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!

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.

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:

Sweet Peas and Summer Knitting

Before launching into a discourse on summer knitting yarns and projects, I just have to show you our sweet peas first. They are doing so well. In just a few weeks they grew from tiny little seedlings to tall flowering plants.

I expected lots of different pastel shades, but almost all of our sweet pea flowers are the same – a velvety dark purple combined with a deep burgundy. In reality the colours are even darker than in the pictures. Very different from what I expected, but lovely nevertheless.

Among the dark flowers, there are a few pale pink ones:

We have to keep picking them if we want the plants to keep producing flowers throughout the summer months. So, from now on there will be posies of sweet peas on our table, perfuming the room with their heavenly scent. Simply luxurious!

That’s one thing I like about summer – sweet peas. They’ll go on my list.

List? What list? Well, summer is my least favourite season. I know this may sound weird, as most people seem to love it, but the truth is that I don’t feel at my best during the summer months. For years I’ve tried to ignore it and told myself to stop moaning. But this year I’m trying to find out exactly what makes me feel this way, so that I can do something about it. Plus I’m making a list of things that I do like about summer, and sweet peas definitely deserve a place on it.

One of the things I’ve found out so far, is that I miss my knitting. When temperatures rise, I tend to put my knitting aside, because the yarn is too warm in my hands and on my lap. I find other things to do instead, like reading and crochet. But that’s not quite enough for me. I still miss my knitting!

So what would make knitting possible on hot days? After giving it some thought I came up with two simple criteria:

  1. Yarn for summer knitting should be either cool and crisp or fine (and have zero mohair content), so that it doesn’t stick to clammy palms
    AND/OR
  2. Projects for summer knitting should be small, so that they don’t feel like a warm blanket on one’s lap

Pretty obvious, really. With these two criteria in mind, I first looked at what I had in my stash and came up with some leftover yarns that I could use for small projects. This is some yarn left over from a shawl I once knit:

It’s Tosh Merino Light in five matching shades. I’m using these little balls for another Tellina cowl. This yarn doesn’t fall into the category ‘cool and crisp’, but it’s smooth and fairly fine, so OK for small projects even on warm days.

The yarn I used for the original version was a fine fingering-weight. Now I want to try the pattern out in some heavier fingering-weight yarns, like the Tosh Merino Light you see here.

After finishing the purpley one, I am also going to make one from some average, ordinary fingering-weight sock yarn:

By knitting several versions, I’m testing out how many stitches and how many rows are needed to get approximately the same size cowl with various yarns. I think it’ll be a great little project for all kinds of leftovers.

As I didn’t have any yarn worth speaking of in the category ‘cool and crisp’, I browsed around on the internet and in a brick-and-mortar yarn shop. Usually I don’t give the ‘cotton corner’ a glance, but this time I specifically headed for it. And although I think I will always prefer wool, I must say that I found some beautiful non-wool yarns, too. There are so many summery yarns available now! Not just all kinds of cotton, but also linen, hemp, viscose, yarn spun from recycled jeans and much more.

In the end I chose a mixture of cotton and linen in plain white:

It’s going to be a plain white Tee. Do you remember that band, The Plain White T’s? With their sweet song ‘Hey There Delilah’? That’s the song that I’ll be humming when I’m knitting this oversized summery T-shirt.

Another idea for summer knitting that ticks all the boxes comes from a comment on a recent blog post left by Marieke. She recommends a booklet by Helle Benedikte Neigaard:

It’s a charming, inexpensive booklet that’s widely available, and I bought it straightaway. Thank you for the tip Marieke! In English it’s entitled Easy Knit Dishcloths. (When adding the link, I discovered that it’s not all that inexpensive in English – Sorry.)

Handknit dishcloths seem to be a Scandinavian thing – I’ve come across them in Norwegian and Danish books and magazines before. This booklet is also by a Danish author. And I recently heard about a Danish designer who built up an entire yarn emporium around these humble cloths. What’s the attraction? I’m going to find out!

Finally, I’ve bought a big yarn cake in a colour gradient:

It’s cotton, and I’m going to use it for a new design I’m working on. I’ve already knit it twice, but want to try it out in at least one other yarn before I publish it.

Uhm, exactly how many weeks does a summer have again? Together with the cooler weather knits still on my needles and the shawl with a crochet border I wrote about last week, I now have so many plans for summer projects that it’s beginning to look slightly unrealistic that I’ll actually finish them all. Well, we’ll see. At least I feel good about using up some leftover yarn, and I’m very happy to have so much to look forward to.

All around us, people are busy packing for their holidays. We aren’t, because we’ve decided to stay home this year. We will be taking some time off, though, for a ‘staycation’. That may mean that I’ll be blogging less frequently or on different days of the week, or write shorter blog posts. Or maybe I’ll continue as usual. I just don’t know yet. So if things are different, or you’re not hearing from me for a while, don’t worry. I’m just sitting in the garden, knitting, reading, enjoying the flowers and the birds, and gathering fresh inspiration.

Whether you’re going away or staying at home, I wish you a happy and relaxing summer!

