Moving Back In

Hello!

As you can see, my knitting baskets are back where they belong – next to my knitting chair in the living room. This means that all the repair work to the house is finished, the paint is dry, the heating is back on and we’ve moved everything back to its rightful place.

I’m so glad that it’s all behind us now. And I’m particularly glad that I’m surrounded by books again. Moving back in, I came across one that I thought might be interesting to discuss here:

Kari Cornell (ed.), For the Love of Knitting, Stillwater (MN): Voyageur Press, 2004.

For the Love of Knitting is different from most other knitting books in that it doesn’t contain any patterns. It is filled with stories and essays about all kinds of aspects of knitting, and illustrated with many interesting pictures.

The book’s subtitle is: A Celebration of the Knitter’s Art. That’s interesting, because knitting is usually considered a craft. In an essay with the title: ‘The Search for a Proper Place among the Arts’ Teva Durham tries to answer the question ‘Why is knitting considered less of an art than painting, sculpting, or weaving?’ That’s an interesting question, and the essay contains interesting thoughts. A quote (p. 109): ‘For the proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement it was enough for a work of art to be “a well-made thing” where “design interpenetrates the workmanship,” showing it was “made by a human being for a human being.” […] What could be more applicable to this than knitting?’

What indeed? Still, I wouldn’t call the things I knit art. But does it really matter whether something is considered art or craft? Hmm, it’s mainly a matter of status, I think. And the price people are willing to pay for one or the other will differ a lot. So, yes, perhaps it does matter.

The things I knit are usually of the useful and wearable kind. This book shows many other applications of the art/craft of knitting, including knitted chairs, a knitted boat (yes, really, it even floats), and these two ladies.

This work of knitting art made by Karen Searle is called Prime of Life. According to the caption, the artist ‘wanted to illustrate the beauty of the aging female body.’ If you’re as intrigued by this as I am, there is an article with more pictures of Searle’s work here.

I just have to show you this gem, with the caption: ‘A young Dutch maiden knits contently by the sea in this vintage, hand-colored postcard.’ It could be me! (Just kiddin’.)

One thing in the book that makes me laugh out loud, is ‘Lily Chin’s Top 10 Ways to Hide the Stash’. One of her fun yarn storage tips is ‘Put a slipcover over a bag of yarn, stick it on the couch, call it a pillow.’ And why not? Another one is, ‘Never cook, only order take-out or go to restaurants. You’ve now got the whole oven!’

Haha, nooo, storing yarn in the oven would never work for me. We just LOVE,

LOVE,

LOVE

our oven and use it almost every day.

Something else I came across while moving back in was my collection of straight knitting needles. My needle cases for these are getting rather ratty, splintering or falling completely apart.

I knit almost everything on circulars nowadays. Apart from the double-pointed ones, I hardly use straights anymore. But I’m still attached to them, so what shall I do? Give them away? Invest in new needle cases? And where am I going to find those?

Here are several special pairs/sets – from top to bottom:

  • My thickest knitting needles (15 mm)
  • My thinnest knitting needles (1.5 mm)
  • Some of my Mum’s old, slightly rusty steel knitting needles

After moving back in, I’m trying to rest and relax as much as possible this week. I’ve had my first dose of vaccine. Apart from a sore arm and a slight headache that may have had different causes, I haven’t felt sick from it at all, but I thought it might be a good idea to take it easy anyway.

I’m really surprised at how happy I feel that is now my turn to be vaccinated. Apparently, I’ve felt more oppressed by the whole situation than I realized. It also feels as a relief that we’re able to do something to protect ourselves and others apart from keeping ourselves to ourselves. I feel very privileged and hope that everybody around the world will get the opportunity to get vaccinated soon.

Besides unpacking, I’ve been knitting, pottering in the garden…

… airing my husband’s best suit (can’t remember the last time I saw him wearing a suit)…

… and washing and ironing my new dress for a very special occasion in the near future.

More about that soon, I hope. Bye for now and enjoy your weekend!

Gazelle Mitts

Hello!

Thank you so much for all your kind and supportive words after last week’s post, here and through other channels. While I’m writing this, we’re waiting for the plaster on our walls to dry with as many doors and windows open as possible. I’m using this quiet interlude before the next stage (ceiling repairs) for some focused work, and I’ve finally finished my pattern for a pair of fingerless mitts. Or rather, two pairs.

Meet the Gazelle Mitts!

I’ll explain why I photographed them on a cycling map and with a thermos flask further on. First a little about the design.

