Knitting life

Blanket conumdrums

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It's not often that I'm seized with a sudden need to finish up a project (as my current WIP pile will attest to) but this weekend I found myself gripped by a sudden notion that my sock yarn blanket needed to be finished. Ravelry tells me that it has been on the needles for over 4 years now and even though I knew at the outset that it was a long term project I think it's fair to say that my progress on it has been sporadic to say the least.

To square it off I only needed to add 12 more squares so I set about it with a zeal - only slightly hindered by the fact that I could only find part of my sock yarn scraps. As I was knitting on the squares I found myself pondering the reasons the project had taken so long and I found myself coming up with a pros/cons list of working such a blanket:

Knit as you go - the appeal of "no sewing up" at the end is a big one, I'll admit. I've tried projects like this before - the Beekeeper Quilt is one that springs to mind - and my initial enthusiasm soon wanes in the face of all those teeny tiny squares waiting to be joined. Balanced against this however is the fact that the blanket soon loses any hint of portability. A lot of my down-time is either when travelling or on holiday and this blanket soon became too large to take anywhere with me.

It also means that you need to pay particular attention to colour placement if, like me, you don't want a completely random effect. I was really keen to create a blanket with a cohesive balanced look and that meant being a little bit careful with my colour choices. I have a few key colours and yarns which I wanted to space out throughout the blanket and I didn't want to risk running out whilst only half way through. When you are joining squares at the end you have a lot more freedom in colour placement and can move squares about to your hearts content until you find an effect you like.

Anyway, back to my progress. I finished just 1 square short of the blanket - it will be done tonight though. But in spreading it out on my bed I had to face an uncomfortable truth. I had succeeded in making it wide enough - which was very pleasing. I am though quite a few strips short of having it be long enough to pass itself off as anything more than an oversized lap blanket.

I have decided though for the good of my sanity that's it's necessary to mark it in Ravelry as finished, to deal with the ends and to actually use it as a finished "Thing".

Part of the nature and the eternal appeal of these blankets is that you can go back and add to them over time and that's exactly what I plan to do with this. For that reason I'm not going to add a border right now. I'm just going to use it and enjoy it, and who knows, whilst I'm snuggled up under it during the coming winter months I might just add to it a little here and there.

The challenge of course will be not to put all my yarn scraps in a "safe place" but to keep them where I can find them.

 

Using my Bullet Journal as a Knitter

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge lover of notebooks in general and bullet journaling in particular. In my opinion there is no problem so insurmountable that a good detailed list and some highlighters can’t fix.

As I know that fellow BuJo fans can never resist a peek into a fellow journaling layout I thought I would share my July planning pages with you and talk a little more in detail about how I combine my twin loves of knitting and bullet journaling.

First of all, if you are new to the idea of bullet journaling you can read more about it at these fabulous resources

Bullet Journaling - by Ryder Carroll

Boho Berry

Tiny Ray of Sunshine

Monthly Spread

My usual bullet journal spread is plain and functional  - no washi tape for me - and at the start of each month I have my calendar/advance planning and then on the double page directly after that I have my monthly knitting plans.

This varies from month to month according to my mood and what I’m working on but at the moment it takes the form of a basic tracker where I list all the projects I want to make progress on this month. I don’t religiously track everything but it helps me to focus on where I want to direct my efforts.

I also keep a note of projects in the pipeline and things that I want to follow up on. And I keep a separate section for monthly challenges or particular hashtags that I want to use or follow. So for July for example - #stashdash is an obvious one that I want to use and engage with.

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New projects

When I start a new project it gets a fresh double page in my journal and I make a note of it in the index too so I don’t forget. I use this page to keep a note of any pattern adjustments I might make, what needles I'm using and where any particular supplies are kept. Reading this it sounds as though I'm so organised but I think it's fair to say that this section often ends up with a lot of bits of scrap paper jammed in there too.

Other ideas

This is just the basics as I try to keep most of my notes organised electronically these days. But nothing beats the trusty pen and paper especially when you are out and about or your phone battery is flat. I know that other BuJo fans use theirs to keep a track of what they want to buy at yarn festivals for example, or to keep track of their purchasing or stash (scary thought).

But that's the joy of the bullet journal - endlessly adaptable and flexible. It can the knitting planner you've always dreamed of. You just need to use it and make it work for you.

If you don't mind I'd love to see how you use yours - just tag me on Instagram or leave a comment below.

