Finishing Willapa

Hello! Today it’s all about knitting (and some music). I’m sorry to disappoint the non-knitters among you – I promise to write about something of more general interest next time.

I had been feeling a bit off-colour for several days, but struggled on until I thought, ‘Enough is enough’ and gave myself an afternoon off. I brewed a pot of tea, put on some music and spread an unfinished knitting project and everything I needed to finish it out on the dining table.

Do you remember me writing about UFOs and my New Year’s resolution to finish (or frog) them all? Well, this the first one. It is a cardigan called Willapa that was designed by Annie Rowden for Brooklyn Tweed. This is the front page of the pattern with a ball of the yarn I used:

I would have liked to make it from the original yarn, Brooklyn Tweed ‘Loft’, but the only shop in our country stocking that had run out of my colour choices A, B and C. I chose Lamana ‘Como Tweed’ instead. The yarns are similar, but not the same. They are both fingering weights, both tweedy, and both knit up to the same gauge. But Loft is more rustic and has (imho) more interesting colours, while Como Tweed is airier and softer.

So, why did this cardi become a UFO? I’m not entirely sure.

It was almost finished, but very soon after I’d started the front border, the frog chorus started to chant ‘Rip-it, Rip-it’.

The pattern said ‘slip the first stitch PURLWISE with yarn held in back’, while I would have chosen ‘slip the first stitch KNITWISE with yarn held in back’. I had my doubts, but thought, ‘How much difference can it make whether you slip a stitch purlwise or knitwise?’

So, I ignored the frogs and knit on. And on and on. It wasn’t until it was time to bind off that I decided I wasn’t happy with the edge stitches at all. They were different on the left and right and looked untidy.

But before I followed the frogs’ advice and ripped out many hours of knitting, I knit a swatch to check if slipping the first stitch knitwise would really be better than to slip it purlwise:

Yes, it did make quite a difference. The bottom half (A) of the swatch was knit slipping the first stitch of every row purlwise, the top half (B) slipping them knitwise.

Slipping the first stitch purlwise gave a stretchy/loose edge with a very different left and right side. Slipping the first stitch knitwise made the edge firmer. There was still a slight difference between left and right, but that was hardly noticeable.

So, I frogged the front border, knit it again, and was glad I’d taken the trouble.

At this stage Willapa was still a WIP. After the front border I knit the pockets and all the knitting was done. It was then that it became a UFO. I suppose it was because it was almost summer by then, and a warm cardi seemed irrelevant. And also because I dreaded weaving in all those ends and wasn’t happy about the pockets.

Well, my afternoon off solved all that. Weaving in the ends took about an hour, but was quite pleasant with some good music on.

My husband isn’t a big fan, so I only play this music when he’s not there. But I love it, especially On the Nature of Daylight. It is something between classical and minimal music, and the composer’s own website says, ‘The Blue Notebooks is a subtle and peaceful protest against political, social and personal brutality.’

With that peaceful protest in the background, I found the courage to finish my cardigan. Here it is:

It has a very wide front border, widened at the neck with short rows, that can be turned down to a nice collar.

Following the instructions in the pattern, the pockets would have ended up exactly on the sides of my hips. This is already my widest part, and it doesn’t need to be accented by pockets. So I moved the pockets down and forward, where they almost disappeared into the lower border:

Unlike the pattern, I used the same edge stitch for the pockets as for the front border (slipping the first stitch knitwise). The pattern didn’t say how to sew on the pockets. I tried out several ways, and in the end just used ordinary small back stitches. The pockets are on the small side, but big enough for a hankie or a slip of paper with some notes.

Willapa is knit from the top down, has narrow sleeves with wide cuffs meant to be folded double, and has lovely raglan shoulders.

All in all I’m very happy with the pattern, the yarn and the end result. If you’re looking for a simple, but definitely not frumpy looking cardi to knit, I can really recommend Willapa. You can find it on Ravelry and on the Brooklyn Tweed website. It is a well-written pattern and, apart from the edge stitches, there is much to love about it. I hope my notes are helpful for anyone making it.

(I can also recommend taking an afternoon off when you’re not feeling quite well.)

