Friday, 14 December 2018

A box full of joy

Hello lovely readers - how are you all? I hope you're enjoying the festivities of December and managing to create some handmade gifts for your friends and family. I've made a start with my own festive socks and a few simple woolly stars. These crochet stars are so cute and I see a few more being made over the coming weeks.
I had a lovely November, celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary and also my 55th birthday (eek!!! am I really that old????). Mr. Rowe and I had a wonderful weekend on our mini cruise to Bruges. Mr. Rowe surprised me with a beautiful eternity ring with 25 diamonds - I confess I cried.

We had a lovely day in Bruges, investigating the amazing architecture and stunning Cathedrals - not to mention the chocolate shops.  Bruges will always be one of my favourite cities to visit.

There were so many delightful window displays - although most shops had 'no photography' signs in their windows, which was a shame, as I couldn't take photos of the ones I really loved. I wasn't sure though, how much of the chocolate was truly handmade as most shops were selling the same things. But then I spotted a pretty window display (sorry no photo allowed) and felt instantly drawn into the shop. It wasn't just the handmade chocolates that had attracted me - it was the very pretty boxes that I wanted a closer look at.
I was reliably informed by a lovely couple that this was the best chocolate shop in Bruges and that it's the only place they buy their chocolates from. I like it when other customers share their opinions as it really helps you to decide what to do. Along with a yummy sample, kindly offered by the owner, my mind was made up.

I decided that I had to have one of those pretty boxes - they reminded me of Victorian times, and the owner told me that they were based on the very first boxes that were original used in the 1890's when they were made in silk. Just think how luxurious and intricate they would have been - like a real work of art. I imagined myself in a Jane Austin novel, sat at my window-seat, staring wistfully into the distance, as my suitor (Mr. Rowe) came galloping along the driveway on horseback to deliver my handmade chocolates in their exquisite silk box, with a special hand-written note. Can you imagine how special a Victorian lady would have felt to receive such a gift. Very special indeed.
As I was stood carefully pondering which chocolates to choose, I realised that my monthly subscription to my Little Box of Crochet makes me feel exactly the same, and is no doubt why I was so drawn to this shop with it's gorgeous boxes, filled with mouth-watering goodies.
Amanda Bloom is indeed a genius. She lovingly curates a beautiful box of crochet goodies and sends them out with pride to her subscribers, each month. Whilst she may not send them on horse-back (which wouldn't be the slightest bit practical), her exquisite little boxes are cram-packed full of everything you need for the monthly project, and lots more. Everything is carefully covered in pretty tissue paper, sealed with an inviting sticker for that extra-special touch. I'm always desperate to start crocheting as soon as I see that sticker!
I'm always completely amazed at how everything manages to fit in the box - how is this possible?
Take the contents of my November box as an example:
  • 150g of gorgeous cotton yarn in festive colours, from Yarn and Colors
  • a 5m spool of pretty cotton ribbon
  • a delightful stitch marker from Koru Clay Studios 
  • plus a cute wooden sheep called Louis from Wool Couture
  • crochet essentials are always included, with an ergonomic crochet hook and a wool needle, thoughtfully stuck into a felt ball for safety
What more could a girl want!!!
And not to mention the stunning artwork in the form of a postcard by the talented artist Jenny Maizels as well as the pattern booklet itself. Amanda always writes a heartfelt welcome note, plus there's  'Meet the Designer', the instructions for the main project and usually a little extra project too, and more. This month there is a little jacket for Louis the wooden sheep.
I'm sure you'll agree that Amanda's Little Box of Crochet is the perfect extra-special 'pick-me-up' each month, not to mention great value for money. 

A little box of joy, just like my delicious chocolate box.

I can't wait to get started on my Festive Mandala over my Christmas break whilst munching on my handmade chocolates.

Do you have something craft planned for the festive season? I'd love to hear more about your plans.

