Tag Archives: knitting

Days like these

Days like these

Pregnant belly and a Kindle propped on a knee

I swear I have done useful things since my last on-site contract finished a week ago, but now that I’m not out of the house for 11 hours a day, there’s time for a bit of real decadence, too. I’ve been working on a few things for Sprout, some practical and some pretty. And this one, that’s hopefully going to be both.

Close up of pregnant belly with knitting on lap

I think we’re as ready as we can be. Sure, there’s more we could do – more we could read or learn or buy or make or clean – but I don’t think any of it’s necessary. (And if it is, well, I understand that the shops will still be open, helping hands will still be offered and even the internet will probably still be running, as though I hadn’t just CHANGED THE WORLD by making a WHOLE BABY.)

Plate of scones rest on bump

These were totally for the baby. Totally. It’s an essential part of keeping her in touch with her Devonshire heritage.

PS. If the Yorkshire contingent are worried about undue influence, don’t be. There were cheese straws last weekend…

Hurrah for 2014

Hurrah for 2014

So the New Year has been with us for a week, and it’s wearing in well. I’ve decided to keep it, in fact.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this new year. It has the potential to be jaw-droppingly awesome or absolutely dreadful, and only time will tell. 2013 was a really mixed bag. Some things were pretty cool. For example:

Handknit socks with the Swedish flag pattern

Yeah, I made those. I am so chuffed with them – they’re the physical realisation of a knitting theory I’ve had in my head for a while. It took me ages to get round to testing it out, and I was so pleased it worked. Plus, I knit them with yarn I bought in Copenhagen, and K requested them because we spent a month in Sweden. I had never been to either country before, and I love visiting new places.

In total, I went to 9 countries this year: Switzerland, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Spain. We drove through Belgium (accidentally, at least the first time) but didn’t stop. So that was very cool. I also got to explore the UK a bit more in the autumn. This year, I’d like to venture a bit further afield. Where’s somewhere you recommend I should go? Could be anywhere in the world, on my doorstop or on the other side of the planet.

We’ve been living in the caravan for over 6 months now, with the odd week away here and there. It’s still going well, but our poor van is showing a bit more wear and tear. It could really do with being dry docked, essentially, and having everything stripped out, scrubbed and put back. Not really possible at the moment – anything we take outside is likely to get waterlogged and/or blow away!

Oxford autumn mist


We’re still at the same site in Oxford as when I took this photo in October. K’s job is going well, and we’re pleased to be here. It’s a lovely site. That said, living in such a small space hasn’t always been easy. One of the things we’re discussing is whether we’ll continue doing this full time in 2014. For the moment, the answer is yes. but it may not be an effective long term solution. It’s been rough lately as all the wind and rain has kept us awake a lot.

I don’t have a clear idea of what 2014 will bring. I’ve got some secret hopes, some not-so-secret plans and a few good ideas. For now, all you really need is the few blog changes:

  • I’m aiming to read some long books off the Big Read list, so I won’t be posting Big Read reviews as often. 
  • I might post reviews of some of the other books I read or intermittent updates on the books I’m working through, to compensate.
  • I’m going to try to post more travel pictures. Current ones will be tagged ‘where we are‘. We are always somewhere interesting, even if it is the same as last week!

I’m open to your suggestions though, so if you always come for the travel photos, the book reviews, or really wish I’d write about something entirely different, leave a comment and let me know. 

Copenhagen for Knitters

Copenhagen for Knitters

You must be wondering if I ever go anywhere without looking for yarn – the answer is, honestly, not really. I don’t tend to make special yarn quests in the UK any more, but I’m always curious when it comes to other countries as sometimes the selection is so similar to what I know, and sometimes very different.

Copenhagen is a great city for yarn shopping – and I’ve got very little else to say about it, as we were only there for a very short period and K was feeling rotten thanks to hayfever, sleep deprivation and us driving 1500km in 2 days. We’ll probably be stopping on the way back from Sweden, as well, as it’s hard to get a caravan out of this country without going through Denmark.

Ordinary streets in Copenhagen are really pretty. It started out grey when we were walking around, which doesn’t do my amateur photography any favours. Luckily the sun came out between one photo and the next.

A random pretty street in Copenhagen, tall old houses in pretty pastels

We walked and cycled around a lot – the town is full of swarms of cyclists, so it’s easy to deal with the traffic. I hadn’t expected quite so much over and undertaking by other cyclists, or mopeds on the cycle lanes, but apart from that it was all fine. The country is very flat, so it’s easy to get around.

There was jazz on in the streets while we were there, and the street cafes and outdoor spaces were packed with happy people.

