Warm and Woolly Gifts

Knitting for others can be a pleasure all around, with the emphasis on CAN. I know that it can also lead to uncertainty, frustration and stress (on the part of the knitter) and embarrassment (on the part of the recipient). For handknit gifts to be a success, it’s important to choose well.

I’ve been thinking about what ‘choosing well’ means in this context. A lot of things went through my mind, like choosing the right colour, yarn, size, or type of project. I could write several blog posts on the subject, but basically it is all very simple. I think it all comes down to 3 things:

  1. Only knit gifts for people who will really, really appreciate them (don’t waste your precious knitting time on others – buy them something)
  2. Always take the recipients’ tastes and preferences into consideration (if you’re not sure, ask!)
  3. Never knit anything that you don’t enjoy knitting

And for me, personally, there is one more thing that is very important:

  1. Take your time

I need to be careful to avoid unrealistic deadlines. When knitting becomes a race against the clock, it becomes a chore instead of a joy. So whenever I’m unable to finish something in time for, say, a birthday, I just buy something else or write a card, and tell the person that the handknit gift will be finished soon.

Keeping these principles in mind, I have had a great time knitting warm and woolly gifts over the past few months. I haven’t photographed everything, but here are some pictures of a shawl and a pair of mittens that I knit for our daughter.

The Shawl

For the shawl I used a pattern called Bradway. It is a fairly quick knit on 5 mm (US #8) needles. The triangle starts with just three stitches and is knit from the middle of the top outwards. It has wide and narrow bands in three different stitch patterns, as the photo below shows from close up:

There are bands in garter stitch, twisted 1/1 rib and ’tiles’ consisting of knit and purl stitches. I was a bit worried that the twisted rib sections would be tighter than the other stitch patterns so that the sections next to them would pucker, but that did not happen at all.

I was not happy with the increases used in the pattern (they did not look good on the reverse side) but that was easy to modify. And the bind-off technique used by the designer was too tight to my taste, so I used a stretchier lace bind-off. (More details about these modifications on Ravelry.)

Bradway is not huge, but big enough to wear wrapped around the neck as a cosy scarf with a winter coat.

The Yarn

I knit Bradway in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, a yarn that I have been wanting to knit with for ages. It is a gorgeous rustic tweed yarn. For us, in the Netherlands, it is rather expensive, but in my humble opinion it is absolutely worth the price. The colours are fabulous and vibrant, and the tweedy flecks add another dimension. I chose Truffle Hunt (brown), Fossil (natural white) and Long Johns (red).

What struck me while I was knitting with Shelter, was that each of the three colours had a different character. The red yarn (Long Johns) was slightly thinner than the other two as well as more uneven, with thicker and thinner parts.

Looking at the natural white (Fossil) and brown yarn (Truffle Hunt) I could not see any differences, but to my hands they did feel very different. Truffle Hunt somehow felt less supple and the knitted fabric also looked denser than the other two colours. I even wondered if I should use a different needle size. The differences are probably due to the red being dyed and the white and brown being undyed as well as from different fleeces. In spinning I’ve noticed this phenomenon of different colours having different properties, too, even though the wool is from the same sheep breed.

Having said that, the differences did not bother me in the finished shawl. The yarn softened up nicely after a good soak. And blocking evened out any irregularities.

The Horse

The horse? What horse? Well, we decided to combine the photo shoot for this blog post with a visit to our daughter’s horse. She’s so sweet and photogenic. I just couldn’t resist including a picture of her here, in between all the knitting. I hope you don’t mind. Hello Silver!

The Mittens

Now, onto the mittens. I’ve knit these Welted Fingerless Gloves several times before, in different yarns. It is such a quick and satisfying knit. Not difficult at all, and just the kind of small project for indulging in a really special luxury yarn (I used Rowan Cashmere Tweed).

‘Welted’ refers to the welts in stocking stitch (US: stockinette stitch) and reverse stocking stitch around the wrist. The really special part about these mittens is the thumb. Actually, they do not have a knitted on thumb, but just a kind of large button hole, which makes them easy to knit and fit perfectly. What I also like is the nice, knitterly detail of a row of purl stitches along the thumb gusset (see photo below).

In fact, I did not knit one but two pairs of the same mittens. The other pair was for the dear daughter of one of my very best friends. I can see her wearing them walking to the bus stop on her way to uni on chilly mornings.

