Making round-up

People often say that, when you have a second child, you don’t really get the same benefit from maternity leave as you do with the first: you can’t nap when the baby does (if the baby does nap at a convenient time and place, that is, and I’m smelling a lot of “if” coming off that plan), you can’t just slop around the house in your pyjamas with your similarly pyjama-ed baby because there’s another vocal person who needs to be taken out and entertained. You certainly shouldn’t find that you have more time for general knitting and sewing: perish the thought! This is probably true if you are either a stay-at-home parent, or if you go out to work at a regular 9-5 type of job. I, however, usually work from home. Now, I love my job, but there is one inevitable downside to the situation: I’m usually not able to start work until 7 or so when Eoin goes to bed, and tend to carry on late into the night. Suddenly, on maternity leave, my evenings have become free, and, though my priority a lot of the time is to catch up on lost sleep, I do have far more time to get into the sewing room and let loose.

Rather than writing separate posts for the ever-growing pile of finished objects, I thought I’d do one big round-up of All The Things. First, though, I need to give a little shout-out to the most important creation of the last six months, Snuggly Jeff himself. Here he is, in more conventionally-masculine garb than he has been wearing recently, determinedly masticating a rubber giraffe.

Snuggly Jeff

He’s five-and-a-bit months old already, and scarily huge. He also has a wonderful laugh, a great interest in books (usually to chew, admittedly), and a mercifully high level of tolerance for being dressed up in crazy outfits. Good baby, that one.

And now, the finished objects!

