Big knotty black nightmare

Jane Sowerby describes this pattern in Victorian Lace Knitting thus:

“While intense concentration is required in knitting this piece initially, it is not difficult once the layout is understood.”


She’s not kidding.

Knitted lace is patterned in both directions. Lace knitting is patterned in one direction and then plain-knitted in the other direction. Lace knitting means if you make a mistake you can go back to the last ‘plain’ row and pick up from there. However, with knitted lace you’re patterning (looping yarn over the needle, usually) both ways so it’s completely impossible to rip back – there are no ‘safe’ rows with complete stitches where you can just pop them all back on the needle and carry on. So if you make a mistake you’re faced with either having to ‘tink’ – knit backwards – to the mistake and fix it, or rip out the whole lot. What you see here is an acknowledgement that, actually, my concentration and knitterly dedication are insufficient to the task.


A lifeline (the stripe of yellow yarn near the top). It became an obvious necessity after three times of frogging the whole lot before I’d knit two inches. The first frog was caused by an error I noticed three rows back, the second when I apparently could no longer count to eight and the third was after an exciting bit in the film I was watching (The Punisher, to my shame) that made me jerk the needles so that three stitches fell off. They couldn’t be picked up and that was when I decided to start using a lifeline. It acts as a ‘safe’ row – any screwups can be ripped back to there and picked up again because the line holds the stitches like a spare needle. You pull it out and reinsert it as you go, so you’re never too far from a safe row.


The thing that’s driving me really potty is that I can’t learn the pattern. I’ve got the middle section off pat, but I cannot get my head around the side diamonds – I always want to either increase or decrease in the wrong direction. Still, at least I can autopilot the middle, which is very necessary because I’ve been mainlining Gilmore Girls while I knit this. Three episodes just about equals two repeats of the centre and a whole repeat of the border. That’s sixteen rows. Yes, sixteen rows in about two hours. It’s slow work but I’m getting there – all other projects are on hold at the moment because if I don’t tackle this solidly it’ll just never get done and every time I leave it I forget the pattern all over again. The pattern specifies a certain number of repeats but I had more yarn than it called for so I bunged in an extra pattern repeat in the middle (five columns of rose-petals rather than four) and I’m just going to keep going until I’ve got just enough left for the end border. It is going to be pretty, though – lace never looks like anything special when you’re knitting it, but then you block…


Excuse me, I have an appointment in Stars Hollow.

Knitting = cooking but with sticks and string

I’ve opined before how similar knitting is to cooking in some respects. For example you generally can’t afford to just throw away your mistakes – you either have to wear them or eat them. The analogy also applies in terms of the things you cook (or knit) so often that you don’t need a recipe – you know enough to vary the details around the edges but you basically do the same core thing every time. So a casserole is a casserole is a casserole – brown the meat, braise the veg, add liquid, put in oven for some hours. A sock is a sock is a sock – it needs a heel, a toe and some length. You might use cider rather than wine, you might use 2×2 rib rather than 1×1. But in essence, these are recipes/patterns you can produce without concentrating all that much.

Which is probably why I don’t generally go for long recipes or patterns. When you’re used to just banging through a process, having to stop and consult a printed page every two minutes really interrupts your flow. I can just about stand it with baking, but if I’m trying a complicated dish or something where you need half a teaspoon of this, half a teaspoon of that, quarter of a teaspoon of the other I tend to get impatient and sloppy. Obviously that’s not mad crucial if you’re cooking (though – Top Tip – you really can’t afford to be free and easy with nam pla) but if you do that with lace then it is absolutely going to bite you in the bum. Which is why this;


has a lifeline. More on that later…

However, poring over a pattern that even after this many repetitions I haven’t learned yet was kind of getting to me, so when one of Kate Davies‘s emails about the haps in her new book fell into my inbox, it suddenly made me realise that I was BORED of doing complicated and I wanted simple. Even better; simple that meant I didn’t need to buy the woollen poncho I’ve had my eye on, and simple that was going to allow me to use up all the tailends of sockyarn cluttering up my stash. The Hapisk shawl by Helene Magnusson has a gloriously wearable shape and best of all it’s stripes in garter stitch. It’s essentially a big square with a slot in it, so it’s more or less a blanket that you can wear (and you know how fond I am of blankets). So it’s a knitted casserole as far as I’m concerned. It’s going to take awhile because those are 2.5mm needles and 4ply yarn and I’m knitting something that’s about 5 foot square, but still.


Three balls of sockyarn down; 45 to go.

