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Friday, 27 March 2015

Five on Friday

I'm happy to be able to join in with Five on Friday on Amy's blog this week.  In the rush of yet another busy week it's not always been easy to step back to take a breath, never mind photos, but here are my five things which have made me happy.

My girls enjoying the spring sunshine and doing their homework together on Sunday afternoon.

A spider's web between the trees on a frosty morning - really, the weather has been most strange this week!  We've had sparkling sunshine, heavy frost and blustering winds within the space of a few days, presumably a remind from nature that you still shouldn't be going out without your coat at this time of year.

My new zebra stripe socks.  I did tell you the other day that I hadn't got very far with them and just in case you didn't believe me, here's the proof!  You might have noticed that I'm not using my usual small circular needle and that's because I've worn it out.  It's true!  The join has started snagging after years of pretty much constant use so I'm waiting for a new one to arrive and have started these socks using magic loop.  I've also had to buy another set of double pointed needles after I lost one down inside the dashboard of the car (don't ask) so it's not been a great week to be a knitting needle in our house!

It was Garden Day yesterday and I was very happy to see these Akebia quinata flowers starting to open.  It's such a pretty climber and the flowers smell lovely.  It's also known as the chocolate vine although I've no idea why - it doesn't smell of chocolate at all!

Finally, the Seedling Update.  I know you'd be disappointed not to know how the sunflowers are getting on and there they are in the middle of this picture doing very well indeed.  In fact, as you can see, lots of my seeds are doing very well and have developed into healthy seedlings.  The last few frosty nights have worried me but they seem to have coped so fingers crossed they continue to grow.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A yarny morning

I finally made it to Black Sheep Wools' Yarn in the Barn knit n natter group yesterday morning - no mean feat as there's often a waiting list for the Tuesday morning session!  It's a big group, too - around thirty people - so it was very different to the afternoons I've been enjoying at Cooper's Cafe Bar in Skipton.

One of the highlights was meeting up with a friend with whom I used to work about twenty years ago and haven't seen since, although we have stayed in contact through Christmas cards.  (I will need to check the dates of this because I'm quite sure I'm not old enough to have not seen somebody for twenty years!)  It was so lovely to see her again; I had been worried that I might not recognise her but she hasn't changed a bit - she's clearly discovered the secret of how to make time stand still which I shall have to make her divulge at some point!

The knit n natter is held in a large room at the back of the Craft Barn.  I had wondered where everybody was going to fit, but there were three large tables and plenty of chairs so there was room for everyone.  It was pretty noisy, as you can imagine with so many people, but it was all very good-natured noise with people sharing projects and stories.

I didn't have an on-going project to take with me as I finished my star socks last week, so after having had a few days off it was time to start ... some new socks!

After the process of writing up a pattern, I just wanted to make some plain and simple round-and-round basic socks so this yarn was perfect.  I bought it at Black Sheep last year and it's part of Regia's Zoofari Color range which knits up into animal stripes.   This yarn is zebra stripe and whilst I've never seen a blue and red zebra before, I am looking forward to seeing how they turn out!

It took me quite a while to get going.  I've told you before about my need for stripes to match with my socks and these zebra stripes will be no different.  Whilst everybody else got going with their knitting or crocheting, I was busy unravelling the balls of yarn to find the point where the yarn colours were the same.

Once I did, I was off and away.  I only managed a few rows of the cuff because I was busy looking at other people's projects, helping my friend to embroider a face on the teddy comforter she had made and - ahem - buying sock yarn, so I didn't bother to take any more photos.  It's quite amazing how quickly two hours passes!

That's not all that I have to tell you about the morning - I have some exciting news to tell you about Black Sheep Wools.  They're taking part in this year's Let's Knit Love Your Sock Yarn day on Saturday 2 May - and so am I!  I'm not sure if they're just humouring me or if they're starting to finally believe me when I say that sock knitters will take over the world, but whatever the reason, I will be there and so will my socks J.

