Santa gets it right

I was totally surprised on Christmas Day, to receive this gift from Doug:

It is a KnitPro Karbonz Interchangeable Needle Set. Isn’t it pretty? It opens up to reveal a set of 8 interchangeable needle tips, sized from 3.5mm to 8mm, plus cables and connectors.

Here is a close-up of the needle tips:

I must say this gift completely floored me. How did he know what to buy? (“I did some research”, he says.)

Then, I opened another package, which contained a pile of yarn. Specifically, Road to China Light by The Fibre Company in the shade Rhodolite. This yarn is 65% alpaca, 15% silk, 10% camel, and 10% cashmere. I have always wanted to try it, but never caved in and bought it.

I spent all day yesterday planning what I might knit with it.

I asked Doug what we should call this post. I suggested “How do you know that your husband ‘gets you’?” Doug suggested “How do you know that you’ve trained your husband properly?”

I’ll be back with my end-of-year post soon. Happy knitting!

West Wind Mittens

Today is Boxing Day, and it is grey and windy, which means that I can stay in my pyjamas and knit and eat chocolates all day. One of the things I like best about Boxing Day is looking at photos of all of the knitting projects that were made as gifts and therefore top secret until today. I had no intentions of knitting any gifts this year – why put more pressure on myself in 2020? – but then we went for a walk and Doug had cold hands. What’s a knitter to do?

These are the West Wind Mittens, designed by Dianna Walla of Paper Tiger. The Ravelry pattern link is here. Christmas morning was cold and sunny – it was below freezing – and we went for a long walk. I think these kept him warm.

The yarn is Sheepish DK British Bluefaced Leicester, hand-dyed by Ginger Twist Studio in the colour Mister Thomson. It’s a lovely yarn, plush and soft and bouncy. I think it looks great with the cable twist pattern. The yarn blocks beautifully.

The pattern is well-written and easy to follow. It contains instructions for either mittens or fingerless mitts. Diana gives detailed notes for knitting the twisted stitches without a cable needle. I must admit that I really struggled with the first 10 rows or so of the pattern – knitting a purl into the back of the second stich was incredibly fiddly to me. I then switched to using a cable needle and the mittens just flew off the needles.

Doug and I found an abandoned and ancient orchard while we were out walking, and took some nice photos there. It was beautiful early in the morning with the sun shining on the frost.

One of the things I like about this pattern is that the thumb gusset is off-set. You can see this in the below photo; instead of being at the side of the mitt it is moved a bit towards the inside of the hand.

And here you can see the offset gusset from the inside of the hand:

I think this makes it extra comfortable, and allows good motion of the hand.

I received some cool knitting stuff this Christmas. I’ll post about it soon. Stay safe everyone.

Another Christmas to remember

This year Christmas is going to be strange. It will be the first time we have spent Christmas without the girls since Emma was born 27 years ago.  We will be hiding at home, isolating from a scary pandemic.  Doug and I will have Christmas dinner together, just the two of us, as we have had every dinner since March.  With any luck, we will not have run out of things to say.  The girls will be half a world away, trying to connect with us across eight time zones, to unwrap presents and play board games virtually.  Our Christmas tree is smaller this year, and many of the ornaments are still packed away, while the girls will be decorating their tree with hand-made ornaments, and perhaps starting new decorating traditions.  For a few days, it seemed likely that even that wouldn’t happen, as Emma had a Covid scare (just a cold) and the girls contemplated being entirely on their own for Christmas.

We have many traditions around Christmas.  Doug and the girls always get the tree, and the girls decorate it.  Every ornament has a history and it gets remembered and told again as the tree is festooned.  We always listen to Dylan Thomas recite his poem, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, on Christmas Eve, towards midnight.  We turn the lights off while the Christmas tree lights are sparkling, and sip a glass of lovely Christmas wine while we listen to Thomas’ hypnotic voice.  We all know the poem by heart and can’t help reciting along, especially the good parts.  “Were there Uncles like in our house? There are always Uncles at Christmas.  The same Uncles.”

This year will be different.  It feels scary, and it feels sad, and strange.  But thinking about it this morning, I have realised that we have a whole history of Christmas days that are different and strange.  The fact of Christmas is often different than our idealised one, and each one stands clear and shiny and unique.