 

 

Stripy socks really do go faster

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I’ve been plugging away on a plain vanilla sock - no pattern - for what seems like eons now but which is in actual fact just a few weeks. It’s lovely yarn, a hand dyed sock yarn blank. Dyed to create lovely speckles and splashes of colour as you knit, but if it weren’t for a few strategically placed stitch markers I would feel as though I were making no progress at all.

A recent pair of stripy socks though positively flew off the needles. So much so that I swear house elves have been coming in at night in a scenario reminiscent of the Elves and the Shoemaker fairytale. The magic promise of “just one more colour” combined with a few Netflix watching sessions - DH and I are currently addicted to The Last Kingdom - meant that a few times in the morning I picked up my knitting only to be genuinely surprised at how much I had done the previous night.

I don’t know about the laws of space and time but it seems to me that stripy socks occupy a time dimension all of their very own.

How I knit and read at the same time

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I post a lot of photos of my knitting, often with my Kindle alongside as that’s my favourite way to spend a bit of down time, and I’m frequently asked how I manage to knit and read at the same time.

I think it’s important to say up front that this isn't something that I do all the time and I’m certainly not some sort of multi-tasking guru. Only certain kinds of knitting is appropriate for this and only at certain times. But yes, with that caveat in place I believe it is perfectly possible with a little practice to teach yourself to knit without looking at your yarn. Your eyes are then free to watch TV, go to the cinema or indeed to read. I don't know about you but my reading time really suffered when I took up knitting and I really needed to find a way to bring it back into my daily life.

It really is a habit and we often look at our stitches just because they are there. We don’t really need to see what we are doing as we are relying on touch and muscle memory to do most of the work for us. A lot of the time I watch my stitches just because it is soothing and slightly hypnotic and because who doesn’t like to see pretty colours.

But if you do want to branch out a little and expand your skill set I put together a few simple tips for knitting without looking at your stitches:

Pick something simple - preferably all stocking stitch or garter stitch. Something like a sock or a hat knit in the round is perfect, especially if you are using a circular needle.

Start to knit and for a stitch or two try closing your eyes or glancing away from your work.

Use a Kindle, e-reader or a book that will stay open by itself. Put the book on a flat surface in front of you.

Just take it slowly, don’t rush the stitches and have patience with yourself. Don’t try to do any complicated cabling just yet or to read War and Peace. Just pick some lovely smooth yarn (something that doesn't split) and a good, relaxing read.

Have a go - just a few minutes every day - and you might just surprise yourself.

 

 

The joys of scrappy socks

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If you’ve seen any of my Instagram photos recently you will be under no doubt that I have recently become a tiny bit obsessed with scrappy socks - using up odds and ends of scrap sock yarn to create delightfully odd and mismatching stripy socks.

We all have those tiny bits of sock yarn lying around - too small to be made into a mitered square on the memory blanket (each of my blanket squares needs about 3g) but too much to bear to throw away - and these are the perfect project to make use of them.

Thrifty and colourful - talk about a win win!

If I’m totally honest though the one thing that has put me off scrappy socks in the past has been the words feared and dreaded by all knitters - “Weaving in the Ends”. But, after my friend Tash recommended a life changing new technique to me I have become a total and utter convert to the world of scrappy socks.

The Clasped Weft Join achieves the Holy Grail of the knitting world- being simple to work, super quick and requiring absolutely no end manipulation. Just a quick snip and away you go with the next colour.

I originally learnt the technique by watching the YouTube tutorial filmed by Boston Jen and I highly recommend taking a look - it’s super quick and you’ll have the method down pat after just a few practices.

This makes it the ideal project for when you are travelling or out and about. Just grab a few tiny scraps of yarn (more for a long journey) and a pair of scissors or travel snips and you are good to go.

I’ve knit one sock already and am already well underway with the next. Unusually me for I’m not trying to match them and I can say with some surprise that it really is quite unexpectedly freeing. I am drawing from the same batch of colours and each stripe is 7 rows deep but these are my only ‘self-imposed’ rules.

It's really quite addictive, just to be able to reach into my little bag, grab a new colour, quickly join and away you go. I can predict many more of these colourful, fun socks in my future now.



 

Love your LYS - either online or in person

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In the face of the relentless encroachment of online shopping and the large commercial companies all using their considerable resources to vie for our attention, it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it all. So much is made of the convenience of online shopping, the speed and the price that it's easy to just shrug your shoulders and go with the flow.

