Friday, 28 April 2017

Sock knitting with Magic Loop

My making this week has been dominated by sock knitting, in particular knitting socks for my little boy. I have resisted making him socks for so long that when he hit upon the idea of socks in the colours of his favourite NFL team I couldn't hold out much longer. The main reason for not wanting to make him socks was that I would need to teach myself to knit magic loop (knitting with a long circular needle) which just looked tricky. However, inspired by Emma from Potter and Bloom who had made socks for her daughter recently, I embarked upon my new project last weekend.

R loves the Green Bay Packers NFL team so the socks 'had' to be yellow and green. Our first job was to agree which part of the socks would be green and which part would yellow and after a little thought, we settled on green cuffs, heels and toes.

I found getting started with magic loop tricky at first until I discovered a great blog post by Tin Can Knits which set me off in the right direction. I don't love using magic loop - I keep forgetting to tighten the first two stitches of each round - but I can really see how versatile it is and I'm pleased that I have been able to get to grips with it on a small project instead of learning when I needed to knit a sleeve!

In knitting these socks, I have been pulling together favourite features from other socks I've knitted and with lots of trying on (and a little frogging) I have managed to make a sock that fits my little boy's foot perfectly. I have made a start on sock number two which will (hopefully!) fly of the needles now I have the recipe sorted!

My little boy adores his socks already and I can't wait to see him wearing them both!

Wearing yellow and green hand-knit socks

I really hope this post has inspired you to give knitting children's socks a go and I thought sharing my 'sock recipe' with you all might help:

Green Bay Packer socks
to fit a five year old with size 10 and 1/2 (UK) sized feet

Green Bay Packers yellow and green hand-knit socks

I am using:
2.5mm (long) Hiya Hiya circular needles
Opal 'uni' or plain sock yarn

Magic Loop cast-on from Tin Can Knits
Eye of Partridge heel with garter edging from Hermione's Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder
Winwick Mum's basic 4ply sock pattern

Cast on 48 stitches
Knit 10 rows of 2x2 rib for the cuff
Knit 25 rows for the leg
Work an Eye of Partridge heel flap, with garter edge over half the stitches
 Gusset decreases: I reverted to Winwick Mum's Basic 4ply sock pattern
Knitting the foot seemed to take for forever but my notes say it was 41 rows before I started the decreases
I switched to the green yarn 7 rows before the toe decreases to that we would have a good 'chunk' of green toe.
I followed Winwick Mum's decrease method for the toes and I worked until I had 12 stitches left on each needle - before working Kitchener stitch using my favourite method; Kitchener toe with no ears by Suzanne Bryan

You can find more about my sock knitting in this post from my archive: Sock knitting journey

Friday, 21 April 2017

Knitting patterns for beginners

Starting off as a new knitter can be bewildering with so many different yarns, needles and patterns to choose from. This week I thought I would share three really great knitting projects for beginners or experienced knitters looking for some relaxing knitting producing beautiful and useful accessories.

Hitchhiker shawl by Martina Behm

The first project I wanted to share is a paid-for pattern by Martina Behm. It is a really simple shawl project using any 4 ply yarn. The project is knit flat using simple increases and decreases and squishy garter stitch creating a really effective  and wearable shawl. It is a great project to practice basic stitches and following a pattern. One of the great things about this pattern is that you can choose yarn according to your budget and know that the pattern will still work; beginners could use any ball of 4ply sock yarn for instance and more experienced knitters might want to knit up a treasured skein of hand-dyed yarn.

For my Hitchhiker, I used a ball of Rico Superba Circus and I worked the pattern repeats until it was at my desired length, I then washed and gently blocked the work to accentuate the little points on each step. I would say that you can get away without blocking the work, but blocking isn't as scary as it seems and this is a good project to practice that on too!

Hitchhiker Shawl by Martina Behm

Simple yet effective cowl by Tin Can Knits

Having mastered knitting flat, increases and, decreases, this next pattern, which is available as a free download from Tin Can Knits introduces knitting in the round on circular needles. This project requires knit and purl stitches but no increases and decreases, making it a great first project for knitting in the round. In contrast to the previous project, this make also gives the opportunity to practice casting on a good number of stitches to start the project. Gauge or tension is important in this project in order to create a comfortable fitting cowl so a quick swatch will be needed to help determine needle size and number of stitches you need to cast on. The beauty of this pattern is that you can cast on as many stitches as you need to make the size cowl you want and also substitute the yarn for any DK yarn of your choosing.

