delay) seems super happy, so that’s nice. It’s nice when people like the things you make. And you can’t give something a face and not become attached to it, so y’know. You want it to go to a nice home.

I made 3 other bunnies last year. I’ve inexplicably decided I don’t like their clothes, so will remake them over the next few months. They’re for friends abroad. I guess I won’t see them for a while so there’s plenty of time to get things right.

Unwinding

Rewind / unwind / unpick / unravel / frog / begin again (Michael Finnegan). Just to give you a heads up, from the way things are going, these are the future titles of the next few blog posts. I’m just about to frog the sock again. Which is a shame actually, but also doesn’t matter.

After my last post I decided to start again, in grey. This time the cuff took forever because I did 2×2 twisted rib stitch, which is tighter than regular rib and so barely stretched across the needles. I like twisted rib stitch, but is it worth the hassle of trying to squeeze your way through every stitch? Maybe not for a sock. Weirdly, it stays stretched out once you’ve knit it, or it does for me. When I’ve done regular 2×2 rib it sort of sucks itself in and only stretches when you wear it. Twisted rib seems to stay stretched out. Wait – this photo will show you what I mean, twisted rib on the left, regular rib on the right.

Just me, or the same for everyone? Or actually, is it just this yearn? Anyway, once I got past the cuff I thought I’d make life easy and do some plain knitting. And then I thought maybe I should do some colour work after all. I know I said I don’t really like knitting colourwork, but everyone else’s socks on Instagram look really great – and… bleurgh. There you go.

This is an awful photo but I actually really like the sharpness of colour changes in knitting. I don’t think people make much use of it – often people try and soften the edges or try and create organic shapes in colourwork, but there’s something really nice about embracing the fact that slabs of colour just look good. So I went with colour blocks of 4 stitches. This is good because, 1) counting to 4 is easy to remember 2) carrying the other colour over 4 stitches is fine, you don’t need to do any weird ‘catching the float‘ techniques, which I know I’ll forget to do and then risk a flappy thread that’ll catch and break.

Somehow, I did pretty well with this. Usually, because I’m a tight knitter, the fabric gets really pinched when I knit in more than one colour. No matter how hard I try to keep the floats loose. But I think I did ok this time. Or maybe not.

I switched back to grey, measured it against the well fitting stripy sock and decided it was time to do the heel. I did an ok job with the heel itself, and for me, a decent job of picking up the stitches to get the whole sock back on the needle.

But here’s the thing. It just doesn’t fit well. I pulled it on to check the heel, and the colourwork section is just too tight. I can get it on alrightish, but it’s a slight squeeze every time. I would suggest if you’re (I’m) going to do this, and you don’t want to go up a needle size – which is what a lot of people do with colourwork, but I don’t want to do – then you’ll just have to add more stitches to account for the tightness of the floats. The yarn also shrinks ever so slightly in the wash too – even though it is listed machine washable at 30 degrees. If I did finish the sock it wouldn’t take long before I couldn’t wear it at all. So, I’ll unravel it and try again.

Who says knitting isn’t a cheap hobby? I’ve been using these same balls of yarn for entertainment for literally weeks. Maybe one day I’ll even get a functioning pair of socks out of them too.

I’m assuming someone’s written extensively about the fact you need to account for all this if you’re knitting colourwork socks, but never mind. Experience is a great teacher, as they say (when they’re being polite about the fact you’ve just screwed something up needlessly).

In more productive news, I knitted the bear a blue t-shirt. I think it’s better. Same as the rabbit in the previous post – which, it turns out, is loved.

So that’s where we’re at this week. A few steps forward in knowledge, and a lot of rows back in knitting.

Unravelling

Truth be told, I was a bit grumpy last time I wrote. Not sure why. I’m much happier right now though, because I’ve finally managed to dig out a bramble from the garden. It took about 30 minutes kneeling in the wet mud, with my head in a flowering currant (or indeed ribes sanguineum), but I finally did it. It’s been bugging me since we moved in (3 years ago). It’s hard to get to, and the… stems/trunks/stalks (?) that come off the bramble are the kind of thickness you can only imagine in fairytales. I’ve never seen anything like it. But as the currant bushes haven’t come into leaf let I could finally get to the heart of the bramble. It was a beast. I thought I might have to ask for help digging it up, but I got there in the end. This is in no way interesting to anyone but me, but honestly, I am very pleased with myself.

