Sunday, 24 August 2014

Simple pleasures

Well as I said in my last post, once I started knitting on those simple socks I found it very difficult to put them down. Within a matter of days I had a brand new pair of stripy socks! I used Yarn Yard Bonny, 2.5mm circular needles and a pattern which originated in the sock recipe in Ann Budd's Handy Book of Knitting Patterns which I have fiddled around with and memorised over the years. 

There is something very comforting about working on a project that is so familiar that I have memorised the pattern. Despite the simplicity, the project quickly moves through clear stages which prevents it becoming monotonous. Knitting down through the leg the pleasure comes from discovering how the stitch pattern is going to develop. Turning the heel still feels like such a neat and clever process. Most surprisingly of all, I have even learned to enjoy Kitchener stitch, something that until now I have never really felt happy with the results of. The secret for me has been to work the stitches fairly loosely then to place the toe over a darning mushroom and gently tighten up the stitches before fastening them off.

I enjoyed the process so much I couldn't resist casting on another pair, once again in Yarn Yarn Bonny.

One of the things that I find fascinating about knitting with hand painted variegated yarns is that you can never quite predict how the garment will turn out as the placement of colours is subject to so many variables, the length of the skein, number of stitches, size of the needles and most importantly the placement of colours by the dyer.

As you can see by the example of these socks, both pairs are knitted in the same yarn, with the same sized needles to the same pattern. However, the way in which the colours work with each other has led to completely different striping effects. I have no idea how it happens.

 With the grey and yellow socks the stripes are broken and shadowy whilst on the red and green socks the stripes are clear and unbroken.

I may have cast on another pair...

Friday, 15 August 2014

Going Back to my Roots

I hadn't realised how much my sock knitting had declined until the other day when my friend Sadie asked me how many pairs of socks I had knitted in the last couple of years. I thought about it, had a bit of a count up and realised that in that time I have made only five pairs for myself and three as magazine samples. A glance down the side bar of this blog will show that in previous years I made far more than this, peaking at the point where I managed to finish 29 pairs in one year when I took it into my head to enter the 52 Pair Plunge on Ravelry and failed. I am in awe of anyone who has the speed and dedication to manage all 52 as I was pretty proud of a score of 29!

As I mentioned in my last post I have come across a fair number of half finished pairs of socks in my WIP baskets and have joined the more modest 26 Pair Plunge this year as a way to motivate myself to get them off the needles. Next out of the basket are these, Kristi by Cookie A. This time I had already recorded them on Ravelry and was somewhat staggered to read that I had started them in August 2010 - exactly 4 years ago and had almost completed the heel turn on the first sock when I last put them down. Over the last few days I've managed to finish the first sock. The pattern in itself isn't difficult to accomplish but needs pretty regular reference to the large chart which means they aren't good for travel knitting. 

This probably explains why they were abandoned as most of my socks have been knitted on the go so I need a different approach to be able to complete them. I am aiming to do about an inch or so every evening between other commitments as I am determined to get them finished now I've been reunited with them.

This return to sock knitting and realisation that I have had half finished socks languishing in my basket for so long has made me reflect on how long sock knitting has been part of my life. I estimate that I taught myself to knit socks at least 10 years ago and have been knitting them steadily ever since. When I first started knitting socks I was charmed by self striping and variegated yarns as they made it so easy to make an interesting pair of socks with very little effort but as my skills developed and I started knitting more complex and patterned socks like the ones above, I became more interested in semi solid and solid coloured yarns and set the variegated yarns aside.

We human beings can be very fickle though, and as I was twisting stitches this way and that on my Kristi socks I started thinking about how lovely it would be to just grab a jolly skein of variegated yarn and just knit away on a good old basic sock, so I went on a little stash dive and came up with this little beauty, one of The Yarn Yard club yarns in what is still one of my favourite sock yarn bases, Bonny, a no nonsense 75%wool, 25% polyamide sock yarn which is properly warm and woolly and wears really well like a good sock yarn should.

Despite the fact that I have been knitting most of my socks from the toe up in recent years I decided that I might as well take the whole journey down memory lane and cast on some good old fashioned top down flap and gusset socks. That was last night and I can't seem to put them down...

