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The Christmas Socks {handmade}

12/01/2018

John picked up the parcel from the top of his bag-pretending-to-be-a-stocking.  The silver wrapping paper twinkled under the lights from the Christmas tree and he looked around at the three tiny faces between us, all of them as much wanting to see what it was, as to have him open it so that they could dip into their own stockings once again.

“It feels squishy,” he said, giving it a careful squeeze, “and it’s a good shape.”  He held it out to the kids; “socks or pants, what do you think?”

“SOCKS!” said the girls. “Um, Mummy, how do you make pants?” asked Pip.

John carefully peeled back the tape to reveal:

A bag of Christmas coffee.  Well if I’m going to go to all the trouble of knitting him a pair of socks for Christmas, I’m not letting Father Christmas take the credit for them – he’s got his own elves for that.

The socks, for socks there were, came later, after church and after breakfast, amid a sea of unwrapping that launched the occasional tidal wave of paper and ribbon from where we had tried to corral it into the corner.  This time he eyed me more suspiciously,

“Is it coffee?”

The yarn is part of my Yarndale haul, and one of only two skeins of sock yarn that I bought that day, despite immense temptation.  I’m not into computer games at all, and never really have been, so many of the puns at Gamer Crafting’s stand were entirely lost on me, but the colours were not.  Brilliantly vibrant and with some awesome contrasts, I was very very tempted by a brilliant blue that edged into turquoise striped through with my favourite orange.  John’s motto when it comes to handknitted socks is “the brighter the better” and that very nearly came home as the most vivid skein I could find in the entire show.  Except that my eye just kept being drawn up and across to a small pile of skeins, soft and cosy, black for the most part but alive with silver sparkle and striped through with a rainbow.  Reverse Rainicorn it was.

As sock knitting goes they are delightful in their ordinariness; they’re the same socks I always knit for John, a 72st cast on, 20 rounds of 2×2 ribbing, heel flap and a wedge toe, but I’ve found in recent years that I need my sock knitting to be nice and plain and simple, it’s something for my fingers to fidget into existence, so that I don’t have to think too much about what I’m doing, but I can read or talk or watch a film, while the yarn soothes my busy soul, and then, almost without my noticing, there’s a sock.  It’s a special kind of magic.

While they hid in the bottom of my knitting basket, venturing out only when John was at hockey matches or I was on the train, a second pair of socks had very much not got the memo.

I thought that the whole point of making a deal with the Christmas Knitting Elves, of getting to a point where your adult self actually looks at what is achievable and seriously reigns it in, without even buying the yarn for the fantastical never-going-to-be-finished project, was that in return, it would behave itself.  No pixies would come to mess up my stitch count in the middle of the night, my yarn would travel obediently from skein to ball without even a hint of a tangle, and there would not, under any possible circumstances, be knots in my yarn.

Two inches into the first of Dad’s socks, I hit a knot.  If it had been a variegated sock yarn I would just have carried on without a care in the world.  If it had been the second sock of a pair of self striping I would have known where to wind to to match the pattern. On the first sock you do the only thing you can do, and knit on, and know that somewhere in the middle of the foot you’re going to work out what the stripe repeat looks like, and you hope against hope that the knot has simply cut a couple of rows out of the stripe sequence and all you’ll need to do is take a couple of lengths out as a loop and carry on.

Did I mention the yarn hadn’t got the memo.  It’s Trekking XXL, which comes with really long self striping repeats, and with a sinking feeling I eyed up my sock and realised that the yarn after the knot had restarted about four rows up.  Almost an entire pattern repeat missing.

And so while these look like any other self striping socks I am actually ridiculously proud of the stripe matching on them.  I have my tried and tested techniques for pattern matching; start the cast on and heel flaps at a colour change even if the latter isn’t technically the end of a round, but this took pattern matching to the next level.

I had to cut in a new section of yarn in the cuff to match the original knot, and then when I ran out of yarn near the toe I used some of the yarn that I’d pulled out to continue the pattern all the way to the end.

It’s a yarn miracle. Perhaps, after all, the knitting fates were smiling.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

Handmade

Ironheart for Elma {handmade}

05/01/2018

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.

Perfect.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

 

Handmade

The un-moody blues {handmade}

10/11/2017

Part finish, part work in progress, here, in yarn and stitches, is the proof that I’m an eternal optimist.  An un-moody blanket from a glass half full sort of knitter.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Way back when, two whole months ago, in the glorious hustle, bustle and yarn fumes of Yarndale, there was one stand that I just kept gravitating back towards every time I was in the area.  Hopefully she didn’t think I was stalking her, because Jem Weston‘s beautiful, beautiful stand was a haven of some of my most favourite colours, all teals and blues and yellows, with a dash of burnt orange for good measure.

There was not a single thing on that stand that I did not instantly want to start knitting (and her website is full of all the pretties that I worked hard to resist and some that I didn’t), but right at the front sat her Moody Blues blanket, snuggled up in just the perfect spot to be petted and stroked, and longed for.

