We are allowed to make mistakes…

Oh yes we are. We all are.

I’ve been knitting for AHEM years, and I’ve just managed to produce a cardigan with one front longer than the other, not something I noticed until it had been made up (how is this even possible?). There are the same number of rows, but it’s longer – has to be down to needle size. A combination of me and (principally) my mate Angharad have come up with a classically bodged solution but it’s going to be tricky. Given that I’ve woven in all the ends, done the button bands and even sewn on the buttons.

Oh, and it’s in Noro.

Noro disaster

It’s lovely – when viewed as individual parts. (This is me picking up exactly the same number of stitches on the left side as I had on the right, and yet somehow failing to notice that I really needed to pick up another, oh, 20 or so to make the band match the extra-long piece. This is the stage at which disaster could have been averted, at which I could have reknitted the offending front. But I did not.) And it’s in Noro. You know, Noro. Second mortgage time. A whole garment. In NORO.

That’s the difference between the mistakes I made as a baby knitter and the mistakes I make now. Then, I made mistakes in cheap acrylic and laughed as I threw away the sweater which gave me a third boob, the tank top (?!) which made me look dead, the purple ‘mohair’ sweater which made me look as though I weighed 24 stone when I was borderline anorexic, and the Unlined Skirt We Do Not Mention But Which We Could See Straight Through. Now, I buy 10 balls of Noro Silk Garden Lite and screw them up instead.

It was at roughly this point that I found the ‘for the love of Ravelry‘ forum on Ravelry, and the ‘Your ugliest FO?’ thread (FO: finished object). If, like me, you don’t know about this, do check it out, and specifically select posts with images – but, unlike me, make sure you are not drinking a cup of tea at the time (an iPad is surprisingly resistant to being sprayed with acai and goji berry tea, is all I can say – and do join if you’re not on Rav; it’s free and fab).

There are some things which only the knitter considers hideous, but there are many others which are – um, challenging. There are distorted and psychotic toys, immense sweaters, far too many things in eyelash yarn, shawls which look as though they’ve been knitted in vomit, socks with heels halfway down the foot or halfway up the leg, trapezoidal blankets, a pink glove which one member commented on quite accurately: ‘oh my god, you knitted an udder‘…

You are only allowed to post your own disasters, and I am waiting to see what can be done about the Noro No-No before putting it on. But my Nipple Hat of Innuendo had to be there:

hat disaster

It’s handspun. What possessed me to add a perky little, er, bobble to the top of a red hat, I do not know, but at least I realised and turned it inside pretty quickly. That doesn’t alter the fact that the hat is so big that it’s reached the tip of my nose in this pic, and that’s after being felted twice.

I’m so glad I found that forum thread. It’s so reassuring. And now I must go and add one of my Colinette Catastrophes: the sweater in Tagilatelle which has grown and grown and grown and grown and which would now make a passable tent. Hey ho….

Cool, man (look what I found!)

When I go shopping, I like to splash out. I like to spend, flash the cash, put my hand in my wallet,  undo the purse strings, give my last penny, spend money like water, blow everything, waste my inheritance – and anything else that Roget’s Thesaurus can come up with.

In this case, I splashed out all of 50p.


Well, it had been marked down from £1 – how could I walk away?

This book is a gem. I wasn’t knitting when it was published, so somehow it passed me by, but I do remember Jackie magazine – not that my mother would let me have Jackie, oh dear no, far too silly, I had to borrow it from school friends on the quiet – and I think they used the same illustrator:

old knitting book

It’s the incidental details that get me – love the chairs – and what the heck is that black-clad old lady doing? The 1976 equivalent of Shreddies’ offensive knitting nanas?  Mind you, the way she’s drawn, she could be some refugee from a hippy commune.

I like ‘visiting the woolshop’ (and as an editor, I’m intrigued by the early running together of ‘wool’ and ‘shop’ – oh, it’s Patons, by the way; I think they must have had something to do with this publication), and the trip on the tube to get there:

old knitting book madness

Note the concession to multiculturalism, though I bet it wasn’t called that then, just eight years after Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech (don’t just get distracted by the bobble cap). Oh, maybe the Sun sponsored this book in conjunction with Patons?