The big gift-giving month of December is over, but I am knitting still more gifts. I have just finished a super soft alpaca cowl and am knitting two more pairs of fingerless mittens, this time for our lovely niece. If you read this, dear niece, the first pair of mittens (the pink ones) is almost finished. Not quite in time for your birthday, but I’ll mail them to you soon!

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for doable knitted gifts. So, if you have any tips, please let me know. Is there a favourite pattern that you knit again and again?

Festive I-Cord and Winter Tea

For us, Christmas is not about presents. Our big gift-giving moment is on December 5th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. For us, this time of the year is about celebrating togetherness, darkness and light, and good food. And for me, it is also a time to reflect, rest, read and knit.

Still, there is always someone who could do with a small present – a host, someone who has moved house, or ‘just’ a dear friend. For such occasions I have made some warming Winter Tea, with orange zest and spices. I’ve written the recipe down and included it further on in this blog post.

Making the tea is really nice, cutting and drying the zingy orange zest, crushing the spices, and mixing the fragrant blend. But what is even nicer, is knitting the cords to decorate the jars. It would be much quicker to use string, raffia or ribbon, of course. But knitting this cord is so much fun and brings a quirky, personal touch.

I-cord

This type of knitted cord is usually called I-cord. Why? Something to do with iPhones and iPads perhaps? No, as it turns out, the ‘I’ stands for ‘idiot’. This cord is so easy to knit that every idiot can make it. I-cord was made famous by the innovative knitting teacher Elizabeth Zimmermann, and can be used in many different ways – along the edges of knitted fabrics or separately, like I used it here.

For a cord like this you’ll need some scraps of fingering-weight (sock) yarn in two colours and two double-pointed knitting needles (I used 2.5 mm).

Knitting the I-cord:

  1. Cast on 1 stitch
  2. Knit into the front, the back and the front of the stitch (= 3 stitches)
  3. DO NOT TURN! Move the needle from your right to your left hand and slide the stitches to the right tip of the needle.
  4. Knit the 3 stitches, pulling the yarn firmly (but not too tight) at the first stitch.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 to the desired length. (I knit to about 70 cm/28 inches).

To cast off slip the first stitch, knit the next two stitches together, pass the slipped stitch over this stitch, cut the thread and pull it through the last stitch. Weave in ends.

For the cord on the left in the photo above I knit 2 rows red and 2 rows natural white. For the cord on the right I alternated 3 rows natural white with 1 row red.

And then I played some more with the yarn:

It’s amazing what you can do with just 3 stitches and 2 colours of yarn. The hardest thing about I-cord is keeping an even tension. Don’t worry too much about that, though. Nobody will notice. As you can see from the photo above, my tension is not all that even. But do you notice that looking at the I-cords on the jars? Not really.

Winter Tea Recipe

You’ll need:

  • Dried zest of 1 orange (see below)
  • 100 grs black tea (e.g. Ceylon)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (depending on size)
  • 15 cardamom pods
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • 2 teaspoons dried ginger

To dry the orange zest, preheat the oven to 100 °C / 210° F / 90 °C fan. Peel the orange thinly using a potato peeler. Cut the zest into tiny strips. Spread the strips of zest out on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 1 hour, until completely dried out and brittle. Leave to cool.

Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Crush the spices (not the orange zest!) using a pestle and mortar. Use some force, but not too much. The spices should still be recognizable and not pounded to a powder.

Mix the spices with the tea and the dried orange zest and fill into jars. (This quantity is enough to fill two 240 ml jars.)

Make a nice gift tag and fasten it with your I-cord.

The tea is even better served with a slice of fresh orange.

Last but not least

Remember to take some time to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down, sip and relax.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday season and look forward to seeing you again (in real life or here) in the New Year!

Weihnachtsmarkt

The first weekend of December we drove up to Germany for a change of scene. Our destination, the city of Münster, is not all that far away from where we live, really. It is the same distance as from our place to, say, The Hague. But it is an entirely different world. The same Euro, but different houses, a different landscape (hills!), different food and a different language.

Apart from visiting the Christmas Market, I had planned to visit a yarn shop and report back to you here with some inspirational photos and stories. I’d found the shop on the internet and looked the address up on the map. But… I forgot to go there!

How could I forget to visit a yarn shop? What was wrong with me?!?

The only explanation I have is that I was overwhelmed with all the sights, sounds and smells of the Weihnachtsmarkt. So that was my blog idea out the window. What to do now?

I could try to give you an impression of our day. Maybe you’d like a virtual mini-holiday abroad. And maybe then you’d understand why I forgot about the yarn shop. Would you like that? Come along then.