So this was my first UFO turned FO. One down, eight more to go.

In Love with Making

Why make things when we can buy them?

For my Mum it was necessary to make things because they weren’t available in shops or she couldn’t afford to buy them. For me and for my daughter’s generation it’s different. We don’t need to make things and it is, in fact, often less expensive to buy ready-made things than to buy the materials to make them ourselves. So, why still make things?

As always, I can really only speak for myself, but I think we all agree that a home-cooked meal tastes much better than any ready-made meal from the supermarket. There is nothing we can buy that comes close to a hand-knit pair of socks. And would you ever treasure a shop-bought bed covering as much as you do the quilt or the crocheted blanket your grandmother made?

It may sound cheesy, but for me, it’s all about love. Love of the materials, love of colours, love of the people I make things for, love of the process of making. That’s why Making appeals to me so much. Everything about this bi-annual magazine speaks of the love of making things.

In the US one issue costs $ 26,00 and it is around the same price in Euros in the Netherlands. That’s a steep price for a magazine, but… it was love at first sight. And what’s more, the first two issues were themed Flora and Fauna.

How could I resist?

The people at Making always work with themes. There are always two related themes following each other: Flora and Fauna, Dots and Lines, Color and Black & White, Desert and Forest. I love the whole idea, as well as the projects, the photographs, the stories, the styling and even the ads (there are just a few, they are only on the last few pages, and they are in keeping with the theme).

Knitting is only one of the crafts in Making. There is also weaving, sewing, embroidery, dyeing, felting, rug hooking and much more, as well as a recipe now and then and essays about all kinds of interesting subjects. Some of the projects are small and simple, others a little more complicated.

I brought the third issue, themed Dots, with me on a holiday to Germany a few years back.

I enjoyed leafing through it when I woke up early in the morning. And I enjoyed studying the photographs and reading the essays in the evenings on the covered porch of our Ferienwohnung, after we’d come back from one of our long walks.

Everything in this Dots issue is in shades of indigo blue or undyed. It isn’t as if everything is covered in polka dots – the dots theme is much more subtle than that. In one of the knitting projects, the triangular Indigo Sea Shawl, the dots take the form of a row of eyelets along one side:

During the same holiday in Germany, I bought yarn for this shawl in a very special yarn shop in a former smithy, a few miles from our holiday home. The pattern specified three 50-gram skeins of a sport weight yarn. With a wingspan of just over a metre it was too small to my liking, so I bought four skeins.

I chose three shades of blue-green (what else?), and then added a grey one for a little contrast.

After we got home, I regretted the grey. (It is muddier than in the photo, with a hint of brown.) I didn’t love it and had the feeling that it sucked the colour out of the blue-green shades. I couldn’t go back to change it for a different colour, so I put it away until I knew what to do.

I dug out the yarn for the utterly simple Indigo Sea Shawl recently because I’m desperately in need of another in-between-projects project. Why?

Well, although I love making things, it isn’t always plain sailing. Just as in any important relationship, there are struggles and setbacks from time to time. Right now, I’m puzzling over a new design that isn’t working out as I at first envisioned it. I’m struggling to finish a UFO. And after weeks of waiting, the yarn I’ve ordered for a sweater for our daughter still hasn’t arrived.

So when I saw that Juffrouw Lanterfant (the yarn shop I wrote about last week) stocked the same yarn, I decided to replace the grey with another shade of blue. I photographed the skeins, wound the yarn into balls and took more photographs.

And then, looking at the photographs, I thought: hmmm, perhaps that grey isn’t so bad after all. I still don’t love it, but I don’t hate it anymore either. Maybe it will work in combination with the blues. Maybe it will even be a valuable addition.

So, what shall I do? Embrace a colour I’m not really in love with and give it a chance? Or tell it that I don’t see a future for us together and take it to my knitting group’s yarn swap in March?

Unfortunately the Dots issue is now out of print. The other issues are still available from some yarn shops and on the Making website.

In-Between-Projects Project

Pale, medium and dark grey, with a some clear blue thrown in now and then – that’s February skies. For people in the Southern hemisphere, like some of my relatives and friends, it’s a different story, of course. But if you’re in the North and tired of dreary days, I hope this blogpost will work as a spot of colour therapy.

