Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Toe-up Socks

Handmaker's Factory workshop - April 18th

The way one knits socks is a topic that often polarises knitters - people tend to be very passionate about their preferred methods!   
Many stick with the method they first learned, often through familiarity and sentimentality, which is perfectly fine.  However there is a lot to be said for utilising specific methods for specific results, rather than one–size-fits-all approach.
Both techniques can be knit using your preferred method - dpn’s, two circulars, or magic looping, and both have a vast array of variations to employ to customise to your preferences. 
Toe-up socks have some specific benefits that often make them very appealing to many sock knitters, if for nothing else but the fact that you can try them on as you go and make adjustments as required to ensure perfect fit.

Om Shanti from Socktopus by Alice Yu
There is also the benefit of “maximising your yardage”, something very close to the canny knitter’s heart.  Sock yarns can be expensive, and many people like to either use every last scrap or use up smaller skeins of yarn.  With toe-up socks, you can simply divide your yarn and knit each sock until you run out, instead of guesstimating how much is left as you approach the toes, as with the cuff-down method.
Climb from Journey, by Jane Richmond
Knitting socks from the toe-up is also a seamless method, requiring no Kitchener or “grafting” of stitches (unless you use an afterthought heel, of course!).  you often find the colour sequencing is kept in order better with this method too, which is especially appealing when working with self-striping or patterned yarns.
 I'm teaching a workshop this Saturday at the Handmaker's Factory in Melbourne, where we will be learning all sorts of lovely techniques and tips for making your socks toe-up, including Turkish cast-on, a short row heel that minimises the "gap", and a super-stretchy cast-off.  We'll also be working with the "Magic Loop" technique, a great one to have up your sleeve for not just socks but all sorts of things...including sleeves!

There are a few spots still available for this Saturday's workshop (April 18 - 10am-4.30pm), so if you're keen to have a go, head over to Handmaker's Factory to book in - we'd love to see you there!

Monday, March 30, 2015

waning Summer

Oh my poor neglected blog!  I've been so wrapped up in other things that time has yet again slipped away and it's been weeks in-between visits.  A lot has been happening, so here's a quick recount...

I finished my Farmer McGregor's socks, and I love them so much.

I spoke a little about the yarn (WYS Signature) last post, and nothing's changed my opinon.  It's a great yarn to that has blocked exceptionally well, and I'll definitely be ordering more.

The pattern is the most delicious texture too.  I really love twisted stitch patterns, especially when they are all waffley like this one.

I taught a lovely Beginner's Knitting class at the Handmaker's Factory last weekend.  We had loads of fun working on some sweet little mug cosies and eating cupcakes!

I've got a couple more workshops coming up, so if you're interested head over to Handmaker's website and take a peak.  There's workshops for Toe-up socks, Textured knitting, and Flattering Fit, just to name a few.

My little KAL - The Summer of the Single Skein - is winding up. As we draw close to Easter, the weather here has remained warm and pleasant but you can feel the change in the breeze and I'm definitely ready to start thinking about bigger projects and winter woollies.

My final project for the KAL is Exploration Station, a large shawl by Stephen West.  It was his mystery KAL for 2014, and watching all the progress photos pop up on Instagram, I knew I wanted to make one.  I missed the original KAL, but no big deal.  I actually preferred seeing how the pattern played out because I think colour choices were key to the success or fail of this shawl.  Having the information in advance, I chose this group.

from top left, clockwise: Skein Top Draw Sock "Fig"; Colinette Jitterbug "Oyster Blush"; Waikiwi "Stone"; Cascade Heritage " Plum"

The shawl combines sections of short-row garter wedges to start, then finishes with sections of different stitch patterns.  I've just finished the brioche section which combines Colour B (Skein "Fig") and Colour C (Waikiwi "Stone"), and I'm quite torn...the top photo is the right side, and the variegated Skein is sitting "on top" which is very subtle.  

You can see in the second photo that the solid Waikiwi is on top on the wrong side, and stands out quite a bit more.

I'm not sure whether to rip back and reverse the two?  I do like the obviousness of the cream columns, but I'm also thinking the subtlety of the variegated is nice too?  The next section is slipped stitches in the Waikiwi and Jitterbug , so there will be some dominant cream there - maybe it would be too much to have both?