  1. The long-awaited Aidez cardigan (designed by Cirilia Rose), ravelled here: I’ve blogged about this before, but I finally managed to finish it two months before Ronan’s arrival. Now I’m not pregnant, it’s a little baggy in the body, but I can live with that. A word of warning to any large-busted knitters planning to make this, though: you will need to conduct some substantial modifications to the front: you could go for bust-darts if you are that way inclined, but you are likely to have to widen the fronts substantially too. I’d say planning for button-bands from the beginning might be the best way to go.
  2. High Water jumper by Veera Välimäki, ravelled here. A lovely design which would work for boys or girls. Unfortunately, Eoin objects to the yarn in which I made this: apparently it’s too scratchy. Ah, well…
  3. More High Water. He’s smiling under duress, all the while muttering, “It itches”.
  4. Scraptastic hat by Jane Tanner, made from the remnants of my Color Affection shawl, another Veera Välimäki design. Ravelled here. I managed to make it a little too roomy, but I’m calling that a design feature. Slouchy, you know?
  5. Turn a Square hat (Jared Flood, ravelled here) for Stephen. Stolen by Eoin, despite the fact it was (a) ridiculously too big and (b) made from the same much-complained-about yarn as his High Water. Clearly his head is made of sterner stuff than the rest of him.
  6. Antler cardigan (tincanknits, ravelled here) for Eoin, knitted in a fit of pique after he refused to wear the High Water jumper. I gave him shortlists of yarns and patterns, and asked him to choose his own jumper on the understanding that he would actually have to wear this one. It turns out he has good taste!
  7. Longus Socks for Ronan (ravelled here) from Clare Devine’s fabulous Sock Anatomy collection: if you’re interested in sock construction, I’d advise you to check this out. Every design uses a different heel and toe combination, so you get to practice tons of techniques while making adorable socks for small feet. Two of the patterns are also available in adults’ sizes.
  8. Nathaniel the squirrel-cushion, from Ysolda Teague’s Whimsical Little Knits 2. Knitted when I was in full-on nesting mode, obviously, and ravelled here. A word of warning to prospective Nathaniel-knitters: he really does need the button eyes, although they are not specified in the pattern. Without them, he looks less like a squirrel and more like a big grey amoeba.
  9. Ronan’s Pixi hat, from Robynn Weldon’s Elfbaby pattern. Ravelled here. Cute, cute, cute!
  10. Puerperium cardigan by Kelly Brooker (ravelled here), which fitted Ronan until about three months and stood up to many soakings with various bodily fluids.
  11. Pebble bodywarmer (Nikol Lohr, ravelled here), which also did sterling duty until about three months. It was also made from the “scratchy” yarn (it was an unfeasibly giant single ball: I still have tons left), but Ronan was stoic, and did not complain.
  12. Pumuckl Hat, also from Robynn’s Elfbaby pattern (ravelled here), also adorable. I’m hoping it will fit into the winter.
  13. The first of the sewing projects! This is a Coco from Tilly Walnes’ pattern (available here): I think this is being classed as a wearable toile for the moment: I demonstrated my usual lack of sizing awareness and made a 6 when I really should have made a 5. I suspect I’ll be talking more about this in a future post: sizing is a bit of an issue for me as I perpetually seem to think I’m a lot bigger than I am, which means I end up with sack-like garments. See how I’m holding the waist in in this picture? There’s a reason for that…
  14. Another Coco, this time the tunic version. Also a 6, so a bit on the big side, but I don’t think this is such an issue with a top. I also think I managed to balance the print and plain sections better on this: I’m a bit of a stranger to playing with prints, and I think the first dress came out a bit Minnie Mouse-ish, while this is a bit more balanced.
  15. Another Coco! This one is a size 5, and a much better fit. I also kept this one short (I added a couple of inches to the length of the first dress) which, I think, works much better: the high neckline needs to be balanced by a shortish skirt, otherwise the dress looks a bit puritanical. I’m very pleased with this version.
  16. Simplicity 2226, in the shorter of the two lengths. Again, I mucked up the sizing of this: I made an 18 (to approximate a UK RTW size 14), and I could get a friend in there with me. Simplicity seem to add mad amounts of ease to their patterns! It’s a lovely style, though, and I’m planning another version in a smaller size.
  17. Clémence skirt from Tilly Walnes’ book, Love at First Stitch. As you may be able to tell, I’ve developed a bit of a Tilly obsession: her patterns are simple yet elegant, and her instructions are fabulously clear. I used a parasol-print cotton which I have had in my stash for ages: it dates from the time when the Cambridge John Lewis was in the Grafton Centre. I realise this will mean nothing to most people, but Cambridge-based readers will be shaking their heads in dismay at my long-term hoarding tendencies.
  18. Vogue 8295 in an appallingly badly-chosen fabric, also from Grafton-era John Lewis. It’s a lovely print, but I had no concept of drape or body when I chose this. The skirt nearly ended up in the bin years ago when I couldn’t make it come together, so I’m impressed I managed to salvage it. This is also an 18, and I can confirm that Vogue do not add much ease to their patterns. Breathe in…
  19. Botanical-print Delphine skirt from Love at First Stitch. I need to blog about this in more detail, but for the moment, I invite you to admire the fabulous fabric! Ikea FTW.
  20. More botanical Delphine. I’m very pleased that I managed to get the beetle to sit right on my thigh.
  21. New Look 6576 for Emer, fetchingly modelled by Ronan, and blogged here.

This is a bit of a mammoth post, and hurrah for you if you’ve stuck with me up to this point. I’m planning to write about a couple of the projects in more detail (I also need to cover my ongoing struggles with the concept of ease), but I hope this quick overview is interesting. If anybody would like to know more about a particular project, let me know!


Elfbaby Hat: we have a winner!

My lovely assistant has helped me to draw a winner out of the hat (or, in this instance, out of the red plastic bowl). Here he is in action:

And the winner is…



Congratulations to (Mrs) UKScone: I’ll send a copy of the pattern over asap. Commiserations to everyone else, but thank you all for entering!

Giveaway time: it’s the fabulous Elfbaby Hat!

I’m very excited to be able to offer a second giveaway: it’s another gorgeous hat, but this time it’s one primarily intended for the small people in your life. Robynn Weldon is the creator of several lovely patterns for babies and children; the Elfbaby hat is her newest design (you can read more about its genesis here), and, as you can see from this picture of Ronan, it automatically makes any baby wearing at least 50% cuter than normal.

Ronan being cute, in Pixi

Elfbaby is a pixie-style hat, with a long point and a choice of three decorative borders: Pixi, Pippi and Pumuckl. Robynn was kind enough to ask me to test-knit the pattern, and, being in the nesting stage of pregnancy at that point, I whizzed through two of the possible border patterns in record time (you can see the third, Pippi, on Robynn’s blog, here).