But even the snazziest of websites, with all their glossy photos and shiny banners can’t hope to compete with the sensory overload that is a yarn shop. As knitters and crafters we are tactile creatures. Never more at home than when using our senses to see, touch, smell and even listen to yarn. Don’t laugh - don't tell me you don’t love the pleasing crunch that a rustic tweedy yarn makes when you squish it between your fingers?

Such is the effect of a yarn shop that many knitters will simply stop on crossing over the threshold and take a moment just to look around and let their senses acclimatise to the dazzling array of colours and textures on offer.

Now tell me the last time that buying from a website made you feel like that. Did your heart skip a beat as you opened up the web page. Did you pause to appreciate the joy as you clicked the checkout button? I very much doubt it.

It’s important to note that I make an exception in this to online shopping with indie dyers such as Countess Ablaze and Eden Cottage Yarns. Both of these yarns I rarely get to meet in person so online shopping really is the next best thing to plonking myself down in their studios for a cup of tea and a yarn squish.

As well as the sense of community that a yarn shop can foster - the classes, the expertise and help available, the knitting groups and just the sheer joy of being around like minded people and it’s clear that buying yarn online is a very poor relation.

Now I know there are times when it just isn’t possible to buy yarn in an LYS. Not every town has one for a start or it may not stock what you need. Difficulties with transport, with access and choice can all play a part and leave you reaching for the mouse instead.

But when you do, as we all do from time to time please bear in mind that you have a choice over where you spend your hard earned money. Unlike with book buying online (where Amazon has pretty much annihilated the competition) the same isnt true - yet - of yarn shopping.

You could chose to click on one of those well known online yarn giants whose well placed Google Ads fall so conveniently at the top of the search screens. Or you could choose to scroll a little and shop online from one of the many UK LYSs who have fabulous websites and offer a great alterative online shopping experience.

After all, it may not be a yarn shop local to you but it is still local to someone else. And even if the small independent yarn shop is solely online (as opposed to being a bricks and mortar shop) your money will still go into the local economy where that small business is based.

Just as convenient - you can still shop for yarn at 10pm in your PJs. Just as easy - modern websites and payment systems means that even the smallest of LYS can invest in a slick purchasing system and in a few clicks that yarn can be on it’s way to you.

The difference is that you will have the peace of mind that knowing you have supported a real person, a real small (often family run) business. A real LYS that doesn't have the advertising budget to compete with the “big box” stores but which still very much has a valuable service to offer.

So, as it was Yarn Shop Day on May 12th, wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need a special day to remind us. What if every day was an LYS Day - where we make a conscious choice to support our LYSs - even if they are miles away from where we live.

 

10 uses for removable stitch markers

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You may have noticed from some of my social media posts that I have a not-so-secret fondness for those little bulb pins - sometimes called interlocking or removable stitch markers. I’ve managed to acquire quite the collection over the years - either bought in bulk from Merchant and Mills, bought in pretty colours as sets and also squirrelled away from the labels of clothes bought in slightly posh clothing stores.

The reason for my obsession? They are the most ridiculously useful items you’ll ever possess in your knitting bag. So much so that I’ve started to clip a few through the zipper of all my project bags - just so that I’ll never be without one.

So what do I use them for you may ask?

  • Marking stitches during a long cast on: slip one onto the needles after every 50 stitches or so to save lots of counting.

  • Marking the right side when working in garter stitch.

  • Use as a regular stitch marker.

  • Catching up a dropped stitch to fix later.

  • Marking sleeve decreases/increases - to save counting - especially on darker fabrics.

  • Marking rows knitted - put one in every day rows to save counting.

  • Holding knitted pieces together during seaming.

  • Holding a few solid stitch markers safe and together in your knitting bag.

  • Pinning a reminder note to your knitting: if you are setting it down for a while and you want to remind yourself of something**.

  • Marking a central double decrease - or similar decrease where the stitch marker has to go through the actual stitch.

** I am well aware that this is something of an aspirational goal. Very few of us set a project aside fully intending to not pick it up again for the next six months, but if you were that sort of person who plans ahead with military precision then this would be the perfect way to not forget which size needle tips you used.

If you have any other uses for them I’d love to know - they are endlessly adaptable - just like knitters after all!

PIN FOR LATER

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How I maximise my knitting time

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It’s no secret that I am a dedicated (some would say, obsessive) knitter and there really are very few social situations outside of a church where I don’t feel comfortable in whipping out my needles.