Last year, Let's Knit magazine held their first Love Your Yarn Shop day.  It's a day to celebrate bricks-and-mortar yarn shops, those places where you always see a friendly face, get to squish yarn rather than look at online pictures and can ask a real person for help and advice.  At Black Sheep you can also eat cake which is always a bonus in my opinion!  Yarn shops are being faced with increasing competition from online stores and whilst I think there is a place for both, it's a sad fact that each year bricks-and-mortar yarn stores are closing down leaving people with no choice but to buy online if they want to knit or crochet.  Love Your Yarn Shop day is all about getting to know your local store, trying out new skills and even meeting 'yarny' celebrities such as Erika Knight and Sarah Shrimpton. 

Black Sheep have got some great demonstrations planned for the day - the one I'm looking forward to seeing is spinner Cathy Wright.  I never get tired of watching a spinning wheel whirling around!  I'm going to be there to answer questions about knitting socks, to help people who've never knitted a pair but really fancy it to get started and possibly do a bit of knitting myself!  I'm also going to be surrounded by lots and lots of scrumptious yarn and I'm going to be in the place where they serve the most fabulous lemon cake in their cafe.  I'm hoping that you're going to come along too and say hello - it would be great to meet you!

You can read more about the day here and I'll be posting about it again (and trying not to get too over-excited!) before the day itself to remind you just how much you'd like to have a day out in Cheshire! 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Twinkle Star socks - free pattern and tutorial

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star ..."

The star socks are here at last, and thanks to everyone for your comments on the blog and Facebook about what to do about the outline!

As you can see, I've decided that my pair of socks will have outlined stars.  I like to be able to see them and I like the contrast of the colours.  However, your socks can be made with whatever style of stars you would like!  I've had lots of suggestions and I'll mention some of them as we go along. First of all, though, I just want to show off my socks!

I just love the sparkly yarn and I'm very happy with my outlined stars.  The yarn is super-soft and I'm hoping that it wears well as I can see me wearing these socks a LOT!

I used Sparkleduck Galaxy 4ply in the colour Rosebud to make the socks.  It is 75% superwash merino wool, 20% nylon and 5% Stellina (the sparkly bits).  I used some oddments of sock yarn that I had left over from another pair of socks to create the outlines.  You can use any sock yarn to make these socks for yourself.  Even variegated yarn would work if you made the outlines bold enough against the variegated colours.

There isn't any tension information given on the label for the yarn, so for once I had to check my gauge.  I'm usually far too impatient to bother with it, but as this is yarn I haven't knitted with before, it seemed like a sensible idea!  My tension sample worked out at 32 stitches and 52 rows to 10 cm on 2.5mm needles.  (Ignore the scratched table - can you see the sparkles now? J)  This is the usual gauge that I knit with so I would expect that this yarn would knit up to your usual gauge too, although it might be best to do a tension square just to check.  You should always check your gauge in the way that you are knitting, so in this case it's in the round.  I've chosen to cast on as if I'm knitting the whole sock here, but you can cheat a little and just knit the front of the sock and then carry the yarn across the back to represent knitting and then start again at the front side of your test piece if you want to.  It's a bit faster, but I wanted to see how the yarn was going to knit up for the whole sock which is why I chose to do it this way.  (I think the test piece looks a bit like a frog's face - can you see it too?)

I'm back on my 30cm circular again for these socks, but they can easily be knitted on DPNs or magic loop.  They're also easy to re-size as you can simply add or take away stitches in blocks of four to make bigger or smaller socks.

Before we get onto the pattern itself, let me show you the heels.  I'm very pleased with the heels. They've worked out just how I wanted them too.  I have wondered if I need to expand my horizons away from heel flaps, but I like them.  I like that they're cushioned and hard-wearing, and I like that I can change the stitch to make them look a little bit different from time to time.

Star stitch is very easy; the pattern tells you to "make star" and this is how you do it.

