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This hat was inspired by not one, but two types of penguin, the adélie and the chinstrap. The adélie influenced the plain version and the chinstrap, the striped. Chinstrap hat doesn’t have quite the same romance and ring to it. In fact, it would have been a really unappealing name for a hat, no matter how cool a penguin they are, so I settled on Adélie.

The shaping of this hat is based on old-fashioned baby bonnets, but without the forehead peak (which tends to be a tricky look for adults to pull off). Those baby hats were generally knitted flat and this one is knitted in the round, so it has no back seam. Markers are placed at regular intervals to help you keep track of what you are doing and instructions are given row-by-row. In effect, it’s like knitting a large set of chevrons in the round, so that the hat fits just-so.

Knitted all in black, it has something of a Louise Brooks bob about it. I wanted a hat that frames the face and keeps my ears warm. I’d also been on a futile search for a hat that fitted under my bike helmet in such a way that it kept my ears warm. This was my solution. I’m tempted to knit one in safety yellow with that reflective tape stranded in.


Instructions are given for both the plain and striped version in three adult sizes. If you are knitting it in one colour, you can use a single ball of Navia Trio 
(DK/worsted weight; 100% wool; 120m / 131yds per 50g) which you can buy straight from The Island Wool Company and a selection of their lovely, local, brick and mortar stockists. If you want to get stripy, you’ll need an extra ball of colour or roughly half/half with a bit more of colour A. You’re looking for a yarn that gives you 19 sts x 32 rows = 10cm / 4” over colourworked stocking stitch after blocking. This is quite heavy for a UK DK, but it isn’t quite yet an aran. It’s right on the borders of a worsted and a light worsted. Yarn categories are so flexible and have so much variation – it’s insane. Navia is a nice standard, traditional Nordic 3-Ply weight. You could experiment with knitting in an aran weight as Helen of The Wool Kitchen did (with great results) when she tested it for me. Mandy has made a few of them, one in handspun, another in special reserve, stashed angora and a third in a marl.

We had an immense amount of fun during this part of the the photoshoot. We did it outside Fin & Flounder on Broadway Market. They were slightly bemused, but totally accommodating. I’ve never had so many puns hurled at me by passing strangers. “Are you sure you’re in the right plaice?” “Looks fishy to me!” “Hats off to you!” “Can’t pull the wool over your eyes!” And a bunch of others I can’t recall, but apparently, the combo fish, wool and knitting is a rich vein. With all that going down, we just decided to channel Abba.

You can find the pattern details for the Adélie hat on Ravelry. Soon you’ll be able to purchase the printed Penguin: a Knit Collection book from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already arranged to stock it). And you can most certainly Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

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The best compliment Kristin and I have received about our cardigan design collaboration has been from Joy, aka The Knitting Goddess, who described it as not looking like a knitting pattern at all, instead like something that came from a cool boutique. It made us quite giddy and we can’t wait to see Joy’s version, knitted in her hand-dyed yarn, but let me backtrack a little and put this pattern in context.

Kristin Blom and I met via Instagram a few years back and our online friendship has morphed into a very real one. Since she lives in Uppsala and I live in London, this means travelling quite a distance to visit each other, but we’ve done it a number of times now. Meeting in person for the first time included all the same nervous feelings as going on a first date – what will they think of me, what will I think of them, will it spoil the lovely online relationship that has blossomed, will they smell?

We’d planned she would pick me up from the train station where my bus would arrive from the airport. We were diving straight in – I was going to spend the night! When we located each other, she talked ten to the dozen and I had a brief moment of thinking “oh gosh, oh no, what have I let myself in for?”, before realizing that that was probably her way of compensating for her own set of nerves in the situation. Who knows what weird behaviour I was displaying.

