Life as a Knitter

Word for the year

The more I think about it, the more I think that 'Simplicity' is going to be my guiding word for this year, or at least the first quarter of it.

I have so many thoughts going through my head, so many plans to write down and so many notebooks in which to write them. I feel pretty overwhelmed right now. I feel as though as I should be doing a load of planning for next year but at the same time I feel as though I need to take a bit of a step back and have a period of calm reflection before going all gung-ho into the new year. I feel as though there are a lot of areas in my life which could do with some simplification, both personal and professional and so it is time to quietly take stock and decide what can go and what can stay.

The break over the holidays has been a great incentive to reduce my amount of online time and I have to say that I have found it to be very positive. I'm not going to say the words digital detox because I know I can't stay away from my Instagram addiction, but I going to try and limit my screen time to 30 to 40 minutes per day, and then to consciously turn the screens off and do something creative or productive instead. I'm looking forward to curling up with a book (a real, paper one) for the first time in ages. Just 15 minutes reading before bed has become something I look forward to and I hope to carry this new habit forward into the new year.

However you spent Christmas and New Year I hope you had a relaxing and peaceful time. Now it's time to sally forth into 2017 - ready or not.

Happy New Year

This New Year, as with many others sees me cosied up in a Lake District cottage. Miles from anywhere but blessed with great views and a good wifi connection this place is the perfect bolt hole for a winter break. Usually on this holiday we do very little walking and a lot of chilling and this time has been no exception. Although we are all full of the seasonal lurgy it is still nice to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the amazing (if damp) scenery). Spending time with my family as my boys grow and get more independent is a real privilege and one which I really appreciate.

However you are spending your new year I do hope you have a happy and peaceful one. Here's hoping that 2017 brings great things for us all.

Happy Knitting

 

 

My 31 day challenge

There is something about a 31 day challenge which is very appealing. There is a wealth of evidence that a minimum of 21 days is needed to fully establish a new habit but going for the full month seems more satisfying on so many more levels. At this time of year, our thoughts naturally turn to the new year just around the corner. Things we would like to do differently, things we would like to learn or even things we want to avoid.

During 2016 two of my goals were to establish an email subscription list and newsletter and also to maintain a more regular blog schedule. In large part I feel as though I have achieved that and in the course of doing so I have found that not only do I love knitting (no surprise there) but I also love writing about knitting.

I read a quote once which said something along the lines of "The more you write the more you want to write" and in my case that does really seem to be the case.

With that in mind therefore I have decided to set myself a 31 Day Challenge of my very own, and commit to writing a blog post every day in January. In order to avoid overload and to keep this separate from my main blog this will be posted on a separate page over on my website under the page called Everyday Knitter.

This is also the name of my new Facebook group and my intention is to do something every day to foster and nuture my love of this craft we all love so much.

The daily blog posts, by necessity will be short and snappy but I hope that they will reflect events in my real-life knitting-life.

How about you? Do you fancy joining me in a 31 day challenge of your own? It could be something as simple as committing to spending 15 minutes reading, or 31 days of having your 5 fruits and veggies a day. It certainly doesn't need to be knitting related, although obviously please dive in if that appeals to you.

Please click here to download my free 31 Day Challenge printable and don't forget to let me know how you get on.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas

This has certainly been a productive and busy year. 2016 may have been turbulent in many ways but in my own woolly corner of the internet it has been a great year for community, joy and a shared love of knitting. In fact, I'm not sure how I would have coped with all the challenges that 2016 has thrown at us, without the strong and supportive knitting community which I am proud to belong to.

I probably should round up the year with a fabulous 'best of 2016' post, but to be perfectly honest the usual seasonal overload has taken its toll, and after an endless round of school plays, advent events and family obligations all I feel capable of doing is cosying up on the sofa with mulled wine, knitting and an industrial sized box of Quality Street.

Whatever you are doing this Christmas and however you spend the holidays I hope you have a peaceful and joyful time.

Thank you for all your support during this incredible year and I will be back soon with lots of exciting things planned for 2017.

It's time for another Twitter chat

I can't believe that it is already a month since our first Twitter chat but the calendar doesn't lie, and as Christmas approaches with the speed of a freight train I'm quite looking forward to spending a cosy night in with you all tonight, talking about socks and maybe drinking a glass of mulled wine.

