Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sock Knitting Tips

I often get comments on my sock posts from people who would love to knit socks themselves but haven't yet given it a go, or from people who are too nervous to just give it a go, don't know where to start or from people who are having little problems when trying to knit socks. Although I'm not an expert when it comes to knitting socks, I thought I'd do a post with some hints and tips that I've picked up myself over my sock knitting journey which may help some of my readers out too.

The first thing I'd say is that if you want some help, then take a look at Winwick Mum's Sockalong posts. Christine from Winwick Mum gives lots and lots of tips as well as providing a tutorial and a simple sock pattern which is free to use. These are the socks I knit when I followed along with this Sockalong.

I find double pointed needles the easiest for me, however, when you first use them it can be very tricky. Don't let this put you off, you can use a small circular needle instead or even a longer circular needle with a technique called Magic Loop. Use whichever needles are comfortable for you.

Different makes of needles can be quite different too so if you find a particular brand too pointy then choose another brand which make their needles a little blunter, or vice versa.

I wouldn't necessarily spend a lot of money on the yarn for your first pair of socks as you may make a few mistakes. Drops Fabel is very reasonable, I'm knitting a pair of socks in it at the moment and it works up in to a lovely pattern. I would definitely choose a patterned yarn though, it does keep things interesting if you're knitting a plain sock. Regia is another affordable yarn and I've enjoyed using this brand in the past. There's some gorgeous sock yarn out there and once you know how easy it is to knit a pair of socks, there'll be no stopping you.

It's important to use a loose cast on otherwise the cuff will be too tight to get your feet through. I use the long-tailed cast on which is quite stretchy but I also use a larger needle than I'm going to use for the rest of the project. I usually knit my socks on 2.5mm needles but use 4mm for the cast on and transfer the stitches on to the 2.5mm ones as I knit the first row before joining in the round.

Make sure your stitches aren't twisted as you join in the round, it's easily done.

I always use stitch markers, usually three, one for the start of the round and the other two marking the instep. It keeps things clear for me.

When using double pointed needles, stitches at the end of each needle can sometimes pull loose creating a ladder effect in your knitting which can look a bit like a dropped stitch. Ladders are caused when the yarn isn't pulled tightly enough when moving from one needle to the next. You can prevent this happening by making sure that you pull the stitch tight as you change needles or do as I do and move the stitches around so that you're not ending in the same place on each row. Each time I get to the end of each needle, I just knit a couple of stitches from the following needle and that seems to work for me.

Learn how to kitchener stitch to graft the toe stitches together, it's easy when you know how to do it and makes a seamless toe.

Sock blockers aren't a necessity but they do give your socks a lovely shape once you've finished knitting them and have soaked them.

Once you've mastered a basic pattern there's lots of different cuffs, heels and toes to try out so that you can cobble together the exact sock you find most comfortable, and then it's time to try out some patterned socks, the world is your oyster.

Ravelry is a great source for free and paid for patterns and there's new ones being added all the time. I could spend hours on there and I've already earmarked more patterns than I can ever hope to knit.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Do feel free to leave any tips you have yourself in the comments as it's always good to help each other out.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Stylecraft Giveaway Win And A Knit Along

A little while ago I was the lucky winner of Josie Kitten's giveaway on The Woolly Adventures of a Knitting Kitty blog. Thank you, Helen, I was thrilled to win this wonderful giveaway.

The prize was Stylecraft themed, a lovely tote bag which will be very handy for yarn shopping, some gift tags, ideal for labelling up knitty gifts, and also a Stylecraft keyring. In addition to all this there were two £5 Stylecraft vouchers.

Helen's recently designed a sock pattern which she's name the Foothold Socks and she'll soon be hosting a knit along on her blog for anyone wanting to have a go at the socks. With this in mind I decided to pop along to my local yarn shop and purchase some Stylecraft Head Over Heels yarn in readiness.

All the yarns in the Head Over Heels range are named after mountains and Helen got the inspiration for her sock pattern from the ridges which climbers use to get a foothold when climbing. I went for Everest (on the left) and Eiger (on the right). I think I may join in the knit along with the Everest colourway, I think the Eiger colourway would make a beautiful shawlette or scarf, though I may just make another pair of socks with it.

I was given two free patterns with my yarn purchase, the Twisted Rib Socks and the Sawtooth Edge Crescent Shawl. I haven't got any plans to make either of these at the moment but I do like both designs.

