Friday, 28 March 2014

Watercress Leaves Socks - free pattern and tutorial

As you'll know from earlier posts, I love knitting socks, but sometimes it's not as straightforward as you'd expect.  Have you ever had a ball of yarn that just can't decide what it wants to be?  That's exactly what happened with this particular sock yarn.  It turned it's nose up at every pattern I offered it until I found the Watercress Leaves Pooling Stole pattern by Gladys We on Ravelry.  "That's it!" I exclaimed, and the ball of yarn agreed.

I decided that it shouldn't be too difficult to turn a shawl pattern into a pair of socks so I cast on, and some time later, this was the result.  

Ooh, I love these socks!  I wanted to break up the stripiness of the yarn and although I still have the stripes, they're now in softer waves rather than solid blocks.  

The colours make me think of autumn leaves, and the cross-stitch rib on the heels is a great alternative to the functional but rather boring heel stitch.

Gladys We has very kindly given me permission to share her lace pattern on which my socks are based, and as no doubt you are waiting, yarn and needles in hand, I won't waste any more time in presenting ...

Watercress Leaves Socks  
(you can download a PDF copy of the sock pattern here)

2.5mm needles – I use a 30cm circular needle but DPNs or magic loop can also be used
1 ball of Zitron Trekking XXL (shade shown is 410)
1 pair DPNs size 3.0mm
1pair DPNs size 2.5mm
Watercress Leaves Pooling Stole pattern from Gladys We's Ravelry page

Note: I cast on using DPNs then change to my circular needle - it’s not possible to cast on using the circular as it’s too small.  If you want to use magic loop you will be able to cast on with the larger circular needle.  If you use DPNs, you might find it easiest to cast on and work 2 rows before dividing the stitches across the needles.

Heel cross-stitch:  This is a simple but effective stitch for sock heels.  The stitches twist as if they are cabled but you don't need a cable needle.  This gives a nice "cushiony" feel to the heel.  The following pictures are knitted on a sample with a size bigger needles than used for the socks just to show you how the stitch works.  In the pattern, this sequence of creating the stitches is called cross2RK as you are crossing two stitches to the right needle.

There are five parts to the stitch, which hopefully you can see quite clearly with the orange yarn.

1  Put your right hand needle knit-wise into the second stitch on the left hand needle.

2  Pull the yarn through but don't try to take the stitch off the needle.

3  Put your right hand needle knit-wise into the first stitch on the left hand needle.  You can see how the other stitch pulls across.  Don't let it get too loose, but equally you don't want it too tight or you won't be able to move your needle.

4  Pull the yarn through once again.

5  Finally, slip both stitches off the needle.  You can see in this picture how the stitches have twisted to create the cable.

And that's it!  You're all set!  


Cast on 64 stitches using 3.0mm needle. 
1st row:                K2, P2, repeat to end
2nd row:              P2, K2, repeat to end

Change to 2.5mm needles.  At this point, change to a small circular, magic loop or divide the stitches across DPNs and join into a circle, place marker.

Continue in K2, P2 rib for 14 more rows or until desired length of rib.

Knit one round.

Next round:    ignoring the orange-coloured boxes marked on the pattern, work 16 stitches of pattern four times.  Continue working as pattern is set, remembering to knit every even round as you are working in the round, not back and forth as you would do for a stole.  Work in pattern until desired length is reached (for me, it was five blocks of pattern).


Change to 2.5mm DPNs.

1st  row:            K1, *cross2RK, P1* (31 stitches)
2nd row:            Sl1, *P2, K1* to end

Repeat these two rows until heel measures 2½ inches.  (If you want to make the heel longer, then you just need to remember that you will need to pick up more stitches for your gusset and decrease back down to 64 sts.)
Turn heel

Row 1:                 Sl1, P16, p2tog, P1, turn
Row 2:                 Sl1, K5, SSK, K1, turn
Row 3:                 Sl1, P6, P2tog, P1, turn
Row 4:                 Sl1, K7, SSK, K1, turn

Continue in this way, increasing one stitch between slip stitch and SSK or P2tog on each row until all of the heel stitches are used.

Knit across heel stitches if required to bring you to the left hand side of the heel ready to pick up 14 stitches.   (I usually knit back onto my circular needle at this point.)  Once you have picked up the stitches, place marker.  Keeping pattern correct and starting at row 1, knit across top of foot, place marker, then pick up 14 stitches up the other side of the heel.  Knit across top of heel and then shape gusset as below.