Taking the inherited knitting sampler I’ve written about before as a starting point, I began visualizing, drawing, thinking, calculating and swatching. After lots of swatches and prototypes I was ready to knit the final mitts in a single-coloured and a two-coloured version. I already had the yarn, but kept changing my mind about which colours to use for which version.

Red and cream together and blue on its own? Or blue and cream together and red on its own? In the end I asked your advice, and you were unanimous: Blue and cream for the two-colour version and red on its own.

So that is how I knit them.

The red single-colour mitts combine three knit-and-purl stitch patterns from the sampler. For the palm of the hand, I used the sampler’s diagonals.

For the back of the hand, I took the zigzags and mirrored them to make diamonds.

And a two-by-two knit-and-purl rib with purl ridges was perfect for the cuffs and thumbs. Only I changed it into a three-by-two rib to link it up with the diagonals and diamonds.

Although they look very different, the two-colour mitts are basically the same. They have the same diagonals and diamonds, and the same ribbing on cuffs and thumbs. Only this time instead of knit and purl stitches on the palm and back of the hands the patterns are knit entirely (no purling) and picked out in different colours.

Diagonals on the palms…

… and diamonds on the backs of the hands.

With bicycle rides on chilly days in mind, I named the mitts for my trusty Gazelle bicycle, my friend for over 15 years.

It gives me a sense of freedom and keeps me fit. I’m very much attached to it and not yet ready to trade it in for an e-bike like many people do nowadays.

We (well, mainly my husband – thank you!) took most of the pictures for this post along one of my favourite stretches of bicycle track. It meanders through the wood just outside our village.

For the picture below, I’ve pulled up my coat sleeve to show you the nice and snug cuff.

And here is a picture of my bicycle bell. It not only shows you the construction of the mitt’s thumb, but also tells you what my favourite beverage is. If I place my thumb on the teapot spout and release it, it gives off a sharp PING!

On longer bicycle rides, I often bring a thermos flask of tea. (Just for me – my husband prefers coffee.) Coffee-and-tea-to-go places have sprung up during the past year even around here, but they are still few and far between. And anyway I prefer my own.

The Gazelle Mitts can be knit on a set of double-pointed needles or on long circulars using the Magic Loop method. Personally, I prefer double-pointed needles for the cuffs and thumbs…

… and the Magic Loop method for the hands.

The yarn I’ve used is Brooklyn Tweed ‘Peerie’. One 50-gram skein for the single-colour mitts. And two 50-gram skeins in different colours for the two-colour version, with enough yarn left for a second pair with the colours reversed.

The Gazelle mitts can, of course, be knit in different yarns – I think that for instance many sock yarns are suitable. But should you decide to knit them, make sure your yarn is the same weight (fingering), and is smooth with a good stitch definition. And always check your gauge.

For those of you who’d like to make a pair,

The pattern for the Gazelle Mitts can be found here on Ravelry
(available in English and Dutch, also to non-Ravelry members)

There is more information there on needles & notions, finished measurements etcetera. I’ve done my utmost to make the pattern as clear as possible. Apart from detailed instructions, photographs of the mitts, and charts for the diagonals and diamonds, I’ve also included a photo tutorial for the ‘afterthought’ thumb.

Well, that’s all about my Gazelle Mitts for now. If you have any questions, please leave a comment here or contact me through Ravelry (my Ravelry name is MerulaDesigns). As always, thank you for reading!

Upheaval

Hello again!

Last time I was here on my blog, I told you that I have a lot on my plate at the moment. The picture of our hallway above gives an indication of one of the things on it. No, we’re not moving house. Let’s take a look at our living room for further clues.

Redecorating? Nope, not redecorating either. Or sort of, but not voluntarily. Actually, it’s more restoring than redecorating.

Last autumn, a concrete sheet pile wall was hammered into the soil a little ways away from our house with so much force that it felt like a minor earthquake and cracks appeared in our walls.

This is just a small, elegant crack that only needs some filler. In other places the plaster needs to be hacked away and restored entirely. Fortunately the #@*&%#! company that caused the damage is insured, but for us it’s still a lot of upheaval, noise, dust etc.

Just like the house, I’m thoroughly shaken, but trying to be philosophical about it. Compared to the bombed houses in Syria or Iraq we sometimes see on the news, this is absolutely nothing. Besides, we’re lucky that our bedroom was left unscathed. I’m acting as if it’s a room in a boutique hotel. Room service is lacking, but unlike the rest of the house, it is warm. It also has a good bed and exactly the books I love beside it, as well as a perfect knitting chair where I can spend the evenings knitting.