The pattern is sized all the way from newborn to adult: it looks adorable on babies, as you can see, but that needn’t stop you whipping up a larger size for yourself. It’s worked in sock-weight yarn, so it’s toasty-warm while still being small enough to squish handily into a pocket. It’s also a great way to use skeins of variegated sock yarn (if you’re anything like me, your sock yarn stash probably multiplies like Tribbles).

You can buy the Elfbaby hat pattern through Ravelry (there’s a 50% discount until the end of August if you enter the the code ONLY5YEARS at checkout), but Robynn has very kindly offered me a copy of the pattern to give away to a reader of this blog (come on, I know there’s at least half a dozen of you!): all you need to do is leave me a comment to say which version of the hat you would knit first, and for whom. A week from today, I’ll pick a winning comment at random. So, get your thinking caps on, and good luck!

Knitting progress, against the odds.

Very shortly after I posted the picture of Eoin cheekily inserting himself between my camera and the quilting fabric yesterday, I heard him wake up and start making some horribly familiar barking, wheezing noises. He has had a few bouts of croup since last winter, and, though we had hoped he might have grown out of it, it seems he managed to get a small dose again. Thankfully, it wasn’t bad, as croup goes: the first time he had it was the worst, and then I was seconds away from calling 999 (If you’re ever in that situation, don’t hesitate: the A&E department the next day told me there’s really no such thing as a false alarm when you’re dealing with an infant with breathing difficulties). Fortunately, Eoin was fine then, and seems well recovered now: last night’s sleep was not too broken, and, although he did have a couple more breathless episodes, I think the worst thing from his point of view was a bad dream in which a lot of minions were trying to get into bed with him, “but I didn’t want them to, mummy!”. After a domestic day of helping Stephen with designing an experiment (“You don’t need to solve the problem, daddy: I’ve done it for you”), building duplo machines and helping me cook, he is now safely tucked up in bed, and I have taken the chance to do a little work on my Aidez cardigan.

Despite a lot of reading around on the subject of shaping, not to mention some very helpful suggestions from other kind knitters, I was still no closer to a strategy for inserting bust darts into the design. The problem is mainly that I have a lot of trouble visualising things in three dimensions: making darts in fabric when sewing is no problem, because you can pin the blasted things in, see how they look, and easily change them if necessary. To me, at any rate, bust darts in knitting seem to entail some form of precognition, not to mention a much more highly-developed mathematical ability than I possess. Basically, in terms of Stuff About Knitting Which Scares Me, bust darts are right up there with stranded colourwork and steeking. I realise I am going to have to deal with this at some point, but I suspect the way to work though my problems might be to try to insert the darts into some plain stockinette fabric, rather than into some fairly complicated (for me) cabling, on which I am only just keeping my head above water. I’ve been planning a Cria since I tried one of Ysolda’s samples on at the 2011 KnitNation: it was the lovely grey one you can see in the linked pattern, and I’m pleased to report it was only a tiny bit snug in the 34″ bust, which goes to prove that a smaller size with well-thought-out shaping is likely to be far more flattering than a jumper in your actual bust size, which is probably just going to hang off you everywhere else. This feels like a sensible place to start my adventures in shaped knitting: Ysolda even uses the Cria as an example in her section on bust darts, and you can’t really get much more hand-holding than that.

Of course, cheering though my Cria plans may be, I was still no closer to a solution to my potential bust issues with the Aidez, which does have a reputation on Ravelry for coming up rather small in the fronts. After a lot of mental wrestling, I looked again at the garment photographs, and thought, “For heaven’s sake, this is almost entirely unstructured: it’s supposed to hang loosely at the front, not fit neatly. This is actually kind of why you’re knitting it, pregnant person!”. So, I did what any sensible slapdash knitter would do, and decided to just add an extra two stitches into the stockinette panel on each front. This should give me an extra centimetre of width in each front, which should hopefully be enough to stop the cardigan looking skimpy. I’m planning to keep the extra width going all the way up the front, and then just decrease a little more rapidly for the neckline.

Of course, now I am worried that the Aidez is going to come out too big (I really struggle with the concept of ease), but, let’s face it, if I wasn’t worrying about this, I’d find something else to panic about. So far I am about a third of the way up the left front, and I’m actually feeling pretty pleased with myself for having managed four separate cable patterns in one garment. You’ve got to take your knitting victories where you can.