A long time ago, I bought a big bag full of alpaca yarn. Single balls in many different colours and some neutrals to offset all that brightness. I was going to crochet a granny square blanket, something like this:

After crocheting just a few squares I realized that the yarn wasn’t suitable. At least not to my taste. It had zero elasticity, which meant that it lacked the squishiness and coziness factor that a blanket needs. It was also very smooth and slippery, and I was afraid that all those woven in ends would soon unravel.

I put the yarn away until I had a better idea for it.

Many years later, I thought of starting an ‘in-between-projects project’ – something simple to knit while I was finishing another project, to prevent that from becoming a UFO. Something that I could easily put aside when I was ready to start something new, and pick up again when that was at the finishing stage. It needed to be rather boring, or I would still be in danger of creating more UFOs.

I chose this pattern:

It is simply called ‘Stole’ (Ravelry link) and was designed by Theresa Gaffey. Basically it is no more than a huge expanse of ribbing. My alpaca yarn would be ideal for it – nice and drapey. There wouldn’t be too many ends to weave in that could come undone. And I had many colours to choose from.

I thought it would be nice to do one half in neutrals (black and greys) and one half in cheerful colours. This was my original colour choice:

But when I was on to the last colour but one, I wasn’t happy. The medium pink looked ‘dirty’ beside the bright fuchsia, and the whole thing seemed out of balance. So I tried out all kinds of alternative colour combinations, always keeping the neutral half intact.

I tried some very bright colours next to the original red and fuchsia. Cheerful, and a lovely contrast with the neutral half…

… but not really ‘me’.

Some purples next to the red and fuchsia then?

Not bad, but not great either.

Okay, what if I ripped out the red, fuchsia and pink entirely? That would mean many, many hours of knitting down the drain (there were 400+ stitches on my needles), but I didn’t mind. This wasn’t about finishing something quickly.

So, what if I chose a gradient of pinks and purples, mirroring the gradient of neutrals?

Nice. Well- balanced. But I wasn’t in love with it.

How about a gradient of blues instead?

Ahhh, yes, that felt good. But, really, blues again? Very predictable and not very exciting.

In the end I went with the blues anyway. I ripped the stole back almost entirely to the neutrals, but decided to make it a little more exciting by leaving in a very narrow band of red.

Here is Theresa Gaffey’s Stole finished:
(I wasn’t feeling very photogenic and cut my head off. Don’t worry – just in the photo.)

Well, it is no longer Theresa Gaffey’s stole, but very much mine. I used her pattern as a starting point, but cast on more stitches, made the ‘ribs’ several stitches wider, added I-cord edges, chose a very different colour combination, and used 11 colours instead of her 9.

That’s one of the nice things about knitting. You don’t need to be hugely creative to make a project your own. Just choose different colours, tweak a few details if you like, and you end up with something unique.

With its 0.70 by 2.20 m / 27’’ by 87’’ it is a huge stole – almost a blanket.

I didn’t use blocking wires to stretch the knitting out. I just soaked the stole in a no-rinse detergent for 30 minutes and put it in the spin-dryer. Then I stretched it out on the floor, using my hands to smooth and stretch the knitting as much as possible. As an alternative it could be stretched out on a bed, or perhaps even folded double and stretched out over a drying rack. Warning: Some colours may bleed!

Now I still have more of the alpaca left.

Would I like to make another stole like this? Hmmm, maybe later. I loved the meditative nature of this project. And my idea behind it seemed to work – I haven’t created any new UFOs for quite a while. (I haven’t finished any old ones either, but I’m working on that.) But I think I’ll first choose something else as my next in-between-projects project.

UFOs and a WIP turned FO

Knitters love abbreviations. An experienced knitter will be able to instantly visualize an instruction like ‘K2, yo, *(k2tog) 3 times, (yo, k1) 6 times, (k2tog) 3 times; work from * to last 3 sts, yo, k2tog, k1’.