Our friendship had worked its way beyond Instagram when she offered to test knit my Archipelago hat design for me. I don’t much recall whether she caught any dire mistakes in my instructions. What I remember was her casually asking me at the end of the process whether I needed help laying out the pattern and turning it into a PDF. It was a little bit like the heaven’s had opened and a giant light shone out. I heard a little chorus of chipmunks or maybe rats singing. I remember thinking “how the hell did she know that?” I quickly said yes, please.

There’s a lot of work involved in making a pattern and it’s so nice to share that. Kristin is a communication designer, but importantly, alongside that, she is an ardent knitter. She and I made Penguin: a Knit Collection together. She was the one who made it possible, making it look good on paper and be a joy to knit from, aside from all the patterns she tested. I couldn’t have done it without her. We have spent hours and hours on the phone together, well, Skype actually, working through edits. Our own little work rhythm and system of interacting has developed and I think I am going to suffer from serious Kristin withdrawals now the book is done.

The Aptenodytes cardigan is a design collaboration between her and I. She cooked it up – the shape, the stitch and cool use of a loose tension. She turned up at my house with the first sample for a knit evening we’d organized to celebrate the fact that a bunch of international knitters were coincidentally in London at the same moment and we had to gather to knit together. We all tried it on and fell in love, regardless of the fact that a couple of us weren’t usually inclined to such flow-ey garments.

I was excited to be able to test knit her first big pattern. It felt like reciprocating for all the testing she does for me. Soon, to feel-out her reaction, I hinted it that the cardigan was quite penguinish (the rounded fronts that drape down like wings, the luxurious collar, the slimline sleeves…) I’d been worried I had penguins so firmly on the brain that I might be seeing them everywhere, even where they weren’t. When she agreed, I asked her if she’d have it in the book and she agreed to that too. I helped make it work as a pattern, adding the sleeve-and-back-into-shoulder construction and the grading for a good range of sizes.


Its drape-frontedness makes it flattering on a full range of body sizes. Because of the open style of this cardigan, we recommend erring towards a smaller rather than larger size, so the sleeves fit snuggly. It goes up to an XXL and I think it will look great on the big boobs I don’t have. The shaping also works particularly well for penguin mamas: whether pregnant or breastfeeding. Kristin was just pregnant when she started designing it and wanted something to wear that would see her through that time and well beyond: something that wasn’t maternity wear in any way, but did have that flexible fit. She’s made the cutest baby in the time we’ve made the book.

Sometimes row tension isn’t as important as stitch tension, but for this pattern it’s worth keeping a close eye on both, because the fronts are worked sideways and need to work with the vertically knitted sleeves, back and collar. Also the sleeves are knitted in the round and the body flat, which means it’s good to check how your tension differs between flat and circular knitting. Many knitters find their tension can change significantly. Mine does OK between circular and flat, unless I’m working magic loop and then it diverges quite dramatically. If this is the case for you, make sure to check your tension carefully between sleeves and body and adjust your needle size accordingly. This may mean you need an additional needle in a different size.

On the subject of needles, if you are choosing ones specifically for this project, I would chose ones with nice pointy tips, such as Addi Lace or Chiaogoo. A nice pointy tip makes it easier to insert the needle into 4 stitches at once, which you will need to do for the daisy stitch. The engaging stitch pattern alternates rows of daisy stitch with eyelets and purl feature rows on a base of stocking
 stitch. The stitch pattern is written and charted and is nice and easy to remember and see where you are.

Have fun picking the yarn. There’s a lot of flexibility. I’ve used a single colour of Navia Duo in the book, which is a 4ply/Sport weight, knitted on larger needles to get a heavy DK/worsted tension with drape. You want to look for a yarn that indicates 22-23 sts to 10cm on the label and adjust your needle size to obtain the Aptenodytes tension which is 19 sts and 26 rows = 10cm / 4” over stocking stitch on 5mm (or whatever needle size you find you need). Generally this means you will knit on larger needles to achieve fewer stitches than specified on the ball band. Alternatively, use a DK weight yarn if you want a warmer, more densely knit garment. Navia Trio would work great and both are available from The Island Wool Company.