But it is very easy to be distracted by details, like phones and decor:

old knitting book 2

Don’t do it, Maggie! Have you never heard the saying about not knitting anything for a man until you’ve got his ring on your finger (highly apt for the time, I think)? And you don’t want that; in a later frame he’s puffing away on – a pipe. Plus, what about the magic word, you sexist git? Yes, you can make one for him, Maggie, but will you? Haven’t you heard of feminism? Don’t just say ‘certainly’!

And what about that decor? Some unsettling motifs keep cropping up throughout the book. I must draw your attention to the strange doll-type harlequin-clown thing hanging from the shelves here. Hanging…?

old knitting book

It appears in several frames, sometimes without any apparent support. Or context. Also, who’s ‘Buck’? Is this all in code? Perhaps this book isn’t really about knitting, perhaps it’s actually about some weird sinister-doll-worsphipping cult. (The teddy is migratory too, but doesn’t have the doll’s force of personality.)

There are sections, named to tempt you in: Woolly Waistcoats, anyone? Jaunty Jackets? Tank Tops? (The sub evidently couldn’t think of an alliterative terms to go with tank tops, having sensibly rejected ‘terrible’.) No actual patterns, mind, just named sections.

They knit on the beach:

old knitting bookwhich personally I’d have thought a little sandy (this is a beach, honest, it’s clearer in other frames), and take bags of knitting on picnics. Oh come on, we’ve all been there. Admittedly probably not in a maxi-skirt and strange shapeless waistcoat, but hey. (And if she hadn’t stitched the shoulders together, wasn’t it a bit risky holding up as though she had, over a beach full of sand?)

It’s easy to sneer, and I know I’ve indulged myself a bit. But hidden inside here are some pretty clear technical instructions, like these for splicing wool,


and mattress stitch:

mattress stitch

and I’ve just found some buttonhole instructions which remind me of the very neat way my mother taught me, and which I have managed to forget in the (good heavens, that long?) fifteen years since she died.

Where are my needles? Not to mention my stripy kaftan and devil doll…


Women’s work…

Today, of course, is International Women’s Day and instead of indulging in a seasonal rant like last year, I decided to reflect on how lucky I am – how lucky we are, we women who choose to work with textiles. Instead of having to do so, that is.

Think on’t – for many centuries, we’d have had little or no choice. For many millennia, even. If we wanted fabric, we’d have had to produce it, going right back to working with basic cords. We’d have had to spin every single thread, from the ones used to knit a shawl for a baby to those being woven into sails for a ship. Everything. Oh, men would have been involved too, at some stages, inevitably, but we do know that the bulk of the textile work often fell upon women – ‘keep the maids at their spinning’.

s[pinning woman

So here, because I’m still coughing for Wales and have a head almost entirely full of menthol and eucalyptus, are some images of women working with textiles which have served to make me think on’t, as it were.

These images are by the early twentieth century American photographer Lewis Hine:

Let’s not forget that children were so useful, and girls were so much more reliable.

The smaller girls have to stand on boxes to allow them to work.

Child workers, 1910

This child – from 1910 – is a little taller, but no matter. And no matter how attractive the photograph, it’s still not right. And it’s not in the past, of course. Just in the past – mostly – in the ‘developed’ world. Hrrumpf.

The production of fine knitted items on Shetland was not industrialised as such, but was just as oppressive – I went into this in some depth after I was in Shetland a couple of years ago, in a post called ‘knitting for tea‘ – salutary.

knitter with kishie of peats

(Photograph courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives)

Hard work. You’ve got to keep at the knitting when you’re doing other things, or you don’t – essentially – eat.

