Progress...and a quandry

I'm sure it can't just be me who always seems to reach a sticking point partway through their project. All is going swimmingly, the yarn is fabulous, you love the way it works with the pattern and then, all of a sudden, nothing. All motivation dries up, disappears and the project descends into the the WIP basket never to be seen again.

For me, the crucial point is about 75% of the way through something. Even though my logical brain tells me that just a bit more effort and I'll be casting off, my less than rational brain is yearning to go and do something else. This is often compounded, as in the case of this shawl, when a crucial design decision is needed.

This is warm and squishy DK weight yarn and I'm keen to use as much of the yarn I had as possible - Cumbria DK from The Fibre Co. I'm now at the stage to do the border and the plan I had in my head doesn't look quite right. I find myself in a quandry and so of course I do what I normally do in this situation - cast on for something else.

But, today I am being good. It's coffee at the ready and thinking caps on. Today this shawl will have a border and I will be a happy designer - probably.

Starting on the right foot

For me, this is the perfect start to any day. Give me half an hour with some wool and some strong hot coffee and I'm ready to face the day. If I have to bypass this step and get straight into the morning chaos then nothing ever quite seems to go right and I spend the rest of the day feeling grumpy and out of sorts.

Half an hour of silence, with just the birds going nuts with the dawn chorus outside. Half an hour without being asked to find something, wash something or feed someone. Half an hour to feel the wool in my hands and the rhythmic, soothing making of stitches and all is right with the world. 

I always have my knitting with me obviously  and will happily pick it up and knit at every opportunity but somehow nothing is more important than that first half an hour. Just me and my yarn, making something.

Socks vs sleeves

They are both knit in the round. They both are knit in plain stocking stitch and they both take quite a while to complete. Yet why do socks practically fly off the needles and sleeves take a small eternity? Its the perennial question and I'm sure that I can't be the only knitter that thinks so.

The answer must be in the colours - more specifically in the stripes which cheer you on. Shouting encouragement and brining about the well known 'one more round syndrome'.

Sleeves generally have the disadvantage of being relatively plain - although a fun stripy sweater has long been on my to-do list. In addition if you are starting at the cuff and working up they have the extra disadvantage of growing in circumference as you increase the stitch count.

I have found a few tips that do help me with my sleeve nemesis though and I thought I would share them in case you find them helpful too.

1. Use a small circumference circular needle, even if it means you need to invest in a couple of different cable lengths. For example I started my DK grey sweater sleeve on a 4mm 30cm Addi turbo needle and then moved the stitches onto a 60cm needle as the stitch count grew. Being able to whizz round and round and get into the knitting groove really helps to get odd rounds done here and there.

2. Use some jazzy stitch markers to liven things up. It won't speed the knitting up but it will make it prettier.

3. To save having to stop and count stitches use a clip on marker or bulb pin to mark each increase. Far easier to count a row of markers than to count stitches again and again, each time hoping that you have reached the magic number.

4. Use sleeves as a portable travel project and work them whilst out and about, while your sweater body lives at home. This idea came from the renowned Elizabeth Zimmerman and as with most of her advice, is an excellent tip. Nothing worse than slogging your way through the body of a sweater only to find that the sleeves are yet to happen. Much better to be able to crack on and join them up whilst the motivation is strong and crack on with the yoke.

Right, enough procrastinating for me. One sleeve is almost done so I'm going to get the other one underway to be this week's travel knitting.

Time out

This weekend we are having a bit of a back to basics theme. We have two young boys, who like all young children everywhere love their tablets and electronic devices. It's all too easy to end up with a situation where they are relied on too heavily though and so, with the arrival of warmer spring weather we have declared that electronic gadgets are not to be used during the day.

Obviously this means that DH and myself need to be aware of our screen time too - hmmm- double edged sword possibly. But it does give me more time for knitting and also for taking the opportunity for some family walks.

This blue bell wood near our village is a favourite at this time of the year and it's such a special treat to just sit and take it all in. The sight and scent of so many beautiful bluebells is really heavenly and it was lovely to be able to share it with the boys today.

It may not excite them in quite the same way as Minecraft but I hope that when they grow up the remember it and do the same with their children.

Getting my ducks in a row

After the brightness of yesterday it's back to the grey sweater but I have a cunning plan to liven things up. When doing bottom-up sweater knitting I follow the timeless advice of Elizabeth Zimmerman and start a sleeve (or two) to have as a travel knitting project. That way you don't find yourself in the unenviable position of triumphantly finishing the body only to realise that you have two sleeves to slog through before being able to make more progress.