Now, please don’t run away screaming if you’re not all that into abbreviations. For this post it’s enough to know just these three:

  • FO = Finished Object – This speaks for itself. Any piece of knitting that is completed (including weaving in the ends and sewing on buttons) is an FO.
  • WIP = Work In Progress – This refers to a piece of knitting that is actively worked on, or at least is still in the forefront of the knitter’s mind.
  • UFO = UnFinished Object – A UFO is an incomplete piece of knitting that has been abandoned, hidden away in a dark cupboard or even completely forgotten.

Note: the line between a WIP and a UFO may be thin.

As I told you last week, I have more than a few UFOs. Some of them have lived in a dark cupboard for quite a while. Here they are:

There are 9 items in total: 4 cardigans, 2 scarves, 2 cowls and 1 crochet project.

Embarrassing? Yes, slightly. But there are worse skeletons to have in one’s cupboard, aren’t there? And I can’t be the only one, surely?

My resolution is to finish them all in 2020, or rip out the ones that I don’t want to finish anymore and repurpose the yarn. I’ll write about them here, now and then, hoping that they’ll provide some inspiration, or an interesting or funny story. The only rule I’m imposing on myself is that they should all be gone (finished or repurposed) by the end of the year.

I plan to take the UFOs out of their hiding place one at a time, and transfer them, one by one, to the basket I made last year. I’ll place the basket in plain sight, so that I won’t forget it.

But first I needed to free up the basket. So to start with, I’ve finished my blue knitting project. This wasn’t a UFO but definitely a WIP.

It is a long-sleeved cardigan with knit-in pockets. I chose this pattern by Kim Hargreaves because I wanted something simple for everyday wear.

Sometimes I block garment pieces, but this time I followed the designer’s instructions and pressed them. I placed the pieces on the ironing board, covered them with a damp tea towel and, with the iron on ‘wool’, carefully pressed them.

It’s a miracle what this does to the knitting:

Inside of pocket before pressing...
...and after pressing

It’s very satisfying to see all the neatly pressed pieces hanging over the back of a chair:

For me, it is at the finishing stage that a WIP is most in danger of becoming a UFO. No matter how much positive self-talk I use, I don’t enjoy the finishing part of knitting. But some music and a mug of tea help a little.

Invisibly sewing the pocket linings to the inside of the fronts took several attempts. After seaming the rest together and sewing on the buttons, the entire cardigan was done. A WIP turned FO.

Am I happy with it? On the whole, yes, but there are two things I’m not entirely happy with. The first is that the cardi twists slightly to the right, as you can see in the photo below.

It’s not that I put it on hastily. I already noticed that the pieces were slightly askew while I was still working on them. It must be something in the yarn that makes the fabric behave this way.

The yarn (Rowan ‘Alpaca Classic’) is made with a new technique. The alpaca fibres are blown into a cotton tube, resulting in a soft and airy yarn. I’m not an expert, but perhaps the cotton tube needs a tiny bit of tweaking?

The second thing I’m not happy with is that the button bands gape. Look:

The button bands don’t overlap as they should. This isn’t because the cardi is too tight – it has enough ease as you can see from the back.

It’s always hard to get narrow button bands right. Maybe they gape because the yarn is so very, very soft and airy. Oh well, I’ll usually wear it open anyway.

The things I do like are the simple, round neckline…

… the rolled sleeve hems and pocket tops…

… and the side vents with their neat garter stitch borders that are exactly the same width as the border along the bottom of the cardi.

I love this kind of attention to detail. But what I love most of all about this cardi is that it is incredibly soft and lightweight. It weighs just 250 grams! Very simple and very wearable.

Kim Hargreaves is an independent British designer. Her patterns have given me many hours of knitting pleasure over the years. The pattern of the cardigan above is called ‘Fair’ (Ravelry link) and comes from Kim’s book Pale.

New Year’s Resolution

At the end of 2019, I was suddenly assailed by doubts. I think it was partly the time of year, and partly my first blogiversary that involuntarily made me look back and look ahead. Questions that went through my mind were: Where am I going with my knitting and my blog? Should I be going anywhere with my knitting and my blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important or useful?

Fortunately, I received some lovely comments that really helped me put things in perspective. Some of them said things along the lines of ‘giving people pleasure with your blog is worthwhile in itself.’ I’m really grateful for these remarks, because they reminded me of why I started blogging in the first place – the hope that  some of the things that make me happy will make others happy too.