Aptenodytes_detail_webYou could even use two colours to pick out and feature rows of the stitch pattern.

It is fastened with a button on either side of the neckline (one hidden button and one larger feature button) with the option of two different buttonholes on either side for a variety of ways to wear it, so that’s another part you can have fun choosing – the buttons AND how to button it up!

I know we tend to shy away from all-black knitting projects, they’re not always the easiest to keep track of in low-light situations and from a designer and photographer perspective, it can be hard to communicate the details that shine in the actual knit. But, it had to be black for the book shoot in order to emphasise the penguin nature of it and beyond that, think how much you would wear it!

The Aptenodytes cardigan is one of the 11 patterns in Penguin: a Knit Collection. You can find the pattern details on Ravelry and, soon, purchase the print book from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they haven’t already contacted me to stock it).

Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

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Knitting the Winter Blues

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 15, Winter 2015. Illustration by Jo Waterhouse.

I’ve never quite understood why people don’t wear especially cheerful colours in the winter. With little light, the world is at its drabbest, but we needn’t be! This is when apple red, marigold yellow, cornflower blue, beetroot pink, grass green, shades of hydrangea – you name it – are needed most. I’m not suggesting you have to go full-on Crazy Textile Lady, but a step in that direction would certainly brighten my day. I’d be willing to compromise and accept softer tones in the summer when nature’s abundance seems to make even these colours sparkle. Sadly, I don’t have that level of bargaining power.

On the fashion colour front, the new black is blue in an unprecedented way, or at least since the early 90s. It is being served as the main dish, not just as a side of jeans. The craft world too is awash with shades of indigo. We’ve embraced the shades of sky (day and night), bruises, gentian, sapphire, and newborn baby eyes. This time around it’s ideally naturally dyed in urine vats, and perhaps even spun and woven from local fibres. In this way, it is a new spin on the 70s, when denim reigned supreme and everyone was all about the DIY craze. Now I am going to go out on a limb here; I’m going to tie together our current blue period with our increasing awareness and openness about depression. We still have a long way to go but, like double denim, being blue really isn’t as taboo as it once was – it is everywhere.

At the tail end of August, the fourth In the Loop conference took place in Glasgow. Sadly, I didn’t get to attend this year, but I did have the pleasure of attending the third iteration a couple of years back. One of the talks was by Betsan Corkill and Jill Riley. They spoke about ‘Knitting for Wellbeing’ and it struck a chord with many of us, both as knitters and as teachers. It’s possible you were one of the 3,545 Ravellers worldwide who took part in the extensive survey they conducted. Though the focus of their lecture was on their research related to the alleviation of chronic pain and depression, the curative and distracting nature of knitting rang true to many of us. Betsan Corkhill has now written a book entitled Knit for Health & Wellness: How to knit a flexible mind and more…, which is very much on my reading list if I ever manage to put my needles down for long enough.

Through research such as theirs, the health benefits of knitting, particularly for mental health, are gaining increasing attention. A knitting project requires engagement in something outside of yourself and helps you envisage a future in which, at the very least, you have a finished item. It’s a gentle way to be social which can even encourage you to leave the house. If you don’t, it still involves movement, albeit just with your hands, eyes, and brain, which if you’re depressed is no small feat. Whatever level your knitting is at, there’s choice, skill, and learning involved – all good things. A little challenge, or a whopping great knitting conundrum, keeps your brain spry whether you are 5 or 95. It’s well known that engaging in activities and in society helps to improve life expectancy. It’s something a lot of us have known in our bones all along. I’m convinced many of us, knowingly or not, self- medicate with our stitches.