 It seems to me that a lot of sock yarn dyers including The Yarn Yard have responded to their customers' desire for more semi solid and solid shades and good, well planned variegated skeins are a little more hard to come by. Which is why I am relieved that my stash diving revealed that I have a nice healthy stash of Yarn Yard Bonny to satisfy the craving for old school sock knitting for a little while.

Speaking of old school sock knitting I am delighted to say that I am going back to my roots and will be teaching a three week introduction to top - down sock knitting at Knit with Attitude starting on October 12th 2014. There will be more details on the shop web site very soon. Participants will have the chance to observe the true extent of my rediscovered sock geekery.

That means that I can now get back to the sofa, get out my sock in progress and carry on knitting secure in the knowledge that it is of course, teaching preparation!

Friday, 8 August 2014


Back in March I had a good rummage in my WIP basket and found these unfinished socks. With the help of knowledgeable blog readers I was able to identify them as Rosebud Socks by Wendy Johnson.
With pattern and socks reunited I was resolved to get them finished and immediately got several pattern repeats under my belt. It felt very strange working with 2.25mm wooden needles and was convinced that they would break at every stitch but didn't want to change needles as in my experience, even a change to the same size needle in another medium can affect my tension so I pressed on!

However, after making some good progress I am afraid that they were set on one side again as other projects took priority. Finally, at the beginning of July I decided to join the 26 Pair Plunge on Ravelry as a way of encouraging myself to get my large pile of half finished socks off the needles, one way or another.

I'm pleased to say that it was the encouragement I needed to finish these pretty socks and they are now pair number 2 of my 26 pair target.

Once the rhythm of the pattern is established it is an enjoyable knit which I was able to finish relatively quickly. The Artist's Palette yarn is a pleasure to knit with and these socks will make a welcome addition to my sock drawer.

Only 24 pairs to go...

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Is it really a week since Fibre East?

I can't believe it's a whole week since Nic and I made our debut as vendors at Fibre East. First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who came by to see us, try on samples, buy my patterns and Nic's lovely yarn. We were overwhelmed with how well received we were and the lovely comments that people made. It made all the hard work well worth it.

Nic's yarns are not only beautifully dyed, as you can see, they are also wound into 50g cakes and ingeniously packaged into ready to go wrappers which makes them look like giant sweeties! Perfect for the knitter who wants instant gratification. She will soon be putting any yarn that she has left up on her online shop so keep an eye out for it. 

Here is a close up look of my little case, inherited from my dad,  overflowing with samples, looking nice and tidy at the beginning of the day.

Fibre East is a lovely, well organised festival which manages to feel relaxed even though it is buzzing with fibre enthusiasts, teachers and vendors of all sorts, sheep shearing demonstrations and a whole marquee dedicated to 'having a go'. There is plenty of outside space and places to sit which is a good job as, particularly on Saturday it was eye wateringly hot. How anyone managed to try on mitts I just don't know but I certainly appreciate it.

Of course, it was impossible to resist having a little explore and appreciating the work of other vendors. I was delighted to see that one of my favourite yarn sellers, The Little Grey Sheep were at the other end of our marquee. I have knitted a pair of my Fairlee Mittens in some of their Stein lace and Emma, the farmer and dyer came over to say how much she liked them and graciously took one as a sample for her own stand. One of the things that I love about the fibre community is how people support each other.

Of course, I couldn't leave the festival without adding to my collection of her mini skeins of Stein Lace.. I mean, take a look at them - how could I not? They also appeal to the sheep geek in me - the Stein sheep is a cross breed between Shetland and Gotland sheep and has the bounce of Shetland combined with the sheen of Gotland. It is a light fingering to heavy lace weight - perfect for colour work accessories.

I am planning to have some colour work fun this summer.

The main problem is choosing colour combinations.

So I had a little bit of fun trying out some of my favourites.

The possibilities are endless.

It's hard to find a combination I don't like.

Don't you just love knitting?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Three new patterns available to download

I'm very pleased to say that after their successful launch at Fibre East this weekend these mitts are now available to download from Ravelry. Just follow the link beneath each photograph or in the side bar. 

Bouldnor Mitts

The beach at Bouldnor on the Isle of Wight is small, secluded and rocky but it has a hidden treasure. As a family we would take our nets and slipping and slithering on the rocks and seaweed harvest juicy prawns which we would cook over a stove on the beach and watch the sun go down. This pattern reminds me of the interlocking fronds of the seaweed. 

