Category Archives: Christmas knitting

Cracking on… (for Christmas. Shhh.)

It’s less than two weeks. No, not to Christmas, come down from the ceiling, it’s not that scary though it is nearly as bad. Nope, it’s less than two weeks until the big Harlech Craft Fair and I am picnicking.

PANICKING, thank you, WordPress autocorrect.

Wish I was picnicking, but there you go. In fact, here is Picnic Central, otherwise known as the kitchen table, complete with iPad, knitting and one of the 85,345,278 cups of tea I drink in the course of a day.



It’s a great Fair, the Harlech one – really more of a makers’ market, as the craftspeople are professionals who all earn at least part of their income doing what they do. But everyone is used to it being called Harlech Christmas Craft Fair, and so it stays as that. I’m one of the stallholders and this year, due to having had a crazy summer where I almost sold out of everything, I’m diversifying.

No, not into ‘innovative jam’ (copyright Teresa May) or pottery or pyrographing my name on my forehead or doing anything surprising in metal. Into a few simple woolly kits. It struck me, during the summer of eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!, that I was missing some potential customers. Knitters came to chat about knitting, great, enjoyed it, loved it – can happily talk about knitting until the cows have come home, changed and gone out on the town partying – but they didn’t buy. Well, the chances are that I wouldn’t buy knitting either on a woolly stall, though I would always make a beeline for any such stalls at similar events.

This got me thinking, as did some of the things these knitters said, such as ‘what’s a three-needle bind off?’ and ‘Russian splicing? What’s that?’ When you knit and know things, you tend to assume that other knitters also know those things, and yet sometimes they don’t. Take me, f’r instance. I can’t do kitchener stitch (I know) or work on double-pointed needles without tying myself in knots: we all have things which aren’t our thing, if you get my drift.

So: basic kits for my own straightforward but effective patterns, each incorporating a technique or alternative approach – that is the idea. I’ve sourced some wool which is good quality but reasonable so it allows me to sell it on at an equally reasonable price, though not in huge quantities – this is just a test, after all. I’ve worked up some patterns, tested them, made silly mistakes, corrected them, retested them and now all I need to do is type them out. The most complicated one is my Woolwinding Shawl, and that’s not really complicated; the simplest one is an offset rib double cowl. But the one I am most absurdly pleased with is almost as easy, a pair of simple fingerless mitts / wrist warmers.


I spent ages fiddling around with the cables, after one silly mistake with the pattern I thought I was going to use made them look like varicose veins (definitely best discarded, mistake or no mistake, largely because I couldn’t stop laughing). They’re a variation on the classic claw Aran pattern, but without the long thread across the traditional 1/3 cable which can catch on things. There’s a right and a left mitt; the palms are plain because that’s more practical (and it helps the wool go further so you can get two mitts out of a single ball of loveliness; these test mitts are in Rowan Pure Wool DK, but I’ve got a few balls of delicious DK alpaca for the kits themselves). I’ve also got a fingerless glove pattern in 4 ply which is more complicated, but I’ll see how these go first.

This made me think about fingerless mitts. I’ve always used them – before I even knitted -because I was a photographer and needed my fingertips free. They were really difficult to find, once, too. Not so now; I’ve noticed them in the outdoor and mountaineering shops round here, often with a mitt bit (must trademark that) which fastens back, but I’ve also seen them in general shops, and whenever I have them for sale they always fly out. Maybe it’s something to do with all the tech we use nowadays, rather than the fact that we’re all rock climbing?

Anyway, let’s see how the kits go. If nothing else, it will take some of the pressure off me for finished objects (took some off by not doing commissions any more, and that helps), and they can go on etsy too, when I get my act together. And now I’m back in love with cables, too.


And with warm radiators, even though they make a disconcerting background for photos. Doing a selfie of your hand is not as easy as you’d think (thank goodness for protective cases for tech). Hey ho!


The quick Christmas cowl

… which can be worn all year round, with the right yarn. And it’s easy.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned these cowls, which I’d been making for a craft fair. They’re really popular and a quick knit. Just right for that emergency present – and I promised the pattern would be up here ASAP.  They are what I call ‘yarn dependent’, in that the right yarn makes them delicious or doesn’t quite work. I’ve found what I think is the best solution, something which works in summer and winter, and which isn’t too bulky (often a problem with cowls – you can feel swamped or have lots of flapping fabric). But they work just as well with a nice tweedy aran.