As we enter the darkest months, I think it’s important to remember that knitting puts the ‘win’ in winter. You can be productive while sitting under a pile of blankets fuelled by a pot of tea and snacks. Up the pleasure stakes with the addition of a hot water bottle (knitted cosy optional, but thoroughly recommended). Outside may be varying degrees of cold and dark, absolving you of the feeling that you should be out enjoying the sunshine or getting some air. If you can persuade a friend into your nest, all the better. If you relish being alone, you may just be in luck; you can delight in extending an invite without the hassle of actually hosting since they will probably opt to stay home.

While there are many occasions for knitters to meet and we are often social creatures, the truth is quite a few of us also like doing it alone. That’s where social media plays a funny role in allowing us to be chatty crafting loners. It makes us both more and less social and continues to intrinsically shift the way we communicate as we form and maintain communities. We don’t need to be physically present to share a project, buy yarn from a ‘friend’ or solve stitch-related (and a few of life’s other) problems together. But there are issues with this cyber existence. It both alleviates and perpetuates feelings of isolation. It keeps us even further than arm’s length apart, though our projects and long- distance friendships are truly close to our hearts. Often it feels terribly modern. At the same time, it isn’t a world away from having a pen pal of the sort you may have signed up for in secondary school or that a faraway aunt hooked you up with. It certainly mediates our experiences and allows us to be more creative with our self- presentation.

While these social networks for knitters have many positive sides, we must be wary of how they feed our unhealthy habits of jealousy and feelings of low self-esteem. I am thinking about our constant inclination to think someone else’s life is easier. Whether it’s their career, kids, family, love life, or knitting, we jump to the assumption that other people have it better. We know we are getting a mediated view, a fraction of the full picture, yet we would readily crown someone Penelope Queen of Intarsia, Well-Behaved Children in Handmade Attire and Regular Good Shags, while considering ourselves crap, lowly fudgers. There are people who really draw the shortest straw in life, but for most of us there are ups and downs. Ask yourself who you know who has a straightforward, easy life and whose knits are always stellar? Who woke up instantly accomplished at everything they do? Anyone? No? Now ask yourself why this would suddenly apply to someone on the other end of a gadget. If it bums you out to see a stranger presenting a beautifully edited version of their life, unfollow them. If they are a friend, you probably know the bouts of chaos that occur behind the scenes. Why would strangers be exempt from that?

As knitters we are inclined to feel the winter blues as much as anyone, but, luckily, we do have at least one extra incentive to love the season. Dark, chilly days and long evenings call for copious layers of wool and motivate a multitude of creative projects. When I lived in California, where seasonal transitions are near non-existent, I missed that sense of celebration that the changing world around us inspires. Discernable winters make fleeting summers a constant party with light till late and happy people out to enjoy. We make an extra effort to savour summer; it’s an acceptable thing to do. Liking winter makes one a little odd, but so does knitting. Let’s revel in that, vanquish the green-eyed monsters and let knitting the colour blue sooth away our troubles. We have the wool to make it happen. Knitting truly provides a reason for the season and helps beat the winter blues.

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The Fledgling mittens are baby emperor penguins for your hands. They are one of the 11 patterns in Penguin: a Knit Collection and the first I am properly introducing you to. I’ll share the others, one a day, till they’re all covered.

Cute, as well as practical, these colourwork mittens are knitted in the round with afterthought thumbs. They start with a ribbed cuff and progress to simple 1×1 checkerboard colourwork. The tops of the mittens (the little emperor penguin chick faces) are charted separately for each of the 3 sizes. The densely knitted wool fabric has the added bonus of floats (from the colourwork) at the back, which make them extra warm.

Fledgling is the generic name for baby birds after they have gained their flight feathers, but penguins can’t fly (unless you count how they travel through water). Birdies tend to buck the trend of baby animals being adorable straight off the bat. They are often bald and pinkish red (not in a cute way) with dark blue grey bulbous eyes that shine through their thin skin even when closed. Not to mention their cavernous beaks. Hatching pre-feathered, penguin chicks get to skip that phase and be instantly can-I-keep-it? cute. They need those feathers to equip them to withstand intensely cold temperatures and wind (though they still have to snuggle on the feet of their parents for additional warmth).