Oh, I don't know!!  I can't make up my mind to save myself on this one.  What do you think? I tend to over-analyse these things, so any input is welcome!

Finally, I'm on holidays now until after Easter.  My girl and I are heading off to camp by the ocean for the next few days, and I can't tell you how much we need it.  

I'm looking forward to falling asleep to the sound of the waves, and smelling the salt air as I wake up each morning.  I'm also looking forward to just taking time out together.  We'll be switching off for the time away (the teenager thinks it's a travestity being inflicted upon her by a cruel and unloving mother, most definitely but there's nothing new!) so I will see you all when we get back - hopefully renewed and full of energy.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farmer McGregor’s socks

Isn't that just the perfect name for these socks?  Don't they look like "working" socks? 

(working socks in need of a block, but I'm grabbing the chance to blog while I've got it)

In the absence of pigs to feed and chooks to tend, these socks are destined to be my stomping through puddles in boots socks, the socks of Autumn, and warm-toes-cold-noses, and hiking through mountains soaking in the air. Or something like that.

These beautiful twisted stitches are rugged and sturdy looking, especially when paired with this yarn, this colour.  These were definitely not a "quick" knit, which was fine.  There are a few discussions going on at the moment about "slow" or "mindful" knitting, a concept which is reverberating strongly with me and where I want to be right now.   I think having such a  frenzy of knitting to start the year has sated that instant gratification part of my brain which has meant I've been quite happy to simply plod away at these socks and enjoy the process.

socktopus socks knitting yarn

My second knit from Socktopus, and using some WYS Signature 4ply (75%wool – inc 35%BFL – with 25% nylon) that I ordered from the UK last year.

It’s been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a book of knitting patterns, I admit.  The last one was Journey by Shannon Cook and Jane Richmond (I really love that book!).  As mentioned last post, I borrowed Socktopus from our local library but I’ve decided that I like it enough to purchase my own copy to have on hand and work my way through at my own pace.

sock yarn wool british heritage
photo credit: WYS
The West Yorkshire Spinners yarn was one I had been wanting to try, having not knowingly used BFL in socks previously.  I say knowingly, because I feel like until very recently there was a true lack of fibre content displayed on ball bands other than “Merino” which is often used as a broad and non-specific term covering a broad range of fibre.

BFL is known for its strong fibres, making it a good candidate for socks.  In the ball, it felt squishy and soft to the touch but that belied the handle once knitted up at sock gauge.  This is a sturdy yarn.  I haven’t blocked these yet, but I am quiet confident this is going to be a good wearing fabric.

The colours available are a good mix of brights and earthy neutrals in the colour range for this yarn, as well as a complimentary range of prints.  It’s well pricepointed too, even with the exchange rate, although shipping is always the kicker.  I bought small this order, but I would probably consider stocking up next order to maximise the shipping costs.

Looking at the colours and style of these socks, I’d say my thoughts are probably with Autumn wouldn’t you?!  How are you all going as we transition from Summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere?  I have to say I think Autumn is just about my favourite season in Melbourne, so as far as I'm concerned let's bring it on!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Growing up in my house, you could often hear my mother declaring with a defiant pride that any recipe requiring her to “cream the butter and sugar” would be thrown out.  If you couldn’t melt ‘n’ mix it, it was deemed “too much pfaffing about”!  We’d often laugh about it, and it became a bit of a running premise of our home.  Looking after a family as well as working, Mum wasn’t much one for anything that required her to pfaff.

In some ways, I’ve recently realised that I’ve taken a part of this on board in perhaps not such a good way for me via my knitting of late.  I’ve noticed I’ve been slowly rejecting more and more patterns if they call for something such as an unfamiliar cast-on, or a technique I’m not proficient at.  Becoming set in my ways it seems, as the effort required to attempt something new becomes seen no longer as a challenge but an uncomfortable inconvenience. And all of a sudden, this struck me as rather silly.  I had always supposed myself as an adventurous person, willing to tackle new things in the aim of keeping the mind active and the creative brain stimulated but in fact I now recognise that I actually don’t seek being in situations where I’m short of accomplished!