During the daytime, I can also sit outside if I have a few moments to spare. It’s still rather chilly, but the back of the cardigan I’m knitting has grown so fast that it’s like a small, cosy lap blanket.

The pattern I’m using is Modern Wrapper Fine. I’ve made one before and knew that it would be perfect comfort knitting during this period of upheaval.

The garden is also giving me some solace. The pear tree and the Amelanchier are opening their first blossoms, and the wood anemones and wild garlic are lighting up a slightly shady area.

Another project that is growing, albeit more slowly than the cardi, is my linen stitch wrap in Felted Tweed. I love the way linen stitch always blends colours together. (The white row at the bottom is a provisional cast-on I’ll write more about when I can find the time.)

Knit, yarn forward, slip, yarn backward. Knit, yarn forward, slip, yarn backward… A great way to meditate.

One of the books beside my bed in the ‘boutique hotel room’ is brand new – Mine Strikkede Favoritter by Norwegian designer Sidsel Høivik.

From the foreword I gather that, as well as new designs, it contains several re-knits from her other books. I don’t have any of her other books, so that’s fine. If you do, check if you still need this one. The difference with her other books is that they are entirely in Norwegian and this one is bilingual (Norwegian and English).

Sidsel’s signature style is traditional Norwegian with a twist. She uses lots of embellishments on her designs, like embroidery, beads, sequins and ribbons. The book contains patterns for sweaters, cardigans and several accessories. My favourite design is a long cardigan with traditional Setesdal patterns on the upper part of the body and the sleeves, with embroidery on the star motifs, a nice length, pockets and a cosy collar.

All of the yarns used in the book are from Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk, the small Norwegian family-run spinning mill I visited years ago and wrote about in this blog post. I bought my copy from a small yarn shop 20 minutes cycling from here. It is also available from Sidsel Høiviks own website, which offers kits for her lovely designs as well.

Well, that’s all from me for now. The builders will still be here next week and the week after, but I hope that I’ll become used to all the upheaval (and also that the other things on my plate will shrink) soon, so that I’ll be able to go back to blogging as usual. Maybe I’ll even be able to finish and publish my new pattern! Or am I now being too optimistic?

Anyhow, I hope you’re safe and well. Take care! xxx

Knitting Sampler Reconstruction

While for some of you Summer is coming to an end (hello New Zealand and Australia!) we’re moving into the milder weather of Spring. At least in theory. I have been able to pick a small posy of spring flowers from the garden to brighten up the hallway…

… but over the Easter weekend, the weather didn’t look much like Spring at all. Brrr, it was close to freezing, with strong winds and hail storms.

Our chickens loved it! To them, hailstones are like sweets falling from the sky – white instead of multicoloured hundreds-and-thousands.

After their winter break, the chickens are providing us with plenty of eggs again. Usually, their eggs are slightly smaller than the average shop-bought egg, but recently they surprised us with two quail-sized ones.

Surprise mini-egg, normal Frisian chicken egg, shop-bought egg (with home-made decoration)

We’re not as keen on hailstones as our chickens are, but wrapped up warmly we went for walks in a deserted town and a blissfully quiet wood. Also, it was ideal weather for snuggling up indoors, eating chocolate bunnies…

… and knitting. I have finished a reconstruction of a knitting sampler.

As you may know from a previous blog post, I’ve inherited a knitting sampler with 10 different knit-and-purl stitch patterns. I thought knitting a reconstruction would be a good way to get better acquainted with the stitch patterns and the sampler in general.

The original sampler was knit from cotton on small needles. Mine is knit from wool on 4.0 mm (US 6) needles. I omitted the edge stitches, but for the rest I tried to copy the original as closely as possible, casting on the same number of stitches and knitting the same number of rows for each stitch pattern.

The original sampler is 90 cm (35.5”) long and 9-12 cm (3.5-4.75”) wide, and weighs 53 grams.
My reconstruction is 188 cm (74”) long and 20 cm (8”) wide, and weighs 203 grams.

The stitch patterns include seed stitch, several kinds of ribbing and the mini blocks I used for my Monogrammed Guest Towel.

There is some brioche as well, and there are diagonals, zigzags, diamonds and triangles.

And also the initials I, EW and GW. As I wrote before, I think ‘I’ knit the sampler, and ‘EW’ and ‘GW’ were her parents.