1  Put your right hand needle through the first three stitches on your left hand needle as if to purl.

2  Pull the yarn through the stitches onto the right hand needle but don't slide the stitches off the left hand needle.

3  Wrap the yarn around the right hand needle from front to back, then put your right hand needle back through the first three stitches on the left hand needle as if to purl.  You can see the wrap stitch circled in this picture ...

... and the three purl stitches circled in this picture.

4  Slide the stitches off the left hand needle.  You still have three stitches, although you have created them as new stitches with the purl/wrap/purl that you have just done.  The star will appear on the other side of your knitting.

This is what the heel flap looks like with the diagonal rows of stars.

Finally, before we get to the pattern itself, I want to talk to you about the stars on the main foot of the sock.  They are knitted from a chart which is always followed from right to left.  If you've never used a chart before you might find it easiest to print out a couple of copies so that you can mark the row that you're on - some people use a ruler to show where they're up to but I prefer to draw on a copy of my pattern so that if my pattern gets knocked (very easy to do with cats, dogs and children marauding about the house!) then I always know where I'm up to.

Now, these stars can be created however you would like.  You can leave them plain or you can outline them like my socks.  

Other suggestions that I have had are to partially outline them to highlight the shadows, making the stars look three-dimensional ...

... to knit the outline into the pattern or to knit the stars using the intarsia method so that the whole star is a different colour.

I love that there are so many different options to creating this sock!  There are so many things that you could do to change the pattern slightly to make the socks uniquely yours.  Want a broader channel to define the star area?  Put one in!  Want to make these as toe-up rather than top-down socks?  Just turn the star pattern around!

Want to make a pair of your very own?   Let's go for it!

Twinkle Star socks
(you can download a PDF of the pattern here.  There is a chart for the stars which isn't given here in the blog instructions so you will need a downloaded copy of the pattern)

These socks are constructed as top down socks with a gusset heel.  The heel is knitted in star stitch, which creates a durable, cushioned heel.  This pattern will create a medium-sized sock.  If you want to make the pattern bigger or smaller, simply increase or decrease the number of cast-on stitches by 4, but remember that you will need to make adjustments when you turn the heel.


2.5mm needles – I use a 30cm circular needle but DPNs or 80cm long circular for magic loop will also work
1 x 100g ball of 4ply sock yarn (or 2 x 50g depending on brand)
1 set DPNs size 3.0mm
1 set DPNs size 2.5mm
stitch markers
tapestry needle
spare yarn to outline stars (optional)

Gauge:     32 sts and 52 rows to 10 cm on 2.5mm needles   

Note: I cast on using DPNs then change to my small 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.

To adjust the size for this sock, just add or remove stitches in blocks of 4 from the cast on total.  Remember that you will need to make adjustments when turning the heel if you use extra stitches.


K                       Knit
P                       Purl
Sl                      Slip stitch
SSK                  Slip the first stitch on the left hand needle as if to knit, slip the second stitch  on the left hand needle as if to purl, transfer them both back to the left hand  needle and knit into the back of both stitches together
P2tog               Purl two stitches together
Make star       Purl first three stitches on left hand needle but do not slide stitches off  needle. Wrap yarn around right hand needle and purl first three stitches on  left hand needle again.  This time, slide the stitches off the needle.  This  creates the star on the right side of the knitting.


Cast on 60 stitches using 3.0mm needle. 

1st row:            K2, P2, repeat to end, turn
2nd row:          K2, P2, repeat to end, turn

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

Continue in K2, P2 rib for 14 more rounds or until desired length of rib (I knit 16 rounds of rib).

Star pattern

Knit one round

Set up round for pattern:     K36, P1, work 16sts of pattern (working from right to left), P1, K6, sl marker

Following pattern as set, work pattern rounds until desired length before start of heel.  It doesn’t matter which line of the pattern you finish on as long as you make a note of it so that you can continue in pattern after picking up the gusset stitches.

