Friday, 23 May 2014

Basic 4ply sock pattern and tutorial - easy beginner sock knitting!

Hello!  Do you want to learn how to knit socks?  You're in the right place!

People all over the world are discovering the joy of knitting socks and I'd love to help you join them!  This tutorial and free sock knitting pattern will get you started ... but there's more information here on this blog than just in this post so don't worry if you are a total beginner!

I wrote this post in 2014 and a year later, after yet another person told me it was too difficult for them to knit socks, I wrote the Winwick Mum Sockalong tutorials which covers everything you need to know if you've never knitted socks before.  From choosing yarn and needles to sock anatomy, how to wind the yarn so that your socks match and how to work out the perfect fit for your feet ... and that's before we get into the step-by-step how to knit socks tutorials themselves!

A pair of blue and multi-coloured striped socks being modelled on feet.  Winwick Mum is standing on a stone flag in the sunshine with plants around her

If you're brand new to socks, I'd recommend you take a look at the tutorials and download the free pattern for socks by clicking the picture below.  You'll be knitting with your choice of DPNs (double pointed needles or circular knitting needles before you know it!

If you're just looking for the 
Winwick Mum Sockalong Basic 4ply Sock pattern, 
click here 

or keep reading if you're not a beginner but you need a sock-knitting reminder.  The following tutorial is written for a short circular knitting needle which is my preference  J  

* * * 

The idea of knitting socks can be quite daunting if you've not done it before.  The whole thought of turning heels and grafting toes can be quite enough to put you off before you even pick up your needles - and I know this because that's how I felt too!  Now, of course, you know all about my love affair with socks ... here's my latest pair.  I just love the colours in this yarn, definitely my favourite combination!

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - here's a pair I knitted earlier!

I knitted my first pair of socks for my beloved Uncle Harry when I was about 16 years old.  My Aunt Ella had always knitted his socks for him and when she died, he asked whether I'd be able to make some for him as he didn't want to have to buy any.  What a performance!  The pattern was quite awkward, involving sewing gussets and side seams, and I wasn't sure they were anything like up to my Aunt Ella's standard.  I decided I would not be making any more socks.

Fast forward to when small daughter was a baby.  I was in a local yarn store buying wool for yet another baby cardigan when I spotted balls of multi-coloured yarn on the counter, along with leaflets showing knitted socks.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Beer garden

It's not often that I get my husband all to myself for a lunch date, but that's exactly what happened today.  We visited a village outside of Chester called Tattenhall and decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the local pub, The Sportsmans Arms.

Oh, the joy of sitting in the beer garden, feeling the warm sun on our faces and with a cool beer close at hand!  I can't remember the last time we did this, just the two of us.

We were able to chat uninterrupted, to sit and not speak at all if we wanted to, and just to enjoy each other's company and the brilliant blue sky of a beautiful day.

The menu was full of mouth-watering choices but we both decided on a posh fish finger sandwich each and some chips to share.  Oh my, it was absolutely the best fish finger sandwich we'd had for some time!

We could quite happily have stayed there all afternoon, but there were daughters to collect from school and jobs that needed doing at home so we reluctantly took our leave and headed back to Winwick.  We know we'll definitely be making a trip back to Tattenhall another day, though!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Back to Black (Sheep Wools)

Wouldn't it be great if your local yarn store had a huge range of stock to choose from at a range of prices to suit every budget?  Debbie Bliss, Sirdar, Hayfield, Rowan, Regia, for example ...

What if it also sold other craft essentials - cross stitch kits galore ...

And fabric in wonderful, vibrant colours to make beautiful snuggle-me-up quilts?

You'd want plenty of accessories to choose from - crochet hooks and knitting needles ...

pom pom makers and fun knitting tools for children ...

even shawl pins to complete the look once you've created your fabulous accessories ...

Unusual knitting kits ...

and lots of samples so that you could see exactly how a yarn knitted up, complete with an idea of how much it would cost you to make.  

Ooh, and of course you'd want a sale every year, wouldn't you?  A sale that offered huge discounts on whole packets of yarn, as well as just one or two balls ...

