… who has tomatoes still on the vine in November? And this despite having gone with plants rather than seeds this year too!
The trouble with socks is that there are two of them. Now you might think that this is a good thing, except when only one reappears after washing. It’s also not such a great thing when it comes to the knitting of them. If one sock is scary then the second one is twice as scary. Why? Because it has to match.
Well, at least be similar enough to pass for a pair.
I drew the line at having the second sock be half navy blue and half black, despite the similarity of tone, because even idiosyncratic sock wearers tend to have standards these days. It’s true, I’ve got old and boring. I don’t buy socks anymore with those gimmicky cartoons and slogans, which never applied to me anyway. I love shopping? No, never. But apparently all female sock wearers do. Or better the ones with veiled sexist insults, stroppy ‘moo’ anyone? Who designs these things?! Nope, these days the majority of my socks are black, just plain old boring black. No more stripey knee highs for me either, I think I may have grown up. I’ve even reverted to wearing paired socks rather than the first two (or four in my case) out of the drawer. Oh yes, I’ve grown up.
But when you buy socks, you take it for granted that they will be of a matching sock shape. (Admittedly this is getting less likely as is the presence of enough elastic to keep the sock where it should be and fabric which actually survives more than one wash. Increased price, decreased quality in clothing is one of my pet peeves). If you make them yourself, you suddenly take on a very heavy burden of responsibility.
I mean, who first decided to make socks? They really deserve a place in the history books, I’m sure, generations of cosy feet owe a huge debt of gratitude to that one person. How did they make them? Had knitting been invented then? Because the next hero of sock invention is the genius who first turned a heel. What made them do it? Comfort plus a far superior brain than mine? As I said about my previous sock, there is something magical about that process which connects two tubes in a very comfortable and fitted way. I couldn’t invent that, I have to rely on wiser people to write patterns for me.
Talking of pattern writing, my heels are a little suspect. I’m meant to have neat columns of stitches lined up at the back of the ankle and I clearly don’t. I was a little surprised because Susan B. Anderson writes a good pattern, she wrote the Quaker Ridge pattern too, remember? So I went on Ravelry and asked around. As usual, the fault lies with reader/knitter error and not with the designer. I seem to have misread a line totally but I do now know where I’m going wrong. And more importantly, how not to go wrong next time too.
When I finished my first sock, husband wasn’t particularly keen on the toe. He thought it looked ‘weird’. And ‘long’. It does actually. And a little too square. So he went and found a brand new pair of socks (so sock-shaped rather than foot-shaped) from his drawer and compared the toes. They’re the same! I guess we’ve just got a little too distrusting of anything handmade. Especially if I’m the one making it.
These are just straight stocking stitch socks with a rib cuff to keep them up. Some people run a thread of thin elastic, like that jewellery elastic, but apparently they don’t even need that. Handknit socks just stay up all by themselves. I’m a little distrusting of that too. I loathe falling-down socks. Ugh. That and I guess that I myself am a little distrusting of my skills.
And how identical do you need to make a pair of handknit socks? Is about the same size alright or do I have to religiously count how many rows there are on each section? I’ve worried quite a bit about this, as you might have guessed. Fit is really the most important thing when it comes to socks, well any item of clothing I guess, although I can also do some worrying about whether or not wool socks will be itchy. I’m not one of those paranoid people who thinks wool is itchy, full stop, by I do have major skin problems on my feet. I’m thinking that I’ll wear them with a pair of cotton socks under. (I have to wear two pairs in my boots anyway).
So that leaves me in this slightly nervous place: I have two socks.
Finished, completed (alright, there’s a few ends to weave in). So what next?
I think I’m going to have to try them on.
Well, that would make sense, really. Especially as I’ve cast on my third sock already and if the fit needs tinkering, it’ll probably be best to find out sooner rather than later.
Oh, and I think that I’ve finally become a sock knitter. How did I get there?!
I am a bear of very little brain, I am slow and can’t count. This thwarts my knitting ambitions. Although to be strictly truthful, I haven’t really done ambition for a while. Whilst the past calls to me, I’ve always had trouble facing the future and find it hard to envisage it in concrete terms which makes it nearly impossible to set goals or to make definite plans. But without them, you just end up drifting.
I think sometimes the problem can start in childhood, maybe it’s an outlook that some parents actually encourage. If the future means your children growing up or away from you, why focus on that? Especially in those early years, everything happens so fast and parents really can’t be blamed for wanting to make the most of those times and stages. But we need to see a future as that its what helps drive us forward as people, it motivates us and encourages us when times get tough. I’m not a sailor, I had a pretty rotten time in a row-boat this summer and that’s the closest I’ve come to any boating, but it makes sense that you don’t jump aboard a dinghy without knowing what you’re doing (otherwise it will quite quickly get rather hairy, trust me). A captain of a ship is expected to have certain knowledge, to know his vessel, his destination and his route. His route may not be rigidly fixed and may have to be adjusted for hazards and bad weather but he knows where he wants to end up. Are we captains of our ships? Or are we letting other people sail our lives for us? Maybe we’ve cast off from shore with little sense of where we want to head or what we want to get out of the journey.
This returns me to ambition. Ambition is an ugly word in my mind, it smacks of pride and self-vaunting, it suggests an egotistical desire and motivation, of racing up ladders whilst trampling other people. But I’m struggling to find another word. Dreams are good but they can be airy-fairy, gossamer, dandelion clocks of the mind. Sometimes real life demands real goals, it has to be concrete not just some boater’s pipe dream of circumnavigating the world (personally, I’d just give for getting ten metres from the bank without capsizing). We have to sit down with the charts, the compass, our experience and knowledge and plan. What are we truly capable of? What do we truly want? Where do we truly want to be? What will the obstacles and hazards of our route? How can we navigate around them?
I’ve had enough of drifting or of living by other people. I’m starting to also find the strength to see a future, maybe, small things to begin with, but still things that I would like to reach out and achieve. Nothing big and nothing very concrete just yet. Knitting is often a sort of lens or mirror in which I can explore and express various metaphors as well as broader concepts in life. It’s in the knitting that I find the proof of my growth and confidence too. Therefore as I dare to dream a little, it’s natural that the first ones are expressed through this medium. A kind of testing ground, I guess, knitting is a fairly safe zone for me too.