Christmas 1993.  We were living in Australia, in Brisbane.  Emma was seven months old.  We lived in a tiny little house, a Queenslander, built up on stilts, with a hallway that ran from the front door to the back and a porch on each end.  We had a garden full of passionfruit and mangoes, a blue-tongued skink that lived under the steps and stuck his tongue out at us at all times of day, except anytime we had a camera in our hands.  It was 40 degrees out (105F) and almost unbearably hot and humid.  It was our first Christmas with our beautiful baby girl, our families were 8,000 miles away, we were roasting, and in the morning I opened the newspaper and read that a Santa Claus had passed out from heat stroke downtown and been taken to hospital. 

We had very little money.  There was no tree or ornaments.  The back porch on our house had latticework to give it a bit of privacy from the neighbours.  Doug wound ribbons and Christmas cards through the lattice in the shape of a tree, and we laughingly dubbed it a Christmas tree.  We put the presents under it, and sat in the sunshine, opening presents, laughing with Emma, singing songs, eating prawns off the barbeque, gossiping with our lovely neighbours across the backyard fences, and enjoying mango sorbet with fresh pineapple.  We sipped gorgeous, crisp Australian wine, and watched the sun go down and the stars go up. 

Christmas 1994.  Emma was a year old.  I gave birth to Leah in mid-December after a long and difficult pregnancy.  I had been bed-ridden and in and out of hospital for months while Doug looked after Emma, kept the house, did the cooking and cleaning and shopping, and held down his job.  About that time, the landlord sold our house and we had to move. There was no time to find a new place to live. Our lovely friends, Lynn and her teenage son Jeremy, invited us to live with them.  Doug moved all of our belongings into their basement and moved us into a small suite in the back of their house.  The birth was not easy, and I was kept in hospital for some weeks.  On Christmas Eve, I begged to go home.  The doctors released me and Leah for the day, and we went to Lynn’s house.  I could not walk, and I sat in the front room, surrounded by Doug and Emma, Lynn and Jeremy, and other dear friends. We opened gifts, and laughed, and I watched while they all played in the swimming pool and brought me iced lemonade. Leah and I would end up back in the hospital, but on that lovely Christmas Eve, I nursed Leah while Emma cuddled on Doug’s lap, and listened to our friends tell stories and tall tales and fell asleep on the couch.

Christmas, 1997.  We were living in Potsdam, Germany.  Potsdam was in the former East, and although the Berlin Wall had fallen some years before, Potsdam still felt very East.  We lived on the edge of the Sanssouci, a beautiful park filled with palaces, sweeping architecture and amusing follies.  The girls viewed it as their back garden and knew every inch of path and every palace structure.  On this Christmas Eve, it began to snow, and we grabbed the sleds and walked to the Sanssouci Palace and the girls went sledding down the ramps on the sides of the palace.  Although this was forbidden, all the kids in the neighborhood were there with their parents, swooping down each hill in turn. Some guards came and told us we should stop, but two of the neighbours were judges, and there ensued a long conversation of legalities and Christmases past, and nostalgia for the East and its traditions, and then the guards laughed and wished us a Merry Christmas.  Afterwards, we walked through the town to the Christmas market, which would close down later that day.  We ate sausages and mushrooms cooked in enormous flat pots, six feet across, and ice-skated on the little ice rink in the middle of the square.  The girls rode endlessly on little trains and dragons and fire trucks around and around a little track, while Doug and I drank hot mulled wine, and my toes froze.

Doug and I put out the stockings for the girls and fell into bed, only to be awakened half an hour later by the girls running in and exclaiming “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!” It was not even 11pm.  We ushered them back to bed where they whispered for a long time.  The next morning we were up early, opening stockings and presents, and then making a turkey with stuffing and gravy and all of the trimmings. After eating, we went for a walk in the park.  Everyone in Potsdam it seemed was out for a Christmas walk – whole families, with great-grandparents in wheelchairs and babies in strollers and everyone in between. We promenaded for hours, stopping and talking with all of the neighbours, admiring new scarves and hats, throwing snowballs, feeding the ducks. Everywhere we went, people stopped to talk to the girls.  We were very much a novelty, this strange American-Canadian family living in the East, with two little girls who spoke perfect Berliner German.  Those Christmas seem so far away now, strange but oddly familiar.

Christmas, 2006.  Our first Christmas in England. We were homesick for Germany.  We had just moved from a gorgeous, light-filled, 270 square metre apartment in Germany, with 4 metre high ceilings, to a tiny, 90 square metre house (which cost double the rent). Every bit of the house was filled with furniture and belongings; you couldn’t move a step without running into something.  Nonetheless, we bought a big Christmas tree, with either a great deal of naivete or a complete misunderstanding of physics.  We couldn’t fit the Christmas tree in the house, and after rearranging the furniture three times, we finally ended up moving the dining table into an unheated conservatory, and giving the tree pride of place.  We ate our Christmas dinner in the cold, with space heaters on extension cords gamely trying and failing to heat the space.  We dressed up in our best clothes, like we were attending the opera, and drank champagne, and delighted in the absurdity of it all.