It was soft and snuggly.  It looked fun to knit but not too taxing on an overworked brain.  It would be the perfect colours for Pip’s room.  It was in one of my favourite yarns (Rooster Almerino – just about the only thing with alpaca in that I can knit and not start scratching).

But I have a blanket underway.  I have Hydrangea, which I adore.  It’s the size of a slightly large scarf right now and I love every row of it.  I didn’t need a new blanket to make, and by the size of the ever bulging Yarndale bag, I wasn’t going to be short of things to knit.

Well we all know how that went.  In my defence I held out until we were almost ready to go home, telling myself that if, despite all the overwhelming yarn fumes, I still really really wanted it, the first five balls and the pattern could come home with me.

It was addictive before I’d finished the first square.  For the last few weeks, every night after I’ve finished work and finished my writing course homework (and yes that’s why there have been very few blog posts around here of late), I sit down and knit a stripe.

Each week runs corner to corner, so Mondays and Sundays are quite tiny and Thursday is a nice big stripe across the centre of the week, and all the colours depend on what sort of day it’s been.

Yellow (custard) is for the very best days, the sort of days that hold memories you’ll treasure, even if they’re only little moments.  There are weekend adventures and a visit home to Devon, visits to us by friends and family, and friends that we hope will become family, the day when John brought the children in to meet me for lunch and the odd day of profesisonal success.

 

Turquoise (beach) is a happy day; fun but not quite so stellar; those tend to be good work days and the rest of the weekends.

Pale duck-egg (glace) is for middle of the road days; the ones that are just normal, and tend to be a large part of my working week.

Teal (ocean) is for the days that are a bit stressful, an annoying day at work or when everyone at home is just plain out of sorts.

Grey (caviar) is for the really stressful days.  There’s only one of those so far and it was the day when Elma went to hospital in an ambulance, which I think is fair enough (she’s absolutely fine now, it was just a virus that gave her symptoms of asthma).

Five balls, one of each, has produced five squares, and just the start of the fifth, and what is abundantly clear is that my days are middle of the road, or happy, or happiest, and I’m convinced the only reason I haven’t run out of quite so much yellow is because the weekends run out to the corner.

The thing is, that however my day has been, when I sit down to think about the stripe, and my hand hovers near a teal or a duck-egg, I start to think about all the little moments that have been special; the children waiting for me on the doorstep when I come home from a really long day; the glowing endorsement from a client that makes all of the work to get that result completley justified; John bringing me home a box of my favourite bath bombs because he’d taken the children for another round of shoes while I stayed home to work and he wanted me to know how much all four of them love me and appreciate the breadwinning.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about the things that make me grateful.

These little knitted squares, I love.  The finished blanket, whether I do the snuggle version or the full on blanket, will be gorgeous any which way, and when I finish it, and wrap it around my tiny son as he pretends to go to sleep each night, he’ll be cuddled up in the memories of happy days and I life for which I am truly thankful.

Handmade

Pick up a penguin {handmade}

03/11/2017

It’s past Halloween, the mornings are grey with pre-dawn mist, and I come home by streetlamp, one puddle of light leading to the next, all the way up the hill, as the tip of my nose longs for the warmth of home.  It’s time.

I don’t believe in spoilers for the Christmas knitting, even if John has seen my current project every time he’s gone diving in my handbag for the car keys he’s well versed enough in knitting to know that at this time of year it’s better not to ask.  I have Christmas knitting plans, both the ambitious and the rather more realistic but every little thing that may or may not get finished gets tucked away in one of the many Christmas present hiding places.  And generally it means that as far as blogging goes it suddenly starts to look as though my creativity has fallen off a cliff.

So this week it is my great delight to share a little something that while definitely festive, is also not really a Christmas present.  Plus the intended recipient is a 4 year old boy and while naturally he’s terribly terribly clever because he’s my nephew, he’s not quite up to reading a blog post and finding out that his Auntie Carie has been indulging his love of penguins.

I thought of him the minute I saw the kit on the cover of the magazine; teeny tiny little penguins to stitch up of an evening and turn into tags.

I’ve started with the snuggliest, and with a bit of effort and some careful planning I should be able to squeeze all eight different penguins onto the tags.  In theory anyway, but these little peeps only take a couple of hours to stitch and that makes them a very satisfying break from all of the knitting.  Sometimes you just need to finish something, and these are the perfect something.

The fringe is made simply by pulling a block’s worth of thread away from each edge; I start it with the needle and then just pull with my fingers and it comes away easily enough, and then I used a couple of glue dots to hold penguin to tag.

He’s sitting on my bedside table, slightly glittery, but ready and waiting – just as soon as I work out what the present will be – does anyone have any ideas for a penguin-crazy four year old?

