I made these many months ago but I just haven’t been able to keep with my posting this year. They’re another project from Susie Johns’ Knitted Fast Food; details for this project are also on my Ravelry page.
Do you remember that I said that I had knit up a new shawl over the summer? I just haven’t got around to showing you the photographs and telling you about it, it’s the story of my blogging life. I have plenty of ideas (especially in the middle of the night!) but life just gets in the way of my developing them. Life, health and technology. This year has also been a nightmare when it comes to technology, toothaches and gremlins galore.
Last summer I knit up my heavily adapted Solstice Scarf by Jacqui Harding in a very thick, warm and heavy bouclé yarn which I then proceeded to wear on the warmest day of the year. Naturally.
Although I did eventually appreciate my new scarf during the winter, you would have thought that there were lessons to be learnt. Aren’t there always?
But you see, I have a somewhat sceptical approach to summer and every year me and my friends have a day out planned which seems to only attract the worst of weather. Being hardy, determined folk, we haven’t given up yet. And me being me, it’s never quite as bad as I forecast. I forecast snow every time so I’m rarely disappointed by rain or wind or fog!
Therefore there was a kind of logic to me planning and knitting a winter-weight shawl for the middle of summer. Perhaps a slightly me, slightly pessimistic logic but a logic nonetheless.
I’ve had my eye on this pattern for ages but then I couldn’t find it when I actually wanted to knit it up. I think I was rushing. Me and some knitty friends had a yarn swap and I acquired some beautiful yarn that was just calling to be my new cowl. (It’s a funny word, isn’t it?) So I cast on as soon as I got home, scrabbling around the internet for a pattern. (I ended up using a free one from the Lion brand website).
It knit up quickly, which is perfect for my attention span. (If I check on Ravelry, in just a couple of days which has got to be a record for me! And was it really that long ago?!) And pretty soon I was test-wearing my new cowl.
And then shelving it because it was far, far too warm to wear!
But I took it with me and when the mercury dropped, I was highly grateful for it. There’s something about sitting outdoors that makes you mercilessly prey to bad weather, isn’t there? I also discovered that I can pull it right up to my eyes, pull my hat right down to my ears and then fall asleep in private! (Well, I was sussed by those who know me too well). I am a human snowball of woollens but when the weather is thus, I am only too grateful! Now to make some more hand-knit socks …
(PS. The colours are gorgeous, it’s just one of those colourways that doesn’t photograph easily!)
(PPS. I probably do need to iron shirts before I use them in photos!)
(PPPS. Didn’t you love adding PSs to letters when you were little too?)
Details on my Ravelry page
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.