Shape gusset

Round  1:          K to 3 sts before the marker, K2tog, K2, slip marker, knit across pattern                            stitches (row 2 of pattern) to next marker, slip marker, SSK, K to marker.
Round 2:           Slip marker, work pattern stitches (row 3), slip marker, knit to marker.
Round 3:           K to 3 sts before the marker, K2tog, K2, slip marker, knit across pattern                            stitches (row 4 of pattern) to next marker, slip marker, SSK, K to marker.

Continue in this way, decreasing by two stitches at the gusset on every other row until there are 64 stitches on the needle.

Once you have 64 stitches again, you can continue in pattern on the top of the foot only and knit across the bottom of the foot until you reach approximately 5cm before the desired length ready to start the toes.  For my size 5 feet, this was about 3½ blocks of the pattern, ending with row 12.


Divide stitches up as follows:

Needle 1:          32 stitches of pattern plus 1 stitch so that you have a knit stitch on either                                    side (33 st)
Needles 2&3:   Divide remaining 31 stitches between two needles.

Round 1:           K1, ssk, k to last 3 sts, k2tog, knit to end of round.
Round 2:           Knit
Round 3:           K1, ssk, k to last 3 sts, k2tog, k2, ssk, k to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1
Round 4:           Knit

Repeat rounds 3 and 4 until you have 30 stitches left and divide these between two needles so that front and back of socks match.

Graft toes using Kitchener stitch.

Do let me know how you get on if you make a pair of Watercress Leave Socks - I'd love to see them!  You can find the Ravelry page here.

This sock pattern is free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using it and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.
  Thank you! xx

Monday, 24 March 2014

Fish, chips and The Fabrick

We were able to catch up with my brother and his wife in Derbyshire again yesterday, and after a slight detour thanks to my Dad's satnav, found ourselves in Ashover.

We've never been there before, but my brother and his wife suggested we go there because there's a pub with good food and a walk that was long enough to burn off our lunch but short enough in case the rain caught up with us.

The pub was The Crispin Inn (it's on the right in this picture), a cosy place with real fires and a warm welcome, even for our dog.  We were tempted by the fish and chips which, I have to say, is the best fish and chips I've had for quite some time - it's probably just as well we don't live closer or we'd be there every week!  They also had a mouthwatering dessert menu which we just had to try out!

Then it was off for our walk.  We walked up to the local landmark called The Fabrick, also known as Ashover Rock, which is a huge gritstone boulder at the top of a steep hill.  The path to it leads up through a field and then into a narrow path flanked by stone walls which leads under two arched stone bridges like this one, before opening out into fields again.  

Higher and higher we climbed, and the views got better and better.

Finally, after some steep steps which had us huffing and puffing up them - apart from big daughter who was hurtled up them by the dog who always likes to be first! - we reached the top.

This was the view back down the way we had come.  Lots of low cloud but it was sunny. Then we turned around to look in the other direction - and look at the rain!  You can see it in the left of the picture just by the rock, coming down from the clouds.  And the wind!  Small daughter wanted to climb on the The Fabrick (as small people do when faced with a huge, climbable rock) and nearly blew off the top.

This looks a little like a sundial, but it isn't.  It shows which direction to look for all the local landmarks - Chesterfield's crooked church spire, Bolsover Castle, Hardwick Hall and the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire ... although we didn't stop to look for long and you'll see why!

The rain was getting closer so we thought it was time to head off the top of the hill and make our way back down again.  It's a circular route so we didn't go back down the tunnel path but instead came back past fields with alpacas in them and lovely Derbyshire stone cottages.

We made it back to the car just in time as the rain finally caught up with us, so we headed back to my brother's for a cup of tea before starting our long drive home.  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Changing Weather

This week, we have had lots of weather.  No rain, thankfully, there's been quite enough of that recently, but the weather that we have had has reminded me more than once that although spring is definitely here, we're not that far away from the end of winter.

Monday morning was beautiful, fine and sunny.   I was quite taken by the way the sun shone through the branches and blossom of this hawthorn tree.  It looked like the good weather was in the for week ...

