Thursday 26 April 2018

Cosy memories, crazy notions

One of my friend's from my local knit night has recently started knitting socks and started to accumulate sock leftovers, so is considering starting a cosy memories blanket (a mitred square garter stitch sock yarn blanket). I've had one these blankets on the go for the past couple of years, which I started on a whim just after I started knitting socks and accumulating leftovers, and add to once in a while when the mood takes me, so when my friend announced she was thinking of starting one, I said I would bring mine along one week.

My cosy memories blanket is not in the current WIPs pile - I had to dig it out of the archived, not really a WIP pile - as it's not one of my favourite projects. It turns out I am really bad at knitting very simple projects and tend to mess up the positions of the decreases, even when I use stitch markers; and I don't even enjoy knitting endless garter stitch, which is essentially what a cosy memories blanket is.

The blanket was duly admired at knit night - I had forgotten how large it had become over the past couple of years - and then left in the current WIP pile while it waited to be returned to its more usual home. Somehow from its new home it started to call to me, and when I finished my Witches Brew socks I found myself inspired to add another square using the leftovers. And enjoyed it. Apparently some degree of mindless knitting is a good palette cleanser (especially during the hectic Easter holidays).

This blanket is full of memories: of people and people and gifts. And when the weather has still failed to turn into spring (unless spring really is just meant to be showers and grey cloud) it's pretty cosy to work under.

I have no idea if or when this blanket will be finished. Does anyone ever finish these things? The cosy memories blanket has had several mentions on the blog since I started it, and I'm sure there will be more, but don't ask after it: be assured that it is still here, and it is still loved, even if it never becomes an actual thing.

Fancy knitting your own? I'm using this pattern for mine.

Friday 20 April 2018

FO Friday: Witches Brew socks

Over the Easter weekend, my son complained that none of his hand-knitted socks fitted him any more. My son is pretty knit-worthy (he is always first to tell me that his hand-knits need washing so he can wear them again), so I decided that as his feet aren't too enormous (they're about a UK 2), I would cast him on some new socks, as requested.

I was clearly feeling in a decadent mood, and decided to let my son choose what yarn he would like from my stash, so we spent a good half hour rummaging through all my sock yarn, and my son fished out these three beauties (don't worry mum, I don't need all three pairs at once. You can cast-on this yarn first...). These three skeins of yarn also happen to be three of my favourites (he has excellent taste, or maybe I've just trained him well). I did think about saying he couldn't have them as they were resevered for me, then remembered that a lot of the pleasure is in the knitting, so I would get to enjoy them that way, even if I didn't get to wear the finished socks. And I do have a lot of sock yarn.

I had planned another sock cast on for the Easter weekend, but as I already own a lot of socks that fit me, and my feet don't grow, I decided that it would make more sense to cast on the socks for my son immediately.

Rather than working out the measurements for a UK size 2 foot, it's sometimes quicker to draw round the recipient's foot (especially if you have them to hand) and use that as a template for the socks; as an added bonus apparently 6 year olds think having your feet drawn round is highly amusing. I did decline the Sharpie he handed me first - I wasn't sure he'd be amused by having a black line drawn on his actual foot...

To make this a quick and easy project, I used the Fish Lips Kiss pattern, which I have memorised. I don't follow the instructions included in the pattern about getting the foot length right as I find it makes the foot a tiny bit long, instead I measure the length of the toe once it's worked, then add an extra half inch and subtract the total from the length of the foot and start the heel at that point (clear as mud? Good).

I knitted these socks back to back over ten days, but the observant among you will notice that the yarn has pooled differently between the two socks. Somehow between the first and second socks my gauge changed slightly (one sock weighs half a gram more than the other). I have no idea why - I used the same needles throughout - and my son either hasn't noticed or isn't bothered. Variegated yarn is funny!

When I got to the end of the socks I weighed the leftovers, and there is *just* enough yarn left for me to knit some socks for me if I use a contrast yarn for the heels, toes and cuffs! I just need to decide what colour to use for the contrast...


Witches Brew socks Ravelry project page
Pattern: Fish Lips Kiss by Sox Therapist
Yarn: 75% BLF, 25% nylon 4 ply from Felt Fusion in the colourway Witches Brew

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018

Last month I travelled to Edinburgh for the annual Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Edinburgh Yarn Festival has been running for a few years, and is one of the highlights of my knitting calendar. So what did I get up to while I was there?

