Category Archives: Make

Makes, buys and wishlists – mostly yarn, handknits, fibre and spinning.

Gathering and making

Gathering and making

For me, stuff comes in tides. There are times when the waves roll in, and the stuff line creeps higher and higher and times when stuff flows out. Moving into a just-the-two-of-us house after a several years of living in shared homes, the caravan and hotels brought a high tide. We have furniture. We’ve started reclaiming our stuff from long-term storage provided by my very generous family. I have more than 5 dresses. I have yarn and paper books.

It’s not finished though. There’s a spring tide around the corner. More things are settling in our home. They’re like snowflakes: tiny, delicate, beautiful and potentially overwhelming.

They’re things like this:

Newborn size handknit yellow cardigan with cow buttons

And this:

Two newborn size warm onsies with hoods and mittens

And this:

Baby vest with Darth Vadar face and words 'You are my father'

All these things are in limbo, waiting for September when my most exciting WIP will be — hmm, I won’t say ‘done’. Off the needles, perhaps.

It’s weird shopping for a baby you’re growing. It’s hard to know when to start and where to stop. Naturally, being opinionated people, K and I both have ideas about what a child needs, what’s good value, what’s too expensive or unnecessary. We’re wrong. I don’t yet know what we’re wrong about, but some of our brilliant theories definitely won’t stand up to the practical exam.

Luckily, we’re surrounded by generous and thoughtful people who’ve done it before. K’s sister and her husband have given us loads of lovely things, some of which I don’t even know how to use, with accompanied hints: This’ll be great when they’re about 6 months. Tuck this away, they come in handy. Try this, our two loved it. Friends have kept things they considered life changing or sanity saving, and have passed them on to us. Other people have offered advice and reassurance.

Considering that Sprout is a whole season away from being an independent life form, she (according to the ultrasound tech) has a lot of fans. And a lot of stuff.

But you know what? Even though I’m usually a minimalist I really don’t mind this rising tide. I love the carefully chosen baby items sent to me from Australia. I love the snuggle lion that my friends’ kid chose and put in her dad’s suitcase for us. I love that my mum has taught herself to knit (again) and made something tiny and wonderful. With cow buttons, because that’s how we roll in Switzerland.

Not everyone is happy that K and I are having a baby. We’ve been told that our (unmarried) way of doing things is wrong and wicked, and that hurt. But so many people are so happy for us, and it’s amazing. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more loved than right now.

Knit Your Socks on Straight by Alice Curtis

Knit Your Socks on Straight by Alice Curtis

One of the things I keep learning about knitting is that there’s always more to learn about knitting. Knitting socks on straight needles seems like an enormous faff to me – and yet someone wrote a whole book about it! Why? I needed to know, so immediately requested a review copy.

Luckily, Alice Curtis opens her book, Knit Your Socks on Straight with an explanation of where she’s coming from and what the book is about. As a yarn store owner, she encountered a fear of knitting in the round, and developed sock patterns to help her clients / students knit around that fear.

Knitting your first socks
I don’t imagine that beginner sock knitters are the only people who will buy this book, but a book like Knit Your Socks on Straight does need to cater to beginners. Curtis opens the book with several pages of chat which evolves into a technique section. The section is illustrated, but I would say not thoroughly enough – I couldn’t follow her cast on description, and I know how to do it.

However, I do like the way she talks you through the different options she’ll use (cast on, heel and toe, for example) and explains why you might choose each one. A lot of beginner sock patterns simply instruct, which means that the knitter has to take everything on trust – I know I wasn’t that trusting, and got in an awful pickle with my first sock as a result of thinking that can’t possibly be right. The patterns in this book also start with simple designs and move to more complex ones, which some beginners may find useful.

What about the seams?
Socks with seams sounds like a bad idea, but Curtis tackles it head on. She’s developed – or reinvented, or adapted – a method of seaming which seems to be both simple to do and comfortable to wear. (It’s a crochet seam, for the curious.) However, her smartest move is to make the seam a design feature. Socks are seamed up on the outside, where the seam won’t rub, and the seam is part of the design. It’s a cat-flap moment, and makes the book much more interesting.

Sadly, this is a book that might have been better as a blog post. The patterns are good, but not as exciting as that single page explaining the secret to socks on straight. There are 20 patterns in the book, by my count, and 4 of them seem to be variations on stocking stitch socks with side seams. Earlier, Curtis did a great job of explaining each choice and why it was made, here she’s presenting 4 versions of the same sock, just in different sizes and yarn weights.

