Soup and Socks

Over the years, our front garden has become a bit of a mess. Some conifers and shrubs that started out as cute little things, have become unwieldy monsters. We could live with that. In a busy life, the garden doesn’t always get top priority, and it’s impossible to have everything perfect all the time. But now that several trees and some plants have died after two very hot and dry summers, it’s high time to take action.

So we’ve taken this week off for a big overhaul. Fortunately we have some help with the planning and the heavy lifting.

(This may make it look as if we have a huge estate. We don’t, but this is the only way to dig out the tree stumps.)

Because the garden work comes first this week, I’m keeping everything else as simple as possible, including our meals. Soup is ideal for weeks like these. One of my all-time favourites is mushroom soup, and I’ll share my recipe with you here.

I could have used these shaggy inkcaps, but left them in place.

Although I know these are edible, I don’t feel very comfortable eating wild mushrooms. So I bought a mixture of mushrooms from the supermarket instead. If you can’t get a variety, any old mushrooms will do. White button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, flat caps, whatever is available is fine.

Simple Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 250 g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 750 ml water
  • 250 ml cream

Method

  • Sauté the onion in the oil or butter over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the curry powder and sauté for about 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance.
  • Pour in the water, add the stock cubes and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and leave to simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Add the cream and heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with some bread and a salad for a complete main course.

Enjoy!

Taking these pictures has taught me that food photography is not as easy as it looks. When I take pictures of things I’ve knit and am not happy with the result, I can always do them again. But with food, well, if you’re not happy with the photos, you don’t get another try because the food is gone.

With the photo above, I wanted to show that the soup is steaming hot, but it just looks hazy. And the mushrooms have all sunk to the bottom of the pan. I can only hope that it still looks tasty enough anyway.

One of my husband’s hobbies is baking bread, and he baked these beauties. We ate some straightaway and put the rest in the freezer.

What with all the physical work and fresh air, I’m rather drowsy in the evenings. All I have energy for is writing a blog post, bit by bit, and some simple knitting. For me, socks are the ultimate simple knits.

I’ve just started some from a yarn that will make an identical pair. This kind of yarn is sold under names like ‘pairfect’, ‘perfect pair’, or something with ‘twin’ in the name. Some of these yarns work with a starter thread.

In this case, the neon green thread in the photo below is the starter thread. This is pulled from the centre of the ball until you get to the first bit of yarn in a ‘normal’ colour. Cast on the required number of stitches, then knit, knit, knit stripes until you come to a solid bit. Then start the heel (heel and foot are knit in solid blue in this case), and when you get to the toe, stripes appear from the inside of the ball again like magic.

For the second sock, pull the yarn from the inside of the ball again until you come to the end of the next starter thread and start knitting again. It’s really clever how this yarn has been dyed.

I’ve knit many, many pairs of socks over the years. I always have a sock on the needles. Sometimes a pair is finished in a week, sometimes it takes a lot longer. It depends on how much time I have, and what other knitting projects I’m working on, but there’s no hurry.

I like wearing them myself, but also give many away. They make welcome gifts. Sometimes I choose yarn specifically for a certain person. But often, I just choose yarns and colours that I like, and when the socks are finished, I look at them and ask them, ‘Now who would like to wear you, do you think?’

Procrastination

Back in February I decided that, in addition to some simple things and socks, I would also like something challenging to knit. Rummaging through some boxes in a cupboard, I found the kit for a Norwegian cardigan with a leaf pattern that I bought in 2006(!). I was looking forward to finally doing something with it.

To start with, I wrote a blogpost about our visit to the spinning mill in Norway where I bought it. Then I took everything out of the bag.

There were 7 colours of wool, in skeins of different weights. There was an iron-on label, a length of velvet ribbon and a small quantity of thinner wool. And there was a photograph of the cardigan.

The pattern was not included, but that was fine. I already had the book containing the pattern – Poetry in Stitches by Solveig Hisdal. It was the book that had lured me to the spinning mill in the first place.

Poetry in Stitches contains patterns for many cardigans and pullovers, for adults, children and babies, a few children’s hats and a summer top. And there is a muff and a pair of wristlets in an interesting combination of knitting and crochet. It is filled with beautiful photographs, not only of the knitted items, but also of the textiles and folk art from several museum collections that inspired them.

Even if you’d never knit any of the patterns, Poetry in Stitches is a book worth having. Unfortunately it is out of print, but there are some second-hand copies around. I saw one for $ 369! But some more reasonably priced ones, too.

After unpacking and photographing everything, I screwed my ball winder and my umbrella swift to the edge of our dining table and started winding the yarn.

Long ago, I used to wind yarn by hand, while somebody else held up the skeins. It’s a companionable and relaxing thing to do. But if you have many skeins to wind, the set-up with swift and ball-winder is much more efficient.

The result is different, though. Instead of round balls, a wool winder makes yarn ‘cakes’, that are flat on two sides and don’t roll away.

When all the yarn was wound, I put everything neatly together in a basket. I found a corner in the living room for it, and…

… there it has stayed. Untouched. Eight months after I unearthed the kit, I haven’t knit a single stitch. And before that it has lain around for 13 years! This is starting to look like a serious case of procrastination.

We all procrastinate from time to time, I suppose, but I’m not terribly familiar with procrastination. So, why am I procrastinating now? Don’t I want to make this cardigan anymore? Yes, I do. I really do. Lack of time isn’t the problem either – I can find time for all kinds of things. What is it then?

I could sense some question marks, doubts and uncertainties in the back of my mind, but they were rather vague and elusive. Time to bring them out into the open. Time for one of my problem-solving writing sessions.

A notebook, a pen and a big mug of tea, that’s all I need. And sometimes I also use a kitchen timer. As I often do when I’m stuck, I wrote down everything that came up as quickly as I could. I took a break, and then looked at what I’d written. What I saw was lots and lots of question marks.