For myself, I settled on Colinette Giotto, a tape yarn, a blend of cotton, rayon and nylon. Ideal for people who are either iffy with wool or who are sensitive about scratchiness. Warm enough for winter, cool enough for summer evenings.

cowl 1

The cotton stops it being too glittery and gives it depth, and I am completely hooked on it. As a result, I sometimes end up with part of a skein left over, and I find these simple cowls ideal for using them up. They’re very adaptable – can be made thinner or fatter or even longer (I wrap them round twice, until they stretch, but I’ve one which goes round my neck three times), depending on how much yarn is hanging around in the stash waiting for a good home. Colinette says that Giotto should be knitted on 8mm needles, but don’t you believe it.

Incidentally, gauge / tension is relatively unimportant; you want a fabric that has some drape without it being too thick and solid. Do a quick pattern repeat to see how it feels and adjust the needle size if necessary. My cowls, knitted like this, are 12cm wide, but I have made them wider.

Here goes:

Christmas Cowl
You need about 75g of Colinette Giotto – that’s about 105 metres, and a pair of 5.5mm needles (old UK size 5, US size 9).

Cast on 20 stitches.

Row 1 (right side): knit
Row 2 (WS): K1, purl to last stitch, K1.
Row 3 (RS): K2 *P4, K2, rep from * to end
Row 4 (WS): K1, P1 *K4, P2, rep from * to last 2 stitches, P1, K1
Rows 5 and 6: repeat rows 3 and 4.
Rows 7 and 8: repeat rows 1 and 2, the stocking stitch rows.
Row 9 (RS): K1, P2 *K2, P4, rep from * to last 3 sts, P2, K1.
Row 10 (WS): K3, *P2, K4, rep from * to last 3 sts, K3.
Rows 11 and 12: repeat rows 9 and 10.

That’s the pattern repeat, a simple basket weave, with line of stocking stitch between the two halves:

basket weave

Follow the pattern until your piece of knitting is as long as you want it to be – generally about 95cm – and ending, always, on Row 12. Cast off.

Oversew the cast on and cast off edges together neatly on the WS, ensuring that the pattern flows on the RS and making as flat a seam as possible. Don’t use back stitch or mattress stitch; they will be too bulky. (Oversewing is sometimes called ‘overcasting’, ‘edge to edge’ or ‘making a flat seam’. It’s the simple method most of us were probably taught not to do as soon as we started knitting properly, but it’s vital in some circumstances.) That’s it!

Notes and adaptations:
Always, but always, knit the first and last stitches of every row, even the purl rows, to give you a neat edge. That’s written in here.
• If you wish, use a provisional cast on, and then graft the two ends together. I usually forget and cast on as normal, because I’m on automatic pilot.
• You can also do a three-needle cast off. Again, I usually forget. It is important that the oversewing is neat, however.
• Because knitting is elastic, the cowls will stretch; just wind them round more in wear. However, the stretching means they get thinner, so I recommend 20 sts as the minimum cast on.
• Casting on 26 gives a wider cowl, ideal for people with bigger necks (chaps, generally, or tall thinnies with long necks). This adds an extra repeat to the pattern going across but doesn’t alter it in any way. It also takes more yarn, of course, so bear that in mind. And you may need to make it longer, say 100cm or more and adding another full pattern repeat, if you’re dealing with a rugby player.

Enjoy – any problems, let me know.

(The pattern’s just been added to Ravelry’s database, by the way. Hopefully that will help other people looking at a part skein of Giotto and thinking ‘now what?’)

The season of the toecover

(Or what NOT to knit for Christmas.)

I’ve been sent a couple of things to review recently which I’m not going to mention. Sometimes I do this because they are inappropriate. OK, sometimes they are terrible (in which case I give feedback directly, but not here), but sometimes they are just plain wrong. And this is the season for it: the run up to Christmas. If I see another book inviting me to knit / crochet / weave / felt something – stockings / candy canes / decorations / skirts for Christmas trees / strange small gift items – I am going to scream. Or strangle / incinerate / shred / rip the offending object into small pieces.

These books are toecover production manuals, and they should be ignored at all costs.


This is a budgie cover, but it is also – most emphatically – a clear type of toecover.