The rest of the patterns are pretty good. They’re clearly explained, well-illustrated (although it’s not always clear where the seams are). A new sock knitter will probably find plenty to enjoy. I didn’t find anything I wanted to knit but this may be because I am jaded. The patterns are a mix of quirky novelty sock designs and more discreet textured patterns – there’s probably something here for everyone, and there are certainly a couple of patterns I would happily wear.

I do find it odd that Curtis chose to knit all the patterns from the cuff down. It seems like an odd limitation – sideways socks are exciting, new, and open up a whole different set of options. I expected at least one sideways sock or something with an interesting construction but this is purely a technique shift. On that basis, I feel that it would have been a kindness for Curtis to cover translating patterns from in the round to on straights, but I didn’t find anything on that topic.

Overall, the book is a good, if limited, and I think it fills a gap in the market. While I think that almost any knitter can learn to use DPNs, I don’t for a minute imagine they would all like it – and knitting, above all, should be enjoyable. Curtis’s book is a good choice for any knitter who wants to make socks without knitting in the round.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Storey. You can see their page about Knit Your Socks on Straight here.

Ne’er cast a clout until May is out

Ne’er cast a clout until May is out

This is most of my knitting output for the year to date. Luckily K is taking the old saying seriously, so they’ll probably be in use for a while yet.

Hand knit socks in orangey red marled yarn, shown on hairy white legs Hand knit socks pink and black pseudo Fair Isle yarn, shown on hairy white legs Hand knit socks in in transitioning shades of brown and grey, shown on hairy white legs

Knitting socks is like a magic trick. It’s actually – and non-knitters never believe this – really very simple when you know how it’s done. Most people with the coordination to use a computer can knit a plain sock like the ones above. As sock knitting looks ferociously complicated and socks are easily portable, it’s a great party trick.

I’ve been sent a review copy of a new sock knitting book – Knit Your Socks On Straight – which takes some of the trauma out of sock knitting by doing away with the double pointed needles. If you want to knit a sock, but don’t like knitting in the round, this could be the book for you. I’ll post my review on Wednesday, so check back later in the week for the full story.

Farmyard Knits by Fiona Goble

Farmyard Knits by Fiona Goble

Knit a whole farmyard in 15 simple patterns, from fields to farmers, chickens to cows. Farmyard Knits has clear instructions to make a complete farmyard set with animals, people and even a tractor.

I requested a review copy of this through NetGalley, and the publishers, Andrew McMeel, kindly sent it to me. I haven’t knit any of the patterns, and honestly I don’t think I will.

There are lots of things I like about this book, but sadly the designs aren’t one of them. I think the creatures and people look rather creepy, with their wide, white eyes (on a horse, isn’t that sign they’re about to bolt?) and I’m not that keen on the way some of the animals are jointed – the joints don’t move, it’s just that they look a bit odd in the way they’re attached.

I realise, however, that’ this is entirely subjective so I strongly recommend you go take a look at the cover. Do you like what you see? Then you’ll probably enjoy the book.

Clear, precise instructions
While I don’t like the designs, I am impressed with how the book is laid out. Goble seems to be writing with beginners in mind, which means she includes useful information at every step. The book opens with a list of tools and techniques – and tells you which ones the less common ones will be required for, so if you don’t want to knit the cat you don’t need to worry about satin stitch.

The patterns themselves are clearly laid out. The toys are knitted in sections which will need to be sewn up at the finish, and as usual there aren’t many pictures of the back of the animals to guide you. However, Goble does indicate where you’re starting (e.g. body is knit from neck to tail) so you know what you’re making as you knit it, and can easily match head to neck to feet when making up. I haven’t seen this before, and it strikes me as incredibly useful.

Beautifully illustrated
Farmyard Knits is part pattern book, part story book. Over the course of a day, farmers Anna and Frank, tend each of their animals and work on the farm. Each time of day introduces different creatures and the patterns to make them, and opens with a story page explaining what’s going on.

The story pages are a nice touch, and the whole book is beautifully illustrated. The knitted characters are set into drawings showing their activities – the knitted hen and her knitted eggs are sat on a drawing of a nest, the knitted pigs eat at a drawn trough which Anna fills with a drawn bucket. It’s very effective and a combination of ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ which children will understand from their own imaginary play. And hopefully they’ll recognize the distinction, and not demand a knitted trough…

All in all, if you like the designs then I can see this being a good choice for a farmyard collection. I really like the fact that there’s a tractor and a playmat of fields to go with the animals, and that it’s designed to be a playset rather than ornamentation.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Andrews McMeel Publishing. You can see their page about Farmyard Knits here.

Knitting Classic Style by Véronik Avery

Knitting Classic Style by Véronik Avery

Inspired by classic fashion designs from the last hundred years or more, Véronik Avery’s Knitting Classic Style features 35 knitting patterns. Most of the designs are for women, with a few for men and children and a number of accessories which could be for anyone.