Knitted in three shades of Navia Trio, a DK/worsted weight yarn that’s 100% wool and which you can purchase from The Island Wool Company, you’re looking for 28 sts x 30 rows to measure 10cm / 4” x 10cm / 4” over the checkerboard pattern. This is significantly tighter than you would knit a DK/worsted sweater in, where you would look for a tension of 19sts to 10cm/4” from the same yarn. That makes it a heavy DK for us in the UK and somewhere on the borders between a worsted and a light worsted in the USA. Navia is a Faroese yarn and comes in the traditional Nordic weights of 1-Ply, 2-Ply and 3-Ply, hence Uno, Duo and Trio. These equate loosely to laceweight, 4ply/sport and DK/worsted.

I have indicated the places in the pattern where you might want to make adjustments to tailor your mittens to your specific hands (or whoever is going to be the lucky recipient): at the cuffs, the length of hand before the colourwork face and the length of the thumb. I designed them to have nice deep cuffs of 6cm / 2¼”, which in combo with the ribbing should hold them on your hands snuggly. Regardless, I’d be tempted to sew a long length of elastic between them and thread that through my coat sleeves like my mum used to do with my gloves and mittens when I was little. I’d hate to lose one of these! They have faces on, which means they have characters and should have names.

Lynn Manderville did me the honour of test knitting them for me. She knows a thing or two about colourwork mittens (just look at her Weeds pattern). As well as tech editing the pattern, Rachel Atkinson couldn’t resist knitting a pair. She is still settling on what to call hers. Archie and Isaac, Milo and Steve or Pete and Petunia are in the mix. Any further suggestions welcome. What would you call yours?

You can find the Fledgling pattern details on Ravelry and Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!

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OK, so I could bang on about Marlisle for days. I’ve had so much fun cooking it up and teaching it. Sending my students off, buzzing with ideas for their own designs using this method is so satisfying. This might be partly because they are forced to – I hadn’t published any Marlisle patterns until now. This is the first one. The term is a mash-up of “marl” – two noticeably different shades of yarn plied or in this case, held together – and the “isle” from Fair Isle. Regardless of geographic origin, Fair Isle 
is often used as a catch-all for stranded colourwork. Marlisle allows this circular knitted sweater to have small patches of pure white on the front, but not the back without working intarsia, yet spread over distances that would be unworkable using regular stranded colourwork (because the floats would be epic).

To achieve this, a strand each of charcoal and white yarn are held double and worked in garter stitch for the majority of this bottom-up sweater. The white yarn is separated out where required and worked akin to stranded colourwork in stocking stitch to produce that pop of single colour. Because you are always carrying A&B colours around, you have both colours available to use individually at all times. The density of the fabric changes little, as the yarn is always double thickness thanks to the floats behind the colourwork sections.

The sweater used for the photoshoot was knitted combining a strand of Snældan 3-Ply in Fleece White held together with a 2-Ply in Charcoal. These are traditional Nordic weights of yarn as Snældan comes from the Faroe Islands and is a mix of Faroese and Falkland wool. I fell in love with all the Faroese yarns thanks to The Island Wool Company making them available in the UK. These two weights are equivalent to DK/worsted and 4ply/sport. In combination you are looking for a tension of 16 sts x 28 rows = 10cm / 4” over garter stitch using one strand of A and B held together, after blocking.


The resulting fabric is intentionally dense with definite structure thanks to the yarn and the garter stitch combo. Using two same-weight yarns or an aran/worsted with a heavy laceweight to achieve the required tension when combined is also an option. If you prefer a lighter fabric, you could try stranding two 4ply/sport yarns or even a DK/worsted with a heavier laceweight. I think you get the idea – dive into you stash and see what you have. It might be the perfect time to use a laceweight skein with many many metres/yards on it in combo with something heavier. Do keep an eye that you use the thicker one for the main colour in the rib and the motifs, or you could run into tension issues.