In an effort to rectify this, I decided to actively seek new skills and embrace the discomfort as part of the process.   As luck happened, whilst collecting another book I had on hold from our local library I glanced quickly at the knitting section, not expecting much I hadn’t seen before but to my delight I found Socktopus – a collection of beautiful sock patterns by Alice Yu all using different and interesting stitch patterns and construction methods.

Socks are a great way to try out a new technique, I reckon.  They’re also great projects to work on while doing the daily work-commute.  Being small, there is the obvious advantage that they are very portable (especially when I’m magic-looping - I switched from my beloved dpns to magic after dropping one tiny dpn in a crowded peak hour carriage one day and having to scramble awkwardly to retrieve it, amidst legs and bags and looks of annoyance from those around me) but they also are great sources of different techniques.

My first choice of project from this book was OmShanti.  Having been a devout yoga fan for over 15 years, the name immediately drew my attention. I’ve just recently returned to a daily practise (which has made me feel so good I question my thinking of why I ever gave it up?) and these little ankle booties will be perfect for Savasana, when the body can chill very quickly as it succumbs to mindful peace.  

The added bonus was the stitch pattern looked just perfect to show off some speckled handpaint yarn I’d been squirrelling, and the construction was one I’d never attempted before.  Tick, tick, TICK! all the boxes.  

The pattern provided the opportunity to try quite a few new-to-me techniques so it was perfect. I learnt:  toe-up sock using a provisional cast on (love it!); short row toes and heels in garter stitch (love them!), and Latvian braid and stranded rib (liked the end result, but perhaps not enough to warrant the fiddly process!)

 The yarn itself is so beautiful.  It’s the something sock base from Republic of Wool in the colourway “Thrasher” and the way it knits up in both garter stitch and the slip stitch pattern nearly makes me weep I love it so much.  I’ve had it on hold in the wings for some time now, just waiting for a good showcase project.  This, my friends, is the project!  I really do think this is my favourite pairing of yarn/pattern ever.

This project has also been an excellent summation of a number of aspects of my life at present; a period of growth on numerous levels; a beautiful, mindful link to my yoga practise, which has given me so much solace during a recent stressful and emotional times; and a rediscovery of how good accomplishment feels even with the accompanying discomfort!   We are often reminded in yoga practise that the very asanas your find yourself resisting are most likely the exact ones you need.  If that isn’t the perfect analogy on this subject, I don’t know what is.  Discomfort (as distinguished from pain) is not a bad thing every now and then.

Using a special skein of yarn that seemed almost too perfect to see any pattern and the pure bliss of sitting with a special yarn, and reflecting on a knitting project as a piece but also a mindful practise, has been a truly lovely experience. 

Every time I look at my feet in these socks, I smile and feel content.  They snug my tootsies in such a delicious way, and the specks of colour against the mint and dove-grey base provide many moments of glee as I discover different little harmonies of colourplay.

How much happiness can be wrapped up in two little booties I don’t know, but there it is.  Pure delight.  

Om Shanti, friends.   May your knitting be delightful and your world contains some peace and contentment this week.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


To follow on from last week's post, I had been planning to chat about another colourwork project this week, but for one reason and another I haven't been able to get myself together to put the finishing touches on it.  Plus I couldn't seem to get the right light to photograph it in it's best advantage - the colours are quite unusual and hard to capture.  So I conceded that there was something in those facts, and it probably wasn't meant to be this week's post.

On the other hand, I finished another piece early this week and it was catching my thoughts and eye every time I passed it on the back of the desk chair, waiting patiently for it's photographs.  So today we'll go with the flow and digress the conversation from colourwork and move to textures.

Back in the era when novelty yarns were experiencing such popularity they were carried everywhere including supermarkets and $2 shops, and you could almost count on seeing scarves adorning the necks of at least half a dozen people passing by, texture in relation to knitting was almost a dirty word.

Me, I love textures.  I like watching how different textural elements combine; how they throw off light and shade; how they sit next to each other and interplay.  The juxtaposition of soft and hard, geometric and organic, and the dimensions they lend a knitted piece, are all very interesting concepts to me.

Texture can obviously be experienced via several modes such as stitch patterns like lace, cables, and rib variations – and it can also be created using yarns.  The novelty yarns really have a lot to answer for, as far as the bad rap texture has had over the years because when you think about it, everything we knit even if it’s completely plain stocking stitch, has a texture so it's not really something unusual about knitting, or even that remarkable.  From the halos of mohair and alpaca, to slubby tweeds and smooth merino yarns, and then the large range of plant-based fibres with their variance of smooth through to almost jute-like final fabrics, there is an inherent texture.