Véronik Avery is a very talented designer who has an amazing way with cables and textures, so when I spotted this book on NetGalley, I immediately requested a review copy.

Knitting Classic Style is not a new book, although it has been released in a new edition. It was first published in 2007, which means that you can see all 35 designs from Knitting Classic Style on Ravelry as well as some designs on the publisher’s website.

The new edition is available on Kindle, which I have mixed feelings about – I knit a lot from patterns I’ve loaded onto my Kindle, but it can be very hard to see images as you can’t zoom far enough in, so following a chart might be a royal pain. That said, I haven’t seen this book on Kindle, so it may be fabulous. On to things I do know about!

Beautiful, elegant designs
Avery comes from a fashion background – she worked as a costume designer before she began knitting – and has an eye for stunning cables, particularly. I love her use of textured stitches and colourwork throughout this book.

Avery delves into the fashion history which inspired each pattern, giving you something to read and enjoy even if you never knit any of the patterns. In some ways, I feel like this would be a great coffee-table book – it’s just that pretty, and the bits of history are intriguing to dip into.

Perhaps because of her start in sewing, most of the patterns are in the knit and sew up format, although there are a few pieces which have a more interesting construction. I think this is probably deliberate – seams give a garment structure, and it’s clear Avery knows what she’s doing – but if you’re a fan of everything in the round (like I am) this may not be the book for you.

The patterns are complex and many use fine yarn for large projects, and this is not a book which takes the beginner through step-by-step. I think the patterns are clearly written (although I haven’t tried to follow one) but there is plenty of ‘while keeping the stitch pattern correct ALSO…’ which I know drives some knitters up the wall. Read carefully, is what I’m saying.

A few qualms
The book is also a typical hotchpotch, more women’s cardigans and jumpers than anything else, but also tops for men and children, socks, hats and other accessories. It’s not a format I, personally, care for – even though I love Avery’s designs, I know there’s no way I’ll be knitting a man’s jumper in the foreseeable future, or a cardigan for an 8-year-old, so these are a waste of space for me, and I’d prefer a more targeted book.

I’d also be reluctant to buy this book because I feel like it’s not really for fat chicks. As a plus-size knitter, I know I won’t get the same drape and slouch some of the designs use, while the fitted pieces just won’t look the same either. Again, this is a matter of personal taste, and it’s clear that there has been an effort to size the designs up and down, so that individuals can choose.

Design sizes seem to go from the low 30s to the low 50s (in inches) but this is only over 4-6 sizes, which may be problematic. There’s also a wide range in available sizes: the finished size of the largest size offered on the first 3 garments is 40in, 47in and 52in respectively, and the lowest sizes varied as well, so if you’re under 37in or over 40in you can’t guarantee a fit.

I imagine that you’re supposed to pick a size (say 2XL) and stick with it throughout, so that each design will finish with the fit Avery had in mind, but as there’s no overall sizing information or ease indication I’m wary. I’m not a nervous knitter but I would hate to invest in good yarn and start in on one of these complex patterns, only to realise that, nope, I’m sized out of this design. Again, not a timid knitter – and I’ve even done a little tech editing – but altering one of Avery’s designs to fit is more work than I care for.

The accessories are also restricted in size – even the simple stripy socks are one-size-fits-some, as are the gloves and mitts, and most of the other hats and socks.

All in all, I’m happy to see this book back out again, with an ebook and a new paper edition. Avery’s designs are absolutely beautiful, and when I have a knitting lounge, I’ll buy a copy to put on the coffee table. I’m not sure I’d ever knit anything out of it though…

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, STC Craft / Melanie Falick Books. You can see their page about Knitting Classic Style here. Errata for Knitting Classic Style are here but I imagine that refers to the previous edition, rather than this new one.

Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman

Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman

There’s something for every crocheter in this collection of 101 crochet projects, each taking just one skein of yarn. Crochet One-Skein Wonders includes a wide range of projects, from baby bootees to sofa cushions, toys to jewellery.

I’m a sucker for anything yarn-related and I’ve been wanting to get back into crochet, so when I spotted Crochet One-Skein Wonders on NetGalley, I immediately requested a review copy. The book is out today, so I can tell you: it’s good.

Views of a lapsed crocheter
For some reason, crochet doesn’t seem to be quite as popular as knitting. In my case, it’s because I have to look at my hands while I crochet, which means I can’t watch TV – listen to the TV, sure – or make eye contact while I’m doing it. I also find it harder to get started and to follow patterns.