To help my eyes - this grey is really pretty dark - I am marking the sleeve increases with these fun dinosaur bulb pins. It just helps to be able to see where my last increase was and let's face it, they brighten up the grey too.

I have the house to myself for a precious hour this morning so it's eyes down and powering on through to the armhole for this sleeve - wish me luck.

Rainbows really do knit faster

There are times when you cast off a project so pretty and so happiness inducing that you just want to wave it triumphantly as you parade through the streets. If knitters were in charge this would be totally acceptable social behaviour by the way. Here in out semi rural market town it might well raise some (well plucked) eyebrows so I am parading it here instead.

This shawl started life as a sock yarn blank from The Wool Kitchen and to be truthful I really didn't enjoy the process of knitting with the kinky yarn straight from the blank. I am reliably informed that at a tighter sock tension this is less of an issue but for me, with a garter stitch shawl at a looser gauge I wasn't happy with the fabric. But a quick reskein and took care of that and it was well worth the extra time for the hours of simple knitting pleasure this yarn gave me.

And judging by the time it took me to knit this version of my Fuss Free Festival Shawl I can scientifically confirm that it is indeed true. Rainbow yarn knits up significantly faster than regular yarn. Something about racing to get to the next colour, particularly when you can see it keeping out enticingly from the handwound ball.

So there we have it. A pretty, one skein shawl which knits up at the speed of light. All we need are unicorns and we are pretty much covered. 

 

Any colour you like.... as long as it's grey

My husband is eminently knitworthy. He appreciates my knitting and is suitably careful with any knitted items that I care to knit for him. A recent tally of my current projects though revealed 3 items destined for him, all of which have stalled at various points. And after careful consideration I think I have pinned down the cause.

They are all grey!

Now, don't get me wrong. I love grey as much as the next person. In fact probably a little more than the average person but there is a limit. Especially when knitting something which is so much larger than I would usually knit for myself. DH is a tall, broad chap who likes his sweaters roomy. A 51" chest sweater in DK yarn is a heck of a lot of knitting whichever way you look at it. Add in the fact that it is plain grey stocking stitch with no pattern or means of entertainment and it's easy to see why I am easily distracted by other projects. 

The challenge is to prevent his WIPs from sinking to the bottom of the pile and by working on them, even a little bit, to prevent stagnation.

My current cunning plan is to keep the giant grey sweater in the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. That way I can pick it up and plug away at it whilst attending to the usual domestic stuff of cooking and homework. The time when I would normally pick up my phone for a bit of mindless surfing I will now be adding a few more stitches to it. 

Nothing against the pattern itself of course. It is Rift by Jared Flood and it's a great pattern with a hint of ribbing detail at the sides and shoulders. It will be a great sweater tonwear - eventually.

Don't know what to work on? Top tips for overcoming knitters paralysis

We've all been there. A mountain of WIPs beckons but nothing appeals to you. Nothing is saying ' work on me'. Some projects are in time out. Some require a decision and can't be progressed until you've bitten the bullet. And let's face it, some are just plain boring and the initial excitement of a shiny new project has worn off.

In this situation my classic response is to reach for Ravelry or mooch around in my stash and cast on for something shiny and new.

Yesterday though I am proud to report that instead of doing this I sought advice from some clever knitters in the Everyday Knitter Facebook group and they came up with some cracking suggestions for overcoming knitters paralysis. Some of them are offered here along with a few of my own suggestions.

1. Claire and Gem suggested picking the WIP closest to completion and getting it finished - going for the quick win. With several socks just needing afterthought heels that seemed like a pretty good suggestion to me.

2. Viv suggested picking the oldest WIP and doing something - anything - on it. My oldest project is a very large and very grey sweater for DH. Although I love him to bits I do not love the knitting of this sweater.

3. Go for a scattergun approach and work on each WIP in turn for half an hour. This can be quite useful to allow yourself time to get reacquainted with each project and can help you to overcome any obstacles - or to realise why you set it aside in the first place. 

4. Reach into the project pile and have a knitters lucky dip. Promise yourself that you will work for an hour on whatever you pull out. I was quite safe with this one as sheer weight meant I could identify DHs sweater by touch and therefore I could cunningly avoid it.

I decided on a combination of picking an old project (sweater) and a project near completion (1 afterthought heel completed) and I'm pleased to report that progress has been made. The challenge for today is to repeat the plan - and mostly not to get distracted by the 10 skeins of DK I want to make into a sweater for myself.