Simple yet effective cowl by Tin Can Knits

I used Rowan Baby Merino Silk DK and cast on 120 stitches. In a slight modification to the pattern, I cast my stitches on to straight needles and then knit the first row on to my circular needles, placed a marker and then joined together to make a continuous circle - I found this meant that I didn't get my stitches twisted when joining together.

Simple yet effective cowl by Tin Can Knits

My work really benefited from a quick wash and block. I have just ordered some yarn to make another cowl, this time with some self-striping yarn.

Bank Head hat by Susie Gourley

My final project is another free pattern - a hat using a worsted or aran-weight yarn. I have chosen to share the Bank Head hat because it builds on the skills needed for the previous project - this make calls for knitting in the round, knit and purl stitches plus, knitting up a chunky rib section and working decreases in the round.

Bank Head hat by Susie Gourley

This hat is a really lovely project to work. I have the made the project twice, once following the pattern exactly and then again without the purl bumps in the body of the hat. For this second hat, shown above, I used West Yorkshire Spinners Bluefacts Leicester Aran Prints. My little boy loves his hat - and I had enough yarn left-over to crochet him up some matching mittens.

Crochet mittens

I hope these projects can help sign-post beginner knitters to some good projects to practice their skills. All of the patterns that I've introduced are clearly written and accessible to beginners too. For more experienced knitters I can recommend all of these projects as good makes for holidays and relaxing knitting. Do let me know if you try any of the patterns, I would love to see and hear how you get on! x

Friday, 14 April 2017

Crochet memories blanket

As I have mentioned here before, I managed to resist scrap-yarn and mini-skein projects for a long-time and then I saw Louise Tilbrook making a gorgeous corner-to-corner crochet blanket. Louise's blanket - made from mini-skeins - was beautiful and I became interested in starting a long-term blanket project using left-over scraps of yarn. I particularly liked the idea of making a blanket that would remind me of much-loved projects and the associated memories of when and where I worked on each project.

First seven stripes of a corner to corner crochet blanket

Using the basic corner-to-corner blanket pattern from Felted Button, I set off with a collection of 4 ply yarns and a 3.5mm hook. I am working two to three stripes in each colour-way, depending on how the self-striping yarn is coming through.

My first socks

 It seems appropriate that my first stripe should use yarn from the first pair of socks I knitted.

Blue and pink hand-knit socks

 These socks are aren't perfect, but I love them as they represent such a milestone in my knitting journey.

Yarn: Regia Pairfect in Candy Colour

Holiday socks

 My next stripe is made using yarn from the second pair of socks I made. I took these socks with me on our holiday to the Isle of Wight last summer. Whenever I wear them, I am reminded of the happy family holiday we had and the fact that some days it was even too hot to knit!

Purple and grey striped hand-knit socks

These socks were the first time that I have used West Yorkshire Spinners yarn - it is a really lovely yarn to work with and washes well (in the washing machine!)

Yarn: West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply in Wood Pigeon

Missed Kingfisher shawl

The next two sets of stripes are from one of my all time favourite projects, the Missed Kingfisher shawl by Joanne Scrace. I really need to have more than one Missed Kingfisher in my shawl wardrobe I think!

Close up of crochet shawl using grey and purple yarn

 I chose to make the shawl using two shades from the John Arbon 4ply Knit by Numbers range. I am really pleased with the choice as I wanted a warm, snuggly shawl. The pattern calls for a slightly lighter-weight sock 4 ply and I think when I make my next Missed Kingfisher I will use a yarn closer to the recommended yarn so that I can have a Spring/Summer Missed Kingfisher too.

Yarn: John Arbon, Knit by Numbers 4 ply in (I think!) KBN 12 and KBN 30.

Holiday yarn purchase and Your Mileage May Vary shawlette

My next choice reminds me of a happy family holiday and a really beautiful shawlette. Every year we holiday in the North East of England so that we can spend time with some dear family members. By happy co-incidence it is also the home of a really well-stocked and beautiful LYS (local yarn store) called Ring-a-Rosie in Whitley Bay. Barbara who runs the shop has a passion for handpainting yarn and I was so delighted to buy some of her gorgeous yarn when we visited last year. I used the yarn to make another Joanne Scrace designed shawl called Your Mileage May Vary from The Crochet Project's Shawl Project Book One.