Stalking a stranger on the interweb

First of all, my apologies to anyone who didn’t mean to end up here. My last post (Free yarn!!) had a much higher number of views than my posts usually get and I belatedly realise that people may have thought I was giving, rather than receiving. Sorry for any confusion caused  :-)

On to the aforementioned stalking! I mentioned last time that I had been knitting a Jack  sweater for Youngest Boy when I ran out of yarn. That was because I wished and hoped that the five balls of Debbie Bliss cotton DK I had in my stash would somehow equal the seven balls of Rowan handknit cotton that the pattern called for. (And yes, although the Rowan is technically an aran and the Debbie Bliss is technically a dk, they actually have the same gauge on 4mm needles.) As has been demonstrated to me before, however, you cannot make [smaller amount] stretch to be the same as [larger amount], so, obviously, I ran out of yarn.


Now, I did know that I was going to run out. What I didn’t know was that the colour I was using (Mint) had been discontinued in that particular shade and a new Mint created with a different number in a different colour. I had knitted knowing I was going to run out so I did both the sleeves and an equal amount of the front and back. (Worst case scenario, I thought, would be finishing it in a different shade but at least it would look intentional.)

However, after finding that there was no more of my shade to be had for love nor money anywhere from any yarn shop, I start scraping the barrel. (Just in case.) Nothing on ebay. Then I start on Ravelry stashes. And oh, for the love of yarn, there it is. EIGHT balls of not just the same shade but the same actual dyelot as mine (for the uninitiated, dyelots allow you to match the shade exactly because the yarn was all dyed at the same time. With the best will in the world there are often small differences between different dyelots. Sometimes this doesn’t matter but sometimes it does, which is why it’s important to check all your yarn is the same dyelot for a project.) So now I know that there’s More Yarn out there in the world, I am very, very happy. No substitute will satisfy, as a Victorian advertisement for beef tea or corsets might have put it.

So I dash off an excited Ravelry message to the happy owner of the trade-or-sell yarn I need.

Three days have passed, and instead of the cheerful willingness to sell me the yarn I hoped for, I have in my inbox exactly – nada.

Now, I have looked at the lovely yarn-owner’s profile on Ravelry and I see that she has an Etsy shop. And Pinterest, and Instagram, and Facebook, and Twitter.  The question I am asking myself is – how many messages, on how many different fora, is too many messages. When does it start to look weird? I’m guessing I shouldn’t just turn up on her doorstep and beg. But I feel like another message. Or two? might be ok…

Free yarn!!

There are few things I like more than a free knitting project, as I’m generally thoroughly broke, and when a sweater has proved unsatisfactory it’s better to frog it and knit Something Better.

This sweater started out life as this one:


It was very generously knitted for her – unfortunately a bit too generous. The neck was so large that the whole thing would just slide off her like a gigantic cowl – cotton is pretty stretchy anyway and the moss stitch made the situation worse. So, obv, I frogged it.

That time, it got turned into a Debbie Bliss hoodie from Junior Knits. I wasn’t especially happy with it so I don’t have a photo of the completed sweater. It wasn’t great because, like a lot of knitted hoodies, the hood part was so heavy that it dragged the whole thing backwards, meaning that you end up with a bare tummy. Also, like a lot of Debbie Bliss’s patterns for children, the length of body is short compared to the length of the arms. I always find with her patterns that I have to add a few centimetres to the body length otherwise by the time the sleeves fit the body is too short.

So, it didn’t get photographed until I was casting around for a new project. I’d started a new sweater for Smallest Boy and had run out of yarn (of which more later) but I really liked the pattern – Rowan’s Jack Pullover. Frogging seemed like the best option. So, here it is after the start of frogging:


I was hauling the yarn directly off the old sweater and knitting it into the new, as I couldn’t see any reason to pull it all apart before starting, so after a bit it looked like this:


And now it’s this:


It got the ultimate vote of approval, which was that Oldest Daughter immediately started wearing it and hasn’t taken it off since yesterday. Definitely Better.



In general I really like knitting blankets/afghans, and one of my favourite things that I’ve ever made is the sampler blanket I finished three years ago.

So often with knitting you don’t get quite what you were after, and like a chef on a shoestring you have no choice but to eat your mistakes and move on. The yarn may disagree with the pattern; the shaping may not be quite right, or the colours not sit together well. However, this blanket was one of those lovely occasions where the yarn, the construction and the pattern(s) all blended just perfectly to create the thing I really wanted. (Better pic coming when I can get outside to take one. I find it very difficult to take good pictures of blankets.)