Copying the knitted initials made me realize that they were, in fact, constructed of the same blocks used in the mini-block stitch pattern. Small blocks of 3 stitches by 4 rows, alternately showing the right and the wrong side of stocking stitch.

What was hardest for me to figure out, was the row of eyelets at the end of the brioche stitch section. It took me quite a few tries to get them exactly the same.

Although this is a small, fairly simple sampler, it must have taken ‘I’ many hours to knit. Did she enjoy it, or was it torture? Judging by the regularity of the stitches and the way all of the stitch patterns were finished to a balanced number of rows, I have the impression that she rather enjoyed the process. My guess is also that this was not her very first attempt at knitting.

Knitting this reconstruction, I have become convinced that the sampler really was a practice piece, and not made for decorative purposes. Although the knitting is neat, there are a few errors. And what’s more, there are strange, overplied yarn ends sticking out of the brioche section…

… and there are knots in several places around the letter ‘I’.

Did the knitter run out of yarn, so that she had to use up every last centimetre/inch available?

All in all, knitting this reconstruction was an interesting exercise. Although I haven’t found out yet who ‘I’ was, I have the feeling that I’ve got to know her a little better. I wonder if she used this sampler as an example for many items for herself and her family.

In spite of the simplicity of the sampler, I see endless possibilities. In the fingerless mitts I’m working on and hope to show here soon, I’ve combined 3 of the stitch patterns. I have a lot on my plate at the moment and may not have time to write a blog post about them (or anything else) next week. I’m not entirely sure how things will go, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Bye for now and take care!

Knit on, with Confidence and Hope

Hello! And how are you all doing? It’s always slightly frustrating to me that a blog is mainly one-way traffic. I hear a little about some of you from your own blogs, through comments, or via other channels, but on the whole it’s well-nigh impossible to have a real two-way conversation here. I just want to let you know that it isn’t because I’m not interested.

Over here, in the Netherlands, there are more and more signs of spring. The scillas in our garden are flowering profusely, and we only ever planted 1 single scilla bulb about two decades ago. The trees are still bare, but a few branches blown from our pear tree in a storm and brought indoors are delighting us with their delicate flowers.

And the daffodils on a roundabout I often pass are a cheering sight.

On a different note, we’ve just had another press conference from our (outgoing) Prime Minister and our Minister of Health about the Covid situation, and the national elections are behind us. Both have left me worried. But I refuse to despair and, as always, am living by Elizabeth Zimmermann’s motto:

“Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”
(Wool Gathering #10, 1974)

I am making good progress on the fingerless mittens I’m designing myself…

… and am hoping they’ll turn out the way they look in my mind’s eye. Designing something is exciting and fun, but for me also surrounded with doubt and uncertainty.

It’s different with sock knitting. After knitting innumerable pairs, I’m entirely confident that they’ll turn out right. I’ve just finished a pair in a stripe sequence designed by Arne and Carlos, and am now knitting a pair in a subtly striped yarn with cashmere in shades of red, pink and orange.

I’m keeping the Arne & Carlos socks. The luxurious red ones are for a friend.

Speaking of socks and friends, I’ve been to see our daughter’s dear friend Silver. She has just moved to a new stables and was having a manicure while I visited.

Silver has magnificent (if slightly dirty) socks.

You may have met her in a blog post long ago, but if you haven’t, here she is:

Silver is whitish, has one blue and one brown eye, and hails from Ireland. She shares her new stables with black, brown and beige horses, with Norwegian, Arab, and I-don’t-know-what-kind-of roots. After a few initial bickerings, they have settled down peacefully together. Watching them makes me hum,

“Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
Yoo, hoo, ooh-ooh
You may say I’m a dreamer…”

Well, back to knitting. It’s also time to start a few new projects. First of all, I dug out the yarn I bought at a crafts fair in February 2020.

This is going to be a new in-between-projects project – a huge wrap in linen stitch. I expect it’ll take me about two years to knit, and that’s exactly the idea. A project I can always pick up when I’ve finished something and am about to start something else, or just feel like knitting long rows of soothing simple stitches.

I’ve also ordered yarn for an oversized cardigan. Two different lace-weights in a tealy colour that will be held together, one a blend of alpaca and merino, the other mohair and silk.

I’m soooo looking forward to collecting the yarn from the shop and starting this.

That’s all about my knitting for now. I hope you have something on your needles to lift your spirits too, and I’d love to hear about it.

An Interesting Knit

Hello!