I’ll tell you a couple of those goals, more like dreams, little snatches of ideas that call to me and egg me on at times. I want to knit a shawl. I’ve had a little tentative go, it was more of a scarf or kerchief (scarves are firmly rectangular in my mind nor would it be right to admit to it being a ‘scarf’ when husband is being so insistent that it is one), all in stocking stitch and it didn’t even reach fifty stitches. I also want to participate in something known as a Knit Along (KAL). The idea is that, enabled by the internet, knitters (crocheters do CALs) sign up/volunteer/talk themselves into/get talked into working a specific pattern within a specific timeframe. It’s fun to be part of a group working with a common aim, it’s lovely to see so many people working on the same project wherever they are all at the same time, it’s amazing to see how all those knitters making the same thing make something so unique and special to them from the same pattern. It’s also a great way for a designer to road test a new pattern.
Now, my confidence suggested that these were fairly distant dreams. Then things started to fall together. Over on Susan B Anderson’s blog, which I read and follow and which has done wonders for my confidence, she designed a beautiful shawlette. It’s gorgeous, no? Then she made the pattern available. Now, Susan writes a good pattern; a good pattern in my world means understandable and possibly even achievable. Or at least Susan dares to me think that might be the case. Even for little idiosyncratic knitters of very little brain. I started wanting the pattern. Then she announced a KAL.
Can you see where this is going?
I didn’t until I started thinking very daring thoughts. Thoughts that just rushed into my head and, at times, really scared me. So I signed up. Which meant that I suddenly had to acquire yarn, beads and the pattern in order to start on time. It just happened!
Beads? Oh, yes, beads. I’m not a beady person. The reason I own beads in any shape is because I’ve cut them off various articles of clothing (including about a zillion brown seed beads) or I’ve busted necklaces. I had to buy special beads for this project in order to have enough and for them to go with the yarn.
Although the pattern calls for the American ‘sport’ weight, an equivalent to barely existent 5 ply, I decided to go down a ply and use 4 ply. A standard weight in this country and pretty easily obtainable. The Butterfly Stripes set was worked in this weight. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way I could afford the recommended yarn at this time even if I could get my little grubby paws on it. I decided that I would go back to that same trusty brand and blend that I used for the baby set but in the colours that had originally tempted me but had to be regretfully turned down because I was knitting for a baby boy.
Through some wrangling and near-misses, I managed to make it into my ‘local’ yarn shop in time. I bought the two colours of yarn then found out that they don’t ‘do’ beads either. I wasn’t really in a position to authoritatively explain exactly what I needed and ‘size 6′ beads didn’t really mean anything to anyone, including me. I explained how I was going to add them to each stitch with floss (I’ll get to that, don’t worry) rather than threading them onto the yarn beforehand. They thought then said that they had beads for up to DK weight. This was good.
They produced four small plastic bags of beads. Four. Just four. Incy, wincy bags. One in primary blue, one in primary green, one in primary red … yes, my heart and hopes were sinking … and one mysterious colour combination of pink inside then purple core surrounded by blue ‘glass’. That would work! I quickly bought the beads.
I was ready!
Quaking in my DMs sort of ready.
The first day was the Sunday that I went to the beach. I saved my energy for that little expedition and started a day behind on Monday. I was a little worried about that because I am slow! But it isn’t a crime to not finish on time so I had to keep consoling myself with that thought at least. Though it wasn’t much of a comfort. I didn’t want to be the only one not to finish on time!
I started with my two colours.
However, I quickly remembered that I don’t like stripes.
Yes, I know.
So I kept knitting.
But no, I still don’t like stripes.
Stripes can be done well, you need a good eye, the right pattern, the right colours, the right yarn, the right recipient. I’m not really a stripe person. Except for socks. And in handknits, stripes can easily end up looking like trying too hard in a bad way. What I mean is that old school mentality of cheap ‘wool’ worked into something ‘fun’ and ‘bright’, you just add stripes. That’s what handknit stripes means to me. Especially in clothing.
It’s what my shawl was going to look like.
But I wanted it to be a nice shawl!
I had a serious discussion about the stripes with husband. Or as deep and meaningful a conversation you can have with him on the subject for, despite being the husband of a knitter, he does have limitations.
I didn’t mind not doing the stripes but the problem was that I wouldn’t have enough yarn, I only had one ball of each and I needed two balls to complete the shawl.
We don’t have transport. We don’t have a way to get to the yarn shop. It could be months before we’re back there again.
I wouldn’t be able to finish the KAL on time.
Beloved angel-husband said that he would cycle there and get me the extra ball. Especially if I could give him the ball band from the first one so he couldn’t possibly get it wrong.
(Have I mentioned that my brother offered to pick me up a ball of yarn during a previous emergency as he lives in that town? I told him I needed DK acrylic in beige. I told him exactly where it was in the shop. I added for his bloke-ish benefit that beige was the colour of his monkey‘s paws and the family car when we were little. He said that he understood exactly and went off. He returned with 4 ply, wool acrylic blend, in grey. Yeah, I wasn’t asking him again).
Then husband worked out that it was eighteen miles there and back. For a single ball of yarn. (I reckoned it was actually twenty but eighteen was enough for him to know about).
He got on his bike.
And got me exactly the right single ball of yarn.
He is a brick.
The KAL was back on!
(I had of course kept knitting from the first ball, don’t worry).
Almost immediately when starting this pattern, you encounter a particular challenge. The M1L and the M1R. These are nothing to do with motorways. (In English, not knitter, this reads ‘make one left’ and ‘make one right’ and they have nothing to do with dancing either). They’re increases. I know how to make a M1 because that’s the only version of M-anything used in English patterns. But no, there are more out there than I could ever nightmare up. If you want to be boggled, I suggest you visit this page. I was boggled. Although it does look like a rather cool project!
The M1L and the M1R are not entirely cooperative stitches either, they like to make little holes in your work whenever they can. It’s also a pain having to learn both at the same time because one moment you’re working one way then the next the other. Very confusing. But then have I mentioned that I’m slow?
For me the joy of knitting is taking a few simple (eventually when conquered) directions or stitches and it creating a form, a shape, as if by some magic. I don’t understand the magic, I have to trust pattern designers to fathom it out and pin it down in written directions for me. There’s no way I could ever write a proper pattern, I struggle to read them as it is. The greatest beauty of this shawl is the shaping, the way it’s designed to fit around the shoulders. I love that. And so simple. I like simple (eventually when conquered) things. What does that say about me?!
