Hand-knitted hot water bottle cover

I’ve got something different for you today – the first non-garment ever to appear on this blog!

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For about two or three weeks now, my brain has been anticipating autumn and winter – I’ve found myself thinking about wool fabrics for my my autumn wardrobe, browsing A/W fashion collections in the September issues, and yesterday I even bought myself a pair of winter mittens I spotted in the sale.

When you move out of a city (I grew up in Leeds, and in my twenties I lived in London), the first thing you notice is how much more influence the weather has on your day-to-day life. Suddenly you’re not moving from one air-conditioned building to another, so the temperature and the climate make the seasons feel much more distinct. If you also have a dog to walk, the effect is magnified because you’re outside in all weathers.

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Last year, Mr Wardrobe and I made an effort to get into the hygge trend as a way to combat any winter blues. I’ve always loved winter, but even so, it’s still not easy to occupy an active pre-schooler in a small town on a wet day; there are weeks when the view from the office window is continually gloomy; and the endless mud that the dog brings home can start to get you down.

What seems to help is having the right kit – good-quality waterproofs for dog-walking, a bright light if you’re prone to seasonal affective disorder, and some really cosy gear for those evenings when nothing but a roaring woodburner and a mug of hot chocolate will do the trick.

On really cold nights, I love using a hot water bottle to make the bed all toasty before I sink into it, and this snuggly merino/cashmere blend cover should make it even better. (Plus it stops you scalding yourself if you’ve put too much boiling water in…) I knitted this using yet another pattern from my beginner’s book, Knitty Gritty by Aneeta Patel. It’s pretty simple – if you can knit and purl, you can easily knit this.

The yarn I used is actually an aran, rather than the double knit recommended by the pattern. That was mainly deliberate – and I like the densely packed effect it gives. Beige might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it goes really well with the bedroom curtains I sewed last year. I wouldn’t say I’m all set for autumn yet, but this takes me one step closer.

Do you love the changing of the seasons, or would you rather it was forever summer?

The murky depths of my fabric stash…

After last year’s stash diet, I’m pleased to say that my fabric collection is back under control. I’ve set myself a rule, which is that I must not buy more fabric than I can manage to sew! I make an average of just over one garment a month, so I’ve restricted myself to buying just one new length of fabric a month. That leaves me some slack to work through my stash, and to do a bit of scrapbusting on the side.

Yesterday, I got the whole pile out and and tried to work out what’s been in there the longest. I pulled out three pieces that I’m calling the lurkers – fabric from the murky depths I’ve had for more than two years, and that I haven’t yet decided what to do with. I’m hoping you can help me with some suggestions!

Lurker number one

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This is my oldest piece – it’s from my Grannie’s stash, which I acquired in 2012, but she probably picked it up decades ago in a remnant sale at a woollen mill. It’s a heavy navy blue wool tweed, and astoundingly, it was even made in England. There’s not enough for a coat, so I’m wondering about a jacket of some kind?

Width: 140cm

Length: 1.46m

Lurker number two

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I bought this embroidered border denim in a pile-it-high fabric shop in Cheltenham two years ago, and it’s been there ever since. It’s not the best quality denim, but the main worry is that I’ve never worked with a border print/embroidered border before – how do I deal with the grainline? And how do I stop a garment made from this looking too, ummm… cowgirl?

With 150cm

Length: 1.5m

Lurker number three

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This one has definite possibilities. It’s a heavy-ish wool crepe (yup, I did the burn test) of some kind that I bought at the Worcester Resource Exchange. I’d originally planned to make a Hollyburn skirt, but I don’t think there’s quite enough for my favourite knee-length version. Can you recommend a less fabric-hungry skirt pattern?

Width 146cm

Length: 1.4m

So there they are. How would you use any of these? And what’s lurking in the Mariana Trench of your stash?

Knitted mittens

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So Broadchurch is back on ITV, and it seems to be more or less back on form. Half-decent TV means I like to have something to knit, and it’s still pretty cold on the pre-school run at the moment, so I thought I’d have a go at some mittens to match my pink hat.

I used another pattern from the Knitty Gritty book, and the same merino wool as for the hat. Using 5mm needles, as suggested in the book, they’ve come out fairly narrow. But they are stretchy, so I can get them on, and the snugness should help keep my hands warm while we see out the last of the winter weather.