In other news, I made a quick-ish rabbit for someone at work. Originally I’d planned to dress her in the dungarees I made for the bear (I’m not convinced the bear is happy with their clothes), but then I just sort of knew that the person who would receive the bunny would prefer it with a tail – and I’d sewn up the back of the bear’s dungarees and there’s no way to unpick it. So I made a new pair of dungarees, but without the pocket this time. Actually, they’re quite cute pocketless, I think. The white bunny is there for scale – both made with the same pattern, but the white bunny is in worsted weight yarn.

Here’s an artless shot of the bunny’s tail as proof. I posted her to the recipient on Monday, and by Friday, I’d given her up as lost. Which was awkward. Do you tell someone you’ve made them something and it’s got lost in the post? If they weren’t expecting to get it, would you just be making a scene? I wasn’t too sure. But then on Friday afternoon, I got a nice message to say thank you. I think the bunny had just taken the long route across London.

Here’s a sort of secret. My boss knows, not everyone else does. If I’m in a long (up to an hour +) meeting which is mostly listening, I sometimes knit. If I don’t knit, I end up getting instant messages about work which I feel obliged to answer, and then I check my email and before long I’m responding to a bunch of work related questions and then I might as well not be in the meeting at all. Knitting keeps me focussed and listening to what people are saying. I’m not alone in this, I’ve heard other people say it helps them to focus too – just no one I work with, as far as I know. Anyway. I unravelled one sock in one meeting, and this sock in another:

It got to the point where it was okay, just not…that great. It’s not like I desperately need a knitted sock I don’t like much, so I unravelled it and started again. I thought maybe solid blocks of these colours would work better?

The colours do work better like this – but then I was working on the heel yesterday morning and decided I didn’t love this either so I unpicked this too. I have no idea what I’m looking for in this sock, but clearly none of the above. I’ll work it out. I did actually find someone who makes beautiful socks on Instagram. Amazing colours, beautiful photos. Maybe I will have to go back to learning colourwork after all? I love how solid her colours are. Less about texture, really. Although this is the wrong yarn for trying that kind of thing. Anyway. I’m still attempting to knit socks, basically. What are you up to?

Cables and stripes and bears, oh my!

There’s probably a sock pattern for every type of knitter. Assuming you’re ok with knitting in a circle, of course. Plain socks, colourwork socks, cabled socks and textured socks. Delicate lacy socks and chunky socks. Main problem, I think, is working out what kind of knitter you are. I’m still not sure. To be honest, I’m not even that sure I’m a knitter – but I have the needles, the yarn and I like making things, so for now, knitting it is.

I think when I started writing this blog I assumed I’d find a ‘craft’ that totally fit me. Something I’d stick with and get good at. I’m not sure I’ve done that – knitting ended up as a default, because its super easy to make *something*. It’s also pick up and put downable without too much fuss. You don’t need to get a sewing machine out or open a cupboard. You can leave it lying about and pick it up when you feel like it. (And usually it is lying about. We had a sock on the kitchen table for weeks. My partner is very gracious about eating his dinner with a sock staring him in the face, while I’m in the process of knitting another one). Knitting’s also pretty easy to take with you if you’re travelling – although not as good as tatting, which is much smaller.

Anyway, that’s long winded way of saying I’m making another pair of socks. (And no, I haven’t been travelling.)

I decided I should see if I liked knitting cabled socks. I used the Winwick Mum pattern, left over yarn from my first pair of socks, and the measurements from the second sock of the first pair. The answer? I don’t mind knitting cabled socks, but I am terrible at counting in the round. I don’t know why I’m so bad at it, (just put a marker in and make a note as you go) but for some reason I lost count, all the time. I also decided I don’t like this colour. Or I don’t like so much of this colour in one go. So I unravelled it and started again. And I bought some grey yarn.

Next I made a brand new cuff (groan) and did about 3 repeats of cable pattern in grey. That was ok. I’m still bad at counting but the cable pattern just didn’t show up in the grey yarn – too small a cable and too woolly. So I unpicked that – but not before totally forgetting to take a photo.

(The colour on these photos is terrible, sorry about that). So one of the other things I wanted to try was ribbed socks. I wanted to see if it added interest to knitting plain socks or just ended up being annoying. Jury’s out actually. It’s ok – but then this sock isn’t whizzing along at the speed of the last pair, so maybe it is a bit disruptive? It’s knit 3, purl 1. I also had a bit of a google to see how I could make the cuff neater. My knit 2 purl 2 ribbing never looks that neat, so I swapped it out for twisted rib stitch. That looks incredibly neat – especially if you do a good job of it, which I haven’t really. But try it. It’s easy to do and looks really nice. Downside is that I had to do it all on DPNs, as I couldn’t get it to stretch across the circulars. (I got there eventually, as you can see, but how do people have the patience to knit whole socks on DPNs?)

