Wrapped in Stocking Stitch

Hello!

After the red tweedy stocking stitch cardigan I wrote about two weeks ago, I’ve finished another cardigan, again in stocking stitch (stockinette stitch in the US). The design is called Modern Wrapper Fine. According to Barbara G. Walker it is all wrong.

In the introduction to A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns she writes:

“All-over plain stockinette stitch is dull to look at and boring to work, even for the beginner. Though it may be done entirely by hand, it lacks the inimitable flavor of hand-knitting. A machine can make it very nicely, but the hand-knitter is not a machine and should not try to imitate one.”

“This being so, there is no reason to spend the time and care of hand-knitting on a garment of stockinette stitch. It is a waste of both. The finished garment, which ought to display the knitter’s taste and skill, displays nothing but poverty of invention.” (p. xx)

Oh dear! Was my cardigan a waste of time? Does it display a lack of taste and skill? Let’s take a closer look.

The Modern Wrapper Fine is worked completely in stocking/stockinette stitch, apart from the wide front bands in garter stitch. Back and fronts are knit from the bottom up. It does not have buttons and can be worn open or closed with a nice pin.

It is oversized, with sloping shoulders that are joined with a 3-needle bind-off. Instead of armholes that curve inwards, the fronts and back taper outwards at the top. This means that the sleeves hang very low. In my case they start halfway on the upper arm.

The sleeves are knit from the top to the cuff, from stitches picked up at the ‘armholes’. Sleeve and side seams are closed with mattress stitch. The hems and the sleeve cuff have a small band of reverse stocking stitch.

The best feature of the Modern Wrapper Fine, in my opinion, is hidden at the back of the neck. There are a few clever short rows there that make the neck band sit perfectly. It doesn’t show very well in the fuzzy yarn I’ve used this time, so here is a picture of the MWF I knit years ago in a different yarn combo.

The details:

  • Pattern: Modern Wrapper Fine (here on Ravelry). It is a finer variation on the original Modern Wrapper, which is even more oversized (here on Ravelry).
  • Size made: XS/S. I usually wear size M or L. This garment is really, really oversized. The finished bust in this size is 137 cm/64”. For me that means it has 46 cm/18” of positive ease.
  • Yarn: 7 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (shade 582 ‘Trance’) and 4 balls of Rowan Fine Lace (shade 933 ‘Aged’) held together. There was quite a bit of yarn left over; my MWF weighs approx. 300 grams.
  • Needles: 3.25 mm (US 3) and 3.75 mm (US 5)

This project took me over a year from start to finish. Not because it was so time-consuming, but for the silly reason that I made a mistake in the front band and didn’t notice it until I’d finished the entire front.

Kidsilk Haze is notoriously difficult to unravel, and it took me a long time to pluck up the courage to fix the mistake. In the end, the combo of these two yarns wasn’t hard to unravel at all.

So, was this project a waste of time? All I’ll say is that for me, knitting big panels of stocking stitch in these two lightweight yarns was like meditating. For the rest I’ll let the pictures speak.

Now that I’m taking up sewing again and am looking for suitable projects to make, I find descriptions on other maker’s blogs very helpful. And also pictures of the finished items worn by ordinary people (not photo models.) I hope my descriptions and pictures will be helpful in the same way.

The yellow-flowering plant in the background is woad, the dye plant I grew as part of a community project. I was going to write about it, too, today, but on second thoughts I’ve wittered on long enough already and it really deserves a post of its own. I hope to come back to it soon.

Bye for now! Xxx

Finishing Time

My knitting is out of sync with the seasons – again. The garden is bursting into flower and the blackbirds’ eggs have hatched.

Don’t those naked little chicks look vulnerable? I hope they’re going to make it. Their nest isn’t very well hidden and there are magpies about.

With spring well on its way and warmer weather around the corner, I’m finishing some warm and woolly knits. It has happened before, my knitting being out of sync with the seasons, but this time I have a very good excuse: Several months ago I dropped everything else to knit baby things. Now our grandson has more than enough to keep him warm for the time being, and there’s finally time to finish other projects.

The first one I’m tackling is a red tweedy cardigan. All parts are knit separately, including the button bands. That means a LOT of seaming, and I’ve done it in stages. Before I started the actual seaming, I pressed the individual parts, covered by a damp tea towel.