Happy crafting, Love Lynne xx

Here are all of the links mentioned above:
Mary's Chocolate Shop, Bruges
Little Box of Crochet
Koru Clay Studios
Wool Couture Company
Jenny Maizels
Yarn and Colors

No disclaimer needed as all of the items above are my own purchases.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Contrast Heels and Toes and Perfect Stripes

Morning everyone. It's Sunday morning here in the UK and it's unusually bright for November, with clear blue skies and no rain. It feels more like a late Summer's day than the run up to Christmas. Let's hope it continues.
Last night, I managed to finish one of my self striping socks and I made a start on the second sock straight away. I sat happily knitting whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing, only to realise (once I'd finished the cuff) that I had knitted the wrong cuff. I usually knit a 2 x 2 rib for my sock cuffs, but because I'm knitting Emma Potter's Dotty Socks, I decided to tweak the cuff to match the pattern, with a 3 x 1 rib. Oh no - all that wasted knitted. But I didn't unravel the cuff, I simply cut off the yarn and I'll keep it for another pair at some point.

So off I set again, this time knitting the correct cuff. I love a 3 x 1 cuff as I like the wider, plain band that is created. I think I'll use it a lot more in my sock knitting.
I've had a few questions about where to change colour for the cuff so I thought it would be good to share my method, for a standard heel flap.

First of all, for a top-down cuff, knit to the point of your heel, following your pattern, but on the last round of knitting, stop knitting when half of your heel stitches are left, before the stitch marker. So for my socks, with a 64-stitch sock, my full heel stitches are 32 stitches. Half of 32 is 16, therefore I leave 16 stitches unworked, before the end of the last leg round.
Next, change colour and using a double-pointed needle, knit the last 16 stitches of the round in your contrast yarn.
Note: there are a few different ways to change colour. You can simply start knitting in your new colour and weave in the ends later (there may be a small hole, but this will disappear when you tighten up the yarn tails and weave them in),
Alternatively, you can twist the contrast yarn around the main yarn before you start knitting, or you could try the Russian Join, which doesn't leave any ends to weave in (link is at end of post). 

Next, remove your stitch marker and knit the second half of your heel stitches (for me this is another 16 stitches).

Turn your work and using a second double-pointed needle, purl all of your heel stitches. Turn and continue working on these stitches to knit the heel flap and turn, according to your pattern.
You will now have two yarns attached to your sock - the main yarn which is located at the base of the heel and the contrast yarn which is attached to your heel.

For the first option, you can return to your main yarn and start your gusset from that point. Start by picking up stitches along heel (according to your pattern), then knit across the base of the heel, then pick up the stitches along next side of the heel, place marker, and finally, knit across the instep stitches, place marker (the markers are used for the gusset decreasing section). Cut off your contrast yarn and leave enough yarn to weave in later. Now continue decreasing as per your pattern and knit your foot.

But for me, I don't like to do this with a self-striping yarn. 

I find that the main problem area with self-striping yarn is the gusset. This is because when you have picked up your gusset/instep stitches around your heel, you have about 18-20 more stitches than you originally had for your leg. Therefore, your stripes will be shorted in depth than the stripes on your leg and foot, because you have more stitches to knit on each round. 

If your stripes are really deep then it won't be too noticeable. But if your stripes are only around 4 rounds deep, then it will be quite noticeable. I'm not a huge fan of my stripes going off-piste around the instep, so I use my 'cut and paste' method by piecing in pieces of yarn of the same colour stripe and if you can master the Russian Join then you won't have lots of yarn to weave in.

So when I've finished shaping my heel, I start the pick-up round with my contrast yarn, first knitting across the heel stitches with my short circulars.
 Next, I pick up and knit up one side of the heel.
Then I place a marker and knit across the instep stitches, place another marker and pick up and knit along the next side of the heel and passing the main yarn as I do this. Then still using my contrast yarn, I continue with the next round until I reach the main yarn for the second time, at which point I stop and change back to the main yarn and cut off the contrast yarn.

By using the contrast yarn to pick up the gusset stitches and knit part of the next round, it gives you the extra couple of rounds across the instep section, which you need to keep the stripe the same depth as the leg stripes.

Then, for the next three or four stripes (until I have finished the decreasing section of the gusset), I add extra little strips of yarn to make each subsequent stripe the correct depth (because each stripe of the gusset is1 round short per stripe).
Whilst it may seem fiddly, I like how this creates the perfect stripes and makes me happier with my socks.