So, lets talk about socks and specifically the gifting of socks. Do you knit socks for gifts? D you have a list as long as your arm of willing recipients, or do you keep sock knitting purely for yourself? If you have any tips or tricks for gifting socks or any cute way ways of packaging them please pop along and join in the chat.

If you aren't sure what a twitter chat is - please see this previous blog post.

So grab, your festive tipple of choice and join us at 8pm tonight (GMT, London)

6 Ways to Get More Knitting Done

Getting more knitting done - or how to hide from the family

For some reason my family still haven't grasped the concept that I like to knit, to relax and to craft a little time for myself at weekends. They will persist in the notion that my time is their time and that I should be happily spending my precious weekends grappling with homework, running the little darlings to various social engagements or just generally hanging out in their adorable company.

Now don't get me wrong I love a boisterous game of Pass the pigs as much as the next person and don't get me started on the fun that can be had when over-competitive siblings get stuck into a Monopoly tournament, but sometimes the modern, stressed out knitter just wants half an hour to themselves. Ideally with a hot beverage and some relaxing knitting.

After approximately 8 years of trying to combine weekend parenting and knitting (whilst living a long way from obliging and doting grandparents) here are a few winning strategies to help you craft out some valuable knitting time - you're welcome.

  1. Insist loudly that you have to have the house to yourself in order to 'clean it'. Bundle the offspring out of the door to the local park or to the shops (with an appropriate adult).Spend 5 minutes rushing around with a bin bag, do a quick hoover and the fling yourself onto the sofa, knitting in hand. For this to work it is essential to keep an alert ear out for their homecoming and to greet them, coming down the stairs - carrying a load of laundry for maximal effect.
  2. Round everyone up for a cinema trip - pack your most portable knitting project (a plain vanilla sock is ideal). Load up with snacks (and hot coffee for you) and knit away whilst everyone else follows the latest Disney/Pixlar extravaganza with enthusiasm.
  3. If nothing at the cinema appeals, employ a similar tactic and head to the local soft play area (or park if you really cannot stomach the thought of those germ-filled ball pits).
  4. Barricade yourself in your room for half an hour, with threats of dire proportions if anyone dares to disturb you. This works particularly well in the run up to Christmas.
  5. This one requires a bit of long term planning (and some moderate chaos - but bear with me). Offer to host a friends child for an afternoon for a playdate/cinema trip/park outing. The usual reciprocal rules of parenting will hopefully kick in and the parents of the lucky child will then offer to take yours for a similar date - giving you a child free house for several hours.
  6. Announce that you need to do boring grocery shopping and that you will be far faster going by yourself. Do a super quick whizz around the supermarket and then enjoy a leisurely coffee with your knitting before 'staggering' home with your bags.

 

Advanced stashbusting - doubling up that sock yarn

If, like me, you have a well curated stash of leftover sock yarn it is only a matter of time before you find yourself contemplating it with a slightly overwhelmed expression and a distinct lack of storage space. There are, after all, only so many sock yarn blankets one can have on the needles at any one time.

If you haven't already tried it, may I suggest working with two strands of sock yarn held together - as the ultimate stashbuster.

Holding two strands together generally gives a weight of yarn somewhere between a DK and aran weight - I usually get a gauge of around 20st to 4" - making it comparable toa worsted weight, although obviously this does depend on the relative thicknesses of your chosen 4ply yarns. Working on a 4.5mm needle the two strands of yarn combine to give a pleasing bounce and loft to the fabric and the ability to play with colour and introduce gradual ombre-style effects is an added bonus. Pairing a super bright skein with a more sombre one might also be a good way to tone down some of the more exuberant skeins that we all have hiding in our stash.

 Assisted Hatching baby sweater

Assisted Hatching baby sweater

For those of us with a well endowed stash of leftover sock yarn, an added highlight is that this type of project really does eat up yarn. Making a worsted weight baby sweater - here I used the Assisted Hatching sweater pattern by Elizabeth Ditchburn Dew - which used up practically all of a 400m (100g) skein of 4ply Zitron Trekking XL. Obviously you do have to take a little bit of time at the beginning of the project to wind 2 equal sized balls of yarn, and some people find that they get better results if they wind these two strands together into a single, larger ball from which to work. But this is a simple job that just needs a pair of kitchen scales and a bit of company from Netflix.