It's a fine line between interesting and novelty though, so when I was trying to work out what to make with some Habu I've been saving I was particularly conscious of using the textures in the best way possible.  When using different yarn bases to explore texture, I think a monochromatic palette is interesting. Taking colourplay out of the picture usually means other elements step to the forefront, much like using black and white for photography instead of full colour.

I’ve carried the particular yarns I chose for this project for 5 years, and kept them so safely stored from potential harm that they have almost been enshrined in my mind.

wool silk yarn knitting

knitting yarn mohair lace

texture knitting lace paper linen yarn

They were a decadent purchase at the time, on one of my early trips to Bendigo Sheep & Wool Show in 2010. I purchased these three black yarns from Dairing with the original idea being I would somehow entwine all three varying textures into one ever-so-stylish scarf.  Despite many attempts, I never found the right vehicle for the trio.

Finally, via the impetus of The Summer of the Single Skein, I decided it was time and I sat down with all three to really work out some potential ideas.  After playing around with options it became apparent that to make it work one of the yarns might have to go, and the mohair was the most logical to be benched. 

I’d attempted a Camomile earlier in the year using Isager yarns but hadn’t been happy with the colour choices I’d made and couldn’t settle on an acceptable alternative so I’d shelved the project.

Working with the Habu Paper Moire and Tsumugi as a combination seemed like a good option to allow a revisit the pattern, and to overcome the different meterage I had (paper moire 284m, tsumugi 411m) I logically decided the paper moire would be the yarn that was dropped.  To further show the unique texture of the paper moire, I worked those rows in garter, and the single tsumugi rows in stocking stitch.

There’s a delicate side to those little paper flutters of the paper moire, but the handle of both the yarn and the subsequent fabric is actually rather “crunchy”.  One review on Ravelry compared it to steel wool, which I could relate to.  It wasn't the most of pleasant textures to handle during the knitting, but pairing it with the tsumugi added some substance and tempered it slightly.  Now that the piece is blocked, both yarns have relaxed into each other considerably also.

As the end crept closer, I was really hoping I will still have enough tsumugi to do a modified edging.  Thankfully, I did.  In fact, I even have a modest amount left over, but at this stage no idea on what I could possibly use it for.  Perhaps it will actually end up seeing the mohair in a mix somehow?

As I was knitting, I keep looking at the alternating stripes and there was a niggling fear that I’d just replicated a fun fur shawl.  I kept begging of people; just please don’t tell me it looks like Feathers?!

As with most laceweight knitting; it's amazing what a good block can do for it though.

(seriously though, don't tell me it looks like Feathers!)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Colourwork in a flash

I've spent some time this passed week getting to know my knitting machine, and having a bit of a play around with punch cards.

Colourwork is incredibly quick on a machine.  Well, when I say quick, I should clarify.  

Once I get passed the 2 days of frustration and bewilderment as to exactly why it's not working; the numerous cast-ons only to realise I've forgotten to flick a switch to position B, or I've threaded it wrong, or the tension is too tight/loose, or as I pass the carriage over for the seemingly simple row, half a dozen $*&#% stitches jump off the hooks and run aalllllll the way down - then, after all this, it's incredibly quick.

I was determined to pass on at least some small thing to the very friend that I got this sweet machine off, before she sets off on her adventure to live in Scotland.  It seemed only fitting that small thing be a piece of machine knitted colourwork.  It tied in a good deal of things I've been lucky to learn from her since meeting up in 2013, and I felt very proud to hand these over to her last week at lunch.  I did not, however, manage to get a photo of them completed!

Once I found my stride, I went in search of more yarn and came across two balls of Jo Sharp Alpaca Silk Georgette.  I think this yarn has now been discontinued?  It's a lovely alpaca blend in sportweight and I'd picked up these two contrasting colours in a sale. Two balls of sportweight isn't quite enough with which to do much, though.  I settled on a small cowl, buttoned for ease of getting on/off.