Phew, it’s finished! My Panel Debate cardigan, I mean. It took me about 8 months from start to finish. Well, I knit several other things in between, but on 2.75 mm (US 2) needles and with quite a few technical challenges, it wasn’t a quick knit.

It certainly was interesting, though, and I thought you might like to read about some of the special techniques (so much I-cord!) and what helped me finish it.

Panel Debate is a pattern by Danish designer Bente Geil, and can be found on Ravelry under its Danish name Paneldebat. I used one of the designer’s own yarns: Geilsk Bomuld og Uld – a light fingering weight blend of 55% wool and 45% cotton.

Reading through the pattern, I couldn’t make head nor tail of the instructions for the neckline. There seemed to be something wrong, so I e-mailed the designer. She said she’d look into it and sent me a new version of the pattern the very next day (during her Summer break!). Excellent service, I have to say.

The design is modular and is made up of many panels (hence the name).

Each panel is knit onto the previous one, and the panels are alternately knit horizontally and vertically. The vertical strips end in fans made by knitting short rows.

What helped me knit the fans, was copying the instructions for them onto a separate page, with each step on a new line. I marked the row I was knitting with a sticky note and moved that down after each row. That way I was able to keep track of where I was.

I lengthened the body by 4 cm (approx. 1.6 inches). No problem at all – just added the required length to the first 3 panels and the rest took care of itself. I also enlarged the armholes because I’d heard from several other knitters that they’d turned out rather tight.

After the body was completed, the armholes were finished with attached I-cords.

Armhole before… 

…  and after attaching I-cord.

Then stitches for the sleeves needed to be picked up from the I-cord (the sleeves are knit from the top down). That really was a pain at first. But it went a lot better using a crochet hook and slipping the stitches from the hook onto the knitting needle.

Then I had to adapt the sleeve cap to the enlarged armhole. That was a bit of a puzzle, but after several tries I was happy. I used the magic loop method to knit the sleeves.

I’m not entirely happy with that, because it shows all along the middle of the sleeves. I hope the line will fade with washing and wearing. I haven’t had this problem before. Could it be because of the cotton content of the yarn? Or the reverse stocking stitch ridges?

The sleeves are finished with I-cord along the wrists as well.

Finally there was more I-cord to knit – all along the fronts and the neck. First I had to pick up a zillion stitches. Then I cast on 4 extra stitches for the I-cord.

I knit a few inches, saw that the I-cord ‘pulled’ on the front and frogged it. After repeating this several times, I finally found out how to solve it – by pulling the first stitch (on the outside of the I-cord) up a little longer than usual and holding it between my thumb and index finger while knitting the second stitch, to keep it from tightening.

This is the attached I-cord knitting process step by step:

1 – The 4 I-cord stitches are on the left needle, together with the picked-up stitches on the panel. At this stage, the yarn is hanging between the picked-up stitches on the garment and the 4 I-cord stitches. Now the yarn is passed behind the stitches to the first stitch on the right.

2 – Knit 3 stitches (knitting the 1st stitch very loosely and keeping it from tightening by holding it between thumb and index finger while knitting the 2nd stitch). Slip the 4th stitch knitwise, knit the first picked-up stitch along the panel and lift the slipped stitch over this stitch.

3 – Now slip the 4 I-cord stitches back onto the right needle.

Repeat these 3 steps for hours on end, until all of the picked up stitches along the fronts and neck have been used up, meanwhile making button holes along the right front.

Finally, ‘all’ I needed to do was weave in what seemed like an endless number of ends.

I put on some music, and several cups of tea later that was done, too.

Oh, and let’s not forget the buttons! I happened to have just the right ones, bought long ago in a lovely little shop.

There, all finished!

Here is a close-up of the very special armhole.

And this is what the cardi looks like from the back.

What helped me through the challenging parts of this knit was:

  • Finding moments in my week when my brain was up for a challenge (for me especially Saturday mornings)
  • Cutting the process up into smaller steps, taking a break after finishing a step and giving myself a figurative pat on the back
  • Using a crochet hook for picking up stitches
  • Copying difficult bits onto a separate page and keeping track of where I was by means of sticky notes
  • Relaxing and uplifting music in the background
  • Having good (day)light
  • Blogging about it

All in all, I’m happy with the process and happy with the result!

Well, that was a lot of technical detail. Sorry to the non-knitters among you (it’s a miracle you even got this far). If all goes according to plan, my next post will be of more general interest. Bye for now, and hope to see you again soon!

Thinking about Flow

Hello!

