Shipwrecked Stockings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

A Blogiversary Gift for my Readers

Hello dear readers. I’m so glad you’re here today, because I have something to celebrate. And it wouldn’t be much fun without you to celebrate it with.

Today, it’s been exactly a year since I started blogging!

I’m usually more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so for me, showing myself and the things I do here has been a real adventure. On the whole, despite some jitters now and then, it’s been a very interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable journey. What I’ve enjoyed most of all is looking at the world around me through the lens of my camera and writing about the things I do and love in my own words. As a translator, I always worked with other people’s thoughts and words, and it feels wonderfully liberating to be able to do my own thing here. 

I expected to be doing this more or less for myself, at least during the first year or so, but to my surprise and delight I actually seem to have some readers already. Thank you so much for spending some time here, for reading, and for all of your kind comments!

To show my appreciation I’ve made a small gift for you. I’ve learnt a lot during the past year, but what I haven’t learnt yet, is how to post things in 3D, so that you can unwrap it yourself. So I think I’d better do it for you, shall I? Here we go:

It’s a small knitted drawstring bag. Or rather, the pattern for a small knitted drawstring bag.

To give you an idea of the size and what you could use it for, here it is with some knitting tools I stuffed into it. It may look incredible, with all these things spread out beside it, but the bag really is big enough to hold them all. (It isn’t quite as magical as Hermione Granger’s bag in Harry Potter, though. I tried to stuff a tent and a few sets of spare clothes in, but that didn’t work.)

Pattern notes

The Blogiversary Bag is worked in the round from the top to the bottom, using a long circular needle and the magic loop technique. If you’re unfamiliar with this technique, you can find a short and simple video showing how to do it here on YouTube. Alternatively, you could use a set of double-pointed sock needles.

This isn’t a very difficult project, but some experience with knitting in the round will help. If you can knit socks, you won’t have any problems with it. Knitting it in a single colour will make it easier, because adding in new colours every few rows is a bit fiddly.

The bag starts with several rows in stocking stitch and a row of eyelets that are folded down and sewn to the inside to make a picot hem. For the sake of clarity I’ve divided the instructions up into 5 sections (A-E, see drawing below).

Gauge: 27 sts x 40 rows = 10 x 10 cm (4” x 4”) in stocking stitch worked in the round.

Finished measurements: Top to start of base 11 cm (4½’’); width 20 cm (8’’) around; base diameter 7 cm (2¾’’).

Yarn, needles and notions

Needles: 3.5 mm (US 4) circular knitting needle at least 80 cm/32″ long.

Notions: Tapestry needle, 1 bead with a 5 mm hole (optional).

Suggested yarn:
A total of approx. 17 g of fingering-weight yarn in 5 colours, for instance Manos del Uruguay ‘Fino’ (70% wool; 30% silk; total yardage/weight approx. 450 m/490 yds/100 g). I used some left-over yarn from Tellina, the simple cowl I made earlier this year, in the colourway ‘Flora’, in this order:

  • Colour 1: Tincture (darkest green)
  • Colour 2: Velvet Pincushion (medium green)
  • Colour 3: Crystal Goblet (pale green)
  • Colour 4: Folly (dark turquoise)
  • Colour 5: Watered Silk (pale turquoise)

I used a little more of colours 1 and 4 (approx. 4 grams each) than of the others (approx. 3 grams each).

This is an ideal project for playing with all kinds of left-over bits of yarn. I think it will also work very well in a self-striping (sock) yarn – that will save weaving in a lot of ends! You may have to choose a different needle size, though, and the bag may turn out bigger or smaller.

Abbreviations:
K = knit
K2tog = knit 2 stitches together
P = purl
Rnd(s) = round(s)
st(s) = stitch(es)
yo = yarn over

Instructions

Section A:
Cast on 56 sts with colour 1.
Rnd 1-4: Knit.
Rnd 5: *K2tog, yo; repeat from * to end of rnd.

Section B:
Change to colour 2 and knit 5 rnds.

Section C:
Change to colour 3.
Rnd 1 and 2: Knit.
Rnd 3: *K4, K2tog, yo; repeat from * to last 2 sts, K2.
Rnd 4 and 5: Knit.

 

Section D:
Change to colour 4.
Rnd 1: Knit.
Rnd 2: * K1, P1; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 3: *P1, K1; repeat from * to end of rnd.

Repeat rounds 2 and 3 nineteen times more in the following stripe sequence: 2 rnds colour 5; 2 rnds colour 1; 2 rnds colour 2; 2 rnds colour 3; 2 rnds colour 4, ending with 2 rnds in colour 5.

