Stunning Socks

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

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

Fun, but apart from the toes, fairly simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… which brings us to the mending corner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shipwrecked Stockings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

Soup and Socks

Over the years, our front garden has become a bit of a mess. Some conifers and shrubs that started out as cute little things, have become unwieldy monsters. We could live with that. In a busy life, the garden doesn’t always get top priority, and it’s impossible to have everything perfect all the time. But now that several trees and some plants have died after two very hot and dry summers, it’s high time to take action.

So we’ve taken this week off for a big overhaul. Fortunately we have some help with the planning and the heavy lifting.

(This may make it look as if we have a huge estate. We don’t, but this is the only way to dig out the tree stumps.)

Because the garden work comes first this week, I’m keeping everything else as simple as possible, including our meals. Soup is ideal for weeks like these. One of my all-time favourites is mushroom soup, and I’ll share my recipe with you here.

I could have used these shaggy inkcaps, but left them in place.

Although I know these are edible, I don’t feel very comfortable eating wild mushrooms. So I bought a mixture of mushrooms from the supermarket instead. If you can’t get a variety, any old mushrooms will do. White button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, flat caps, whatever is available is fine.

Simple Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 250 g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 750 ml water
  • 250 ml cream

Method

  • Sauté the onion in the oil or butter over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the curry powder and sauté for about 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance.
  • Pour in the water, add the stock cubes and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and leave to simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Add the cream and heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with some bread and a salad for a complete main course.

Enjoy!

Taking these pictures has taught me that food photography is not as easy as it looks. When I take pictures of things I’ve knit and am not happy with the result, I can always do them again. But with food, well, if you’re not happy with the photos, you don’t get another try because the food is gone.

With the photo above, I wanted to show that the soup is steaming hot, but it just looks hazy. And the mushrooms have all sunk to the bottom of the pan. I can only hope that it still looks tasty enough anyway.

One of my husband’s hobbies is baking bread, and he baked these beauties. We ate some straightaway and put the rest in the freezer.

What with all the physical work and fresh air, I’m rather drowsy in the evenings. All I have energy for is writing a blog post, bit by bit, and some simple knitting. For me, socks are the ultimate simple knits.

I’ve just started some from a yarn that will make an identical pair. This kind of yarn is sold under names like ‘pairfect’, ‘perfect pair’, or something with ‘twin’ in the name. Some of these yarns work with a starter thread.

In this case, the neon green thread in the photo below is the starter thread. This is pulled from the centre of the ball until you get to the first bit of yarn in a ‘normal’ colour. Cast on the required number of stitches, then knit, knit, knit stripes until you come to a solid bit. Then start the heel (heel and foot are knit in solid blue in this case), and when you get to the toe, stripes appear from the inside of the ball again like magic.

For the second sock, pull the yarn from the inside of the ball again until you come to the end of the next starter thread and start knitting again. It’s really clever how this yarn has been dyed.

I’ve knit many, many pairs of socks over the years. I always have a sock on the needles. Sometimes a pair is finished in a week, sometimes it takes a lot longer. It depends on how much time I have, and what other knitting projects I’m working on, but there’s no hurry.

I like wearing them myself, but also give many away. They make welcome gifts. Sometimes I choose yarn specifically for a certain person. But often, I just choose yarns and colours that I like, and when the socks are finished, I look at them and ask them, ‘Now who would like to wear you, do you think?’

April Allsorts

It almost hurts the eyes, doesn’t it? That blue, blue sky with those bright white flowers of the June berry. I was taking a spin on my bicycle when I took this photograph. Something was bothering me, and I thought a bit of exercise and fresh air might help clear my mind. The air was certainly fresh, not to say icy. I was glad I was wearing my woollen gloves. But what a glorious afternoon!

There were lots of lambs in the fields:

You’d expect the air to be filled with the sound of bleating, but it wasn’t. The sheep and their lambs were quietly dozing or grazing – or following their grazing mums around – and watching each other.

We all know that ewes and their lambs can recognize each other’s voices. But we don’t know (or at least I don’t) if they have other ways of communicating. One ewe and her lamb, lying with their heads close together, made me wonder about that. Do they communicate with other sounds besides bleating? They don’t seem to have many different facial expressions. But what about eye contact? Or perhaps they communicate in ways that we humans have no idea of.

What a wonderful bicycle ride! It was no more than 45 minutes, but I’d seen so many lovely things. And although I hadn’t consciously been trying to solve the problem bothering me, just cycling along had solved it for me – I knew what I had to do when I got home.