As I hope you can see in this picture the edges of the stocking stitch fabric roll inwards terribly. Pressing them flattens them out and makes seaming easier and neater.

As you can probably also see in this picture, there is something in the oven. It’s a batch of my Very Healthy Oat Squares (recipe in this older post; please scroll down).

Over the course of several days, I meticulously sewed on the button bands using mattress stitch. It’s a time-consuming job and I did a little every day.

Then I realized that it was going to take ages this way. So on a day when I had a to-do-list from here to Tokyo, I decided to take a different approach and alternate my chores with bursts of seaming. It looked something like this:

Clean bathroom and sink, sew right sleeve cap.
Replace light bulb, empty wastepaper baskets, water plants, fold laundry, sew left sleeve cap.

For a knitting connoisseur, the sleeve caps are lovely, by the way. Due to a special way of binding off using slipped stitches, the slope isn’t stepped as usual, but nice and smooth.

Dust and hoover downstairs, sew right underarm seam.
Catch up with e-mails and admin, sew right side seam, etc.

Granted, it wasn’t the most exciting day of my life, but at the end of it I had tackled many items on my list and finished the seaming of the entire cardigan. Time for a bubble bath…

… for the cardigan. (Should have taken one myself, too, instead of a quick shower.) And then, after drying flat, the final touch: buttons. And here it is, my simple but sophisticated tweedy cardi:

Entirely in stocking stitch, it looks very simple. What makes it sophisticated is the attention to detail: A-line shaping, sloping shoulder seams moved a little forward, smooth sleeve cap, customized sleeve length, side vents, a few short rows above the hem so that the cardigan ‘hangs’ better, and the careful finishing, of course. The cardigan is also knit at a looser gauge than normal for the yarn, which gives it a nice drape.

I’m particularly happy with the neatly sewn on button bands.

And also with the perfect sleeve length and the way the cardi fits around the shoulders.

The pattern’s name Go-To Cardigan is well chosen – it really is a cardigan to wear every day. Because of the A-line shaping, it is particularly flattering for pear-shaped people like me. The pattern can be found here on Ravelry and here on the designer’s website. The yarn I’ve used is Rowan Felted Tweed, shade 150 Rage. The pattern range goes from XS to XL. I’ve made size S, while my usual clothes size is M/L, EU 40/42 (UK 12/14).

To close off, I’d like to show you our ‘orchard’,  where these pictures were taken. It hardly deserves to be called an orchard, with just one apple and one pear tree, but it sounds nice. The pear blossomed early in spring and we’re now enjoying the apple blossoms.

Under the fruit trees in our tiny orchard, we’ve created a wildflower meadow with native plant species. Our meadow is also tiny (just a few square metres), but from spring into autumn there is always something flowering. This is what it looks like at the moment (click on images to enlarge):

Enjoy your weekend and hope to see you again next week! I don’t know if I’ll have another project finished by then, but we’ll see.

Cherry Blossom and Magnolia

Hello!

Thinking about a simple, portable knitting project I could start straightaway, I remembered a bag of mini-skeins stashed away for just such a thing. Lovely 25-gram skeins in a gradient of pinks, from a deep rose to the palest of petal pinks.

It’s too early in the year to find the darker shades of pink in gardens and parks. This is the season of the paler pinks. Most trees are still bare around here, but many ornamental cherries around our village are in full bloom. Very romantic with their frothy cloud of blossoms.

From close up the flowers look almost white, while the buds are a lovely shade of pink.

And then there are the magnolias. Oh, so utterly beautiful. There are all kinds of fancy varieties around, including pure white ones, but for me the most beautiful magnolias of all, are the ‘ordinary’ ones with the pink-and-white flowers. From a distance the general impression is pale pink.

But from close up – Oh la la, what a beautiful magnolia!

Well, back to the yarn of the mini-skeins. That’s what started all this talk about shades of pink, after all. It is John Arbon’s Knit By Numbers yarn, organically farmed 4-ply Merino. Each of the colours of this yarn is available in 6 shades, from dark to light, and there are over 100 shades in total.

The interesting thing about this yarn is that it is not dyed in these shades, but blended. Coloured top is blended with increasing percentages of white wool to make lighter and lighter shades.

Taking the palest of my mini-skeins as an example, it is just as with looking at the blossoming trees. The general impression is pale pink, but looking more closely you can see the marled effect: there is pink, white and even some grey in it.