Taking a closer look, I also saw that they could be grouped into three topics: The knitted fabric, shape and fit, and non-knitting elements.

The knitted fabric

This pattern has much larger motifs than Fair Isle or other stranded knitting usually has, which means long floats at the back. How do I prevent the knitting from ‘pulling’? How do I get a nice and even fabric? How do I get crisp leaves? And how do I prevent the veins from getting lost in the leaves?

Shape and fit

This cardigan is basically a large rectangle with fairly wide sleeves attached. There is no side or shoulder shaping, and no armhole shaping either. Not very flattering. Am I going to knit it as it is, or am I going to do something about it? If so, what and how?

The pattern only has two sizes, which look like Large and Extra Large to me. How do I get the right size? And especially: will I be able to get the sleeves the right length? They look rather on the long side on the model, and my arms seem to be slightly shorter than average. Do I need to shorten the sleeves? And how? They have wide stripes, matching the front and back, that can’t be made narrower. And I can’t just leave a stripe off at the top or at the wrist, can I?

Non-knitting elements

There is a velvet ribbon along the fronts and neck. The ribbon in the kit feels fairly stiff. Is it suitable for sewing onto the softer and more stretchy knitted fabric? Will I be able to sew it on without the ribbon or the knitting buckling? Will I ever be able to get the corners of the square neckline right?

Then there’s a lot of cutting involved. Cutting into knitted fabric is always rather nerve-wracking. I will need to cut the front open to make the tube into a cardigan, and I will need to cut armholes. And in this case, I will also need to cut a large piece out of the front for the square neck and a smaller, curved part for the back neckline. Without the help of any diagrams. Scary! I’m afraid to spoil all those hours and hours of knitting at the last moment.

And then there is the lining. Will it work – a non-stretchy cotton lining inside a stretchy woollen fabric? And where do I find a suitable fabric? At a quilt shop perhaps? Or should I leave it out? What is its function anyway? Is it purely decorative or is it essential for, say, the button holes?

And what about the button holes? They need to be made through both the knitting and the lining. They don’t look particularly nice and neat in the photograph, do they? Will I be able to make them so that they don’t spoil the entire cardigan?

Taking the time to look at what has brought me to a standstill seems to have been really worthwhile. I don’t have the answers yet, but at least now I have the questions out in the open. And, as Aristotle said:

Asking the right question is half the answer.

So, what do I do now? I’ve looked around for ways to deal with procrastination and came across tips about setting goals and deadlines. I’m not happy with those – they feel too much like work. What I did like was an item on WikiHow called How to Overcome Procrastination Using Self Talk. It has some very friendly pieces of advice, like ‘focus on starting rather than finishing’, ‘break a long project down into short tasks’, and ‘make it fun!’

I can do that! My first short task will be ‘knit swatches’ (Duh, any knitting project starts with knitting swatches. Why didn’t I think of that before?). I’ll start with that, without looking too much at all those question marks ahead of me. And making it fun won’t be any problem at all. Knitting is fun in itself, and the yarn and colours are lovely. All I need to do is make a pot of tea, put on some music and start knitting.

Autumn Colours

Autumn is mushroom time. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but it’s true. As soon as it was officially autumn, mushrooms started springing up like, well, mushrooms in the woodland on our doorstep.

Or perhaps I should say mushrooms and toadstools. I keep having difficulty with the distinction. In Dutch we call them all paddenstoelen, which literally means toadstools.

I’ve been taught that mushrooms are, on the whole, the ones you can eat, while toadstools are the poisonous ones. But what if you see a beautiful specimen and don’t know if it’s edible or not? What do you do then?

‘Look, what a beautiful… errr’

‘Hang on a minute, I need to look it up in my field guide first. Yes, here it is – I think it’s a blusher. That’s edible, so, ‘What a beautiful mushroom!’ (Or, wait, it may be a false blusher, which is poisonous, so…)

Maybe other people aren’t bothered by this, but I am. I may have left the translation world last year, but the translator inside hasn’t left me. I’m still very much focused on words.

It’s not just the mushroom/toadstool distinction that’s bothering me. It’s also the word toadstool itself.

On one of our recent walks I nearly stepped onto a toad.

Can you imagine it sitting on one of these fragile stools?

Or on one of these?

It would never work. The only fungus that would hold a big fat toad without breaking that I can think of, would be a cep. But that’s a mushroom.

It’s all very confusing.

It’s the same with some knitting-related words, like sweater, jumper, pullover and jersey. Very confusing.

Ravelry, the big online knitting platform most of you will be familiar with, helps a little. In its vast pattern archive it uses ‘sweater’ (124,663 patterns!) as an umbrella term, and in that category distinguishes between ‘cardigan’, ‘pullover’ and ‘other’. But what about jumper and jersey? And why are sweaters called sweaters?

I don’t know. But there’s one thing that I do know, and that is that it’s sweater weather again. Looking for some inspiration, I bought Kim Hargreaves’ new pattern book – Covet.

Kim Hargreaves started out as a designer for Rowan, but has been working as an independent designer for many years since. I like her designs a lot because they are timeless classics with great attention to detail.

There are 12 designs in Covet: 5 cardigans, 5 pullovers, 1 dress that can be shortened to a pullover (which Kim calls a sweater) and 1 granny square crochet wrap in a bulky yarn. No hats or scarves this time.

I love the cable designs and also the seemingly simple ones in stocking stitch. I’m not a big fan of the new bell sleeves, though, and I can’t see myself or anyone I know wearing the figure-hugging knee-length dress in a very warm wool and alpaca blend knit on 6 mm needles. With a polo neck. Just thinking of it makes me break out in a sweat. Taken literally, sweater would be a better word for this design than dress.

A design that drew my eye immediately was ‘Devote’, a cardigan with a stunning shawl collar.