If I were making these again (there’s no gauge guide in the book – the author thinks beginners wouldn’t be bothered with swatching, or that their tension wouldn’t be consistent enough for it to help much), I’d size up to a fractionally larger needle, and I wouldn’t make them quite as long as suggested by the measurements in the pattern. (Really unusual for me – my hands are fairly large,  and I always buy a large in Marigolds!)

They knit up quickly on straight needles, and my sewing up has improved a bit so the side seams have come out quite tidily this time. The book also includes pattern variations for children and babies (the babies’ mittens don’t have a thumb section.) And if you’re looking for an alternative mitten pattern, I’ve also spotted this free one from Tin Can Knits.

 

 

Knitted Flax jumper

Finally! After what seems like an age, I’ve cast this little jumper off my WIP list and into being – just in time to get some wear in this final month of winter.

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Mr Mini Wardrobe doing a spot of modelling. He’s styled it with his favourite ‘dogs on the bus T-shirt’ and pull-on denim joggers. I sometimes wish I could have his wardrobe.

[Note: I’ve made the decision not to share identifiable pictures of my son online, so although his face would definitely enhance these pictures, I’ve deliberately cropped it out here.]

It’s a petrol blue colour, which I love, and which my littlest man seems to like too. I wanted to steer clear of the colours you see all over the shops like navy, scarlet and charcoal grey and knit something I couldn’t have bought. The yarn is Rico essentials soft merino aran superwash in colour 025, which is soft, not itchy, just about machine washable and suitably snuggly.

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I like the garter stitch panel detailing that runs across the shoulders and down the sleeves, although he says he prefers the stocking stitch pattern on the body!

The pattern is the (free) Flax sweater from Tin Can Knits in age 4-6, since Mr Mini Wardrobe is a very tall 3 1/2. This is a pattern that gets a LOT of love on Ravelry. Ah Ravelry, how I love perusing the endless possibilities you offer. But how easily I forget that virtually every other member is a more experienced knitter than me… Which is probably why it took me so long to finish this jumper. I chose the pattern because it’s graded ‘easy’, and suggested as an ideal first sweater project, and also because I wanted to have a go at knitting on circular needles. I just neglected to practise anything other than a swatch on circular needles or double-pointed needles (DPNs) first…

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It’s knitted top-down, in the round, and those increases that form a raglan sleeve shape at the shoulders were the fun bit.

Circulars I found OK once I got going, but it took two surgeries with my Mum (who lives 160 miles away!) before I worked out how to use DPNs successfully. And after I’d frogged the first sleeve eight times I couldn’t face doing it for a ninth, so it’s a bit wonky in places. I’m calling it characterful. By the time I got to the second sleeve, something had clicked, so that’s come out much neater and more even. If you’re a fellow beginner, this pattern also includes ssk decreases, kfb increases, 1×1 rib, pick up and knit, a backwards loop cast on, and some fiddling around with stitch markers to keep track of the garter panel.

I blocked it before I took these pictures and the fit is not bad, as you can see. Like his Dad, he has narrow shoulders, so the almost-boat-neck design means it’s a little too wide in that area. I added an inch to the body length to make sure it wouldn’t be too short, and (given how long it took me to knit), I think this was a good idea.

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Now I’ve got the hang of it, I’m tempted to cast on another one straight away for my son in the next size up, and also the version in 4-ply yarn (Flax Light) for me. But realistically, I should probably try a different sweater pattern where the width of the neckline/shoulders wouldn’t be so critical to the fit.

I’ll have a rummage around on Ravelry, of course, but can you recommend any simple sweater knitting patterns I could try next – for children or for adults? And should I ditch DPNs and learn the magic loop method instead?

 

 

Is knitting really booming?

knitting_parlour_closingI was dismayed to learn this week that my local yarn shop is closing down.

There are other places you can buy yarn in Malvern – there’s The Wool Shack, and several other local shops do sell bits and pieces of wool. But The Knitting Parlour‘s my favourite.

I only started knitting a year ago, and I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent there browsing through pattern books and investigating all the different yarns. There’s something special about squidging yarn in your hands, isn’t there?

Sadly, the shop isn’t closing because the owner is retiring, but because she isn’t making enough money to sustain her business. I’m not exactly a prolific knitter so I don’t buy a lot, but I prefer to knit with real wool and I’ll willingly spend £5 on 50g of soft merino wool. So when you account for rent, rates, staff costs, taxes at a rough guess, the shop probably needs something like 1,000 customers like me to sustain a livelihood for its owner, Jackie.