John Arbon Textiles is a small-scale spinning mill using refurbished old machinery, located close to Exmoor in North Devon. Apart from yarns, they also produce tops for spinning. And once a year, they publish their informative and funny Annual.

It is filled with information about their yarns and tops, patterns, stories, cartoons and puzzles.

I always feel slightly uncomfortable talking about yarn brands, shops etc. It’s as if I’ve been hired to promote them, which I’m not. I just want to share information that may be of interest to other knitters and spinners. Several years ago, we spent a summer holiday in Devon and camped close to John Arbon Textiles without knowing they were there! I wish someone had shared the information with me so I could have visited them.

Fortunately there is always the internet. I’ll give you a link to their website at the end of this post. But before you zap away from my blog, I’ll quickly show you what I’m going to knit from the pink mini-skeins. A pink version of Morbihan, a shawl I first designed for a different yarn in a gradient of blues. This is the original.

The pattern can be found here on Ravelry. I’ll show you what it looks like in pink when I’ve made some progress. Finally, as promised, here is the link to the John Arbon Textiles website.

Enjoy your weekend!

Squirrel Nutkin

Hello!

“This is a tale about a tail—a tail that belonged to a little red squirrel, and his name was Nutkin.” That is how Beatrix Potter began The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. It was what I thought of when choosing yarn for a baby set in a colour called… Nutkin!

It really is the same warm reddish brown as a red squirrel’s coat. The other reason for choosing this colour was that the parents-to-be have indicated a preference for natural/undyed, green and brown for baby things.

During the weekend and every evening, I knit, knit, knit… and finished the complete set within a week. These are only wee things after all.

Some of the things I’m making will remain a surprise until after the baby is born, but I’m giving them this set beforehand. It looks deceptively easy all in stocking and garter stitch, but certainly isn’t for novice knitters.

I had some trouble keeping track of the different increases and the button holes at the same time. I also had some difficulty with the place where the sleeves meet the fronts and back. To be honest, I was unable to prevent fairly large holes from appearing no matter how hard I tried and had to cheat a little to close them. The ears on the hat were not easy to get right, and the bootees were a bit fiddly.

The patterns ask for double pointed needles in three different sizes. I didn’t have all of those, so used circular needles and the magic loop method for the hat and bootees.

They take some patience and concentration, but all in all, these are very nice little projects. (All of them can be found here on Ravelry.) What I like most of all are the small pointy ears on the hat – they really look a lot like Squirrel Nutkin’s ears.

Last autumn, a red squirrel visited our garden every day. We have lots of hazel bushes bordering our garden, and we watched it burying hazel nuts all through our garden and our neighbours’ for weeks on end. Now, when it is time to dig them up and eat them, we don’t so much as catch a glimpse of the squirrel. But we do see the empty nutshells it leaves behind.

Not all of the nuts were eaten by the squirrel, though. I’ve collected some and tried to find out who made which holes. These halved ones were 100% certain cracked open by an adult squirrel:

At first I thought that the ones with the oval holes were all left behind by the great spotted woodpecker:

But looking more closely, I’m not so certain anymore. Some of them look pecked out with a sharp beak, but others (like the one on the right) clearly have tooth marks around them. Hmmm… A young squirrel perhaps? How long does it take for a squirrel to become an adult? Or could it have been a mouse?

And then there are those with small round holes drilled into them:

I haven’t been able to find out whose marks these are yet. Some kind of insect? There is so much I don’t know.

Red squirrels have become fairly rare in our surroundings over the years. We do not see them very often. But last week, my husband was lucky and saw no less than four of them on one walk, twice two together. This is one of the pictures he took:

In appearance it looks a lot like the squirrels in Beatrix Potter’s lovely pictures, but in behaviour not so much. I can’t see this one carrying hazelnuts in sacks, or rafting on a lake using its tail as a sail.

I only discovered Beatrix Potter’s delightful tales as a teenager. Did you grow up with her stories? Which one is your favourite?

Baby Things, Worries and Hope

Hello!

March is giving us many gloriously sunshiny days this year. The weather seems very much at odds with the world news. But the sun will shine, regardless of what we’re up to down here on Planet Earth.

