Monday, 22 August 2022

How much yarn should you take on holiday?

When I was at university, I was the student who always took *all* my course books home during the holidays, planning on intensive revision sessions that never happened (hindsight is a wonderful thing: when you consider that I studied Chemistry and all the course texts where enormous books covering the whole of organic, inorganic or physical chemistry, I realise now that I could have carried a much smaller suitcase for all those holidays!).

Fast forward a few years to when I had finished studying: I became the optimistic knitter who thought that with all their ‘time off’ during the holidays they would catch up on all their planned knitting. I would pack all my active WIPs, then maybe another project just in case the mood took me. Bear in mind that I also had children by this point, and realistically was never going to get through 4 kg of yarn in a week or two!

It turns out that a holiday with kids is not any less work than being at home with them (especially with tired children having ‘danger naps’ in the car after a busy day out – they never go to bed at a sensible time on holiday, so evenings are short). The holidays where I do more knitting than I do at home are the ones where I have long train journeys on my own! 


The two-project approach

At some point I changed my approach, finally realising it was futile to take all that yarn with me. Now I only take two projects with me on holiday.

The first project is a small easily portable project, almost always a sock. Something I can always have with me and add a row here and there.

The second project is a bit more complicated, maybe something with intarsia or cables, or a new project like a sweater cast on. I can work on this in the evenings when the kids are asleep.

This summer, I went away for two weeks and followed my two-project approach: one pair of socks for my husband, and one freshly cast-on project: a tee for me. 


How much did I add to my projects while I was away?

The socks I packed this year were a repurposed WIP. I had cast on a pair of socks for my husband, but made a poor choice for the yarn for the leg – the colour had pooled in a very strange pattern, so I chose a different yarn for the leg (a fabulous self-striping rainbow: Head Over Heels by Stylecraft* - I’m using the Be You colourway and have the Be Bold version ready for another cast on later in the year), pulled the sock back to the bottom of the cuff and joined in the new yarn. By the end of two weeks away, I had knitted… the leg of the first sock! It looks great, and will be my out and about project for the next couple of months.

How my sock started the holiday...

Late night sock knitting
...How my sock finished the holiday

The tee is Colin, You Flutter Me by The Woolly Badger**, a summer tee that I am knitting in a great value cotton yarn: James C. Brett It’s Pure Cotton DK in Navy. I had barely started the tee when we set off for our holiday, and have now completed the yoke and started on the body. Definitely worth me taking it away with me, but I’m not convinced I’ll have finished it by the end of the summer. The project is going to be my TV watching knitting for the next few weeks – I’m determined to finish it rather than putting it away as a WIP, even if I don’t get to wear it this year.

Yarn for my tee

Swatch time! Cotton stretches - always block your cotton swatch
Mid-holiday progress...

Holiday end progress!

What’s your approach to holiday knitting?

How much knitting do you pack for a holiday? Do you knit more when you’re at home, or when you’re away? Let me know in the comments.

*Affiliate link.

**Ravelry link. May affect people with photosensitivity, proceed with caution.

Monday, 8 August 2022

Review: The Sock Knitting Bible by Lynne Rowe

A few week's ago, I shared my Twisting Pathways Socks, which are published in The Sock Knitting Bible by Lynne Rowe.** This week, I’m taking a closer look at the rest of the book. 

The Sock Knitting Bible,** published by David and Charles Books, is a complete guide to knitting your own socks, including step-by-step instructions for three basic sock constructions, as well as tutorials on lots of different types of heels, toes and cuffs. To round the book off, there are ten exclusive knitting patterns designed by independent knitting designers.

The book starts with an introductory section that includes sock anatomy, how to measure your feet and what size sock to cast on, as well as information on what yarn and needles to use, and how to swatch and check gauge. This section contains loads of invaluable information, which can really help when you’re getting started knitting socks. One minor negative is that the sock sizing chart does not include average foot circumferences, and that it only goes up to a UK 12, which is fine for most people, but I know several people whose feet are larger than that.

The sock recipes chapter includes full step-by-step tutorials on knitting three types of sock: cuff down (heel flap and gusset), toe up (short-row heel) and two needle socks (heel flap and gusset), as well as an assortment of customisations – adding contrast sections, scrappy socks, shortie socks and socks without heels. This chapter also includes variations on various sock sections: cuff types, heel types and toe types, which is great if you want to mix and match. 