Beautiful! And it also has some lovely decorative decreases on the sleeves, too. But the shape is not suitable for me, alas. Too short and tapering down to a narrow waist. I could probably adapt it, but this time I was looking for something to knit straight from a pattern.

So I got out some of her older books. Even books from years ago don’t look dated – that’s quite an achievement. Earlier this year, Kim let us know that some of her books won’t be reprinted anymore, so if you’d like to add some to your knitting library, don’t wait too long. You can find them all here on her website.

One of my favourite Kim Hargreaves books is Pale, which was published in 2018. There are several patterns in it that I’d love to knit. To start with, I’ve chosen a cardigan pattern called ‘Fair’.

It’s a simple little cardi in stocking stitch, but with a great fit and lovely details, like integrated pockets with rolled tops, a neat button band and side vents. It’s designed for a new yarn – an airy cotton and alpaca blend – that I’d like to give a try. It’s called Alpaca Classic and it looks very light and soft.

Now to choose a colour.

Autumn is the season of oranges, yellows and reds. I love these bright spots of colour in gardens and woods at this time of year.

The brightness of the yellow stagshorn (above) is a sight that makes me very happy. And it’s the same with the orange lanterns of the Japanese Lantern.

And then there’s red, from the bright red of the fly agaric at the top of this post to the deep dark red of these beautiful heart shaped leaves.

These are cheerful accents in a world that is gradually turning brown, but… apart from some shades of red, I never wear autumn colours. They just don’t go with my hair and skin tone. Fortunately the yarn for the cardigan I want to knit comes in many shades. I dithered between several, but finally chose blue (again – it’s my go-to colour).

The yarn producer, Rowan, calls this shade ‘Peacock’, but I don’t think it looks like peacock feathers at all. To my eye, it is somewhere between turquoise and sky blue. Could I call it ‘Autumn Sky on a Sunny Day’? I’m looking forward to knitting with it.

Coming back to the ‘real’ autumn colours, although I will never wear them in large doses, I can see me using them in small quantities, as accents in combination with other colours. I’d like to get out of my colour comfort zone a little and to experiment with them in that way. So last weekend, I chose a few small balls of yarn in autumn colours to play with.

I bought these during a visit to two very special yarn shops I’d never been to before. Now I’m in doubt as to whether I should write about these shops – or yarn shops in general – on my blog.

On the one hand, I’d love to, and I think it could be interesting and useful. For me, it’s about more than shopping and buying. It’s also about creativity, colour, inspiration and meeting like-minded people.

But on the other, won’t it seem terribly commercial, as if I’m advertising for these shops? (Which I don’t want to do – I prefer to stay independent). Will people in other countries want to read about yarn shops in the Netherlands (and some in Belgium in Germany perhaps)? Does anyone want to read about yarn shops at all, for that matter?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but so far have been unable to make up my mind. If you have any ideas, thoughts or opinions on this, I would appreciate your input very much. Thank you for reading. Have a lovely week and until next time!

Basket Weaving

A knitter can’t live without baskets. At least, that’s what I think. There are baskets dotted all around our house, filled with knitting projects, yarn, unspun wool, more yarn and more knitting projects. Some of these baskets were made by Jannie, a basket weaver I often run into at fairs, markets and sheep shearing festivals. This summer I discovered that she doesn’t only make baskets, but also teaches others how to make them, and I entered my name for a workshop.

I asked a friend (who also knits and spins) if she’d like to join me. She said, ‘I’d love to!’, and together we set off early last Saturday.

As soon as we arrived, we were surrounded by baskets. Baskets hanging under the stairs.

And baskets stacked high on shelves.

There were small, fairly simple looking baskets.

And bigger, very complicated looking baskets. (The picture at the top of this post is a close-up of the basket below).

Something like this would be way too difficult for a first effort, of course. What we were going to make, was a round, medium-sized basket with handles. And this is the material we were going to use:

Willow shoots, or osiers. These were sorted by thickness and length and pre-soaked for about 10 days.

We started by slitting three thick pieces of osier in the middle and threading three others through them. With a thinner shoot we started weaving the base.

We continued weaving, while separating the spokes, until it was a reasonable size.

Then we cut off the starter shoots, stuck 24 new long shoots into the base, and added a few rows in a different ‘stitch’ as I would call it as a knitter. I have no idea of basket weaving terminology, but I looked it up, and I think the last few rows in the photo below are called a ‘randing’. They make for a firm base.

Now it was time to bend the shoots upwards. They were tied together near the top, to keep them out of the way and pointing in the right direction. The 3 shoots you can see sticking out on the floor, are the ones we were going to continue weaving with.

We were sat on low wooden benches, with a sloping wooden work surface attached to them. At this stage, a heavy weight was placed inside the basket in progress, to keep it from sliding down the work surface.

Phew, basket weaving is hard work! In need of a short break, I stepped outside. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and the garden around the basket weaving shed was idyllic.

Even outside there were basket-like decorations and structures everywhere, overgrown with plants.

The chickens (and a guinea fowl) were making soft, clucking noises. There were literally heaps of courgettes and tomatoes on the patio, and there were some gorgeous dahlias in bloom.

The same week I went basket weaving, I won a knitting pattern on Ravelry. Although ‘won’ isn’t the right word for it, perhaps. All I did was chat with other knitters about the things we were making and post some pictures. But still, my name was drawn and I received a digital pattern for a big, cosy wrap in a basketweave pattern.

Wasn’t that a nice coincidence? I’m really tempted to cast on straightaway, but I already have so many other plans for the coming months. I think I’ll keep it till later.

Well, after this short break I’m ready to get back inside. Are you coming?

It’s already starting to look like a real basket.

Our example was placed in the middle of the room for inspiration.

Using champagne corks we made even spaces for the handles.

