At 8.37pm on 11th December, a damp little bundle of wool sat on top of the Aga. Elma’s birthday jumper, cast off while her Daddy wrapped the final presents, hung the bunting, and tidied away the day’s detritus from the lounge, was finally finished and ready for blocking while our soon to be five year old lay upstairs in her bed and pretended to be asleep.
In October I’d started the Christmas knitting, wanting to make sure that even in some of our busiest days yet there would be time for two pairs of socks, and in November I finished both, remembered to take pictures of both, and even wrapped them up before one squishy holly covered parcel had to be handed over to my Dad on the last weekend before Advent. I can’t even remember the day when I decided to go for it, I know it was December and I know I was too busy to put any record whatsoever of this project into Ravelry (I’d claim it was because I was being stealth but let’s face it, that’s not a great excuse when the intended recipient is four, can’t read, and isn’t allowed to use the computer). I weighed up the yarn, the deliciously soft Knit by Numbers DK from John Arbon Textiles that came home with me from Yarndale (you can see their wonderful wall of yarn in my vlog), I downloaded TinCanKnits’ Ironheart pattern from the Heart on Your Sleeve book, I looked at Elma, who despite a ferocious amount of growing in the last year is still rather diminutive, and I went for it.
I even knit a swatch. Well, I started the sleeve, knit for a few inches, gave it a swish in some warm water and blocked it to dry, but it counts. Really it counts double because I changed needle size and had to start again. I know there are some knitters who count swatching as a pleasure, an amuse bouche to get the full flavour of the yarn before they take that first bite of a new project, but I’ll freely admit that I’m never going to be one of them, no matter how much I might want to be. I think they may also be the sort of knitter that has a very sleek, organised and minimal stash, who keeps their DPNs in complete sets and not one in the handbag, two in the office desk drawer and two in the car, and who, rather predictably, has sweaters that always fit.
In my defence, I swatched the last time I made a sweater for myself and the first iteration could have got John in there with me so I maintain that they are not infallible. In this case however, happily the knitting faeries were not conducting war dances around my needles and the newly re-knit sleeve worked up a treat. As did the next one. It’s a great pattern, even the body (work the ribbing, knit straight for a long time) was the sort of work that make my fingers fly and lurched between secret certainty that it was going to be finished in time, and conversations with Elma in which I tested the waters as to just how upset she’d be if her birthday jumper still had needles in it.
It was no hardship, this yarn is soft and fuzzy, would be perfect for colour work, and even sitting with it on my lap to darn in the ends, I could feel how warm and cozy it is. If you’re very particular about jumpers not pilling then it would not be the yarn for you; it started to pill the first time Elma wore it, but I loved every stitch.
By the eve of her birthday I knew I was in with a chance. I thought if I could finish the ribbing on the train in to work, and I could darn in the ends on the way home then maybe I could get it blocked and drying overnight so that I could at least show her a finished jumper, even if she couldn’t wear it to school like she’d been planning all week.
The faeries cackled merrily. It snowed, I had no commute, I had no intention of missing out on playing in the snow with any of my children, and as we finished supper I was still desperately casting off on a neckband that showed no sign of wanting to stretch enough to pass over the wearer’s head. I gulped at the glass of wine which seemed to have magically appeared in front of me, and John took the children off to get changed for bed as stitch by tiny stitch, I put it all back on the needles.
The second attempt was incredibly stretchy. It did in fact fit over my own head with some room to spare, but much as I prize the ease of getting jumpers off and on, particularly in wrigglish children, I just couldn’t spend all that time knitting and leave her with a collar that looked like a misshapen vase for the sake of a bit of reuniting. Tink, tink, tink.
And that’s how I found myself in the kitchen jumping up and down on the towel wrapped bundle of the previous fortnight’s hard work, and wondering how and where I was going to block it before the morning.
In truth I never truly realised the full potential of Aga ownership until we moved into bought a house that came around one. It makes delicious food don’t get me wrong, but it’s absolutely brilliant for last minute laundry crises. If I were to tell you the number of times that we’ve done a last minute load of laundry in the evening, hung it all on the pan hooks above the stove, and popped it on nice and warm first thing in the morning I’d loose any chance I ever had of convincing you that I’m secretly Martha Stewart; so I shan’t. What I can tell you, from first hand experience is that you can make a blocking board by balancing two cold plain shelves (big metal sheets you shove in the oven of an Aga to tweak the temperature) on top of the hobs. Carefully lay a towel across the top and you have a blocking board that’s just (and only just) big enough for a jumper for a little person.
But this isn’t any blocking board; because the two hobs give off a decent amount of heat, even through the little mats that sit on top, the plain shelves get nice and toasty, the towel warms the knitting from underneath and by the time we went to bed, one little rosy pink jumper was wrapped up and sat at the front of the birthday present pile.