December stealth knitting

Today it is cold outside here in England.  It is nearly noon and it is still below freezing out!  Luckily it is Saturday, I am on my own all weekend (Doug is on his way to sunny Australia), I worked like crazy this week at the office and actually accomplished some things, and I have enough food, wine, knitting, and books on hand to let me hide away for the entire weekend.  As I am typing this, they are broadcasting snow warnings on the radio, and I say “Let it snow!”

I am knitting away like mad on a project I am trying to keep a bit under the wraps on the blog.  Why?  Because it is December, and that means that it is time for December stealth knitting!   I will show you just one sneaky photo (because I can’t resist).  This is designed to give a little peek at what I’m up to, without giving away too much.


How many of you are busy with some December stealth knitting of your own this weekend?

The sartorial equivalent of wrapping paper

A few days ago, the headline “The Christmas jumper is out!” jumped out at me (!!) from the online pages of The Guardian.  What I had expected to find when I clicked on the article was something like “The ugly Christmas jumper is out! The tasteful Christmas jumper is in!”  Sadly, this was not to be.  The article claimed that the Christmas jumper is now “out”, and the Christmas suit is “in”.  As illustration, here is the Christmas suit:

christmas suit

The Guardian December 1, 2017; Photograph: Handout

From the frying pan into the fire, dear Reader!  At least the article states clearly that the Christmas suit is “the sartorial equivalent of wrapping paper”.

I know that the novelty Christmas jumper has been very trendy (at least here in the UK) for some years now.  Instead of escalating the trend with ever more garish Christmas clothing, why don’t we adopt a more lovely Christmas jumper tradition? We hand-knitters can lead the way! Here are a few ideas.

Birkin by Caitlin Hunter:


© Jonna Hietala


Julgran by Andi Satterlund:


© Andi Satterlund


Skógafjall by Dianna Walla:


© Tolt Yarn and Wool


#05 Selburose Pullover by Lena Skvagerson:

05b_VKH17_medium2 (1)

© Lena Skvagerson


Are these not doing it for you?  Well, there is always a Christmas suit with your name on it:


The Guardian December 1, 2017; Photograph: Handout


A lot of work, a little fun, and not much knitting in South Africa

We have just returned from two weeks in South Africa.  We both had work commitments there – Doug in Cape Town, and me in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.  It was meant to be a mix of work and holiday, with a few days just for us at the end, but as often happens with us, the work spilled over on the holiday time.  Nonetheless, the important thing to know is that IT IS WARM AND SUNNY DOWN THERE!!!!

We left the UK on a cold, grey, windy day and arrived in Cape Town to a glorious, sunny day.  The first thing we did when we arrived was to pick up a rental car and drive to the beach.  Here we are, straight from the plane:



See those would-be surfers on the glass-smooth ocean behind Doug?  What you can’t see is the film crew on the beach, and the film producer walking back and forth while shouting into his phone “I have the film crew!  I have the surfers!  I have a fantastic bloody day!  What do I not have?  Surf!”

These photos were taken on the beach in Llandudno.  I think this is funny because last year I wrote a post called “In which I get whisked off to Llandudno and have a wooly adventure.”   Now I can claim to have blogged about Llandudno, Wales and Llandudno, South Africa!


After this lovely morning spent on the beach, we spent the next nine days working.  In fact, things got pretty intense for a while (my new job is very demanding), so I spent a lot of that time burning the candle at both ends.  I also flew back and forth to Johannesburg, where I was teaching and holding meetings.

At the end of the trip, we tried to put the work aside and have a few days of relaxation.  We spent two of those days at the Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch.  Spier is acclaimed for its sustainability efforts – it is one of 29 WWF Conservation Champions, is organically certified, and is renowned for its eco-tourism.  It is also fantastic in every single way!  I loved it!  I want to go back tomorrow!