In order to be able to sustain this dedication it is necessary to have a range of suitable knitting projects on hand at any given moment - at least that’s my excuse for having so many projects on the go at once. But it really does make sense if you stop to think about it.

This is for me why I could never be a monogamous knitter. As much as I admire the patience and tenacity of these dedicated knitters, what on earth would you do when faced with a 3hr train journey at short notice and all you have to hand is the final border on a king-sized blanket. Just the thought of undertaking a journey on public transport with No Knitting is enough to bring me out in a cold sense of dread and fear. Anyone who has ever travelled by train in the UK and has experienced the horrors of the unscheduled “rail replacement bus service” will know exactly what I mean.

No, as far as I’m concerned, amassing multiple WIPs is nothing at all to do with a willful disregard for the “one project at a time” brigade. It’s not about gleeful, profligate casting on either. More, it’s about making sure that you have a project ready for the time slot you have available to you.

Have 20 minutes to wait in the doctors surgery for an appointment? Fine - grab that baby cardigan and work a few rounds on the sleeve.

Have a blissful hour to yourself on the sofa with Netflix and coffee? Perfect time to pick up stitches on that sweater neckband or add a square or two to your sock yarn blanket.

Leaving for an impromptu cinema visit with 10 minutes notice? Not a problem - just grab that plain vanilla sock toe that you cast on weeks ago.

Do you see what I mean? Yes, you might not be churning out the finished objects as fast as our monogamous knitterly friends but you will always have an appropriate knitting project on hand. Which to my mind is far more important and infinitely more pleasing.

And for the truly dedicated knitter you might want to employ my time honoured tactic of putting together the “Emergency Knitting Bag”. No laughing at the back there - the Fear is real.

I have a couple of projects bags squirreled away each holding a skein of sock yarn - either pre-wound or a commercial ball and a set of DPNs. I know I don’t normally use DPNs but in an emergency I’m prepared to compromise and I have loads of sets lying around that I rarely use.

I keep one in my craft area - ready to grab and another in the boot of my car. Truly - you never know when you might need it. My car boot holds bottled water, dried fruit, emergency first aid kit - and sock yarn!

And after a recent escapade in the Lake District involving a large piece of sharp metal and the front tyre of my husbands car, I’ve also taken the opportunity to stash a bag in his boot too! Never mind the Scouts - it truly is the knitters who are always well prepared.

 

 

The items my knitting bag can't live without

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If you are anything like me, the bottom of your knitting bag is a sort of graveyard of previous projects with discarded ball bands and snack wrappers. But there are a few constants that I always have about my knitterly person and I firmly believe that you should too.

HIYA HIYA SNIPS - known affectionately as "Puppy Snips" in our household. These are a firm favourite of mine and I have acquired several pairs now. I love that fact that you can attach them to your bag zipper using the handy little chain and the fact that the tiny blade makes them perfectly airline friendly.

WASTE YARN - you never know when you might need to pop in a lifeline or slide your stitches on to waste yarn. I once had a needle break on me in mid-train journey and being able to safely catch the stitches on a length of waste yarn saved much swearing and cursing later on. I really like to carry a small package of dental floss for this - not only is the thread suitably thin and smooth for most yarn types but the integral cutting blade can also be persuaded to cut yarn and can replace your scissors in a travel emergency.

STITCH MARKERS - Although I can make do with loops of waste yarns I always have a few spare stitch markers knocking about. I like to have a few of the lockable markers too - the ones you can clip and unclip. These are really handy for catching up an errant dropped stitch or for marking the right side of your work.

PENCIL and PAPER - As a designer I'm supposed to say at this point that I always have a pretty notepad and pen to hand to jot down design notes or to keep track of a pattern. Sometimes I do, but more often I seem to end up with a random till receipt and a biro. Not exactly as pretty from an Instagram point of view but definitely an essential.

TIN OF HAND CREAM - I always have dry hands and have amassed quite a collection of solid lotion bars, or ones in tins. I tend to avoid anything in tubes after a rather unpleasant leakage episode.

So, those are my must have items - do let me know what your essentials are. I'd love to know.

PIN FOR LATER

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Yarn with a mind of its own

Yarn is Manos del Uruguay, Allegria. Colouway Orchid.

Yarn is Manos del Uruguay, Allegria. Colouway Orchid.

After wrangling a new sock yarn purchase for most of the afternoon and battling pooling in it's various guises my yarn and I sat down to have a full and frank exchange of views.