Collage of two photographs showing the development of a crochet shawl

Yarn: Hand-painted high-twist sock yarn from Ring-a-Rosie

February half term socks

Having tried a few other brands, I  have realised that I love Opal self-striping sock yarn for a relaxing knitting project and I am pleased to use it in the next stripe in my fledgling blanket. I really do like these socks, the fit is great and I finally perfected the Kitchener Stitch with these socks. I knit the bulk of these socks during our holiday at earlier in the year. Unfortunately, we had a few 'hiccups' during the holiday so I have slight mixed feelings when I look back at these socks.
Photograph of a pair of hand-knit socks
Yarn: Opal, Blossom Sock Yarn - Rose (9117)

Spun Gold shawl

My final stripe to-date is from my Spun Gold shawl by Kat Goldin. I worked on this shawl between Christmas and the New Year as part of the The Crochet Circle Podcast CAL (crochet along). It was my first proper experience of taking part in a CAL and I found it to be fun and engaging experience - I'm delighted with the beautiful shawl I made too!
Photograph of the finished Spun Gold Shawl - a diamond shape shawl
This yarn is slightly different to the others I have used in the blanket so far in that it is a merino-silk blend. I think it sits quite happy next to the previous stripes but I'm not going to make a final decision until I've popped in the next stripe and can see how it looks.

The merino-silk blend is really lovely yarn to work with and this skein has been beautifully dyed by the brilliant Helen from The Wool Kitchen. If you haven't discovered The Wool Kitchen, do check out Helen's yarn.

As I am using 4ply left-over yarn I know that this blanket will take a very long time but I am so pleased to be collecting my making memories in this way.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Easter crafting

Our little boy's school broke up for the Easter holidays today which has meant that we've been starting to get excited about all the possible Easter crafting we can do over the next two weeks. We love crafting together throughout the year, but Christmas and Easter crafting always feels particularly special as we create memories and develop our own little family traditions.

We opened the 'Easter box' a couple of weeks ago and R just loved unpacking it and decorating the house with treasures from previous years.

Collage of Easter crafts

We then sat down together and browsed Pinterest, looking for ideas and projects to make this year. I helped R create his first Pinterest board filled with Easter craft ideas that he'd like to tackle over the holidays. There are so many Easter craft ideas online, many using resources that you likely to have around the house already.

One of the projects we found involved split pins - a very favourite resource in our house. Straightaway, R made an egg which opens to reveal a chick poking out. He was so pleased with the result that he took it into school the next day. His teacher liked the idea too and let the rest of the class make their own versions that afternoon!

Easter craft - chick popping out of egg

Another project we've been working on has been Easter hanging decorations using air-drying clay. We started by rolling out the clay and using Easter/Spring themed biscuit cutters to create the shapes.

The shapes dried overnight and were ready to paint after school the next day. We used an inexpensive set of acrylic paints that I picked up online. I find that acrylics give a really bright colour, cover the clay well and wash off hands easily!

Child painting a flat clay chick
Painted Easter clay decorations

Once dry, we threaded cotton yarn through the holes we had made on each shape and then all that remained was to pack them up ready to be gifted to teachers and family.

To accompany the gifts I used scrap sock yarn to crochet mini eggs as toppers for gift tags.

Crochet egg topper on a gift tag

We have had such fun together making the decorations and we hope the recipients will enjoy them too!

I hope that I might have inspired you to have a go at some Easter/Spring crafts with a little one in your family over the school holidays - I'd love to hear what you make! x

Friday, 31 March 2017

Top ten tips for happy knitting and crochet

Knitting and crochet gives me a huge amount of pleasure and, many therapeutic benefits. Today I thought that I would share with you ten tips to make the process of knitting and crochet even more happy - and stress-free!

1. Have a plan
I find goal-setting incredibly valuable in many aspects of my life, including crafting. I like to have some stretching but achievable goals to focus my energies on and some clear, realistic stepping stones to achieving those goals. I find that my most enjoyable and inspiring makes are always those that help me achieve my goals and this really informs my choice of projects or the way that I approach them.

2. Swatch, wash and block
I always wash and block my gauge swatches because its a great way to understand what the finished fabric will feel like and crucially when making a garment whether my finished object will fit. It will often specify to do this in the pattern, but if it doesn't, I always find its helpful to record the gauge before washing and blocking and after, so that you can keep track of your gauge during the project.