Others commented about the importance of asking questions and suggested that I could, perhaps, try some slightly more controversial writing. Thank you for all of those comments – they have given me food for thought.

Then, on December 30th 2019, De Volkskrant, a big national newspaper in the Netherlands, published an article about knitting that provided me with more food for thought. It was even introduced on the front page!

The article, entitled ‘Knitters are Finally Coming Out of the Closet’, was about a knitting group in Amsterdam. Here are some thought-provoking quotes:

  • ‘Knitting isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life.’ (Is it? How?)
  • ‘In Britain, Scandinavia or the Baltic states knitting has status. Here it is seen as a mere hobby, as something grannies do.’ (Do people in those countries really feel that knitting has status, or does it just look like that from the outside? And what’s wrong with grannies anyway?)
  • ‘Coming out as a knitter was harder for me than coming out as a gay person.’ (I think/hope this means that it isn’t very hard for people to openly be themselves in this country. But why this huge embarrassment about knitting? Is it a typically Dutch phenomenon?)
  • ‘The Netherlands do not really have a knitting tradition.’ (?)
  • ‘If you have spent three entire weeks knitting a sweater, you aren’t going to discard it after one season.’ (This was about sustainability, of course, about not throwing things away thoughtlessly. An extremely important issue. But my first, unworthy thought was: Three weeks? An entire sweater in just THREE weeks?!? Further on in the article there is even someone who knits a sweater in two weeks. How?)

More question marks. Interesting.

In between al this pondering, family gatherings, meals with friends etcetera, I actually also managed to do some knitting. I finished a pair of fingerless mittens for our niece’s 17th Birthday. We chose the pattern and the yarn together.

After finishing the knitting and darning in the ends, I soaked and blocked the mittens.

I placed the damp mittens on two foam mats and pinned them into shape with ‘knit blockers’. These nifty tools look a little like combs and come in boxes of twenty blockers in two sizes.

This step is not essential, though. Before blocking, the cable was more or less hidden in a ‘ditch’ between two areas of stocking stitch. Blocking made the cable stand out better and the knitting look more even, which is nice for something meant as a gift. But when worn, the mittens will stretch and the cable will become visible anyway.

The pattern I used is Kujeillen, by Finnish designer Tiina Kuu. I asked Tiina what Kujeillen means and this is what she wrote:

‘Kuje’ could be described as a harmless prank or joke that has warm and positive vibes – ‘kuje’ makes you giggle! The form ‘kujeillen’ can be roughly translated as ‘pranking/joking’ – or ‘as a prank/joke in mind’ – keeping in mind that the action has absolutely no bad intentions.

Kuje was also the name of the LYS for which I originally designed the pattern, thus the name.

A fun knitting project with a fun name, Kujeillen is a free Ravelry pattern. Tiina has published lots of lovely patterns on Ravelry and also writes a blog. I can’t read Finnish, but enjoyed looking at the photos of her beautiful sock designs.

The mittens are long – they cover the little finger almost entirely. For myself I would have made them one repeat shorter, but the recipient thought they were nice and warm like this.

The yarn I used was less than one ball of Drops ‘Alpaca’. It is really soft, but next time I’d use a different yarn, because I think the nupps (bobbles) will ‘pop’ more in a bouncier sheep’s wool yarn.

There, my first FO (Finished Object) of 2020.

And that brings me to UFOs (UnFinished Objects).

While I was looking ahead, and thinking of where I’d like to go with my knitting, I could feel something bubbling in my belly, and it wasn’t the Christmas pudding. I mean figuratively, like new ideas. But that ‘something’ felt very vague and elusive. So I asked myself, ‘What is it that makes this so? What could help me to bring it more to the surface?’

And suddenly a small voice inside me said, ‘You need to make room for new things by finishing some old stuff.’ I immediately knew what this small voice was referring to – this collapsible crate filled with UFOs:

I have quite a few UFOs. That never really bothered me, but it is starting to bother me now, so now I’m going to do something about it.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions since I was a teenager. For a long time they have felt like too much to add to my already crowded to-do list. But this year I’m happy to make this my New Year’s resolution:

In 2020, I’m going to either finish or frog all of my UFOs.