You can then knit the leg, following your pattern, and always leave in the gusset stitch markers so that you know where to start your toe decreasing.

Once you reach the length required, you can change colour again to start your toes and follow your pattern for the correct instructions. You may need to adjust the starting point of your toes, depending on where your stripes finish. So for this sock, the last round of my leg stripe was Red, which means that my toe section looks a little longer than usual.

So that's how I create my perfect stripes. I hope it gives you some ideas for playing with your own self-striping yarn. On the other hand, perhaps life is too short to worry about these short stripes - I'd welcome your views and whether it's something that bothers you or whether you just accept it as a quirky part of your self striping socks. Perhaps I should pay attention to my own reflections:

Don't forget to enter your socks on social media or my Ravelry group, using the hashtags #novemberselfstripingsocks #yearofhandknitsocks #lynnerowe

This months prize is a fabulous book by The Loveliest Yarn Company, containing lots of amazing mini sock patterns for your Sockmas socks, along with a canvas tote bag and a few extras from me.
Here are all the links mentioned above:
Join my Ravelry Group to enter your self striping socks
Christine Perry (Winwick Mum): Basic Socks (Ravelry)
Winwick Mum website
The Yarn Café (for your West Yorkshire Spinners Christmas yarn)
Lynne Rowe: Lynne's Perfect Socks (Ravelry)

Dotty Socks by Potter & Bloom

Happy stripey sock knitting, 
Lynne xx

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

'A Year of Handknit Socks' - using self striping yarn

Hello lovely readers and a huge thanks to those who joined in with October's sock theme #octobervanillasocks. The winner was Amanda @thecalmnookcrafts and I have posted her prize to Australia. 

It was a treat to see your lovely knitted socks and I hope you can join in too for November. This month the theme is self striping socks, so grab yourself a ball or skein of self striping yarn and let's cast on.

If you share your projects, the hashtags to use are #novemberselfstripingsocks #yearofhandknitsocks #lynnerowe.
I shared my casting on and rib methods in a previous blog post here, and also how I work a standard heel flap and gusset here. Coming up soon are how to pick up stitches neatly for the gusset and how to knit a simple toe.

But in the meantime, here are a few tips for knitting with self striping yarn.

What is self striping yarn?
It's yarn that is dyed in long lengths of colour. When you start to knit, it changes colour to create stripes of a fixed length, which means that there is no need to change colour yourself (and no messy ends to weave in). 

Self striping yarn can range from two colours, to lots of colours. 
I love my teal and orange socks, using yarn from Black Horse Yarns, and my 'Mind the Gap' socks remain a firm favourite too - these are based on the colours of the London Underground, dyed by Trailing Clouds (all links are at the end of the post).
There is usually no graduation with the colour changes - they will just change from one colour to the next, to create crisp, clean lines.

Self-striping yarn is perfect for new knitters, because a striking and colourful effect can be achieved, with very little work.

Using self striping yarn for socks
The great thing about sock knitting is that both socks are identical, which means that your stripes will knit to the same depth for each sock. If you want your socks to match completely, you will need to make sure that you start your cast on at exactly the same point along the same coloured stripe. It isn't essential to have you socks matching. Many knitters like to knit with the yarn as it comes, without worrying about their socks being identical.

I don't mind either way, but I have a slight preference towards matching socks. Here's my method:

First, I always wind my ball or skein of yarn into a yarn cake. 
This helps me to see how the yarn is dyed and more importantly, if I wind the last few stripes around the skein, I can see how they will look when knitted up. Some indie dyers sell their yarn in balls that are already wound, or in yarn cakes, rather than skeins, which is really useful - and often they include a contrasting mini skein for heels and toes.
But you don't have to spend lots of money to buy a nice self striping yarn. Drops Fabel is one of my favourite yarns which is incredibly good value at just a couple of pounds per 50g ball, and there are lots of self striping colourways. West Yorkshire Spinners also sell great value 100g balls of self striping yarns, from shades inspired by birds and natures, to cocktails and Christmas colours. If you use contrasting heels and toes, you can often knit two pairs from one 100g ball.