In other news, I may have received my oddest spam comment so far: a chunk of text out of what appears to be an academic essay on the sermons of John Donne. This is pretty spooky, not least because I have a good friend who wrote her PhD thesis on this very topic, and I’m really hoping that an unscrupulous spambot (is there any other kind?) hasn’t been plagiarizing her work. Mind you, it makes a change from Viagra advertisements: this may be the first time I’ve been mildly interested in anything a spammer had to say before I consigned the comment to the bin. Spambots, take note!

Gratuitous photo post: St Augustine’s, Penarth, with lots of lens flare.

Winter sun, and all that jazzSorry: I know this isn’t a proper post as such. I’m really tired, and trying to work short rows out is making my head hurt. The photo itself is a bit better if you click to embiggen.

Mind you, it was a lovely day, and the church is a gorgeous one. John Betjeman gave it top marks out the churches in the local area, don’tcha know? The interior is beautiful: you can see more here.

With that, I’m heading off to bed, clutching a copy of Little Red in the City. I’m going to work this bust shaping out if it’s the last thing I do.

Knitting progress: Aidez

I’m a long-term fan of the marvellous Electric Sheep podcast by Hoxton Handmade, a lady with a mellifluous voice, a sharp sense of humour and some great taste in knitting patterns. She may or may not also have a hard-drinking, supervillain sheep concealed in her back garden in South London, but I think the less attention drawn to him, the better. I have been tempted into favouriting a lot of the patterns she has reviewed, and further tempted into casting others on. My Color Affection shawl, knitted last year and still being worn proudly now that the days are getting chillier, was very definitely Hoxton-inspired.

Colo(u)r Affection This initial recommendation had the fringe benefit of introducing me to the lovely designs of Veera Välimäki: I have also knitted her Fisherman’s Pullover for Eoin (though I did have a bit of a gauge mix-up there), and am working on a Gathering Stripes jumper for him at the moment.

The second pattern which the wiles of the Electric Sheep have seduced me into casting on is the celebrated Aidez cardigan by Cirilia Rose. I had put off knitting this for a while, as it is a fairly unstructured fit, and, being large of bust, I was concerned that it might not be flattering. I had, however, cast on an OWLS jumper which I wasn’t happy with: I was using a wool-mix yarn, and would have preferred to be knitting in a pure wool, and I was also becoming convinced that the shaping in OWLS doesn’t really work for my figure, and was going to need some serious tweaking if I was going to achieve a neat, non-baggy fit. GIven that I am about five months pregnant, working on the neat fit was not going to be easy: I don’t have any bump to speak of yet, but it’s sure to pop out in the next couple of weeks. Throw the likelihood of a bout of Gestational Diabetes into the mix, together with the associated strict diet and drastic weight loss (with Eoin, I weighed less at full term than I did at conception), making anything remotely fitted over the next few months was really going to be a non-starter. I happened to listen again to one of the podcast episodes in which Ms Hoxton discusses her Aidez, and decided to take the bull by the horns, frogging the OWLS and casting on the Aidez.

It’s going well so far: I have finished the back so far (I know it doesn’t look like it from this picture, but I promise it’s true), and am about to cast one of the fronts on.

Aidez back panel

Apologies, again for the photo. The Color Affection one was taken with an actual camera. This one wasn’t, as you can no doubt tell.

It’s a lovely, straightforward pattern so far, and very addictive: I’ve sat up far too late on several evenings, muttering “Just one more row, just one…” under my breath as the clock ticks on towards midnight. Cables just seem to do that to a knitter! As it’s knitted in a chunky yarn, it’s also going very quickly, which makes a pleasing change from working in 4 ply. The yarn isn’t the most exciting (Sirdar Click, so it’s a bit acrylic-y) but it’s knitting up in a pleasantly non-crunchy manner, and should at least survive being thrown in the washing machine. My only concern at the moment is that I might have to add some bust shaping to the fronts, and we all know what that will involve: maths, and the doing thereof. I am not good at maths, nor am I good at thinking in three dimensions. I’m undergoing a tiny bit of a hiatus as I read the pattern very carefully, and try to work out whether just adding a couple of stitches to the stockinette portions and adjusting the decreases at the top will work. If not, I’m going to have to dive in with a calculator and a tape measure: if this happens, I may have to ask you to hold my hand, in a virtual sense.