The possibilities of this type of yarn combining are endless, and I often find myself dreaming about an ombre style blanket - baby sized or bigger - starting with the lighter shades of yarn from my sock stash and progressing towards the darker ones. Maybe one day...I might just need a bit more sock yarn first though.

 

 

The joys of scrappy socks

If you aren't ready for the commitment of a full-on sock yarn blanket, scrappy socks can be a fabulous way to use up all those odds and ends. There is a wonderful hashtag on Instagram called #frankensocks and this is well worth a look for inspiration. Totally mismatched, fun and colourful these type of socks look amazing and are totally unique.

If, like me , your brain can't deal with totally random socks you could always strike a happy medium by knitting striped socks in brightly contrasting colours. I knit a pair recently, using them as an opportunity to showcase a range of sock yarn leftovers in my stash from some of the very talented indie dyers we have here in the UK. To make sure that the socks matched - there's my inner control freak talking - I knit them toe-up, two at a time on a long magic loop needle. This did involve a bit of extra faffing as I had to wind off enough yarn for 2 balls, but with each stripe/ball only taking 3-4g this wasn't particularly onerus.

In fact, just between me and you, it sometimes took me longer to decide on the next yarn stripe than it did to wind it and knit it.

Taking the #franskensocks theme a step further there are some very popular advent themed scrappy socks projects out there too. The Opal Sock Yarn Advent calendar is a very popular one which is almost certainly sold out by the time you read this as the kits went on sale around the beginning of October. Many thrifty-minded knitters however have decided to do their own advent socks - knitting a stripe each day on their socks - ending with a snazzy new pair of socks ready to wear on Christmas Day. Some have even gone the whole hog and have their set of little yarn balls all ready to go in individual sealed bags. With all the hectic preparations going on before the holidays, there is something very pleasing and soothing about making time to sit down each day and knock out out a stripe or two on your fun, colourful project.

 

In praise of the humble mitered square

Lets face it, after a few months (years) of knitting socks, you are going to have amassed a fairly hefty collective of leftover sock yarn. If I am knitting socks for me I normally expect to have about 30g of sock yarn left from a skein of 100g - sometimes a little less if the design features lots of yarn-eating cables.

And all those little 30g balls of yarn can soon add up.

For me, the tipping point came when I decided to reorganise my sock yarn stash and put all the leftovers together. When I realised that I had about 1.5kg of little sock yarn balls it was time to admit that a) I needed help and b) maybe I should make something with it all.

The next few weeks on the blog will therefore be devoted to ideas for using up that leftover sock yarn, starting with the epitome of thriftiness - the Sock Yarn Blanket.

If you have a few hours to spare just type in the words 'sock yarn blanket' into Google or Pinterest and prepare to be blown away by the creativity and colour you will find. One of the most popular patterns or recipes is a free pattern download: The Mitered Squares blanket by Shelley Kang. Endlessly adaptable and highly addictive, it's easy to see why there are so many versions of this on Ravelry and it's hard not to be drawn into their appeal. There is something very pleasing about how all the neat little decreases line up along the length of the blanket and bright hand-dyed yarn in garter stitch is always a real winner.

It is worth considering however that this is a large scale undertaking and because the squares are joined as you go, the project quickly becomes non-portable. Some clever knitters have got around this however by using the same principle to knit square panels of say 3x3 or 4x4 which can then be seamed together. Indeed, the very clever ScullyWully on Instagram took this principle and expanded it to create a series of monthly blocks - with the colours influenced by the seasons and the other projects she was working on at the time.

If large-scale commitment isn't your thing, you could always take this idea and adapt it to make cushion covers for example or smaller cot-sized baby blankets.

The only other caution I would issue, with my 'voice of experience' is to weave in the ends as you go - ask me how I know! With that caveat in place my only other advice is to go for it and have fun. If your enthusiasm wanes you can always curtail the project and make a cushion cover, or you can go the whole hog and make a king-sized bed masterpiece.

Be prepared

 Toe-up socks, two at a time on magic loop. Heaven.

Toe-up socks, two at a time on magic loop. Heaven.

Sit a group of sock knitters down in a room and I can spend ages marveling at our different techniques and materials. Basically we are all producing a circular tube of knitted fabric but very rarely are two knitters working the same way. Some are devoted DPNs fans (either using 4 or 5 needles), some love the tiny 30cm circular needles. Then we have magic loop devotees and those who prefer using two small circular needles. Of all the techniques I have tried the latter is the only one that I really can't embrace. For the others each has their time and place as far as I'm concerned.