The blanket is constructed from individual squares sewn together – I learned the hard way that if you knit all in one piece not only do you get an impossible-to-manage behemoth for the majority of your knitting time, but when it’s done its own weight stretches it in all kinds of ways you didn’t want, making it a sad, saggy, sack-thing. The other advantage of squares is that one is relatively quick to do, and doing 16 or 20 or 25 (or however big you decide the blanket’s to be) is much easier to manage. All-in-one makes it feel as though you knit and you knit and you knit, and after forty million years you have an extra two inches of blanket. Storage is also much easier with a neat pile of squares, for those inevitable times where you just don’t feel like knitting a blanket.

So obviously I’m going to make another. This is going to be a tick-along background project – hence the ‘slow-cooking’. I really like having something going that I can major or minor on depending on my mood and then one day – boom. Blanket.


For anyone who’d like to try something similar: each square starts with 72 stitches, and has a border of six stitches of garter stitch at each edge and 12 rows of garter stitch top and bottom. You’ll need a good stitchionary to get patterns from – the Vogue ones are great (they have a few online but the books have oodles). The lace and knit/purl patterns are fine using these stitches but you have to increase a few for a cable pattern – do this on the last row of garter stitch or the first row of the pattern. The more cabling, the more extra stitches you need – you also need to remember to decrease them out again on your last pattern row. Doing this ensures that your squares will block square. And you’re aiming for about 100 rows – again to get the squares square. When you move to doing the garter-stitch top border you’ll need to start knitting on the wrong side, otherwise you’ll have an odd-looking plain row at the beginning of the border. When all the squares are done, sew them together and put a border on the lot.

Easy peasy.


One down, 19 to go.

Better… for now

It’s not that I’m super-picky, but I do like my finished objects to more or less resemble the pattern they were knitted from. (Okay, I am also super-picky…) The Mr Darcy was so far from where it was supposed to be that it bugged me and made me wince every time The Man wore it. (Despite this he insisted he loved it, even though it stretched nearly to thigh-length. Or possibly because of this…) Whether it was the Debbie Bliss Riva, or the seamless construction method, or the stitch pattern, or all of the above, I don’t know. But it was enough to make me take the wretched thing to task and rip it, rip it, rip it. (Not as fun as it sounds, because the Riva is quite ‘sticky’ and likes to stay where it’s been knit).

So after winding it all into large, fuzzy, kinked balls with little felted chunks falling off it everywhere, I started again. This time I stuck with a pattern I knew – the plain and simple chunky sweater from This was one of the first things I knitted The Man in 2009 and he still wears the pants off this one:


There’s also been a purple iteration:


and a variegated-grey one, of which we shall not speak because I accidentally felted it in the washing machine and it came out with no other future than to be a blanket for my mother’s cats.

So – the pattern seemed like a safe bet. I made it slightly longer than the pattern requires because he will pull his sweaters down all the time, but other than that I knitted the same size I’ve knit him before.

Reader, I f*cked up. For the last two years The Man has been doing weights on a regular basis, and while the older sweaters have stretched with him… this one? This new one, knit from yarn that I’d frogged from the other sweater I knit him?


It’s too small. There’s every chance that I am going to have to knit this damn thing again.

A blanket for a dragon, and some chair-parts…

After reviewing Tamar for Blacker Yarns I had a small lace swatch that wasn’t quite finished off and wasn’t quite big enough to use for anything. I hate waste, and serendipitously the doll’s bed that I made for The Daughter was entirely bereft of covers. So I dug through the leftover sockyarn stash – anyone who knits socks ends up with a collection of little brightly-coloured golf-balls of yarn-ends, like so:


– and found some Rico that was the tail-end of some socks for The Man. Not quite the same yarn, but the same kind of tones and just fluffy enough to pass muster. Some lace-charting and a few rounds later – Toothless the dragon has a blanket.


However, knitting is off the menu for the moment. Observant readers will have noticed that occasionally I make chairs. Like this:


Continuous arm chair

and this:


Fanback side chair

and next week I’m off to the Windsor Workshop again to make another armchair. This time for The Man. I like to do my own turnings. so this week the shed and house have been full of sawdust and woodshavings while I muck about making legs, stretchers and armposts:


All those are drying in the house – next week in Sussex I’ll be bending the arms, carving the seat, making the spindles and putting the whole thing together so that The Man has somewhere comfortable to sit while he listens to music.