For beginners, local brick-and-mortar shops are vital: you can see and touch the wool; you can buy just a little to get started; you can get advice from experienced staff; and there are often classes and social sessions to help you improve. If you keep visiting, they can become a place to meet other people who share your interests and, especially if they’re independent, they can help to revitalise a whole high street.

So while I love the way that online knit kit retailers like Wool and the Gang, and Stitch and Story have shaken up knitting to appeal to a younger, hipper set, I would hate for them to squeeze out local yarn shops altogether. Is knitting really booming, or is it just that the same people are knitting different things?

It’s Sew Saturday this weekend (15 October), so let’s pledge to visit our local fabric shops, yarn shops and haberdasheries this week and ensure that they’ll still be there when we need them.

If you’ve got a fantastic fabric shop or wonderful wool shop near you, I’d love to know what you like best about it, and how you go about supporting them.

 

 

Big Alps Beanie hat

Winter’s on the way, so I’ve tucked into some knitting over the past few weeks. My first jumper is still two sleeves short of a full set, so I switched to something easier just to get something off the needles and sewn up.

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This is the Big Alps Beanie hat, made using a kit from Stitch and Story. (It was a limited edition tie-in with Icelandic film Rams, so it may not still be on sale if you’re reading this down the line a bit.)

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The 12mm needles and superchunky merino wool meant it was really quick to knit up, once I’d sussed out how to cable… (Experienced knitters look away now.) This was my first attempt at cables. I love the way cable knitting looks – simultaneously intricate, outdoorsy, mysterious and intimidating.

It turns out it’s not really that hard. This pattern’s a good choice for a beginner cabler, because you only have to do the cabling part six times. The rest is all knit, purl and rib stitches in different sized chunks.

So this is definitely the simpler end of cable knitting. Browsing Ravelry, and the blogs of experienced knitters, can make me feel a bit queasy sometimes when I realise just how much there is to learn. (If you want to see some intricate and beautiful knitting online, may I recommend Kate Davies’ blog? Her colourwork patterns are incredible, and I would love to work up to a Braid Hills cardigan. Perhaps in my dotage.)

This hat came together pretty quickly, and I only struggled with my usual problem areas – garter mattress stitch for sewing up and attaching the pom pom securely.

My gauge was spot on, and my head is definitely not small, so be warned that this pattern comes out pretty large. Were I making it again, I think I’d make the rib section two rows shorter. But it feels lovely next to the skin and it’s very warm so I think this’ll be getting plenty of wear this winter.

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Are you knitting up a storm this autumn? Or can you point me to a great tutorial on sewing up?

 

 

 

 

Supersized knitting

You know how sometimes you just want to finish a project quickly? It almost doesn’t matter what it is, you just need something that’ll be finished soon, rather than in three months’ time?

If you knit, or if you want to knit, have you tried knitting on enormous needles? I had my hair highlighted this week, and even I managed to knit up a good four inches of this hat in the time it took for my highlights to take.

This is the Big Alps Beanie kit from Stitch and Story. It comes with 12mm bamboo needles, which feel ginormous after knitting on 5mm circulars for the last few months. The wool is so soft because it’s merino, so it all feels lovely.

The kit was created as a tie-in with the film Rams. It tells the story of two brothers who have neighbouring sheep farms in rural Iceland. They haven’t spoken for years, but when a virulent disease strikes local flocks, they have to find a way to resolve their differences. It’s a slow burner, granted, but there’s something fabulous about knitting in front of a film about sheep’s wool.

I’d recommend it – and you might even have the whole hat done before the finale.

If 12mm needles aren’t extreme enough for you, have you seen these 40mm needles and kits from Wool Couture?

 

Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

The horse chestnut trees are just beginning to go golden here in leafy Malvern, and my thoughts are meandering in the direction of coats.

If you’re thinking of making a coat for the first time, I’d encourage you to go for it. Yes, you’ll spend a fortune on fabric. Yes it’ll take a lot longer than a skirt. But you’ll end up with something you could potentially wear every day of the winter for years and years. Plus people are always amazed that you made something as difficult as a coat. I’ve made four so far – one for me (unblogged), and three versions of the same Oliver + S Schooldays Jacket pattern for my son.