With a yarn cake, I can also see if the first stripe of colour is a complete length, or whether it's slightly shorter than the other stripes. You can see that the Green in my West Yorkshire Spinner's Candy Cane yarn is slightly shorter than the Red and White stripes, so I didn't want to cast on with Green, as there was possibly only enough yarn for casting on with.
I decided that wanted to start my socks with a Red stripe at the top of the cuff. Because I use the thumb (or long-tail) cast on method, I always need to be mindful that I also need to use a long tail of yarn to cast on my stitches with (as well as the yarn from the ball) and this also needs to be Red. At the same time, I don't want to waste any of my Red stripe), so I try to make sure that once I've cast on my stitches, I only have a short amount of the cast on colour remaining (just enough to weave in). I know that for 64 sts, with 2.5mm needles, I will use approximately 58cm of yarn for one round of knitting, therefore when I made my slip knot I left a long tail of Red, approximately 60cm long, so that my cast on stitches are all Red. 
Casting on using the long tail or thumb method will have an impact on the depth of the first stripe, because you will use two rounds worth of yarn for casting on. 

I always make a note of where I made my slip knot so that I know where to start my second sock to make it match the first sock.

I'm not a huge fan of a solid colour cuff, so I tend to just start off with my self striping yarn, then use a contrast colour for heels and toes. 

For my #novemberselfstripingsocks I'm used Emma Potter's Dotty Socks pattern, which is a free pattern that you can find here on Ravelry. I really love the surface pattern that Emma has created. The little purl bumps result in a gorgeous texture that is quite soothing to run your hands over. 
So now you can make a start on your self striping socks - don't forget to share either a progress photo or a photo of your finished socks on social media (with November's hashtags above) to win this month's prize, which is A-ma-zing!!!. 

Kindly donated by The Loveliest Yarn Company, it's a copy of  their Sockmas book of festive mini socks to knit and decorate your home with. Along with a canvas tote and a few extra bits from me. These socks are incredibly cute and range from plain and simple stripes, to cables and stranded colourwork. I'm desperate to cast on and get knitting.

Next I will be showing you where to join yarn for your contrast heel and how to avoid the thin stripe at the start of the gusset, which is caused by having a lot more stitches to knit on each round. I often 'cheat' at this point to make sure my stripes are the same depth (I'll tell you more in my next post).

Here are all the links mentioned above:
Join my Ravelry Group to enter your vanilla socks
Christine Perry (Winwick Mum): Basic Socks (Ravelry)
Winwick Mum website
The Yarn Café (for your West Yorkshire Spinners Christmas yarn)
Lynne Rowe: Lynne's Perfect Socks (Ravelry)

Dotty Socks by Potter & Bloom
The Loveliest Yarn Company
The Yarn Badger

Happy stripe knitting,

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

'A Year of Handknit Socks' - The Heel #octobervanillasocks

Hello lovely readers - I hope you're all keeping well. October is racing by and I wondered how your #yearofhandknitsocks are coming along. Are you making good progress with your #octobervanillasocks?

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, you can read all about my sock-along here:
My Year of Handknit Socks

I've been really pleased that some of you have joined in too. Thanks for taking the time to share your sock progress over on Instagram and Ravelry.

How to join in:
Each month, you can knit your own socks, following the theme for that month and enter via Ravelry or Instagram. I will pick a winner from the entries for that month/theme only, and prizes will range from sock yarn, to books and accessories.

EITHER: Join my Ravelry group (link is at end of post) and add your finished socks to the discussion page for that month.

OR: Post on Instagram and use the hashtags #yearofhandknitsocks #lynnerowe together with the hashtag for that specific month (for October, the hashtag is #octobervanilla socks). Also tag me @the_woolnest.

I will then be able to search for the hashtags and at the end of each month I will pick a winner at random. Prizes will vary from month to month and I will pay postage costs. If you enter on both Instagram and Ravelry, it will count as two entries (which means more chance of winning, yippee).

I'm using my own sock pattern called "Lynne's Perfect Socks" which you can download from Ravelry for free. 