Thank you Helen, I'm thrilled with my giveaway prize and I'm looking forward to joining in with your knit along. Anyone else interested in knitting these socks (the Foothold pattern should be easy enough for new sock knitters or anyone who fancies something a little different from a plain sock) can find the free pattern on Ravelry, the Head Over Heels Foothold Socks by Helen Kurtz, or look out for the knit along on The Woolly Adventures of a Knitting Kitty blog.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A Hygge Giveaway Win

I was recently lucky enough to win a giveaway on Jo's  How to Hygge the British Way blog. You may know Jo as Angel Jem from Angel Jem's City Cottage blog which she's been writing for over ten years now. More recently, Jo has become the queen of Hygge in the UK and so her new blog was born.

To me, the essence of hygge is cosiness and what can be more cosy than putting your feet, adorned in hand knitted socks of course, in to slippers? I'm a huge slipper fan. You probably know from my blog that I love crafts so the prize I won was perfect for me, a slipper kit from Joe's Toes. Not only that but a copy of Jo's new book, 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way, and chocolate too. Jo actually sent more chocolate than is shown in the photo above but I couldn't resist, ooops.

The slipper kit looks like lots of fun and easy enough for even me, with limited sewing skills, to put together. I was actually going to make them up before writing this post so that I could show you them in all their glory but I've decided that they might be fun for Eleanor to make so I'm going to include them in the next box of Happy Mail that I send. She's been home from university for a fortnight for the Easter holidays but she's going back tomorrow. She doesn't start back until Wednesday but she's got an exam on that day so she wants to get back early to do some revision. Having these slippers to make up will give her a bit of a break in between her exams. I've hidden them from her so far but a box of Happy Mail will be sent a couple of weeks after her return to Nottingham so I'll pop them in that.

Hygge has become very trendy in the UK recently and it seems everyone is wanting to embrace it. 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way by Jo Kneale (available on Amazon) is split into five chapters:- Hygge Your Home, Hygge Your Workplace, Hygge With Your Family, Hygge For The Soul and Hygge Resources. Each chapter provides simple ideas to make sure you're enjoying hygge in your everyday life. I've enjoyed dipping into the book whenever I've had a few spare moments. Jo's currently writing a follow up about Summer Hygge.

Thank you, Jo, it's a wonderful prize and I'm thrilled to have won.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spring Into Wool 2017

I've had this new yarn festival pencilled in my diary for months now, it was being held at The Grammar School at Leeds, about half an hour from where I live, so virtually on my doorstep, it would have been a shame to miss it. Imagine how thrilled I was then to win free tickets when I entered a giveaway on Natalie's Knatters Knits podcast. Thank you, Natalie, the tickets were put to very good use.

The doors opened at 10am and the show had been going for about an hour by the time we arrived. I'm used to Yarndale and know how large that show is (I believe there were over one hundred and eighty exhibitors in 2016) but I knew beforehand that Spring Into Wool wasn't going to have anywhere near the amount of stands as that show does, in fact there were sixty exhibitors.

Although it seemed to get extremely busy at one point, the majority of the time we were there was quite relaxed. It was more of a laid-back show where you could peruse the merchandise at leisure and have a friendly chat with the stall holders without experiencing the pushing and shoving that I have done in the past at Yarndale. There was still a very good turnout though and there was plenty of choice when it came to making a purchase. I spent more than I had intended but Mick was there with his wallet and kept encouraging me to buy more, who was I to argue? This is my haul.

Would you like a closer look? Silly question, of course you would.

I nearly asked for 'one of each' at Fondant Fibre, goodness me, it was hard to choose from all the beautiful yarn on offer. In the end I went for these three skeins. I'd gone with a couple of projects in mind, a two skein shawl and a pair of speckly socks so these seemed to fit the bill.

The skein on the left is Hannah, a Superwash Merino and Mulberry Silk yarn in Wooden Heart colourway, it has tiny specks of colour and I thought this teamed well with the middle skein from the Covent Garden Collection on the Hardy Plus base, 75/25 Superwash Merino and Nylon in Coral Roses colourway. These are the two skeins I chose for the shawl I've got planned. I absolutely love the beautiful colours in this yarn with a very neutral background. The skein on the right is again on the Hardy Plus base, 75/25 Superwash Merino and Nylon and this is in Amazon Orchid colourway. It's beautifully speckled and I thought this would make a pretty pair of socks. I've just got to choose the patterns now. I'd love to hear any recommendations you may have for two skein shawl patterns. Here's a closer look at the colours.