After a glass of wine we decided that actually it didn't want to be socks, that it had never wanted to be socks and that I was cruel and heartless for trying to persuade it into a nice, simple plain vanilla sock.

So, I took the yarn's advice and cast on for a nice garter stitch Fuss Free Festival Shawl instead.

And now everyone is happy.

The moral of the story is clear - sometimes you just have to let the yarn win. And also - a glass of wine helps most (but not all) knitting dramas.

When the going gets tough

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When the going gets tough - the tough cast on for a new project. In fact, to be more specific they cast on for a colourwork sweater.

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a soothing garter stitch project but sometimes you experience challenges in your daily life. The kind of stuff that can really send your brain into a tizzy. The kind of stuff that, if you are prone to overthinking, like me, has your brain spinning with endless "what-if's" or "if only's" - you know the kind of things I mean.

At times like this for me garter stitch just doesn't cut it. I need to direct all that brain energy into something more focussed, something to keep it occupied and stop me from going round and around in ever decreasing circles.

And recently for me, that meant casting on for a colourwork sweater. I've had the Laine magazine No3 in my hot little hands for a while now, poring over the glorious patterns. Really I want to knit them all but realistically that will have to wait. But a colourwork yoked sweater has been high on my list for some time and Treysta with it's patterned yoke and simple clean lines fitted the bill perfectly.

Luckily I had vast amounts of West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley aran yarn which matched the gauge I needed (I originally bought it for a sweater for DH which didn't work out) and I was easily able to supplement the dark grey with a few balls of contrasting yarn from Isla of Brit Yarn.

After that it was just a simple of matter of casting on and going for it. Because I had been unwell I had the perfect excuse to sit in bed (doting husband and kids in attendance) and just knit. And I have to say that it was sheer heaven. With a snoozing cat at my feet, a supply of snacks courtesy of the aforementioned kids and no distractions my brain welcomed the opportunity to focus on something positive and constructive.

I would never have thought that I could knit an entire colourwork yoke in a little over 24 hours - but apparently I can given the right circumstances - and an unlimited supply of biscuits. Who knew?

 

 

 

Style vs substance

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What started out as a bit of fun turned out to be quite a thought provoking exercise. I loved seeing everyone's #bestnine2017 photos on Instagram and, despite saying that I wasn't going to do any "looking back" type exercises I couldn't resist popping my details in to see what my best nine guide looked like. And I was a little bit surprised to be honest.

I have spent a quite a bit of time (and some money) recently on improving my photography and styling skills. Instagram is such a visual platform as we all know and with the recent algorithm changes it has become increasingly difficult for your photos be seen about the rest. I've played around with lighting and composition trying to find the type of shot that does well as well as trying to improve my own skills - for the sake of learning and growing.

It was interesting to see that of the photos ranked as most popular (by the number of likes) the majority of them were taken quite spontaneously with very little in the way of styling or editing. The blanket (top right) and sock on a beach were literally quick snaps, taken and posted within minutes with no fancy pants editing.

It's hard to draw conclusions from such a random snapshot but I think the lesson from this is clear as I move forward into 2018. To spend less time faffing about with images, editing and all that malarky and just to keep an eye open for engaging or colourful shots as they present themselves. A bit less worrying about style and a bit more substance is going to be the order of the day.

 

Just share for the joy of sharing

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This is a bit of a mini rant so I'll issue apologies up front and feel free to move on if this isn't of interest. I'm sure it can't be just me though who has noticed this. Over the course of recent months I've noticed that there is an increasing trend for people to regard social media as their own personal pattern search engine.

A good friend of mine recently posted a photo of her knitting in progress on Instagram. She is a designer and frequently shares photos of her work, her inspiration and her designs. This however was just the yarny equivalent of doodling. Playing around with yarn and needles for the sheer joy of it. She took a quick snap of the pleasing colours and textures and thought nothing of it.

Then she found herself besieged by requests for the pattern in the comments. "Pattern please" people merrily chirped again and again, and even just the rather curt "Pattern?" - the latter clearly from someone who didn't graduate from charm school recently.

And of course, as is often the way, I found myself noticing this pattern of behaviour over and over again, across all social media platforms. A lovely photo of a finished knit would invariably attract more than a few of these types of responses with varying degrees of politeness.

I absolutely love seeing photos of people's finished work and yes, sometimes a particular pattern intrigues me enough to want to go and track it down on Ravelry, but as a grown woman I'm more than capable of doing that myself - I don't require the original poster to provide the link for me.