(Because I think it would interrupt the flow of this blog post too much to insert links into the actual text, I’ve added a list at the bottom.)

It was yarn that first made me think about flow. Two skeins of a beautiful blue-green yarn hand dyed by Catharina at Wolverhalen. I chose this colour first of all because it caught my eye. The name – Flow – was of secondary importance, but it did catch my attention.

I asked Catharina about it, and she told me that she dyes a whole series of colours named for states of mind. Flow is one of them. Others are Positivity, Wisdom, Joy, Passion, Faith, and Stillness.

Flow… What exactly is it? It makes me think of water.

It also makes me think of  somebody with the unpronounceable name Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In my previous life as a translator, I’ve translated many psychology books and articles. During my background reading, I repeatedly came across his research.

In his famous book Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (that I haven’t read), he defines flow as: ‘…the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter…’ It is a particular kind of focus that seems to lead to intense feelings of happiness.

Am I ever in a state of flow? I don’t really know.

I used the flow yarn to knit another Thús 2 – a design I published in November last year.

Am I in flow when I’m knitting? Or when I’m designing a pattern?

Or when I’m faffing about with photography?

Or when I’m writing? Or when I’m doing other things entirely? Yes, no, well, maybe, sometimes…

Flow as a yarn colour is something that makes me happy. Flow as a state of mind is something I’d like to know more about. Are people generally aware of being in this flow state? What does it take to get there?

Flow is also a Dutch magazine that I sometimes buy. In the editors’ words, it is about ‘Celebrating creativity, imperfection and life’s little pleasures’. This is the first issue of 2021.

There used to be and English edition as well, but they’ve recently stopped publishing that. They do still have an interesting English-language website, and back issues and specials are still available.

My favourite articles in the latest issue are about navigating life in uncertain times and about tools for people working from home. And the item about Aheneah, a Portuguese artist who does cross stitch on a large scale, made me smile.

The message Aheneah gives off with her installations is to think outside the box and look at one’s roots and traditional techniques as things that can be transformed in unexpected ways and so given a new lease of life.

I’m ending today’s post with a poem by Wilder Poetry that really spoke to me. It comes from the Flow ‘Calm Down’ special.

Thank you for reading!

If you’d like to read more (or knit your own Thús 2), here is a list of links:

Saturday Knitting

Hello! This week I’m writing from a white and frosty village. We’re not entirely snowed in, but last Sunday we were treated to a beautiful thick blanket of snow, blown up into dunes here and there by strong gusts of icy wind. And because it’s stayed (far) below freezing even during the daytime, the snow is still here. A rarity nowadays and utterly lovely!

Before anything else, I need to show you this. The snow-shovel guy reversed and drove up several times specially so that I would be able to take a good picture for my blog.

Thank you Mister Snow Shoveler! Enjoy your moment of fame 😊!

It’s tempting to natter on about the snow, but I have made quite a bit of progress on the knitting front, and I’d like to talk about that, too. So let’s do that first, and have a few more snow pictures afterwards.

Recently, I wrote a very long post about my possible need for a little more focus. I don’t know if you’ve been able to plough through it all, but one of the insights I gained from a book I read on the topic was: ‘Different (knitting) tasks use different parts of the brain’. I realized that for certain aspects of my knitting projects, I needed to find moments during the week when the active thinking part of my brain would be fresh.

Saturday seemed like a good time, especially Saturday mornings. So I thought about what I would like to accomplish and noted it in my planner. The first thing I wanted to focus on was the sleeve cap of my Panel Debate cardigan. A puzzle because I’d enlarged the armhole and could no longer follow the pattern – how could I make a sleeve cap that would fit into the armhole and around my shoulder?

Spending several hours tinkering with it with a well-rested brain really worked.

I finished the sleeve cap. And using the parts of my brain that do the more automatic tasks, I was able to almost finish the rest of the sleeve in the evenings. Yes, progress!

The next task I wanted to tackle was finishing one of my UFOs (UnFinished knitting Objects that have been lying around for a long time). I chose a scarf and wrote that down in my planner for the next Saturday.

All I needed to do was weave in the ends and give it a Spa Treatment. Here it is, doing a stretching exercise after its bubble bath.

As always, the transformation was magical – the lacey holes opened up nicely, and the rest of the knitted fabric did too.

Before blocking
After blocking

This is what the scarf looks like when ‘worn’.

It is the Polka Dot Scarf by the Churchmouse design team. The pattern describes two sizes and I made the larger one. The yarn I used is Debbie Bliss ‘Rialto lace’, a very soft merino.