From a simple stocking stitch start, you go on to work a simple garter ridge stitch pattern. It’s deliciously simple. But with all those M1s, you quickly end up with a quite a few stitches beyond my comfort zone (thirty?!) on the needle. (Yes, needle, it needs to be worked on a circular because of the breadth). I can’t count well and really struggled to start with, knowing when to place the increases. I think that half the problem is that I don’t trust my counting either. I couldn’t get to grips either with the stitch markers (although I think I may have clicked the technique now that I’ve finished) as suggested. After a little bit, however, I cottoned onto the ‘formula’ and from then on, it was pretty easy sailing. I just needed to trust myself.
As you know, I haven’t worked on many big projects. The Quaker Ridge shawls knits up deceptively fast. You whizz along for ages and it feels like you could have it done in days. Then the rows get big. Really big. (For me, anyway). And it all slows down. You can’t even knit a single row in the odd five minutes. It takes years (in a hyperbolical sense of course) to knit a single row.
There are eight pattern repeats to work.
I did think about doing more repeats because of the lighter weight yarn and because I knew that I really had to use that second ball (guilt complex)!
But I decided against it. For several reasons.
After the eight repeats, I wanted to see how it sized up. The best way to do this is to hold the ends of your circular needle (or more efficiently, dig out your stoppers) and wrap it around yourself. The problem? A shawl is mainly on the back of you. I can’t see my back. I could ask husband to take a photo but it’s then a photo that I’m looking at not the actual shawl, besides trying to explain exactly what shot I want is awfully complicated and stressful.
We hit upon a solution.
I mentioned that husband is a brick. He is.
He also looks great in the QRS.
(Excuse the washing, but at least it’s clean).
I decided that it was pretty much the size that it needed to be (and I’m a head shorter than husband anyhow). (Although I’m not quite sure how that happened in a lighter weight yarn on a smaller needle, possibly my tension is as suspect as husband tells me it is).
I was also almost out of the first ball, I would definitely need to start the second somewhere along the ruffle.
And why did I know that?
Because there was a little instruction between the eighth repeat and the ruffle.
I hadn’t seen it before.
It made quite a lot of difference.
It said to increase every stitch.
Yes, double the stitch count. And we’re already in the two hundreds.
I didn’t do any more repeats. I couldn’t face any extra stitches. No way.
You end up with 492. Yes, 4-9-2. FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY TWO. Stitches.
I can’t count that high.
Husband didn’t want to count that high.
Especially not stitches bunched up on a circular needle.
I trust that there were that many.
I’m not sure how I missed that little instruction. You would have thought after my experience with the crocodile that I’d be more careful. But obviously not. I’m clearly a slow learner.
There was another problem.
I had religiously counted out beads from the small packet based on the stitch count before the ruffle, before the doubling.
I had a funny feeling. It wasn’t a good funny feeling.
As part of the bind off, after the ruffle section, you add beads. I wouldn’t have really thought of using beads in my knitting because beads can be a bit girly and I’m not really a bead-y type girl anyway. It also seems suspiciously complicated and hard work. But when Susan B. Anderson writes a pattern and it looks good and you want that shawlette, you go with the beads. She does that to me.
The beads are added one stitch at a time. The idea of getting a bead onto a knit stitch (it’s a closed loop of yarn) is … well, different; it doesn’t seem to be possible according to my understanding of physics and the laws of the universe.
However, apparently, it is entirely possible.
I bow to higher minds.
Traditionally, this would be done with a crochet hook. I cannot manipulate a crochet hook. (I can’t say ‘at all’ because I did find one useful the last time I used a French knitting bobbin, it’s more comfortable than the traditional tapestry needle).
There is a modern method of beading, I alluded to it above. You need dental floss.
No, I’m serious. Every good knitter needs dental floss.
You don’t believe me?
In the land of opportunity and golden pavements that is America, they have a special type of floss which seems to mainly purchased by knitters. (Or at least the couple of hundred American knitters who are participating in this KAL seem to be buying it up left, right and Sunday). It’s like a chenille (caterpillar in English) and has a stiff end. My scout couldn’t find anything of the sort. I resorted to bog standard dental floss. Unbranded, naturally.
If you like magic tricks or any other flouting of the laws of the universe then I suggest that you watch the third video on this page.
Again, deceptively simple. When you know how.
I like that.
Floss it was.
I finished quite late Friday night but I knew that I would have no sleep unless I at least tried the beading trick.
And if it went wrong? Well then I could sleep on it and maybe fathom out a solution by morning.
I had to start.
I was itching to start.
Again, I have to thank husband. At bedtime, he was stop starting the video, talking me through step by step. I have poor motor skills and I find it very hard to learn new movements. When I’m Tired then I get very uncoordinated and clumsy. I wanted to make sure I was doing it properly and that’s sometimes easier when you can talk it through and bounce it off someone else.
The normal type of floss isn’t stiff. It was a little hard to work the beads as per the video. You certainly couldn’t work more than one bead at a time. Husband suggested that I use a sewing needle on the end of it to make it easier. I got along really well after that.
I suppose I could have reverted to sewing thread at that point but it just doesn’t have the same minty freshness.
I think I spent most of Saturday beading. It’s a very slow job.
And pretty soon that funny feeling became a full-blown refrain to accompany my work. ‘I’m going to be three beads short’.
I wasn’t. I was six. Six beads short.
(It was eight but then I found two in the folds of the sofa throws).
I wasn’t in the greatest of places Saturday evening. Figuratively speaking.
Six beads short.
And where was I going to get another six beads?
Just six of them!
There was a very remote chance that the yarn shop had got another packet in of identical beads in but even that wasn’t going to be a simple solution. Husband wasn’t so keen to cycle eighteen miles on the off-chance that they had the beads.
And there was another problem.
In trying not to run over a particularly dozy dog up the rec, he’d smashed his bike. (He wears cleats, you can’t leap free quite so easily so the only choice is gravity and the deck). He was fine, a scraped knee, some embarrassment and a lot of frustration at gormless dog owners who can’t control their hounds. It was an expensive incident. The bike was damaged. It was not fit to be ridden eighteen miles to a yarn shop on the off-chance that there were some more beads.