Section E:
Change to colour 4.
Rnd 1 and all odd rnds: Knit.
Rnd 2: *K2tog, K5; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 4: *K2tog, K4; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 6: *K2tog, K3; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 8: *K2tog, K2; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 10: *K2tog, K1; repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 12: *K2tog; repeat from * to end of rnd.

Cut yarn. With the tapestry needle, thread yarn through the remaining 8 sts. Fasten off.

Finishing

Weave in all ends.

Fold section A to the inside halfway through the eyelets and sew in place with small invisible stitches.

Below there’s another picture of this step, showing what the top looks like before (left) and after hemming (right).

The cord

Thread a cord of approx. 40 cm/16” long through the holes. Use either I-cord, twisted cord, or some shop-bought cord or ribbon.

A twisted cord like the one I used, can be made as follows:

  • Cut five 1 m/40” lengths of yarn in each of the 5 colours.
  • Make a provisional knot at one end and fasten it with a safety pin to a heavy object, like a chair.
  • Twist the threads as tightly as possible.
  • Place your index finger in the middle, fold in half and let the doubled threads twist around each other, smoothing with your hands, if necessary.
  • Remove safety pin and thread the cord through the holes.
  • Untie the provisional knot and thread both ends through a bead, if you like. This makes a nice closure, but is not absolutely necessary.
  • Knot both ends of the cord together and cut off to a nice little tassel.

And that’s it, the Blogiversary Bag all done.

I hope you’ve enjoyed that. If you have any questions about the pattern, please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer as well as I can.

I’ll also add the Blogiversary Bag as a free pattern to Ravelry, so that you can add you own projects there if you like.

A Morbihan Shawl for Every Budget

‘Pssst! Hey! Take me home with you!’ the ball of yarn in a gradient of blues whispered. It happened at our regional annual crafts fair. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said, ‘You’re far too expensive, and what would I do with you?’ The yarn ball wasn’t impressed. It kept up its insistent whispering, and after walking around it for about a dozen times, I said, ‘Okay, I surrender. I can’t deny that you’re gorgeous, and you can come home with me.’

It would have been so nice to tell you a romantic and poetic story about the inspiration behind Morbihan, my new shawl design. About how I was inspired by the sea – by its myriad shades of blue and its waves lapping the shore. But you may already have gathered from my previous post that it didn’t work that way. It was the other way around. It was the yarn itself that made me make this shawl, and it was only later that I made the connection with the sea.

The yarn that seduced me was Lang Yarns ‘Puno’, a blend of wool, alpaca and silk. What I love about this yarn is, first of all, its gorgeous colours, and also its drape, its softness and its subtle sheen.

And after knitting and blocking, I noticed how beautifully the lighter bits of this semi-solid yarn undulate along with the waves of the lace pattern, especially in the simple stocking stitch sections of the shawl.

This yarn cost € 49.90 for a single ball (or rather ‘cake’). Gulp! Granted, it was a generous 200 grams and 800 metres, but still… Not exactly a bargain.

Because I didn’t have any spare yarn for swatches (I wanted to use up all of this precious yarn for my project), I first tried out my ideas with some yarn scraps. When I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to make, I still hesitated about using the Puno. I didn’t want to spoil the yarn by ripping out my efforts several times. So, I bought some inexpensive yarn for a trial version, and it looks like this:

This is Drops ‘Flora’, a blend of wool and alpaca, with a similar weight/metreage ratio as the blue yarn – four 50 gram balls of this yarn are the equivalent of one ball of Puno. This was a bargain. I bought 4 balls with 30% off for the grand total of € 7.44.

Although this was only meant as a trial version, it has become a lovely shawl in itself. What I like about this yarn is its woolly cosiness and how beautifully it shows the lace pattern.

And it didn’t end there. After I’d decided to publish the Morbihan pattern, I wanted to make absolutely sure that there weren’t any errors in it, so I decided to make another one to check it.

This time I used a cotton yarn. I wouldn’t normally choose cotton for a shawl, but during a very hot period this summer, I started looking for yarns that wouldn’t stick to my hands and found this. I don’t know if your screen is big enough to read it, but the card behind the yarn cake says ‘handmade’.

Huh, handmade? Yes, this yarn cake really is handmade! And it’s organic too!

Saskia, the owner of Wol zo Eerlijk, a yarn shop specializing in fair trade, organic and otherwise sustainable and animal friendly yarns, makes these yarn cakes herself. She combines several threads of a very thin cotton yarn and winds them into fabulous colour gradients. There are over 25 colourways to choose from.