Not come across ‘toecover’ before? It was part of our family vernacular, for as long as I can remember, and now I forget that it’s not universal. But it should be. It has nothing to do with sports equipment or anything medical, and everything to do with, um, ‘handicrafts’. Unfortunately.

It comes from the wonderful Betty MacDonald, and her book from the 1940s, The Plague and I, detailing her year in a TB sanatorium (doesn’t sound funny, but it’s a hoot). ‘Toecover,’ she writes, ‘is a family name for a useless gift. A crocheted napkin ring is a toe cover. So are embroidered book marks … pincushion covers done in french knots … cross-stitched pictures of lumpy brown houses…’

agh 2

She waxes lyrical for a long paragraph, but you get the picture. Those are toecovers. It’s easy to imagine that the toecover died out sometime around 1970, when everybody was too busy getting off of their heads to bother about making attractive napkin rings out of leather scraps and left-over yarn, but evidently not:


Thank you, Golden Hands.

And they still live and flourish today.

Think about it. What else are knitted iPhone covers, crocheted tree garlands that look as though the cat’s been sick, twee dolls for adults, wine-bottle cozies in moss stitch (or, indeed, any stitch), and most take-away coffee cup holders, especially those with hands? And in case you think I’m exaggerating, a quick search for ‘knitted gifts’ on Pinterest revealed the existence of what can only be described as a completely un-ironic frilly dress for a decanter. NO!

Magazines are the natural habitat of the toecover, especially at this time of year. Take the latest issue of Landscape, for instance, a relatively recent addition to the ‘I want that lifestyle’ area of magazine publishing. The latest edition, based around Christmas, features some things called ‘table stockings’. (I can’t photograph it, because I’d be breaking copyright and I’m being rude enough without tempting fate.) They’re not for the table legs – we’re not Victorians, honestly – but they are little socks, knitted in red with a cable pattern and a white cuff. You put your cutlery in them at the table. Apparently they ‘bring a light-hearted touch to the dinner table’. I knew that.

Surely those of us who do knit presents for our nearest and dearest are already bogged down making scarves, hats, gloves, socks, even the occasional definitely ironic sweater with a reindeer on it (check out this Rav project page for an, er, interesting take on the reindeer motif – but not if you’re easily offended), to bother about making tiny socks for spoons? Surely? Surely?

Posy Simmonds had a series of cartoon strips in the 1980s Guardian called Mrs Webber’s Diary; there were several incarnations with slightly different titles, but they were some of the most pertinent pieces of observation I’ve ever come across. In one, a daughter had called her mother to say that she had just been unsuccessful in a job application. It’s seen from the mother’s POV, and she suggests that at least missing out on the job would mean her daughter had time to care for her family – ‘you’ll have time to do it all properly … I was only joking, Jane’. She then says ‘…you’ll find something to do … look at me, I did…’ and puts the phone down. The last frame says it all:

AGH3 This is a toecover factory.

Do not fall into this trap. Do not knit bulky bookmarks, tiny hats to use as Christmas tree decorations, strange naked deformed dolls which are supposed to be cute, little house-shaped key rings which double up as key tidies or – the oddest one I found in a quick search – a strange chicken with something hanging out of its mouth, possibly a worm, possibly its entrails. It will end badly.

But if you do have spare time, knit socks – and give them to me. My nephew has just requested socks and I do not knit socks. Rats.

PS: I popped into (and out of) a little craft fair yesterday, and discovered a toecover nest. Here are a few extras, not all knitting:

  • Earmuffs, knitted in eyelash yarn, but with dangly legs (why?).
  • A crocheted heart with ‘I [heart] my teacher’ embroidered on it. No scented stuffing or anything like that, just a heart-shaped thing.
  • A wooden circle, with ‘a round tuit’ pyrographed on – so someone could get a round to it (ho ho ho)
  • A decoupage box for holding those small packs of paper hankies… there were also several of these knitted or crocheted, too; I think this village must be prone to bad colds.
  • A fake nose. I need to explain this one: made out of pink felt, I think it was supposed to be a pig’s snout. It had elastic so it would stay on, clearly designed for a small child. Childline need to be advised.
  • A pile of blocks of wood or cardboard covered alternately in fabric or crochet, with embroidered titles. They were not real books – I mean, who’d want real books in their house when they could have a pile of fake ones?