(The stoved front wheel is going into the bike shop (there is a fortunately one, a good one too, in this town) tomorrow but he also needs handlebars (I think that they’re called drop bars or something) and they will need saving up for). He is a very gutted little cyclist at the moment).
The KAL was off again.
There is a forum discussion for this KAL on Ravelry. Everyone is encouraging and egging each other on. It’s a great atmosphere. And there’s plenty of finished shawls already!
I mentioned the frustrating situation that I was in. Just six more beads!
Someone suggested an online bead shop, which they had used themselves.
The problem was that this was an American-based store.
But I had a little thought.
There must be English ones.
So I did a little search.
And found one with a huge choice and bravely typed ‘purple’ into their search box as that was all I knew about my beads.
You’ll never guess what happened next.
They had my beads!
The world started looking better again.
We decided that I could splash out and buy some more beads. It was worth it to get the shawl done.
I placed my order at 10h Tuesday.
And got very excited.
Husband was slightly more cynical. They may have taken the money but they still may not deliver the beads!
I got my invoice email and started hoping against hope for a dispatch one soon. The postage was second class so it could even take a couple of weeks for them to get out. But I dared to hope that sometime in the future, I would have the six more beads to finish my shawl.
Twenty six hours later I had the beads in my hand.
No, seriously. Twenty six hours.
We’re not sure how they managed to dispatch quite so quickly. Husband thinks they must have driven here themselves and passed them to the postman for a joke. I’ve not had that swift a service from even first class post for many a year.
But I had the beads!
(Which is why you get a link to their website even though I try to avoid product placement. Their service was impressive).
They are a little lighter.
So I left the two of the first batch until the end in the hope that it blends a little better, is a little less obvious. Maybe.
It took no time at all to finish the bind off.
I weaved in the ends.
Then I just had to block it.
I washed it first then pinned it on a towel to the sofa. The sofa is my blocking board. Husband doesn’t mind me taking over the entire sofa with wet wool because he’d rather that than the bed being used. And it was nearly bedtime.
It needed so many pins! I used three different sets!
I used the long pins that husband had free in a sewing magazine. They’re my blocking pins now.
I had to find my back up blocking pins, white-headed ones that were left over from the flower arrangements at our wedding.
Nope, still not enough.
I got out the standard sewing pins. We have a fairly good-sized tub of those.
(That is our black sofa, I took the throws off so they wouldn’t get wet. I was worried about them running because they’ve been redyed several times and that would have been a disaster that I couldn’t recover from).
That was last night.
This morning it was dry.
My lovely warm, snuggly, bouncy shawl is finished!
I am in love. It will protect me from the draughty corner that I often find myself in and I’m planning all sorts of outfit combinations just so I can wear my new shawl!
On Ravelry, you can see all the other amazing variations that other knitters in this KAL are creating with this great pattern. It’s mindblowing sometimes what can be generated from a piece of string and some sticks. Thank you Susan B. Anderson for sharing this beautiful pattern.
If you’re still here, thank you so much for sticking it out and reading this entire epic, I appreciate it and hope that you don’t mind being part of this journey.
Go eat chocolate or cheese. You deserve it.
The knitting bug really has me smote at the moment. My physical health is a little better at the moment and I’m just so enjoying being able to do creative things again. It’s one of the things that I really miss when I’m ill, not being able to express myself or entertain myself. Being ill gets very boring and frustrating rather too quickly for comfort. Even when I have the strength to pick up my needles, I end up knitting so slowly and painfully (physically and figuratively) that it just isn’t enjoyable or pleasant. This time I’ve so ill that I could barely read and when I did get the strength together to finally read a book, it took me hours and hours of very slow reading. I’m a fast reader and it sucks most when illness takes away the things that identify you most and that you enjoy most.
I’ve been knitting again. It’s another gift. Starting school is always an important occasion to mark but it can be hard to do when your little friend lives on the other side of the world. I often make cakes for local school starters but that doesn’t survive posting very well.
Starting school is all about shoes and new clothes (uniform here, traditionally bought several sizes too big for growing into), sometimes new stationery and books (but not normally for junior school) and the all-important lunchbox.
There’s a lot of choice on the market these days for lunchboxes, even in this country. When I was little in a small town (English small town not American village) there was pretty much the choice of two lunchboxes. Only that it wasn’t actually a choice because one was blue and had that famous steam engine on it and the other was pink with those ponies on it. Funny enough, I had a pink lunchbox. So did pretty much everyone else. With names emblazoned in permanent marker, or for the inventive parent, a scraggy strip of masking tape and biro. Occasionally someone got hold of a lunchbox in a different colour or design. Those boxes stood out on the lunch table. But I don’t think that there was any jealousy. They were made of super tough plastic (and subsequently lasted years), a box with two halves, a slightly suspicious hinge (which is probably why they never lasted longer) and a contrasting colour square handle. Inside was a matching flask of a density of plastic that was remarkable and best suited for time capsules rather than being lugged around by an infant. That was lunchboxes back then.
Now they come in a plethora of designs and shapes and colours. I imagine that even for a four-year old that there are all sorts of subconscious fashion minefields to negotiate when choosing one. I suppose that is one reason to be grateful for school uniforms. Non-uniform days were always a nightmare dreaded for weeks in advance by the completely fashion-oblivious overweight frump of myself. It was easier in Sixth Form, I had developed a little more deliberate awareness of what I wore (having long been the victim of five years out of date pass-ons from cousins who were always three foot taller and skinnier) and for non-uniform days, we wore pigtails or bunches and remnants of our previous uniforms with the loosely knotted ties somewhere by our stomachs. It was the fashion, one created within the confines of one small school.
But lunchboxes are important. Well, food is. Armies, school children and me all march on their stomachs.
So I knew what I’d be making up for this particular school start.
Knitted, of course.
But life and me being who we are, things had got a little bit behind so I had to get a rush on. It seems some countries actually start school halfway through the summer holidays which, first of all, is both confusing and weird and second, not convenient when you’re trying to work out your deadline.
How Do You Make a Swiss Roll?
Push him down a mountain.
(Yes, highly PC in this day and age).
I decided to start with something easy to get me started. This pattern was deliciously simple but so effective. If you’re just learning to knit, I recommend making one of these up.