And after all that, wouldn't it be wonderful if your local yarn shop had a friendly, welcoming cafe that sold the most amazing locally-baked cakes?

Wouldn't this be just the best place to have right on your doorstep?

Don't you wish that my local yarn store was your local yarn store?  The good news is that even if you live miles away, it can be.

Black Sheep Wools has been an independent family-run business in the village of Culcheth, just a few miles from Winwick, for over thirty years.  Although they also have a strong on-line presence these days, through their website, Facebook and Twitter, Black Sheep are regularly seen at shows throughout the country where along with their enormous range of cross-stitch kits, their famous Yarn Dive piles of yarn packs draw huge crowds in search of bargains.  They moved to the Craft Barn a couple of years ago which has allowed them to expand their range of yarns and craft kits, run workshops and provide that all-important space to sit, relax and eat in their cafe.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a year since I wrote the post about their Sirdar open evening.  I have visited quite a few times since then, but always in a dash to pick something up and it was nice to have time for a less hurried visit.

I arrived at lunch time, intending to pick up a quick sandwich before spending some serious quality time perusing the bargains on offer during the annual sale.  On my way to the cafe, I was delighted to bump into Sara, Black Sheep's Marketing Director who, along with her brother, is the second generation of the family to be involved in the business.  I've known her for many years and was really pleased that she was able to sit and join me - and the quick sandwich turned into a much more leisurely event as Sara and I were able to catch up on family news and other ladies in the cafe joined in our conversation as it turned to more woolly matters - it's clearly a very friendly cafe where people are connected by their love of crafting. 

This was my lunch - an egg and cress sandwich (my favourite!) with a freshly-made salad, a choice of mayo or salad cream, a pot of tea and a slice of extremely yummy lemon cake.  "The Bakewell tart is fabulous," Jayne, who works in the cafe, told me after I'd already taken a bite of my cake.  "The jam just oozes out, it's lovely."  It was a bit late at that point to change my mind over the cake (and to be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted to hand back my lemon cake anyway!) but it's a good excuse to go back another day to try it out!

One of the ladies that I met in Black Sheep was this lovely lady; we started a conversation about socks, I happened to mention that I wrote a blog and it turns out that she reads it!  I was so pleased to meet her I just had to give her a big hug!  She had brought in some crochet that she is making into a tunic, intending to ask a question of one of Black Sheep's staff.  They have a drop-in session every Friday called Save Our Stitches where you can ask for help on any project that you have - sometimes you just can't get it right on your own even with a YouTube video!

After lunch, it was time to take a good look at what Black Sheep Wools had on offer - and boy, there was plenty of it!  I headed into the new fabric section drawn in by the rows of fabrics in jewel-bright colours.  

I was really taken by these quilts, especially the fabulous Kaffe Fassett quilt in the bottom picture, and even more so when I realised how soft it was.  My attempts at quilting have never resulted in a quilt like this one, which is why until now I've always considered knitted or crocheted blankets to be the thing to wrap up in.  I think I may have changed my mind!

There is a good range of books for both patchwork beginners and the more experienced, and all the tools you need, including rotary cutters and quilting rulers.  I was very tempted to try another quilt - but think I need to finish a few other projects off first!

Colette was in the fabric section.  Whilst I was browsing, she was serving another customer who was marvelling at the wonderful service she always receives at the Craft Barn.  "It is wonderful here," agreed Jayne, who had come in from the cafe during a quiet moment.  "It's a good job I don't knit, though, or I wouldn't have any money left!"

Once her customer had left, Colette showed me how to make a no-sew cushion cover from just a metre square of fabric.  

Two folds and a knot gives you this ...

It's a brilliant way to create a cushion cover that matches any decor and is easily washable - and replaceable whenever you want to change your look. Colette hasn't been working for Black Sheep that long but loves it.  "Even when there aren't many people in the shop, there's always something to do," she said, adding, "It's a really friendly place to work." I have to agree with her there; there was always laughter coming from the warehouse and everybody in the shop, both staff and customers, was smiling.  That's not a bad way to spend your day!