Heel Flap

Change to 2.5mm DPNs if you are using a small circular.  You are going to create the heel flap from half the number of stitches that you cast on, so if you have cast on more or less than 60 stitches, remember to adjust the number of stitches when you start the heel flap.       
Row 1:        (RS)  K1, knit to end, turn (30sts)
Row 2:       (WS) Sl1, *make star, P1 *, repeat to last 2 sts, P2, turn
Row 3:       Sl1, knit to end, turn
Row 4:       Sl1, P2, *make star, P1*, repeat to last 3 sts, make star, turn
Row 5:       Sl1, knit to end, turn

Repeat rows 2 to 5 until heel measures approximately 2 1/2 inches, finishing on row 3 or 5.  If you want to make the heel flap longer, continuing knitting rows 2 to 5 until you reach the desired length and finishing on row 3 or 5, but remember that you will need to pick up more stitches to create the gusset.
Turn heel

*For a larger or smaller sock, you will need to alter the number of purl stitches in the first row of the heel (marked in bold below), increasing by 1 stitch for each block of 4 stitches extra that you cast on, or decreasing by 1 stitch for each block of 4 stitches less than 60 stitches.  For example, if you cast on 64 stitches, your first row would be Sl1, P17, P2tog, P1, turn*

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 17 stitches.  Remember that if you made the heel flap bigger, you will need to pick up more stitches.  Once you have picked up the stitches, place marker.  Knit across the top of the foot  in pattern (I usually knit back onto my circular needle at this point), place marker, then pick up 17 stitches (or more if required) up the other side of the heel.  Knit across the top of the heel and then shape gusset as below.

Note: If you are using DPNs and/or have placed your stitches on a stitch holder, you can arrange the needles as follows:  Needle 1 for stitches across heel, Needle 2 for picked-up stitches down side of foot, Needle 3 for stitches across top of foot (knit stitches off stitch holder if required), Needle 4 for picked-up stitches on other side of foot.  You may find that stitch markers are not required at first.

Shape gusset

Round  1:        K to 3 sts before the marker, K2tog, K1, slip marker, knit to next marker keeping star pattern correct, slip marker, SSK, K to marker.
Round 2:         Slip marker, knit to next next marker keeping pattern correct, slip marker, knit to 3 sts before marker.
Round 3:        K2tog, K1, slip marker, knit to next marker keeping star pattern correct, slip marker, SSK, K to marker.

Continue in this way, decreasing by two stitches at the gusset on every other row until there are 60 stitches on the needle.

Once you have 60 stitches again, continue to knit each round until you reach approximately 5cm before the desired length ready to start the toes.   You will probably need to repeat the chart more than once; when you get to the top of the chart simply start again at the bottom.  Don't be afraid to try your sock on before decreasing for the toes!


At some point whilst decreasing for the toes, if you are using a small circular you will need to change back to DPNs as the number of stitches becomes too small for the circular.   You might even find it easier to do that even on a large circular.  It's up to you when you choose to do that, and how you distribute the stitches across the needles; just keep following the pattern as set below.  Create the toes as follows:

Round 1:         K1, SSK, K24 sts (keeping pattern correct), K2tog, K1, place marker, K1, SSK, K24 sts, K2tog, K1
Round 2:         Knit one round, slipping markers as you come to them
Round 3:         K1, SSK, K to 3 sts before marker (keeping pattern correct), K2tog, K1, slip marker, K1, SSK, K to 3 sts before marker, K2tog, K1

Repeat rounds 2 and 3 until you have 28 stitches left and divide these between two needles so that front and back of socks match.

Graft toes using Kitchener stitch.

If you want to outline your stars, simply embroider around the edges taking care not to pull the yarn too tight.  I used a back stitch but you can use any stitch that you like the look of.

You can also find this pattern on Ravelry so do show me your pictures if you decide to make starry socks for yourself - I'd love to see them!

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

Solar eclipse

It's quite an amazing thing to see the moon pass in front of the sun.  It's also quite eerie, but here in our part of the UK it wasn't a total eclipse so although it went darker and colder than it should have been at 9.30am on a Friday morning, it wasn't enough to stop the birds from singing or the rest of life carrying on as normal.