And finally, just because I had an argument about voting  (do it; people have died for the right to vote, I don’t care if nothing changes, just ****** vote, or maybe spoil your ballot paper because they do take note of those), and political action with a couple of women yesterday, note these two redoubtable women from the textile industry:


They were on a picket line during the huge US garment workers’ strike in 1910 (love the hat, by the way; no to donkey jackets; yes to big hats). Yo!

Knitting Wales – for Dewi Sant

Well, I’m still coughing, so no singing of the national anthem today (a great relief to all and sundry, I’m sure). But as it is St David’s Day, aka Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant, I am dressed as a giant leek. This makes a change from being dressed as a dragon* or a Welsh cake, of course.

Oh, OK, I’m not. But I am dressed like this:

Dyce painting

Courtesy National Museum of Wales

Thank you William Dyce, for Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting, which I rather like. I’m the one in the red. Dyce, incidentally, was a Scot. He came here for his health, apparently. Just as well that was in 1860. If he’d come here now he wouldn’t have lasted very long. Cough.

*Many years ago a rugby-mad friend went to Twickenham for a match with some mates. One was arrested for, ahem, public nuisance – the only one who had dressed (entirely) as a dragon, except for his DMs. He had nothing else to wear and so appeared in court in full rig, to much hilarity. Asked afterwards to comment he said ‘I don’t know why they picked on me, I don’t think I was that obvious, there were four of us doing it.’


Poleaxed by plague

Oh, OK, it’s a bad cold. Well, one with added bronchitis and a cough that can probably be heard in Ulan Bator, but hey. I am feeling somewhat sorry for myself – especially since this week was supposedly a week off for a family visit over half term. Instead of which I have probably achieved nothing other than to give my nearest and dearest their worst colds of the winter. Nice.

But stop – I have also achieved this:


I know, it looks like small furry animal all curled up like that. Soft and fuzzy – which, according to a recent wildlife documentary, is the essence of cute. Admittedly so are big, front-facing eyes which this has not got, but – hm, maybe I’be had too much Ventolin.

It’s actually a cowl,


A double-moss-stitch moebius cowl, to be exact, and it will end up as one of my simple patterns on Ravelry (and here) eventually. It’s part of my determined effort to use up my stash, and specifically the huge amount of lovely angora mix I bought at Wonderwool ahem years ago, and which hasn’t quite found its way into a finished garment. It’s being used double, which means it knits up really quickly.

And I’ve started another variation on the theme. I was going to repeat the moss-stitch but in my current befuddled, be-Ventolined, be-Paracetamolled condition I was unable to cope with the complexities of the pattern (!). So this is a displaced rib, as it were, and I’m loving the texture:

ribbed cowl

Again, I’m using yarn from the stash and again I’m using it double. This is a Queensland DK, 100% pure Merino, very lovely. There were no dye lots, because it’s a small dye-run, totally artisan product, and they suggest you do what is, in effect, a Colinette – knit with two balls, using them alternately every two rows. Tried that: stripes. Marked stripes. My skeins are very different,

different colours of yarn

as is glaringly obvious – in this case, one brownish, one greyish. Using them double is the perfect solution, and so they have been rescued from the ‘Feck this, you’re going to a charity shop’ bin. I don’t need all these cowls (in theory), but there’s going to be a designer-makers’ fair focusing on fabric and fibre in Harlech in the summer, and they’ll make good stock. I’m hoping it won’t be the sort of summer to require 100% Merino cowls, but that people will instead buy them for Christmas.

In the meanwhile, life in this village is a bit like the ‘bring out your dead’ scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and it’s not just me: someone I know said working at a nearby surgery ATM was like ‘working in a bucket of rats’). Now Monty P: that’s something I might watch. Either that or the box set of The  Nazis: A Warning from History. Not that I’m getting depressed about the forthcoming election, oh no. I’m depressed about there being another eleven weeks of pointless point-scoring and bitching and bickering and silly repetitious sound bites and spin doctors and slanted media and far too many ******** politicians. AGH!

Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!