An Afternoon in the Garden

After several rather busy days, I spent an entire Sunday afternoon in the garden. Just sitting, knitting, drinking tea and looking around with my camera at hand. Everything is growing so fast, I can hardly keep up.

Above, you can see my utterly comfortable chair. It was a present for my 50th Birthday, which seems like yesterday, but is in fact so long ago that the fabric has become quite faded in places.

Behind my chair, you can see a part of our small wildflower meadow. It took a while to get going, but now it’s absolutely glorious, with many different plant species and always something new to discover. And one of the best things about it, is that it attracts lots of butterflies, bees and other insects. Here, on an oxeye daisy, is a large tortoiseshell:

We were thrilled to see it, for it is a rare butterfly that was almost extinct in our country until a couple of years ago. Now it seems to be making a come-back. I’m really glad to be the bringer of this good news amidst all the bad news we hear and read about the terrible decline in biodiversity.

Just like the oxeye daisies, the foxgloves are flowering prodigiously this year.

We didn’t plant or sow these foxgloves. They just arrived out of the blue. The first couple of years there were just a few plants, but look at them now!

Bumble bees are buzzing in and out of their bell-like flowers. I really love their shades from purple to pale pink to white. And they have beautiful burgundy spots inside:

There are more plants in our garden that sprang up of their own accord, and we heartily welcome them (at least some of them). But we also have some that we’ve deliberately planted, like these sweet peas.

They’re growing incredibly fast. Since I took this picture they’ve grown quite a bit, and I can already see some tiny flower buds. I’m so looking forward to the fluttery flowers with their lovely scent.

Apart from plants, butterflies and insects, there is also a lot of bird activity in the garden.

There are many, many young sparrows around, flapping their wings begging for food. Two of our nest boxes are filled with cheeping great tits. And the house martins are flying to and fro to feed their young. After the eggs hatched, the birds threw the empty shells out of the nests. I found them on the ground underneath the nests over several mornings:

The speckled shells are papery thin. So fragile that I could hardly pick them up without crushing them. And so small that it’s hard to imagine a complete chick can come out of them. I’ve photographed the egg shells next to one of our own small, white hen’s eggs to give you some idea of their size:

I found the egg shells a little over two weeks ago. I read that it takes house martins five weeks to fledge, so the adults still have an exhausting few weeks ahead of them.

A good friend of mine, the blackbird, is always around too:

For weeks on end, it was hurrying around, collecting worms and other edibles for its young. I think it has had two consecutive nests. Sadly, it seems that this year just one chick survived. But that chick looks strong and healthy, and can now almost fend for itself:

Two large, noisy families of magpies, by contrast, have done very well. Maybe they’ve raised their young on blackbird eggs or chicks, who knows?. They’re notorious nest raiders. They’ve even been known to steal some of our hen’s eggs, which we briefly left unattended between collecting them from the laying nest and putting them away indoors.

I can almost hear the magpie thinking: ‘Well, how was I to know that you didn’t put them out there especially for us? You leave peanuts, seeds and mealworms out for other birds, too, don’t you?’

In between watching the birds and looking at the flowers around me, I also did some knitting. I started two new projects – both in soft shades of pink. One is a striped cardigan in a combination of yarns in different weights:

And the other is a simple shawl in two different lace-weight yarns held together:

They’re both lovely, relaxing knits. I’ll show you more when I’m a little further along.

The day I sat knitting and taking pictures in the garden, was before the onset of some Very Hot weather. For the past few days, it’s been absolutely sweltering. I’ve had to put these knitting projects on hold. The soft, hairy yarn is sticking to my hands, and both the cardi and the shawl in progress are way too hot to have on my lap.

I’m now spending my spare time reading instead, but I need to find something else to do with my hands soon. Something suitable for tropical temperatures.

I’m not much of a summer knitter, really. I often switch over to crochet when temperatures rise. But I’d like to have something summery on my knitting needles, too. Hmmm, I’ll see what I can find. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Frogging

I’ve been knitting for over fifty years and I knit almost every single day, so I think I can safely say that I’m an experienced knitter. I can’t say that everything always goes swimmingly, though. After all those years, I still run into obstacles, and I still often have to frog things.

For a long time, I was baffled by the verb ‘to frog’ for unravelling knitting. It wasn’t in any of my dictionaries in this sense of the word. I just didn’t get why people called it frogging. Until Adrienne Martini explained it to me, on page 50 of her hilarious book Sweater Quest: My year of knitting dangerously:

‘Frogging, which doesn’t involve amphibians, means pulling out large swaths of knitting at one go. You rip it. If you don’t get the association, say it out loud.’

Rip it, rip it. Ah, I finally got it! Well, I’m a frequent frogger. Take a seemingly simple shawl like Stay Soft.

I started out cheerfully, casting on a small number of stitches, gradually increasing along one edge of the garter stitch rows. Everything was plain and clear in the pattern. No need to frog anything this time, right? Wrong.

Because I had a finer yarn and less yardage than the amount specified in the pattern, I’d decided to use a smaller needle size to be on the safe side. But when I’d finished both the yellow and the striped section (i.e. after knitting about one third of the entire shawl)…

… I had an awful lot of the first yarn colour left over – almost two-thirds of the total amount. It would be a shame to waste all that yarn. Besides, the fabric didn’t feel quite right, and it looked as if the final shawl would end up rather small if I went on like this.