For a long time I disliked polka dots. I think it was because of that horrible sixties song about the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Do you know it? But these subtle ‘dots’ made me overcome that.

Looking around for matching things for pictures of the scarf, I discovered that I actually have several other items with polka and other dots.

All in all this has become a generous airy shawl that will make a lovely gift for someone. Happy with it.

I’m also happy with my new Saturday knitting plan. Being able to make considerable progress with such a small adjustment to my life, has really given me a positive boost. In addition to these two projects, I have even made some progress on a new design of my own.

Until now, this winter I have felt sort of lost on Saturdays, with nowhere to go and no one to visit. This focused Saturday knitting has also solved that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up once we get back to a more ‘normal’ life and the gardening season starts again. But I won’t look too far ahead.

For the time being the garden doesn’t need anything doing to it. All I need to do at the moment is admire the hyacinths I planted in pots in November…

… enjoy looking at snow-covered shapes, like the dead flower heads of the Marjoram…

… and feed and talk to the birds.

I hope you’re all snug and safe, wherever you are. Bye for now, and ‘see’ you again soon!

Knitting Spa

Hello!

OK, complete focus on knitting today – no tangents or digressions. Maybe this is all old hat to you, but I thought I’d show you what happens to my knitwork after the actual knitting is finished and the ends have been darned in.

Last week I said the hat and scarf I made for my brother needed some TLC to relax. Well, they got more than just some TLC – they received a full 4-star spa treatment!

It all started with a bubble bath.

Aaaaah, so relaxing, especially when combined with aromatherapy. To make the bubbles, I use a no-rinse detergent for delicate fabrics – Eucalan or Soak. There may be other brands, but these are the only two I know.

I can’t say that I prefer one to the other. Eucalan is sort of syrupy and yellowish, whereas Soak is thinner and clear. Both are available in various lovely scents. The Eucalan I have has a very mild lavender scent. My Soak favourite is Lacey, a subtle flowery scent that is harder to pinpoint.

Only a teaspoon of detergent is needed, so a bottle lasts forever. Both also come in small trial packages, that are ideal not only to try out the products, but also to tuck in with a knitted gift.

As their name says, no-rinse detergents do not need to be rinsed out. After a bubble bath of about 30 minutes, I first gently squeeze out most of the moisture. After that I’d roll a more fragile knit in a towel to squeeze out more water, but robust knits like these I put in the spin dryer.

Now, still slightly moist, the scarf and the hat get different wellness treatments, tailored to their specific needs. I thought the scarf would benefit from acupuncture, while some steam would be best for the hat.

First the scarf. These are my acupuncture (in knitting terms also known as blocking) tools.

Foam blocking mats, blocking wires (that come with a wooden ruler), and T-pins (stainless steel pins in the shape of a capital T). At first I used this kit only for lace knits, but now I’m using it for many other projects, too.

I threaded wires along the long sides of the scarf, between the edge stitch and the next, going up and down every other row.

Then I pinned it onto the blocking mats, smoothing the scarf out along its length and pulling firmly widthwise. (Never do this on a wooden table or floor – the T-pins may prick through the mats and damage the surface underneath.)

And here is a close-up. I hope you can see the wires and T-pins.

Now, let’s leave that to dry and continue with its mate. The still moist hat is pulled around the end of the ironing board.

Then it is covered with a moist press cloth (i.e. an old tea towel that doesn’t give off colour) and steam-pressed. I used the lowest setting that will give steam (silk/wool). If the picture looks slightly blurry, that’s the steam.

I tried all this out on a swatch first, to make sure nothing terrible (like felting) happened to my ‘clients’ and they would benefit from their treatments.

After pressing the hat was still slightly wet and I placed it on the blocking mats with the scarf. Twenty-four hours later everything was dry and I unpinned the scarf.

A lot of work for a simple hat and scarf. Is it really worth all the effort? I think it is – very much so. I took before and after pictures, but unfortunately they are not very clear because of the dark yarn colour and the dark weather.

Here are the hat and scarf (before on the left and after on the right):

And here is a close-up of the k2, p2 rib pattern (again before left and after right):

Can you see the difference? Before blocking the knitting was irregular, and the purl stitches disappeared between the knit stitches. After blocking the knitting evened out and the purl stitches became visible. And before blocking the scarf was 1.5 m x 14 cm, so stiff that it could almost stand up on its own, and slightly scratchy. After blocking it was 1.6 m x 25 cm, with a lovely drape and nice and soft.

