Spinning project #1 – progress update

After only three days’ practice with this new fibre, I’m making real progress! The first few yards were a bit lumpy, but I’m now spinning a much finer single. It’s still thick’n’thin in places, but less noticeably so, and I can hardly wait to ply it up and process it into a little skein!


Spinning project #1

Technically this isn’t my very first spinning project, as whilst I was waiting for my fibre to arrive I tried out the Turkish spindle with a tiny 3g sample of BFL/camel blend that I’d received from Hilltop Cloud when I bought a nostepinne. It was enough to allow me to get the gist of the process, but too little to make anything useful. I ended up with a mere three yards of very uneven 2-ply yarn:


Still, it was fun to do, so as soon as my lovely new tops arrived I set to work!

I had ordered four 100g batches: an organic Polwarth in white, a Blueface Exmoor (BFL/Exmoor hybrid breed), also in white, and two Merino d’Arles in different shades of natural brown. I decided to start with the Blueface Exmoor, as I love BFL and the longer staple makes it easier for a beginning spinner.

First I unrolled the ball of top and broke it onto four equal lengths of about 25g each. I rolled up three of these and put them back into the bag they had come in (with the label), keeping the remaining piece for my first session.

I tried spinning from the full piece, but it was too thick so I ended up dividing it lengthwise into thin strips that I could easily draft from. So far my progress hasn’t been much better than the picture above (though I haven’t plied it yet so it’s hard to tell), but I’m gradually getting the hang of it and will post more photos as I go on.

You spin me right round, baby!

After I started knitting again, I also began listening to knitting podcasts and hanging out on Ravelry, and as a result became curious about the enthusiasm for hand-spinning. I decided that at the very least it would be a good way to understand yarn construction and become a better knitter, so when my LYS announced a “Spinning for Beginners” class, I immediately put my name down for it.

However as the weeks went by and the class date crept closer oh so slowly, I began to get impatient. I’d started listening to The Knitmore Girls podcast from the beginning, so when Jasmin added a section on spinning and began talking about Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece, there was no getting away from the idea that spinning was a fun hobby in its own right.

I started trawling the web for UK suppliers of spinning wheels and spindles, and eventually gave in to temptation. Because I will be travelling to the US during the first few days of the Tour de Fleece, I bought a small Turkish spindle which could be taken apart for easy packing. I chose this lovely little 34g model from Kerry Spindles in Yorkshire, made from European hardwoods (yew and walnut):


A spindle is no use without fibre to spin, though! I’d heard that undyed wool is best for beginners, as there’s less chance of being stuck with a duff felted batch, so I ordered a selection of tops (combed fleece) from John Arbon and P & M Woolcraft. This week I started spinning, with the aid of Abby Franquemont’s excellent YouTube videos (and a few others specifically about Turkish spindles), and I’m going to post my progress on this blog for posterity :)


2015 – The Year of the Sheep!

2015-new-year-card-with-red-sheep-263x300Phew, where has the time gone? I paused in my blogging in the run-up to Christmas, mostly because I was gift-knitting and so couldn’t talk about what was on my needles, and next time I look up it’s February…

Anyway, I thought it was high time to post my knitting resolutions for 2015.

1. Buy British!

Back in the Middle Ages, the wool trade was at the heart of our economy. By Elizabethan times it was starting to decline, and in order to support the farmers, dyers, weavers, etc, laws were passed obliging every citizen to wear a cap made of English wool. These days, farmers are lucky to get enough for their fleeces to pay for the shearing, so I’m keen to do my bit to preserve the industry.

We have so many lovely yarns available, and yet at the moment only about 10-15% of my stash is completely home-grown (a rather larger percentage is spun and/or dyed in the UK, but the fibre is of foreign or uncertain origin). Whilst British wool won’t fulfil all my knitting needs, I can at least aim to increase my usage of it – and it feels like an especially appropriate resolution in the Year of the Sheep!

2. Finish at least one sweater/cardigan

Since i only got back into knitting last year, I’ve been focusing on small projects so that it wouldn’t be a complete waste if they didn’t work out. Nonetheless I couldn’t resist buying several sweater quantities of yarn, so this year I want to knit two or three of those up. Definitely no more SQs for me until that’s done – I’m thinking that a “one in, one out” rule should apply here.