I've never used a yarn with stellina, sparkly bits, in it before so I couldn't resist this skein from Yellow Door Yarn. It's on their Sparkle Sock base, 75% Superwash Merino, 15% Nylon and 10% Stellina, in Parisian Sky colourway, isn't that a pretty name? It's beautiful yarn, so soft and squishy.

I think you can just see the sparkly stellina in this close up. It's actually much more sparkly in real life.

I must have visited Third Vault Yarns stand about four or five times. They dye yarn which is inspired by sci-fi, fantasy, board games and books and they had some wonderful colourways. In the end I couldn't resist and I came away with this Dragon Scales colourway on their Companion 4ply base, 100% Superwash Merino.

There's lots of subtle colour changes in the yarn from greens and greys to blues and purples. I think it will look beautiful knit up. Perhaps a shawl, scarf or cowl beckons.

This skein from Jo.Knit.Sew is a totally different colour from anything I've used before. For a kick off it's got black in there, something I've never knit with in the past. It's got gorgeous pops of colour which stand out against the black, blues and greens. I can't wait to see how this knits up.

The colourway is Opal's Eve and it's on a Super Merino/Nylon base. I might even be kind enough to knit Mick a pair of socks with this yarn, we'll see.

I left this yarn off the photo of my haul by mistake, it's West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4 ply. I've never used this brand before but I should support them as their home is right here in West Yorkshire where I live and all their yarn in reared, sheared and spun in Britain. This is their Country Birds collection in the Mallard colourway and is destined to be a pair of socks.

I bought the two embossed greetings cards from Beaks & Bobbins. They're prints of original embroideries by Amy Butcher. I think they'll look fabulous popped in a couple of frames. The knitters soap is from Fondant Fibre in the fruity Orchard scent. It will certainly freshen up my hand knits. I'm afraid I didn't keep a note of who I bought the buttons from but I usually pick up a few for my button tin whenever I'm at a show, I thought these two rainbow designs were particularly colourful.

There were also a few freebies being given out, I picked up a past issue of Knitting magazine and was given some free patterns from Knitting By Post, a company which designs and sells toy and novelty patterns.

It was a great day out, very well planned and it seemed to go off without a hitch. There was a canteen where hot and cold food could be purchased and workshops and demonstrations. Car parking was free and there were plenty of spaces. This is the first time Spring Into Wool has been staged but I'll definitely be back if it's on again next year.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Wuthering Heights

I remember as a child picking up my mum's copy of Wuthering Heights. I was far too young at the time to read it but it stayed in my memory and it's a book I've wanted to read ever since but I've just never got round to it. I thought it would encourage me to do so if I added it to my 50 before 50 list, and so it appears at number 9.

I read Wuthering Heights last month and I loved it. I'd seen the film so I was aware of the storyline but I always think a book outdoes a movie, words allow you to build a picture yourself and I find that's more powerful than watching someone else's interpretation of the book.

The story is set in two neighbouring houses on the Yorkshire Moors and I think this bleak, desolate setting certainly contributes to the tone and mood of the novel, which although is thought of as a love story, lacks the romance usually associated with this genre. It's actually more like a story of obsession and all-consuming passion with a handful of hatred thrown in for good measure.

Here are a few facts about Wuthering Heights.

1) The book was written by Emily Bronte, but female writers weren't respected at that time so Emily used the male pseudonym Ellis Bell.

2) Wuthering Heights received mixed reviews from critics when it was published in 1847. This review came from Paterson's Magazine (USA) in 1848:-
We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights….
...and this one from Graham's Lady's Magazine (USA) in 1848:-
How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors….

3) A ruined farmhouse near Haworth named Top Withens is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

4) Publishers turned down the novel so Emily, along with her sister, Anne, paid £50, which was a very large sum of money in those days, to have Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey published together.

5) Emily died a year after Wuthering Heights was published at the age of 30. She died thinking the book was a failure and never knew it would become a classic of English Literature.

Have you read Wuthering Heights? What did you think of it?

Many of the classics have passed me by but reading Wuthering Heights has inspired me to read more from the Brontes and I'd also like to read some Jane Austen too, another author whose books I've never read.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Planting, Sowing And Growing 2017

After giving up my allotment at the end of 2015 I decided that I'd cut right back on what I grow. Last year, the only things I grew myself were potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers (apart from the fruit which I harvest each year). I decided on two potato varieties, two tomato varieties and one variety of cucumber. This year I'm stripping it back even further.