I’ve used some of these sunny days to wash baby things. I’ve given most of our daughter’s clothes and other stuff away, but kept some, too. After nearly three decades in the attic they’d become rather musty. Now, after a wash and a day in the sun and the wind, all sweet-smelling and neatly folded, they are ready and waiting for her baby.

I’ve been busy knitting, as well. When I first thought of publishing some of my designs on Ravelry, I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:

‘But if I become a Ravelry designer, does that mean that I can never knit from a pattern anymore? In that case, I’d rather not.’ ‘Don’t be silly. Of course you can continue knitting from patterns!’ ‘Oh, that’s a relief! Because, you know, there are so many beautiful designs around. And it’s just so nice when someone else does all the thinking, swatching and maths for you.’

At the moment, I’m knitting from this booklet – Bloom at Rowan:

It contains 11 designs by Erika Knight – baby things, garments for mums-to-be, a crochet blanket and a simple shawl. I’m knitting a cardigan called Little Lamb, and have even chosen the same yarn and colour used in the pattern.

Terribly uncreative, but so very nice and relaxing. I’m going to knit the matching hat (with ears!) and bootees as well.

Meanwhile I’m also working on a baby design of my own. Here is a peek. More about it when it’s finished (which may take a while.)

While I’m knitting for our first grandchild, I’m beset with worries. No need to spell them out, I think.

A group of Ukrainian refugees is now staying in a holiday accommodation near us. (Interestingly, the same accommodation housed a group of Russian refugees from 1945-1947.) There is a special fund to provide them with everything they need, and we are asked to contribute by buying some of these ‘drops’:

A donation often feels like a drop in the ocean, but in this case I know it really helps. I hope these people will feel safe and welcome here. More information about this small initiative here.

Speaking of hope – I’m reading this:

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. (NL titel: Het boek van hoop: levenslessen voor een mooiere toekomst)

I haven’t finished reading it, so can’t write review, but here are a few quotes:

  • ‘Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.’
  • ‘Hope is contagious. Your actions will inspire others.’
  • ‘…millions of drops actually make the ocean.’

Hope to see you again next week!

How to Design Your Own Sweater

Hello!

Instead of just showing you the cardigan I’ve designed and knit for our daughter, I thought it might be more interesting to tell you how I did it.

There are many approaches to designing things, of course. This is merely my simple, practical way for designing a sweater knit from the bottom-up in pieces sewn together later. I’ve developed this method over the years and have tried to summarize it in 10 (hopefully easy to follow) steps. So, here we go.

How to Design Your Own Sweater in 10 Steps:

1 – Decide what you’re going to make
For whom would you like to knit a sweater: For yourself? A loved one?
What type of sweater would you like to make: A pullover? A cardigan? A summer top?

2 – Take measurements and draw a diagram
Find a garment with approximately the fit you’re looking for and measure:

  • Chest width
  • Length
  • Armhole
  • Neck width and depth
  • Width at shoulders
  • Sleeve length
  • Sleeve circumference at wrist
  • Any other things you think may be useful

The chest/shoulder/armhole part is the most important. The rest is easy to adapt. Draw a diagram incorporating these measurements. It doesn’t need to be to scale, it’s just for your own reference. This is mine:

3 – Think about what you want and draw another diagram
Things to consider are:

  • Silhouette: straight, A-line, waist-shaping, tapered etc
  • Body length: cropped, hip-length, tunic
  • Sleeve length and shape
  • Neckline: V-neck, round neck, boat neck, turtle neck, shawl collar etc
  • Details: buttons, pockets, stitch pattern, ribbing or no ribbing…

Add any relevant measurements to your new diagram.

Tip: If you have never designed anything before, keep it simple. If you have a little experience, you could set yourself a challenge. I used a very simple armhole and sleeve cap:

And gave myself the challenge of adding a cable, flowing from the ribbing at the bottom and into the neckband.

Another challenge I set myself was matching the ribbing of front and back so that the seam would be near invisible.

4 – Choose your yarn and work out approximately how much you’ll need
If you’re an experienced knitter you’ll probably have some idea. It also helps to look at other people’s projects from the same yarn on Ravelry. Find a few similar garments in a similar size and check how much they took. Then add some extra for swatches and to be on the safe side.

Note: I did it the other way around: Fell in love with the yarn first and bought a generous quantity. Far too generous as it turns out. Never mind – it only means that I have enough left for a hat and a scarf.