Copenhagen canal with sail boat It stays light and warm until really late at this time in the summer – that photo is from about 8pm, I think, maybe later. After dinner, anyway.

Famous sights
Yarnstormers are at work in Copenhagen! It’s true. Naturally I had to get a photo with the work I found.

Me, knitting a sock, standing next to a bar with a piece of knitting attached to it. In the background, the little mermaid statue

Would you like a close up?

Close up of a bar with a piece of knitting attached to it. In the background, the little mermaid statue

There were lots of tourists crowding around this piece of knitting and taking photographs. It’s nice to see handknits get their dues ;)

Yarn shops
There are clearly hundreds of knitters in Copenhagen, as the city supports at least a dozen yarn shops, many of which are within easy walking distance of the city centre. I found an incredibly useful and thorough list of Copenhagen yarn shops and noted down the four (four!) between where we were staying and the city centre. We hit up the first two, which was enough as they were both excellent, and then went for a swim. I should probably knit some things before we go back…

Copenhagen is very cycle-friendly – there are swarms of bikes everywhere, and it’s pretty much flat – so if you can cycle, that’s probably the best choice for a yarn crawl. Get one with a big basket on the back.

Nicoline Garn, Fyensgade 1, 2200 København

Shop front with baskets of yarn outside, yarn in the window, yarn everywhereThe first shop we went into, this is a good size shop and packed to the rafters with yarn in all colours. I resisted the urge to buy all the things but it was a close call. Nicoline Garn is slightly out of the centre, very easy to get to by bike, and I would say well worth the trip.
Wall of hundreds of balls of yarn arranged by colourOpposite this was a wall of sock yarn, mostly in solid colours, and I wanted to take it all home and pet it. I resisted. Mostly.
Inside of a yarn shop with yarn on the walls, baskets on the floor and samples displayed around
The stock is primarily what I think of as practical, workaday yarn – yarn you can make socks or a baby jumper or a sweater out of without risking financial ruin or wrecking the piece the first time it is worn. This is the kind of yarn I prefer. I mean, I’m all for a bit of luxury, but I’m not a delicate person and I’m much more likely to wear something I think will stand up to the test of time. Prices were entirely reasonable.

I didn’t spot much hand-dyed yarn or indie yarn, but most of the brands I saw were unfamiliar – not big German, American or British brands – so I think this is a good choice of shop for a visitor.

Ulstedet, Vendersgade 3, 1363 København K
Shop window showing two mannequins in handknits and a small amount of yarn This shop is seriously de luxe. It looks like a high-end clothes shop, it’s over an art gallery and there’s luxury fibres galore inside. It’s not cheap, of course, and had more brands I recognised than Nicoline Garn. It does have a lot of high quality, luxurious yarn, and some deeply intriguing kits. Colourwork, if you’ll allow the understatement, is a bit of a thing in Scandinavia, and Ulstedet has some gorgeous contemporary designs, packed up beautifully and ready to knit. I was extremely tempted to buy one for a friend but I didn’t quite dare risk it as colour choice is so personal.

Both shops I visited were lovely in their own way, and any city which had just these two would be well served for yarn. Copenhagen, however, has another ten or so shops, so I’ll have to explore further on the way back!

Cambridge – a beautiful day

Cambridge – a beautiful day

We’re back in the UK for a few days. It’s a bit of a frantic trip, but I did have one moment of quiet. We were in Cambridge at the weekend (we’re now in Yorkshire) and I met a friend for lunch. As it was sunny, we took an improvised picnic onto Jesus Green.

A wide green grassy area with trees in the distance on a sunny day.

This is what I miss about Cambridge. Sitting on the common on a beautiful day when the whole city seems to have come out to play. You only get that in urban areas where people don’t have their own little patch of grass to sit on at home.

My friend and I are working on a shared knitting project – blanket squares – so it seems apt that we found this on the way home.

Close up shot of knitting wrapped around a lamp postA knitter or knitting group have been very busy dressing all the lamp posts in the avenue on Jesus Green. It looks amazing. It’s hard to photograph it well. I’m incredibly curious as to which knitting group did this – I knew people in several in the city, and I’d love to congratulate the folks behind it!

Zurich for knitters

Zurich for knitters

I told you we were going to Zurich but I never told you we got there or what we did. Zurich is one of Switzerland’s largest cities, which means it’s the size of a large town anywhere else. It’s clean and safe and flat and a little bit dull (maybe that’s my prejudices at work). Most of the interesting things to see are within walking distance of the train station or the ferry station (which are about 1km from each other) so that’s a good place to start.

