Wednesday 28 January 2015

The trouble with socks: Part 2

So, my sock knitting is well under way. Before I got started I mentioned to a friend that I had bought some sock yarn with the intention of making actual socks, and the next time I saw her, at our regular knitting group, she came armed with four different books about socks, and lots of helpful hints and tips. I left the knitting group with Ann Budd's Getting Started Knitting Socks, which sounded sufficiently idiot proof!

Over the next couple of days I read through the first few chapters of the book and established the basics (knit a tension tube, measure your feet, start your sock at the top, knit the leg, work the heel, knit the foot, shape the toe, Kitchener stitch the seam, repeat), then got to work with my tension tube using the smallest needles I own, 2 mm circulars. 4 inches and lots of measuring later I established that I was knitting at 7 1/4 sts per inch. I'd rather it was a little tighter (tighter equals harder-wearing socks), but I wasn't going to buy more needles that I might only use once. Circulars smaller than 2 mm are hard to come by (in the UK at least), and I am not a fan of DPNs, so 7 1/4 sts per inch it is.

The next step was to measure my feet, which was entertaining. Turns out my feet are different sizes, in fact I'm not sure they have all that much in common! I decided to go with the smaller foot, as they're not all that different really (and I'm definitely not making two socks in different sizes, that would be too confusing!), which measures 9 3/4 inches at the widest part, giving a stitch count of 70.6875, which isn't terribly practical. My first thought was to go for 70 sts, but a brief look through the book (which gives the stitch count for lots of gauges and sizes) told me that socks need a stitch count that is divisible by 4, so I went for 72 sts instead.

The book recommended using the long-tail cast on to make the sock top stretchy enough. The cast on requires tying a slipknot halfway along the length of yarn being used for the cast on, handily the book also gave a hint on estimating the length on yarn needed for the cast on - if you wind your yarn round the needle 10 times, that gives the amount of tail needed for ten stitches, so multiplying this length by 7.2 gives  the length of tail needed. I wanted the cast on to be single colour, so had to measure the tail from a colour changeover. 25 inches was the number I came up with and it was pretty much perfect (the transition between the coloured section and the stripy section occurs exactly at the end of the final stitch cast on, hooray! Apparently sock knitting requires a lot of note-taking to ensure you get two socks that look the same, so I now have a post-it note stuck in the sock knitting book with 25" written on it; the note also says that I knitted 14 rows of 2x2 rib at the top of the sock, which should hopefully be enough ribbing to hold the sock up...

I haven't been dedicating a huge amount of time to knitting my sock (I've been busily archiving all of last year's photos, and trying to get on with the belated wedding blanket instead, both of which have come slightly higher up the priority list), but it has been steadily growing - a couple of rows while I feed my increasingly wriggly daughter, a few more during my son's swimming lesson, the odd row here and there while cooking dinner - the yarn is much finer than anything I've knitted before, but it's easy enough to get into a rhythm with it, and the watching the stripes appearing is very encouraging (I've definitely found myself saying 'just one more stripe, then I'll put it down' several times over the past week). I'm also enjoying that it's so portable - I really can just throw it in my bag, which has definitely helped as I can knit one or two rows at a time when I'm out and about.

And suddenly, without realising it, my sock leg is the requisite 8 3/4 inches [or 83 rows, another number for that post-it note (at least it's probably 83, I counted five times and got 82 twice and 83 the other three times...). I'm using the standard length from the book as I'm not really sure how I want my sock to fit]! Now to brace myself and tackle the heel... But that might have to wait a bit, I'm not sure looking after two small people is conducive to getting a heel right first time!

Thursday 22 January 2015

Thursday bake treat

While I was in Sainsbury's earlier today I was browsing the children's board games (yes, I know we've just had Christmas, but the long cold spell we've been having has rather limited our outdoor time and I wanted a new activity to keep my son entertained) and spotted two in particular that were heavily discounted: Where's my Cupcake and Dinosaur Race, both by Orchard Toys, who make really well thought out games for pre-school children. Rather than be good and decide between the two I bought them both (who knows when I'm next going to come across the dinosaur game for under £5?).