Christmas, 2015.  Emma and Leah were both living in Vancouver, where they were students at UBC.  They were going to fly home for Christmas and spend two weeks at home with us in England.  Leah had an exam and couldn’t fly home until late, but Emma was free days earlier and asked to fly home early.  Doug booked tickets for the girls, and told me “I got such a great deal on Emma’s ticket!”  Emma packs up her bags, and goes to the airport, and stands in line at the ticket counter.  When she gets to the front, the air steward looks at her in astonishment, and says “Why are you flying to London through Hong Kong?”  Yes, Emma had a 14-hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong, an 8-hour layover in the Hong Kong airport, and then another 14-hour flight from Hong Kong to London.  She flew all the way around the world!  She sat in economy and had a middle seat on both flights.  When she got home, Leah, who had left Vancouver a day later, was already here.  Emma arrived late on Christmas Eve and promptly passed out.  We didn’t get around to opening presents until very late the next day and Emma was in a stupor for days.

Looking back, I realise I could pick many other examples.  Perhaps the Christmas that Doug and I flew to Vancouver to see the girls and he injured his knee and couldn’t walk the entire time we were there.  Or the year we decided to all stay in Leah’s tiny apartment over the holiday, there was a snowstorm Christmas Eve, and then the boiler broke down and we were without heat.  

Looking back on these very different Christmases, I realise that I love every one of them, and learned from them all.  I learned that Christmas is where you are, wherever that may be, and that good friends are worth their weight in gold.  I learned that each of them builds up into a tapestry and gives you stories to tell and cherish.  The funnier and stranger the Christmas, the greater the tales you can tell.  Emma loves nothing more than telling of her flight to London through Hong Kong, and every time she tells it, she and Doug laugh themselves silly.

I hope that wherever you are, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you are safe and warm this holiday season.  And I hope that in years to come, this terrible year will be woven into our tapestries, and we will tell these stories with affection as well as exasperation.

What tier is this?

Leah sent me this photo yesterday, and it really cracked me up.

I suppose this is something of an inside joke. The photo is a still from the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, starring the incomparable Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Having just survived the visits of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, and fearing that he has missed Christmas this year, Scrooge leans out the window to ask a passing boy what day it is. This movie is required yearly Christmas viewing in our house.

One also needs to know something about the situation in the UK, where until yesterday we had a three tier system of restrictions imposed to deal with the pandemic, with one being the least restrictive and three being the most restrictive. Yesterday, Boris Johnson declared that most of South East England was now in Tier 4, thus effectively putting a stop to Christmas plans for much of the country and throwing us all into chaos.

If you are in that intersection of people living in the UK, and those for whom A Christmas Carol is required viewing, than perhaps this also made you giggle. (And the similarity between Boris Johnson and Alastair Sim as Scrooge is also rich; just look at that expression and imagine Boris at a presser. It’s uncanny.)

Yesterday, Doug’s cousins organised a Cousin Zoom call. There were over 50 people on it (Doug’s family is super big). Most were in Western Canada, but we stretched all the way from here in the UK to Japan, and we spent a few lovely, laughter-filled hours catching up on everyone’s year. Maybe that will be become a new family tradition, and someday we will explain to the little ones “Well, it all started back in the year 2020.” And in that telling, there will have been 200 people on that first family Zoom Holiday call, and it would have lasted all night long.

When an angel covets your hat

Doug and I were out for a walk. He glanced over his shoulder at me, and said “Stop right there! I want to take a photo.”

We look at the photo. Hmmm.

“I think that angel wants your hat, Kelly.”

Question: What to do when an an angel covets your hat?

Answer: Give her Doug’s hat.

I hope your Sunday is beautiful, and that there are enough hats to go around.

A lot of not knitting going on

Given the weather – cold and dark – and the whole staying isolated at home thing, you would think that I would be busy knitting like mad. Not so, I’m afraid. I’m not sure why that is, but I am feeling pretty drained from this year and working long hours for the day job, and I don’t seem to have much brain power left for anything else.

When I have managed to pick up the needles, it’s to knit a row or two (three if I’m lucky) on either of the two projects which are currently on the go. First up is the Ursula vest for Doug, which is looking very nice:

I’ve had trouble capturing the colours of this, but the photo above comes pretty close. It was sitting in a heap on this chair just as a beam of sunlight kissed it and the camera finally managed to capture it in an almost real life way.