Just one New Year’s resolution. That should be doable, right?

Pre-Christmas Mulling, Baking and Making

Hello! It’s good to see you here. I hope your life is not too frantic in the run-up to Christmas.

There’s quite a bit of pre-holiday preparation going on here. And some knitting, too. And some mulling, not just of wine, but also in the sense of pondering. But before I get to that, I’d like to take you on a mini-trip to the castle in the picture at the top of this post – Middachten Castle. It’s a private property that only opens on special occasions. The Christmas opening is one of these occasions and we visited it last weekend.

Although the castle has medieval roots, the current building dates from the 17th Century. There’s a moat all around it and a bridge leading to the front door. Or, rather doors. The two glossy dark green doors were decorated with beautiful wreaths flanked by other greenery.

Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the Christmas trees and flower arrangements were amazing. There was at least one Christmas tree in every room and the decorations were themed to the rooms. There were bunches of cigars in the tree in the smoking room, orchids sprouting from books and Christmas ornaments made from printed pages in the library and so on.

There was a Christmas market outside and in the outbuildings…

… but looking through my photographs, I see that I was more drawn to the quiet corners…

… and architectural elements.

We ended our lovely visit with a shared bowl of barbecued mushrooms and tiny potatoes and some piping hot mulled wine.

Our preparations here, at our own modest abode, are far less elaborate than those at the castle, I’m glad to say.

Taking the Christmas tree decorations out of their box is always a special moment. I put on some music first, to get into the mood. This time it was A Christmas Together, starring John Denver and the Muppets, with The Christmas Wish as one of my favourites. It always really moves me when Kermit sings in his funny voice:

I don’t know if you believe in Christmas,
or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree.
But if you believe in love, that will be more than enough
for you to come and celebrate with me.

Well, back to decorating, here’s one of my oldest ornaments:

With a little more time on my hands than in the past few years, I also did some baking. I looked up an old recipe for Basler Leckerlis, a kind of gingerbread from Switzerland made with honey, candied and fresh citrus peel, ground almonds, spices and Kirsch liqueur.

After baking, the leckerlis are iced with a mixture of icing sugar and more Kirsch. The heavenly warm, spicy aroma alone is worth the effort. Here they are cooling on a wire rack.

A while ago, someone said that my blog exudes a feeling of contentment – that I must be a very contented person. Scrolling through the blog posts I’ve written in the past year, I can see why people might get that impression. But contented is far from how I feel. I do feel grateful. But also worried.

With everything that’s going on in the world around us, I sometimes feel like pulling up the drawbridge, closing the shutters, and withdrawing into my castle, figuratively speaking. But then again, I don’t think that is the answer to anything.

While I’m knitting, I’m mulling over better answers. Pondering on how to make this world a better place. And on the place of knitting, and blogging about knitting, in it. So far, I’ve mainly come up with question marks. Where am I going with my knitting and my blog? Should I be going anywhere with my knitting and my blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important or useful? Should I go into politics? Answer to the last one: No, I’d be totally useless as a politician. I’ll ponder on the rest for a little longer.

Meanwhile, I just keep knitting.

I’m knitting a pair of fingerless mittens for a gift. They have a lovely little cable with tiny nupps (an Estonian term for delicate bobbles).

I can show them here because the recipient already knows that I’m making them. She chose the yarn and the pattern herself, in fact.

I’m also still knitting the blue cardigan I’ve been working on for quite a while. I had almost finished the second sleeve when I realized that I wouldn’t have enough yarn for the neck band and the pocket tops. Pinning the parts together to find out what could be done, I saw that the sleeves were on the long side and unravelled them to a few centimetres below the sleeve cap (not much fun with this sticky yarn, I can tell you). The one on the left is now re-knit, and I’ll soon be able to finish the rest.

When I’m stuck on a knitting project, like with the sleeves above, I get out what I call my in-between-projects-project – a large stole.