Here’s my edit of the five coat patterns I’d love to try this year. (OK, realistically I’ll probably only manage one…)

Top to bottom, left to right, they are:

  1. V8875, a vintage Vogue dress coat pattern. This fit and flare design has a detachable shawl collar and a tie belt. If I had a wedding to go to over the winter, this would be my go-to pattern. It also formed part of this year’s Great British Vintage Sewalong. I know some sewists have made the dress, but I’ve yet to see anyone make the matching coat. If you’ve seen one in the wild, let me know – I’d love to see how it turned out.
  2. Lisette for Butterick B6169. I need a moto jacket in my life, definitely. It goes with jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses, and gives you that nonchalant I-haven’t-tried-too-hard vibe that’s the perfect urban antidote to a dress. The recommended fabrics for this are linen and twill, so this pattern would be a good introduction to this style before working up to a full-on leather version.
  3. Another Liesl Gibson/Butterick collaboration, B6385 is the kind of wool coat I used to wear every day when I had an office job. Wouldn’t this look fabulous in claret or burgundy? Or pretty much any colour that’s named after a wine…? With three different collar options, and four cup sizes included in the pattern, there’s a coat for you here.
  4. Burda 6772 would take you from early autumn into winter. A slimmed-down version of the classic trenchcoat, this would sew up well in gabardine if you’re going for a Burberry copycat. Or you could use a heavyweight poplin or a jacquard to create a coat-dress. Critically, this pattern is single-breasted, so those of us above a C-cup can avoid the ‘matronly’ effect that a double-breasted trench can create.
  5. Lastly, I’m still in love with the gorgeous vintage yellow coat that Tamara made in series two of the Great British Sewing Bee. I’ve never managed to find out which vintage pattern she used, but it’s been reproduced in the book that accompanied the second series. There are some fantastic 1960s details in this pattern, like the shoulder and elbow darts – features that just aren’t found in most modern patterns. It’s not a simple project, but it would be a terrific addition to any winter wardrobe. Whether you choose to make it in yellow or not is up to you.

Are you planning to stitch a coat or a cape this autumn? And which patterns are you eyeing up?

Learning new knitting skills

Part of a blue sweater knitted on circular needles.

I’ll readily admit that I love learning new things (at my own pace, when I feel like it!). I sometimes lack the patience to keep practising long enough to make them perfect, but I’m trying to be better at that.

And what better time to learn something new than when you’re on holiday? I spent last week relaxing on the coast of the lovely Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. (I say relaxing, but my two-year old son doesn’t actually stop from 6am until 7pm, so it’s all relative…)

Image of an empty sandy beach with a headland in the background.
You can’t complain about the crowds in North Wales.

There definitely wasn’t room in the car for my sewing machine, so I took my latest knitting project instead. There was neither TV reception nor an internet connection in our cottage, so once Mr Wardrobe and I had completed the regulation almost-impossible jigsaw I broke out the yarn.

I’m using the children’s Flax sweater pattern from Tin Can Knits, which looked ambitious but not impossible. If it turns out really well the pattern includes adult sizes so I could make one for me too.

I’m only a quarter of the way through but so far it’s shaping up well and I’ve enjoyed learning new skills including: using circular needles, swatching in the round, stockinette stitch, the kfb increase and lots more knitting pattern terminology. (Eat your heart out, Albus Dumbledore.) All standard fare for more experienced knitters, but each one has been a learning curve for me.

To complete this project I still need to learn how to put stitches on hold on waste yarn, how to knit on double-pointed needles, something called the ‘backwards loop cast-on method’, and how to block my knitting. I’ll be finished in about a year, then!

Do you like learning new skills, or do you purposely avoid techniques you’ve never tried before?

 

 

Hand-knitted baby cardigan

After my first kiddie cardie, I swore I’d have another go to see if I could fix one or two things that didn’t go to plan last time. And here it is.

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This one is the smaller, baby size, from the pattern I found in Knitty Gritty and it’s for my new nephew who was born in March. I used a blue cashmerino double knit yarn – Rialto DK in colourway 510. It’s a mid-blue with just a hint of lilac – you might call it periwinkle?

I realised that I’d measured the front section from the wrong point last time so this time the front and back are the same length. And I managed not to drop any stitches so it’s a bit neater overall.

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My favourite bit is definitely the ladybird buttons – so cute. Now I just have to hope it fits!

What should I knit next? I’d like to try something that’s worked at least partly on either circular or double-pointed needles. I’ve got a couple of ideas from Ravelry, but I’d love to know what patterns you’d recommend for beginners.