Apart from some cold and bright days like these, April has given us all sorts of weather. We even had an afternoon of snow and hailstorms! I don’t know if you can see it on your screen, but the leaves of these dwarf lilies in our garden are filled with hailstones.

Last Sunday, the day after these wintry showers, was a little more spring-like. Not as warm yet as it is now, but really nice weather for a woodland stroll.

I was wearing my new socks. Maybe you remember them from a previous post – the ones with the wide stripes:

I tried to get the stripes matching on both socks. I’ve tried to do that before, with varying success. In theory, it should work if you find a clear place in the stripe pattern, note down where you are starting on the first sock, and start at the same place in the stripe sequence on the second sock.

The emphasis here lies on ‘in theory’, because sometimes there is a knot in the yarn (*#@!), or the stripe pattern suddenly skips a section for no clear reason (*#@!!!). This time it worked, though:

I give lots of socks away, being fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who want to wear them. But I’m keeping these.

The yarn I used is Regia 4-ply in a colourway called ‘Nissedal’. This stripe pattern was designed by Arne and Carlos, the sympathetic Norwegian guys (or is one of them Swedish?) who gained world fame with their knitted julekuler (Christmas baubles). They’ve designed lots of other knits since then and have a YouTube channel with some 60.000 subscribers. I must admit that I’ve never watched any of their videos myself, but that’s not Arne and Carlos’ fault. It’s just that I’m not much of a video watcher in general.

One of their latest ventures is a collection of cushion patterns for yarn brand Rowan, which is presented in Rowan’s latest Spring/Summer Magazine (number 65):

Some cushions have geometrical designs, others have intarsia flower patterns, and all of them have ‘Scandinavian knitting design’ printed all over, don’t you think?

Word of Warning: Don’t buy this magazine just for the cushions, because the patterns are not included. I don’t regret buying it, as it is filled with lovely spring and summer knits, including four designs for garments and accessories by Arne and Carlos. Everything is beautifully photographed, the patterns for all the other items are included, and I love leafing through it for inspiration. But the cushion patterns need to be bought and downloaded separately from the Rowan website.

I’ve almost come to the end of what I wanted to show and tell you today. There’s just one more thing. I’ve finished knitting Granite, the cardigan for our daughter. I struggled with the right way to measure the stretchy knitted fabric, and was worried that I’d get it wrong. So I didn’t sew the pieces together yet, but just pinned them.

During our visit on Sunday she tried it on and…

… it fits! Yay! Can you see the pins sticking out at the armhole? Now there’s just the ends to weave in, the seams to join and the buttons to sew on.

Well, that’s all for now. I wish you a lovely weekend. And if the weather is as spring-like in your part of the world as it is here, I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

Perfect Knitting Weather, but…

Hello again! Welcome to a white and snowy world!

It started to snow at three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon. Exactly at the predicted time. We live in a very well-organized country. A code yellow warning was issued by the meteorological service. Train timetables were adjusted long before the first snowflake fell.

So the snow wasn’t a lovely surprise. But lovely nevertheless. We don’t get snow all that often, and although it usually isn’t more than just a few centimeters, I always find it exciting and exhilarating. I just have to share some of all that white loveliness with you.

With my camera in hand, I stepped out the back door, where our pots with herbs are. The most fragile ones are safely under glass, the others will hopefully survive.

I walked round the house for a look at our bird feeders. If you look closely, you can see that this great tit has a sunflower seed in its beak. Great and blue tits and sparrows fly on and off, picking up one seed at a time, eating it in a quiet and safe spot on a branch, and then coming back for more.

First, I took a stroll through our village and noticed this little tree, snug in its stripy knit coat:

Then I walked down the road outside the village, past a stack of wood waiting to be picked up.

And finally I came to the wood at the end of the road.

It looks like a very quiet place, but I was definitely not the only one enjoying it. There were lots of people around, with or without dogs, children, sledges and even skis.

How I love this weather! The snow, the pale light, the cold. Perfect knitting weather, but…

… my knitting more or less seems to have come to a standstill. There isn’t much knitting going on at all. I really don’t know why. Am I suffering from a winter depression? No, I don’t think so. I love winter and I’m feeling perfectly all right otherwise.

Waiting for inspiration I’ve been knitting some socks.

At first I said to myself, it’s only natural after all the gift knitting. Just take your time. Relax a little. Knit another pair of socks. Some ideas will come to you, just wait and see. But now I’ve almost finished three pairs of socks.