Lynne's Perfect Socks on Ravelry

My progress is good. I have completed one sock and I'm working on the heel of the second sock, so I'm confident that I'll have them finished over the next week.
I really love the texture of a slip stitch heel - can you see how much it differs from stocking stitch? The long stitches are created by slipping the stitch instead of knitting it, which leaves a little strand of yarn sitting across the back of your knitting (on the wrong side). This lifts the stitch up slightly too, to create a ridged texture. The loop sitting on the wrong side also creates a thicker fabric, which is perfect for a heel as it won't wear through too quickly.

Here is the heel from the wrong side, showing the loops of yarn:
I've written up my tutorial below for my simple heel flap and turn, which may help if you haven't knitted socks before.

My Simple Heel Flap and Turn:
For socks knitted on 56 [60] [64] [68] [72] sts.
When you have finished knitting your leg (see my post here), you can remove the stitch marker that you were using to mark the beginning of the round, as you no longer need it.

Now continue to work in rows for the heel (which is worked on half of your stitches). I use 2 double-pointed needles (dpns) for my heel.
Row 1: K14 [15] [16] [17] [18], turn. 
Row 2: P28 [30] [32] [34] [36], turn. 
Slip remaining sts onto 1 spare dpn (or leave them on your short circulars - this is what I do). These stitches are the front (instep) stitches. Ignore these stitches whilst you work the heel.
Now work back and forth in rows on these 28 [30] [32] [34] [36] sts only for the heel, using 2 dpns. 

It is also important to slip the stitches as stated - either knitwise (inserting needle as if to knit) or purlwise (inserting needle as if to purl).

Row 3: Slip the first st knitwise, k1, *slip the next st purlwise (keeping yarn at back), k1; repeat from * to end, turn.
Row 4: Slip the first st purlwise (with yarn at front), then purl every st to end, turn.
Repeat Rows 3 and 4, a further 11 [12] [13] [14] [15] times.

You will notice that where you slip the stitches on the right side rows, that there is a small strand of yarn sitting across the back of the slipped stitch. 
This creates a double layer of yarn, and a thick fabric for the heel. It has a ridged on the right side, created by the slipped stitches.
After completing the straight rows of the heel, you will have a rectangular shaped heel. You will now 'turn' or 'shape' the heel, which is easier that it may sound. This will shape the base of the heel so that it fits nicely around your heel.

Shape heel
Row 1: Slip 1 st knitwise, k15 [16] [17] [18] [19], skpo, k1, turn.

 Row 2: Slip 1 st purlwise, p5, p2tog, p1, turn. 
Note: there is a gap between the stitches already knitted and the stitches waiting to be worked (near to my fingers) – use this as a marker for the following rows. 
 Row 3: Slip 1 st knitwise, k to 1 st before the gap, skpo, k1, turn.
Row 4: Slip 1 st purlwise, p to 1 st before the gap, p2tog, p1, turn. 
Repeat the last 2 rows until all stitches have been used up. 16 [18] [18] [20] [20] sts remain. 

Note: on the last 2 rows for some sizes, you will miss off the k1 or p1 at the end of each row.

Your heel will be 'turned' and you have worked short rows to do this. Short rows create a curve in your knitting.
And that's your heel completed. I have slipped the instep stitches from my short circulars to a spare dpn, so that I have my short circulars at the ready to pick up my instep stitches. My next tutorial will cover how to pick up the stitches and the instep/gusset shaping.
As always, I will refer you also to Winwick Mum's blog (link at end of post), because Christine is the 'font of all knowledge' on handknit socks and has a full series of tutorials and downloads, whereas I'm just showing you how I make my own vanilla socks.

I'm enjoying my yarn so much, and also looking forward to casting on my next pair, but I must be patient and finish my first pair!!!

Here are all the links mentioned above:
Join my Ravelry Group to enter your self striping socks
Christine Perry (Winwick Mum): Basic Socks (Ravelry)
Winwick Mum website
Black Elephant online shop
Lynne Rowe: Lynne's Perfect Socks (Ravelry)

Happy heel knitting,