I managed to get Doug to try it on while there was enough light to snap a photo, and I think the fit will be good. I am relieved about this, particularly since he won’t be able to try it on again once I’ve put in the steeks at the armholes.

I have also added a few inches to the Koko shawl. This is a very relaxing project that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to knit. I am taking my time with it, however; picking it up now and again as the spirit moves me. Much of the time, it’s just sitting on my lap, rather like a prop for a knitting blog photo.

That’s it. A lot of not knitting going on. I think I will sign off and go not knit some more.

Mittens redux

It’s that time of year again, when I show you some of the mitt and mitten patterns which have captured my attention this year. Casting on for a pair of mitts is fun, and more than that, it feels achievable. Big things are happening in the world this year, scary things; so in my sphere I like to have some little things happening, joyful things. A little piece of knitting, a cup of coffee, a technology-assisted talk with friends, warm hands. These things are good.

This is the 7th year I’ve been writing these mitten posts. I hope you find a pattern here to take your fancy. If not, scroll to the end to find links for each of my previous mitten posts. Note that pattern links are for Ravelry.

1. Nordwand by Birgit Grunwald

© Birgit Grunwald

I love the ingenuity of these. You start at the thumb and work your way out. This feels really clever and different, and makes me want to cast on right away. I think these would be a brilliant pattern for using up small scraps of wool.

2. Radiant Star Mitts by Ella Gordon

© Ella Gordon

These are beautiful mitts, which use traditional motifs and a “bright retro colour palette” inspired by jumpers from the 70s and 80s (from the pattern description). I love the pop of the orange and the turquoise paired with the charcoal black; they are very striking. Even more striking, due to the larger canvas, is the matching cowl which she designed for the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2020.

3. Ui Mittens by Ainur Berkimbayeva

© Ainur Berkimbayeva

I have a fondness for strong, simple geometric patterns in black and white. These mittens hit the right chord for me. The designer says: “ ‘Ui’ is a Kazakh word for ‘house’ and ‘home.’ The shapes and lines in these mittens reminded me of the cottage where I grew up.” If you like these, you should check out her newest mitten design, Herringbone Mittens for Purl Soho, which continue the Art Deco vibe.

4. Winglet Mitts by Sachiko Burgin

© Sachiko Burgin

I love this dainty and whimsical design. The pattern description says: “These quick to knit, lepidoptera inspired mitts feature an embossed motif of an affable moth (not of the wool eating kind, promise!).” Better to have some moths on your knitting than moths in your knitting, no? And a pretty pair of mitts to boot.

5. Bramble by Diana Walla

© Masahiro Shimazaki for amirisu

I have always loved the pairing of pink and green, or of orange and green, but here the use of pink and green and orange against this fantastic wash of a brilliant orange coat, is fabulous. The pattern was designed by Diana Walla for amirusu, Fall/Winter 2020, Issue 21. If you don’t want to buy the whole magazine just for one pattern, never fear, it contains some lovely patterns including this gorgeous pullover. This photo not only makes me want to knit the mitts, but also to go out and buy this coat!

6. Pihta by Eeva Kesäkuu

© Eeva Kesäkuu

I love these mittens by Finnish designer Eeva Kesäkuu. They are knit at a very tight gauge – 39st/10cm – so are sure to keep you warm and dry. I love the pinstripes, the dimensions, the fantastic gusset and thumb design, and the squared-off tops. Knitting them in red and white just adds to the appeal!

7. Dinkel by Simone Bechtold

© Sebastian Worm

Sometimes, simple is best. Dinkel means wheat and this lovely wheat pattern has a lot of impact despite being used so sparingly. The pattern description says: “Some yarns, especially rustic, breed-specific ones, have so much character and personality, you don‘t want to overpower them with a fancy pattern.” Don’t let the simple nature of the pattern fool you; these mitts have a fantastic thumb gusset!

8. Limn by Emily Greene

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I adore these mitts! Modelled in the photo above by a man, they are a perfect unisex design. I think they are sinuous and interesting and sexy; they have rhythm and movement and texture, all on a base of luscious garter stitch. What more could you want?

