a baby surprise

A very good friend of mine is currently pregnant with her first baby. While in my own country it is very common not only to learn the gender of the baby, but also tell everyone the chosen name months in advance of the birth, in my years of living among people from all corners of Europe I’ve learned that this is more the exception on our continent. Many many people decide not to find out what they’re expecting, keeping it as a final surprise for the birth, and my friend decided to do the same.

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And so, as I scoured my pattern library for ideas, I thought to myself, what better pattern to make for a surprise baby than the baby surprise jacket. This pattern is so legendary that it’s difficult to find a knitter who hasn’t at least heard of it, and for good reason. It features an ingenious construction which is extremely simple to execute, while at the same time feeling totally impossible to conceptualise. As long as you trust the pattern, you’ll be fine. More than fine. You’ll end up with a miracle of a sweater. I am so pleased with how mine turned out, and I’ll definitely be making more.

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Another pleasing element of this project was that it was made entirely from stash. At first I wasn’t quite convinced about my colour combination, but it was what I had so I decided to plug along. Now that it’s finished I’m totally in love with the colours and find them just perfect for either a boy or a girl.

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As my friend (who is also a knitter) was always admiring the knitted toys I made, I couldn’t resist using the opportunity to amp up the cuteness element and add an Elijah elephant in matching colours. He is quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever made, even if I say so myself! This was also the best written toy pattern I’ve knitted from thus far, extremely precise and with clever construction ideas.

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The sweater and the elephant travelled to London today to await patiently for their surprise baby to arrive. I’ll be waiting here in Brussels, and since patience isn’t my strongest suit, I might just whip up another knit or two to pass the time more easily… :)

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my first afterthought heel

I’ve wanted to try knitting an “afterthought heel” ever since I first heard of this intriguingly named construction technique. In essence, socks are long tubes of plain knitting, broken up by one bit in the middle which requires concentration and skill. Don’t get me wrong, I love heels, I think they’re all sorts of magic and I love trying out different ways of doing them, but the truth is, they can be fiddly, they require that you look at your knitting and concentrate, and somehow the need to knit them usually seems to appear at the most inconvenient time, like just when you’ve plonked yourself down in front of the latest episode of your favourite tv show and you just want some plain mindless knitting.

Well, what if you could move that fiddly bit to whenever it suits you best, rather than interrupting your smooth knitting when the sock tells you to? That’s exactly what an afterthought heel does. It lets you put in a sort of placeholder (a line of waste yarn) in the sock, where the heel will go, and go on with knitting your plain tube. You can return to your heel and complete it whenever you feel like it. The added bonus is that it helps maintain even stripes on striped socks.

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So, after years of knowing all this in theory, I finally tried it out in practice last week, and I’m pleased to report it was simple as pie and worked just as I had imagined it. Yay for afterthought heels!

As for the rest of this project, I’ll show and tell you more when I’ve finished the second sock. No one has yet invented a magic cure for Second Sock Syndrome, unfortunately… ;)

Mister Flamingo goes to ballet school

Knitting… It’s amazing how, after all these years, it still surprises and amazes me so often. Take this project.

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It was started almost four years ago, as an idea at the stich’n’bitch group I was attending at the time. We were meeting up in a cafe called ‘Flamingo’, someone had come across a free flamingo pattern on Ravelry, one thing led to another, and all of a sudden we had all cast on to knit flamingos in honour of our host location.

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Shortly afterwards, however, I stopped going to the group. It was nothing dramatic, other commitments came up, habits changed, you know, life happened, and it just didn’t fit any more. The half-baked flamingo sunk deep into my haberdashery drawer and was forgotten.

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Except here’s the thing, I’m one of those people who likes to Finish Things. Whether it’s a conversation or a book or a knitting project, it really really REALLY bugs me to leave something unfinished. So for all those years this little flamingo was nagging at my subconscious, the little loose end which just wouldn’t go away. So, finally, a few weeks ago, just to get it out of the way, I decided to finish him. I did not expect to like the process, or the finished product. To be honest, the work in progress looked kinda ugly. And I’m not particularly into flamingos. I just wanted to get it over with.

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And here we come to the surprise and amaze part. I finished the flamingo last week. I wound in the seemingly hundreds of ends. I awkwardly and asymmetrically attached the pieces to the body. I stung myself with a needle a bunch of times and cursed under my breath.