3. Knit more socks!

Hats and mittens were my focus this autumn and winter, for practical reasons, but even allowing for different weights and styles for different seasons one only needs a few of them. On the other hand one can never have too many socks, because a) they need washing way more often than hats and b) they wear out. I love the idea of having a drawer full of beautiful hand-knitted socks, hence it’s the one area where I’m allowing myself to buy more yarn. Speaking of which…

4. Keep the stash under control!

I’m not going on a strict yarn diet, but my stash is large enough that I really don’t want it to increase as much in 2015 as in 2014, when it went from zero to six storage boxes! To that end, I’ve been matching my stash to projects in my queue, so my plan is to mainly buy sock yarn and a few souvenir skeins on my travels (possibly combining the two).

Here’s my 2015 Flash Your Stash photo from the end of January:


Yeah, that’s a lot of yarn for one year, and of course it doesn’t include the WiPs, such as the SQ of Donegal tweed that’s being turned into a cardigan. So yeah, I definitely need to restrain myself in 2015…

Little Knits for The Big Knit

Ever since I got back into knitting, I’ve been thinking about doing something for charity. I saw various events highlighted in the magazines I was buying, but they mostly seemed to require big and/or complex projects, such as dolls, that I didn’t feel ready to tackle yet. So I was excited when I found out a couple of weeks ago that there was still time to contribute to innocent’s Big Knit, in aid of Age UK.


For those of you overseas who’ve not heard of this, once a year the UK drinks company innocent sell their little bottles of smoothies and juice mixes with little knitted (and crocheted) hats on, to raise money to help old people pay their heating bills. The hats are donated by knitters, and lots of free patterns are available at various difficulty levels so everyone can join in. The hats are so much fun to knit, and so small that even a relatively slow knitter like myself can whip one up in half an hour or so.

bobble_hatsAlso, because the hats are small, long-time knitters can easily knit them up for free, using scraps from their stash. Since I only returned to knitting a few months ago, I don’t have a lot of these scraps, and what I do have is mostly in muted colours: dull brown, olive green, cream. Not exactly the kind of colours you associate with yummy smoothies! Of course every knitter loves an excuse to buy yarn, so I went to my favourite online yarn store, Deramores, and ordered a load of King Cole Merino Blend DK in a variety of bright, fruity colours.

Sure, I could have bought bargain-basement acrylic, but a) I hate knitting with acrylic and b) I figured that a lot of these little hats will get thrown away, so making them out of 100% wool is the environmentally friendly option. Merino Blend DK doesn’t cost a lot more than acrylic, and online shops have way more colours in stock than my LYS, so I don’t feel bad about my yarn splurge!

sun_hatsAlthough the final deadline is 14 December, I really need to get my hats to Age UK by 14 November so that they qualify for the 25p per hat donation. I thus have a mere two weeks to get as many hats made as I can. So far, as you can see from my photos, I’ve knitted four “intermediate” bobble hats and three brimmed “Easter bonnets” decorated with sequin flowers. This weekend and next week I’ll be attempting some of the fancier designs, then they’ll all go into the post – but I’ll take photos of them all, just as a reminder.

So, back to the knitting!


Striped cozy for iPad Mini

ipad_cosy_2 I love my iPad Mini with its Logitech Ultraslim keyboard – it’s so portable and yet does so much! The keyboard protects the screen from bumps, but I needed something that would protect both iPad and keyboard from scratches, so I looked on Ravelry for a simple cover. Nothing quite fitted the bill, especially as I need a design that won’t snag on other items in my backpack whenever I pull it out – so I decided to design my own! Continue reading

Gloves – avoiding the thumb gusset hole

owl_mittEarlier this month I knitted my first ever pair of gloves. Well, OK, fingerless mitts – but I had to start somewhere, right?

Before embarking on a new project, if possible I always check other Ravelers’ project notes to find out the problems they faced. On many of the glove notes, the words “thumb gusset” and “hole” seemed to crop up together a lot – clearly this was a big problem! However I set the thought aside and got on with my own mitts, knowing I could come back and look for solutions later.

So, I was knitting away and got to the part where you put the thumb stitches on a holder and start knitting round the palm of the glove. I noticed there was a good centimetre of unknitted yarn spanning the gap, just like a dropped stitch – at which point any sensible knitter would have gone back to Ravelry to find a solution. Did I? Nope, I decided to work it out for myself.