I can’t say enough about how great it was, but I will show you a few little glimpses.  They have a 5km and a 10km trail, designed for runners and walkers (guess which we did?), which take you right out into the spectacular countryside.  Here is the start of one of the trails:20171125_181636.jpg

The light is so beautiful there, and the air is fresh.  We walked for 5km, in the early evening, and didn’t pass a single soul for most of the walk.  It was so gorgeous and peaceful.  Doug took this shot of a protea flower against the backdrop of the mountains:


Everything at Spier is beautiful and the landscaping is lovely.  I like this shot:


The thing I enjoyed most at Spier is the artwork.  They have art everywhere, representing many contemporary African artists: sculpture, ceramics, painting, textile arts, beading and mosaics.  I loved their mosaic garden, a very contemplative space which contains some beautiful mosaics commissioned by Spier from African artists.




One of the things you will find in South Africa, is that the sun is very strong.  After our first day on the beach in Llandudno, I insisted that Doug buy a hat.  In fact, I made him buy a baseball hat, despite his comment that wearing a baseball hat lowers your IQ by ten points. Not so, I said!


This owl clearly liked Doug’s baseball hat.  However, perhaps wearing it had some effect on Doug’s IQ after all; I present the following exhibit into evidence:


After two lovely, peaceful days at Spier, we drove down to Kalk Bay, where we once again stayed at the fantastic Chartfield Guest House.  We stayed here once before, and I was determined to go back.  If you are ever in Kalk Bay, this is the place to stay; it is funky, has great staff, a fabulous view, and has the best breakfasts ever! Here is the lovely terrace where you eat breakfast:


I would love to show you lots of charming photos of Kalk Bay.  It is a charming place.  However, work interfered while we were there, and I was up all night sending off emails and fretting about things. We did have fun there poking around in the shops and galleries, but it was not as care-free as I would have liked.

So that explains the “a lot of work, a little fun” from the title of this post; what about the knitting?  I took only one project with me – the Falkenberg jacket I am knitting.  I hardly had it out at all, although I did manage a bit of knitting now and then. Here is a progress photo I took there. I knit up to where I separated for the arm holes, and then I finished knitting the right front.  There is still LOADS of knitting to do on this one.


I will end this post with a photo I took from the car while driving back to the airport yesterday morning.  We took a long, twisty route back from Kalk Bay, driving along some fantastic beaches.  This beach had a number of wind surfers seemingly flying through the air.


Now I am back in the cold, grey, UK winter.  It got dark today just after 4pm.  But, I am happy to have spent some more time in the beautiful Western Cape.


Worsted is for winter

All of you long-time followers, brace yourselves: I’m long past due for a Wearability Wednesday post. This (for those who are new-ish readers) is a post where I look at a knitting project from some time back and check on its wearability.  Do I actually wear it? If not, why not? If yes, how do I wear it?  How do I style it?  How has it held up?  Would I knit it again?  The subject of today’s post is Arleen.  I knit Arleen in less than two weeks in March of 2013.  Here is a photo from back then:


Since that photo was taken, four and a half years ago, I went through empty nest syndrome, gained a post-graduate degree in an entirely new field, and started a third (or is it a fourth?) career.  This has meant (among lots of other things) that I have done less and less knitting and gained more and more weight.  But my Arleen keeps looking good.  Here is a photo from Monday morning:


And here is the back:


As you can see, the fit is still good.  The yarn is Cascade 220, a workhouse worsted weight yarn which is not expensive, comes in lots of shades, and is virtually indestructible. This is not a yarn which is going to sag after a few washes.  It also won’t pill much and it won’t bleed.  It is a good, solid, dependable yarn.  I never thought of it as a next-to-the-skin yarn, but in fact I do not find Arleen to be at all itchy or uncomfortable to wear.

Arleen is an interesting example for a Wearability Wednesday post because it originated as the result of a sweater I frogged and detailed in one of my earliest WW posts, Goodbye Levenwick.  The new sweater was blogged in the follow-up post Hello, Arleen. The fact that the yarn was frogged, and then re-knit without steaming or straightening, and that it looks so good, is another testimony to the Cascade 220.

All of this is good, but I have to tell you there is one serious potential downside to this top: worsted is for winter!  Whenever I see a short-sleeved or sleeveless worsted weight sweater I always have the same thought:  If it is cold enough for a worsted weight sweater, then it too cold for sleeveless.  But herein lies an interesting fact: a sleeveless worsted weight top works really well on a cold day under a blazer.