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And then I looked at the flamingo – and in a split second, I was utterly in love. All of a sudden, I found this little dude perfect and adorable and squishable and lovable. I wanted to show him to everyone I know. I wanted to take photos of him in every room of the house. I wanted to invent stories about him going to ballet school…

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The same little dude that I finished just to get it over with.

Such is the magic of knitting. Such is the magic of Making.

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Welcome, little friend.

p.s. Happy Women’s Day, everyone! :)

the trouble with sock sizing

Here I am, sitting with my two favourite books on socks, both informative, educational, detailed, well thought-through. And yet, they are both utterly useless in helping me out of my conundrum. You see, I’m knitting socks for my mum, whose foot size is totally different from any of the feet I have close to me.

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And yet, the thorough introductory sections and the 38 patterns included in these two books all say the same: Work even until the foot is approximately xy cm shorter than the desired finished length. Assuming, of course, that you have the foot at hand and can therefore easily slip the sock-in-progress on and check them against your desired finished length. So what if you don’t?

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Is there a better answer than the only one that comes to mind now, which is try to eyeball it and keep your fingers crossed until December, when I plan to hand over loads of socks to loads of family members (as a surprise), all with vastly different foot sizes? Is there an obvious thing I’m missing? Or a magical chart somewhere on the internets that will tell me everything I need to know, if only I’d be bothered enough to google for two minutes? Help!

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p.s. This is another pair of plain vanilla socks knit from the toe up, in the magnificent
Ancient Threads Sockittome Select, one of my all time favourite sock yarns.

the socks that started it all

Here they are, the socks that reminded me that knitting socks is easy and that I love it.

For this first pair, I kept it simple and easy – the so called “plain vanilla” socks: all stockinette, no special features, letting the yarn tell its own story. For these kinds of socks I usually turn to Wendy Johnson’s Socks from the Toe Up book, which helped me make my first steps in sock-knitting and remains a trusted resource. While I have nothing against cuff-down socks, toe-up knitting can be really handy in certain situations, for example when you’re not sure how much yarn you will have exactly. You get the non-negotiable part of the socks (i.e. the length of the foot) knit first, and then for the cuff you can just keep knitting until you run out of yarn.

I really love that Wendy presents a number of different toe and heel techniques, and these kinds of simple socks are perfect for experimenting and finding your preferred option. For these socks I went with the short-row heel, which I think of as “the standard” heel type. The finished heel was fine, but I did find the process rather hard on the fingers (lots of tight wraps to pick up and knit), so it’s not my favourite heel type.

Further experiments in sock construction techniques to come…

winter lines

No posting for almost a year and then I just randomly show up without explanation? I don’t care, I have just made myself the awesomest sweater ever, I’m absolutely silly with excitement and I have to show you and tell you all about it right now!

I had the blog post (complete with photo styling) for this sweater made up in my head before I even started knitting it – more precisely, the moment I chose the colours. Back then, in the winter of 2013/14, I had begun noticing a colour pattern in my favourite winter clothes: navy and red, always and in all possible combinations. Case in point, at the time, my winter coat was bright red, and about 80% of the time I wore it with dark blue jeans. And so when the time came to choose the colours for a new sweater, there wasn’t much thinking to do. I planned to finish it quickly (early progress was promising), photograph it with the favourite coat and jeans, and not take it off all winter. But lo and behold, life happened, and the sweater didn’t get finished until a few winters later. I no longer have that red coat, but luckily my colour preferences have endured (surprise surprise, my current coat is navy :)) and this beauty will fit right into my wardrobe.

Now for the technical deets. The pattern is beautifully designed and technically well written. Don’t you love those sleeves?!

And pockets. Pockets!

I did have some issues with sizing (the sleeves and neckline were way too big for me), but once I buckled down and did some improvising they were easily solved. I do suspect, though, that this is a mod I’ll have to perform often as pattern sizes tend to be based on the bust measurement, which can be quite misleading for other proportions.

The yarn is squishy and smooth, and perfectly comfortable against bare skin. With blocking everything got ever so slightly longer, which was just how I wanted it. I am also quite impressed with the fact that the sweater does not show any wrinkles, despite the fact that it was stuffed in a small box for the better part of 2 years. I guess the credit for that also goes to the yarn.

I am absolutely certain I will be loving this sweater for many years to come!