The day started early - I live in Durham, which is an easy day trip by train from Edinburgh, but to get there for doors opening at 10 am still required a rather early start! The weather was a bit of a surprise, with bitter wind and a little snow, and the day didn't have the best start with the ticket machine in the car park being out of order and the only other option being an automated phone line that refused to understand my accent through the howling gale! I did manage to get the car parked in the end though, and just had time to collect my tickets (and grab a coffee to warm my hands on) before catching the train.

One of the lovely things about travelling to a yarn festival by train is spotting fellow knitters - the people in the seats next to mine were both knitting, and from their conversation I could tell they were definitely on their way to the festival. When we reached Newcastle the seat next to mine also became occupied, by a lovely knitter who lives somewhat locally to me, and we had several friends in common (six degrees of separation is definitely reduced within the knitting world!). We chatted the whole way to Edinburgh, admiring each others projects and yarn, which made the journey go super-quickly.

Having been to Edinburgh Yarn Festival twice before, I knew the bus route, so hopped onto the bus and watched as it filled with fellow knitters along the way (you could mostly tell by the assortment of hand-knitted hats!). I had managed to pick up an advance ticket, which avoided a lot of the queueing; I think the staff let ticket holders in a few minutes early to save us all freezing! Getting in early really helps with browsing without the crowds, so I made sure to start by having a look round the whole of the marketplace. There were so many beautiful things on sale, lots of wonderful hand-dyed yarns from companies I was familiar with, and many that I wasn't. The festival is very much geared towards smaller producers rather than larger companies, and it was lovely to be able to chat to the stall holders before the room got too busy.

Rather than wander aimlessly round the marketplace (which is a sure-fire way for me to blow my budget), I had deliberately picked up a couple of skeins from home that I wanted to buy a third skein to go with so that I can knit them into a Doodler. With this in mind, I wandered round the marketplace hunting for the perfect third skein, taking photos of all sorts of combinations to bear in mind for later.

Two skeins in need of a friend
Potential yarn mates

Once I had looked at most of the stalls in the marketplace, I wandered up to the podcast lounge, where I caught up with lots of people I had met before, and met lots of new people that I chatted to as well. The podcast lounge was much less crowded than in  previous years as the organisers had added an extra marquee to the back of the venue to allow seating for an extra 500 people. It really changed the dynamic of the whole event, and for the better as there was a lot more space to just sit and chat and knit, which is what knitters do best!

I decided that it would be sensible to pop out to get some lunch, for a bit of fresh air if nothing else, and handily the venue is right next to a large supermarket, so I braved the freezing conditions (yes, it was still snowing!) to take a quick walk out of the venue and clear my head. Once I'd had lunch I returned to the festival feeling refreshed, and embarked on more chatting and yarn browsing. I finally found the perfect third skein for my collection - a skein from Undercover Otter via the Stephen and Penelope stand. Stephen West was there, and I was wearing my Dotted Rays shawl but I was far too shy to go and say hello!

My perfect skein...
...and here it is with its friends!

While I had been browsing the festival there was one colourway I kept being drawn to: a vibrant mint green with dark purple speckles. A lot of dyers had variations on the yarn and every one of them was beautiful. For some reason the yarn seemed familiar to me, but I couldn't work out why. After another period of sitting and chatting I realised that I already had a skein of something very, very similar at home!

My favourite skeins had a lot in common with this one!

As the festival was drawing towards its close, I had one final browse of the marketplace. It was really starting to wind down as people were heading off, which allowed much more space to browse. I had looked at the Martin's Lab stall earlier in the day, but it was too crowded to see everything, and when I went back at the end I saw a beautiful cowl made from mini skeins, which I knew I would love to knit and wear. Martin's Lab had both the yarn and the pattern (Soul Warmer by Lete's Knits), so I bought both and am hoping to knit the cowl as my advent project this year.

Perfect last minute purchases

My other purchase on my final look round the marketplace was a skein from The Wool Kitchen that I had eyed every time I walked past it. I have no idea what this skein will become but the colours are perfect and vibrant and so, so beautiful. I might just keep it for a bit to admire.

A flash of colour

By this stage I was pretty tired, but still had a couple of hours before my train was due to leave, so I headed to a coffee shop (within a book shop) to have a sit down and rest my feet. After the busy-ness of the festival, the rest was very welcome!

I dozed for most of the train journey home. The weather was still bad and I was grateful that the trains were still running. There were no excited knitters on this train - I suspect a lot of us were dozing!

Were you at Edinburgh Yarn Festival? What was your favourite bit? What did you buy?