I've even seen instances where people get cross with the original poster for not providing a pattern link. "But it's up to them (the original poster) to provide the link", they assert confidently, "It's their responsibility"

I would like to make the case for the exact opposite and suggest that posting a photo of your finished knits bears no such responsibility. 

What on earth happened to sharing our knits for the sheer joy of sharing? In an ideal world we would cast off our latest project and then immediately turn to a friend, loved one or knitterly colleague to show it off to. Often though, we don't have knitty folk around us and so we turn to our online friends instead. Our virtual community of yarny folks who understand and instinctively know just how many hours of work that cabled blanket took to make. But in the excitement of taking a photo and sharing it online we don't always have the time to provide the pattern details or yarn details or go into specifics about what cast on we used. We just want to share our stuff.

And we should feel free to share our stuff without the pattern police popping up to insist that we provide a link to help them populate their own pattern libraries. Let's face it, if you are anything like me your Ravelry pattern library already contains more patterns than you could knit in a lifetime. It's hardly the end of the world if you can't add another one to it.

So knit on with pride, share photos of your work as and when you want to. Share a link if you want to, but don't feel obligated to. It's your knitting and your work and your only responsibility is in helping to make the internet a more yarn-filled and colourful place

 

 

Fresh start

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Today marks a series of fresh starts. And of course, some knitting plans.

My first working day not in the NHS.

My first 10 minute commute (on foot)

My first time ever with a proper lunchtime break - which of course should be more properly referred to as a midday break for knitting.

A new job needs a new notebook of course and this week marks the start of me using my new Strickplanner in earnest - as opposed to keeping it neat and tidy (and empty) for fear of spoiling it. My cunning plan is to have 3 or 4 projects to work on each week with the rest stored safely away out of sight. These will include: a long term WIP (this week it's my Mdina cardigan by Purl Alpaca Designs), a plain sock (obviously), a design in progress and something garter stitch (log cabin blanket fits the bill right now).

Enough variation to keep me happy. Enough restriction to make some progress. That's the plan anyway - I'll let you know how it goes.

What does your stash say about you?

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If you had to pick one word to sum up your stash, what would it be? For me that word would be PREPARED.

I'm going to say right now, just in case you were in any doubt that I love my stash, it's my pride and joy and I absolutely refuse to attach any negative feelings to it. So often I hear and see others complaining about their stash, feeling guilt over it, obsessing over it and generally failing to derive enjoyment from it.

My stash is my happy place full of, as yet untapped, potential. I've destashed over the years and finally arrived at a balance I'm happy with. This was brought home to me this weekend when I realised that in just a weeks time I start my new job. A job where for the first time ever I can walk to work. This of course means knitwear - and specifically gloves.

I suffer from a slight case of Raynaud's syndrome and really need warm mitts when I'm out and about in winter. As we are forecast for a bit of cold snap next week I plunged headlong into my stash to emerge triumphant with the perfect skein of worsted weight yarn (Malabrigo Rios in the colourway Sand Bank.

A fellow knitter recently recommended a TinCan Knits mitten pattern and so it only took me a few moments to find the pattern and get ready to cast on.

All on a Sunday afternoon without getting changed out of my PJs.

And if that isn't having a stash that is prepared for all eventualities, then I don't know what it.

Twixtmas

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Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love Christmas. I love the anticipation, the twinkling lights and the smell of a real Christmas tree. I'm not so keen on the queues and the crass commercialism but on the whole I think that Christmas has a lot to commend it.

But, for me, the real joy is that period that I've recently seen referred to Twixtmas. That special no mans land between Christmas and New Year when no one knows (or really cares) what date it is, and it's perfectly acceptable to eat mince pies and cream for breakfast. 

For our family it's made even more special by the fact that after the festivities are finished, we pack as much leftover food as we can into our car and head for the hills. Literally. We make our regular pilgrammage north to the Lake District and hole up for a week in our favourite cosy holiday cottage. 

I'm sitting this watching snow fall outside the window, looking out over the valley. We have all our essentials (it's surprising how much knitting you can pack into a family car) and nothing to do for a week. I'm planning on spending the time knitting, writing and reading.

One thing I am absolutely not going to be doing is making any sort of resolutions or Grand Plans. Out of interest I brought a few of my old journals with me and one thing I was really struck with, was how repetitive they are - and not in a good way. My last 3 years journals show me here, in the same cottage writing much the same list of resolutions. But somehow I haven't transformed into that magical creature who rises at 5am, writes in her gratitude journal for half an hour and then greets the day with yoga, body brushing and a green smoothie.