5 – Swatch
a – First swatch to decide what needle size you’re going to use: how open, drapey or dense do you prefer your knitted fabric for this project? Knit generous swatches – aim for at least 12 x 12 cm/5 x 5”. Wash your swatches and leave them to dry flat, or block and/or press them, just like you intend to treat your finished sweater.
b – Then knit more swatches. This time in different stitch patterns and ribbings you might want to use. Again wash/block/press them.

6 – Decision time
Decide what needle size(s) and pattern stitch(es) you’re going to use, how wide your ribbings and button bands (if any) will be, exactly what your neckline is going to look like, where any pockets will be placed etc. Add details to your diagram if you think that will be helpful.

7 – Start knitting the back
Using your swatches, calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. Do you need to increase or decrease for, say, an A-line or waist shaping? Write down everything you do and keep your notes together. It isn’t necessary to work everything out beforehand. You can think about the armhole, neck and shoulders while knitting.

8 – Do the maths for the front(s)
If you’re designing a cardigan with button bands, make sure they overlap. Work any buttonholes in the second front. Think deep about your neckline, and work out how to get what you want.

9 – Work out the sleeves
How long? How many rows to armhole? How many stitches do you start with? How many do you need at the armhole? Spread the increases out over the length.

10 – Work out and knit the final details
Now all you need to do is wash, block and/or press your pieces and seam everything together. Add button bands (if not incorporated), patch pockets, neckband etc.

There, all done!

Starting from a deep green, finely knit, shop-bought V-neck pullover, I arrived at a fawn, chunky, hand-knit cardigan with a round neck and cables along the fronts.

It does not fit over our daughter’s already impressive bump, but will keep her back and shoulders warm.

With quite a few weeks to go, how much more will that belly grow?

Well, I hope this all makes sense. Do you sometimes design your own sweaters, too? Is your method very different from mine? If you’ve never designed anything yet, why not give it a try? Your sweater may not turn out perfect or exactly how you envisioned it, but it will be uniquely yours.

Snowdrops, Storms and Cables

Hello!

It’s snowdrop season! A garden I sometimes pass, is carpeted with them.

We have only small clumps here and there.

Maybe they’ll grow out to a carpet, too, over the years. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? For now, I’m very happy with the ones we have dotted through the garden. I just love their beautiful little bells.

But it’s not just snowdrop season. It is also aconite season.

And iris season. We have yellow and blue miniature irises. The yellow ones are a little later, but the blue ones are in full bloom already. They are especially beautiful looked at from above.

Apart from the snowdrops, everything is earlier than normal this year. We haven’t had any real winter at all, and it feels strange to see so many flowers in the garden already. Compared to the 1950s spring arrives three weeks earlier now, according to Nature Today.

It’s crocus season, too. This is a photo I took last week:

And this is what they look like after triplet storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin raged across the country.

Especially Eunice was fierce, but we do not live close to the coast and it wasn’t as bad here as in the north and west, where it killed four people. Although the solar panels on our roof rattled dangerously, they stayed put. The strong gusts tore tiles from other people’s roofs, though, and toppled quite a few trees.

Some weeks the words flow easily from my keyboard, other weeks they do not. This is a week in the latter category. The seasickness-without-having-been-on-a-boat has gone, but my head is still tired and achy, like having a hangover-without-having-had-any-alcohol. It is also filled with worries about the storm hitting Eastern Europe.

How can I write about snowdrops and knitting at a time like this? But then again, maybe these humble little, peaceful things are more important than ever. So here is a report on my progress on the knitting front.

Remember the cardigan I’m designing and knitting for our daughter? (I wrote about it here.) After some initial swatching and brainstorming, I swatched some more and this is the winning swatch:

I scribbled down notes during the process.

The back was simply knit in stocking stitch. I added a cable to the front, next to the button band, but underestimated how much narrower the cable would be compared to the same number of stitches in stocking stitch. I should have made a larger swatch. Almost at the armhole, I realized that the front would be too narrow and the button bands wouldn’t overlap.

So I ripped the whole thing out, cast on a few more stitches and started again.

This is my favourite type of cable needle. Its V-shape holds the stitches really well, and it is easy to manipulate.

I’m halfway through the second front now, and have good hopes to have the entire cardigan finished by next week. Or am I being too optimistic? Anyhow, I hope to see you again next week. Bye!

Grou Yarn Shop

Hello!