After braiding a sturdy rim and snipping off all the ends sticking out, our baskets were finished. And here they are – tadaah!

And here’s mine at home, filled with some undyed Shetland roving. I’m so proud of my very first, slightly lopsided willow basket.

My friend and I made our baskets at Vlechterij Vinkenslag. Jannie is a very knowledgeable, friendly and patient teacher. Apart from teaching basket weaving, she sells her beautiful baskets, bird feeders and decorative ornaments at crafts markets and fairs.

3 Reasons for Knitting Dishcloths

There aren’t many taboos left in this country. We Dutch are a broad-minded people in general. If someone were to say, for instance, ‘I’m a dominatrix in my spare time,’ people will in all likelihood go like, ‘That sounds fascinating! Tell us all about it.’ But there are still some subjects that we avoid talking about.

When people ask me what I do in my spare time and I tell them that I knit, their eyes tend to glaze over. They say things like: ‘Oh, ah, my Nan used to do that,’ and then the conversation falls flat. It’s the same with housekeeping. We don’t talk about it. It isn’t considered sexy.

Cheryl Mendelson, a former lawyer and professor of philosophy, knows about this taboo. She starts her informative and entertaining book Home Comforts with the words: ‘I am a working woman with a secret life: I keep house.’

When she told people she was writing a book about the nitty-gritty of housekeeping, the reactions she got were not undividedly enthusiastic. And she writes that even for herself ‘the subject was actually something of a hot potato’ (p. 4).

I’ve kept quiet about two such ‘hot potatoes’ for a long time. My nearest and dearest knew about them, but I usually avoided these subjects with strangers. Starting this blog has felt like a kind of coming out with regard to knitting. And with today’s blog post about knitting dishcloths I feel like I’m getting to the next level, because it’s about housekeeping, too. Another subject that makes us cringe.

Handknit dishcloths = knitting + housekeeping = double cringe

(Or is it just me? How do you feel about this? Do you knit dishcloths too? How do people react? Do you mind?)

So, why knit dishcloths anyway?

For me, the seed was sown in Norway in 2006, when I bought Vinterlappar og annen vintermoro, a crafts book with many great ideas for things to make and do in winter. There is also a knitting pattern for a dishcloth in it. It was the picture of the stacks of dishcloths in shades of blue and green that did it for me. How lovely!

But knitting dishcloths? No, no, no, I wasn’t going there. Too twee by half!

I came across more handknit dishcloths in Scandinavian magazines that made me sigh ‘how lovely’, but always a feeling of embarrassment held me back.

Early this summer a knitting friend showed me the dishcloths she’d knit. Again I thought ‘how lovely’. And this time, I  finally caved in. Why? Well, for several reasons.

Reasons for knitting dishcloths #1: Choosing the yarn is fun

Choosing yarn is always fun. In this case you’ll need cotton, a material available in many, many colours, which makes it even more fun. And the advantage with choosing yarn for dishcloths compared to items to wear is that you can choose any colours you like – bright or subtle. They don’t have to look good with your clothes, your hair or your complexion.

As I don’t have a lot of experience knitting with cotton yarns, this opened up a whole new world for me. I browsed around in shops and on the internet until I hit on a yarn that came with a shade card. (I love shade cards!)

I chose 3 shades of blue and cast on for my first dishcloth. And that brings us to

Reason for knitting dishcloths #2: Scope for trying out stitch patterns

Dishcloths are ideal for trying out and enjoying the rhythms of all kinds of stitch patterns. I started with one in broken rib:

Lovely in all its simplicity, but the edges were rather loose. Hmmm – something to do differently next time.

I immediately cast on for the next one. This time in broken basket weave, a pattern that required a little more attention.

Even nicer than the first, because it has a border in garter stitch that gives it stability, and because the stitch pattern is more interesting to knit and look at.

For my third dishcloth I chose a stitch pattern called Cable Stitch in the booklet I used. At home we call this stitch ‘Coffee Beans’. I had my doubts about this one, because it is a very stretchy stitch that I would normally rather choose for something like sock cuffs. It looked really nice in the photograph, though, so I tried it anyway. But I ended up with a long and narrow dishcloth, which was not what I was aiming for:

After washing I was able to block it to a square cloth…

… but I’m not happy with the edges, and I wonder what is going to happen when I use it and wash it again. I definitely don’t intend to block my dishcloths every time I’ve washed them.

By this time I was so taken with these simple little cloths, that I asked our daughter to get some more yarn from a shop she passes every day on her way to work. ‘Please choose some harmonious shades,’ I said. And she picked these:

Nice and subtle, aren’t they? While you’re reading this, there are more dishcloths in the making. I’ll write about these, about the yarns, and about my experiences with using and washing them in another post.

Ah, dishcloths are such great little projects. And that brings us to reason number three.

Reason for knitting dishcloths #3: Portability

A dishcloth would make an ideal travel project – small, lightweight, not too difficult. But…

… what if I’m knitting on the train and someone asks me what I’m making? What do I do then? I can’t just admit I’m knitting a dishcloth, can I? Way too embarrassing!

Still, one day, with a long train journey ahead of me, I put my embarrassment aside. I didn’t have anything else suitable to take along, so I grabbed my current dishcloth and stuffed it into my backpack. But when the guard who came along to check our tickets asked me, ‘What are you making? A scarf?’ I was only too relieved that she hurried on without waiting for an answer. Phew!

Will there ever come a day when I can say, ‘I’m a dishcloth knitter and proud of it’?

Knitting Sideways

Mid-September. The mornings are starting to feel chilly and the smell of autumn is in the air. In the garden there are still some roses to be picked and the autumn anemones are flowering profusely. It’s the time of year to start thinking of warm and woolly knits. But first it’s time to finish some summer projects.