Sunday 15 April 2018

The Yarnometer: March 2018

I have precisely no idea how we are already a quarter of the way through 2018, but somehow it's already time for my monthly look at the ins and outs of my stash.

I had hoped that March would be a little more restrained than February, so let's see how that went...

Projects finished

Ginger the bunny
A rather cute cuddly toy for my daughter, I really enjoyed knitting this, and you can read all about it here.

#USS strike hat
A special request from my brother, and one I was glad to knit, even if it was a bit of a pain at times. A full blog post about it is up now.

Cardigan for a magazine
One I can't share with you at the minute (which is a pity as it's super cute), but I'll be sure to show it to you later in the year.

The ins and outs of yarn

Yarn in
100 g for the #USS strike hat (not that I ended up using it)
320 g of purchases at EYF (which I'll tell you about next week)
100 g Stylecraft Special Dk so I can finish a baby blanket
800 g Aire Valley Aran to finish another project I'm working on
1000 g (yes, 1 kg!) for upcoming projects for Knit Now magazine
120 g Daffodil self-striping yarn from someone else's destash that I couldn't resist

Yarn out
98 g of cardigan leftovers passed on to my mum
289 g of crochet cloud blanket leftovers passed on to my mum
244 g of generic oddments for my mum (she likes to knit blankets and ran out of yarn when she came to visit last at the end of March)

21 g for Flora the Bunny
133 g for the sample cardigan
80 g for the #USS strike hat

Yarn in: 2440 g
Yarn out or used: 865 g
Total: 1575 g

Well that wasn't the success I was aiming for. Not helped by the projects I finished being small ones! There should be at least two blankets being finished in April, which might counterbalance it a bit, but it's also my birthday month, so I fully expect a few additions to sneak in...

Year to date (end of quarter one)
Yarn in: 7097 g
Yarn out: 2474 g
Yarn used: 1977 g
Total: 2646 g

Friday 13 April 2018

FO Friday: #USSstrike hat

Another week, another FO! This one is a special one as it was requested by my very knitworthy brother.

In March a lot of the universities in the UK were taking strike action in an effort to safeguard their pensions. My brother works in the university sector, and wanted a special hat to show solidarity with his fellow strikers. During the strikes, a twitter account had been created for a character called the Dinosaur of Solidarity in support of the strikers, and someone had created a pattern to knit a hat featuring the Dinosaur, which my brother requested.

The hat pattern wasn't the greatest - it suggested 5 mm needles and sock weight yarn. Erm no, that's quite a mismatch! So I ordered some aran weight yarn (a much better match to the needle size) and waited for it to arrive. Of course the yarn got delayed in the post (this was always going to be one of those projects), and when it did finally arrive and I swatched with it I realised the chart was going to be way too tall to fit on the hat at aran gauge, so I had to rummage through the stash to find something else that might work. I came up with some sportweight yarn (Bergere de France Ideal, which I have worked with recently enough to know which needles and gauge would work well with the yarn), and made a few adjustments to the pattern (I cast on 126 sts and removed the serifs from the letters; I also recharted the design so that it had row and stitch numbers, both of which make a chart a lot easier to follow).

The knitting was easy enough - I used a combination of intarsia and stranded colourwork to minimise ends - but I had to do quite a lot of maths when I got to the crown as I only had a few rows to work with when I got to the end of the chart (decreasing at 14 points always seems like a lot!).

Too tall, unravelling required...

The finished hat is great (both kids wanted it - they have no idea what it's about, but loved the dinosaur!). It needed a good wash and block to even out the colourwork, but is now with my brother, who says he likes it. And I've decided that I'm going to knit him another hat with the aran weight yarn I ordered...


#USSstrike hat Ravelry project page (I've included full details about what I did, as well as a copy of my updated chart; I hope they're of use to someone)
Pattern: USS strike hat by Nicki Clarkson
Yarn: Bergere de France Ideal in Alpin (21821), Myosotis (20841) and Linaire (20933)

*Affiliate link.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

The Blanket-along 2018!

Over the past few months, a lot of my friends have announced that they are expecting babies (apparently these things, like weddings, come in clusters!); I think the count is up to 7 already and there are still a good few months left this year! This has rather added to my knitting list, so I thought I'd host a Blanket-along in my Ravelry group to encourage me to get on with some gift knitting (and crocheting).

The rules are simple, all you have to do is be working on a blanket (either knitted or crocheted) and post about your progress in the chatter thread.

