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Sunday, 21 May 2017

And ... breathe!

I don't know why it's been such a busy couple of weeks, but I guess sometimes that's just how it is.  Small daughter breaks up for another school holiday on Friday and that means that next week is going to be another week of cramming stuff in that needs to be done before she's around for two whole weeks.  Don't get me wrong, it's lovely to have her off school and to just please ourselves what we do, but I do find that my own schedule gets rather abandoned during school holidays so there's some stuff that needs to be done!

Top of my list of things to do was some catching up in the garden.  It's rained heavily for most of this week so I've not been out as much as I'd have liked to have been, and my tomatoes are long overdue for planting in the greenhouse.  Being out in the garden is good for my soul.  The fresh air weaves some kind of magic that can't fail to make me feel better, and I love the connection to the earth when I'm gardening and watching my plants grow.  I also chat to my Dad, who no doubt would have been asking why on earth it has taken so long to clear out my greenhouse which was still full of the stuff from his shed when I told you about it in March.  We'll quickly gloss quickly over that, but suffice to say that the greenhouse is now tidy, the dustbin is more full than it was and I can get in through the greenhouse door without having to have members of the family on standby in case I can't get out again.  

Come on, do you want to have a look around?

I was determined that I was going to be more successful in growing sprouts this year, and this is how my plants are doing.  I'm really pleased with these as (apart from one tiny plant which I planted far too late last year) I've never grown sprouts before.  Also, the cat hasn't managed to dig them up yet because of the netting (although something has been eating my peas and I'm not very happy about that) and they're looking nice and healthy.  With any luck we'll be having home grown sprouts with our Christmas dinner - I can't wait!

I'm very pleased with my potatoes, too.  I've only started growing potatoes in my veg boxes over the last couple of years as before that I grew them in bags and pots, but I'm getting a much better crop now I've moved them.  This variety is "Charlotte", which is a lovely variety for eating with salads or for roasting whole.  They won't be ready for a few weeks yet but that's definitely something to look forward to.

Small daughter is keeping a close eye on the progress of the strawberries.  This variety is called "Christine" which amuses me no end; when I was little there wasn't the abundance of things that you could buy with your name on and the few pens, rulers, mugs and notebooks that there were never had Christine as an option - unless you were in Scotland as the name was more common there.  So although now I can have pretty much any thing with my name on it and now that I'm older I don't need much of it, I do like the idea that there's a plant that shares my name :)

The blackcurrants are doing nicely too ... it'll be a competition with the blackbirds to see who can get to them first once they start ripening!

Big daughter bought this for me for Mother's Day back in March and I finally got round to planting the seeds it contains today.  

The instructions tickled me ... for the gardener who enjoys a tipple ... I don't think I'd be safe in charge of a pair of secateurs if I started drinking cocktails before I headed outside, but there's always the hope of balmy summer evenings - and now that big daughter's got herself a job in a bar then I'll have someone to mix my cocktails for me (the instructions say to "muddle" the ingredients together which is pretty much the limit of my cocktail-making).  I'll just provide the flowers. There's mint, lime basil, agastache, borage (uh-oh, that can go pretty wild in the garden so I'll need to watch that one), cucamelon and lemon balm and a whole raft of recipes to try out - what's not to like?!

And finally in the veg garden, the tomatoes are in the ground.  Hooray!  They're only about a month late and they look so small because I've buried them deep in the soil to make sure they develop a strong root system.  I've got three varieties this year - a mini plum that I bought as plug plants from Aldi, a cherry tomato called "Sweet Aperatif" that I grew last year and was very impressed with, and "Alicante" which is a good-sized tomato for cutting up for sandwiches.  I've also got two cucumber plants which produce small, lunch-box-sized cucumbers which are easy to eat whole.  It feels good to have them in the ground now, and I know they'll probably catch up to where they should be quite quickly now that the weather's warmed up.