Even when I had the allotment, I still grew my potatoes in containers. They come out nice and clean and without any damage at all. I usually have many containers of potatoes on the go, this year I wasn't going to grow any at all but I know I'd miss that first new potato taste so I've decided to just grow a few.

I've gone for my favourites, Anyas, and a variety I grew a number of years ago, Sharpes Express. There's only ten tubers in total so they've been divided between four containers, just enough to give us a good taste at the beginning of harvest time.

Maskotka are my tomatoes of choice these days, they're a cherry variety and grow as a bush so there's no work involved in pinching out the side shoots or tying in as the plant grows, though I find they still need a little support.

I've decided that this will be the only variety I grow this year and I'm only going to grow maybe two or three plants. There's only me in the family who eats tomatoes, and I know there'll be enough on a couple of plants to give some to my mum and dad too.

The potatoes were put in to their containers on Sunday and the tomato seeds were sown on the same day, it's time to watch for growth now.

So that's it for this year, there'll be very little growing going on here but it should free up my time for other things. I wonder if I'll manage to stick to what I've decided or whether anything else will sneak in.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Projects On The Go

I used to be a one project at a time kind of girl but that's all changed over the last couple of years, now there's any number of projects on the go at any one time. Here's what's on my needles at the moment.

Antarktis Shawl by Janina Kallio. That's the photo from the pattern above. I won't say anything about how the shawl is knitted up as it's a paid for pattern on Ravelry but it's made with a technique I've never used before. It's easy enough for anyone with limited knitting skills to make and I like the fact that it only uses one skein of fingering weight yarn. I'm using Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal in teal colourway which was gifted to me by Leah at Faith's Craft Box in a swap. It's a 95% wool 5% cashmere blend and a tweed type yarn. I'm loving how it's knitting up so far.

Hermione's Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder. This is a free pattern on Ravelry and one which I've knit before. I used a patterned yarn when I knit these last time and I thought I'd see what the pattern came out like with a plain yarn, I'm using Cascade Heritage in the charcoal colourway. I love this yarn, it's so soft and squishy and just as I thought, the pattern is showing up beautifully in this solid colour. I know Eleanor has a liking for things in grey so they might end up being for her, though I'm not sure the pattern will be her sort of thing, she likes things plain. I don't mind either way as I'd quite like to keep these myself.

Neville's Socks. This is another sock pattern which is based on a Harry Potter character and another one by Erica Lueder. This designer has some wonderful free patterns on Ravelry. I first heard of Neville's Socks when I was watching Giddy Knits, a relatively new podcast which I'm thoroughly enjoying. I'm using a yarn from Wharfedale Woolworks, this is a Superwash Blue Faced Leicester in neon iris #2 colourway, and it's been sat in my stash for near on six years now so it's definitely time it saw the light of day. I used something very similar for my Sockalong Socks. The colourway is slightly different this time, there's much more purple/lilac in the mix so it will be interesting to see the difference in colour as it's knitted up. I haven't got very far but the pattern is just starting to emerge.

I'm trying out Drops Fabel yarn for the first time with these plain socks. This is the Lavender Print colourway and I'm quite impressed so far. It's a very inexpensive yarn but is reasonably soft and is knitting up well. I suppose the proof of the pudding will be in the wearing once they're finished but I'm very hopeful from what I've seen so far.

As you can see, I haven't got very far yet with any of these projects so they should keep me out of mischief for quite a while. I'm enjoying having lots of different things on the needles so that I can choose what I feel like working on at any particular time. How about you? Do you stick to one thing or are you like me and have lots of things on the go at once?

Monday, 27 March 2017

Weekending In Wales

The only times I've visited Wales in the past have been for family occasions. My brother married a Welsh girl from Powys, Mid Wales, and though they lived in Leeds, they married there and had their daughter's christening there so we travelled there for those events. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last and his ex wife and daughter moved back to Wales. In later years we went back to Wales to visit my niece and for her 18th birthday celebrations but each time was to the same place. I wanted to see some other parts of Wales so to encourage me to book a trip I included it on my 50 before 50 list and it worked because we visited North Wales this weekend.

We stayed in the market town of Denbigh and it was a good base from which to travel around. We booked a deal on Wowcher, just £89 for two for two nights including breakfast and it also included an allowance of £15 per person towards a meal on the first night with a glass of wine each, though we had a £10 supplement for staying on a Saturday and we had an extra £10 per night to pay for Archie. It was a cracking deal though, the hotel was lovely, an old coaching inn dating back to the 17th century. Some of the features were quirky but this added to its charm and the food and hospitality was very good.