So, I frogged everything I’d knit so far and started afresh with the needle size specified in the pattern.

The second time around the fabric looked and felt better. I quickly re-knit the yellow and the striped sections. On the orange section I ran out of yarn after I’d knit 16 rows less than the pattern indicated, but I wasn’t really worried by that.

By that time the shawl already had quite a good size (but rather a strange shape):

Now it was time to pick up stitches for the third colour. I read through the instructions: ‘pick up and knit 5 stitches starting from the cast-on corner of the shawl.’ Hmmm, where exactly? And how?

This pattern has been knit by many people before, so I thought I’d take a look at other projects on Ravelry, to see how they had done it. I read that others had scratched their heads, too, at this point. Many of them somehow found the solution, and some people even made notes of what they’d done, but I was still a bit confused.

So I tried something, frogged it, tried again, frogged again, until I was happy with the result:

And then I thought: why don’t I write a blog post showing exactly what I’m doing, so that others won’t have to frog as much as did? So that’s what I’m working on now: knitting the rest of the shawl while taking photographs and making notes. If it works out, I’ll show you the results soon.

Note: The frog in the photo at the top of this post is a moor frog that hopped across our path during one of our recent walks. During the mating season the males turn blue for a few days. The frog may look quite big in the photograph, but it was only 5 centimeters (2 inches) long at most.

Shades of Green

A while ago, I decided to mend my ways and finish things immediately after the actual knitting, instead of leaving them lying around half-finished. With my green mohair and silk scarf that was easy. I only needed to darn in two tails (at the beginning and end of the scarf, because I’d knit in the others at the colour changes), give it a soak and allow it to dry.

The pattern told me to roll up the scarf in dry towels, after soaking it, and gently squeeze out the moisture. That’s the advice that’s generally given for delicate yarns, to prevent them from breaking. But I just put my scarf in the spin dryer. (No! Really? Shock! Horror!). Yes, really! I know from experience that this yarn doesn’t come to any harm, as long as it stays in for just a short time. (I have a separate spin dryer, and haven’t tried the spin cycle of the washing machine, though.)  The yarn is thin, but it is stronger than it looks, especially when two strands are knit together.

After spin drying, I just spread it out to dry on the floor at first. But on second thoughts I decided to block it on my foam mats, with blocking wires along the insides of the border. And I must say, that was worth the effort. It dried up nice and straight along the sides, and the fabric became loftier and more even than it would otherwise have been. It ended up really, really soft and fluffy, as you can see:

The pattern I used is the Color Play Mohair Scarf by Churchmouse, a yarn and tea shop on Bainbridge Island on the west coast of the US, near Seattle. I love their simple and stylish patterns. The CPMS is very easy to knit. Basically it is nothing but a stocking stitch rectangle with a seed stitch border. I could have knit it without a pattern, but I bought the pattern anyway. Why?

Because the pattern tells me exactly how much yarn I need (for this scarf as well as for a bigger wrap version), which needles to use, how many stitches to cast on, and when to switch colours. It is nice when somebody else does the thinking for me now and then. Besides, it has gorgeous colour photos and useful tips.

The scarf is knit in four shades of green, with two strands of yarn held together. This gives such a lovely effect:

Several years ago, I knit the same scarf in a red/orange/pink colour combo, and it’s still one of my favourites. If I had a limitless yarn budget, I’d knit ten of these, all in different colours.

The only thing is, I’ll have to wait for a few months before I can wear it, because it’s much too warm now. I often seem to finish things in the wrong season. At least, the wrong season from a temperature point of view. Colourwise it is exactly the right season!

The month of May has been like an explosion of green. Part of our local wood has a green (and white) carpet of Lily of the Valley.

I knelt down to take some photographs from closer up. And to breathe in the heavenly scent of the flowers, of course.

During the past few months, the CPMS was my take-along project. It accompanied me on visits to friends and relatives. And also on an outing to Münster, Germany, where we spent a rainy morning at the Botanical Gardens. Speaking of green…

We didn’t really mind the rain. It made everything smell nice and fresh. And look how beautiful the raindrops gathered on the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle (this is a small alpine variety):

The Botanical Gardens had a big pond, with a weeping willow with bright green young leaves in the centre. It looked more like a lawn than a pond, though, with its surface covered entirely by duckweed.

A Mallard and several ducklings were swimming around in it. The beak of the little duckling in the picture is covered in duckweed, which made me wonder if they actually eat it. I looked it up and – yes, in addition to insect larvae, snails and so on, they also eat duckweed.

(Looking this up, I also found out that scientists are investigating duckweed as a possible food source for us, humans. And why not? I can see duckweed soup, duckweed smoothies and duckweed pesto in my future.)

And then suddenly, in between all that green, a spot of red! A squirrel with a bushy tail, nibbling a nut.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my shades of green. Many of us in the Netherlands have a long weekend ahead of us. I’m going to immerse myself in as much green as I can and I hope you have the opportunity to do so, too. Have a great time!