 An on-the-go essential. Stripy sock on a tiny 30cm circular (Hiya Hiya)

An on-the-go essential. Stripy sock on a tiny 30cm circular (Hiya Hiya)

My go to favourite is a toe up sock on an 80cm magic loop needle. But there are times when a small circular needle is very handy. I do a lot of knitting at my kids sporting events and in that situation I often just need to be able to drop my knitting to attend to a particular crisis or applaud as necessary. For these times magic loop can be a bit too fiddly and more times than I care to remember, a piece of sporting kit has caught on a loop and merrily removed half the cable from my stitches. A small circular needle has much less potential for accidents and as long as you remember to push the sticthes down on the needle a bit you are usually safe from accidental unravelling.

As I do a lot of travel knitting DPNs are probably my least favourite way to work socks - simply because of the potential for loss. More times than I care to admit I have managed to lose a DPN down the side of a train seat, or I have searched my knitting bag in vain. Knowing full well that I put 4 DPNs in there, only to find that, inexplicably 1 has disappeared en route.

Whatever your preferred technique it is always good to know how to employ an alternative method should the need arise - if only to confuse the non-knitting 'Muggles'.

Weapons of choice - my favourite sock needles

 My favourites: Hiya Hiya sharp interchangeables

My favourites: Hiya Hiya sharp interchangeables

Last week I gave you a sneaky peek into my sock yarn stash. This week I thought I would share with you some of my favourite needles
Hands down favourites are my Hiya Hiya Sharps Interchangable sock set (from The Little Grey Girl). Lethally sharp, with a seamless join between cable and needle and a brilliantly flexible cable makes magic loop knitting a real pleasure. Many of my designs feature twisted stitches or small cables and a really sharp set of needle tips vastly increases speed and accuracy with these.

 Malala Socks by Louise Tilbrook Designs - pointy tips really help with the cables.

Malala Socks by Louise Tilbrook Designs - pointy tips really help with the cables.

 

From the same Hiya Hiya range I also love my tiny 30cm circular needle. If I am knitting plain vanilla self-stripe socks these are my needles of choice. Compact, portable and with the same super pointy tips, these are great for having in your emergency sock knitting bag. Being a mother of boys I spend a lot of time standing by sports pitches and the small circulars are ideal for this. I've lost cost of the times that a rugby boot stud has snagged my magic loop cable (serves me right for having a huge catch-all mummy bag I guess). A tiny circular needle is much safer.

Other favourites include my KnitPro Zings. I love that these are colour coded. The number of times I have grabbed a 2.25mm needle thinking it was a 2.5mm and only realised when the resulting sock is too small! With the colour coding this makes this particular error far less likely (although, believe me I am still capable of it on a bad day). The tips are pretty sharp and smooth and the cable, although a bit less flexible than the Hiya Hiyas is perfectly good for most types of circular knitting.

 

 

I'll show you mine....A sneaky peek into my sock yarn stash

 A recent, gorgeous addition to my stash from  The Wool Kitchen  via  The Golden Skein

A recent, gorgeous addition to my stash from The Wool Kitchen via The Golden Skein


A quick inventory of my stash, not surprisingly shows that my stash consists of approximately 80% sock yarn. Sock yarn makes the perfect 1 skein purchase at a yarn festival or shop as you can always find a use for it, if not as socks then as a shawl or cowl.

Some of my stash is for my 'work stash'. These are skeins that are earmarked for design projects - some written down and some still floating around in my head.

 Yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners features heavily in my recent FO photos

Yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners features heavily in my recent FO photos

Quite a large proportion of my stash is my 'workhorse' sock yarn. These are the skeins I reach for my DH or my sons request a new pair of handknit socks. Self striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners falls into this category. Both the Birds and the Cocktails range are ideal sock yarns. Machine washable, fabulous colours and everyone loves a funky pair of striped handknit socks. If I am going through a particularly organised phase I like to have a few pairs of these in the gift box, ready to be pressed into emergency service.