I've had the radio on today whilst I've been in the greenhouse, but outside in the garden I've been treated to a variety of bird songs.  We're very lucky that we have an abundance of garden birds here - blackbirds, thrushes, wrens, robins, blue tits and other not-so-common birds like tree creepers, woodpeckers and nuthatches.  We also have the ubiquitous wood pigeons which could have been responsible for the Pea Incident (I've already ruled out snails so it's down to the pigeons and the rabbits which are also in abundance around here because I've never seen the cat eat peas). Every year, we also get house martins which nest here in the summer and then fly south for the winter.  They came back a couple of weeks ago which always makes it feel as if summer is on it's way.

I only spotted one up on the wires today but later in the season there'll be anything up to twenty of them sitting there and chatting away to each other.  House martins chat incessantly, I'm sure they must be the birds that the idea of Twitter was based on!  You can hear what they sound like here - it's such a lovely, happy sound and I love it when the house martins are back, swooping over the trees and hedges and never once stopping their conversations as they do.

Would you like a quick look at the flower garden too?  Ours is definitely a spring garden (and a rather wild and tangled garden too in places, I noticed!).  It makes me so happy to see the flowers returning after the winter when my husband always grumbles that the garden looks like a wasteland.  Here's one of the wild and tangled places ...

Oh, how I love the oriental poppies (Papaver orientale)!  They're one of my favourite flowers in the garden.  This is a variety called "Coral Reef" which I grew from seed a good few years ago; I had about five or six different varieties of oriental poppy but so far this year, this is the only one to be flowering.  It's entirely possible that the others are somewhere in that wild and tangled wilderness, although I'm a bit sad that my "Mrs Perry" variety looked particularly sick when I found it this year so I'll need to see if I can rescue it.  Yes, another plant with my name on it.  I'm easily amused.

I'm showing you a photo of this Hosta for the record - usually by this time of year it's looking like a paper doily as the snails have been at it but this year the leaves are still intact.  So far.  Shh, don't tell the snails!

More poppies; these are Welsh poppies and they range from yellow to shades of orange.  Another wild and tangled part of the garden.  (If I tell you it's intentional, you won't think that it's just because I haven't weeded.)

When we first moved to this house, I emptied a packet of Aquilegia vulgaris seeds over the borders, not expecting many of them to grow because of the aforementioned snail problem.  It seemed like a good idea at the time as I do like Aquilegia very much, but then they started to appear everywhere and suddenly it didn't seem like quite such a good idea as other plants also need to grow.  Anyway, several years on they have thinned themselves out and I've now got a few different varieties which reappear every year in various shades of pink, blue and purple and they're all much more under control.  This is one of my favourites.  Whatever your views on creation, whoever (or whatever) designed the plants must have had a whale of a time!

Do you remember the flower bud that looked like a Crispinette?  This is what it looks like when the flower comes out.  It's Centaurea montana and is such a lovely shade of purpley-blue.  There are lots of shades of purple in my garden!

And here's another one!  Complete with a bumble bee.  I do love their furry bottoms!

The last picture of flower, I promise - I wanted to show you these Alliums which fascinate me with their flower heads made up of tiny flowers (surprise, they're purple!); they normally have a bumble bee attached to them too as the bees love them, but I obviously picked a moment when the bees had other things to be doing.

Right, time to get on with that Sunday evening stuff - baths, hair-washes, packing school bags and checking calendars for the week ahead.  I might even get a few rounds of knitting in if I'm lucky too!  I hope you have a lovely week!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Contrast cuff, heel and toe socks - free tutorial

One of the things that you quickly discover when you've knitted a few pairs of top (cuff) down socks is that you've got leftover yarn.  Toe-up knitters will tell you that they rarely have leftovers as they can keep knitting until all the yarn is gone, but that doesn't work for top-down as you'd end up with sock feet the size of small canoes.

What you can do with the leftovers, though, is use them up for other projects.  Some people like to make blankets from them, hats, toys ... even socks.  Oh yes, leftovers are perfect for combining with other colours to make a new and unique pair of socks!  

You can mix and match the yarns to make scrappy socks like these, either making bold stripes that don't come in any bought colourway ...

Source: Michelle Bilton

or you can blend the colours together so that they could be from a single ball of yarn ...

Source: Rhianon Hitchcock

or you can just change the colours in particular areas of the sock, like these ones.  These are the socks that I cast on over Easter after finishing the "catnip" socks, and I love the way that the solid pink cuffs, heels and toes pick out the pink in the striped main yarn.