Loving the details

I’ve just started a new Pinterest account on which I can indulge my passion for fibre and flowers (as opposed to my business one, which is slightly diverted from the path of righteousness by wool). It’s not worth looking at yet, but as soon as it’s built up a bit I’ll make sure I share it.

I started a board called ‘knitting – details’ as it struck me how often I fail to look really closely at what I produce. Once it’s finished, that is – I scrutinise it quite finely as I work, of course. And I wanted to celebrate the sheer joy of it, instead of seeking out any dropped stitches and minor errors (the major ones soon make themselves known), so I’ve been enjoying myself with some close-ups.

First, Colinette. Point Five, I think – found in a charity shop, knitted into a jumper and then rapidly frogged when I realised I looked like the Michelin Man in it. It’s now a throw.

Colinette throw

Muted, but shot through with colour.

Not so muted:

Fair Isle

The sleeve and body of a Fair Isle cardigan, knitted in Rowan’s Cotton Glace. Love the sleeve detail, and I just take it for granted. To the extent that it sometimes comes with dried bread dough as an extra.

And now for some garter stitch:


It’s a Hitchhiker, and it was knitted as a present. I’m not quite sure how I managed to give it away, I loved the colour changes so much.

Now for more mutedness (is that a word?):


The reverse side of the cardigan I’m wearing as I type this. Maybe I should have made it up the other way round…

Finally, It’s a chilly morning. Pull up your computer, laptop, tablet or phone and warm your hands on this:


It’s Noro, of course, knitted with some Kidsilk Haze for not-entrely-superfluous extra luxury and yumminess. Actually, it’s too wide for a realistic scarf and too short for a stole and it needs reknitting, but I haven’t the heart.

So take a close look at your knitting and enjoy! (It helps if you’re supposed to be working and are looking for something more interesting to do, by the way, while the  builders next door appear to be digging to Australia so enthusiastically that it’s difficult to concentrate on anything.)

Incidentally – I’m always surprised by the number of Woolwinding images on Pinterest: thanks for sharing!

How to block your knitting (without too much mess)

Caution: this is a knitting post. In contrast to a couple of previous posts, there is absolutely nothing here about curing toothache by wrapping a sheep’s ear round your foot (or whatever unlikely combination of ailment and sheepy remedy you can invent) …

Way back when the world was young, my stash was noticeably larger (cough – it’s gone down and, cough cough cough, back up since then), and I had just started this blog*, I wrote a quick post about blocking. Both I and the blog are older now, but I am still being asked about blocking (or dressing’ or ‘finishing’), only now it’s when I’m doing my stint in the wool shop. So I’m going to risk repetition – but with a different garment and bigger pictures. And apologies if you’re a perfect blocker!

(I’m not, but my method works for me.)

Noro 1

This is part of a cardigan in Noro Silk Garden Lite that I have just finished knitting. I am currently in the process of picking up the front bands – well, I am currently in the process of picking up the front bands and swearing a lot because I’ve had to make a lot of corrections to the pattern – again. What is going on? Have people, even ‘big people’, stopped using tech editors and test knitters? Thank heavens I’m an experienced knitter, grumble, grumble…

Ahem. Blocking.

There are, I suppose four different ways to block or finish your work, and in theory the one you use should vary according to what you are doing. I generally use two of these, which I find suit almost everything. And neither involves huge amounts of disruption or the purchase of expensive kit.

shawl blockingThe first of the four is classic blocking, which has increased in popularity (or perhaps that should be prominence) relatively recently here in the UK, as it seems to be much more common in the US. It’s always been used for shawls, though, in one form or another, and often for lace work (though I’ll get onto ‘dressing’ in a mo). Essentially you wet the piece of knitting then pin it out firmly on a pad of towels and rugs (or an old mattress, or whatever), pulling it into shape until you match the measurements on the pattern schematic, and leave it to dry off. If you’re working in the round or creating a seamless garment, it’s not quite as easy (unless you use a frame – see below).