One of the things that I like about Black Sheep Wools is the number of completed garments that are around for you to look at.  You get a much better idea of how a yarn will look when it's knitted up, you can feel the texture and you can even try a garment on to be quite sure that it's the one for you.  I loved this shawlette called "Starry Starry Night" in Rowan fine lace and kid silk haze.  Many years ago, I used to knit Rowan sample garments for a yarn shop and this would have been right up my street.  

I moved on along the rows of bright ribbons (aren't they scrumptious colours?),

finding a new treat around every corner.  Barbara, another member of staff, told me how wonderful it was to work in such a lovely place that was so close to home.  "Is it like working at Cadbury's though?" I asked.  "I mean, do you find that after a while you don't really notice all the yarns as much because you're in with them all the time?"  "Not at all," she smiled, "there's always something new coming in so I always have to have a look." Then she told me about her queue of projects and I had to agree with her that it's definitely not like working at Cadbury's!  

I had to show you a picture of this yarn because I have a confession to make. It's Rowan Alpaca Colour and I'm a bit of a sucker for alpaca yarn because it's so soft.  So I had to have a squidge.  Just for scientific research purposes, of course.  And it was sooo soft - so soft in fact, that I had to have another squish, and another, and then I put my whole hand into the middle of this pile of yarn skeins and squished some more.  It's very lucky that there wasn't a Yarn Dive pile of this yarn as I probably would have dived in and never come back out!  Beautiful!  I've got my eye on a skein (or two) of this for the future, but because I don't really like buying yarn to leave out of sight in my stash box for too long, I'll look for the perfect pattern first - which of course is yet another good excuse to visit Black Sheep again!

I put the yarn down and continued on along the rows of yarn in their rainbow colours.  Rows and rows of them, which led me nicely round the sock yarns. Of course.  You didn't think I'd go to a yarn store and not look at sock yarns, did you?!  Black Sheep stock quite a few sock yarns -  Rowan, Noro, Regia and new Sirdar yarn that I've not seen before amongst others. And look at this one - Regia yarn for baby socks - now who could resist tiny toes in these lovely colours?

These were my purchases - Regia  yarns in block stripes (I do like a stripy sock!) and wait for it - zebra stripes!  Zebra striped socks - how fantastic!  I can't wait to knit these up!  I also bought a some cross-stitch kits which will go into my "present box" where I keep a small stock of presents so that I'm never caught out for a birthday (something that seems to happen quite regularly with a teenager in the house!).

It was almost time to go.  In fact, I had spent so long at the Barn that I was in danger of being late for the school run!  I just took a last look around to make sure I hadn't missed anything and spotted this sign in the cafe which made me smile. 

It fits in perfectly with Black Sheep's policy on buying yarn too.  If you're putting lots of time and effort into making something to wear, then it's only right that you match your efforts with your yarns.  Sara told me over lunch about how they always choose good quality yarn and whilst they might not stock the whole range of, say, Debbie Bliss, they pick enough yarns across the range to make almost any garment might want, even if it involves some yarn conversion - and that's another thing that Black Sheep can help with.  Whilst I was in the store, one of the staff was advising a customer on which yarn to use instead of the one stated on her pattern, explaining how to read the yarn ball label to work out how much she would need.  There is handy information on yarn conversions, needle sizes and tension squares on Black Sheep's website too, which is very useful if you need to check something but don't want to have to search the internet to find it.  There's also information the workshops and exhibition appearances, both of which are hugely popular.

"We're very proud of the shop," Sara told me, and rightly so.  They get visitors from as far afield as Dundee, especially during sale time, and even coach trips with people eager to see the delights of the Barn for themselves.  It's a lovely place to visit.  Barbara summed it up perfectly when I had to dash back to take some more photos after accidentally deleting some of mine.  "Well, you're all right now," she said, as I waved my camera and new photos in relief.  "Just absorb the Yarn Calm."  Yarn Calm.  That's what we all get from creating our projects, and Black Sheep is just the place to provide it, whether in-store or online.

Thanks to the internet and the good old telephone, Black Sheep Wools can indeed be your local yarn shop just as much as mine.  I'm just not sure whether they'd post you the cake!