The sock patterns included in the book are all beautiful. They are written with beginners in mind, so are mostly at the simpler end, with some more complex cables, lace and colourwork included for more adventurous knitters. The patterns included are all exclusive to the book:

Sloping Hills by Winwick Mum – nice, simple socks with a textured pattern

Under the Stars by Emma Potter – fabulous heavier weight socks with sequins

Twisted Pathways by me – Read about them on last week’s blog post

Spring Lace by Emma Fletcher – Pretty lace socks

Bracken Cables by Olivia Villareal – Simple cabled socks with twisted stitches

Summer Meadows by Carmen Jorissen – Gorgeous colourwork socks

Autumn Berries by Kaitlin Bathold – Lovely lace columns

Red Sky At Night by Abby Brown  – Bold colourwork socks

Beads of Dew by Anniken Allis – All-over lace with beaded detailing

Winter Snow by Kerstin Balke – Colourwork socks with stripes breaking up the colourwork sections

The pattern section has great photography throughout, and the colour palette for the projects is really cohesive. All the patterns come in at least three sizes, and include the construction details, as well as suggestions on yarn substitution, and both charts and written instructions, which makes them really user-friendly.

The final section of the book is the tutorial section, which features tutorials on knitting in the round, types of cast on, basic stitches, reading charts, increasing and decreasing, adding beads, picking up stitches, working cables, colourwork, short rows, casting off, finishing your project, and blocking. This section is really comprehensive, and includes lots of helpful illustrations.

Overall, The Sock Knitting Bible is beautifully presented, with fabulous photography that really shows all the details of the patterns and techniques included. The text is well-spaced out, with plenty of white space, making it easy to concentrate on the instruction you’re working from. This is a great resource for anyone starting their sock knitting journey, and is also a great book for experienced sock knitters – I would happily knit any of the patterns in the book.

Want to buy a copy? You can pick up your copy now from Blackwell’s.**

Note: The book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

**Affiliate link.


Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Twisting Pathways Socks

In January 2021, or maybe it was February, certainly in one of the deeper, darker bits of the pandemic, and there was definitely snow on the ground, I got a message out of the blue from Lynne Rowe (The Woolnest), who was in the process of writing a new book about sock knitting and asked if I wanted to contribute a pattern. The timing wasn’t ideal – we were in a period of pandemic-induced home-schooling, and I was really struggling to fit work around the children, but I have followed Lynne for a long time, and as someone who loves books and thrives on deadlines, I found that I couldn’t say no.

The brief was a very specific one: the socks had to be toe-up, cabled and have an afterthought heel. I played around with lots of different ideas: cables large and small, complex and straightforward, before settling on the cable I used in the pattern. I was allowed to choose whatever yarn I wanted for the pattern, so got in contact with Eden Cottage Yarns, whose yarn I had used before for my Seed Head Socks,* and they offered me a skein of Eden Cottage Yarns Tempo in the colourway Misty Woods, a beautiful pale green that really shows off a stitch pattern well.

Skein of Eden Cottage Yarns Tempo in the colourway Misty Woods

This project had quite a tight deadline, which meant I had to work with real focus to get the socks knitted in time. I also had to learn to wrangle the cables in the pattern – there are a few ways to create a three-way cable, and they way you work them does seem to affect the finished look, so I had to make sure I was consistent and that I included instructions that were detailed enough for anyone knitting the pattern to get the finished effect to be just as I had intended. I really wish I had taken a photo of the inside of these socks to show how lovely and flat the cables lie on the wrong side, but that will have to wait until I eventually get the sample back.

Twisting Pathways socks in progress

I called the socks the Twisting Pathways Socks, and love how they turned out. I had just enough time to photograph the socks on blockers before I posted them off to the publisher. Just look at that beautiful stitch pattern!

The finished socks

Want to knit your own Twisting Pathways Socks? The pattern is available now in The Sock Knitting Bible by Lynne Rowe.** The book has also been translated into French, and the Twisting Pathways Socks have made it onto the cover of that edition!

The Sock Knitting Bible

Want to add the pattern to your Ravelry queue? You can find the pattern page here:*

The Twisting Pathways Socks in the book

*Ravelry link. May affect people with photosensitivity, proceed with caution. The Seed Head Socks are also available on PayHip.

**Affiliate link.


Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Blocking: a cautionary tale

How do you block your knits? I generally soak them in tap water for about 10-20 minutes (without any detergent), squeeze out any excess water, roll them in a towel to get them a bit drier (I usually stamp on the towel to get them as dry as possible), then lay them out flat to dry. I used to dry them outside on days when the weather was good, but today I'm going to share a cautionary tale about what can happen when you dry your knits in the open air...

A few years ago, I had been working on a Breton-inspired children's jumper and I was really pleased with how it had turned out: fresh and cute, and my daughter loved it, so I was hoping it would get plenty of wear.