Ugh – this length of yarn will be a hole unless we do something about it!

No doubt others before me have come up with this one already, but I wanted to record the method for my own reference and (let’s be honest) savour a small but sweet victory over a common problem!

Caveat: I won’t deny it – this is a somewhat fiddly technique, so go slowly and carefully!

No-hole thumb gusset

In addition to your usual yarn and notions, you’ll need a locking stitch marker, and a crochet hook the same size as your needles or a little smaller.

  1. On the first round after you’ve put the thumb stitches on the holder, knit normally and don’t worry about that length of yarn spanning the gap, because you’ll fix it next round.
  2. On the second round, knit as per the pattern until one stitch before the gap (see photo, above).
  3. Slip the next stitch onto the crochet hook and pull a loop of the “gap” yarn through, as if you were rescuing a dropped stitch, and pop it onto your left needle.


    Take up some of the slack yarn using your crochet hook

  4. Knit that stitch as normal. Note that you haven’t added a stitch horizontally, only vertically, so it won’t affect the width of the glove body – in fact it will give you a bit more ease in the thumb gusset.
  5. If there’s still some slack, you’ll need to repeat the process with the next stitch, the one on the far side of the would-be gap:
    1. If you’re doing this at the beginning of a round (e.g. for a right-hand glove), put the previous stitch onto the stitch marker, because your needle is liable to slide out of it whilst you work the next stitch. If it does, don’t worry – just slide it back into the first stitch when you’re ready to knit the second one. You can even leave the marker in place until you’re done.
    2. Repeat steps 3 and 4. Be careful, as it may be a little tight.
    3. Remove the stitch marker (if used).


    With one stitch worked into the slack, the hole is already a lot smaller!

  6. Finish the round as normal.

If you still have a non-knitted length of yarn across the join you can repeat this process on the next round, though it probably won’t be necessary.

Either way, you should now have a nice solid thumbhole with no loose bits of yarn that will turn into holes!

The other thing I did was to pick up an extra stitch or two* when starting the thumb, regardless of how many the pattern said – enough, anyway, to ensure no holes. Also I worked a round of stocking (stockinette) stitch at the base of the thumb, even though the pattern said to go straight into single rib. To my mind ribbing doesn’t make a solid enough foundation for a join like this, and besides, if you’ve had to take up extra stitches it’s easier to decrease back down to the correct number in a plain stitch before you start the ribbing.

So, that’s how I knit a thumb gusset with no holes – hope you find it useful!


* Sure, you’ll have a thumb that’s a stitch or two wider at the base, but that’s the natural shape of most people’s thumbs, so I feel it’s no bad thing.


I don’t know about you, but convenient as online shopping may be, I like to see (and touch!) a new yarn in person before I buy. Not only is it hard to judge texture from a photograph, but even the colour may be different in real life from that shown on your computer screen. So, mostly I buy yarn in local shops, but their stock is inevitably limited, so it’s nice to go somewhere you can see many new brands of yarn – and of course buy some!

Photo 08-10-2014 15 08 55I went to British Wool Weekend in Harrogate last month, but that was very small, and I wasn’t able to make Yarndale, so when I saw that the Knitting and Stitching Show was coming to Alexandra Palace I jumped at the chance. After all, the train line from Cambridge to London goes right past Ally Pally, so it’s probably my closest big show. I left it too late to book in advance, and tickets on the door were limited, so I decided to go on the very first day, as soon as it opened. This turned out to be a great idea, as the show wasn’t too crowded and of course all the stalls were fully stocked.

I’d been very organised: I had a budget I wanted to stick to, plus a shopping list of yarns and buttons for upcoming projects, samples of yarn for button-matching and even a buttonband swatch for one cardigan. With the aid of much patience, I managed to get everything on my list, including some gorgeous aran weight Donegal Tweed from Craftspun, and beautiful buttons from Textile Garden. But did I stick to my budget? Yeah, not so much…


Clockwise from top left: Rowan Purelife sweater pack, Natali Stewart lace, Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran sweater pack, Baa Ram Ewe Titus mini-skeins, Debonnaire sock, DROPS Nepal, Craftspun Donegal Tweed, Tall Yarns sock lace.