You'll be pleased to know that it's really easy to work all of these effects into your socks, and I'm going to show you how I do it.  There is, of course, more than one way of joining yarn when you're knitting - and isn't it wonderful that there is always more than one way of doing these things, so that if one way doesn't suit you there's always another? - and I choose to join yarns by weaving the ends in as I knit.  It looks like this on the inside of your sock ...

The ends are securely held by the working yarn and as the socks are worn and washed the woven in ends become part of the fabric.  I've never really managed to get to grips with splicing and joining in other ways and often end up with split yarn and a soggy mess at the end (look up spit splicing, you'll see what I mean!), and I did worry that weaving the ends in would mean a lumpy bit that I could feel in my socks, but that's not turned out to be the case.  I am super-sensitive to the slightest lumps and bumps in my socks so if there was going to be a problem with it, I'd be the first to know ... just in case you're also a bit like the princess in The Princess and the Pea and can't be doing with lumpy socks :)  The good news is that if you, like me, have problems with other joins coming apart then this method may well be just right for you too.

I do like the way that contrasting heels and toes changes the focus of the colours of the yarn.  If I'd used the purple, for example, the socks would have looked entirely different; you might even have wondered if I'd used the same yarn.  It's an easy way to create beautifully different socks without having to buy lots of different yarns, and you can use this method to join new colours in at any point in the sock.

For these socks, I used a ball of West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply in Sherbet Fizz with the leftover pink yarn from the catnip socks (WYS Signature 4ply in Candyfloss).  Just to give you some idea of how far a ball of yarn might go, I knitted one full pair of socks in Candyfloss (UK size 5) and used the rest for the cuffs, heels and toes on two more pairs of socks (including this one) and I still have a small ball of it left over.  Not enough for more adult socks but certainly enough to add a stripe in on another pair, or complete a small blanket square.  It makes you realise that although a ball of sock yarn might initially seem expensive compared to a pair of shop-bought socks, it stretches far enough to become much better value.

If you only have bits and pieces of leftover yarns that you want to use for contrast socks, you might wonder how much of it you need.  I asked this question in the Winwick Mum Knit n Natter Facebook group to see what members thought and the general consensus seems to be that you need at least 20g of yarn for contrast heels and toes (some hand-dyed yarns are sold with contrasting colours in tiny 20g skeins just for this purpose) although some people felt that 50g was a safer option so that you didn't run out.  Paula, a hand-spinner, said that she'd discovered that one row of stocking stitch knitted on 2.5mm needles took about 10" of yarn (4 times the width of the row) if that's any help to anyone who wants to work out the maths, although you'd need to remember that the gauge of knitting in the round is very slightly looser than knitting on straight needles.  One option if you're worried that you'll run out of yarn is to knit both socks to the same point so that you can see how much yarn you have left and then knit heels or toes in yet another colour (or even the main colour) if you need to.  The possibilities are endless!

I'm going to assume that you are already familiar with knitting a pair of socks, and if you're not, you can find the step-by-step Sockalong tutorials to do so here.  There's no reason why you can't use contrast yarns even for your very first pair of socks so don't feel put off if you've not made socks before.  There's a video to go with this tutorial of how I've joined the yarn and you can find it here - there's another link at the bottom of the page so feel free to read through the post first!

Are you ready?  OK, let's get started!


Here, I've knitted the cuff of my sock in my contrast yarn and I'm ready to join in my main yarn.

Holding the contrast yarn that you've been using out of the way for a moment, knit the next stitch with the new main yarn (that's the slightly fuzzy green stitch in this photo).  You can see the new green working yarn on the right and at the top of the picture is the contrast pink yarn and the purple end of the new yarn.  If you're using a brand new ball of yarn such as the Sherbet Fizz that I'm using and you want your socks to match, make sure that you start knitting with the second colour out of the ball not the first, as there's no way of knowing whereabouts in that first colour the yarn was cut to start the ball - in my case, the purple was first out of the ball followed by the green.

Now we're going to start weaving the yarn as we knit the stitches.  In this next picture, you can see that I've got the green working yarn over the top of the pink contrast yarn, and next to the pink yarn is the purple end of the new working yarn.  We're going to weave both of those in together. Don't worry if it seems a bit confusing at the moment, it'll make sense in a minute!