We didn't spend much time in Denbigh itself, which is a shame really as it looked to have lots of lovely shops and a castle and town walls.

There's lots of little snickets and alleyways where more shops are tucked out of view.

The high street with hills in the distance.

Mick had to work on Friday, he'd got an important meeting so he couldn't leave very early so it was late when we set off. We eventually arrived after 8pm so our first night was spent in the hotel. Saturday dawned bright and sunny so we set off in search of a beach. I've often heard Colwyn Bay mentioned so we decided that would be our first port of call.  The beach area was very quiet and we managed to get parked right by the side of the sands without any problem at all. It's a beautiful beach, such a huge expanse of sand and shingle and Archie loved running around and darting in and out of the sea.

I usually do a bit of beachcombing when I'm at the seaside and there were plenty of interesting things to see here. How about a starfish?

Or some interesting seaweed? I haven't seen any seaweed like this before but there was plenty of it about.

I think something must have been having a good feed as there were quite a few dead crabs around.

When we'd tired Archie out we decided that we weren't all that far away from Anglesey so we'd have a drive there. We crossed from the mainland of Wales in to Anglesey by the Britannia Bridge. This bridge was built to provide a direct rail link between London and the port of Holyhead, and railway pioneer George Stephenson's son, Robert, was the chief engineer. The bridge was opened in 1850 but was greatly damaged in 1970 by a serious fire. It was partly rebuilt and in 1980, the upper road level was formally opened carrying a single carriageway section of the A55 road.

We couldn't believe the glorious weather we were having, we've been so lucky with these recent weekends away, both this time and a fortnight ago when we were Visiting The Offspring, so we headed to another beach. My auntie and uncle used to live in Benllech and though I never visited them there, I knew it was a seaside destination so we made our way there. It's another place with a huge expanse of sand and Archie loved spending some time in the rock pools as well as the sea.

Judging by the amount of caravans here, I think Benllech must be a popular holiday destination.

Wherever we were in Wales there was beautiful scenery, I loved this beach with the mountains in the background.

Before we crossed back in to mainland Wales I wanted to visit the place with the longest name in Europe and the second longest one word place name in the world. The long name was invented for promotional purposes in the 1860s and has fifty eight characters. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. This is the old railway station.

As we approached the bridge to cross back in to mainland Wales, we pulled in to a layby at the side of the Menai Strait where we could see the island Ynys Gorad Goch. There's a house built on the island and also the remains of fish traps which are no longer used. In the background you can see the snow capped Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at an elevation of 1085 metres above sea level.

The Menai Suspension Bridge was built by Thomas Telford and was completed in 1826. It's a Grade 1 listed building. There was no fixed connection to the mainland before the completion of this bridge and the primary means of access to and from Anglesey was by ferry across the Menai Strait.

Driving across the Menai Bridge.

It was late afternoon by this time but there was still one place I wanted to visit. As we drove there, we passed through Snowdonia National Park. The scenery was spectacular.

Betws-y-Coed is the principal village of the Snowdonia National Park. It's surrounded by dense woodland and it's where the River Conwy meets its three tributaries flowing from the West, the Llugwy, the Lledr and the Machno.

The Swallow Falls waterfall is the most famous attraction nearby, however, as it was already early evening and darkness was starting to fall, we stayed in the village. It's somewhere we can visit when we return.

When we got back to our hotel, we once again had our evening meal there followed by a few drinks in the bar before retiring, very tired (me and Archie) to our room (I think Mick could have kept going).

We had a lovely full Welsh breakfast again on Sunday and I just need to mention here that I managed to cross something else off my 50 before 50 list. I'd asked for the black pudding to be left off my Welsh breakfast, however, it was on my plate when the waitress brought it out so I thought, oh well, I'll give it a try. Black pudding is something that I've never fancied knowing what it's made from (usually pigs blood mixed with fat and oatmeal) but I thought as it was there on my plate I'd give it a go. It reminded me of a slightly spicy sausage but I just couldn't get past the pigs blood element and so after eating about half of it I left the rest on my plate. It does count as trying a food I've never tried before though, so number 18 can now be crossed off my 50 Before 50 list.

After breakfast we decided to head back to Colwyn Bay so that Archie could have a last run on the beach, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and then we headed home.

We've all had a wonderful weekend and though it was only a short break, I think it's done us the world of good. Wales is a beautiful part of the UK, the scenery is spectacular, and it's somewhere I'd definitely like to visit again. As they say, a change is as good as a rest and I've had both this weekend.