Now all that’s left to do is gift-wrap the set, put it in a box, add a few Dutch treats and send it off to Germany, in time for my ‘little’ brother’s Birthday.

Here is a behind-the-scenes picture of the ‘Knitting Spa’ photo shoot.

The kitchen counter was the lightest place in the house on a dark day, and the bread kneading board made a nice natural surface for photographing the tools and detergents. A perfect Knitting Spa with everything to hand: hot & cold water, a bath tub, teas & tisanes, and a nice view of the front garden.

The yarn and the pattern I used:

Comfort and Joy

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re nearing the end of a challenging year. Thinking about writing this post beforehand, I felt that I should say something Profound and Meaningful, but what? I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m not some kind of oracle or Wise Woman, after all. I’m just an ordinary person muddling along like everybody else.

In the end, I’ve gone back to what this blog is basically about and decided to share a few of the things that have given me comfort and joy over the past weeks, hoping they’ll do the same for you.

The front door with the lovely garland at the top of this post isn’t ours. It belongs to a house further down the street.

Every time I pass this house, looking at these neighbours’ stylish grey-and-white decorations brings me joy.

Our style is more traditional, mainly red, green and silver. It’s comforting to take the same old Christmas baubles from their box every year. This one symbolizes 2020 for me.

White hyacinths opening their flowers at exactly the right time scent our living room.

The upstairs Advent calendar has now opened its last door. And I put the star on the top of the downstairs one this morning. One of the first creatures I placed on this cardboard fir tree was a woodpecker.

It looks just like the great spotted woodpeckers that visit our garden. They’ve been away for a while, retreating to the wood during their moulting period, but are back in full force now. Sometimes there are four of them at the same time, looking for insects on the branches of our old pear tree and fighting for a place on the peanut feeder.

Watching these beautiful birds always brings me joy. They are fairly shy, but if I’m very quiet and patient, they allow me to take a picture now and then.

Something that always brings me a lot of comfort is knitting. It is the feeling of the yarn in my hands combined with the rhythmic movement that makes it so. And what’s more, knitting things for others makes me feel connected with them during a time we are unable to meet. That’s also a comfort.

Apart from knitting several pairs of socks, a scarf and a hat to give away, I’ve treated myself to two skeins of exquisitely soft yarn for a hat and a cowl.

The hat pattern was a freebie from Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. They have a very active and friendly knitting group on Ravelry that I’ve enjoyed being a part of for years. The moment I saw this simple hat and read that the yarn they used for it was a sustainable cashmere, I knew that this was going to be my special December knit for me this year.

I was not just going to knit the hat, but also a matching cowl. Although I could have finished each of these projects in an evening, I decided to take it slow and enjoy every minute of the process, including winding the yarn and taking photos along the way.

I limited myself to knitting no more than a few rows a day. During these quiet, contemplative moments, I first saw my hat grow.

And then my cowl.

Knitting a pattern thought out by someone else is especially comforting – no stress about how many stitches to cast on, getting the right size, what decreases to use, and whether there will be enough yarn. I’ve given my own twist to it by adding a bit of contrasting colour to the rim of the hat, making a matching cowl, and finally duplicate stitching hearts onto both.

For the duplicate stitching I’ve tried out a new (to me) type of needle, with a bent tip. I’ve laid my ordinary darning needles and the new ones out on the finished cowl to show the difference.

The new ones are officially called tapestry needles, and they are a real improvement for duplicate stitching, I have to say. The bent tip slides easily between the knit stitches and is really nice to work with. (I’ll keep using the regular straight ones for darning in yarn ends, though.)

And here are my hat and cowl all finished.

They were a joy to knit, and I know they’ll be a joy to wear for a long time to come.

Now there is just one last thing I’d like to share with you – a gift we received on Tuesday. This year the organic farm that delivers groceries to our door, gave all their customers a bag of organic daffodil bulbs. It came with a message on a bit of sunny yellow paper. Translated it said:

When all of a sudden ordinary things
Can no longer be taken for granted
We realize how extraordinary
Ordinary things really are

Such a lovely gift – a ray of sunshine and hope during these dark days.

Thank you so much for reading my blog over the past year, and leaving a comment now and then. These small virtual moments of contact mean a lot to me. I’m taking a break now and hope to be back here somewhere in the course of January. I’m looking forward to ‘seeing’ you again then.

I wish you a safe and peaceful Christmas and the very best for 2021!