So, this year I am embracing being me. I'm not going to be destashing, cataloguing my Ravelry inventory or making knitting plans for the year. I'm not going to be reviewing my 2017 knits - because, really - who cares? And it goes without saying that Cold Sheeping is never going to happen in my house.

I'm embracing my knitting, embracing my stash and embracing me.

If anyone wants me I'll be sat in the window seat with hot coffee, my knitting bag and the last of the mince pies.

What makes an expert knitter?

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It's a bit like the quote about beauty being in the eye of the beholder isn't it? What makes a knitter an expert or when could you consider yourself to be an expert?

It's a question that frequently crops up when patterns, on Ravelry and in other sources, are graded according to level of pattern difficulty. A simple sock pattern with a cable might be rated as 'easy' by a competent and experienced knitter on her 30th pair of socks, but a knitter who was new to socks or knitting in the round might have a very different experience. This is why I always caution newer knitters not to rely too heavily on these fairly subjective assessments but instead look at what specific skills you need to knit that pattern. If it just calls for knitting in the round and increasing/decreasing then you can knit a sock or a simple sweater - no matter what the 'official' rating might be.

One thing I really love about teaching and blogging is the ability to chat to people at all levels of knitting ability and pointing out to people that sometimes, what they think of as 'hard' really isn't that hard at all. It is all just a matter of perception.

It's a common misconception that just because we live in an age where information is so freely available, that it is equally accessible to everyone. Some people are visual learners, some like the written word and sometimes people just need the help and support of a friendly community. Ideally we would all have a local LYS or regular knit group that we could pop into when we needed help or advice. Somewhere to sit down with a cuppa, have a bit of a knit and maybe get someone to show you exactly what a lifeline is (and why it can change your life). Sadly we can't always have that real life interaction when we need it and that's my main reason behind creating the Everyday Knitter Academy.

I absolutely love the community we've created over in the Everyday Knitter Facebook group and that is absolutely staying as it is. But I've also created the Academy as a way of being able to give more focussed and more practical advice and tutorials on a range of subjects. In addition there will be a specific (and closed) EK Academy Facebook group where I will be able to do Facebook Live sessions with tutorials and information Q&A sessions.

The Academy will be based on a monthly membership site - where for the price of a posh coffee every month you will have access to a host of tutorials, a friendly community and a world of knitty information to peruse at your leisure.

If you'd like to find out more about the Academy and how you can be involved, please click the link here to sign up to the newsletter for more information.

If you knit something set it free

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To paraphrase the famous quote "If you knit something set it free" - this neatly sums up my attitude to knitting and gift giving.

At this time of year particularly when us knitters are frantically trying to finish off Christmas presents (or like me, eating mince pies and contemplating the WIP pile) there can be a lot of discussion about who is "knitworthy".

We've all heard horror tales, or even experienced them of a knitted gift carelessly thrown aside, of thoughtless comments and of thank you notes never received. A long time ago however I developed my own frame of reference for gift knitting which is quite simply, I don't. Or rather I do, but only on my own terms. If the recipient in question has asked (politely, and in a suitable timeframe) for an item then that's fine. We can have a discussion about colours, yarn choices and styles. I usually set up a Ravelry bundle of candidate patterns for them to chose from. In this way I've successfully knit gifts for friends and family for years and it works well. They get something they will love and wear to death and I get the satisfaction of sending a loved one or close friend out into the world warmly clad.

What I absolutely don't do however is to knit random gifts for people on the automatic assumption that they will love it because I made it for them. Not everyone is as enlightened as us knitters and they may neither know nor care how many hours of painstaking work went into something. Colour choice, fabric/yarn choice and personal styling is just that - personal - and I would never to presume to that someone would absolutely love a bottle green cabled knit hat, just because I happen to have made it for them.

Yes, it's absolutely lovely when you give a handknit gift and it is warmly, nay effusively received. A thank you note or even a photo of the recipient wearing said handknit is a thing a of joy and something to be treasured. But I would caution against automatically judging those who don't send a thank you note and I'll offer up a personal story as illustration for this.