I promise I’ll bang on about Marlisle here a lot more in the future, not just on Instagram, but you know, gotta start somewhere and I am so excited about the possibilities of it. Also, you might notice that the photoshoot I did with Elle (fate that she trades as Yellow Bird Photography?) totally references my #yarnandoldcars habit.


The Humboldt is a graphic, cropped sweater with a boxy body balanced out by fitted sleeves. It is one of the 11 patterns in Penguin: a Knit Collection. I give instructions for sizes from XS to XXL and you should pick a size that allows the bust measurements to fit with 20-25 cm / 8-10” positive ease. You can find the pattern details on Ravelry and soon purchase it from your LYS (you might need to ask them to order it in, if they aren’t already stocking it).

If you’re lucky, you might win the giveaway that’s happening over on Mason Dixon Knitting which will get you a copy of the book AND the yarn to make your own Humboldt.

If not, you can get the yarn straight from The Island Wool Company and Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!!!

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I’ve made a book. Penguin: a Knit Collection will arrive back from the printers this week. I know some of you have been waiting for it patiently and that has really helped the process along. The responses I’ve gotten when giving sneak peeks at places like To Gather DTLA, AVFKW, Unravel, Stephen & Penelope, Ja, Wol and Yarndale were totally encouraging. It’s the summation of well over a year of work in collaboration with many amazing people and their skills. I am beyond excited to finally be able to share it with you.

It’s 80 pages of full colour, printed on a proper, huge, Heidelberg press in London. It was great to be able to hop on public transport and go and see it be printed last Monday (and bring my dad and editor, Amelia Hodsdon along). In addition to being local, Park Communications take the environment seriously in their print work, which was important to me. The uncoated paper we decided on for the book has good environmental credentials, making it even coooooler. It also means on you can write on it with pencil (or pen) to keep track of where you are in the pattern, make notes of any personal adjustments or just draw some of your own penguins in the margins. They were so generous about satisfying our curiosity about, well, everything.


Here are my Dad and Amelia having the Heidelberg press explained to them by Michael.

There are 11 knitting patterns in the book, all inspired by penguins – 2 cardigans, a sweater, 2 hats, a beret and cowl set, a shawl, a pair each of socks and mittens and a cuddly penguin called Pinglwin, who wears a removable knitted tuxedo hoodie (because otherwise she is all white and she gets fed up explaining why). The whole collection is tied together by a strong palette of black and white, with a smattering of greys, mustard yellow, soft brown and pale pink. Only Pinglewin and the Fledgling mittens are noticeably penguinish. For the other knits, the inspiration link is much more subtle.

The book is filled with little stories and a long introduction essay explaining how and why it came about: my love of knitting, fun, community and… PENGUINS! It’s crammed with photographs of the 10 garments photographed around my neighbourhood of London Fields in Hackney, East London. I had the most wonderful photoshoot with Elle Benton. Ania Grzymajlo did double duty as model and doing hair and make-up, so it’s not only my face you’ll see in there. Thijs groot Wassink did a great job coaxing a slightly shy Pinglwin into be photographed while knitting. There are photographs of real penguins from Chuck Graham and Lori ann Graham, hand-drawn schematics (by me) and the most glorious watercolour endpapers and illustrations from Narangkar Glover.

I had an amazing tech editing team checking things over and a couple of great general editors keeping an eye on the flow, style and clarity of all the stuff I really wanted to tell you. (One of the hardest things about making the book was limiting it’s size to be manageable to print and post, then read and knit from.) And my test knitters were the BEST. I am not going to go into everyone in detail, because I do it in the book, but I also think it might be a nice idea to tell you about them even more extensively here, at a later date.