My current blanket WIP

The Blanket-along officially started on 31st March 2018, but I am allowing works in progress to be included, so feel free to post in the chatter thread even if your project is ongoing. The end date for the Blanket-along is 30th June 2018, and there will be a finished object thread opening in the next few weeks for you to post your finished blankets to. There is an exception to the works in progress rule: your blanket will only be eligible for prizes in the FO thread if it was started after the start date.

There will be prizes for the Blanket-along: I'll be drawing one winner from the chatter thread (so don't worry if you don't finish your blanket by the end of the Blanket-along) and one from the finished object thread.

What will you make? All these patterns are available in the blanket section of my Ravelry store.

If you use Instagram more than Ravelry, feel free to post some progress photos on there, and either tag me in the caption (@vikkibirddesigns) or use the tag #vbdblanketalong2018 so I get to see your posts.

So what are you waiting for? Head over to Ravelry now, say hello and let me know your blanket knitting plans.

NOTE: You will need to be a member of Ravelry to join in with the Blanket-along; membership is free and Ravelry is an excellent resource for knitters and crocheters.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

New design: Fluffy White Clouds - the crochet version

Over the Easter break I released a brand new pattern, and today I've finally found five minutes to tell you all about it!

Several years ago I released my Fluffy White Clouds baby blanket knitting pattern, and since then it's been my best-selling pattern. Not wanting crocheters to be left out, my latest pattern is Fluffy White Clouds – the crochet version.

The blanket is perfect for spring, and in the traditional colours of sky blue and cream make a beautiful unisex blanket, or you can change the colours to match a nursery or the preferences of the people you're making the blanket for. One of my testers, Jo, made a fantastic high contrast version in cream and black.

Image copyright Johanna Waite

Fluffy White Clouds – the crochet version is made using the mini corner to corner technique. The pattern includes a full colour chart, as well as written instructions for the colour changes. In addition, the pattern features a photo tutorial on the technique, making the project suitable for ambitious beginners.

The sample is crocheted in Paintbox Yarns Simply Aran,* a machine-washable, easy-care yarn that is perfect for babies. The yarn comes in 64 colours, so you'll have plenty of options!

The pattern is available now from my Ravelry store, and until the end of April (11.59pm BST, Monday 30th April 2018) you can get the pattern for just £3.**

Fancy some company while crocheting your blanket? I'm hosting a Blanket Along in my Ravelry group. The Blanket Along will run until the end of June 2018 and there will be prizes. Why not head over there to take a look?***

*Affiliate link.

**No code needed – just add the pattern to your Ravelry basket and the discount will be added automatically when you check out. The pattern is also included in my ongoing 3 for 4 pattern offer – just add four single patterns to your basket and the cheapest will be free when you check out. Only one offer can be applied per basket.

***Working on a different blanket? Everyone is welcome to join in the Blanket Along! And don't worry if you're not going to finish by the end of the Blanket Along, I will be drawing winners from both the chatter and finished object threads.

Friday 6 April 2018

FO Friday: Flora the Bunny

Hello! I have a slightly belated FO Friday for you today - I meant to post this last Friday in time for Easter, but time got the better of me again... A few weeks ago, my daughter made a special project request - this adorable bunny kit that came with issue 85 of Knit Now magazine.

The knitting was pretty straightforward. The only bit that was annoying was the three row stripes on the skirt, which technically meant you couldn’t carry the yarn up the side (I got round this by knitting the skirt on circular needles and sliding the work along the needle at the end of the three row sections so the working yarn in the right colour was in the right place). I quite quickly ended up with a small pile of easily identifiable body parts!

Sewing up was trickier. The instructions has you sew and stuff the body then the legs, which meant stuffing the legs through a tiny hole (I got my three year old to help, her fingers are much smaller than mine!). Less than ideal. At that point I gave up following the instructions and just made it up as I went along. I embroidered the flower and put the skirt on before I put the head on, which made life a bit easier. The bunny had a finishing touch of a big fluffy pompom for a tail, which was so much fun to add (my pompom was a bit bigger than mentioned in the pattern as that was the size of pompom maker I happened to have - kindly loaned by a friend).

Overall I was really happy with this project. The knitting was easy and the final bunny does look like the picture. My daughter loves the bunny, who has now been named Ginger, and has clutched Ginger sufficiently tightly that Ginger’s neck is a tad on the scrawny side, but that happens to a lot of our small toys, handmade or shopbought!


Flora the Bunny Ravelry project page
Pattern: Flora the Bunny by Amanda Berry