The colourway I chose is called Planet Earth, and goes from a medium green through blue to almost (but not quite) black.

The thin threads that the yarn is made up of, are not twisted around each other, and I was a bit concerned that the yarn would be hard to knit with. I expected to stick my needle between the threads and miss one or two here and there, but personally, I didn’t have any problems.

Because this yarn is handmade, the cakes do not all have exactly the same weight. The ball band says ‘approx. 225 grams’, but mine was 235 grams. This meant that I could add quite a few extra rows to the border (the pattern explains how to do this) and it has become quite a big shawl.

At € 29.95 per cake, this yarn is rather more expensive than that of the grey Morbihan. But considering that it is handmade and organic, and has a generous metreage, I think it really is a bargain, too. It would be an ideal choice for warmer climates, vegans and people allergic to wool.

Well, those are my three versions of Morbihan. I think it will work in almost any yarn – cotton or cashmere, sheep’s wool or silk, viscose or vicuña, alpaca or acrylic… Wait, no, not acrylic! That’s about the only yarn type that I wouldn’t choose. I don’t think it’s very suitable for lace knitting, because it will bounce back after blocking.

Should you decide to make your own Morbihan, in whatever yarn takes your fancy, I wish you happy knitting!

 You can find the pattern here on Ravelry.

Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. The descriptions of the yarns are based on my own experiences with them, and represent my own honest opinions.

Morbihan – The Little Sea Shawl

Hello! Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, depending on where in the world you are and when you can find a moment to read this.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a shawl I’ve designed. I’ve called it Morbihan. As you can see, it’s an asymmetrical triangle, and it is knit in a combination of stocking stitch and a traditional, wavy lace pattern.

But before I tell you more about the shawl itself, I’d like to tell you how it came by its name.

I designed and knit the (then nameless) shawl in the early summer of 2018, months before I started this blog. I made it for myself, but at the back of my mind was the thought, ‘Who knows, maybe I’ll publish the pattern someday.’

That summer, were going to spend our holiday on the south coast of Brittany, France, and while I was packing I decided to add the shawl to my suitcase for chilly evenings. We were to spend part of our holiday in the region of Finistère, and part of it in the region of Morbihan.

The coastline over there is so, so beautiful, especially that of Morbihan. There are rocky stretches…

… as well as wide, white sandy beaches.

In the Breton language the gulf of Morbihan, which gave the region its name, is called Ar Mor Bihan, meaning ‘the little sea’.

What I love most of all about the coast in this part of France, is the clear light and the vibrant colours. Very different from the generally more muted colours of my own country. The bright red of a fishing boat…

… but especially the many, many shades of blue. The translucent blue of the sky. A blue shutter on a white building. And the ever changing blues of the sea, of course. Sometimes pale and in stripes…

… and sometimes a much darker blue shading to turquoise.

We didn’t spend our entire holiday staring at the sea, though. While we were there, we just had to pay a visit to the famous standing stones of Carnac. The sheer number of upright stones, all neatly arranged in rows pointing in the same direction, is amazing.

There were some interesting museums and galleries, and we also visited a stately manoir, with a granary (below) that was even more beautiful than the house itself.

And then there were the delicious thin pancakes called crêpes, the tempting restaurants, and the lovely fishing villages. In one of these villages I took this picture of a shop window:

It’s an ‘upcycling’ shop, where they make and sell wonderful creations from second-hand clothes. Here, too, it was all about blue.

But, all in all, we spent most of our time on the coast, either walking along the coastal path

or strolling along the beach, camera in hand, taking pictures of the sea, rock pools and birds, and just soaking up the sun and gazing out over the sea.

On one of these beach days, I asked my beloved private photographer to take some pictures of my shawl. You’ve already seen it in its entirety at the top of this post, but here’s another picture of it fluttering in the sea breeze.

The triangle starts with just 3 stitches and gradually grows wider with increases along one side. The lace pattern I’ve chosen is an all-time favourite called Old Shale. The body of the shawl consists of stocking stitch sections alternating with sections in Old Shale, and it ends in a border knit entirely in the wavy lace pattern.

I used a yarn in a gradient of blues, from a deep sea blue at the narrow end to a pale turquoise at the wide border.

Here’s a close-up of the border.

To an inexperienced knitter, it may look complicated, but it isn’t. It’s a fairly simple shawl, in fact, with the ‘action’ taking place in only one in every four rows of the lace pattern. For the rest it is just a matter of knitting and purling.