Another little outing, today. This time, I’m taking you along to the Frisian village of Grou (rhymes with ‘now’), where I grew up. It is situated on a lake. In summer you won’t be able to see the lake for the boats, but now it’s deserted.

A cormorant sits hunched moodily on a mooring post, its feet clamped around the top. I know how you feel mate. I have days like that too, only not today.

Today, I’m happy to be in these familiar surroundings. Today, I have some time to stroll around and visit a yarn shop!

The village has changed a lot since I was a child here, but the old centre has remained largely the same, with everything built closely together.

The 12th Century church and the surrounding narrow streets and alleys with not-quite-as-old houses form the most picturesque part of the village. (I grew up in a considerably less picturesque part.)

The houses here are small, some even tiny, but very attractive.

Long ago there was a yarn shop in one of the houses around the church, the one with the red roof tiles and red brick front on the left in the photo below.

Later there was a yarn shop here, on the central square, where there is now a men’s hair salon (left of the striped barber pole).

When the owner retired, she asked my mum if she’d like to take over. Unfortunately, my dad vetoed it. I think mum would have loved it, and I would have loved helping around the shop.

After years without one, Grou got a new yarn shop in October 2020. Not an easy time to start, with a lockdown soon after the opening and another one recently. But Van Draad, as it is called, survived the ups and downs of the past two years and here we are:

It is a fairly small shop, but there is room for a cosy table where knitting circles and workshops will be held in the future, I expect. (The shops are open again, but under the current restrictions it isn’t possible for groups to gather in such small spaces.)

There is a wall of colourful yarns that is a joy to look at.

Here is a close-up of some pinks and purples.

There are swatches tucked in among the yarns here and there.

And on top of the wall of yarn is a sweater with a beautiful cable down the centre, knit from 4 very thin threads of alpaca held together (Lang ‘Alpaca Super Light’)

In a corner by the window there is a tempting display of laceweight mohair yarn (Katia Concept ’50 shades of mohair’). It’s like a knitter’s box of crayons.

No fancy hand-dyed yarns here, but a great selection of good quality, affordable yarns from Lang, Katia and Scheepjes, as well as books, magazines, needles, tools and accessories. I feel very much at home in this shop, I have to say, all thanks to Sytske, the very friendly and welcoming owner.

Q: Are all yarn shops in the Netherlands so lovely and their owners friendly? It looks like that from your blog. Or are you making things up?
A: No, not all yarn shops here are wonderful places. I just don’t write about the ones I don’t like. I’m not sponsored to say nice things either, so what you see and read here is honestly how I experienced it.

I took loads more pictures, but think this will have to do for now. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, do pay Sytske a visit. Her website – with address, opening hours and webshop – can be found here.

Oh, and did I buy anything? Yes, I did – small quantities of 4-ply cotton and merino wool for baby things.

Oant sjen! (Frisian for See you!)

Nettle Socks and Nettelbosch

Hello!

Today’s post has a nettle theme running through it. To begin with, I’ve knit a pair of socks with nettle fibre in them. That was interesting, because the yarn (Onion Nettle Sock) behaved a little differently from the usual all-wool or wool-and-nylon sock yarn. Let’s take a look at the thread first:

As you can see, there is maroon fibre and white fibre. The maroon fibre is superwash wool (70%) and the white fibre is nettle (30%). Nettle doesn’t take the dye used for wool and stays white, which gives a nice marled effect. Here and there thicker bits of nettle stick out, but on the whole the thread is smooth. Nettle is a very strong fibre, and the thread doesn’t break easily.

For me, the problem was that the yarn has hardly any elasticity at all. At my first try, with a few centimetres of knit 1, purl 1 rib followed by stocking stitch, the sock became too loose. Casting on fewer stitches would give a tighter fit, but also a stiff sock. After throwing it into a corner taking a break from it, I had a lightbulb moment: what the yarn lacks in elasticity, can be added by using a stretchy stitch pattern! So, I knit the leg and the top of the foot in k2, p2 rib.

TIP: Here is something I learnt from my mum and she learnt from hers: start on the toe of the sock when the little toe is covered. I can’t guarantee that it works for very long toes, but I think it’s a good rule of thumb.

Laid out flat, the ribbing is all bunched up and the socks look rather narrow.

But on the foot, you can see how the rib stretches out and the socks fit perfectly.