Four gauge swatches

3. Ask a friend to measure you
This is another garment-making related tip; it really does make a difference if you can ask a friend to measure you so that you can properly determine which size to make and as you'll be spending so much time making the item, it would be so frustrating if it didn't fit.

4. Gather your tools together
I keep all my key tools and notions together in this beautiful robin bag and it saves me hunting round for a tape measure, needle or a stitch marker when I need one as I know exactly where they'll be - it's great and I wish I had done it ages ago!
Notions pouch and contents including tape measure, needle case, pencil, highlighter

5. Find your 'right' tools
I find it fascinating to watch videos of others knitting and crocheting; there are so many different ways to hold a hook or knit and they all work. I really love that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to knit or crochet but I do think that we all need to find the 'right' tools for us personally. For me, with my hook-hold, I know that I need to use soft handled crochet hooks to have the most relaxed and comfortable time but for others, a soft handled hook would be incredibly awkward or uncomfortable. I think it is really worth experimenting with different hooks and needles until you find the most comfortable and natural feeling tools for you.
Hand holding a range of soft handled crochet hooks

6. Yarn choice
As lovely as it might be to always use the yarn recommended in the pattern, it isn't always possible. If you haven't come across Yarn Sub - it is a really great resource for knitters and crocheters looking to substitute the yarn recommended in the pattern with another yarn they might already have in stash, is more affordable or perhaps is more accessible locally.

7. Practice makes perfect
If I am working on a project with a new stitch or element I'm unfamiliar with, I will often work up a mini-test piece, practicing a stitch or technique until I'm happy with it and then ready to incorporate it into my project. This week I have been really struggling to make my M1L and M1R purl-wise look neat so I put this tip into practice;

Mini-test piece of knitting

8. Skein winding
 I don't have a yarn-winder or swift and until recently my husband and I would wind skeins of yarn into balls together, because every attempt I made to wind the yarn on my own ended in a complete pickle. However, I have now discovered that I can do it by myself and not end up in a hot mess - here's how;
- open the skein up until its one big loop
- carefully snip off the waste yarn holding the skein together
- drape the skein over your knees and stretch until taut
- find the end and start winding the yarn into a ball

Hand-wound skein of yarn

It sounds so simple, but it's quick and really works - the trick is to keep the yarn taut as this prevents it tangling. You can use two dining room chairs instead of your knees but I found this to be really uncomfortable and awkward for me, however, its worth trying if the method above doesn't feel right. It is so relaxing and satisfying winding a skein of yarn into a ball and helps me feel really connected with the yarn I'll be using for my project.

9. Blocking
Almost everyone - including me - talks about the importance of blocking a finished object and this tip is really about not being deterred if you don't have a blocking board or mat. You can block an item really well on a towel pinned on to the carpet, foam yoga or play mat. I would however advise that you test that the colours don't run on any towel or mat you plan to use before you start pinning your precious object on to it!

10. Just enjoy!
I really believe in trusting your instincts with making and if you're not enjoying a project, just pop it down and work on another W.I.P. until the time feels right to return to it. I put this patchwork project down last year and earlier this month I had an urge to pick it back up and I am loving it so much more than if I had forced myself to work on it when my instincts told me otherwise.

Patchwork hexagon pieces

Those are my practical top tips for happy and stress-free knitting and crochet. I'd love to hear what tips you have and what you would share with people new to knitting or crochet.

Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope you have a great week x


Friday, 24 March 2017

W.I.P round-up

It's been a month since I started writing this blog and I'm starting to get into a rhythm of preparing my blog post each Friday and posting on a Saturday morning. In my first blog post I introduced my current W.I.Ps or works in progress and I thought today I would update you with what's on my hook or on my needles...

Luna Top, design by Dora Orenhenstein
Photograph of crochet top worked from the neck down with the body almost complete, but arms not added yet

I have managed a little work on this beautiful top but each row takes me a good while and I'm finding the stitches - linked double trebles (US) - are just slightly causing my right wrist to ache so I'm taking this project slowly, enjoying the beautiful colours and aiming for a summer completion.

