Thursday 25 February 2010


When I was knitting last, up to the 1980s, nobody I knew of my age knitted socks.  Knitting socks wasn't cool.  Socks weren't cool - anyone over the age of 12 with any sense of decorum only wore them with trousers, and they were supposed to be discreet, if not invisible.  My mother and grandmothers could knit socks, and my mother knitted them for my father later on, but not very happily.  I think that those generations associated hand-knitted socks with the war and post-war austerity, when women had to wear socks even with skirts because you couldn't get anything else, and socks were forever needing darning.

I have a book of knitting patterns that my mother's great friend Kath gave to her for her birthday in 1947, and there are several patterns for socks for women and girls.  In my view, if it's cold enough to wear woolly gloves, it's too cold for bare legs. (It seems that only children and teenagers could wear knee-length socks  -  I'm not sure whether that was a fashion law or there was a shortage of wool.)

No wonder they embraced machine-made nylon socks for men and nylon stockings for women when they became available, and didn't teach their daughters to knit socks.

So when  I went to a knit-and-natter session at my local yarn shop late last year and saw someone knitting socks, I was surprised.  When I saw that the sock was emerging in multi-coloured stripes and even a fair-isle effect, I was astonished, indeed gobsmacked.  It was Regia Design Line sock yarn, designed by Kaffe Fassett.  He was already well-known in the 70s for knitwear designs that combined lots of colours in wonderful ways, but I had no idea that he  had branched out into designing sock yarn.  I had no idea, either, that there are so many other sock yarn ranges on the market, or that knitting socks had become so popular.

 I was so impressed that I ordered the Regia yarn and a ball of Wendy Happy sock yarn from an online supplier.   The happy yarn is bamboo and nylon - my daughter bought a pair of bamboo socks and raved about them, so I thought that I'd like to try it.

The Wendy yarn is a colourway called Pisces, a mixture of shades of bluey-green toothpaste colours (Colgate Triple Cool Stripe, to be specific).  

The swatch I knitted was beautifully soft and so I embarked on knitting my first pair of socks.  It wasn't as 'happy' an experience as it should have been. The yarn was very slippery, though just about manageable on bamboo needles,  and tended to split.  I had knitted on four needles before, but it doesn't feel very congenial  - I like to knit with one needle under my arm, which is obviously impossible, so the knitting feels unsupported and rather precarious.  Still, finding out how to turn a heel (with the help of a YouTube tutorial) was fascinating - I had never met the short rows technique before and it is so clever.  And it is so neat that the finished sock is one continuous piece of yarn from top to toe.

Even though knitting on four needles feels slow and fiddly, at least socks are small and don't take too long to knit.  So I have my first pair of hand-knitted socks.
However.  Although they look fine immediately after washing, as soon as I put them on my feet, the rib loses all its elasticity and they are much too big and baggy.  I don't know whether it's the yarn or my knitting.   I have been wearing them as bedsocks when it has been exceptionally cold and the bagginess doesn't matter (and they have been very useful).
I also now realise that maybe I don't really want fancy hand-knitted socks.  I like shop-bought socks.  In winter, exclusively plain black ones (except for bedsocks), lighter colours in summer.  OK, I should have thought that through before.  So I think that knitting socks is probably not for me. 

Wednesday 24 February 2010

The Weather Outside is Frightful

It's been snowing again and it's cold and foggy. Just as well that I have finished the Eco wool cardigan. It's been nearly finished for a while, and I have just sewn on the buttons and woven in the last few ends, and now I'm wearing it.

The Sirdar pattern book doesn't show what the back of the collar looks like, but now you know.  I made it the depth specified in the pattern, but as I said in a previous post, I made it narrower - I think it has turned out well. It is a very warm cardigan - just what I need.

Monday 15 February 2010

That Shrinking Feeling

My friend Sarah has a significant birthday this month and I have made a felted shoulder bag for her, from Sirdar Eco wool.   I already had the pattern book for the big cardigan I have been knitting, and I had seen the finished article - someone at my local yarn shop has one.

I have made a couple of changes to the pattern.  The most significant was in knitting the strap:  the pattern calls for garter stitch, but on the bag  I had seen in use the strap had stretched a lot and had to have a 6-inch tuck put into it to compensate.  So I chose a less elastic stitch to try to reduce stretching - I used the stitch that is usually used for sock heels, which is basically stocking stitch but with alternate stitches slipped on the right side row.  I also stitched  on the strap (and flowers) after felting, using sewing thread, to allow any excess to be hidden inside the bag, in case it did stretch after all. (It would be impossible to unstitch the strap if it was sewn on before felting.)  There are supposed to be 3 flowers and 3 leaves in various colours of Eco wool, but I got a bit caried away with knitting flowers, and never got around to leaves.  I used some wool left over from about 30 years ago, that was also in natural sheep-y colours (mid-brown, dark brown and cream).   

