Tag Archives: Christmas

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!


I’ve been a bit quiet…

… and this is why:


Even I realise this needs some explanation. This, incidentally, is Belinda and he is modelling a bias cowl knitted in a yarn I wouldn’t normally go for but which is one of the best ‘fake fur’ yarns I’ve come across, Sirdar’s Touch.

OK, the elephant in the room. Or perhaps the cross-gender bear on the bed.

I’ve no idea why he’s called Belinda but he is definitely male. Not sure how I knew, I just did. I think I wanted a brother when I was given Belinda (a year or so later I experienced the reality and, let me tell you, it was not what I’d imagined) and that may account for my certainty, but why Belinda? I didn’t know any Belindas. I knew a Chloe and a Jean-Louis and a Gerald and a Simon and a Didier and a Susan, but I didn’t know a Belinda. Anyway, Belinda it is and he’s not changing it now.


I’ve been busy because of this (well, and work, natch):

a4 craft fair christmas poster 2015

of which I am one of the organisers. And ‘organising’ is probably not the best word, because organising craftspeople, and I class myself in this, is an art right up there with herding kittens and trying to rearrange clouds. And now I’m trying to prepare myself for the inevitable – the lovely customers, the fellow knitters, are a joy – of course. But there’s also the ‘I can make one of these myself, so can you let me have it cheaper?’ / ‘you can get these in Asda for £2.50’ brigade. Sigh.

Will be back once next weekend is over. Possibly traumatised.

Happy Christmas!

Just a quickie, and a bit of displacement activity, to wish everyone


winter sheep

from me, and from some very curious and wintry sheep, brought down form the hills in advance of the big snows four years ago. Fingers crossed for less dramatic weather this year (though Snowdon has a white cap on this morning)…


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?’)

Happy, Joyeux, Llawen…

Happy Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Nadolig Llawen (my favourite comment on the latter came from Gavin and Stacey, with Gavin’s mum convinced the Welsh was Nadolig Clarins)…

But every Christmas I end up channelling the distantly Provencal side of my ancestry and dig out my collection of santons, the terracotta figures representing all the people of a Provencal village. They, together with the more conventionally religious figures like the Holy Family and the Magi, make up a Christmas creche. The figures can be large – about 25cm is not uncommon – but mine are much smaller, about 7cm for the standing ones (and the creches can be enormous). My own collection, my father’s having gone astray over the years, started with sheep (sigh), and a shepherd:


to which I soon added a knitter and spinner.


The detail is lovely, with even facial expressions (love the smiley sheep) and details of clothing carefully rendered.

Take a closer look at the knitter, for instance, with her shawl in a traditional Provencal pattern, her stripy sock (which she is only knitting on two needles, a woman after my own heart, has clearly read Knit Your Socks On Straight). She is only 5cm tall, and what isn’t clear here is the beautiful detail of the stone wall on which she sits – there’s even lichen.

Until about ten years ago, most of my santons were male. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it did, and so I began consciously adding some women to my small personal outpost of Provence. There is a female water carrier, an elderly wood collector and several marchandes, vendors, sellers of things like lavender or ribbons. IMG_7695

The knitter’s needles are metal, and many of my santons have additions such as a bundle of logs or a fishing rod. But the delicacy of the ribbon seller’s basket is particularly fine. The cord holding it around her neck is threaded through two tiny little metal loops on the ends of her basket, and it is carefully and minutely tied at the back.  I have an ex-neighbour who is in his mid-80s, and who is a ship modeller (though he also built my spinning wheel); I’ve only ever seen such minute and perfect work on his models. And they are hardly mass-produced, which santons almost are; they’re not unique productions and can even be bought in Parisian department stores in the run-up to Christmas.

IMG_7694It is possible to buy unpainted ones and decorate them yourself if you wish; I prefer the traditional decoration – plus, I’m not at all confident I could get anywhere near the level of detail required to transform a 7cm-tall figure of a letter carrier / postman into a passable version of the older Gérard Depardieu (or maybe it’s just me, or maybe just the moustache). And I’m not sure he’s exactly seasonal, but then neither are the blacksmith, the poacher (easily recognisable as Mond des Papillons from Marcel Pagnol’s wonderful memoirs of his childhood, La gloire de mon père and  Le château de ma mère), or the man wandering about with a giant pumpkin on his shoulder.