There are perfect blockers, people who do all this, who carefully damp their garment pieces, bit by bit, and pin them out to exactly the measurements of the schematic. I am not that person. I do block shawls and other lacework, but that’s because lacework looks like a pile of desiccated old cobwebs if you don’t. With a shawl, you extend the piece until the lace looks right, pinning it in the same way. You can buy blocking wires for shawls, but I tend to use a selection of glass-headed pins or T-shaped blocking pins.

(Be warned: shawl blocking will probably need redoing if you wash a piece, or just as time goes by. Some yarns are more stable than others, though. I have a Citron shawl in Malabrigo Lace that is now about half the size it was when blocked a couple of years ago – this is west Wales; we have high levels of humidity – but one of my eyelet shawls in Araucania Ranco is almost the same size.)

Shetland dressers

Shetland knitters with garments on dressing frames; courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives

This type of finishing shades into the second one, known as ‘dressing’, generally – though terms for this often seem to be interchangeable, and are also often very local. Fair Isle sweaters are still traditionally dressed on frames, but most of us don’t have access to these (though I’d love one, I must admit).

In places like Shetland, big hap shawls would also be stretched out on a frame, and I was given a great tip there a few years ago. ‘Use substantial cardboard cut to half the length and the full desired width of a lace scarf. Wrap board in many layers of parcel tape. Damp scarf and fold carefully in half with the card in between the halves. Tack the edges together carefully to match, gently stretching the lacework to do so, and leave to dry.’ Boom boom; it works. And sock forms, mitten forms, glove forms – all these are used for dressing smaller items.

The third type of finishing (allegedly, hah, almost finishing off) is one which no one should do because it damages the work you’ve spent ages creating, but which almost everyone has at some point. It’s standard, non steam, direct pressing and I’m still stunned by how many people have problems with their knitting because they’ve blasted it with direct, dry heat. One example I was once shown had even melted. Others have been burned, and the rest look sad and flat and lifeless. Even direct-contact steam ironing can be too much. Better is…

Four: my favourite. Steam pressing. (I’ve been known to steam small items over a kettle, but that doesn’t work for garments. Generally…)

steam pressing

Lay out the piece you need to deal with on an ironing board. Wet a tea towel or piece of calico or something of similar weight, and spread it out over part of the piece, being very careful to unroll any curled edges gently under the cloth. Carefully steam iron the cloth. Work bit by bit, moving the cloth and rewetting it as needed (I start in the middle and work out).

Don’t press too hard, don’t drag the iron over the surface hurriedly, and don’t hold the iron on any one spot for long. Oh, and don’t poke at it with the tip of the iron – quite easy to do when you’re dealing with a rolling edge. You almost need to tease the work out.

If your work is ribbed or cabled or highly textured, this technique will flatten it too much – my mother drummed into me that I should never, ever do this with a rib, and I still don’t. Deal with any curling edges in this way, but you can steam block without the cloth and with the iron held about a centimetre above the piece. I don’t seem to get the same nice finish, except on highly textured knits where steam pressing with a cloth wouldn’t be a good idea. And I don’t find it’s as effective for those edges. In those circumstances, you might also want to use classic blocking (I don’t; I need my floor space).

I realise I could have chosen something more evenly spun than Noro to demonstrate this, but here goes. The one on the left is unblocked, the one on the right is blocked.

And because that’s not 100% clear (I love Noro dearly, but even it isn’t), here are some gloves – sorry about the phantom hand, and pattern to follow, incidentally:

The contrast in the photographs isn’t as marked as it is in reality; the light is a bit difficult at the moment. I’m a huge fan of taking a bit of time to block. I can’t understand why people who don’t block or finish or dress or whatever (and there are many), don’t give it a go and see what a difference it makes. And I really, really want a sweater frame. I’m going to be back in Shetland in June…

*OK, it was only four years ago, but hey. Four years in internet terms is like, several millennia, man. I was revising my work website today and looking up what I’d done in the past when I realised I’d been one of the first people to get their publishers’ books on Amazon UK, in 1998. I went in to the studio early because I was so excited. I know, I know: life, get a….