Now bring the pink and the purple "old" yarns over the top of the green yarn so that when you make your next stitch, the green yarn secures them.

You can see that I've got two green stitches on my needle now, and before I make the next stitch I'm going to pull the pink and purple yarns down so that they are over the top of the working yarn again.

Can you see how they're being held securely by the green yarn?

Bring the "old" yarns up over the working yarn for the next stitch ...

Make the stitch and then take the "old" yarns back down over the working yarn.

I usually weave the stitches in for about an inch or so - ten or twelve stitches perhaps - so that I know they're not going to easily work their way out again and create a hole.  The working yarn creates a upside-down V-shape over the "old" yarns and by bringing the yarns up and down over the working yarn, the whole thing sits much flatter and is much more secure than if you were to just keep bringing the "old" yarns over the top or underneath in the same direction all the time.

When I cut the yarns, I leave a short end so that I can tighten the stitches up if I need to by pulling the ends.  The stitches that are circled sometimes look a bit loose as you continue with your sock but by pulling one or more of the ends you can easily tighten them up.  I don't tidy up that short end until I've finished knitting the whole sock, then I can make any last-minute adjustments to the look of the stitches before I cut.

Heel flap

When you get to the heel flap, you've got a few choices over what to do with your working yarn.  At the moment, the yarn is at the right hand side of what will be your heel flap and when you start to pick up the gusset stitches you'll need it at the left hand side.  You can either:
  • Leave the yarn where it is ready to pick up the second set of gusset stitches, but if you do that then the first set of picked up stitches and the top of the foot stitches will be knitted in the same colour as your heel flap until you get round to where you can pick up the main colour again.  That wouldn't be a problem on the sock I'm making as it's all the same pink colour, but if you're using a completely different colour then it might look a bit odd.
  • Carry the yarn across the bottom of the heel flap, weaving it in as you have done for the new colour so that it's in the right place for the top of the foot stitches, but it means that you'll need to pick up the first set of gusset stitches in the contrast yarn and again, if you're using a completely different colour for the heel you might not want to do that.
  • Cut the yarn and re-join in once you've completed the heel turn ready to pick up the gusset stitches so that you're using the main yarn for all of the leg and foot sections.

All these choices!  I'm going to cut the yarn and re-join it to create the gusset stitches, so I'll show you how I do that.  First, though, it's time to make the heel flap.  Just as for adding the yarn at the cuff, you need to start by knitting the first stitch in the new yarn (remember that you knit the first stitch of the first row of the heel flap instead of slipping so that you don't get a hole at the join).

Then it's simply a case of carrying the "old" yarns over and under the working yarn as you did before.

However, this time, because you are slipping every other stitch then you won't be able to catch the "old" yarns under the working yarn for every stitch, but it will still hold firm if you work it under every other stitch.  Just slip the stitch as you would normally ...

and then catch the "old" yarns under the working yarn for the next knit stitch.

This is what it looks like on the inside of your heel flap.  I weave in for a few more stitches on a heel flap than I would do for elsewhere on the sock to compensate for the slip stitches, but the yarns won't work loose as long as you knit them in despite being across slip stitches.

Gusset stitches

Once you've worked your heel turn and you're ready to pick up your gusset stitches, you just join in the main yarn again as you have done on the other sections.  In this picture, you can see that my new working yarn is purple (which will keep my stripes in order) and the pink contrast is now the "old" yarn.  Put your needle into the stitch ready to pick up and knit the first stitch using the main colour yarn as the working yarn.

Bring the "old" yarns over and under the working yarn just as you have done before - picking up and knitting stitches is no different to knitting other stitches ...

This is what the yarn looks like along the gusset once you've woven the "old" yarns in.  Just as before, I always leave short ends so that I can pull the stitches tighter if I need to.


When you come to change the yarn at the toes ... you'll know just what to do!  It's exactly the same process as you've used in every section, weaving the "old" ends in for about an inch or so to make sure that they're secure as you change the colour.  If you're worried that you'll feel the ridge where you've woven them in across the top of your foot, either join the new yarn in a few stitches before the end of the last round (you're unlikely to feel them if the stitches are in the gap where your big toe joins your foot) or work one more round and weave them in on the bottom of your sock - one extra round really isn't going to make any difference to your sock.