I sometimes think that we women go through four stages in life: first, we are always cold (this stage begins in childhood and lasts a long time), then we are always hot (this comes with being ‘a woman of a certain age’ to speak euphemistically), then we are either very hot or very cold usually in quick succession, and finally, we end up being always cold.  In these middle two stages, where overheating happens frequently, it is very nice to have a sleeveless but warm top under a removable jacket or blazer.

On Monday, we woke up to weather that was just above freezing.  It was cold.  I was debating what to wear under a jacket: a sweater could lead to me roasting in the middle of a meeting but a blouse may be chilly.  What to do? While rummaging through a drawer, I came upon Arleen and an answer presented itself:  grab Arleen and top it with a jacket!  And just to show you that it works, here I am trying it with a number of jackets.  (Please note, I only changed the jackets, keeping my black jeans and boots on throughout, so I have not bothered to coordinate my whole look here.  Also, it was cold out, I had not put on makeup or otherwise gussied up, and Doug had about 2 minutes before he had to leave for work – thus, we took only a few shots instead of the 40 that I would normally take to get one good one.)

With a retro, 80s, black jacket complete with shoulder pads and gold buttons:


With a rather boring, grey business suit jacket:


With a cool, cropped jacket in an interesting geometric pattern:


With a brown, flannel sporty jacket:


With my Escher cardigan:


I think they can all work pretty well, and give you an idea of Arleen’s versatility.  The neckline is a bit funny with the geometric jacket, although the colour works well.  I like it best with the Escher but think it works well with the blazers.  (If you are interested in my Escher cardigan and have the fortitude to read two very long and technical posts about knitting and modifying the pattern, you can check them out here and here.)  On Monday, I wore Arleen to work with the grey blazer, and sure enough, I took the blazer off when I got warm and put it on when I cooled off.  A good solution.  Clearly this is the exception that makes the Worsted is for Winter rule!

It’s mitten time again!

Yesterday a fantastic anthology of craftivism mittens and mitts popped up in my pattern highlights section on Ravelry.  It is a collection of designs called Join Hands, and as I was savouring the patterns, I realised that it was time for another post about great mitten patterns (previous posts include Merry Mittenmas!, A dozen great patterns for fingerless mitts, and Mittens!). This seems to be becoming an annual feature on the blog, one which I am more than happy to continue.  So, without further ado, here are my picks of the season.

We must do better by Dianna Walla

we must do better

© Dianna Walla

I like all of the patterns in the Join Hands pattern ebook, but this is one of my favorites.  I love anything Dianna Walla designs (she is a fantastic blogger as well; check her out here).  These mitts really speak to me, both for their meaning and for the great lines of the design and the very simple but bold patterning. The proceeds from the ebook will be split equally between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, two worthy organisations!  The phrase “We must do better”, knitted around the cuffs, is taken from the book We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Iznik by Barbara Gregory


Crissy Jarvis © Barbara Gregory

Barbara Gregory’s designs are nearly always winners in my book.  I love her use of colour and whimsy.  (I knit one of her sweaters which I blogged about here.)  She puts out great mitten patterns every year.  This year I was taken with the design called Iznik.  I am a big fan of tiles, and the Iznik tiles and pottery from Turkey are very distinctive and beautiful.  She uses duplicate stitch for the third colour, so these are not as difficult as they appear, using two-colour stranded knitting throughout.

Petronela Mittens by Anna Lipinska


© Anna Lipinska

This year I seem to be attracted to big, cosy mittens.  I have a cold right now, so perhaps that factored into my selection, but it seems to be a trend on this list.  These mittens are very spare but look like just the right thing to wear for a brisk winter walk.  In fact, these mittens are almost enough to make me wish to take a brisk winter walk, which is saying a lot.  I like these in natural colours but could imagine making them in almost any shade.  Make them for your teenagers and watch them not be able to text.