My ‘big’ summer knitting project was an oversized T-shirt, from a pattern called Sideways Tee, designed by Churchmouse. I’m not much of a summer knitter – I prefer woolen yarns and cosy socks, sweaters and shawls. But after a very hot spell early in the season, I realized that I needed something cool and summery to knit or I wouldn’t be able to knit at all on hot days.

Now I’d like to show you what I made and how I set about it. I like looking over other makers’ shoulders and hope that what I’m doing will be interesting and useful to others too.

Before I start knitting a garment, I always swatch. I don’t swatch for socks, and I don’t always swatch for shawls and scarves. But for garments it makes all the difference between success and failure.

This time it was a good thing I did, too. For the first swatch, I used the recommended needle size (4.5 mm) but didn’t get the right gauge. So I went down a size (to 4.0 mm), knit another swatch and, yay, the gauge was correct. I washed both swatches to make sure the knitting didn’t shrink or grow, but it was fine, so I could start knitting.

The Sideways Tee has an interesting construction. Both front and back are started from a provisional cast-on in the middle, and are knit outward to the sides. It isn’t called Sideways Tee for nothing.

In this case it isn’t your usual ‘crochet a chain and pick up stitches from the bumps.’ It’s a more sophisticated provisional cast-on, that is crocheted over the knitting needle.

I’ve used this technique before, and think the result is much better than with the crocheted chain technique.

At first sight this Tee looks very simple. But the only thing that is simple about it, is the stitch pattern – a simple stocking stitch. Other than that it has many interesting features, like sloping shoulders, side shaping and short rows. The 8 pages of the pattern are packed with instructions, diagrams and special techniques.

I could easily lose my way leafing back and forth through all these pages, and took several measures to prevent confusion.

To start with I marked everything related to my size with a pink highlighter (I’ve discovered that yellow becomes invisible in lamp light). I used a row counter (the bright green thing) as well as sticky notes to keep track of where I was in the pattern.

The first half of the back ended with some short rows, done with a special technique called C&T (Clip and Turn) by the designer. It involves lots of locking markers, as you can see here:

I used some very fine metal locking markers for this. They were a gift from a friend and I really like them, because they don’t distort the knitted fabric like the thicker plastic ones can do with this technique. (I did use plastic ones to indicate armholes, neckline etc.) In the final row, all the gaps caused by the short rows are closed and the stitches are placed onto a piece of waste yarn.

Then the stitches  from the provisional cast-on in the middle are picked up, while the waste yarn used for the cast-on is removed.

This technique works very well. I think it’s rather daring to start like this, because you could easily get a wonky row right in the middle of the front and back that would spoil the entire garment. But I can’t see where I picked up the stitches – can you?

After finishing back and front it was time to start seaming the shoulders. At this point my Tee looked like this:

For me, this was the absolute low point of this project. It looked terrible, like some kind of frumpy, strangely shaped, too short poncho. If it wasn’t for this blog, I could easily have thrown it into a corner never to look at it again. But I’d planned to show the finished T-shirt here, so I persevered.

After closing all the seams and knitting on the edgings, I washed the shirt and threw it into the dryer until almost dry before blocking it.

When it was on my blocking mats I saw that it was going to be okay after all.

The size was exactly as it should be according to the pattern. I was really happy with that. I only pinned the shirt into place with a few T-pins. After drying, I steam pressed it for an extra neat finish.

And this is what my Sideways Tee looks like when worn:

It’s a very different type of garment from what I usually choose. Usually I choose more fitted, A-line shaped garments. So this was a bit of a gamble, but all in all I’m happy with it.

The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the neck edging. There is a row of rather loose stitches along the front neck.

I don’t know what I could have done differently. Maybe it’s because the yarn has no bounce and doesn’t fill up the holes, or maybe it’s because the sideways knit stitches stretch too much. I don’t know. It’s just a small detail, however – the rest is fine.

I like the drape and feel of the knitted fabric. I think it’s a flattering shape. And I like the sloping shoulders and fit of the ‘sleeves’ (which are, basically, just armholes with an edging).

Finally, here’s a shot of the back. It’s definitely oversized, but far from shapeless.

Well, I finished that nicely in time for summer, didn’t I? (Summer 2020, that is.)

Oh, and then there’s the yarn, of course. I almost forgot to mention it, but it’s one of the most important elements. It can make or break a knitting project.

I chose Juniper Moon Farm ‘Zooey’ for my Sideways Tee because it felt cool and crisp, and because it happened to be available from a local yarn shop. And I chose white because it’s a nice and summery colour that goes well with jeans.

Zooey is a 60% cotton, 40% linen blend with thicker and thinner parts. It is loosely twined and, because of that, very splitty. It is easy to miss one of the strands, resulting in a thin spot in the knitted fabric, or to mistake one stitch for two and accidentally increase a stitch. I’m speaking from experience. Both have happened to me and I’ve had to frog quite a bit to fix it.

After a while I got used to the yarn, and developed a knitting technique that prevented me from sticking the needle into stitches by pushing the strands together with my index finger. This is definitely not a yarn for mindless knitting. Having said that, it gives a very nice fabric – drapey with a lovely irregular structure.

Well, that’s the story about my Sideways Tee. If you’d like to make one too, I can recommend it. It’s a really enjoyable and interesting knit. Looking ahead to autumn, I think it will work very well in a cosy woolen yarn, too.

To end today’s blog post, in style with the focus on white, here’s a picture of our beautiful autumn-flowering Japanese anemones ‘Honorine Jobert’.

Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. I only mentioned the pattern store and yarn brand because I think it’s essential information.

Summer Walks Part II – Coast

On a day that was too hot for walking through woods or across heathland, we thought a walk along the coast might be a good idea, with hopefully a refreshing breeze. So we set off for my native Friesland. Our starting-point was the old town of Stavoren (photo above), and our destination was Hindeloopen, another small harbour town. (It was a one-way walk – we took the train back.)