You can see in this next picture that I've knitted the first stitch and am now about to make the first decrease stitch (remember it's an SSK stitch on the toes!).  Nothing changes about this other than that you're going to be weaving in the "old" yarns at the back of the work; you knit the decrease in exactly the same way as you would do normally.

And that's all there is to it!  Just by bringing in different coloured yarns you can make endless pairs of unique socks which you can either match or not depending on your preference.  It's a great way to use up all those odds and ends of yarn which might otherwise be hanging around and taking up valuable stash space ;)

I've also made a video of all the sections so that you can see how the yarn is joined rather than just looking at the pictures.  Because it's made by me, it's not particularly short or concise (another reason to be thankful that I'm a blogger and not a vlogger or podcaster!) but hopefully you'll find it useful!

Do let me know how you get on with changing colours in your socks, you can always post pictures to show me on my Facebook page as well as in the Sockalong Facebook groups! :)

This tutorial is free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using it and would like to make a donation towards future projects it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.  Thank you! xx

Monday, 8 May 2017

Yarn Shop Day 2017 - Cityknits/Christine's Wool Shop

It's not often that you'll find me at the train station at 7.30am on a Saturday morning, but last weekend I was raring to go and bounded out of bed to get ready to leave in a way that would have been unrecognisable on a school morning.  I was off to Bournville, near Birmingham, for Yarn Shop Day and I was going to spend the day at Christine's Wool Shop talking yarn and socks all day.  Talk about spoilt!  That's just my kind of day!

It's really easy to get to Bournville by train and the station is very convenient if you want to visit Cadbury World which is a great day out to visit the chocolate factory.  (Apparently you can smell the chocolate when they're making it which is very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and infinitely better than the distinctive smell of soap powder from the Lever Brothers factory in Warrington, or the smell of brewing beer from the Tetley brewery where I used to work many years ago - urgh!)

Christine's is a short distance from the station in Bournville village, which was built as a model village for the workers at the Cadbury factory.  There are quite a few model villages around the country which were built as self-contained communities offering decent living accommodation and leisure-time activities for the workers of the factories, provided by the philanthropic industrialists who owned them (Port Sunlight on the Wirral is the closest to us, and I went to visit Saltaire in Yorkshire with Lucy about 18 months ago).  They are leafy suburbs outside of the cities and the workers who moved to live there after cramped city-dwelling must have thought they had died and gone to heaven.

The yarn shop is situated in a small row of independent shops including a jewellers, a butcher, a bakery, a flower shop, a chemist and a newsagents (just the sort of shops you want on your doorstep!) and is run by three sisters: Sally, Julie and Caroline who are left to right on this photo underneath their fabulous Yarn Shop Day mandalas.

The shop originally belonged to their Mum (Christine - of course!) but when she sadly passed away a few years ago, they took up the mantle and decided to continue running it themselves along with their Dad; as well as Yarn Shop Day, they always get involved in fundraising for Marie Curie and have raised thousands of pounds to donate towards the charity in memory of their Mum.  They'll be joining in with the Marie Curie Tea Party on 10 June which is guaranteed to be a great day so if you missed Yarn Shop Day, there's another good opportunity to visit!

Here's the row of shops where you can find Christine's.  

It's in a lovely leafy street (appropriately called Sycamore Road) with a wide pavement that's just perfect for outdoor knitting, fortified by tea and cake.  Oh, the cake!  There was so much of it, and it was all wonderful.  Cupcakes, Kendal mint cake brownies, this gorgeous Yarn Shop Day cake ... it was no wonder I didn't need any dinner when I got home!

Christine's feels like a yarn shop should do; a part of a thriving community where customers are recognised and welcomed and - most importantly - want to come back again.  This is what Yarn Shop Day is about.  It's a wonderful opportunity for shops and customers to connect and whilst regulars often don't need another excuse to visit, events like Yarn Shop Day are vital to remind those who don't knit or crochet on a regular basis that the shops are still there and vital to a vibrant, diverse community.