Technically speaking, the body of the sock so far is 2 rows of each colour. That’s pretty good as you can carry the colour as you go, so not too many ends to sew in. I say ‘technically speaking’ because practically speaking you can see at least one row of orange which is deeper than the others. If I’m honest, there are 2, but the photo is deceptive. I did tell you I couldn’t count. Also, I’m not in love with the grey and orange if I’m honest, but I’m ignoring that for now. I’ll switch to yellow at some point soon. The three balls look nice together, but just less good when knitted up.

The only other thing to try sock wise, was colour work. But I think I’ve finally got to the point where I understand myself well enough to know that it would drive me a bit nuts. I hate unruly things you have to keep untangling, and colourwork falls into this camp. I do it occasionally – some Little Cotton Rabbits clothing – but on the whole, I probably don’t find it that enjoyable. And I guess you don’t have to do hobbies you don’t find that enjoyable, right? Doesn’t stop me looking at everyone else’s work with envious eyes. Maybe I just need to try harder.

So I’ll stick with the ribbed socks, and probably make cabled socks another time, in another yarn. In the meantime I’ve been wearing the socks I have knitted and I love them. Especially the last pair. I can’t believe I made them.

I also made a small bear! I wasn’t really expecting small bear to be this small. She’s knitted out of yarn I’ve had for years, which just seemed to be a good colour for a bear. I used the head pattern from the Little Cotton Rabbits mini animals and the body from the 7″ pattern. What you can see above, left to right is – regular sized bear in small yarn, in the small size dungarees, a small bear in small yarn and small dungarees, and a small bunny in worsted yarn and small dungarees. I can’t believe how chunky the bunny is! I love her none the less. Small bear became a slight issue in that I was worried I didn’t have the yarn to make clothes that would fit, but Krea Deluxe cotton on 2.5 needles worked out ok in the end. I’m still in 2 minds about those colours, but they’re the ones I had. The colours of the Krea Deluxe cotton range are really lovely though. Even if the cotton is a bit splitty at times.

And that’s all for now. I need to go because I’m making a pie, and apparently we’re supposed to be eating soon. The pie is… not yet pie shaped. It’s in a casserole dish, waiting to be assembled. Onwards.

Hope you’re doing ok.

First finishes of the new year

Well. You’d think I was the world’s greatest knitter – and the world’s most frequent sock wearer. I’m actually neither. In fact, I’m typing this barefoot which is a bit silly, but anyway. I finished my second pair of socks yesterday! And I’m very pleased with them, even if I do say so myself.

I have to be honest, the kitchener stitch I’ve done to graft the toes of the 3 other socks I’ve knitted so far was a disaster. No matter how many times I read or watched the various tutorials I found, I just couldn’t get it. But I knew I’d used it at some point before and found a tutorial that clicked for me. So I dug around and found it eventually.

Knit-slip purl. Purl-slip knit. Just remember that and keep on going. That’s it. It’s not more complicated than that. Knit-slip purl. Purl-slip knit. Knit and purl relate to the direction you put the needle in the stitch. So, I’m not going to shame myself by showing you the mess I made of the others, but rest assured the 4th sock is better. The others are really bad. Sometimes you have to do the best you can and keep on trying.

I made the small bunny last year as I was trying to use up some stash yarn. She’s quite green… I made the dress and wasn’t keen on it at first. Then looked again and thought it was fine after all. Just an odd colour combination maybe. But the little cardigan calms it down I think. I did have more stash yarn to use up, but someone from work is learning to knit, so before xmas I donated some needles and some yarn I knew I was unlikely to use to her. Not many people live near me, but she’s only a 15 minute drive, so we did a very chilly socially distanced yarn handover and cup of tea in the garden. She’s since made a baby blanket for her friends, which she, and they, are super pleased with, which is really nice. (That was in the time when it was ok to meet up outside if you were socially distanced. Felt a bit weird signalling directions through the kitchen window so she could get to the back of the house without coming inside, but probably less weird than it would’ve been if either one of us had made the other sick. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

I’ve also been getting the full benefit out of my Almina shawl this year. Damn, I love this thing:

I’ve realised it took a year to knit, but I trail it around the house with me like a kid with a comforter. If I’m not wearing it as a shawl / scarf, I often have it as a blanket on my lap when I’m working. It’s really thick and warm. I’m still considering making another one in a light colour to be honest, as I still can’t find another shawl pattern I like as much. And believe me I’ve tried. (Instead of ‘doom-scrolling‘ I’m a pattern-scroller. It’s an awful habit that I’m going to try and kick. Imagine what I could be doing if I wasn’t staring at the screen so much.)