More photographs and details of my yarn choice are on my Ravelry project page

Easy Cable socks, design by Winwick Mum
Bird project bag and sock being knitted

One of my making goals for 2017 is to enhance my knitting skills and tackle more challenging projects, so when Christine (Winwick Mum) recently published her free easy cable sock pattern I knew that I had to give them a go. I've never tackled cables before but I have a number of makes requiring cables in my project queue and Christine's socks seemed like a good place to start. I have finished one sock, turned the heel on the other and have a crazy notion that I might be able to finish them by the end of next weekend - my sock projects come everywhere with me so it's possible! As a complete newcomer to cables I have found the pattern and cabling straightforward and it has created really pretty finished result.

Westbourne, design by Isabell Kraemer

Following on nicely from my cable challenge, I've also set myself the challenge of knitting a jumper! After A LOT of deliberation, I have picked a design by Isabell Kraemer which is knit top down using a 4 ply fingering weight yarn. Earlier this week I worked up the swatch and got gauge so I'm hoping for some quiet time this weekend to cast on and tackle some German short-row shaping. In terms of yarn I have chosen the recommended yarn - Cascade 220 4ply fingering and I am going to use my Knit Pro Symfonie intechangeable needles which seem to suit the yarn perfectly and are just 'slippy' enough.

Memory blanket
If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen this week that I have started another project too - a scrap-yarn memory corner to corner blanket. I think this project might deserve a whole post to itself but in the meantime, I'll share my progress with you;
Corner to corner crochet blanket using scraps of yarn

This project will take years but I'm loving the idea of using a little leftover yarn in a blanket as a reminder of special projects. I used the Spring into Summer pattern by Felted Button to remind myself of the corner to corner construction method.

We've had a week full of making at home as our little boy has combined his love of American Football and crafting with these beautiful Perler bead creations. He's asked to start his own blog - he's five! - so I thought I'd let him share a little bit of this post and he can show you his creations;
Perler bead designs
He's particularly pleased with the Green Bay Packers coaster which he designed himself!

I hope you have a lovely week full of health, happiness and making. Do leave me a comment to let me know what you're working on, if you've got any questions or suggestions for future posts.

Thanks for reading! x

Friday, 17 March 2017

The importance of making

Knitting a pair of socks against a backdrop of teacups

In this post, I wanted to explore what creativity and making means to me and why I find it one of the best ways to bolster my resilience when life feels like hard work.

I have chronic pain which can feel debilitating, limiting and outright frustrating at times, Over the years though, I have come to realise that fueling my creativity is hugely beneficial to my well-being and sense of self.  Whether it's choosing colours for a future make, taking a blank page of a sketchbook and filling it, writing a blog post or starting out with a skein of yarn not knowing what I'll make it with, creativity and imagination have no barriers or boundaries and when embraced, feel hugely empowering and stimulating. I have found exploring my creativity at home has made more flexible and resilient in my day job too; my first instinct now is to look around a problem, peer underneath it, explore the options, and (often literally) sketch out a way forward.

Then there's the process of making itself. Many crafters recognise the therapeutic value of making and this is certainly true for me. I find the process of crochet, knitting and sewing completely absorbing. When I'm concentrating on the work in my hands, the construction of the stitch or the feel of the yarn running through my fingers, I feel the preoccupations and frustrations of everyday life slipping away. For me, the process of making is empowering too; I might not be able to walk terribly far and some days find even the simplest tasks very painful but give me some yarn and I can whip up a pretty shawl or create a beautiful garment without a problem. I find this hugely important; it gives me a real strength and resilience to face the inevitable challenges that come my way. I feel so much better when I find time to make everyday...

When I became a mum five years ago there were (at least!) two things I was determined to do; I wanted to give our son the gift of reading before he went to school and, create an environment for him at home where he could explore his creativity and let it flourish. From a very young age, he's had his own craft resources that he can access independently. For full disclosure, I have to say that poster paints were excluded from this! At every opportunity, my husband and I have enabled his making - our conservatory has a sizeable collection of junk models to prove the point - and as the years have passed, we have seen his skills develop, imagination fly and his confidence blossom as he experiences the buzz of realising his creative visions.

I hope that by giving our son these opportunities to develop his creativity and make everyday, we are giving him the confidence, skills and resilience he'll need to cope with life's challenges too.

As a footnote - it turned out that our little boy was as keen as me that he should be able to read before starting school. He's discovered that reading opens doors to whole new worlds and crucially, enables you to read Mister Maker books and get ideas for future projects!