As the sun was shining, I soaked the jumper over breakfast, squeezed the excess water out into a towel and laid the jumper out on blocking mats in the garden to dry. I then went out for the day as planned.

When I got home after lunch I went to the garden to pick up the jumper, and was pleased that it was nice and dry. But on closer inspection it wasn't quite the same as when I had left it. The front of the jumper had yellowed slightly. My immediate thoughts were sun damage (which seemed unlikely, while the sun had been hot the jumper had only been out for a few hours), or some sort of dust. I threw the jumper in the washing machine on a wool cycle, hoped for the best, and posted a photo to Instagram in case any one had any useful advice.

A couple of people suggested pollen, which seemed reasonable as the pollen count has been really high that day. I set about using the internet to research ways to get pollen out of clothes, and while there are many, many helpful suggestions, most involve using biological stain removers, which won't work on wool.

When the jumper had finished washing I fished it out of the machine, hoping that it would have returned to its original state. No such luck. I soaked it a couple of times in cold water, to no avail, then squeezed the water out and hung it out (inside, on a clothes rail) to dry, hoping that it would look better when dry.

When my husband got home from work he took a look at the jumper too, and quickly concluded that it was indeed sun damaged. And irretrievable.

I had dried knitwear in the sun many times, and never had any problems, but having done some more research, many yarn companies say not to dry yarn in direct sunlight, but none of them say why. It would appear this is the reason: wool is fragile and scorches easily, so my advice is never to dry knitwear in direct sunlight. And while I'm at it, wear sunscreen; if the sun can do this to yarn, imagine what it can do to your skin.
This happened a few years ago now, and I never dry my knits in direct sunlight any more. They're fine in the shade, but I usually stick to drying them indoors, just in case I forget to move them before the sun moves on to them.
My tale of blocking woe wasn't a complete disaster. While I did knit an entire second sample in a different colourway, I did manage to take some photos of the original sample for the pattern, just don't look too closely or you might see that the jumper features two shades of white! 

Have you ever had any blocking disasters?

Pattern is From Breton with Love, available on Ravelry* and LoveCrafts (affiliate link).


*Ravelry link - may affect people with photosensitivity, proceed with caution.
Note: a version of this blog post was published on this blog in 2017. You can find the original post here.


Tuesday, 28 June 2022

How long does it take to knit a pair of socks?

Earlier this year a friend asked how long it takes me to knit a pair of socks? Obviously, it depends on several factors: the size of sock, the thickness of the yarn, how much free time I have, whether the sock is plain or is significantly more involved than vanilla, and let’s be honest, how much I’m enjoying the project! A pair of baby socks might take me a couple of evenings, likewise some adult socks in aran weight yarn, while a pair of vanilla socks will generally take me between two weeks and a month. Once in a while I’ll fall in love with a project, and will whizz through it, abandoning all other tasks to get them finished. That happened with my Three Sirens Socks and I knitted them in under four days, even though they are relatively large (UK size 9.5), and have patterning all down the front of the sock. Some socks linger for months or even years, usually if I’ve made an error and don’t feel like fixing them, or can’t quite remember what had gone wrong with them. 

Three Sirens Socks

To try and get a more general answer to the question, I ran a poll in my Instagram stories to see how long it took other people to knit a pair of socks, and here’s what I found: 9% of respondents took 1 week or less; 36% took 1-2 weeks; another 35% took 2 weeks to a month; while the remaining 19% took longer than a month. From that, I learnt that most people take somewhere between a week and a month to knit a pair of socks.

Does that answer the question though? Different people have different amounts of free time. Maybe the people who take less than a week to knit a sock are knitting for 4 hours a day, while those who take a month only knit for half an hour a day. So I asked myself, how many HOURS does it take to knit a pair of socks? The easiest way to answer the question was to time myself knitting a sock…

I cast on a standard-for-me sock: 64 sts, 2 mm needles (I knit loosely – I get 32 sts to 10 cm on 2 mm needles), UK size 9 (approximately 26.5 cm foot length) in West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4 ply in the colourway Sherbet Fizz (I think this colourway is discontinued, current colourways can be found here*), and timed each knitting session as I created a top-down, heel-flap-and-gusset sock.

How long did it take me to knit the pair? I confess I only timed the first sock, but that took 7 hours and 33 minutes, not including any time needed to wind yarn or block the sock, but I did include weaving in the ends. Which gives a total of 15 hours and 6 minutes for a complete pair.