This post was sponsored by Black Sheep Wools who very kindly provided my delicious lunch - and also the opportunity to meet up with friends old and new, squish yarn and generally have a lovely afternoon.  Thank you! xx

Thursday, 15 May 2014

In the garden

Every time I've looked at the garden this week it has made me sigh - and not with pleasure!  The rain that we so badly needed has made everything shoot up, including the weeds, the grass is long enough to hide a small tiger (although that could have been the cat!) and I'm behind with my border-renovation plans.

The sun stayed out for long enough yesterday to dry the grass so that I could cut it, though, and I also attacked some of the weeds in the borders - goose grass, couch grass, buttercups and dandelions are the villains of the moment - and it was very satisfying to be able to pull them out in huge clumps, roots and all.

Then I stood up, looked around, and sighed again.  All that time spent and to me, it didn't look like I'd done much at all.  That's always the way with a garden, isn't it?  It's easy to say "oh, it'll look better next month" or "when I've sorted out that border/divided those plants/sown more seeds" but actually, I have plenty of plants in the garden that are doing wonderful things of their own right now so I decided I would ignore the areas that shouted "We need more work!" and I would look at the plants that look beautiful right now.

Like this one.  The first flower on my climbing rose "Emily Grey", given to me by my lovely friend Sonia ...

Aqueligas, forget-me-nots and Welsh poppies in a self-seeded community ...

The pale pink flower of a black elder, Sambucus nigra, about to open, framed against its beautiful black, feathery leaves ...

Mountain cornflower, Centaurea montans ...

A solitary purple Allium which has somehow made its way to the bottom of the garden ...

Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius), aquilegia and Weigela florida ...

One of my favourites - the furry (though quite prickly) leaves of Papaver orientale or Oriental poppy, ready to flower very soon ...

The smoke bush, Cotinus "Grace" next to Sambucus nigra and yet more Welsh poppies.  They're all over the garden and I love their bright, sunny yellow faces.

I went back into the house feeling quite cheerful.  I might not have done as much as I would have liked to, or needed to (and quite frankly, who ever does in a garden?!), but what I did do was notice and appreciate what was already there.  And yesterday, that was quite achievement enough.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Monthly Musing - May 2014 - Exam fever

Like many other households with teenagers, ours has become Mission Control for GCSE revision.  Big daughter has been counting down the days until the exams start – and finish.  She has her exam timetable stuck to the wall and every time we see her she has her nose stuck in a book.  It’s hard work and I’m very glad that I’m past all of that – even though some people would return to their schooldays in a flash (and I’m not one of them!), I’m not sure even they would want to face these exams.

The pressure on our young people these days is incredible.  It’s not just about doing well for their own sakes any more, the teachers are also under pressure to get the best results they can for a school that is under its own pressures from the Government’s ever-changing education goalposts.  It sometimes seems to us that the line is blurred over who needs the best results most.

Our tactic in all of this has been to try to keep big daughter as calm as we can.  Yes, of course these exams are important, but there are many of us who have made our way successfully in the world without twelve A* results.  Total burnout at sixteen and a loathing for education is a high price to pay, whatever the goals.  The world is a different place these days, I can hear you say, but what’s important for us and for big daughter is that she is able to do well enough to keep her options open, to be able to follow the educational route that she chooses and to keep a balance between work and play. 

Balance is vital to keep ourselves and our minds healthy.  All work and no play might have its own rewards, but my Dad always says that the graveyards are full of indispensible people.  All play is tempting – but surely a life without purpose would not in the end be much of a life at all. 

Our wish for our big daughter is that she is happy.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t care about her results, or aren’t 100% behind her studies.  We want her to be able to blossom and grow into a life of her own choosing, to be able to make her own informed decisions and to live a life of purpose.  Taking her GCSE exams is the first major step along the way.  I am sure that for big daughter herself, they are simply a hurdle to be overcome before the longest summer holiday and freedom from school that she’s ever had, but that doesn’t really matter.  We are encouraging her to revise as well as she can so that afterwards, she will have no regrets, no “I wish I’d done more of this subject or that subject” conversations with herself. 

I wish good luck to everyone taking exams over the next few months.
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