This isn’t the coast as in sea shore, but rather the coastline along the IJsselmeer, a former inland sea that was closed off around 1930 and is now a big freshwater lake. The dykes are still there, and our trail ran right across the top. Well, it wasn’t really a trail, just grass, but you get the idea.

In reality the dyke is much steeper than it looks here. The narrow road on the right is a bicycle track. Nice when you’re cycling, because it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind. But not much fun when you’re walking, because you’d miss the lovely views over the lake.

With a delicious breeze from behind it was an ideal day for this walk. Looking to the left, we saw a choppy lake with some sailing boats.

And looking to the right, we saw agricultural land, with some farms and modern windmills. Completely flat, with endless horizons.

All along the dyke, there were lots of fences with stiles to climb.

The fences are there to confine the Texel sheep to certain sections of the dyke. The sheep are kept company by water birds, like these black and white barnacle geese.

The sheep were not shy at all. They didn’t run away when we came close, like they usually do. We had to step around and over sheep and lambs lazing and grazing on our path. And some of the sheep were downright pushy. When we sat down on the grass to eat our sandwiches, they came begging for a share. They must have been fed by other walkers.

‘Come on, give us some of your bread,’ they seemed to say. And, ‘I really like the smell of that cheese.’ They refused to be shooed away and were so insistent, that in the end we got up and walked on, eating the rest of our lunch along the way.

In the distance we could already see our destination. It wasn’t just a perfect day for walking, but for wind and kite surfing, too.

Against the big blue sky, Hindeloopen looked very small, with its church and the houses with their red roofs huddled behind the dyke. And, in fact, it is small now, with under 900 inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the lake was still a sea, it used to be an important harbour and trade centre, with three times the number of people and a fleet of around a hundred ships.

It’s nice to imagine merchant ships leaving and entering the town via the lock (photo below) that is now used by pleasure boats. On their outward-bound journeys they would be filled with gin and wool. And coming back from Scandinavia and Russia they would be carrying wood.

We slowly strolled through the old town centre and saw some monumental merchant’s houses – a sign of great wealth in earlier times.

There was a museum, too, as well as several shops selling local traditional crafts. Hindeloopen is renowned for its decorative painting style, with garlands and stylized flowers on a red, green, blue or cream background. Here are several trays and a ‘butte’.

A butte is a traditional travelling case used by seamen for their personal belongings. I think it’s a thing of beauty and would like to own one someday. But as it’s all handmade, it has quite a hefty price tag. It’s not that it isn’t worth it, but it isn’t an amount I’d spend on a whim.

I came home with some more modest souvenirs – two pieces of fabric and two postcards.

The fabrics are inspired by some of those used in the colourful traditional costumes of Hindeloopen. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for yet, but I’ll think of something.

One of the cards shows some of the typical decorative painting on a wooden platter. And the other shows a woman in traditional dress. (Unfortunately the postcard doesn’t tell us who the artist is.) In the painting, the fabrics are simplified to solid colours. In reality they would be flowered and checked, in mainly red, blue and white. There’s an picture of a complete costume on the town’s museum website.

And what is the woman doing? Knitting – what else?

Summer Walks Part I – Heathland

For me, one of the best ways to relax is walking. Fortunately I have a husband who feels the same way, so we spent large parts of our Summer Holiday this year (and any other year) taking long walks. Woodland walks, coastal walks, riverside walks, city walks, but most of all heathland walks. The heather is in bloom this time of the year and it’s glorious!  

As I wrote in a previous post, heathland needs to be grazed. Otherwise it would be overgrown with trees in no time and disappear within a few years. Usually this is done by sheep, whose cropping and munching is a peaceful sight.

But sometimes cows are recruited to do the job, especially highland cattle. I think they are beautiful, with their big horns and their shaggy red coats.

I prefer to keep a respectful distance, but during one of our walks other walkers and their dog didn’t give the cattle a second glance and just barged on, right between a bull and his harem with their calves. This seemed to agitate the bull, and instead of continuing to graze, it suddenly charged across our path.

I held my breath, but nothing happened. As it turned out, the entire highland family was just as peaceful as sheep. All they wanted to do was go for a swim together.

We live in a small country, and our nature reserves are comparatively small, too. This means that long walks are hardly ever exclusively nature walks. They almost always cross some farmland as well. I don’t mind, really. I even like it. Some less intensively farmed land can be very beautiful to walk across.

Besides, I love looking at farmhouses and their outbuildings.

They often have lovely flower and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden of one of the farms we passed was a riot of colour.

So, so lovely.

And on some farms, there are animals to admire as well. On one farm we saw some magnificent long-haired Dutch Landrace Goats.

And on another a big, big spotted sow with a litter of piglets.

It’s so good to see them rooting about outside, with lots of space and freedom. The piglets were incredibly lively, inquisitive and cute.

Taking photographs for my blog makes me look at the world with different eyes, and appreciate my surroundings even more. Sometimes my camera seems to see more than I do, and I don’t really realize what I’ve seen until I look through my photos at home.

Take the photo below, for instance. We were walking along a grassy path when I spied something in the distance, very far away. Judging by the colour and the shape of the ears, I thought it was a roe deer. Roe deer are not an uncommon sight, but still worth taking a picure of.

When we came a little closer, the animal got up and raced away. At the time I thought, strange how small a roe deer can look from a distance, and how short its legs look in the grass, but didn’t give it  much thought.

Looking through my photos at home, I realized that it wasn’t a roe deer at all, but a fox!

We know that there are foxes around here. It’s something we know all too well, from the massacres they’ve caused among our hens. Twice! (Our chicken coop is now completely fox-proof). But we very, very rarely get to see them. In spite of what they did to our hens, I love foxes. I don’t know why, really. Is it the shape of their face, their big bushy tail or their speed and agility?