 Some of my most prized sock yarn possessions - I would grab these first if the house were on fire

Some of my most prized sock yarn possessions - I would grab these first if the house were on fire


The final category are my prized 'golden skeins'. Some of these are indeed from the Golden Skein (a quarterly yarn club of unbelievable awesomeness) and others have been picked up on my travels. Some of these I have very firm and definite plans for (someday) and some are just pets. On days when I feel a little blue or a bit out of sorts, a quick rootle through this section of my stash is always enough to bring a smile to my face.

There are times when I do feel a little guilty about the size of my stash - particularly when my husband asked me recently whether we should think of listing it separately on our house insurance.

But then there is the smug satisfaction of knowing you have a perfectly curated selection of yarn, just sitting there waiting for its potential to be untapped. At a moments notice you could see the perfect pattern, march upstairs and after 5 minutes with the ball winder and swift be merrily casting on for your dream project. In reality of course it doesn't always work out like that but a knitter can dream can't she?

 

Five fabulous reasons to knit socks

 Handy responses to have up your sleeve - louisetilbrookdesigns

Handy responses to have up your sleeve - louisetilbrookdesigns

Whenever you knit socks out in public, you will invariably attract attention. And at some point you will be faced with the question of "Why do you knit socks?". Here are 5 fabulous reasons why knitting socks is a most excellent idea.

  • The ultimate portable project: With just 100g yarn and needles needed you can happily occupy yourself for hours. Train journeys, doctors waiting rooms, endless kids sporting activities... My sock knitting comes with me everywhere and anywhere and I'm yet to find a situation where knitting is inappropriate (except possibly job interviews and in church). A spare pair of needles and a ball of yarn sits patiently in the glove box of my car, awaiting the day it might be needed. Yes, the AA provides wonderful roadside assistance in the event of a breakdown, but the sock yarn and needles will keep me sane and stop me stressing out during the inevitable wait. The expert sock knitter is always well prepared.
  • Everyone loves warm handknit socks: Yes, handknit socks really are warmer than commercial socks which often contain a large proportion of cotton or synthetic fibres such as nylon. Try and see if you don't believe me. I'm yet to find anyone, who after wearing handknit socks for a day would happily swap them back for a commercial pair.
  • They make ideal gifts: This is a tricky one as you could be making a rod for your own back. Obviously, the point of making beautiful, colourful handknit socks is so that you have a sock drawer to be proud of. Others, once they see your socky prowess may be keen to have some for themselves. By all means knit for gifting if it gives you pleasure, but don't forget that each sock represents hours of your hard work. So choose your giftee wisely and don't ever feel pressured in to knitting for others.
  • They make a perfect small canvas for trying out new techniques or stitches. trying out a new cable pattern for example, over a 70st sock is a lot less daunting than bravely casting on 200st for your first full-on aran sweater.If you make a mistake or find that cabling isn't for you it is a lot less ripping involved and a lot less personal drama.
  • People (ie non knitters) will think you are immensely clever. Just trying wipping out your DPNs or a magic loop needle on public transport if you don't believe me. If I had a pound for every time someone had told me how complicated my knitting looks, I would maybe not be rich but would certainly have a fabulously curated yarn stash. For extra credit, try knitting socks two at a time and watch jaws drop

Socktober is coming

 Louise Tilbrook Designs: Socktober is coming...

Louise Tilbrook Designs: Socktober is coming...

There are many reasons to get excited about autumn here in the northern hemisphere. Winter boots and black tights hide a multitude of sins and there can't be a knitter in the land that doesn't secretly relish being able to wear a handknit sweater all day without ending up as a sweaty puddle on the floor.

For the dedicated sock knitter however, these reasons pale into insignificance beside the annual event that is Socktober. A whole month devoted to knitting socks, wearing handknit socks and talking about socks. Sounds like my idea of heaven.

There are lots of KALs and events going on for this Socktober - La Bien Aimee is hosting a sock KAL for example - just search on Instagram under #socktober and you will see what I mean.

For myself I am setting a personal challenge to knit (and finish) as many pairs of socks as possible during October. A quick inventory of my projects reveals 4 pairs of socks in various stages of being finished:

 A whole lot of sock toes - and not much else

A whole lot of sock toes - and not much else

A pair of vanilla socks in yarn from Countess Ablaze (35% finished)

A pair of grey striped socks for DH (35% finished)

A pair of bright Halloween socks (90% finished)

Two pairs of striped kids socks (knit two at a time) (10% finished)

My aim is to have these finished by October so that I can start November with a few clean pairs of sock needles and lots of fabulous design ideas for 2017.