Hours of fun!

When my son came home from nursery we cracked open both games and had a lovely time playing them. I won the cupcake game, he won the dinosaur race, so happy all round. Immediately after we'd packed both games up, the inevitable 'can we bake a cake now?' request was voiced (the cupcake game even includes the instruction to bake a cake once you've finished playing, and handily one of the cards features a basic cupcake recipe, should you not have one to hand). I had a quick think about what we had in the fridge, then asked my son what type of cake he wanted to bake, his response, 'a lemon cake'. Unfortunately a bit tricky, owing to a lack of lemons, but I remembered we still had some mini-chocolate beans (look a bit like mini-Smarties, but aren't) leftover from our Christmas tree cupcakes last month, so managed to talk him round to a vanilla cake (ba-milla, according to my three year old), so long as it could be decorated before eating.

The baking was a bit of a mishmash: the recipe is officially for lemon cake, but without the lemony ingredients - the recipe is from Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes, definitely worth purchasing, I've used it a lot and all the recipes work reliably, the Italian buttercream recipe for the fondant fancies is worth the retail price alone. A friend introduced me to the lemon cake recipe several years ago, and the cake it makes is wonderful. Light and fluffy, with just enough crunch in the lemon layer, and it is so moist. Heavenly! Ages ago I decided to see how it worked as a standard vanilla cake and it really is excellent - I had to use a mixture of all the fats in the fridge: butter, buttery spread and Stork as I didn't have enough of any of them, and the icing is supermarket-own Nutella-equivalent as once I'd baked the cake there wasn't enough fat to make any icing... But it's all forgiveable, and the cake is a lovely cold-snap treat. Good job there's still some left for tomorrow, just the thought makes me smile.

It's safe to assume I didn't do the decorating part!

Tuesday 20 January 2015

The trouble with socks: Part 1

Apparently I have been knitting for almost a quarter of a century, a terrifying thought (not that I've been knitting for that long, more that I've been doing anything for that long)! But I have never knitted a sock. It's never appealed:
  1. You can buy perfectly good socks from supermarkets at about £5 for 7 pairs; why would I want to spend more than that on the yarn to make a single pair of socks?!
  2. I cannot cope with non-matching pairs of socks, which means either knitting single colour socks or carefully winding off an amount of yarn so the socks match, neither of which appeals
  3. All my socks are black. This makes sorting the washing easier!
  4. I have huge feet (UK size 10, for reference). That's a lot of plain stocking stitch in the round, which would get boring
  5. You have to knit two and they have to be the same
  6. I knit quite loosely, so will need to use tiny needles to get an appropriate gauge
  7. No one sees your socks
So why, a few days ago, did I find myself in a yarn shop (the lovely Harbour Yarns in Seaham) ogling sock yarn? Well, in the past year, I have had several people around me quietly enthuse about sock knitting. It's one friend's go to project - she always has a pair of socks on the go and they live in her handbag so she's never without a project. Another friend likes to give them as gifts. And apparently it's rubbed off. If so many people enjoy it, why shouldn't I have a go?

And so I purchased a single ball of West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4-ply in Blue Tit. It's self-patterning, so I will need to wind a bit off to get the socks to match, but not too much. I have a cheerleader in my Monday night knitting group, so hopefully I won't get anything too wrong, it's always good to have someone to check things are going in the right direction! And I'm looking forward to it. No really, the scepticism has been put to one side, and I'm going to give it a proper go.

Sunday 18 January 2015

The year of the cable

This time last year I would never have anticipated that I would make 2015 my 'Year of the cable'. While I have always liked the look of cables I have never had the patience to knit them; I found having to use an extra needle a chore, constantly mislaying the needle and getting frustrated. But last year I discovered the wonderful technique of cabling without a needle, and something clicked. Cables finally became doable, without me having to keep track of an extra thing to lose, and since then I've not looked back.