 Knitting the bag was straightforward and a bit boring - just a big rectangle for the bag itself and a 4 foot long strip for the strap.  Felting was quite exciting though.  I have never felted anything before (except by accident).  It just needs to be washed at 40 degrees, according to the instructions (though I chose a cotton wash, that does a high speed spin - from past experience with unintentional felting, the spin speed seems to be an important factor).  The result is astonishing - a stretchy piece of stocking stitch comes out as a tough, thick fabric, about two-thirds the size.   

The strap was a bit of a problem - because I knitted it in a variant of stocking stitch, it curled up into a tube as I knit it, and felting made that worse.  So I had to open it out sideways and then  thump,  hammer and  iron  it flat.  (The ball band says "DO NOT iron", but I reckon that if you're felting, anything goes.)    It would have been better, with hindsight, to have used a naturally flat stitch, but I think it will be OK.       

I followed the example of a similar bag that I found in Ravelry here and gave each  flower a button centre, using odd buttons from my button box.  Sewing on the flowers took a lot longer than it should have  - I didn't like the placement the first time, and I (twice!) had to replace a button that looked black or brown by artificial light but turned out to be blue in daylight. But I think the finished result looks good.  Hope she likes it.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Dangerous Knitting

My sister and brother-in-law have complained that in describing knitting the Patricia Roberts jumper,  I did not mention another incident that happened when I was knitting while commuting.  So here goes.

With a 70-minute train journey to work, morning and evening, I did a lot of knitting and a lot of reading. If the knitting is not too complicated, I can easily read a novel at the same time, and I used to go to the library frequently and borrow nice well-used hardbacks that would stay open of their own accord while my hands were occupied with knitting, and so the 70 minutes would pass very easily.  One day, I was on the train, busy with my knitting and reading, knitting and reading, when another passenger tapped me on the shoulder and said very slowly and clearly, as if to one probably deaf and certainly daft: "We have to get off the train now - it's on fire".   I looked up and sure enough, there were flames sweeping spectacularly past the window.  The train had stopped and most of the other passengers had already got off and were standing beside the track.  The train  was (I think) a diesel multiple unit, with a diesel engine underneath each carriage, and it was the one underneath the carriage I was in that had caught fire.

The aftermath was not very dramatic - the fire didn't spread, and another train came along shortly to take us on our way.  But I was deeply embarassed.  There must have been a considerable commotion in the carriage - people noticing the flames, pointing them out to each other, calling the guard, the train stopping, an announcement about evacuating the train, people getting off, and I had not noticed any of it.

Must have been a good book.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Cables and Mohair

I said in my first post that one of the things I made before I stopped knitting was a Patricia Roberts design that I still wear.  When I wrote that, I realised that in fact I have not worn it this winter, even though it is a very thick jumper, and this was the coldest January since whenever.  So I went to find it in the clothes-I-am-not currently-wearing trunk in the attic.  The clothes I am not currently wearing are mostly summer clothes at this time of year, but also include clothes that I made myself (e.g. a Clothkits quilted jacket) or keep for sentimental reasons (my daughter's Cub Scout sweatshirt).
Cream of the Crop

 The design is called Cream of the Crop and has thick cables separated by panels of stocking stitch in mohair, using intarsia (and has a matching hat that I didn't knit).  I used the recommended yarn - the cables are in Jaeger Naturgarn, a chunky single-ply wool, and the mohair is also Jaeger.


It appeared in a book of Patricia Roberts knitting patterns published in 1975.  Later, she opened a shop in London to sell  her own range of yarns, as well as pattern books and hand knits.  The later pattern books used her own yarn, but in 1975 she was still designing patterns for other companies' yarns. The shop still exists, although it seems that she no longer publishes pattern books.

The main change I made to the design was to twist the cables in opposite directions on the left and right sides. The cables on either side of the v-neck have to somehow absorb the decreases, and I thought that it would look awkward if the two sides of the neck did not match, which would happen if the cables twisted in the same direction.  The structure of the jumper is otherwise very simple, and with straight seams for the shoulders and armholes.

I knitted it at a time when I had a long commute to work, including a 70 minute train journey morning and evening.  You can do a lot of knitting in two hours a day, although this pattern wasn't ideal for a train journey.  The front and back each had 9 balls of yarn in use on every row, and they inevitably got very tangled after a few rows. A train carriage is not the best place to sort out tangled yarn. Even so, I persevered, and I think it turned out very well.  The finished jumper is still very wearable (30 years later) and very warm.  I'm very pleased that I reminded myself to wear it again.
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