 

Lesson learned

I fully intended to blog every day during our holiday. I really did. But then a funny thing happened. A thing that doesn't happen to me very often. A thing called relaxation. And it was proper relaxation, the kind where you have no idea what day of the week it is, never mind the date. The kind when you struggle to remember what you do for your day job and where you left the spare key for the cat sitter.

As a result daily blogging went out of the window. Also it didn't help that I remembered my laptop but forgot the charger. I did write in my journal most days which I love to do when I have the time but I have to confess that I did miss my daily blogging.

Anyway, here we are. Back home and ready to get back into our routine. Even though part of my mind (and a good part of my heart) is 250 miles north. Many bags need to be unpacked and I need to make contact with my stash again, having had separation anxiety from it. Some knitting occurred during all that holidaying and relaxing I'm pleased to report and now I feel the urge to dust off all my WIPs and make plans to get them finished. Spring startitis is all very well but I want to see some completed projects now. And also, I've run out of 4mm needles.

And breathe...

And breathe.. .

There's something very soothing and very special about visiting the same place at the same time of year, each year. Every year we rent the same cottage in this little corner of the Lake District and it is such a special place.

The amount of knitting that gets done though can be variable and is heavily dependent on the weather. Fine, sunny days see us out on the fells as a family whilst wet and windy days are for cosy cottage hunkering down. Fortunately for me springtime is a very variable time of year here. We have been in the cottage with 5 feet of snow outside and we've been here with the boys skinny dipping in rivers.

This week is the usual mix of sunshine and showers with a good dose of knitting predicted too and I can't wait.

Holibobs

It's an early start for the family today as we attempt to cram all our possessions into the car and make our regular pilgrimage north to the Lake District. It's a mark of how busy the past few weeks have been that I havent even thought about my holiday knitting, much less packed anything 

One option is just to gather up a selection of WIPs and bung them in the boot. The other option is to grab a few skeins of yarn and my needles and start something new and unspecified - every holiday should have a new cast on...no? The sensible option would be to go for option one but I think you can probably guess that option 2 is by far the most appealing one to me.

I may be a bit quieter than usual on social media but I will still be around - there night just be a few more photos of sheep than usual.

Our most important tools: and top tips to look after them

As knitters we are often asked what our favourite tools and notions are and we will happily discuss the merits of wooden needles vs metal ones. We rarely give much thought to our most important tools of all though - our hands.

I experienced a mild bout of RSI a few years ago after trying to take part in a challenge to knit 26 pairs of socks in a year. I got to June if memory serves but all that sock knitting took its toll and I had to take a short break from knitting altogether. That experience was so unpleasant, and the thought of not being able to knit was so uncomfortable (read: horrific) that I vowed to take better care of my most important tools in the future.

1. I always try to give myself a weekly manicure. If my nails and hands look good I'm more inclined to treat them better. I try to wear gloves whilst washing up and doing the housework and have little pots of handcream dotted around the house and in my project bags. I particularly like the solid lotion bars, such as the Love + leche ones pictured above, for my knitting bag as there is no risk of the dreaded lotion explosion.

2. Some knitting friends on Instagram recently shared a tip with me for smoothing rough skin when working with silk yarns - which will catch on every tiny flaw. Mix a small amount of olive oil with sugar or salt and use to massage into your hands. Rinse under hot water and dry.

3. Frequent breaks. I take a tip from the Knitmore Girls and take a short break in my knitting every 15 minutes. Even if it is just to set down the needles, flex my fingers and move my gaze to somewhere in the middle distance (my eyes also have a habit of complaining if I focus too long in one spot). I do this even when power knitting to meet a deadline but I do find it hard to remember sometimes so I set a reminder on my phone.

4. Stretches. I found this website a few years ago and they have a great series of hand exercises specifically for knitters which I try to do as often as I can. 

I hope these tips help you to take care of your mitts and if you have any top tips that work for you do please let me know, I'd love to hear them.

If you need a bit of motivation you could always check out the #nailsandknitting hashtag on Instagram where people (myself included) have fun matching their nails to their yarn. If you are going to be taking a photograph of your hands that's always a good incentive to slap a bit of handcream on.

Fuss Free Festival Shawl - with added stripes

I am really pleased to say that my Fuss Free Festival Shawl pattern has now been expanded to include directions for making a striped version. The original uses just 1 skein of sockweight yarn and the striped version uses this plus 25g of a contrast colour.