The sky remained a fabulous cornflower blue and the clouds white and fluffy. Perfect days for being out in the garden and walking the dog ...

but by Wednesday, we woke up to thick fog.  Usually we can see right past these trees to the other side of the field, but instead they were just silhouetted against a blanket of white. There's always something a little eerie about the stillness of fog and how it makes everything look so black, but there's also something a little exciting about it too.

I can remember being small and thinking that maybe the world was a bit different on the other side of the fog.  Up ahead in this picture is a bridge, and usually you can see the path on the other side, but not today.  

And then it all changed again.  The blue sky was back, although it was chillier than it had been, and the sun was warm enough if you were out with a coat on.  The clouds were still white and fluffy, but there were considerably more of them.

The sky cleared last night and there was the most wonderful full moon.  One of the things I must do this year is get better at taking photos, but even though it looks hazy here, I still love that you can see the bright ball of the moon. There was a huge halo around it because it was so bright in the sky which seemed to emphasise the blackness of the trees.  Soon the clocks will go forward and the nights will get lighter so the sky will change again at night. Aren't we lucky to have so much weather to look at?

I hope you have had good weather wherever you are, and the sun shines for you this week.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Joy of Socks

I love hand-knitted socks.  I love knitting them and I love wearing them.  I love the round and round simplicity of plain socks 

and I love the concentration required for making complicated lacy, patterned socks.

I'm not one for plain socks - I love the way the colours come out of the ball of yarn and create patterns of their own.  Often, even with a picture on the ball band, you have no idea how the socks will knit up until you start as a different number of cast on stitches will create a different pair of socks every time.

Although I do have one very firm rule and that is that my stripes have to match.  I can't bear mis-matched stripes!

All of my family wear hand-knitted socks (with the exception of small daughter who refuses to keep any socks on for any length of time).  Big daughter has a couple of pairs, my husband has several pairs for work (he calls them his "proper" socks), my Dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, my favourite uncle and my best friends ... they all agree that you can't beat a pair of hand-knits!  It suits me quite nicely as well because I'm never short of a pair of feet to knit for!  

(You may have spotted that my sister-in-law on the right is wearing socks the same colour as mine in the first picture - I loved the colour of the yarn so much I ended up making three pairs!)

Socks are the perfect take-along project for anywhere that I'm going.  I've got a small bag with everything I need - 30cm circular needles, ideal for socks; double pointed needles for casting on and off and creating heels; scissors, needles, stitch markers, safety pins, emergency chocolate ... it's all in there and it goes almost everywhere with me.  It's looking a bit battered these days as it's travelled some miles in cars and aeroplanes (always in the suitcase, though!), but it's just the right size so I'll use it until it falls to bits and then think about what to do next.

(The badge was a gift from my lovely husband who, having put up with the click-click of needles for so many years, now worries that something is wrong if I don't have knitting or crocheting in my hands when we sit down together in the evenings!)

I've knitted in waiting rooms, in cars (as a passenger, of course!), at swimming and piano lessons, on trains, at the pub, in cafes - practically anywhere you can think of, although I haven't taken my socks to church -I don't think that would go down very well!  I've found that people are fascinated by what I'm doing; even if they don't speak to me about it (and I've had a fair few conversations about what I'm doing!) I notice that their eyes are drawn to the rhythmic movement of the yarn and the needles going round and round.  Children are the most likely to ask me about my socks.  I think it amazes them at someone would make something that they mostly never think about except when they can't find two of them in the drawer.

The best thing about hand-knitted socks is that they fit.  For someone with size 5 feet, standard bought size 4-7 socks never really worked for me.  They were either too baggy or too long, or I had to pull the heels up the back of my legs.  I'm like the Princess and the Pea - I can feel the slightest wrinkle in my socks so they have to be just right in my shoes or I'm uncomfortable for the whole day.  

So now, I wear socks that fit my feet perfectly, whether they're boot socks

(with matching stripes, please note!) or everyday socks.

I mostly knit with 4ply sock yarn, which is a mixture of superwash wool (so that it doesn't shrink in the wash) and nylon (to help hold the shape).  My boot socks are in 6ply.  When I first started to knit socks, I had no idea there were so many brands or colour varieties.  It's like being let loose in a sweet shop - particularly once you start searching online!  Most of my yarn is from large commercial manufacturers such as Zitron or Regia, but I did treat myself to some beautiful hand-dyed yarn from Eden Cottage Yarns at Yarndale last year.