The yarn went through the machine beautifully, and the high contrast swan white and charcoal have worked together in such a perfect way.  I handknit the ribbed bands because although I know you can simulate rib, and create buttonholes on a knitting machine, my skill are not there yet.  I personally also like the blend of machine and hand.

Buttons gleaned from my recently felted (sob) cardigan were a perfect match, and the cowl was quickly snaffled up by Lily with her now-patented trick of "Oh! Did you make that for me?!".  I might secretly decide that we'll share it though.

There was even more colourwork experimentation, but I might save that for the next post.  It involves a Very Special Skein, and I think this one deserves it's own day in the sun.

I did a quick progress shot of my Summer of the Single Skein progress yesterday and I'm happy so far.  Depending on your interpretation of when Summer "ends", I feel like we are at the halfway mark?  March seems like as good a time as any to wind things up and start thinking about Autumn, don't you think?

How are all your special skein plans working out?  Are you planning or winging it?  I'm doing a little of column A, a little of column B.  Don't forget to tag your projects with #summerofthesingleskein on Instagram, or do a bit of show-and-tell over on the Ravelry group - we've got over 100 members to date, and lots of inspirational posts, chat and encouragement.

Friday, January 16, 2015

All about the marle

The Summer of the Single Skein is rocking along nicely, thanks to everyone who's jumped on board!  There's an enthusiastic lot of discussions going on over in the Ravelry group with people posting their plans, WIP's and FO's.  It's always so exciting to see not only what others are making but also their gusto as they embrace a new project or concept.  Feel free to come and join the discussion!

I'm really enjoying getting some things on (and off) the needles, and finally using up some of my special skeins.  It's funny too - what's "special" to me.  It might not look like anything out of the ordinary to others, but to me there is something about that yarn that has kept it in the must-find-perfect-project section of the stash.

This fortnight, I've really gravitated towards my collection of marled skeins which, again, have been too precious to use for some time now.

Within this group, I had two balls of Zara Chine which is your fairly standard 8ply merino I guess, so what makes it special?  This particular shade reminded me of composition notebooks from the minute I saw it, and I had big plans to make chunky slouchy socks with it but could never bring myself to cast on.  Truth be told, I'm not really a great fan of DK weight socks and I didn't want to waste my precious skeins. 

In the end, I made a squishy ribbed beanie in the style of Sons of Anarchy's Opie (oh how I miss that tall drink of water).  

samcro SOA hat beanie knitting

It was a good decision.  I absolutely loved the way the wool knitted up into a subtle marle fabric, and the resulting beanie is exactly the type I like to wear.

The pattern was a freebie found here.  For a simple beanie, it was well written with a nice variation on the crown shaping and a good amount of slouch.  It's one size only and I'd say it's a men's but I have a head on the larger side of women's standard sizing so combined with the 2x2 ribbing, it fits me really well. 

Adding to the marled knits this week was some more socks, using Lang Jawoll that I specially ordered last year from England.  Then promptly put into the Precious Stash Section.

knitted knitting socks marled lang jawoll marle handmade

The colourway is Baker's Twine and I fell in love with it from the get go.  It's one of those perfect blends of blue and white that makes me think of vast oceans and coastal skies.  

As a sock yarn, this one is on the lightweight side (think Opal) which does make them good for Summer, however I think if I use the other skeins I have of it for more socks, I will most likely go up in stitch count and down in needle size though.  The fabric is almost too loosely knit as I have done it, and I do worry about how they might stand up to wear?

Because I was keen to let the the marle stand on it's own, I decided to use my standard 60sts/2.5mm pattern base in a 3x1 rib.  To avoid too much purling, I knit the leg cuff 3 knit, 1 purl then when I got to the heel flap I flipped it inside out so the previously purl stitches became knit stitch spines.  Once I hit the foot, there were only the top stitches to purl so it really wasn't any more painful than knitting any other stitch pattern on socks.

Again, I really like the marled fabric this wool created.  It makes me so happy to see those flecky stitches coming together, and got me thinking about all the other skeins in my stash that I could probably combine to create the same effect.  Possibilities abound.

It's one of my favourite parts of the creative process, those moments when one thought or experiment begets another and so on and so on.  I need to remember to look for it more often and take notice when it unexpectedly pops up, one of my goals for 2015.

What's exciting you this week, and getting your creative flow going?