You could go the whole hog and use both skeins to create a larger two colour shawl - just keep going with the contrast colour. Just make sure you save enough yarn for the picot bind off if you want it to be in the main colour.

In the pattern I've allowed fairly generous yarn estimates but the pattern is very adaptable and you could easily change it to suit the yarn amounts you have.

When estimating the yarn needed for the bind off the conventional wisdom states that you measure the length of knitting to be bound off and then multiply this by 3 to give you the length of yarn you will need to finish the bind off. It's important to remember that a picot bind off uses considerably more yarn than normal and so I would probably double this number just to be on the safe side.

The pattern is available to purchase on Ravelry or if you sign up to my newsletter you can snaffle it for free for a limited time. If you are already a subscriber - check your email as you should have received an email with the update in it yesterday.

I really hope you have fun with this pattern and I can't wait to see how the different projects take shape.

 

 

My first sock blank

I've never knitted with a sock blank before and this year I was determined to give it a go. I wasn't sure how I would feel about knitting with kinky yarn and to be honest as soon as I started knitting with it I knew that I couldn't knit a whole shawl with it. I think it might work better for socks where you knit at a tighter tension but trying to knit a garter stitch shawl on 4mm needles left me with a very wobbly and unpleasant fabric indeed.

I knit the start of another Fuss Free Festival Shawl - maybe just a few inches and then blocked it still on the needles. I just wanted to see what a difference blocking made to the fabric. It helped but didn't entirely get rid of the wibbliness so I decided to wind the yarn into a skein and soak it to get rid of the kinks. 

I was planning to take photographs of the process but in the interests of honesty and authenticity I have to report that it didn't go well. There may have been a cat intervention at a crucial point. Winding yarn with such kinky energy into a skein takes some concentration and effort and things ended in a heck of a tangle.

There was swearing involved and let's just say that you wouldn't have wanted to see pictures of the ensuing chaos. But with a bit of patience I got the yarn soaked, dried and then to beat the tangles I handwound it into a ball.

Now that the faffing is done I can relax and enjoy the knitting. The gradual shift in grey tones is very pleasing but part of my just wants to knit faster to get to the colours!

Just one more row...

Just one more row - is the eternal cry of knitters everywhere. Or in my case - crochet - as this week my crochet blanket square is nearing completion and I'm keen to finish it up and get started on the next one. We are going away at the weekend for a family holiday and the next square in the series will be perfect to take along with me.

In the case of this blanket though it isn't just the 'one more row' which is appealing but also the 'one more colour'. I'm normally a big fan of grey and neutral shades as you well know but I'm really enjoying playing with the pretty seasonal pastels and pinks for this square. I can't decide whether to keep the same colours for the next 3 panels or whether to change them up a bit as we move from spring into early summer. I can't decide yet but I think I will just keep working and see how the colours flow.

One thing I'm not looking forward to is the Weaving In Of All The Ends and part of me is wishing that I had been doing them as I went along. Obviously this now seems like a blindingly good idea but at the beginning, in the full throes of blanket enthusiasm this wasn't something that occurred to be as I gleefully seized on pretty colour after pretty colour.

Thinking ahead to my next square I have been looking at other ways of ends management and I see that some people are big advocates of crocheting over the ends as you go - Lucy of Attic24 has a tutorial on it here. I know that some people also do a version of a magic join but I am a little wary of this as I don't want it to pop open.

If you have any tried and tested ways of avoiding the dreaded Ends please do let me know. And if anyone wants me today I'll be in front of Netflix with a dwindling pack of sweeties and a (hopefully) growing pile of little woolly ends.

Monday Motivation

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you will know that I'm a huge fan of a to-do list for helping me to get stuff done. Whilst that's great for the normal chores and business tasks it doesn't help much on the crafting front where my attempts at steely focus are easily distracted by the new, the shiny and the pretty.

What has been working recently though is the Mojo Monday thread over on the Everyday Knitter Facebook group. Every Monday we pick a WIP to make progress on and then on the Friday we show our finished object (FO). I have to say that it is proving to be a great source of motivation for me. Obviously life happens sometimes and plans change. Sometimes knitting has to come second to other life events (shocking but true) but in that case you simply award yourself some consolatory cake and admire the FOs of others.

What really helps is seeing the motivation and enthusiasm of others and there is the gentle accountability of having publicly stated your goals out loud which I find does wonders for your focus and determination.

What helps motivate you? Do let me know. And if you have any spare motivation hanging around please send it my way. This mountain of WIPs isn't going to knit itself.