What are your plans for Socktober. Do leave a comment and let me know or share a picture over on Instagram and tag me - I'm nosy like that.

 

The art of frogging

As a designer I have long since accepted that frogging (ie the act of ripping out one's knitting) is an essential and necessary part of the design process. There is little point in continuing along a path that you can see is doomed to design failure and it usually becomes apparent relatively soon into the design process whether that amazing idea is working out or not.

Similarly. with sample knits which have to be perfect, frogging is essential if you want a good finish. There is little point is hoping that that mis-crossed cable somewhere around the middle of the sock foot will go unnoticed in the finished photos - it won't - in fact it is bound to positively bound from the page and smack you between the eyes every time you look at it.

Frogging in my design work is a given, something to be done and got over with as quickly as possible.

 A half-finished sock awaiting its fate

A half-finished sock awaiting its fate

Frogging in my personal knitting is another matter entirely. I have on my kitchen counter a lonely half finished single sock. In a very cute project bag, but a half-finished sock nevertheless. It has been there for three weeks now and the reason? I turned the heel half an inch too soon an a toe-up sock for my DH and the resulting sock is a smidge too tight when he pulls it on.

In my heart I knew it was just too small and I had him try it on just to confirm my suspicions. 

The sock then sat on my kitchen counter for three weeks, three whole weeks waiting for me to frog it. And yes, I am aware that this also says something about my level of domestic cleanliness. For three weeks the sock mocked me, it was the first thing I saw in the morning as I put the coffee on to brew and the last thing at night as I cleared the kitchen at bedtime.

So, in a fit of organisation before work one morning I seized the sock and while my coffee was brewing I decided to deal with the errant heel.

The result? The heel was frogged, the stitches picked back up and the yarn rewound in less than 5 minutes. I had no idea why I had built it up into such a Herculean task but I was slightly embarrassed that it was so speedy in the end.

The moral of the story (I think) is that such jobs rarely take as much time as you think. Better to get it over with and then you can move on with the project. Maybe reward yourself with a cake afterwards as an added incentive? 

August....already?

July should probably have been renamed as "the month that did not happen" I think. I really try to keep the tone of my blog and my online social media in general as upbeat as possible, whilst of course recognising that 'life happens' and I am not stuck in a circle of perpetual knitted bliss. There is obviously a time and place for sharing more personal information and for me, that place isn't generally online.
There are some times though when events are unavoidable and despite ones best efforts, everything just grinds to a halt. So it has been for me over the past month, although if I'm perfectly honest the warning signs were there back in May. A series of coughs and colds never really subsided and my normal Battle on Regardless attitude came back to bite me on the rear.
A truly dire chest infection was the result which left me profoundly grateful for my normally-good health (and antibiotics) and a newfound resolve to do a bit less Battling and a bit more Caring.
My carefully planned out summer schedule of designs came off the rails completely and I found myself unable or unwilling to contemplate anything beyond simple garter stitch knitting. On the plus side - this generated a very pleasing new stripy shawl design which I hope to be publishing soon. Every cloud has a silver lining...
Now I find myself already partway through the school holidays - how on earth did that happen - and getting ready for a family holiday in our beloved Lake District.
I will be back in about 2 weeks time and by then I hope to feel fitter and more refreshed and relaxed than I am at present. Family time seems in such short supply these days and as my eldest boy starts high school shortly, I am acutely conscious that in a few years time the idea of a family holiday will be much less appealing to him. A few weeks of making precious memories, relaxing and yes - probably cursing under my breath as we walk up yet another mountain.
See you on the other side...
 

 

xx

The Gift of Knitting

This week has been a particularly trying one. Lots going on at home and the impending school holidays rushing towards us like a juggernaut. School activities always take on  more of a frenzy at this time of year, particularly so this time as it is my DS1's last few days at primary school (cue emotional wreck of a mum in the corner).

 Knitting the Amulet shawl - in fabulous speckled yarn from Countess Ablaze.

Knitting the Amulet shawl - in fabulous speckled yarn from Countess Ablaze.

Lots of school plays and after-school activities have meant that my normally busy day has had to expand into the evenings with a sort of taxi-shuttle run service to and from school.