It's called Damselfly, and it really is the most wonderful shades of turquoise blue.  The photo just doesn't do it justice - which is why it's still sitting in its original skein waiting for me to do something with it.  I feel that I need a particularly beautiful pattern to go with it, but I haven't found the one I'm looking for yet. 

And on the subject of patterns - I've mentioned before that some yarn is very picky about what it wants to be, and this yarn certainly was!  I tried four different patterns before finally settling on this one which I created for myself using a shawl pattern.  They're called Watercress Leaves socks and I've nearly finished writing up the pattern so I'll be able to share that with you very soon.

What I particularly love about these socks is the way that the colours have blended on the sole of the foot.  That was totally unexpected, given the way that the strips run in diagonals on the rest of the sock - but is another reason why I love patterned sock yarn!

I wanted to create a different type of heel, too.  I've used this one before and it's easily as comfortable and hard-wearing as heel stitch, but not very hard to do which makes it a good alternative to the usual heels I make.

I wear my socks almost every day, especially in the winter, and although I've had to do a bit of darning here and there as I have pokey toes, they're wearing remarkably well.  I made my first pair six years ago and they're still being worn - which is not what you can often say about shop-bought socks!

I never get tired of looking at the patterns on the internet, on websites such as Ravelry or Knitty, or on blogs or knitting forums, knowing that there's always something that will take my eye.  I never realised that sock-knitting was such as rich vein of creativity both in terms of patterns and yarns.  

These socks of my Dad's are from self-patterning yarn.  He loves the yarns that create Fairisle stripes and patterns.

This is also self-patterning yarn, but I put a cable in to add a bit of texture

This is my latest pair.  I fancied something simple after the complicated Watercress Leaves socks so they are just plain knit - but the yarn!  It's called "Random Stripe" and I think it just may be my very favourite sock yarn ever!  I originally chose it because of the blue and the purples, but that pale green stripe, the maroon and the pink just set them off so well - I have a feeling these socks may wear out faster than the others!  I've just turned the heel which is why it looks a rather strange shape - a few more rows and it will look like a proper sock.  Magic!

There's just something about socks that makes them my favourite project.  I love that you can play around with a plain pattern and make it your own.  I love the way that nobody else will have a pair of socks quite like the ones I have made, even if they have used the same yarn, because they've been knitted specifically for the person they're intended for.  They're a statement, a talking point, and nearly 50 pairs later, I don't think I'll ever get bored of making them!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Garden treasure hunting

It was another beautiful day here in Winwick yesterday, so I made the most of the afternoon and got outside to do some more work in the garden.

I did some tidying up with small daughter a few weeks ago, but she was too busy playing with a friend to want to help me yesterday - and perhaps just as well.  The next job on my garden to-do list is to re-build some rockery walls.  When I first put them up, I created lovely curves which mirrored other borders in the garden - but they're a real nuisance to get the lawnmower around so I've decided to straighten the wall to make it easier to mow the grass, and I've got the added advantage of my borders gaining a bit of extra space.  

There's something very jigsaw-like about fitting the blocks together.  I know there's dry-stone-walling rule that you should never take a stone that you've put onto a wall back off again to make it fit better, but I actually quite like doing that.  It probably means that it will take me ten times longer to finish my little bit of wall, but I don't mind.

What did take me a long time (and the reason why there's a hammer in the picture) is that as I cut back the turf to move the stones, I remembered why the wall was curved in the first place - previous occupants of our house had, for some reason, put huge chunks of pebbles-held-together-with-concrete under the grass and I hadn't been able to dig them out.  Well, I bashed and I smashed and eventually the concrete split into smaller chunks that I was able to pull out (you can see them to the left of the hammer, those white pieces which now don't look like they'd be any trouble at all).  It was very good for getting rid of any aggression I might have had, but it was quite tiring, and quite frustrating as some of it just wouldn't shift at first.  Anyway, I was able to move the bits that I needed to so that I could get on with this bit of wall - fingers crossed there's no more further down!

After all that bashing, I decided to have a rest and take a wander around the garden to see what had changed since I last looked.  I peeped into my worm compost bin to see if there was any life in there, and there was!