Broadlands Mitts

I am descended from Nottinghamshire lace makers who came to work at Broadlands Lace Factory in Newport Isle of Wight in the early nineteenth century. The building still exists as apartments having spent some years as government offices. The decorative cabled lace panel contrasted with the austere ribbing on this mitt evoke the phases in the life of this building. 

Hillis Gate Mitts

A mitt inspired by the deep eaves and tall chimneys of Hillis Gate Lodge, the cottage in the forest where my grandparents lived.

As you can see, I have drawn a lot of my recent inspiration from my family history on the Isle of Wight. 

I hope you like them.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Introducing the Hillis Gate Mitts

I just have time to give you one more pattern preview before Fibre East, The Hillis Gate Mitts. This design is also inspired by the history of my family on the Isle of Wight. The pattern reminds me of the tall chimneys and deep eaves of Hillis Gate Lodge, the cottage that my grandparents lived in from the 1930s to the 1950s. The cottage is one of the gate lodges to Parkhurst Forest in the north west of the Island. My maternal grandparents moved there with their three children when my mum, the youngest was very small. My grandfather was employed as a forester and this was a 'tied cottage' which meant that he could live there as long as he was a forester. The cottage is incredibly picturesque as you can see but through all the time my grandparents lived there it had no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. My grandmother would light the 'copper' on a Sunday night ready for bath night and the Monday wash. Mum and my uncles did their homework by gaslight and calls of nature were answered in the earth closet at the bottom of the garden.

It was, however, a happy home of which my mum and uncles spoke fondly. When my parents were married they spent the first three years of their married life there.


It did occur to me however, that it might on occasions have been quite chilly so I designed a pair of short but cosy mitts in sport weight yarn that could be worn around the house as well as outdoors.

The green pair are made in Yarn Yard Hug in a lovely 1930s inspired shade of green.

The cable rib design is good and stretchy and runs uninterrupted from cuff to fingertips.

The pattern is echoed on the thumbs.

The yellow pair are made from Quince & Co Chickadee in the Apricot colourway.

Both versions can be made with less than 50g of yarn.

This is the last of my pre Fibre East previews. I do hope that if you are there you will come over to our stand,' Nic and Jane' in Cotswold Tent. We'd be delighted if you would come over and say hello, squish some yarn and try the mitts on albeit briefly as the forecast says it will be hot - even though here in east London as I write we are in the middle of a torrential thunder storm!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Introducing the Broadlands Mitts

The design that I am previewing for you today is inspired by the industrial history of the 19th century, the story of one building and its relationship with my family.

Broadlands House is an imposing building on the outskirts of Newport, Isle of Wight. It has recently, as is the way with many such buildings, been converted into apartments. In my youth it was the offices of the Department of Health and Social Security but before that it was a lace factory which played a part in the history of my family. 

My three times great grandfather, George Sutton and his son, William, my great, great grandfather moved from Radford in Nottinghamshire, one of the centres of lace making in England soon after 1827 when the lace factory was established. Both worked as lace makers at the factory for many years. George retired some time before 1851 and by 1861 William was a farmer. The factory produced their own patented machine made blonde lace  and was established in such a a 'remote' location as the Isle of Wight so that improvements in their skills and techniques could not be copied by neighbouring manufacturers. Eventually, however, they found it more and more difficult to compete as blonde lace ceased to be fashionable and finally closed on the retirement of the owner in 1877.

The Broadlands Mitts were inspired by the beauty and intricacy of this lace contrasted with the austerity of the lines of the building.

A panel of cables and lace runs up the index finger of each mitt

The rest of the mitt is knitted in an austere ribbing.

The pattern gives two options, a wrist length set shown in the olive green which can be completed with 50g of Cascade Heritage sock yarn available from Wild and Woolly in Clapton, London or an elbow length version which require 75g of Wollemeise Pure sock yarn available from Loop in Islington, London.

The pattern also features an asymmetric thumb gusset which is reversed on each mitt to ensure that the lace panel is as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.

The pattern for these mitts will be launched on our stand, Nic and Jane at Fibre East this weekend and will be available as a download from Ravelry next week.

I would like to think that my grandfathers would approve of me carrying on a form of the family trade!

Photography by Nic Walker.