Over Christmas I decided that in 2015 I would work on some designs featuring some fabulous cables, more complex than those I had previously tried my hand at. My sister is currently expecting a baby, and obviously is in need of a blanket. My brother in law wears a lot of heavily cabled jumpers, so I decided that this baby's blanket should be the start of my adventure in cables. I spent many hours over the holidays doodling how I'd like the cable to look, then meticulously charting and knitting the cable to be how I wanted it to be (this took several attempts, the first iteration had too few cables, the second the cables were too close together, the third the maths meant the cable didn't work. And those were  only the full drafts, there were plenty of other rubbings out going on!). Charting cables is harder than I thought it would be! I've had to think about all sorts of things I hadn't considered before: which way should one strand of the cable lie over another; what should you do with the edge stitches; what type of border should I use; how should I compensate for the cables pulling the fabric inwards? But it's been fun, and excellent mental exercise.

Several swatches later...
The blanket is now on the needles. I'm working in cream yarn as I know the baby's car seat is red and didn't want to risk it clashing; I'm using Hayfield Bonus aran as I know it'll withstand whatever a baby (and its sleepy parents) throws at it. For some reason I started off on straight needles, which was silly, it was much easier to work on once I switched to circulars, I just wish I'd done that before I'd completed a 64 row repeat! I'm really pleased with how it's turning out, although the tip of my thumb is having a little protest about being overworked. I shall ignore it and hopefully it'll go away!

Making good progress!
I'm enjoying working on this project so much that the second cable project is already partially charted and the yarn bought. It's another baby blanket (I know a lot of people expecting babies at the minute), which means I don't have to add shaping to my list of things to worry about. I will get there by the end of the year though. Well, hopefully I will.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Awards season

The Golden Globes ceremony earlier in the week marked the start of the big film and TV awards for the year, but those aren't the awards I'm thinking of. I'm talking about the Knit Now Pattern of the Year!

In 2014 I was lucky enough to have rather a lot of patterns (11 to be precise) published in Knit Now magazine. I still think of getting a pattern accepted by a magazine as winning a competition, and it's always exciting to see my patterns printed on other people's pages, so I was very excited to see that some of my pattern shave been nominated for Knit Now's Pattern of the Year 2014. Voting is now open in all categories, and the survey can be found here. By voting you'll be entered into a competition to win one of three yarn bundles worth £50, so what are you waiting for, get voting!

Individual images copyright Practical Publishing

Sunday 11 January 2015

Bakeday Monday, Friday, Saturday

The week after the Christmas holidays is always a bit strange; after a fortnight or more of running about and seeing people and trying frantically to get things done, this week can often feel a bit flat. As I'm on maternity leave I didn't have the back to work issue, but I did have to entertain both children by myself all week for the first time in several. So our solution was to do quite a lot of baking...

On the twelfth day of Christmas (Monday) I finally got round to making the gingerbread house I'd been promising to make all holiday. I'd bought a kit in IKEA some time in November, and the kit had travelled to Somerset with us over Christmas, but somehow we hadn't found time to make it. We'd tried to make it between Christmas and New Year, but were limited by the fact that when I checked the cupboard we were out of eggs and lemons, both essential for making royal icing. I did try and glue the house together with glacé icing, but that really didn't work! And so we postponed. I hadn't made royal icing in a long time; I used to make it with my mum every year to decorate the family Christmas cake, and remembered it being really tricky, but actually it was pretty straightforward: mix 250 g icing sugar with one egg white and 5 ml lemon juice. The icing came out at piping consistency without any extra work, so I just threw it in the piping bag and began 'gluing' the pieces together (I did have to gaffa tape the side of the piping bag though as the one I'd picked out of the packet had a couple of small leaks in the seam, which made it rather tricky to pipe neatly).

Once the house had been constructed we set to work decorating it: giant chocolate buttons for the roof tiles, and dolly mixtures around the base of the house. I added some snow icing to the eaves, which was great fun, although I was much better at doing the icing in one direction than the other! The finished house looked lovely for a couple of hours, then we tucked into it - as we were definitely at the tail end of Christmas there wasn't much point in keeping it decorative. My son delighted in picking the sweets off, but wasn't that keen on the gingerbread bit, turns out he prefers digestive biscuits. The icing did turn the biscuit a little soft, but not in an unpleasant way, more like lebkuchen.