Zurich is a rich town – it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world and the main shopping street reflects that – it’s Gucci, Armani and Tiffany’s all the way. Step into the side streets and things rapidly become more affordable – if you’re earning in Swiss francs. While the price of a loaf of bread has barely changed in 20 years, currency fluctuations mean that Zurich is expensive for foreign tourists right now.

Zurich is just 400m above sea level and in a relatively flat part of the country. It’s a beautiful place to visit, much like Geneva, with charming old stone buildings, a lovely lake – good for swimming – and ski slopes within a couple of hours’ drive.

As usual, I had my knitting cap on, but this town is not the best place to visit as a knitter – while I’m sure there’s a history of knitting right here, it’s not out in the open, hidden by glossy shops and hand-carved wooden cows. As a result, of the four things on this list only two have knitting in focus. Sorry about that – but they do add up to a very good weekend trip.

1. Haus Hiltl (restaurant)
Hiltl claims to be the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, and it’s certainly one of the very best I’ve ever been in. It isn’t a budget-breaking fancy restaurant, and frankly I’m glad.

We went for lunch on a weekday and chose to have the buffet. It’s an amazing spread of probably a hundred vegetarian dishes, recipes from around the world. Each dish is thoroughly labelled, so you’ve still got a good, clear choice if you’re vegan, gluten free, allergic to nuts, etc. There’s hot and cold foods, salads and dessert. Everything we tried was either good or excellent, and you pay by weight so you can pop in for a snack or eat for a week.

Tables on the street outside Restaurant Hiltl

It’s also right in the city centre and very easy to find. When we went, it was too chilly to sit outside so these tables are empty – but inside it was all bustle! The restaurant does club nights, too, although we didn’t come back for one of those.

2. The Swiss National Museum
Switzerland is really mixed place, and the Swiss National Museum in Zurich does a good job of exposing and discussing some of the variety. For example:

  • Switzerland’s famous for being neutral – after spending 500 years of fighting absolutely everybody 
  • Referendums can make the country really progressive – but also mean that women only got complete sufferage in the 1970s
  • Two key industries are cutting-edge biotech and dairy farming

My top tip is to go round the museum in the direction they intend. The signage wasn’t clear so we did it backwards, which was a little confusing.

An old horse drawn post carriage, mostly painted bright yellow

No photos inside the museum, so this is the only shot I’ve got – doesn’t the colour match the modern post buses perfectly? It’s an original post bus, from when that meant horses, and really doesn’t look at all comfortable.

For knitters, there were a number of displays of Swiss textiles and costumes which were very interesting. Not much actual knitting – as we all know by now, it’s often left out of museum displays as it’s serviceable and wears out rather than being kept for best – but there were some everyday knitting and spinning tools from the 18th or 19th century and a small number of handknits.

I particularly liked the exhibition on Switzerland and Foreigners – I’m sure you can guess why. Switzerland has a very high percentage of foreign workers, over 20% of the population aren’t Swiss and in the Geneva region it’s over 30% and, on the flip side, around 1 in 10 Swiss citizens live outside Switzerland. Naturally this creates some tensions, and the foreigners bring their own racism and prejudices with them – it’s certainly not just the Swiss being intolerant of incomers, the incomers are fairly intolerant of the Swiss and each other, too.

3. Hand Art yarn shop
Absolutely packed with yarn, the staff were friendly and let me browse as long as I liked, even though it was close to closing time. Hand Art is at 10 Neumarkt, in Zurich’s old town, so it’s a pretty stroll to get there, too.

Hand Art yarn shop in Zurich with windows full of yarn

I did not have enough German to ask who had knit all these gorgeous sweaters – from here it looks like an upscale clothes boutique but inside…

A rainbow of yarn inside Hand Art Zurich

Can you believe I only bought 3 balls of yarn? Yeah, me neither. But it’s true!

There are several other yarn shops in Zurich – the best list I found is on a Zurich knitting group site – but we didn’t get to any of them. Honestly, this was enough! The yarn in Zurich isn’t that different from anywhere else in Switzerland, and the range in Hand Art was spectacular.

4. Camping Fischer’s Fritz
This camp site is right by the lake and a flat 4km walk from the city centre, mostly through parks and gardens. The facilities aren’t exciting but are adequate – clean and plentiful loos and showers plus lake swimming in summer. Seriously, check out the view from our van:

A row boat rests in a quiet tiny bay with Lake Zurich in the background

Here it is again, from inside the van:

View of Lake Zurich in the wet from a caravan window. Kindle in the foreground and part of a duvet is visible

Gorgeous! All in all, Zurich was charming and it’s a place I’d be happy to live one day.

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.