There are probably all sorts of rules in place as regards the healthy contents of a child’s lunchbox these days but what is the first day of school without cake? You have to have cake in a lunchbox. Just a little one. Sometimes. It’s got to better than crisps, surely? (Besides, I can’t knit crisps).
I Can’t Make Sandwiches
It’s true, I can’t. It’s one of those truly English concepts that have just bypassed me, I’m game to cook from exotic cultures the world over but I cannot master English. My cooked breakfast (other than being vegetarian) usually features non-English staples such as halloumi, roasted peppers and waffles. My husband’s mini-roast may have meat and potatoes on the plate but also grilled Mediterranean vegetables. I’m a fusion specialist, clearly.
I don’t get sandwiches, not English sandwiches. There’s the sliced bread which the Iberians have appropriately branded ‘bimbo’ and that my father called ‘blotting paper’, it’s great for toast but it’s not great stuff. Then you need a wafer of cheese or ham or both. For someone brave and daring, there may also be some pickle (not a gherkin if you’re American) but probably just mayonnaise. There will be no salad, not even a leaf of iceberg. But do you know what the worst thing is? They butter the bread! I’m serious. No, English sandwich is complete without a foot deep smearing of margarine. They don’t even use real butter. An English sandwich has no depth and has a tell-tale ooze of yellow slime squishing from between the slices. I don’t get it.
My husband has banned me from making him sandwiches. My idea of a sandwich is to grab whatever happens to be in the fridge and stick it in. With no butter. And plenty of salad. And plenty of flavour. I had jalapeño and cream cheese sandwiches at school which is the closest I came to being bland. In America, I found out that bagel shops think that this is fine and will add avocado too. Mm. But apparently pesto is not an acceptable alternative to pickle.
So knitting an English sandwich was something of a challenge. The husband, who has limited tolerance thresholds when it comes to make-believe, is convinced that my bread is way too thick and plump. But then he reckoned that the crust round the outside of the bread was the filling. It got very confusing. Chocolate spread or fish paste?
The bread is made in the pattern from two white sections and then knitting a huge long strip of crust. I knew that I didn’t have the patience to knit a four stitch scarf and then do all that fiddly sewing. I hate sewing, have I mentioned?
Instead, I knitted the bread as one section with a strip of crust between then picked up stitches all the way around with a circular needle and knitted the crust from that. An awful lot less sewing, thank you very much.
Even though it used a lot more yarn, I found that having the ‘crust’ on both edges and therefore folding in double actually made it easier to sew up. If you get what I mean!
As this was a pattern for an English sandwich there was no salad in it. I didn’t approve. I had to make at least some lettuce! The lettuce is a modified version of the lettuce made for the burger pattern at the beginning of the same pattern book. The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the lettuce is technically made from crocodile. So whilst the ham is probably technically vegetarian, the lettuce isn’t. Only in my world.
It’s definitely a high fibre sandwich and is about as synthetic as an English sandwich. Although the ham probably has a higher protein content than that found in the supermarket.
Oranges and Lemons
Or just a satsuma. A classic piece of fruit for a child’s lunchbox. I’ve made an orange before from a different pattern set and borrowed a technique from that to give the satsuma appropriate texture, simply turn the knitting inside out and use the reverse (or ‘wrong’) side!
Bananas in Pyjamas
Well, if not pyjamas, then a very natty peel-able skin. I just love that! Isn’t that cool? I had to master sewing (ugh!) in a zip which I’ve never done before in my knitting but it was definitely worth it.
Like the orange, I have knitted bananas before. There was one from the fruit set I knitted a while back and the really fiddly silly little bits one for the monkey. The banana from the fruit set had a few stitches put in it to give it the curve and this was the only downside with this particular pattern, the banana was totally straight! I don’t eat bananas (husband says that (apparently) I have put the zip at the wrong end and that you open them from the other end to mine, but how am I meant to know?!) but I do know that they curve. I had a little light bulb moment.
Do you remember that moose I made? Well his antlers were held up and shaped by pipe cleaners. (Technically, one, cut in half). I still had some. They’re the modern type of pipe cleaner, slightly floppy and furry but not as reliable as the old white cotton caterpillar ones that I remember. I had to twist two together to get enough rigidity for the banana. I put them in the middle of the fruit and stuffed around them. The banana curves.
For the items above I was working from patterns which is a lot easier. However, there is something very important that you need in a lunchbox that I didn’t have a pattern for. A drink. You’ve got to have a drink. Even camels like me take one in our lunchboxes.
I had to improvise. I made up a piece of knitting that when folded made a carton shape the same size as a sponge scrubber (clean but the same was what I use for washing up, stripped of the scratchy pad). I then made up a wee circle of garter stitch (remember what I said about orange texture?) which I borrowed from a flower pattern to sew on and then it was all downhill after that, I had to sew. I cannot sew. I had to embroider. I really cannot embroider.
I robbed a straw from a real wee drinks carton and sewed it on the back.
But there was still something missing from the lunchbox, it felt like I’d missed out on something important.
All children have a yoghurt in their lunchbox. I don’t why, maybe it’s some unwritten Law. I don’t like fruit yoghurt. And I have never seen a pattern for a yoghurt pot.
It was time to improvise. Again.
The pot was knitted in the round on DPNs. (That’s the good thing about learning a new skill, you will always end up using it again). I knitted a strawberry to sew on, I’m sure what I based it on, perhaps the same flower centre but misshaped.
Then I had a snag. How do you knit a yoghurt pot lid?
I did my best. I went for seed stitch. (Or moss?) I remembered to work a line of decreases for that little snap corner. But it came out a little bit big. I didn’t mind. It was just about big enough for me to embroider the word ‘yoghurt’ wonkily across it. But it was rather big on the pot. Way beyond the husband’s imagination threshold. I didn’t have plan B so it was going to have to do.
I will never be a designer. Nor should I be allowed to be.
But I finished the lunchbox up, adding some cute little hair ties and posted it off.
I wonder what little one will make of it.
Babies seem to be like buses. They all come along at once. Other friends of ours have also recently hatched.
There are reasons why it takes nine months for a baby to hatch. It’s so that knitters get a chance to knit whatever they’re plotting to foist upon the unsuspecting, innocent wee victim.
I hadn’t heard from my friend for a while. Then out of the blue she emailed. She had a new job, had moved house and was expecting a baby. Next week.