I’ll keep working on this over the next few weeks: let’s hope I find a solution to the bust issue which doesn’t involve me passing out over some complicated long-division sums.

What’s the opposite of startitis, again?

It seems I start a lot of posts (either in reality or in my head) by apologising for the loss of my yarny mojo. Indeed, this affliction is not limited to knitting: I seem to have stalled on a horrible number of projects in pretty much any fibre-based medium you care to mention. One of BlogHer’s earlier prompts for NaBloPoMo was to describe your writing space: I had initially planned to describe my crafting space (generally known as the Wool Room), complete with photos, as I initially thought it would be a more interesting proposition than just writing “whichever end of the sofa Stephen isn’t sitting on” in large letters under the title. However, a brief look through the door was enough to convince me that I couldn’t photograph that troll-cave of a workspace, to paraphrase Allie Brosh, in its current state. Maybe I could do it later in the month, but, for the moment, there’s no way that any sane person should see the carnage that’s going on behind the door.

My problem is only partly startitis (the knitterly condition in which one casts on numerous new works in process, only to let them languish in your yarn bag after the first few rows). It’s also a form of pre-startitis, in which I plan immense amounts of projects, buy or dig our the raw materials, tools and patterns, and then proceed to do absolutely nothing about starting the actual work. Zilch. Nada. I don’t even have the warm, fuzzy feeling of having started the project, which means you can at least console yourself with the thought that one day you will finish what you started. Instead, I have large, accusatory piles of fabric, yarn and unspun fibre, books and magazines, quilt wadding and crochet hooks strewn about every available surface in the wool room, as well as the floor. The crochet hooks are particularly ridiculous: I can’t crochet beyond the most limited sort of granny square, but I evidently hold a belief that I can learn by some sort of osmotic process, just by leaving enough of the requisite tools around.

It’s not even as if I’m picking hard projects: I recently bought this fabulous cheater quilt top from Spoonflower: if you like owls, I would urge you to have a look at this, as it is absolutely gorgeous in the flesh, so to speak. Or, at least, the unquilted top is gorgeous, even if I have not actually managed to assemble into any sort of quilt sandwich yet. I think I may need someone to give me a virtual slap over this: it’s not as if I really need to do anything: there’s no designing, no complicated piecing. It’s just a question of putting some wadding between two layers of fabric, and breaking out the running stitch, for goodness’ sake. Somehow, though, the constituent parts are still strewn about the wool room. The footstools I am recovering have suffered a similar fate: one has had a shiny new cover for the last few months. The other still has its old, tatty cover, while the paltry three – count’em – pieces of fabric I need to make the replacement remain unsewn.

I’m hoping that NaBloPoMo, with its attendant need for bloggable material, might give me the impetus to finish a few of these projects. I’m realistic about the likelihood of my learning to crochet any time soon (it’s slim), but I am sure I can at least manage to put together Eoin’s new winter jumper, or finish the braid of fibre which I started spinning in May. May! Seriously, I need a good shaking, don’t I?

I’m trying to sort myself out, in a creative sense. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some pictures of the aforementioned part-finished spinning project. It’s a merino/soya blend from L Hogan, colourway “Bathing Suit”, which I bought in This is Knit, the last time I was in Dublin. As you can see from the unspun fibre I have left, it was pretty crazy in the braid, but I’m hoping it will come shading calmly from one colour to another.

Finished bobbin of singles, pink outwards

Finished bobbin of singles, pink outwards

Second bobbin in progress. We're in the blue/green section here.

Second bobbin in progress. We’re in the blue/green section here.

The remaining roving. Psychedelic-looking, no?

The remaining roving. Psychedelic-looking, no?

Wish me luck: I really hope that, before the month is out, I’ll proudly be showing you a finished skein of plied yarn. After all, I haven’t got much roving left to go, and plying’s way faster than spinning. Right?

Hat Competition Results!

Thank you to all the lovely knitters who entered the Skeppe Hat competition: I really loved reading all your comments, and I’m now feeling particularly hungry for some delicious knitting-time treats.