The most recent additions are a band of ‘gypsy’ musicians, which I love:


Let’s assume they are seasonal, and are playing something festive, like ‘Il est né, le devin enfant‘. Or maybe, since I am ‘tout à fait laïque‘, completely unreligious, like my entire family, it should be a jolly bouncy dance tune to cheer up the darkest time of the year. I’ll go for that!

Have a lovely holiday, if you’re having one that is – and fair play to anyone who is working or volunteering through it. Especially those at our local homeless shelter – and the nearby food banks which, according to Ian Duncan Smith, are completely uneccessary and have a political agenda. Maybe he should think on another person, not entirely unconnected with Christmas, who could also be described as having had a political agenda. According to the Romans. OK, rant over. And seasons greetings!

How about a little Christmas knitting…

As it’s the beginning of September, and as I’ve been clearing odds and ends from my stash (many of which are being transformed into a Colinette-type throw, why I bought enough mohair to refill Cardigan Bay I do not know, I don’t even like it), I was looking for patterns with which to enliven the existence of my friends and family.  And I found some.

no. no.

Perhaps a cowl or two? These are fetchingly described as ‘wind cheaters’ and, yes, he is wearing one too. What you can’t quite make out on this shot – it’s difficult enough on the original – is that the white fringed job that Mrs Stepford is wearing has fringes on both ends, so you fold it over to give a second attractive line of fringing half-way down. Plus, of course, it gives the appearance of really pronounced musculature in the shoulder area, as though Mrs S had either been spending time with Arnie in the gym, was about to go ‘arrrrghhhh’ and burst out of her clothes as some sort of middle-class Incredible Hulk, or had developed a strange disease. She’s also clearly spaced, but then knitting pattern models from the 50s and early 60s often are. Quite what this says about the modelling scene in about 1961 I hate to think. And there I was, thinking the 1970s were the times of true excess. Clearly not.

I rest my case:


What is in the cigarette that the chap – definitely the right word – in the ‘evening scarf’ is holding? (‘A’ for ‘A twit’?) Something tells me I won’t be knitting any of these for my brother.

Nor will I be knitting these, but only because he doesn’t play golf, of course.

golf gordon bennett

Otherwise I’d be seriously tempted.

Can you imagine the reaction you would get, appearing on the golf course with these? ‘I say, old boy, you’ve got something rather strange on your golf clubs, you know’. ‘Ah yes, I’m afraid Gwladys has been busy again…’. ‘You want to give her some of these, old man. [Hands over tablets] Keeps my Winifred’s needlepoint under control.’

And let’s not get onto the subject of Uncle Bill, who is clearly the sort of uncle who is not mentioned at the dinner table, but who appears every so often when his on-course betting business goes astray, seduces the housemaid and then disappears for another twelve months, possibly with the silver-backed hairbrushes from Mother’s dressing table:


I mean, he’s even nicked Father’s pipe.

All I can say about the final one is please don’t:


Judging by the caption, the writer suspected that reaction: ‘I can see quite a lot of you blanching with horror at the thought of a knitted tie, but this one will break down all your prejudice’. No, it won’t. And what the heck is ‘wool string’?  But oh for the days when chaps wore ‘week-end tweeds’ rather than crappy jeans and a nasty band T-shirt that has seen better days. Maybe I should knit one after all, as encouragement?

Pass me those dodgy cigarettes, I’m heading back into the stash…

Happy Knitting!

Well, I never know whether to say Happy Christmas or not…

Over on Heikeknits, my friend Heike has been doing a series of blog posts about seasonal traditions in Germany. By way of festive good wishes, I’m contributing – very briefly – something a bit different. Well, different in the UK, anyway. Not so different in Provence.

I have a large collection of small terracotta figures.

They are traditionally used in Christmas creches in the south of France – there’s a somewhat similar tradition in Italy and in Catalonia – and they not only represent the main protagonists of the story, but all the workers of a Provençal village.

There are some regular characters, some I like to think of as illustrating Marcel Pagnol’s wonderful autobiographical books, and some new ones every year. There are Fairs for selling them in the South, though I have to admit that most of mine have come from Paris. My father had quite a collection, but they all disappeared over time and I decided to start building my own a while ago. I’m not religious – that’s also a family tradition – so I confine my collection to the ordinary people, though some shepherds have snuck in.

Plus, but of course, the occasional sheep. And I am happy to say that I have recently managed to add these two:

I am particularly fond of them; I can’t think why…

So however you celebrate or spend it,