It’s their first. I was a little surprised (shocked, stunned?!) by the news but joyfully so.
Then I started plotting.
About the same time, I found a pattern in another magazine that I thought would be a good introduction to bigger projects. (I really have got to move on from those bootees!) It seemed especially ideal for beginners and the little jumper had no shaping and was a miracle construction of rectangles. The hat and socks were already on the achievable list, garments weren’t.
I got some very nice yarn for this project because these folk live in the most chic of cities (technically they are just outside but not to this little country bumpkin) in the most chic of countries. I’ve already used this 4 ply wool and acrylic mix before, most recently when I asked my brother to buy DK beige acrylic. He bought 4 ply wool and acrylic in grey. Apparently my brother has no idea what beige is. He didn’t see the need to tell me this before agreeing to make the purchase.
I wish my friends didn’t live in such fashionable places because it does put huge amount of pressure on me. I have no idea what is cool or fashionable or anything like that. And I knit. This may or may not be cool entirely depending on who you are. And I knit things for other people. This may or may not be fashionable entirely depending on who you are. Some people treat handmade gifts much the same way as charity shops. I see both as treasures. I forget others may not.
The pattern used some fancy sock variegated sock yarn but I decided to go with two colours and make it stripy. I chose cream and mint (the manufacturer’s names, not mine) because they were nice and neutral and good with all skin tones. Primrose yellow can make some faces look a bit sallow. And there weren’t many other colours available to choose from. My eye automatically went to the pinks and purples but they’re not good for boys. Shame. It’s a nice colour scheme but strangely in the half-light, they tone together rather too easily when knitting.
Anyway, the pattern was technically easy. There was the small matter of ‘making butterflies’ but I, with remarkable foresight, researched the technique thoroughly before going away and casting on whilst away from a computer and all knitting resources.
Yes, that was how long ago I cast on this project. When we went away camping in someone’s garden (see above!). I had a delightful less than a week of knitting but then when I came back, life, health and birds got in the way.
I finished and made up the hat whilst I was away, barring the tassels. I didn’t need to block it.
And the jumper wasn’t as easy as it should have been.
This wasn’t entirely due to my inexperience.
The problem is that the pattern for a jumper, socks and a hat (a whole three different items) was condensed to less than two pages of A4. That’s not a lot of space for detail.
The hat apparently has a brim. This is not clear from the photos (artistic but not helpful). The instructions are little vague. But with a little bit of knitter’s instinct and a lot of trust, I did get there.
The back rectangle of the jumper knitted up fairly quickly too.
The front? Well, that needs a button band. I have never worked a button band before. It says to work the first 16 stitches. I’m not happy with this because this is a triple rib and working the one extra stitch before the split mucks up the placement of all subsequent butterflies. I like symmetry. This does not make sense.
Then under the ‘making up section’ after the front, back and sleeves the last line is ‘with RS side facing, pick up and k approx three sts for every four rows along neck opening approx 56 sts’. Hm. Is this referring to the button band or to the actual neck?
The next section is called ‘button band’.
The mystery deepens.
So maybe that previous instruction was nothing to do with the button band after all?
However, it does start with ‘next row’. Next row to what?
I made an executive decision.
I split the opening where I felt best and then knitted up a button band according to some vague knowledge that I had floating in my head using garter stitch and yos (yarn overs). I finished the front completely before working the sleeves.
The sleeves are just two (surprisingly wide) rectangles so they weren’t really any problem. (It was trying to fit them against the body later when making up that was the problem, rib is very wriggly).
The sock actually wasn’t much of problem. Except that having got past the heel of the first sock, all my stitches fell off one of the DPNs (if not two) and they refused to be rescued. I had to start all over again. And there still was one more sock to do. Excellent. Don’t you just love those moments?
The ‘foot’ instructions weren’t entirely clear. After making all the heel stitches live again, it asks to knit across the first 24 (for the size I was making) stitches then knit the remaining 24 stitches in pattern. I assumed this meant to knit stocking stitch stripes across the bottom and to work the top in rib with butterflies. It might be glaringly obvious to an experienced knitter but it wasn’t to me.
Obvious things are never obvious to me. I don’t know why.
Then it finished with a w&t (wrap and turn) toe. I have never heard of this being done before. I was suspicious. This pattern had me suspicious all the way through. I used the toe pattern from the Bonbon socks just in case. If you have ever heard of a w&t toe, I would love to hear from you about it.
The foot of the sock looks tiny. It isn’t actually that small. The problem is that these are seriously long socks. They must like knee-highs or something. Proper long. I didn’t think babies wore knee-highs. Anyway …
I blocked the jumper up. I’d love some of those wooden sock blockers (I might have to find some salvageable wood at some point and make some up for myself. (Yes, I’m an inherent upcycler, I was even before it became a trend)) because I can’t block socks at the moment. Or at least I don’t think I can. Can you pin them flat to my blocking boards (AKA sofa)?
All that was left was to weave in an awful lot of ends (I’m getting proper at this knitting thing, you know) then make up the jumper.
Which was rather fiddly work, the rib wriggles something crazy and I hate sewing anyway.
All in all?
The pattern didn’t exactly inspire confidence, although in theory an ideal pattern for beginners looking to grow, I think it required a lot of knitter’s instinct and instruction translation. Maybe it was just me. The brain fog has been bad. However, I love the stitch. Instead of plain, old, boring stripes (don’t get me wrong, stripes are fun but a little routine in baby wear) it created a whole new effect rather simply. But as to whether you think that they are butterflies, well, it rather depends on whether you think farfalle pasta shapes are butterflies or not. I think so, the husband doesn’t. So maybe it’s bow stitch after all.
In any case, I’m looking forward to using the stitch again somewhere else. Bootees anyone?!
As you know, my knitting repertoire for many years has consisted of baby bootees. Just bootees and not much else. Whilst bootees do at least hold the interest slightly better than garter stitch scarves, there are limitations to them.
They limit me. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life only being a knitter of bootees (however many cuff variations I can invent) and I was starting to get a little worried that might be the case. Fortunately, this year has seen an exponential increase of both confidence and skill (if I modestly say so myself) so the horizons are starting to get bigger. When you look into it, there are an awful lot of things that are knit-able. It’s not just jumpers and it’s definitely not just baby bootees.