I add a few rows or even an entire stripe to it when I have no inspiration for other things. But now I’m stuck on that too, because I’m not entirely happy with the last two colours I’ve added. I think I may rip them out and substitute them for different colours, but I’m not sure yet.

In between all this knitting and baking, I also made some beeswax candles. I’ll come back to those when I’ve experimented more and can find the time to write up a post about them.

These at least literally make life a little lighter.

And finally, I’m knitting some swatches for a new design idea I have. If it works out the way I envision it, I’ll show you more sometime in the New Year.

Well, this is my last blog post for 2019. I’m taking some time off to eat, drink and be merry first. And then some time to knit, read, take naps and go for walks, so it may be a while before I’m back.

I wish you a lovely Christmas and hope to see you here again in 2020!

Stunning Socks

Washing line upon washing line filled with colourful handknit socks greeted me as soon as I opened the door. A cheering sight on a dismal day. We’re back at the same exhibition at the Textile Research Centre in Leiden where I saw the stockings I wrote about last week.

Today I’m focusing on the huge variety of socks on display. Old socks, new socks, simple socks and intricate socks. There were socks with separate toes:

Fun, but apart from the toes, fairly simple.

On the other end of the spectrum there was a very, very elaborate pair from Tajikistan (below). The baby booties next to them give an indication of their size. They’re huge! And they don’t even look much like socks at all.

The information sheet says that these kind of socks ‘sometimes reached halfway up the thigh’ and ‘were held in place by tying them at  knee height with a woollen cord or belt, or by pulling on the knitted threads at the top.’

The sheet also gives us information about the way the yarn was dyed, the names of some of the motifs and the knitting techniques used.

For a knitter, the wonderful thing about this exhibition is the wealth of information provided about materials, patterns and techniques.

Speaking about techniques, there was a board with examples of over 20 different ways to knit sock heels.

And as for patterns, just look at this cascade of stockings from Norway:

From floor to ceiling, they’re all knit in neutral, natural colours. Still, they are all different because of the patterns used. Many of them (or perhaps even all of them?) have variations of a pattern called ‘åttabladsrosa’ or eight-pointed star.

Some are covered entirely in a pattern, including the foot. And some of them have a plain, unpatterned foot. Why knit a complicated pattern when it is hidden inside a shoe anyway? Or perhaps the foot was re-knit in a single colour because it was worn out?

These stockings are just a small part of Annemor Sundbø’s collection, or her ‘rag pile’, as she calls it. If you’d like to hear more, she is giving a lecture at the TRC on December 18th 2019. There’s more information here (please remember to register beforehand).

Looking closely at these stockings, you can see that they are well worn and that some of them have been mended…

… which brings us to the mending corner.

What I loved about this exhibition was its friendly, open accessibility. There are several signs telling us not to touch things, but nothing is behind glass and everything can be studied in detail from close up.

I zoomed in on the bit of blue mending you can see below. I learnt the weaving technique in the middle of the two rectangles at the top from my Mum. But the technique around it and in the two rectangles below, picking up alternately the left and right leg of the knit stitch, is new to me.

Apart from new things to learn, there was also a lot of inspiration to be found. There were many motifs and other elements that I could use in my own knitting. Take for instance the pattern on the foot of a pair of socks from Iran:

The black shapes filled with bright colours could easily be multiplied into an all-over pattern for a larger surface.

And one or more of the bands on the cuff would make a lovely border for all kinds of projects.

For more inspiration, there were three colourful samplers with many beautiful patterns:

Very, very inspiring. And humbling too. We tend to think that we’re always making progress, knowing more, doing things better and more efficiently. We can certainly produce socks more efficiently. But for the rest, we’re fortunate to have museums and other centres to preserve the knowledge and expertise about making things by hand for us.

I’ve only given you a taster of the exhibition here. You can still visit to see more if you don’t wait too long – it’s open until the 19th of December. And if you are unable to go, because you can’t find the time in the busy month of December, have the flu or live too far away, there’s always the TRC website. Their online collection catalogue can be viewed at any time or place.

My day in Leiden has given me much inspiration and food for thought. In addition to visiting the sock exhibition, I also took a needle binding workshop on the same day. I need to digest everything I learnt there before I can write about it, but you’ll probably hear more about that later.