I used a random number generator to pick the winner (comments were numbered in order of receipt), and here, thanks to the fabulously-named website, is the result:


Skeppe competition resultThis means that the quick-off-the-mark Sam (@samanthahalf) was the winner: congratulations! I’ll organise with Libby for the pattern to be delivered, and I’ll keep you posted as to what is happening.

Thank you all for entering: I’ve never run a competition before, but I really enjoyed it, so there may well be more to come!

Test knitting and a giveaway!

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been busy working away on my first test knit project: the Skeppe hat from Libby of Truly Myrtle.

Libby's pictures are much better than mine.

Photo courtesy of Libby Jonson of Truly Myrtle

Libby is not only an inspirational crafter, but also a fellow Cambridge-dweller: I suspect we must have crossed paths in the John Lewis haberdashery department on more than one occasion before I moved last year. Skeppe is the first knitting pattern she has released, and, when I saw she was looking for test knitters for it, I jumped at the chance.

I’m a fairly slow knitter, which may be to do with the fact that I seem to be congenitally incapable of learning to throw yarn properly, and I was knitting the largest size of the pattern due to having a big giant head. This meant that I was a little worried about finishing the hat in time for the pattern release, and, as such, I’ve been spending most of my free time working away with a ball of Malabrigo and my trusty KnitPros. Fortunately, this wasn’t a trial: Libby’s pattern is absorbing, full of clever details, and, in worsted weight yarn, really does zip along.

This is my Skeppe: it’s in Malabrigo worsted, in the lovely Ravelry Red colourway. It took under one skein, which is pretty good going considering I was knitting the 23-24″ size, to fit my enormous 23.5″ cranium. If you have a normal-sized head, you could probably squeeze out a pair of mittens, maybe the 75 Yard Fingerless pattern, to match without even breaking into that second skein that you were saving for a cowl.

Ravelry Red SkeppeAs you can see, the key to the pattern is a rather striking smocked stitch: before I started it, I was terrified that this would be impossibly difficult to knit. In actual fact, though, it is both simple and very effective. I’m certainly not going to fear projects with smocking in the future. The crown decreases, which you can seen rather more clearly on Libby’s (much better) picture, are neat and clever, and the ribbing, a 2x2x2x3 pattern which flows neatly into the body stitches, delighted me to a quite unreasonable extent.Me in Skeppe - this is a really ham-fisted photo, sorry. The finished hat is slouchy but not excessively long: I spent a long time trying to take some self-portraits modelling it, but it turns out this is terribly hard to do well if you a) do not have a tripod and cable release for your camera and b) are not Ysolda Teague, who seems to have the most amazing gift for self portraits ever. If you promise to ignore my really ham-fisted technique with the camera, the photo on the right here should give you an idea of the degree of slouch involved. It’s very comfortable, and does accommodate moderately big hair, but it’s still smart, trim and not excessively floppy.

Once again, apologies: I know it’s a dreadful photo. It was dark, I couldn’t sight properly and kept getting close ups of the picture rail instead of me, I had to use the slightly ropey compact because the lens on the SLR kept bashing me on the back of the head… Can you believe I’m supposed to be doing the Cardiff Photomarathon in a couple of weeks? Neither can I.

Moving on from my ridiculous attempts to immortalise my occiput in pixel form, though, I have exciting news! As a thank you for doing the test knitting, Libby has very kindly offered her testers a copy of the pattern to give away to their blog readers. So, if any knitters out there have a pile of Malabrigo burning a hole in their stash (Sian, I’m looking at you!) or are jonesing for a new hat, read on. To win a copy of the Skeppe pattern, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post sometime between now and next Sunday (19th May 2013), answering the question below. As to the question itself, I’ve been racking my brains to come up with an unusual, witty or quirky poser for you, but my brain has taken a beating from a day of tantrummy toddler. As such, I’m going to have to go with something straightforward and soothing: while you are knitting your Skeppe, you are undoubtedly going to be partaking of a slice of cake or a biscuit. Come on, you know it’s true: it’s pretty much impossible to knit without some form of baked goods on hand. My question is: what will be your knitting nibble of choice, and why? After next Sunday, I’ll pick one answer at random, and the pattern will be winging its way to you. Good luck!