In 2006 I had just had my second baby, exactly 50 weeks after having my first. Like his brother DS2 was premature and was critically ill for a short but very scary few weeks. Finally at home we battled with all the things that expanding your family normally entails, with the additional livener of having an active 13 month old in the house. The health visitor wrote "not coping well" in my notes - a euphemism for impending post-natal depression. But we moved on through a difficult time and eventually found our routine. About 6 months after DS2's birth I moved a random pile of stuff in the spare bedroom and found 2 beautifully knit cream matinee jackets, still in a gift bag. There was no note or card or anything to identify who had sent them, or when. DH denied all knowledge, as did the other relatives who had been staying with us. It was a total mystery and obviously they were now way too small for my rapidly growing boy.

I felt terrible that I had no idea who to thank for them, and also that I hadn't used them. But in truth I didn't use any of the handknit items I was given (apart from a blanket) - DS2 spent his formative months in a series of white babygros as I had no energy for devising baby outfits. In the end, I decided to pass them on to our local baby unit along with some other bundles of donated clothing. 

I'm sharing this deeply personal story just to ask that perhaps we don't always rush to judge someone for not responding to a gift. Each of us, in our own way is doing our best with what life throws at us, and a lack of response isn't automatically equated with rudeness or ill manners.

If you knit something knit it with joy and give it freely, without hope or expectation. Just give it for the joy of giving. And rejoice that you can cast on a brand new shiny project to replace it.

Knitting and the gentle art of debate

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In todays whirl of social media where what we see is increasingly filtered to our likes I wonder whether we are, to some extent, losing the art of gentle debate. The to and fro of discussion, the striving to listen and to understand another's point of view or an alternative opinion to our own.

Every so often a topic crops up on the interwebs which is a so-called hot topic. Something that people invariably have strong views on. On both sides. We aren't talking global politics here - although sometimes we are, but even something as seemingly innocuous as charity knitting or the size of one's stash can often raise peoples hackles and cause tension and dissent.

A lot of that seems to stem from the fact that people want to keep their knitting "just for fun" and don't want it "spoilt" by other people who are ruining it for them. The idea that anyone could say something that would "ruin" knitting for me is a little odd though because after all we have the choice in how we respond to other other's opinions.

Discussion of this nature is often followed by calls to keep the group "all about the knitting" but surely that would lead to a fairly bland and homogenous mix of knitwear. Don't get me wrong, I love knitting as much as the next person but wouldn't an endless parade of knitted blankets and shawls with the "lovely" comments be just as boring and annodyne. 

Whoever said that variety is the spice of life had the right idea and we all need a bit of spice every now again to get us thinking and more importantly to get us listening.

In one of the moments of pure serendipity that I just love about the internet, just as I was setting this to 'publish' I was listening to Emma Gannon's podcast Ctrl-Alt-Delete. She had a terrific interview with June Sarpong - British TV presenter who has a new book just out called Diversify. The idea is that we should all take the time to listen to and understand people who are not like us and who don't think the same as us. If we spend time just within our cosy bubble - whether that be politics or knitting - then we never learn anything new and we never change.

 

Death by scarf

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Recently I came across a newbie knitter and I was thrilled to be able to point him (yes, him) in the direction of all things Ravelry related. A quick glance at a few Brooklyn Tweed and TinCan Knits patterns was all it took and he was soon cranking out amazing hats and planning many more ambitious projects with gusto.

One thing that struck me though was the advice he had received from well meaning knitters in his circle of friends who, without exception, had recommended starting with some something simple like a "nice garter stitch scarf".

Now, I don't know about you but the thought of knitting 5 or 6 feet of plain garter stitch is enough to make me run for the hills. Why on earth do we persist in this well meaning advice and not accept that new knitters can handle a multitude of techniques. They don't know if something is 'hard' unless you tell them it is. Circular needles and knitting in the round aren't just the preserve of more experienced knitters. After all, if you can cast on and master the knit stitch you can work a rolled brim, stockinette beanie. Learn the purl stitch and you can add in a ribbed brim. Feel brave and try a cable - the possibilities are endless and sure to be more satisfying than slogging away on a flat, 6 foot garter stitch scarf.

It's been some time since I learnt to knit (putting it mildly) so it can be hard to think back to those scary days when you felt like you had more than your fair share of thumbs, and more awkward than a giraffe on roller skates. But as with so many things in life we learn from doing, not by slogging through an endurance event.

And, in my humble opinion, knitting 6 feet of garter stitch only teaches you about persistence and the strength of the human spirit - very little about knitting. So why not be brave and help a new knitter out - introduce them to some fabulous yarn, decent needles and a peruse of Ravelry. They will be eternally grateful and you could help save them from death by scarf!