Julie, Caroline and Sally were kept busy all day and had extra help in the shape of shop regulars Kate (who made the yarn bombing and mandalas hanging outside), Maureen, Doreen and Rhi who were buzzing around all day to help answer questions and reach for yarn ...

Reach for yarn?  Yes, you did hear me right - and here's what I mean!  

Still can't see it?  I'm not surprised, the shop is pretty busy and this was at a relatively quiet moment!  Look at this picture ...

There is yarn from floor to ceiling and in pretty much every available space in the shop.  There's a special pole to help get the yarn down from the very top and look ... can you see there's a section of yarn skeins in the middle of the picture below?  Those skeins and four blocks to the right (up to the jumper) is all sock yarn.  Floor to ceiling sock yarn!!  Every colour of the West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply range (which apparently some people use for projects other than socks ;) ), King Cole Zig Zag, Katia, Rico, Opal ... there was a ball of yarn for all tastes and that was just for the socks!

There was also a whole section of Stylecraft Special DK in every colour that they produce - I thought I'd spotted most of them in Lucy's studio but there were colours there that I'd never seen before - and by the end of the day there were huge gaps in all of the sections as the yarn sold out. There are going to be a lot of projects in progress!

I was kept very busy all day chatting about socks and sometimes I even spoke about other knitting projects.  Not often, it has to be said, but I did.  I had my own table near the door with sample needles which makes it so much easier if you're looking for a sock needle to buy as you can try them out before you do.  

It's always fascinating to find out about other people's sock knitting preferences - toe up, top down, two at a time ... there were even a couple of conversations about knitting one sock inside the other which isn't something that I've tried, although it might be fun to give it a go one day.  I like to see socks knitted in other yarns that I've not used and I always like to try to spark someone's interest to give it a go themselves if they've never knitted socks before.

As much as I enjoy chatting online, it's really lovely to be able to meet up with people in real life (and being by the door always helps as I can pounce on them as they come in J), and I especially love it if they've brought socks to show off!  

Oh, you can see in the two pictures above that I finished the pair of WYS "catnip" socks in Sherbet Fizz that I started a couple of weeks ago.  I've had a few people ask me about joining in different colours so I'm going to create a tutorial to show you how it's done in case it's not something that you've tried before - I'm hoping to have that out in a week or so.

Here's more of that catnip yarn specially dyed in Yarn Shop Day colours - Julie, Sally and Caroline very kindly sent me home with a few balls of WYS yarn and this one of them so I'm definitely looking forward to casting that on!

I must show you this as well because it's not often that I'll post a picture of me with my jaw dropping ... this is a still from the short Yarn Shop Day video on the Cityknits Facebook page and there's a very good reason why I'm looking like that.

Remember at the beginning of the post that I said the shop was in Bournville, next to the Cadbury factory?  I was absolutely thrilled to be given this chocolate plaque, beautifully decorated by the super-talented Dawn, one of the shop customers who works at Cadbury's - hence the dropping jaw!  I don't know how I'm going to bear to break it up to eat it but it would be a waste not to, so I've taken photos so that I can always remember it.  It was the best surprise - and you can see why!

Never mind the cat who got the cream, I'm the Mum who got the chocolate! J

These days always go too fast, don't they?  It's a bit like Yarndale where I can spend the whole weekend chatting and still it feels as if there's not enough time to talk to everybody.  This is the third Yarn Shop Day that I've been involved with and each one has been brilliant, and each year the number of shops that get involved has grown.  I think events like this are really important if we're going to keep our bricks and mortar shops open; yes, often online is cheaper and easier but you can't beat being able to go into a shop to squish, to chat and to get an instant feel-good hit from being surrounded by so much yarn.  It's really important for our own community well-being that we support our yarn shops as much as they support us in our crafting endeavours and I'll always be happy to do what I can to help with that.

If you made it to a Yarn Shop Day event near you, I hope you had a fantastic time, and if not then hopefully there'll be an opportunity for you to do so next year - here's to next year's Yarn Shop Day!

With huge thanks to Caroline, Sally and Julie for looking after me so well and for generous treats of yarn and chocolate - I had such a lovely day with you all! xxx