I hope you’ve found something here to enjoy. If it’s put you in the mood for mittens, take a look at my previous mitten posts:

Merry Mittenmas! (2014)

A dozen great patterns for fingerless mitts (2015)

Mittens! (2015)

To gusset or not to gusset (2016)

It’s mitten time again! (2017)

A show of hands (2108)

Warm hands, warm heart (2019)

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Creative upcycling for your hand-knits: from skirt to pillow

Exactly ten years ago (even before I started this blog) I joined many knitters in making a Lanesplitter skirt [Ravelry link]. The pattern was designed by Tina Whitmore and published in the free on-line magazine Knitty in their First Fall 2010 edition. It used Noro yarn, a self-striping yarn in cool and interesting combinations of shades with long colour changes. It was all the rage back then. Here is a photo of mine (from 2010):

The problem with this skirt (as with many knitted skirts) is that the waistband is bulky. I never felt comfortable with this big bunch of fabric at my waist (it has a knitted-on waistband, which is folded over, seamed, and has a strip of elastic running through it). As a result, I almost never wore this skirt. (One type of knitted skirt that avoids this problem can be seen with the Carnaby skirt that I knit for Emma – blogged here and here. No elastic, and no bunching! Alternatively, if you are knitting with a thinner yarn, then an elastic waist can sometimes work really well, as with this skirt which I also knitted for Emma.) I tried, over the years, to change the waistband on this skirt to make it more wearable but never found a good solution. I recently decided to completely re-conceptualise it:

Behold! A Lanesplitter pillow!

I love this idea, and it was fun to do. First, I ripped out the waistband and undid the side seam. This left me with a rectangle of fabric knitted on the bias, which I washed and blocked.

I wanted the finished pillow to be square, but when folded over, the pillow was 4 inches (10 cm) short of square. In other words, I wanted the length to be twice as long as the width, but it was four inches short of that. So, I picked up stitches along both short ends and knitted up a 4 inch band of seed stitch on each end. (These seed stitch bands overlap in the finished pillow, so they each needed to be 4 inches). On one side, I knitted button holes, and on the other, I sewed buttons.

Then I folded the fabric together, with the right sides facing, and slightly off-center, so that the button band would be about 1/3 the way down the pillow. I made sure that the two seed stitch bands were overlapping with the buttonhole band sandwiched between the button band and the back, as you can see here:

I pinned down the sides and sewed them together.

Here you can see the seam and the overlap at the button bands. When the buttons are undone, you can slip the pillow form inside. This means that you can also easily slip it out if you want to wash the pillow fabric.

I think the pillow turned out great, both front and back:

Since knitters like to know these things, the knitted tee I’m wearing was designed by Mary Annarella and I blogged about it in this post.

There are 3,722 Lanesplitter skirts listed on Ravelry today. I wonder how many of them are getting out and about? (It’s a terribly cute skirt, so I hope most of them are!) If, however, yours is stuck in a drawer somewhere, or you have another project that seems game for a refresh, you might want to try some creative upcycling.

Snippet

I had a post planned for today to showcase a new project. However, the light has conspired against me – the entire weekend has been grey and wet and I can’t get any photos taken. So instead, we’ll just have a snippet of Doug’s vest:

It is a slow but steady project and the colours are working out really well. I will soon be at the underarm, where I will have to engage my brain again so that I can think about things like shaping and steeking. But for now, it is pretty mindless TV knitting. I think I’m getting pretty good at tensioning stranded knitting. This is before blocking:

I’ll leave you with a great quote. It is from an article in the Guardian some weeks ago, looking at the environmental impact of patio heaters, fire pits, and chimineas (all of which have sold out here in the UK as we plan for a Covid winter). They cite Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace, who says: “The ideal technology for keeping warm outdoors without heating the entire atmosphere is still a jumper.” Go knitting! Not only is it good for me, it’s good for the earth!

It’s a “6”

I am sitting on the floor, staring at a piece of knitting.

Doug: “What’s up?”

Kelly: “I picked up a bunch of stitches along this edge about a year ago and worked some moss stitch. I want to go back to it now, but I don’t know what size needle I was using.”

Doug: “Isn’t there a needle in it?”

Kelly: “Apparently not. I must have needed the needle for something else and pulled it out. I didn’t take any notes.”

Doug: “Really? How could you not write it down?

Kelly: “Well, I didn’t. So now, I have two choices. I can rip out what I’ve done and start again, or I can guess at the needle size I used, knit an inch or so and then see if the gauge changes.”

Doug: “It’s a 6.”

Kelly: “What?”

Doug: “You used a size 6 needle.”

Kelly: “How do you know that?”

Doug: “Every time you can’t find a needle, it’s is size 6.”

Long silence.

Doug: “Besides, it looks like a 6.”

Kelly: “You are sitting way over there, looking at these tiny stitches, and it looks like I knitted them with a size 6 needle?”

Doug: “Yep.”

I pick up the stitches and knit for a bit and check my gauge.

Yep. It’s a 6.