One of the best things about walking is taking breaks at spots that you can’t reach in any other way. Quiet, out-of-the-way spots. This was one of the best spots for taking a break that we passed on this walk. A pool surrounded by trees and tall grasses, with the wind cooling our skin and sending ripples out across the water.

The water birds in the distance looked like ducks, but they made curious sounds, not like our ordinary, everyday mallards. I couldn’t see what species they were with my naked eye, so I zoomed in on them with my camera. Maybe I could enlarge them at home and find out which duck-like bird it was that made such soft un-duck-like noises. But no such luck.

I’m not a very good photographer, and I don’t have any fancy photo equipment. So, I ended up with some very blurry pictures, and one that was sharp, but had a beheaded duck on it. As far as duck pictures go, these photos were a total failure.

But then I looked at the rippling water and thought, wow, look at that!

The ripples on the water look just like the texture of my knitted fabric!

This is a close-up of the Sideways Tee that I’m knitting.

When we’re on holiday, we often spend the evenings exploring the immediate surroundings of our holiday cottage or campsite. During our ‘staycation’ there was no need for that. We already knew the surroundings of our ‘holiday home’ through and through, so that I could spend almost every evening, all evening, knitting, reading or working on my crochet project.

I’ve made a lot of progress, but haven’t actually finished anything yet. I need a little more time to finish things up, organize my notes and take pictures before I can show you more.

I hope you don’t mind if I take you along on another walk next time. I’d like to show you a very different part of our country, and some crafty things I came across there, before I get back to some in-depth writing about knitting.

The Hardest Part of Stay Soft

This post is looooong overdue. It’s the third instalment in a series of posts about ‘Stay Soft’, a shawl design by Veera Välimäki. I’d intended to write a step-by-step description of my knitting process way back in June, but… On the one hand, I got caught up in all kinds of new projects. And on the other, I felt unsure. Would people really be interested in reading about my knitting projects in so much detail?

But then two members of my knitting group asked: ‘How is your shawl coming along? You know, the one we helped you choose the pattern for?’ And I also started getting questions from readers, along the lines of: ‘Please explain how you knit the last part of Stay Soft, because I’m stuck.’ Apparently people do want to read about it, so here we go. (There’s a list of useful links at the bottom of this post).

The previous instalment ended after the third part, called ‘Coral Part’ in the pattern. This is what the shawl looked like at that point:

These first 3 parts are fairly straightforward. Now we get to the hardest part of Stay Soft, the part starting with the heading ‘Yellow Speckled Part’. Although there aren’t any mistakes in the pattern, and all the information is there, I still had some trouble figuring out exactly what to do.

First a note about the colours, though. To avoid confusion, these are the colours used by the designer and the ones I used:

  • Pattern: MC white speckled; CC1 coral-pink; CC2 yellow speckled
  • My version: MC yellow; CC1 orange; CC2 grey

After the first three sections (called ‘Main Color Part’, ‘Stripes’ and ‘Coral Part’ in the pattern), stitches need to be picked up in the second contrast colour (CC2). The pattern says: ‘Use the same needle and CC2’, but I used a different needle, as suggested later on in the pattern. To my mind, this makes it so much easier.

I used interchangeable circular needles. This means that I unscrewed the tips from the cables, screwed them onto another cable, and screwed end stoppers (the rectangular white things in the picture below) on the cable with my orange live stitches. At this point I cut CC1.

Then the pattern says: ‘pick up and knit 5 stitches starting from the cast-on corner of the shawl.’ And here it gets tricky. Where and how do we pick up these stitches?

After taking a good look I found out where to start picking up stitches. It’s at the tip the knitting needle below is pointing at – the very first stitches knit in the first colour (MC). And the stitches should be picked up on the right-hand side.

So, with CC2 and another needle the same size, and with the right side (RS) of the shawl facing, I picked up and knit 5 stitches, starting from the point indicated above. After a few tries, I picked up a stitch EVERY row (not in every ridge, which would be every other row), because otherwise the corner pulled and curled up.

For the next row (WS), the pattern says. ‘Knit the first two stitches, and slide the remaining 3 stitches onto right-hand needle as if to purl’. This made me scratch my head again – should the yarn be held in front or in back? As it turns out, the yarn should be held in front. So: After picking up 5 stitches, turn your work, knit the first 2 stitches, bring yarn to the front, and slip the next 3 stitches purlwise (as if you were going to purl them, but without actually purling them) with the yarn held in front of your work. Then turn your work and knit rows 11 – 18.

Slipping the last 3 stitches with the yarn held in front gives a sort of I-cord edge. When you’re just starting this edge it doesn’t look very nice or neat, as you can see in the picture below. But it will get better as you continue.

After that, rows 13 – 18 are repeated until the corner is reached, where the live stitches of the ‘coral part’ are waiting.

In this section, 1 stitch is increased in all right side (RS) rows by knitting 1fb, but this is neutralized by knitting 2 sts together in the same row. Only in row 17 it says k1fbf (instead of k1fb), so only in this row 1 stitch is increased. It is important to keep track of this, but I found it impossible to see where I had increased a stitch. To keep track of the increases, I placed a locking stitch marker immediately after I’d knit a ‘row 17’. And as soon as I came to the next increase row, I moved the stitch marker there.

Knitting on like this, a knitted on I-cord edge is formed on the ‘outside’, and a row of holes along the body of the shawl. At first it doesn’t look very attractive, but after a while the edge becomes really neat, and it becomes visible how the part in CC2 brings everything nicely together.

The next picture shows where exactly I picked up the stitches in the RS rows – just below the ‘curve’ or ‘bridge’ of the last knit stitch.