Never have I been more grateful for my knitting. With my trusty project bag (or two) stowed safely in the car I truly don't mind having to sit and wait for an hour (and I would rather do that than waste time and petrol by shuttling to and from home).

Last night, it was a balmy evening for once so I left the car and found myself a perch on a bench in the school grounds. The doors to the junior hall were open (to avoid the occupants dying of heat stroke) and the sounds of joyous (and only slightly off-key) singing wafted across the field.

The previous night I had been watching both my boys perform (whilst dying of heat stroke, seated on a tiny chair) with a tear in my eye and a very full heart. But last night was special too. Just me and my knitting (the new Amulet shawl from Curious Handmade, in case you were wondering) and a fabulous summer evening. I even had hot coffee. And for that one perfect hour - I could bask in the sense of a job well done. No where to be and nothing to do apart from knit - that's my kind of evening.

Ambitious? My weekend knitting plans.

I have high hopes of some serious knitting action this weekend.

As well as two designs that need to be finished - one shawl and one pair of socks - I have two other exciting projects clamouring for my attention.

 Keeping busy this weekend.

Keeping busy this weekend.

The first is the new shawl design from Helen Stewart of Curious Handmade. The Talisman shawl is the first in a series of six shawls which she has called The Shawl Society. Each month sees the release of a new pattern which is kept secret until the release date. As you would expect from Helen, tons of additional information is provided in terms of yarn choice, sizes and top tips to help you achieve a great looking shawl.

I'm not sure that I will manage to keep up with all six - the KAL running over on Ravelry is super busy and full of lots of chatter - but I know that I will be able to work my way through them in my own time and end up with a series of fabulous shawls at the end.

My own personal challenge during this KAL is to use up yarn from my stash, and to use the yarn I have to showcase the fabulous range of indie dyers we have in the UK. Many of the 4ply skeins I have in my stash have come to me via The Golden Skein yarn club and are from some brilliantly talented dyers. As each shawl design is kept secret it is difficult at this stage to know which yarns I will be using but I have quite a lot to pick from so I think I should be OK.

I am knitting Talisman in one of the recommended yarns, which must be a first for me. It just so happened that I had a coveted skein/cake of the Wool Kitchen's Urban Hints yarn which was one of the ones Helen used for the samples.

Urban Hints is a wonderful gradient yarn that gradually introduces speckles of darker colour until eventually you transition fully from light to dark. Interestingly though, Helen opted to start with the dark shade on the outside of the cake and work towards the lighter centre - so I am copying her :) I think the lighter border will work really well with the long crescent shawl border.

Working clockwise we have a sock design using lovely Rusty Ferret yarns from Fluph. My tech editor is primed and ready to go with the pattern draft so I just need to get a wriggle on and get these beauties off the needles.

Next up we have a shawl design using the fabulous new Wenslydale/Shetland 4ply from the Knitting Goddess. Again this is nearly 75% done and just needs a final push to see it on to the next stage of it's journey.

And finally, we have the amazingly addictive Vivid blanket which is approaching completion. Happily the new parents have requested a small pram-sized blanket as all their larger blankets keep dragging on the ground. This means that a 4x3 square arrangement will work perfectly. Just 1 square to go and then I get to practice my mattress stitch skills and turn it into a Finished Object. One more to go towards my Stash Dash total.

Right, that's my objectives sorted. How about yours? Do feel free to leave a comment below or tag me on social media with your #weekendknitting plans.

 

All hail the mighty KAL

There seems to be something in the knitterly brain that happens around the beginning of June. Always happy to be swept along or enabled into casting on 'just one more pattern', the onset of June traditionally sees the start of a whole festival of KALs. And I for one, am happy to go along for the ride.

First up, I do have to give a plug for my own KAL - Running from June 1st to Jul 31st for those knitting the Hebridean Hap. This was inspired by and designed using the fabulous Daughter of a Shepherd yarn from Rachel Atkinson (of My Life in Knitwear). You don't need to use the specific yarn but you do need to have a love of squishy garter stitch, cosy shawls and a bit of fun chatter. The thread is over on my Ravelry group - please do pop over and say hi. If you are knitting the hap, show us your shawl and if not, maybe we can tempt you?

Next up is the #summersockskal run and hosted by the brilliant Rae (aka MmedeBeauvoir on Ravelry and Psychoknitter on Instagram). Rae is hosting a really fun and chatty group for this celebration of all things sock related - her Ravelry group is here.