All the shawls

Fuss Free Festival Shawl in yarn from Countess Ablaze 

Fuss Free Festival Shawl in yarn from Countess Ablaze 

There has been a lot of discussion over on the Everyday Knitters Facebook group about shawls and shawl patterns and I'm finding it so inspirational seeing everyone's choices and shawls in progress.

If you are looking for inspiration there is another facebook group recently started by Victoria of Eden Cottage Yarns. I know that some people aren't huge Facebook fans but there is an app - called Facebook groups appropriately enough - which allows you to not have Facebook at all on your phone or device. You can use the app to access groups but nothing else - perfect for getting your daily dose of knitting.

Anyway, there are several threads over on The ECY Garden all about recommendations for 2-colour and 3-colour shawls. Perfect if you are looking for a bit of shawl inspiration.

If you are completely new to shawls and looking for some ideas I've put together a few suggestions to get you started:

Hitchhiker by Martina Behm: a long, wrappable garter stitch shawl knit on the bias.

Knit Me by Louise Zass-Bangham: more wrappable garter stitch with a different construction.

Spindrift by Curious Handmade - beautifully simple shawl with super clear instructions.

Fuss Free Festival Shawl by Me - a garter stitch shawl knit on the bias.

Of course you are more than welcome to choose whichever pattern you want for our April shawl challenge but these are just some to start with. If you would rather pick up a WIP and work on that, that's absolutely fine. And if you really aren't into shawls then why not try a cowl instead?

There's something for everyone. The most important thing is that you pick up some fun yarn and enjoy the process.

 

 

Yewbarrow Socks

It makes me very happy to be able to send my latest sock design out into the world today.

Yewbarrow is a fabulous, accessible mountain in Wasdale in the Lake District. Perfect for our boys when they were smaller to stretch their mountain legs and get used to steep rock scrambles and uneven terrain.

Viewed from the lakeside Yewbarrow looks formidable but once the first rocky ascent is done it is actually a pretty easy walk. Likewise these toe-up socks look complicated but the cable pattern is actually a very easy repeat to memorise.

You can purchase the pattern and find all the details on Ravelry - please use code YEWBARROW20 for a 20% discount. If you are a newsletter subscriber though please check your email for an exclusive code.

 

 

Making something out of nothing

The art of creating something from nothing: otherwise known as Judy’s magic cast on

No matter how many pairs of socks I make I never fail to be amazed by the sheer ingenuity, the brilliance and the downright magic of Judy’s magic cast on.

First popularised in the now-famous Knitty article the simple series of steps has revolutionised the world of the toe-up knitter and brought joy to the heart of all those knitters who secretly wish that Lord Kitchener had never dreamt up the eponymous stitch for closing a toe.

The beauty of the JMCO is that it magically creates two rows of live stitches from nothing with no need for a provisional cast on or other fibre faffing.

Hold the two yarn ends with finger and thumb, wrap the yarn around the needles just so, knit 2 tiny rows and there you have it - a perfect, seamless, baby sock toe. 5 minutes ago it didn’t exist and now it does. Sheer magic which never fails to amaze me as I stop to admire the stitches that have appeared between my needles.

It’s true that it does take a little while to get to grips with the wrapping, and the first 2 rows can be a little fiddly but once you have those mastered it you can cast on a pair of socks in less time than it takes to boil the kettle. And in the time it takes for your coffee to reach an acceptable drinking temperature you can have a fully fledged sock toe, ready to shove in your handbag and keep you company on your daily travels.

The original article is well worth reading on this subject - it explains everything brilliantly and far better than I can. If you want to see a demo in action I can highly recommend Clare Devine of Knit Share Love who has a fantastic video. Alternatively, check out this link for an video tutorial.

Like anything worthwhile it can take a few goes before you have the technique down pat, but once you do you can whip out your needles and a cake of yarn and before you know it - you’ll be knitting a sock.

A celebration requires cake

Unbelievably I had no cake on hand yesterday and when I noticed that membership of the Everyday Knitter Facebook group had crept past the 2000 mark I felt as though a small celebration was called for. 

Still, a yarn cake was almost the same thing and I promise that no yarn was harmed in the making of this photo.

I am really thrilled and genuinely delighted that so many like minded people have joined in the online community that we have created. Focussing on inspiration, education and fun it's the group I go to first thing every morning and it has undoubtedly made my Facebook feed a lot more fun.

Thank you to all who have helped to make the group what it is, and if you haven't joined yet why not pop over there and give us a try.

All are welcome...just bring cake