By now, you’ll probably understand why I’ve called this shawl Morbihan. Although I hadn’t planned it beforehand, the shawl and ‘the little sea’ turned out to have much in common. The colours, the waves…

… and also a certain soothing rhythm.

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally written out, tested and uploaded the pattern. If you’d like to knit a Morbihan shawl, too, you can find the pattern here on Ravelry.

The pattern has all the details about yarn, knitting needles etcetera, written instructions as well as a chart for the lace pattern, and a tip about making the shawl longer or shorter.

In addition to this one, I’ve made several more versions of Morbihan. I’ll tell you more about them and the yarns I’ve used soon.

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.

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:

Herb Teas and Honey Bees

Hello again! I hope you have some time in your busy day for a leisurely scroll through our garden, a visit to a beekeeper, and a cup of tea and some knitting afterwards. Or perhaps you’re on holiday and have all the time in the world. Wherever you are or whatever your day looks like – welcome!

Today, I’d like to show you a new part of our garden. A part you haven’t seen yet – our herb patch. It isn’t very big (about two by two-and-a-half meters) but I’m very happy with it. Here it is just after we planted it mid-May:

And this is what it looks like now, two months later:

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things grow? There’s parsley, chives, thyme and sage for all kinds of savoury dishes. There’s rhubarb for stewing, nasturtium flowers for decorating salads, and ‘wild’ strawberries for enjoying straight from the plant. I don’t know what to do with the marigolds yet. I could use them to dye some yarn, but what would I do with yellow yarn? For the time being I’m just enjoying them for their cheerful colour.

And finally, there’s chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm. We’ll be making herb tea with those later. But first, let’s get some honey to sweeten it. If we hop on to our bicycles we’ll be at the beekeeper’s farm in under an hour. It’s a nice route along a canal, past some allotments, through a wood, and along a country lane.

Here we are. There are jars of honey and an honesty box at the roadside. We could just grab a jar and head back…

… but it’s much nicer to have a chat with the bee keeper and take a look at the bees. We need to put on a special beekeeper’s jacket with hood first. The bees are very quiet today, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

Do you see the line of trees the beekeeper is pointing at? Behind them there’s a nature reserve, with heather and all kinds of other flowering plants, shrubs and trees where the bees get the nectar for their honey.

The beekeeper deprecatingly says, ‘Ah, it’s just a hobby. My dad used to do it before me, and I’ve followed in his footsteps.’ But to her own astonishment and delight both her bright and her dark honey won gold medals at the London Honey Awards 2019!

Most of the bees are housed in modern beehives:

These are far bigger than traditional hives, or skeps, and it is much easier to collect the honey from them. But she also has some traditional skeps, a sort of upside-down baskets. And even a wooden beehive in the shape of a house. It looks a lot like their own beautiful wooden house:

Zooming in on one of the skeps, the bees can be seen coming in and out of the opening:

It’s that dark clump at the top left. Can you see them?

This beekeeper isn’t complaining, but behind her words I can hear her worries about the threats her bees (and bees everywhere) face. They’re threatened by the varroa mite, pesticides and the drought caused by climate change. Things like this often give me a feeling of powerlessness. Yes, it’s worrying, but what can we do about such worldwide threats as insignificant individuals? Fortunately, in this case, there are a few easy things we can do to help the bees.

Apart from organic honey in jars, this small family business also produces other bee products, like beeswax candles, lip balm, soap, shampoo and so on. There’s more information on their website.

Well, high time to cycle back and pick some herbs.

One of my favourite herb tea blends is chamomile and lemon balm. A small handful of chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves is enough for a cup or two of tea (dried herbs work just as well as fresh ones). I have a small teapot with a built-in strainer, but any pot or mug will do.

Add honey to taste and enjoy!

Next to this cup of tea is my first dishcloth in progress. I was skeptical about knitting these (I mean, how twee can you get?), but the enthusiasm of two of my knitting group members made me give them a try. And I must say, I’ve been bitten by the dishcloth-knitting-bug too!

Another favourite is mint tea. There are many varieties of mint. Wat we usually get when we order mint tea at a cafe is Moroccan mint, with a fairly mild and sweet taste. The mint in our garden, peppermint, has a stronger taste. It really is more peppery. Two or three small sprigs straight into a mug make a refreshing drink. I like it even during the very hot weather we’re currently having – I just leave it to cool first.

The blindingly white knitting on the needles here is the start of my Sideways Tee. There isn’t much to see yet, but as soon as I’m a little further along, I’ll show you more.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me!