Bootees have other limitations too; you can only really gift them on one occasion. For weddings, well that just seems a little bit premature; for anniversaries, well that just seems a little tactless; for leaving school, well that’s just wrong. Especially if you ask the parents of said sixteen-year-old. So that really only leaves newborn babies and it was starting to get a little predictable as to what you’d be getting from me.
Friends of ours were expecting (it has since hatched, the knitting slowed down with my health unfortunately) and as all their nieces and nephews have received standard-issue bootees over the last few years, I’m sure that they probably could guess what they were getting! No, I want to make them something special. Special meaning not bootees.
I found the perfect pattern. I don’t quite know whether they’ll appreciate it in the same way but I thought it was brilliant.
Next up, I had to find some yarn. Although I have a reputation for budget acrylics (well, they have their uses), I want to do something special for this baby. I have used bamboo in the past successfully for bootees and as they live in warmer climes, I decided to use a different brand’s take on bamboo. I found it in one of those discount shops bizarrely (this one actually has a very good craft section) and having seen it in an arts shop for twice the price (ouch), my mind was made up.
So having both the pattern and the yarn, I just had to cast on my needles and set to work. That took a little while; the go-slow and the birds have really interrupted my knitting bug but the week before I finally got started.
The pattern threw a few challenges, there was a basic chart to follow for the motif and it asked me to cast on extra stitches part way through. I’ve never successfully worked out how to go about this before. I got a little worried. But as I was already several rows in and determined, I didn’t give up.
I looked it up in my knitting book and found that actually it wasn’t as complicated or as terrifying as I thought it was.
I find that sometimes.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the yarn; it’s not very ‘forgiving’. Wool and acrylic do a certain amount of adjusting as you knit along so any slightly odd stitches usually disappear. My stocking stitch has got a little bit more even recently but my purl can be a bit slack and it shows in this yarn.
I continued on, hoping that a little manipulation and the blocking would excuse the worst of it.
Then I had to work the rib edge.
This yarn does not do rib. Not at all.
Flaccid comes to mind. Which isn’t really what you want from a ribbed waistband.
I sighed. It wasn’t going to be.
Then I got a new knitting magazine (it’s my one vice, that Knit Now magazine does wonders for my confidence (I lie, I do have other vices like cheese and eating glacé cherries from the cupboard but I’m sure you won’t tell)).
There was a baby cardigan. In turquoise.
My yarn is turquoise.
The pattern had no rib. Just garter stitch.
I frogged the soaker!
I see this as a successful, confident manoeuvre rather than a failure.
I could analyse both the technique and the yarn and decide where it was best suited. I could not have known in advance (unless I knitted a swatch of course) that the yarn does not believe in rib. I could apply my newfound knowledge appropriately and knit something that would work.
I think that I’ve mentioned before that I am on a ban from garments.
I decided that a wee baby cardigan did not count.
I was going to knit a cardigan!
On circular needles (although not in the round), from the top down!
(It’s not exactly about right or wrong but in knitting there is at least a ‘normal’ approach to where a pattern starts. Jumpers start at the bottom, socks start at the top. Anything else is crazy, trust me).
The pattern was well written but it did require a few leaps of faith. Like when I wavered about whether I was meant to cut the yarn and start a new section or whether I really was meant to knit straight across the armpits and trust that they wouldn’t disappear.
People, you might not believe it, but I have knit a cardigan!
Husband says it looks like something you’d buy. Which in husband-speak is the hugest compliment that you can pay my knitting. He’s never said that before.
I found some funky little buttons to complete it too.
And if I say so myself, I’m quite pleased with the results.
I hope they are too.
And that it still fits by the time I send it to them!
PS. Those soakers are still in the pipeline. I have a plan B.
I don’t know if this internet thing is a good thing, it keeps making me succumb to something which is suspiciously akin to peer pressure (1). I see someone knit something and this small thought pops into my single brain cells and niggles me to have a go myself, to contemplate making the same myself. I want one of those! I want to do that! Hm. Not good. Or is it?
Shawls were something I’ve known about. There was the vast bright green, gold and beige monstrosity with feathery edges that my mother wore back in the Eighties over a beige raincoat. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Never my particular colour scheme. There were also two crochet shawls that appeared at about the same time. A bright red one and a more sombre green one. They were slightly itchy (it was probably the oversized tassels, I’m not keen on enthusiastic tassels) and smelled suspicious, as if they’d been sitting around neglected in a cupboard for a little too long (2). My dad wore those. No, I’m serious. Preferably the green one because it toned in a little better against his maroon-brown anorak and didn’t make him look quite such a cheerful babushka-ed grandmother. (We took keeping him warm in his wheelchair seriously, however, unfortunately, we were never a fashion conscious family). Later on again in the early Nineties my mother had a delicate cotton lace shawl from that bastion of cotton Victoriana, Laura Ashley. I loved that and hankered after one of my own. It disappeared really quickly too, I’ve no idea what happened to it.
Shawls really haven’t been on the radar since then. I can’t claim that they’ve gone out of fashion because I don’t know if they ever were fashionable (see previous comment about fashion conscious family), I don’t think they’ve been fashionable lately because I don’t remember seeing any in the shops (not that I shop either). Scarves have been very popular, first the pashminas then after several harsh winter, chunky knit scarves too. I like scarves. I always wear a scarf. Not a chunky one, too heavy. I have also been known to tie my pashmina around my head in a shawl-like manner when it gets very windy. I know that this is not fashionable, I have been told, several times. But it does keep my Western hat on my head. And the wind out of my ears. I am practical before socially acceptable.
But out there in the internet world of knitting, people (3,4) make shawls. And wear them. Beautiful shawls. Lacy, complex, simple, square, v-shaped, rainbow-hued, cotton, mohair, beaded.
Maybe I could make a shawl. You know, one day.
Then I saw a pattern in the latest Knit Now magazine. Like the internet, that magazine tempts me into all sorts of temptations. It was a basic shawl (in fact, they described it as a scarf), perfect for beginners and knitters who can’t count or think, knit up in stocking stitch with simple increases.
I could do that.
Well, you know, maybe.
No, I really think I could give that a go.
But there’s plenty of WIPs and a queue behind that of things that must be made. Ill health and birds haven’t exactly helped my knitting.
I put the magazine away for future reference.
Then late (about 21h) on Friday night, I made my mind up. I was going to have a shawl for Sunday’s event.