Small daughter has made a pinhole camera at school to watch the eclipse because of course you should never look directly at the sun.  Sadly, it was too cloudy for her to have been able to see anything projected through her viewer, so I've taken a few photos for her to see later.  And no, I didn't look directly at the sun either.  I took the term "point and shoot" quite literally (with my eyes shut, mostly!) and then adjusted the pictures later - what a wonderful invention picmonkey is!

So just in case you missed it too, here are my pictures.  There's not going to be another one until 2026 so I'm glad I got a chance to see it today.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Shreddings and seedlings

The sun was shining today after a foggy start so I decided to work in the garden instead of the greenhouse today.  It's been quite cold overnight lately and my propagator is full so I didn't want to sow any more seeds that might not appreciate the cold temperatures.

I've noticed that there are more birds around the garden at the moment too.  We've got a nesting box that has housed blue tits for the last few years and there's been some activity around it over the last week or so.  I don't think you can see particularly well on this picture, but the entrance has had some alterations made to it by the various inhabitants to make it easier for them to get in and out.  

This nesting box wasn't looking like much of a des-res so whilst I had the ladder out for pruning the apple trees, I thought I'd better repair it.  It's a robin box, with a wide space at the entrance instead of a hole but it's not much use for anything like this.

Luckily, I found a piece of old wood which was just the right size to replace the bottom and it was a simple job to nail it in place.  I don't know if any birds will move in this spring, but I'm happier now that they could if they wanted to.

Repair job done, it was time to tackle the apple trees.  This was the main job that I wanted to do today.  Our apple trees haven't been pruned for quite some time and they've gradually got bigger and bigger, growing across the telephone wire and next door's hedge.  The apples they produce haven't been great over the last few years - they've got smaller and smaller and are quite scabby-looking although they taste all right when they're peeled.  Apple trees can be quite temperamental about being pruned but it's got to the point where something drastic needs doing.

I started pruning them on Sunday (my husband wanted to know why most women would be taking the opportunity to put their feet up on Mother's Day whilst I was up a tree, but I think he already knows the answer to that one!) and there was still a bit of work left to do.  The trees aren't a great shape for climbing, but with the help of the ladder I can get right up to the tops and look across in the bedroom windows.  It reminds me of being a child again!  We used to live quite close to a small woodland where there were plenty of trees to climb and I would often spend the day there with friends inventing games in the branches and trying not to fall out.

If you think it looks as if I've cut down a small tree, you're not far wrong there.  Some of the branches were far thicker than I expected them to be and although I am slightly worried that I might have overdone it, I am sure that the trees will be much happier now that they're not such a sprawling mess.

My next job was shredding the branches.  I do like using my shredder, there's something about seeing garden waste turned into something useful that pleases me very much - in this case, bark chippings which I'll save to put on the borders later in the year.

That's pretty much all there is to show you of the garden work I've done today, but let's take a quick look in the greenhouse before I go back indoors.

Past the twisted hazel, aren't those catkins wonderful?

There's been some progress in the seed trays and I'm having to take great care that the seedlings don't get chilled.  This, of course, is why you don't sow seeds too early but I've got so many to sow this year that I was prepared to take the risk.  These are Calendula (marigold) and poppy seedlings, and I've noticed quite a few of the other seeds I've sown are starting to germinate now as well - I'll show you those next time.

Remember the plug plants I bought?  They're settling nicely into their new pots and although they haven't changed much in size at the moment, they're looking very healthy and I know that they'll be developing a strong root system before producing more leaves.

Here are my 24 sunflowers.  Thankfully, they haven't grown a great deal either but they are definitely bigger than last week and pretty soon they're going to need re-potting.  Uh-oh!

And just in case I don't have enough sunflowers, here are yet more of them in the seed tray -  you'll be able to spot our house from space because of all the sunflowers in the garden!

It's been lovely to be out in the sunshine today, and I'm really pleased with the jobs that are starting to get done in the garden.  

I'm going to be posting my star sock pattern tomorrow, so be sure to come back and take a look - just the thing for a new weekend project! J

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