Our second bake of the week (Friday) was chocolate cupcakes. Having done an inventory of my baking equipment over Christmas I realised I have way more cupcake cases than I really need, so decided that I should attempt to use some of them up and definitely not buy any more for the time being (I often get them as birthday and Christmas presents, so rarely need to buy them anyway). We had one of my close but long-distance friends and her partner for lunch on Friday, so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to do some baking, and to use up a few of the excess dolly mixtures I'd purchased for the gingerbread house (I bought three bags, we used less than one!). My son was not on board with this suggestion and insisted we decorate the cupcakes with giant chocolate stars rather than dolly mixtures... The dolly mixtures might have been eaten independent of the cakes.

Baking and icing the cupcakes became a bit of a speed baking mission in the end as I didn't get round to baking the cakes on Thursday evening. So on Friday morning the cakes were baked, and the icing made while they were in the oven. The cakes were iced pretty much as soon as they were out of the oven; this was a bit of an error, and the icing was rather on the melted side by the time the cakes were served; delicious nonetheless. And the blue cake glitter? My son's suggestion; I love cake glitter, but tend to go for holographic white, rather than blue!

Bake number three for this week was shortbread biscuits. My son had received some space-themed cutters for Christmas and had asked me repeatedly if he could use them. We finally found time on Saturday evening. We made a basic shortbread mixture (3 parts plain flour, 2 parts butter, 1 part caster sugar), and rolled and cut it out before putting it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 190 °C. Simple yet perfect, an excellent Saturday evening activity.

And excuse the poor photos, apparently we're good at eating food before I get round to getting the proper camera out!

Friday 2 January 2015

A month in knitting: December 2014

Off the needles
A Christmas jumper for my son, which I've already written about here.

A beautiful pair of mitts for a friend, technically finished last month, but I didn't get round to blocking them until this month. You can read more about them here.

A pair of hats for a friend's daughters. Hopefully they've gone down well as Christmas presents.

My daughter's stocking
Finished just in time for Christmas!

Ballerina Ruffle Skirt
Made for my friend's daughter. The yarn was a pain to work with, but I love the finished effect.

Summer into Fall
So cute! Just need to wait for my daughter to grow into it now. You can read all about it here.

Still on the needles
  • That blanket...

The stash log
  • 100 g dark pink aran lambswool that I'm hoping to make into a pair of boot cuffs once I've bought some new boots
  • 400 g cream aran for a blanket for my soon-to-arrive nephew
  • 150 g turquoise merino aran - a Christmas present from my mum
  • 206 g assorted aran for Rudi
  • 51 g DK merino for Antiquity
  • 132 g for Alhamra
  • 131 g for two Chouettes
  • 101 g for the stocking
  • 96 g for the ruffle skirt
  • 127 g for Summer into Fall
  •   -194 g! Hooray, Vikki 1, stash 0 A marginal win, but a win nonetheless. Long may it continue.
Aims for January
  1. Finish that blanket...
  2. Knit a car seat blanket for my forthcoming nephew

Thursday 1 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2015

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2015. I'm sure many of you have New Year's Resolution, whether they're to give something up or to start something new. Here are my knitting related resolutions, all phrased to be positive so I don't get too overwhelmed by them - trust me, it helps!

1. Publish 8 patterns
I managed this plus extras last year, but now I have two children to chase, so this might be a bit harder. I'm not restricting myself to certain types of design, but I know lots of people expecting babies, so expect at least a couple of baby blankets. And small children make good models, so I'll probably design some things for my children. I also want to try and design a few things featuring cables as I'm enjoying working with them at the minute.

2. Buy less yarn than I use
An ongoing project to make the stash more contained. So far it's not really working, so I really must try harder!

3. Design a garment for me
Not necessarily a garment for publication, but something for me as it's been a while...I might even manage to figure out set-in sleeves!

Wish me luck. Hope 2015 is good to you all.