Herati by Sari Nordlund


© Nicole Mlakar

I like almost anything from the Pom Pom Quarterly.  This pair of mittens really caught my eye (not hard to do with this sumptuous shot – all those beautiful reds and golds).  These are knit with Quince & Co Finch, a favorite yarn, and I just might have these very colours in my stash!  I hesitate to knit mittens without a gusset (see my post To gusset or not to gusset) but these have been circling around in my brain and could very well end up on my needles.

Black and White Mittens by Carolyn Vance

black and white mittens

© TKGA, 2017

These mittens are published in a journal called Cast On, The Educational Journal for Knitters, Winter 2017/18; it is published quarterly by The Knitting Guild Association, a non-profit organization.  This suggests that this pattern is educational; I just think it’s cool.  I am attracted to geometrical prints and also to black and white patterns. These are knit in sport weight yarn on tiny needles, to get a gauge of 10 stitches to the inch in pattern.  The design uses a technique called twined knitting – I don’t know it (I guess that is what makes this educational), but can also be knit with traditional stranded stockinette.

Lines Mittens by tincanknits


© tincanknits

I love what tincanknits do with colour, but this pattern shows how great they are with natural shades as well.  I really like these mittens – I love how the grey and white play against each other, I love the geometry of the lines, and I especially love the photo.  If I had these, I would hang around on cliffs all day waiting for someone to photograph my hands artfully arranged against the rocks.  These are knit in a cashmere blend, by the way, which makes me want them even more.

Tveir Fingerless Gloves by Ella Gordon


© Ella Gordon

I had to include this very Christmas-y design here.  These fingerless gloves are so cheerful and pretty.   They make me think of eggnog and gingerbread and wrapping paper and Christmas tree ornaments.  It’s a very sweet pattern, from the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2017.

Pink Pine Pair by Nataliya Sinelshchikova

pink pine

© amirisu

These are fantastic mittens with a super interesting construction. I covet these, in the exact colours.  I want this pop of pink!  And then maybe I would make a pair with a pop of red!  Or a pop of orange! Or a pop of purple!  Maybe I need many pairs!   I have never heard of this designer and this is her only pattern on Ravelry, but if this is the first she is off to a good start.

I hope this post inspires you to knit a pair of mittens.  I believe there should be a design for everyone in this selection (including all of those on your gift list).  Happy knitting!

Colour scheme: sorted

Doug and I are in Beirut this week.  We are attending a conference on language policy and refugees.  We are also visiting cousins and eating far too much delicious Lebanese food.  I didn’t bring my knitting with me, but I did manage to get some knitting done before I left.  For those of you following my efforts to pick a colour scheme for my newest project, I include a little preview photo:


Happy Halloween!  This year we don’t need scary costumes to frighten us: we can just watch the news instead!

How to make your knitting habit appear cost-effective

Are you worried about how much your knitting habit costs?  More to the point, are your spouses/parents/children/friends worried? Do you find yourself trying to explain away the boxes of expensive hand-dyed artisan yarn, beautifully-tooled exotic wood knitting needles, shelves full of pattern books, trips to wool festivals, etc?  Then this post is for you!

Yesterday I received a promotional email for Selfridge’s (a department store) advertising “seriously smiley knitwear”.   “Hmm,” I thought, “Let’s check out this season’s designer knitwear!” It made me happy!  I was especially happy to see the prices!  (Prices were quoted in pounds sterling; I have given US$ equivalents at today’s exchange rates. The photos are from Selfridge’s webpages.

1.  Rag & Bone (£495; $650)


2.     Altuzarra (£950; $1,247)


3.   Balenciaga (£815; $1,069)


4.   A F Vandevorst (£800; $1,050)


5.      Alexander McQueen  (£840; $1,102)


6.     Calvin Klein (£900; $1,180)


7.     Thom Browne  (£1,160; £1522 – this one is sold out!)


My oh my!  We have two things to cheer about fellow knitters!

1 – RED!!!!!  Just because.

2 – The magic all-purpose reason why your knitting habit is cost-effective! (“But you know, honey, that by knitting this 100% cashmere chunky turtleneck, I am saving around £500 on yarn costs alone!  We should definitely be drinking some champagne while I knit to celebrate my thriftiness, darling!  Even better, we should be drinking it in Fiji!”)