Yes, I know. We’ve discussed this before, I shouldn’t create impossible deadlines for myself nor underestimate the amount of time it takes me to knit something up (5).
I got out my box of stash. I found some suitable yarn, I think it’s now been discontinued. I cast on. And I knitted through the night.
I know, I’ve also told myself that I need to keep a sleep pattern because my Circadian rhythm need no encouragement to go a-wandering up the creek. I did get some sleep eventually.
Saturday evening, I finished said shawl. I did!
I didn’t block it because the yarn I used was so thick, it holds it shape very well. It feels more like I’m wearing a fleece (in the traditional sense rather than a modern polyester sweater) over my shoulders. Besides, I wasn’t sure how to block this particular yarn and my blocking boards (AKA sofa) have been out of action. Birds.
Then I just had to find an outfit that would go with it!
I really need to find a way of photographing my knitted projects a little more professionally so if you have any tips they would be gratefully received. As it is, at the moment, I’m struggling to hold the camera too.
But this is the shawl (6) I made:
I suppose it is really a shawlette.
This is the pattern (7) that I made it from:
I know, just a little bit different. It happens to me quite a bit. Like when I cook, I find a recipe then end up with something else. I think the problem is that I use what I have not what I’m meant to.
Mine is knitted on 7 mm needles (instead of 4 or 4.5 mm in the pattern) as recommended on the ball band. The yarn was Patons Baroque in possibly the Spa colourway (the price label is right over the key information on every single ball!). I used two 50g balls and only increased up to 45 stitches instead of the 101 in the pattern but because of the different gauge, it came out about the same size. The other modification that I made was to join the two halves with my own version of a three needle cast off rather than Kitchener stitch. I don’t get Kitchener stitch, it requires having a tidy brain. I especially didn’t fancy giving it ago on such a fuzzy, bobbly yarn.
And that’s the other thing, I don’t really do novelty yarns. I bought a few reduced ones when I first started knitting and seemed doomed to be a scarf-only knitter but they’re not really me. However, I think the yarn has worked well in this pattern and I enjoyed wearing it. I don’t often knit for myself. Mobile phone sock?
And isn’t shawl such a funny word when you think about it?
I finished the crocodile, oh, at least a month ago but what with having to process photos and get my head in the right frame of mind for writing coherently, it just hasn’t been written up yet! The bad news is that I’ve got a few other FOs to share with you over the next week or so, please be patient if knitting isn’t your thing!
So what can I say about the crocodile that I haven’t said before? Other than it’s now finished and has been lovingly received and christened Razor? (I think crocodiles obviously get too much bad press to warrant a name like that!). The patterns from the Knitted Wild Animal book tend to follow a similar format but of course the crocodile is naturally a very different shape to the others which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s nice to have a new shape and challenge to work on but I sometimes felt that the pattern hadn’t quite the attention it deserved.
I did eventually notice that the finished size measurement was supplied, 48 cm head to tail, although I had somehow convinced myself that it was only going to be about 20 cm. However, a slightly big however though, I ended up with a 70 cm crocodile. I’m not quite sure but an earlier blog post does rather suggest that I could have gone wrong somewhere. If anyone else has made it him to the correct proportions then I’d love to know how you did it!
The other big challenge was understanding the instructions for the feet. (For some reason, crocodiles don’t have ‘paws’, perhaps it’s something to do with that earlier comment about bad press). I got several experienced knitters to have a go at them but to no avail. One kindly dreamt up a simplified version for me, I’d terrified myself into thinking that I’d have to do all kinds of magical shaping and had gotten brain freeze. Basically it’s just a garter strip of eighteen stitches worked for six rows (if I remember rightly) then each set of six stitches are worked individually for a further six rows to give the three ‘toes’. A lot of the shaping came from the making up and I ran a couple of stitches between each toes for definition too. Again, if anyone has successfully made up the feet according to the book I’d love to hear from you!
The making up wasn’t too bad, it’s just a huge project, and I embroidered all the features myself (I hate making up and really don’t trust my sewing skills). I love his toothy grin, although I didn’t do it in the recommended chain stitch, far too complicated! And his knitted eyes, despite following the same instructions for both, came out completely differently each time, giving him a slightly skewiff appearance. Sadly. Plus the finished eyelid didn’t fit over very easily.
Overall, favourite bits were the moss stitch (or seed? When I work out the difference, I’ll let you know!) over his back and legs to give him the appropriate texture, the legs which started out looking like a map of Australia but suddenly morphed into those chunky, stocky legs and his toothy grin. But I don’t know if I’ll be in a hurry to come back to this pattern just yet!
Oh, and the yarn I used? Research on Ravelry showed that a variegated yarn worked best and my husband found this one in our local department store. Considering that it’s still only a 100% acrylic, I felt that it was a little expensive but it works well, having both variegated and self-striping effects built-in. In place the shifts of colour between stripes feel a little too big and harsh, over pronounced, but generally I like it. (You know me for worrying anyway!). Again considering the price, I don’t think it was of the best quality either, the ply had a tendency to unravel and not just on the thumb cast on where it always does. Bonuses were that the yarn was supplied with a free scarf pattern in three languages! Just in case.
I started this a long while ago but what with one thing and another, well you know how it goes. That and I really loathe making up toys like this because I’m convinced that I’ll do a such a bad job of it. Anyhow, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it could be and his ears and eyes etc are all roughly in the right, symmetrical places. Roughly. Maybe the problem is that I see my own faults too clearly.
But anyway, this little fellow is all made up and ready to go to his new home. The pattern says that it’s an ideal gift for a new baby or any under five. Hmm, my recipient is a good deal older than that, in years at least. Who said boys grew up?! The advantage is that when they’re five times that age, they can buy the yarn themselves. You want it, you get the yarn. Well it’s a little hard to gauge the seriousness of a request for a toy monkey, you know. Cheeky monkeys us all!
Meet the monkey:
The pattern was pretty easy to knit, I’ve already done the hippo in the series and the bodies were very similar. The peeled sections on the banana were the probably the most difficult parts to knit, makeup and attach, fiddly, and I found that the stitches, especially with the shaping, ended up quite loose so dropping a needle size or two might help.
What I like with knitting toys like this is that you start by knitting up a whole load of what appear to be fairly random shapes and then when it all comes together and works, it’s good, it’s fun.