Shipwrecked Stockings

Early one morning last week. It was still dark. The first raindrops started to fall as soon as I left home. Before I had cycled to the end of our street it was bucketing down, and by the time I reached the railway station, I felt like a drowned cat. How fitting. I was on my way to Leiden, to visit an exhibition about some of the finds from a shipwreck.

It must have been a day just like this when, somewhere around 1650, a ship filled with trade goods from the Mediterranean sank off the coast of the Island of Texel. About 360 years later, a group of divers found the wreck. They discovered that it contained a load of boxwood and resins, but also many luxury items, like Italian pottery, an elaborately decorated silver gilt goblet, and a leather book cover embossed with the crest of the House of Stuart.

Most exciting of all were the textiles that were found, perfectly preserved by the sand that had covered them for centuries. Among them were a gorgeous silk dress and a pair of silk stockings. It is these stockings that the exhibition I was visiting was about. The original 17th Century stockings were not on display, but replicas of them, like the ones you can see at the top of this post and these:

So, why would I travel all the way to Leiden (20 minutes cycling through pouring rain, 2 hours by train, 15 minutes by bus) to see some replicas of stockings? I hope you’ll understand by the end of this post.

For me, it all started a year or two ago, when I read about a citizen science project involving knitting. I attended a lecture by archaeologist Chrystel Brandenburgh, describing the shipwrecked stockings and the idea of recreating them to find out more about the materials and techniques used at the time they were made and who they may have belonged to. My interest was piqued, but when I heard about the very thin needles that would be used, and had estimated approximately how much time it would cost me to knit one of these stockings, I chickened out.

Other people had more pluck. Over a hundred experienced knitters from the Netherlands and abroad took part in the project. They started by knitting swatches.

They tried out different types of silk thread to find out what came closest to the original stockings. They were faced with questions like ‘should the silk be degummed before or after knitting?’ Silk contains a natural gum, called sericin, that needs to be removed for the silk to become soft and shiny. I didn’t know that. It is one of the things I learnt from the exhibition.

That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I went – there’s so much to see and learn. I loved the magnifiers dotted about the place, through which I could study the tiny details.

The needles the knitters used were very, very thin, from 0.7 to 1.0 mm (US 000000 to 00000). I heard that it took them on average 240 hours to finish one stocking. Two-hundred-and-forty hours to finish ONE stocking! I can quite understand that they didn’t all manage to actually finish theirs. The unfinished stockings were not a waste of time, though. Even the unfinished ones yielded valuable information.

Together, the knitters and researchers studied the needles and materials used, and also the stitch patterns. The stockings were mainly knit in stocking stitch, but had a kind of fake ‘seams’ decorated with purl stitches.

And they had a tree of life motif at the top of the gusset.

Most of the stockings I saw were off-white, but some were coloured. I don’t know why and how. There was so much information there, that I missed some of it.

Replicating the shipwrecked stockings made it clear that they were probably meant to be worn by a man, because they were long enough to go over the knee, which was how men used to wear them at the time. Women wore theirs tied below the knee.

Well, that was my brief impression of the exhibition ‘Socks and Stockings’ at the TRC. I hope you now understand why I traveled all the way to Leiden to see some stockings. Do go and visit if you can – the exhibition is still on until December 19th 2019.

If you’re still not convinced that you should go – apart from these stockings, there are also many, many colourful and interesting socks to see. Maybe I’ll write more about those in my next post.

Links:

  • If you’re unable to travel to Leiden or would like to read more, please visit the website of the Textile Research Centre, where the exhibition is held (Dutch and English).
  • There’s also some information on the website of Chrystel Brandenburgh, the archaeologist involved in the project (Dutch only).
  • The original stockings are temporarily housed at archaeology centre Huis van Hilde, for further research. They are not on display, but the website has a lot of interesting information (in Dutch, English and German).
  • Eventually, the stockings and other finds will be displayed at Kaap Skil, the museum on the island of Texel. Their website has pictures of the original stockings and several interesting articles too (in Dutch, English and German).

For most of these websites, the best way to access the information is to enter ‘stockings’ or ‘kousen’ into the search menu.

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.