I had my doubts about this yarn, but I’m happy with these socks now and hope the friend I made them for is too. Still, they’re pretty basic. I have more of this yarn for another pair and have an idea for making those a little more exciting. More about them in a few weeks’ time, I hope.

Q: Does nettle yarn sting or itch?
A: No more than any other sock yarn. It feels surprisingly nice, really.

All this focus on nettle fibre gave me an idea for a little outing to the Nettelbosch, a garden in the nearby town of Steenwijk. Come along! Up, up, up the stairs we go, on to the top of the old town wall.

After a short walk we go down another flight of stairs…

… and arrive at the entrance gate. Apart from the name of the garden, it shows a simplified map of the old town centre, with its wonky star-shaped defensive walls.

Long, long ago, there was a garden here, too. But it became a neglected spot – a tangle of nettles that was known to the locals as De Nettelbosch. When in 2018 the municipality decided to give the town centre a ‘quality boost’ by creating a new garden, the spot kept its name.

The small, stony pond looks nice all year…

… thanks to its attractive leafy bridge.

For the rest, De Nettelbosch looks rather bare and bleak at this time of the year.

At least at first sight. Spending a little longer looking around, small details catch the eye, like these seed heads.

There is also some colour to be found.

And even a few signs of spring!

These bulbs (daffodils?) are much further along than those in our garden, probably because of their sheltered situation behind the town walls. I’ll certainly take you back here in spring, to see what De Nettelbosch looks like then.

Goedgoan!*

*Local expression for Bye!

A Cardi without a Clue

Hello!

Do you remember our trip to Harlingen last autumn, and my visit to the local yarn shop? That’s when I bought the yarn in the basket above. It is Isager ‘Eco Soft’ from Denmark – a bulky yarn of 56% alpaca and 44% organic cotton. It is very soft indeed.

I bought it on a whim, with the idea that it would be perfect for a cosy cardigan for our daughter. Other than that I didn’t have a clue as to what it was going to look like or what pattern I was going to use. Or how much yarn I’d need (I hope I’ve bought enough).

The ball band didn’t give any clues about needle sizes to be used or gauge suggestions, which is very unusual. So, I started swatching. I have a handy tool for determining how many rows and stitches go into 10 x 10 cm/4 x 4 inches.

It isn’t really necessary. A measuring tape will suffice, too, but it makes things easier.

I took the swatches along to our daughters place. She is way past the age that I buy clothes for her, and I never push any knitwear on people that they may not want. So my first question was, ‘Would you like a sweater in this yarn? I was thinking of a cardigan, but if you don’t like it, please feel free to say so and I’ll find a different destination for it.’

I was glad to hear that yes, she would love to have a cardi from this yarn.

Eco Soft is a brand-new yarn, and I soon found out that only 4 patterns using it have been published to date, all for children. I could have looked for a pattern in a similar yarn, but decided that it would be more fun to think up something myself. A bespoke cardigan, so to speak.

I thought it might be nice to show you how I go about it. (Fingers crossed that I’ll end up with a wearable cardi.)

First, I quickly made a schematic drawing of a favourite, shop-bought sweater with approximately the kind of fit she wanted. It wasn’t a cardigan but a pullover and made from a very thin yarn, but that didn’t matter. This was just to get a general indication of the fit to aim for – oversized, but not hugely so.

I also asked her a few questions about shape, neckline etc, and these were the clues she gave me:

  • Simple
  • Stocking stitch
  • Straight silhouette (so no tapering, A-line or waist shaping)
  • No pockets
  • Round neckline
  • Buttons

I have a sketchbook for brainstorming about knitting ideas, and these are the pages I made for this cardi.

Next steps: knit more swatches, make decisions.

Many January days are so cloudy and dark that I often take my knitting outside to photograph it. This time, I removed some plants and things from the window sill, and covered it with a folded table cloth. It is the lightest place inside and fine for photographing small items.

Fortunately, those dark days are interspersed with lighter and sometimes even sunshiny ones. One morning, sunlight streamed through the windows and suddenly there were two vases of cherry branches – the real one and its shadow.

It’s always uncertain whether the buds on branches like these will open, but this time we were lucky. White cherry blossoms against a white wall – simply beautiful.

I’ll tell you more about the cardi-with-a-few-clues-now when I’ve made some progress. Bye for now and take care!