There’s just the toe of the third pair to finish and the ends to weave in. Apart from that, I’m struggling to get the pockets of a nearly finished cardigan right. And that’s it. There’s nothing else on my needles.

High time to actively go hunting for inspiration and something to knit. Something interesting. Something a little more challenging than socks. High time to dive into my yarn stash and leaf through some books in my knitting library. I’ll let you know when I find something.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of all of you travelling to and from work by car or by train in this weather. I hope that the roads are not too slippery and the trains are on time. And I hope that you can also enjoy the snow a little.

Most of all I’m thinking of my knitting friend Monique, who gets onto her bicycle every day to deliver the mail whatever the weather. I really admire her for that. And I also admire her for her knitting. Monique knits and designs some of the finest and most beautiful lace you’ll ever see. If you’re into lace knitting, you must take a look at her website. She has just published the second issue of her free digital magazine ‘Fine Shetland Lace’. (Scroll down a little and you’ll see a download link.)

Reading through the magazine, I came across an inspirational quote that seems like a fitting end to this blog post. It’s from Irish lace knitter and designer Aisling M. Doonan:

Sometimes… you have to sit down and begin for the ideas to come.

Taking the Plunge

Hello, and welcome to my very first ever blog post! I am really excited about starting this blog, because there is so much inside of me that wants to get out. At the same time it feels pretty scary too, to be honest. It’s a big step from being totally invisible on the internet and social media to showing myself here. But I take courage from the quote on this bag I recently bought from a charity supporting vulnerable children:

‘I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.’

The quote is attributed to Pippi Longstocking. Funnily enough, it is not something Astrid Lindgren ever wrote, as I discovered when I tried to find out where exactly it came from. Well, never mind. It is a heartening phrase, whoever said it.

On the needles

On my About page you can read that I love knitting, as well as a bit more about who I am. There’s no need to repeat that here. So let’s just dive straight in and look at what’s inside my new knitting bag.

I always have several knitting projects on the needles at the same time. Usually one big project, one pair of socks for mindless knitting, and one or two other projects that require a little more attention. 

Willapa

My big project at the moment is a cardigan for myself. The pattern I am using is Willapa by Annie Rowden. Willapa is a simple, slightly longer cardi in stocking stitch with garter trims, knit from the neck down. The yarn I am knitting with is Lamana Como Tweed, a very soft 100% wool yarn.

I chose the pattern because I could do with a warm-but-not-too-warm cardigan. And also because I wanted to knit something that I could knit on for hours and hours without paying too much attention. I fell for Willapa because of its simplicity, slim fit, pockets and shawl collar. So far, it has been a very enjoyable knit.

The sleeves looked rather narrow. But after trying the half-finished cardi on, I decided that I could live with them and knit on as per pattern. I’m now on to the front band, for which I need to pick up 386 stitches and knit in garter stitch on fairly thin needles for almost 8 cm (3 inches). I’m really looking forward to that. (Honestly! I love knitting long stretches of simple stitches.)

Socks

The next project in my bag is a pair of socks. I always have a pair of socks on the needles for those moments when I need something really simple and comforting to do.

I am using my own tried-and-tested basic sock pattern and a sturdy Regia sock yarn.

Secrets

And then there are some secret things on my needles. Presents that I can’t show you yet because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Now, what’s so interesting about all this knitting stuff that I want to share it here? That’s really hard to explain. If you are a knitter, you’ll probably understand. For me, it’s about working with materials that I am instinctively drawn to, making something beautiful that is useful at the same time and the endless possibilities of combining colours and stitch patterns. Apart from making stuff, I like looking at and reading about what other knitters make. And I hope that others will enjoy looking at and reading about what I’m making in turn.

Thank you

Phew, I did it! I wrote my first blog post. Thank you so much for keeping me company!

Today was all about knitting in progress. Next time I’ll show you a colourful finished project based on a pattern by a wonderful Scottish designer. Plus some photos of our lovely surroundings. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Afterthought

Here’s something about courage that Astrid Lindgren really did write (in The Brothers Lionheart):

‘Jonathan told me how there are things you have to do, even if they are dangerous.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because if you don’t you are not a human being, you’re nothing but a little louse,” Jonathan replied.’

That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Nothing childish about it, although it was written for children.

I found this quote and the information about the misquote on the official Astrid Lindgren website. It is really worth a visit if you like her books.