The Weihnachtsmarkt in Münster actually is not one Christmas Market, but five smaller ones, in different locations around the historic city centre. The booths are tiny wooden houses, some painted green, some painted blue, and some left untreated in natural wood. Many of them have lovely decorations along their gables and on their roofs. These life-size wooden deer were on the roof of one of them:

The warm smells of food and drink greeted us as soon as we set foot on the first market. First of all there’s glühwein, of course, with its wonderful spicy and fruity aroma, and similar drinks like Punch, Grog and Feuerzangenbowle, with or without alcohol. There is the smell of roasted chestnuts. The piney smell from the literally hundreds of Christmas trees placed all around the markets. And the smell of salmon roasting over a wood fire.

There are lots of delicious things to eat on the Weihnachtsmarkt. One of the things I like best is Reibekuchen, grated potato cakes, served with apple sauce. But this time we chose sautéed mushrooms in a creamy sauce and Rauberfleish, a sort of mix between goulash and chili con carne, for lunch. And we couldn’t resist the famous German Kuchen, of course. I was too busy enjoying the taste of spicy plums covered by a layer of crumbles to take photos. But I did take a picture of some of amazing loaves of sourdough bread.

They were absolutely huge. We estimated that they must weigh over three kilos each!

There’s music all around, too. Christmas music coming from the shops. Music from street musicians, some very talented, some not so much. And around noon, walking along a river from one market to the next, we heard church bells ringing, a deep and sonorous sound.

The booths sell all kinds of lovely stuff, from Christmas decorations, to jewellery, wooden toys, beautiful hand-carved wooden figures and home accessories.

There are stacks and stacks of hand-made soaps, some fresh, summery and flower-scented, and others spicy and fruity.

And candles, of course. Candles in all shapes, sizes and colours. My favourites are natural beeswax ones, with their beautiful golden glow and subtly sweet honey scent.

There’s some knitwear, too, albeit machine-knit. Socks, shawls, scarves and hats. And lots of wrist warmers. The ones in the photo below are made from alpaca. They looked a bit stiff and scratchy, but were in fact extremely soft. Gorgeous colours and patterns – I would really like to knit some like these someday.

So many lovely things, so much to see.

So, what did I buy? Ehm… nothing. Overwhelm at work again, I think. But I really needed some presents, so at the very end of the day, I rushed back to one of the booths selling teas and tisanes and bought some delicious fruity & spicy teas. Mission accomplished.

Now, almost two weeks later, writing this and looking at the pictures, I think: What a wonderful day. And at the same time I am still shaking my head and muttering: How on earth could I forget to visit a yarn shop?

Buachaille Bunnet & Cowl

Mid-November our first spell of cold weather arrived. One Sunday morning we woke to a wonderfully quiet, frozen world. We often spend our Sundays (or at least part of them) walking or cycling. On this Sunday we couldn’t wait to get outside, and we set out for a walk straight after breakfast.

The thermometer indicated zero degrees Celsius. The fallen leaves were white with frost, the air was crisp and the sky was a clear, pale blue. During the night a thin film of ice had formed on the pools.

Aaahhh, bliss! I love this kind of weather. It makes me feel happy and energized. And what made me doubly happy on this morning was that I finally, finally got to wear the hat and cowl that I’d finished knitting in spring. Here’s the hat:

The hat

For the hat, I used a pattern called ‘Bunnet’ by Kate Davies, a writer and designer living along the West Highland Way in Scotland. Kate tells us that bunnet is ‘a colloquial Scots term for a hat’, and in particular ‘the headgear of an ordinary working man.’

To my mind, Kate’s bunnet is ideal for an ordinary walking woman, too, as it is the only hat I’ve ever owned that actually stays put. I think that’s largely due to the multi-coloured corrugated ribbing in the brim.

Apart from a colourful brim, the hat has a lovely star shape on the crown.

The yarn

I knit the hat in Kate’s own Buachaille, a wonderful warm, woolly yarn. Buachaille. It takes quite a bit of courage to choose a name that is so difficult to pronounce and remember for a yarn. But for me, as an ex-translator, it is an extra attraction. I love the shapes and sounds of words, and immediately delved into this one. It turns out that Buachaille is pronounced something like boo-chal-ya and means herdsman or shepherd. The yarn comes in 11 colours, with lovely names like Moonlicht Nicht (the deep blue main colour of my hat), Ptarmigan (natural white) and Between Weathers (sky blue).