You can just about see one of the worms in the centre of the picture if you look closely, but there were also hundreds and hundreds of tiny baby white worms in there too, which is wonderful news for my compost!  Worm compost is fabulous for the garden.  You make it in a dustbin with a tight-fitting lid and because no vermin can get inside, you can put all of your kitchen waste including cooked food into it and the worms just eat it all up and turn it into the most wonderful compost.  It's so wonderful, in fact, that it has to be "watered down" with ordinary compost as it's so potent.  Incredible stuff - I love that something as small and apparently uncomplicated as a worm can produce something so enriching for my garden. Treasure indeed!

I found more jewels on my way around the garden.  These first, tiny Aubretia flowers ...

Purple heads of Erysimum or everlasting wallflower, with the soft, furry cases of Magnolia buds behind ...

Stunning red primulas nestled at the foot of my Helleborus angustifolia next to a tiny teasel plant which will need moving shortly as will grow too tall for the position it's in at the front of the border.

And last, but by no means least, my favourite discovery of the day - amethyst crocuses.  

Definitely a treasure to satisfy my inner pirate!  I love crocuses but no matter how many bulbs I plant, we never seem get very many because the field mice love them just as much as I do and eat them all up!  I wonder if this year's bright display is down to the fact that one of our cats seemed to eat an extraordinary number of mice last year (leaving the bits she didn't want on the step for the dog to hoover up if I didn't get to them first - urgh!) so there weren't as many around to eat the bulbs.  Whatever the reason, I'm very glad about it!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Pancake Day

We usually manage to rustle up a pancake or two on Shrove Tuesday, but today we've gone for the full hit - Scotch pancakes for breakfast and pancakes after dinner as well!

Scotch pancakes are my favourite.  They remind me of being small and going to visit my Aunt Ella and Uncle Harry whom I just loved to bits.  Aunt Ella always made Scotch pancakes for when we visited which we ate with butter (served as curls in a special butter dish) and home made blackberry and apple jelly.  

We all have moments from childhood that stand out for us more vividly than the rest, and this is one of mine.  I remember the sun shining through the blinds into their living room, the dish of mint imperials on the coffee table and Scotch pancakes.  We always visited on a Saturday afternoon and I never ever complained about visiting relatives (often very boring when you're a child) if I knew we were going to see them.

So, many years later when I was all grown up and we moved to our house with the Aga and I found a Scotch pancake recipe in my Mary Berry Aga cookbook, I was delighted.  I could share my favourite tea time treat with my girls!

Scotch pancakes are very easy on the Aga.  I love the way that the batter rises (you used self-raising flour instead of plain flour) and the pancakes bubble so that you know they're ready to turn over.

I love the way they are golden brown when you flip them over ...

I love seeing a large pile of them on a plate - they don't last for long so I like to see them like this while I can! 

Most of all, I love to see them on my plate, smothered with butter and home made blackberry and apple jelly, because it's important to share happy memories with your small once in a while.

Big daughter's preference is for the more traditional type of pancake.  She loves covering them with sugar and lemon juice, whilst small daughter always opts for maple syrup.

It fascinates me that they are made from the same ingredients as Scotch pancakes (albeit with plain flour this time) and yet they are so different.  

Scotch pancakes are much easier to turn over too, with no risk of hitting the ceiling or dropping them into a waiting dog's mouth!

Eating them always seems a much more formal process as well; Scotch pancakes are definitely finger food whilst we're more inclined to use a knife and fork for these pancakes.

Whatever the differences, though, we've eaten a fair few pancakes today and that should keep us going for the rest of Lent!

Ha!  The observant amongst you will notice that this was posted on Wednesday, not Tuesday, but we did eat our pancakes on the right day, I promise!

Another edit:  I've been asked about the Scotch pancake recipe I use.  It's from The Aga Cookbook by Mary Berry.  I don't think the version of the book that I have is available any more but the new version is here.  I hope it still has Scotch pancakes in it!  Anyway, the recipe is very simple.  I've written it in my own words so that I'm not copying directly from the book:

4oz self-raising flour
1oz caster sugar
1 egg
¼ pint milk

Whisk together to make a batter.  Drop spoonfuls of the batter onto the simmering plate (I cover mine with Bake-o-glide first) or a very hot saucepan.  Turn over once the pancakes have formed bubbles and cook for another minute or so before transferring to a serving plate.


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