I do knit quite fast, so it’s entirely possible that you might take longer to knit a pair, or maybe you’re super-speedy and take far less time. But it did show me that at a rate of an hour a day it wouldn’t take me more than about 2 weeks to knit a pair of vanilla socks, or a month at half an hour a day. I should definitely factor this in when planning gift knitting – I always leave it until the last minute and wonder why it’s a frantic hurry to finish the second sock.

Have you ever timed how long it takes to knit a pair of socks? Were you faster or slower?

*Affiliate link.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Let's hear it for purple!

Whether it’s the shade of a particular chocolate wrapper, amethyst geodes, or alliums growing in a flower bed, purple really is my favourite colour - I even use it as the main colour in my branding! 

The Vikki Bird Designs logo features a lot of purple

For a long time the only way to get purple dye was to use the mucus of a particular type of sea snail. Yuck. And expensive! The dye was so expensive it was only affordable to rulers, royalty and aristocracy. In 1856, William Perkin developed a synthetic purple dye, Mauveine, which brought the cost down and made purple accessible to a much larger portion of society.

Hazel in Caramel socks in a lovely rich purple

During the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee at the start of this month, the official colours of the celebrations were not the ubiquitous red, white and blue, widely associated with the union flag, but platinum (the metal associated with 70th anniversaries) and Pantone 3515 C, the rich purple that has long been associated with royalty. The jubilee was marked by a 4-day weekend, which I took as a sign to cast on some new socks. For the past few years, Jodi at Cuddlebums (one of my favourite indie dyers) has dyed up a special sock set to knit up over the long Easter weekend; Jodi decided to do the same for the jubilee weekend, and I treated myself to a set. I love all the colourways that Jodi dyes - they’re all inspired by rainbows - but when this one arrived, I was extra-excited because it was in my favourite colour: purple! The mini skein accent was a platinum grey, which was very on trend for the weekend.

Jubilee yarn by Cuddlebums

I loved knitting my very purple socks over the course of the weekend. To add a little extra fun, I used the polls feature in my Instagram stories to create a ‘choose your own adventure’ game. Based on the answers given, I ended up knitting a picot cuff, eye of partridge contrast heel, and a lace patterned foot. Watching the little rainbows emerge was such a joy - on some rows every single stitch was a different colour! The final socks look pretty cute too, and I’m in the process of writing up the pattern - would you be interested in knitting your own pair? Let me know in the comments.

A rainbow in every round!

Fabulous purple rainbow socks

Can’t wait for this pattern to come out? Why not check the sock patterns I’ve already published? You can find them on Ravelry* and PayHip.

*Ravelry may affect people with photosensitivity. Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Watching through the window

Beach knitting - simple afterthought heel socks

Do you knit when you’re out and about? I almost always have my knitting on me - in the car, at the beach, in doctors waiting rooms, at the park, at soft play, at my kids swimming lessons, at the cinema, on public transport. I like having something to do that isn’t scrolling through my phone, so I feel productive; I can have a conversation while I knit, so I feel more sociable; knitting round and round is almost meditative and calms me down, which is sometimes needed while waiting anxiously for an appointment. 

Cafe knitting - stripey socks using leftover yarn

There have been many times when my knitting has started conversations. People in waiting rooms tell me fondly about relatives who once knitted, or about their own knitting or other crafting interests. I’m always happy to answer polite questions (especially from small children, who are always fascinated, and often want to know what I’m doing). Sometimes a few questions turn into a long conversation, a conversation that moves from knitting to other subjects, and before we know it, time has passed and we have to move on, but my knitting has grown a little bit more as I continue to knit while we chat.

Soft play knitting - a new pattern I'm working on

More soft play knitting - pattern coming later this year

People rarely have anything bad to say about my knitting. They admire my productivity, that I am not just scrolling mindlessly. But a couple of weeks ago, I had an encounter while knitting that unnerved me a little: I was sat by the window at a little soft play in a shopping centre, knitting away quite happily, when a lady stood by the window and started staring at my knitting. She didn’t interact, just stared. And it felt weird. As the staring was through a window, and the lady didn’t say anything to me, I couldn’t tell whether she was a knitter who wanted to ask questions, or someone who found it fascinating, or maybe they just liked the colour, or maybe they were judging me for knitting and not actively playing with my child (who was happily playing with their friends). The staring lasted a lot longer than I was comfortable with, but the lady did eventually move on.

Knitting with coffee

Has something like this ever happened to you? How would you have dealt with such an encounter? A friendly wave through the window? Holding the knitting up to show it off? I feel like I need something in my arsenal in case it happens again. Let me know in the comments.