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

Handmade

Knitting for me – Waking Tide {handmade}

20/10/2017

The last time I knit myself a jumper I was pregnant with Elma.  She’s a deepest darkest winter sort of a baby and that was all the justification I needed to make myself a Mama Snug and then wear it pretty much daily (occasionally alternating with John’s hockey club hoodie) all through the last few months.  That was five years ago, and since then I’ve made countless pairs of socks, a handful of hats, and no less than 35 sweaters in sizes ranging from teeny tiny preemie to age 11-12.  The only thing I’ve made for me, was three pairs of socks, all of them in the last year, and one of the pairs was half done before even Kitty was born.

I’ve got yarn in my stash to make cardigans and jumpers for me; I’ve even matched patterns for some of it, and yet I cast off one jumper for a tiny adorable person and cast on the next, even though they neglect them and leave them in the middle of the hall floor.

This year, I said to myself, this year I will knit myself a jumper.  I’ve got the yarn, I can find a pattern, it will be wonderfully, and cosy warm, and the perfect shade of burnt orange and I will love it and wear it until it falls apart and I’ll still be smiling.  And yet it took me until July to cast on, and only then because I forcibly separated myself from most of my stash by putting it in storage while we moved house.

The truth is that right now I am not the size and shape that I would always want to be.  For various reasons, some medical, some chocolate, the baby weight from my last two pregnancies has stuck around with some persistence, despite sporadic attempts to do something about it.  It is very much my intention to do something about it, but equally it is not my highest priority right now, and I’ve made my peace with that.

But when it comes to knitting a jumper for myself, and knowing that when I’ve knitted it I’ll want to tske pictures of myself wearing it to show you all, I look back on the pictures of the much slimmer me I used to knit for and wonder whether I should really be knitting for me now.  The invidious voice in the back of my head tells me that if I’d just wait a bit, and pull my finger out and do some fitness and stop eating chocolate buttons every time I get really stressed at work I’ll get back to a size where I can share pictures on the internet and not worry that everyone’s going to think I’m secretly pregnant and I’ll look just like a model in the pictures.  For the record, I never looked like a model and the only thing in my tummy is my lunch.

Even when I was casting on, in the full knowledge that this was the only sizeable knitting project I had with me, the voice whispered “wait!”.

For a woman who generally has a fairly healthy relationship with her self doubt it was very disappointing.

 

Of course I’m glad I did.  The final skein of yarn arrived just as I was taking pictures for a work in progress post and was curled up into a ball later that night.  It only needed a few rows, a collar and the darning in of a dozen ends and I had a jumper.  And this time it fitted perfectly.  I put it on and it was warm and snuggly and big and cosy without being too big, with long enough sleeves and long enough in the body that it feels like being wrapped up in a giant hug.  I love it, the colour is luscious, and very seasonally appropriate, and the yarn itself (Spud and Chloe Sweater in Firecracker) has earned its place in my favourites list.

After giving you a sneak peek as I knit like the wind to the end of the yarn from my stash, I’ve been itching to share the finished jumper with you, and a little nervous too, and I did seriously contemplate just taking some pictures of it folded or on a hanger.  Anything rather than do what I actually did, which was to hand the big camera off to Kitty and smile.

She has no preconceptions about what I should look like, no imposed criteria for what is beautiful and no thought of trying to angle the camera to be as flattering as possible.  In fact most of her direction was to pull silly faces, to pose like I’m flying and then to pull off some Saturday Night style dance moves, none of which, oddly enough, appear in knitwear catalogues.

At least half of her shots were blurry because she just couldn’t stop laughing, in some of them I’m almost entirely missing from the frame, but with the exception of the top couple of photos, she took all of these shots.

So let me share my newly finished jumper with you.  The pattern is Waking Tide, and the yarn Spud and Chloe Sweater.  I started the bottom half as the size 38/40, knit another 2 inches to the body and then decreased four stitches every 6th round along where the side seams would fall, to bring the stitch count down to the size 36/38 (it’s decrease two stitches on the final round).  That gave me 4 inches extra in total which is pretty much my standard length adjustment (I’m 6’0″ tall).  The sleeves I knit to the 36/38 size, though there’s very little difference, and then the yoke is the smaller size, though still with plenty of positive ease.  My tension was a little looser than the pattern (fewer stitches to the inch), but I liked the fabric I got so it was just a question of doing the right maths (eventually – see previous post for the sad and lamentous tale of unravelling skein after skein to start over).

I love the lace work in the yoke; in a wool/cotton yarn it’s really textural and the ripples remind me of the beach at really low tide; when the waves have carved dimples into the sand as they retreat, and you have to hop from one to the next to get down to the water’s edge.

And even better, it has me itching to cast on something more that’s just for me.  It might be another year before I make another jumper or cardie, after all I have a bag of Yarndale stash that needs turning into jumpers and hats for little girls so that I can convince John that I have to go again next year, but I won’t let it be because I don’t think I deserve it.

May it be the first of many.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On