There were just so many beautiful yarns, not to mention must-have items like a KnitPro zipped case for my interchangeable needles, which tend to slide out of the fabric case I’ve been using. And then there were the half-price(ish) sweater packs. Two huge piles of them around the Black Sheep stand, near the middle of the largest exhibition hall. I trawled through them, picking up and discarding one after another, before eventually settling on one pack of Rowan Purelife recycled cotton/silk mix in a lovely marled lilac, and one of Debbi Bliss Rialto Aran in a glorious blood red.

So yes, my stash has ballooned as a result. I worked out I bought enough yarn for:

  • 3 cardigans
  • 2 lace shawls
  • 2-3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of gloves

Which might not sound like much, but when you consider that a) I’ve only been knitting seriously for about six months and b) I had to carry all that stuff back on the train, it was plenty, believe me! I’ve had to buy two more 24 litre storage boxes so that I have space for the sweater packs – I now have four of these boxes for my “clothing” stash, plus two under-bed boxes for yarn destined for gifts and household items (plus miscellaneous leftovers). As a result, whilst I’m not exactly going on a yarn diet, I’m going to limit myself to smaller purchases – no more sweater quantities until I’ve knitted at least one!

I don’t regret the extravagance, and I certainly don’t regret going to the show. In addition to being able to purchase new yarns, I was also able to stop and chat to several of the stall-holders, including Tracy and Kari-Helene from Purl Alpaca Designs, who gave me some really useful tips on how to adjust the Isis Tailcoat pattern to suit my (lack of) height. I also met Monica Russel, whose wellie toppers I’m making for my nephew and niece for Christmas (sssh!), and was able to ask her about an error in the printed pattern.

I’m thinking that next year, though, I’ll seek out more knitting-oriented shows – as its name suggests, The Knitting and Stitching Show has a lot of exhibitors focusing on embroidery and needlecraft. Whilst there was a fair selection of yarn stalls, there was almost nothing for the spinner or would-be spinner – I couldn’t find any spindles for sale, and whilst several stalls were selling roving and/or tops, most of it was aimed at felt-making. But now I know how useful such events are, I’ll definitely be heading to one of the big knitting shows such as Yarndale or Unwind. I just need to knit down my stash a bit before I dare go!

Conquer those moths – with conkers!

Any knitter worth her salt knows that the biggest threat to her lovely yarn is the clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). Their larvae will eat most natural fibres, including wool, silk, cotton and linen – only your 100% synthetic yarns, e.g. acrylic, are safe. I don’t have a huge stash, but I love natural fibres, especially native ones like Blue-faced Leicester wool, so I need all the protection I can muster. So how do you keep them out?


Photo © 2014 Anne Lyle

Most people use a combination of plastic bags and boxes, often with cedar blocks or lavender sachets as further deterrent. However you don’t need to buy these latter when, at this time of year, you can pick up a free moth repellent that’s probably lying around in your local park. If you’re old enough to remember playing conkers at school, then like me you probably can’t resist picking up these beautiful shiny objects – but now they can be useful as well.

Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), known in the UK as conkers and in the US as buckeyes, contain a chemical, triterpenoid saponin, that repels clothes moths. You can use them to make a fancy hanger for your wardrobe, or just pop a few in each stash box to keep the moths at bay.

I’ve no idea if this really works, but since it costs nothing I’m going to give it a try!

(Note: whatever other precautions you take, make sure you check your stash regularly and air it out. Better to catch a few moths in your yarn than leave their children and grandchildren to munch through the whole lot!)


Oh look – another blog!

I keep doing this. And by “this”, I mean starting a blog and risk it gathering dust. I had a gardening blog once, but that didn’t last long (rather like my gardening!). I almost started a knitting blog a few weeks ago, but told myself I’d have too little to write about and should just hang out on Ravelry instead. But of course I can’t just blurt out every knitting-related thing that springs to mind, not unless I want to induce the online equivalent of backing away making hurried excuses…

And so here I am, setting up a new blog with the focus on knitting. It won’t be just about knitting, since I have other interests too, but it will be focused on the domestic sphere. If you want to know more about my novels and short stories, check out my main website. I have a blog there too!

(waits a bit…)

You back? Cool! So, on with the knitting blog!