That said, crochet can go incredibly quickly and turn out some amazing sculptural pieces – without much effort. It’s particularly good for no-sewing toys and lace patterns which will make a knitter’s mind boggle. So I think it’s a skill well worth having – and if you’re a beginner or a lapsed crocheter like me, this is a great book to start a crochet pattern library with.

Why do I recommend it? Well, it does what it says on the tin – the projects are each for one skein (or a partial skein) of yarn, which means they’re quick to make and require little investment. The designs are a mix of old favourites (like a simple beanie hat) and quirky new ideas (like that clever cushion on the cover). They range from super-simple to intriguingly complex and the patterns are arranged by yarn weight, making it easy to find a project to match a skein in your stash.

However, if you’re a crochet-expert, you may find this book a little simple – it might be good for quick gifts, but I feel like the individual patterns might not be wildly exciting if you’ve already crocheted hats, scarves, toys, socks and so on.

Focus on the patterns
Clever design is one thing, but how the pattern is presented can make the difference between a frustrating UFO and a delightful finished project.

Each pattern is clearly presented, and includes finished sizes as well as standard information such as yarn and hook details.

One clever touch is that the designers or editors seem to recognize that starting the project is how many people work a tension square, so some of their tension information is in terms of the first few rows or rounds – genius idea, if you ask me, and should be standard for small projects.

Many of the patterns have both written instructions and charts, which is ideal if you’re learning to read one or the other, or are beginning crochet. As crochet is often worked in the round, and rarely works every stitch on every row, I find charts incredibly helpful to get the overall picture, but sometimes confusing to work from without a bit of help. Having both makes my life easier.

The book uses a number of different techniques – including Tunisian crochet and felting – which it doesn’t explain in great detail. I don’t think this is failing – there’s a lot packed in there already – but it’s worth knowing that this is a pattern book, not a how-to book.

I don’t buy pattern books unless there are several projects I want to knit – with this one, there are at least a dozen I’m interested in, either because the technique looks interesting or I want the finished project. I like that the book uses a mix of solid yarns and variegated, hand-dyed and and commercial. I feel like I could dive into my stash, pull out any ball and find a pattern to make – which is what I want from this type of book, really.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Storey Publishing. This review is a book-only review: I have not crocheted any of the projects – yet!

Love in a warm hand-knit

Love in a warm hand-knit

Now, people might say I’m not very romantic, because the only thing I’ve ever got K for Valentine’s Day was a cold. To those people I say check this out:
Knitting - gloves

You see that? Those are hand-knit gloves with all ten fingers. That’s love, right there.

Pattern: made up by me to exactly fit K’s hands
Yarn: Trekking XXL Tweed colour 205
Needles: 2.5mm

Handspun Hat

Handspun Hat

Close up of a pale-blue beanie hat being worn by K, a white guy with glasses and a beard.

Two-ply yarn spun from a hand-dyed merino/tencel braid from Sara’s Texture Crafts. Simple hat knit top-down on 7mm needles.

I am so pleased with this hat! I spun the yarn and then knit the hat (and then took the photo, which is why K is modelling it). It’s the first thing I’ve ever knitted from my handspun and I couldn’t be more proud if it was made of cake and unicorns.

Spinning Around

Spinning Around

Shot of the bobbin of an Ashford Joy spinning wheel with a two-ply green yarn filling the bobbinThe wheel is an Ashford Joy and the yarn was spun from a Shetland Top, colourway ‘Earth’ from Wheeldale Woolcrafts.

This weekend I went to an event hosted by the Lavernham Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. It was a brilliant day out: the hall was suitable and accessible, everyone was friendly and the cake was top-notch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the guild had invited a shop to bring their wares, so half the hall was full of fibre and yarn. And we were allowed to play with it.

Wingham Wool Work are based in Rotherham, Yorkshire, and offer something rather amazing: if you visit on a weekday, you can try out their wheels, felting kit and different kinds of fibre for free. And then you can take what you made away, for free.

They brought the whole lot down to Cambridgeshire for a weekend. It must have been a hell of a lot of work and I hope it was as good for them as it was for us.

As a new spinner it was a brilliant opportunity to find out if I like different and unusual fibres. Most of the fluff in my stash is wool. Most of the spinning fibre in the world is probably wool or a wool-blend.

This weekend I got to try linen, cotton, bamboo (yum), yak, alpaca (love it) and several other things I had never heard of before. My mini-skein of thick-and-thin yarn spun from a dozen different fibres is one of my newest treasures.

Unsurprisingly, my fibre stash has grown – might need a bigger box in fact – and I’ve got all sorts of plans for things I want to make. And plans for a detour to Rotherham next time we drive up north!