After knitting everything described on page 4 of the pattern, the shawl looks like this:

The needle in the grey part meets the end stopper on the cable in the orange part:

Time to start the I-cord bind-off along the end of the grey section. After about 10 cm/4 inches I noticed that this I-cord was much tighter than the knitted-on I-cord along the side of the grey section. I unraveled it carefully and started again with a thicker needle tip (5.0 mm instead of the 4.0 mm needle I used so far). Yes! Now both I-cords were similar.

Upon arriving at the orange section, I changed the end stopper for a thicker needle tip (in my case 5.0 mm) and continued the I-cord bind-off.

The knitted-on I-cord is just a small detail, but just look at it. It changes Stay Soft from an OK shawl into a fabulous shawl, don’t you think?

After the knitting is completed, it’s time to block the shawl. I think blocking is essential – it makes all the difference. After soaking the shawl in a non-rinse wool detergent (I used Soak, but Eucalan or any other brand works just as well) I spread it out on blocking mats. I threaded blocking wires through the knitted fabric along the edges.

I threaded the blocking wires through the stitches inside the I-cord edges:

While I was knitting I was a bit worried about the row of holes between the body of the shawl and the knitted-on part. They looked terribly irregular. Fortunately that was solved by blocking, too.

What a difference!

Before blocking
After blocking

And that’s it – the shawl’s all done!

I used a thinner yarn than indicated in the pattern (fine fingering instead of ordinary fingering), which gives a nice and airy shawl. When the light falls through it, it looks slightly transparent.

But wrapped around the neck, it is really cosy. Below you can see how the I-cord in a contrasting colour gives a nice crisp edge.

Details of my shawl:

  • Yarn used: Isager Alpaca 2 (MC 23 grs; CC1 50 grs; CC2 28 grs)
  • Needles: 4 mm/US 6 and 5 mm/US 8 (the thicker needle only for last stretch of I-cord)
  • Finished size after blocking: Wingspan 213 cm/84 in; Middle to tip: 57 cm/22.5 in

I think it’s a very wearable, good size shawl from just over 100 grams of yarn. For me, Stay Soft was a really, really enjoyable pattern to knit, in spite of (or perhaps rather because of) all the frogging and puzzling out how to get it right.

Phew! This may very well be my longest blog post to date. At least it was the most complicated one to compile. Thank you dear knitting friends and readers for giving me the motivation to do it.

I hope everything makes sense. If there’s anything that isn’t clear, or if you have any other questions, please leave a comment. I’ll try to answer as best as I can.

High time for a break and a big mug of tea!

Links:

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

Hello, I’m back! Well, I haven’t really been away. Just away from my computer and my blog for a while.

We’ve had a really, really nice and relaxing ‘staycation’, with lots of lovely walks, visits to some old towns, cities and museums, and plenty of time to read, knit and crochet in between.

I’d like to tell and show you more, but I don’t know how just yet. I need to chew on everything we’ve seen and done for a bit first. In that sense I am like a cow. I don’t have four stomachs, but I also need to ruminate on things to digest them.

We met this beauty during our summer holiday, by the way. She lives on an organic farm that we passed on one of our walks:

The farmer doesn’t only take good care of his cattle, but also of the occasional passer-by. Between the barn with the red pelargoniums and the hay barn, where you can see a green parasol peeking around the corner, there’s a wonderful cupboard built into the barn wall. It’s filled with coffee, tea, biscuits and all kinds of other snacks. Just help yourself and leave some money in the box. There’s even a bowl of water for dogs!

Oh, there I go again, getting off course. It happens so often – one thing leads to another, and before I know it I’ve strayed completely from where I was going. Well, at least now you’ve had a tiny glimpse of our holiday at home.

What I had planned to do today, was give you a recipe. I may have told you before that we have a flock of hens – 8 hens and a cock to be precise. They are Frisians, and their colourway bears the poetic name ‘silver-pencilled’, which looks like this:

Our hens love tomatoes, corn, worms and taking dust baths. Apart from worms, we try to give them everything they wish for. In return, they provide us with more eggs than we can eat. We give lots of eggs away to relatives, friends and neighbours. And we’re always trying to think up new ways of using eggs ourselves.

The eggs are pure white and fairly small. I use 3 of these for 2 medium shop-bought ones. Some are oval and pointy, while others have a more rounded shape:

(I photographed the eggs on one of the dishcloths I’ve been knitting. More about those in another blog post soon. Or perhaps not so soon. There are so many ideas for posts whirling about in my mind that I don’t know where to start.)

Besides eggs, we’re also trying to use as many herbs in our cooking as we can too. This time I’m using thyme. We have three different varieties in our herb patch. Use any thyme you like – dried thyme from a jar is fine, too. Don’t use too much, though. It can be overpowering in combination with fruit.

The recipe below is for a Clafoutis – a French dessert that is usually made with cherries, but can also be made with plums or other fruit. I chose apricots because I thought they would work well with thyme. (I used canned apricots, because we can hardly ever get any fresh ones, and when we can they are often dry and not very tasty.) Here’s my recipe:

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

For a Ø 22 cm pie dish, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 small Frisian eggs (or 2 medium shop-bought eggs)
  • 150 ml milk
  • 50 g flour
  • 270 g tinned apricot halves (drained weight)
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 tbsp butter + extra for greasing
  • 50 g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 °C (fan oven 180 °C).
  • Grease the pie dish
  • Sieve the flour together with the salt and sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, loosely whisk the eggs with half of the milk. Stir the egg-and-milk mixture into the flour little by little to a smooth batter. Melt the butter. Whisk the rest of the milk and the butter into the batter.
  • Distribute the apricot halves over the pie dish (hollow sides down). Pour over the batter and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Eat warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar.

Enjoy!

The table cloth underneath the oven dish was embroidered by my late Mum. She was a great knitter, too, but she loved embroidering these colourful pre-printed table cloths most of all. For me, there are many good memories attached to it.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and my recipe. And I hope to get back to some serious knitting in my next post, because I’ve received some urgent questions from readers that I need to look into…