So that’s where we’re at. Hope you’re safe and well. Look after yourselves. I should probably go and put a pair of socks on. Y’know. Because I can.*

(*There’s a certain irony here. It’s actually very hard for me to put socks on at the moment because I’ve done my back in again. Win some, lose some!)

The joy of socks

So, I did it! In my last post I was building up to trying Winwick Mum’s sock tutorial. I’d already bought a sock pattern I liked the look of back in May, and the yarn to knit it, but frankly, I didn’t understand the pattern at all. So I thought I’d learn to walk before I started running, and used the yarn to do the tutorial instead.

It’s a great tutorial. I actually did as I was told, and swatched for a change. Look! Here’s the proof:

One of the great things about this pattern is that you can make it work for the yarn and the needles you have. That’s even better when you decide you have to start *right now* and you’re refusing to buy anything else because you’re supposed to be using things up.

As I knit really tightly, I was cautious and rounded all the calculations up. In the end that meant I was casting on 84 stitches, using 2.75 needles. EIGHTY FOUR! That’s quite a lot compared to everyone else. Originally I was going to do a basic sock with contrasting cuff, heel and toe, but the more I knitted, the more the leg just seemed like a vast expanse of red. It looked like the biggest sock I’d ever seen, if I’m honest. And the yarn is nice – it’s really nice to wear actually – but it’s very ‘hiking sock’. So by the time I got to the foot, I panicked and decided to whack some random stripes in there. Everyone else’s socks on the internet seem so… refined. And there was I knitting the biggest hiking sock in the world. But actually, it wasn’t that big in the end. A bit big, but not that big.

I also had a huge stroke of luck. Just as I was getting to my wit’s end with the DPNs, I decided to have a dig about in my supplies box. And who knows why, but past me had bought myself a 2.75mm circular needle! I can’t imagine when or why I bought it, but it was exactly the size I needed (30cm) and made everything so much better. There’s a lot of just straight ’round and round’ knitting in a sock, and doing it on a circular needle is a dream. I can’t quite handle the extra flappy cable of the magic loop (it really stresses me out for some reason), but the short circular is perfect. Big thanks to past me 🙌.

For the second sock, I decided to use the same colours but just go with the original plan. No stripes. I’m calling them a pair! And I’m wearing them right now. This was really just for the practise.

So now I’m on to my second pair. This time I’m using self striping yarn (Felici, Knitpicks). I did swatch again and actually it’s the same stitch count, more or less. So I went from 84 to 76 for my cast on. And that’s a perfect fit:

This yarn is really different. Much less ‘wooly’. It also feels a bit more robust. We’ll see how each pair wear. I must admit the first pair look like I’ve already had them years, and I’ve only worn and washed them once. But they are nice and soft. This pair feels like it’ll look smarter.

I’m thinking of treating myself to another needle and doing what Lucy does, over at Attic 24. Rather than do a complicated 2 at a time thing on one needle, she literally just knits 2 at a time on different needles. I like this idea, because socks make great TV knitting, up until the point they don’t. If you have 2 socks on the go, you can grab the one that doesn’t need much attention when you need it, and do the more complicated stuff on the other one when you have time. Also, there’s less chance of second sock syndrome.

Here’s the obligatory shot of a sock in progress.

I must admit, I’ve paid zero attention to how many rounds I’m doing, and I know the stripes don’t match up (the balls didn’t start in the same place, and I didn’t mind), but it all seems ok. And it feels nice to make something I can wear. This time I’m paying more attention to the gusset decreases. On the first pair I kept thinking ‘is this a decrease round or a straight round?’ – and every time I put the sock down I swore I would remember what round I was on when I picked them up again. Reader, I did not.

I’ve still got orange and yellow yarn left from the first pair, so next up I’ll make another prototype pair. Maybe either with ribbing, or cables. Or one of each. That’s one thing about working from home and having every meeting on screen. No one can say your socks aren’t a pair :o)

I hope things are ok where you are, and you’re safe and healthy. I’ll leave it at that, because sometimes, it’s just nice to think about socks and not… everything else.

If you’re thinking of sock knitting, I’d totally recommend the tutorial. Not least because it works for the yarn and the needles you have. You only need to swatch for yourself, not to match someone else’s gauge, which for me was a huge bonus. Winwick Mum, if you’re out there, thank you.