There are no rules - other than to chat about socks, sock patterns, sock tips and general enabling. Whether you are new to socks or an experienced sock ninja the group is open and welcoming to all comers.

Of course, at the root of this summer related knitting obsession is the annual Stash Dash event. Hosted by the KnitGirlls and running from the end of May to mid August the aim is to keep track (in metres and Km) the exact amount of yarn which leaves your stash in the form of finished objects. All the details and answers to many questions can be found over on their group - but with goals ranging from a 3K jog to a 15K marathon it has a wide ranging appeal and is wildly popular.

And just in case I was in danger of finding myself with insufficient WIPs, two new KALs appear in view to tempt me.

Helen of Curious Handmade has announced the launch of her new secret Shawl Society pattern club. Starting on June 8th the first shawl pattern will be released and one of the recommended yarns - Urban Hints - is that dyed by my friend and fellow woolhead Helen of The Wool Kitchen. A skein of that very yarn currently resides in my stash so it would be rude not to join in..no?

 

 

And then, just to finish me off, the charming Ellipsissy on Ravelry (the_ellipsissy on IG) posted a few pictures of her new project - the Vivid blanket squares by Tincan Knits. Except she is knitting them in superb natural yarns from Isla of BritYarn. Totally gorgeous and utterly compelling. A wet and windy bank holiday weekend (is there any other) saw me grabbing the needles and some stash yarn and casting on. Six squares later I appear to have accidentally started a new baby blanket project (the good news is that each completed square counts towards my Stash Dash tally) and also agreed to host an informal KAL on my group. The #minivividkal is growing by the day though and isn't quite as mini as it once was.

There is something extremely addictive about these innocent looking little squares - please do pop over to the group to check them out - but don't say that I didn't warn you :)

Right, that's enough from me I think. If anyone wants me this weekend I'll be hiding in the spare bedroom frantically knitting whilst my family subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and takeaway pizza.

 

Happy Knitting!

 

 

 

My magic formula for happiness: A Toe-up sock in self-striping yarn

I am a firm believer in not messing with perfection and the first thing I want to do when faced with an amazing skein of hand-dyed self striping sock yarn is to knit it into a perfectly plain and splendid pair of socks.

My default, stress-free option is to work a pair of stockinette, toe-up socks using the magic loop technique and my beloved Hiya Hiya sharp circular needles. If they are socks for me (I wear a UK size 6 shoe) I work on the basis of 60st and a 2.5mm needle. My husband usually gets a 72st sock with a 3x1 rib on the foot and leg.

Teaching toe-up sock knitting is one of my favourite classes to teach and I created the Have Fun Socks pattern as a freebie. Both to accompany the class and to offer as a free Ravelry download to all those thinking of trying out the wonderful world of toe-up socks. This pattern uses a standard short row heel but - full confession time - if I am knitting for myself I nearly always opt for a Fish Lips Kiss Heel. Obviously I can't infringe copyright and reproduce the pattern myself but I urge anyone who will listen to me to spend the $1 required to obtain this fabulous pattern for themselves.

I have taught some fairly resistant toe-up sock knitters in my time and one of their chief bugbears is often the fact that a "normal" short row heel doesn't fit very well. The FLK heel overcomes a lot of these difficulties and the additional information provided within the pattern gives you all the information you need to fit socks to the most challenging of feet.

If you want to preserve the continuity of those perfect stripes you can work the heel in a contrast colour - or wind off 10g yarn from the skein before you start knitting the sock, to use for the heels. The latter option involves a certain amount of prior thought however, and when faced with the giddy excitement of a new skein of yarn I admit that I often overlook this step.

The only exception to my winning formula is if I am travelling or otherwise out in public, and I'm not sure when to stop for the heel. If they are for me I can usually just measure (assuming my tape measure hasn't been pilfered out of my notions bag by small boys) but often I do prefer to try them on - just to make sure the heel goes in the correct place.

In the past I have tried on a sock WIP on public transport and I can attest to the fact that this will usually generate a fair number of curious (and sometimes even horrified) looks. To avoid public shame and embarrassment I now normally take the cowards way out and just continue up the leg to knit a long (13-14") tube and put in an afterthought heel.

If this thought fills you with horror - watch out for my mini tutorial on this - next week.