The cowl

When I’d finished the hat, I decided that I would like a matching cowl. So I looked closely at Kate’s pattern and came up with this:

I also photographed the cowl flat, so that you can see the pattern more clearly.

I started and ended with the same corrugated ribbing as in my Bunnet. In the middle I used the pattern from the crown, with diamonds inserted between the ‘arrows’ and the entire pattern turned upside down for the second half.

For a little extra interest I knit one half with dark blue Moonlicht Nicht as the background colour, and the other half with raspberry red Macallum.

You can find more details about the hat and the cowl as well as some extra photos on Ravelry.

For anyone who’d like to make their own Bunnet, the  pattern is from Buachaille: At home in the Highlands, a book with twelve knitting patterns, several Scottish recipes and a route for a walk in the West Highlands.

Walking on

After taking pictures of the hat and cowl we continued our walk. First the path led us through a wood…

Then along a stand of birches, with the bright sunlight accenting the white of their trunks.

On past a majestic pine tree.

And finally across some heathland, where we stumbled on these beauties:

One of our local flocks of sheep. We had an interesting chat with one of the shepherds, but this blog post is long enough as it is, so I’ll keep that for some other time.

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way. I write about things I like just because I like them.

Taking the Plunge

Hello, and welcome to my very first ever blog post! I am really excited about starting this blog, because there is so much inside of me that wants to get out. At the same time it feels pretty scary too, to be honest. It’s a big step from being totally invisible on the internet and social media to showing myself here. But I take courage from the quote on this bag I recently bought from a charity supporting vulnerable children:

‘I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.’

The quote is attributed to Pippi Longstocking. Funnily enough, it is not something Astrid Lindgren ever wrote, as I discovered when I tried to find out where exactly it came from. Well, never mind. It is a heartening phrase, whoever said it.

On the needles

On my About page you can read that I love knitting, as well as a bit more about who I am. There’s no need to repeat that here. So let’s just dive straight in and look at what’s inside my new knitting bag.

I always have several knitting projects on the needles at the same time. Usually one big project, one pair of socks for mindless knitting, and one or two other projects that require a little more attention. 

Willapa

My big project at the moment is a cardigan for myself. The pattern I am using is Willapa by Annie Rowden. Willapa is a simple, slightly longer cardi in stocking stitch with garter trims, knit from the neck down. The yarn I am knitting with is Lamana Como Tweed, a very soft 100% wool yarn.

I chose the pattern because I could do with a warm-but-not-too-warm cardigan. And also because I wanted to knit something that I could knit on for hours and hours without paying too much attention. I fell for Willapa because of its simplicity, slim fit, pockets and shawl collar. So far, it has been a very enjoyable knit.

The sleeves looked rather narrow. But after trying the half-finished cardi on, I decided that I could live with them and knit on as per pattern. I’m now on to the front band, for which I need to pick up 386 stitches and knit in garter stitch on fairly thin needles for almost 8 cm (3 inches). I’m really looking forward to that. (Honestly! I love knitting long stretches of simple stitches.)

Socks

The next project in my bag is a pair of socks. I always have a pair of socks on the needles for those moments when I need something really simple and comforting to do.

I am using my own tried-and-tested basic sock pattern and a sturdy Regia sock yarn.

Secrets

And then there are some secret things on my needles. Presents that I can’t show you yet because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Now, what’s so interesting about all this knitting stuff that I want to share it here? That’s really hard to explain. If you are a knitter, you’ll probably understand. For me, it’s about working with materials that I am instinctively drawn to, making something beautiful that is useful at the same time and the endless possibilities of combining colours and stitch patterns. Apart from making stuff, I like looking at and reading about what other knitters make. And I hope that others will enjoy looking at and reading about what I’m making in turn.

Thank you

Phew, I did it! I wrote my first blog post. Thank you so much for keeping me company!

Today was all about knitting in progress. Next time I’ll show you a colourful finished project based on a pattern by a wonderful Scottish designer. Plus some photos of our lovely surroundings. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Afterthought

Here’s something about courage that Astrid Lindgren really did write (in The Brothers Lionheart):

‘Jonathan told me how there are things you have to do, even if they are dangerous.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because if you don’t you are not a human being, you’re nothing but a little louse,” Jonathan replied.’

That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Nothing childish about it, although it was written for children.

I found this quote and the information about the misquote on the official Astrid Lindgren website. It is really worth a visit if you like her books.