This is a small view of the Aptenodytes cardigan, mainly so I can show you the penguin nails.

It has kept me immensely busy and now I’m ready to celebrate. I hope you’ll join me. If you can make it to London, please come say hello at the launch next Saturday, 5 December, at Wild & Woolly from 2pm. Dress like a penguin or at least in black, white, pink and yellow. I’m cooking up a prize for the most penguin-y of you and I’ll give penguin manicures to the first few through the door. I’ll also be at the PomPom Xmas Party on December 11th at Foyles. I have a growing list of LYS who I am thrilled will be stocking it. (Do drop me a line if you are interested in stocking it or have a favourite LYS you’d like to recommend I contact). And of course, you can Get your copy of PENGUIN: A Knit Collection HERE!.

See you soon. I’ll start introducing each pattern over the coming week.

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Yarn Marks the Spot

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 15, Autumn 2015

Black Welsh Mountain, Border Leicester, Boreray, Cambridge, Castlemilk Moorit, Clun Forest, Cotswold, Dalesbred, Devon Closewool, Derbyshire Gritstone, Dorset Down, Dorset Horn, Greyface Dartmoor, Exmore Horn, Hampshire Down, Hebridean, Hill Radnor, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Lleyn, Leicester Longwool, Lincoln, Manx Loaghton, Masham, Norfolk Horn, North Ronaldsay, Oxford, Poll Dorset, Polwarth, Portland, Romedale, Romney, Rough Fell, Ryeland, Scottish Blackface, Shetland, Shropshire, Soay, Southdown, South Wales Mountain, Suffolk, Swaledale, Teeswater, Welsh Mountain, Wensleydale…

This could read as an impractical itinerary for an alphabetised tour of the United Kingdom. But you, savvy readers, probably recognise it as the names of sheep breeds. The prize on this treasure hunt is wool. Complaints abound about how television and radio have led to the disappearance of local British accents. Many traditional sheep breeds are similarly on the edge. It is not telly that has led to their demise, but the economic ramifications of large- scale farming, globalisation, synthetics, washing machines and air conditioning.

I also think the fact that knitting was decidedly “uncool” for about a decade, and the apparent increase in our intolerance for itchiness have both played a significant part in reducing the demand for yarn made from these sheep’s fleeces.

We are rapidly making up for our dropped stitches. There has been a dramatic resurgence of interest in single-breed and locally produced yarns. While scarceness could have made them hard to come by, the t’interweb and ease of international travel have made them accessible like never before. Hardly coincidentally, our skills are returning to a level where we have the nous to adapt patterns (or even design our own) to suit the small-scale producer yarns we might be lucky enough to get our hands on. The truth of the matter is you won’t find much pattern support for these yarns; it just isn’t viable. This puts the ball in your court. Luckily, in the 10+ years that knitting has been “Oh, isn’t knitting really fashionable again?!” we have followed enough patterns, blogs and knit-alongs to know there’s a world beyond sticking to the specified yarn in the pictured colours.

It would be remiss of me not to bring up the potential itch factor when it comes to yarn from these rediscovered breeds. Buttery softness has never been a top priority; they were bred at a time when you might own a couple of sweaters at best and you needed them to last. Nylon didn’t exist to strengthen your socks; you wanted them to be hard-wearing so you wouldn’t have to darn them constantly. Yes, silky soft feels nice against your skin, but its use stops right around there. It might be super squishable at the wool shop and a dream on your fingers, allowing for hours of pleasant knitting, but the likelihood is it will result in an accessory or garment that pills infuriatingly even after a single wear. And so now it seems we are ready to return to rough and tough yarns in the hope that they will increase the longevity of our handiwork and justify the hours we put in. But isn’t there also something breathlessly exciting and rewarding about rescuing something from the brink of extinction?

Before a standard issue yarn lands in the cute cubbyhole at a LYS or through your letterbox, it has often travelled further than many could hope to in a lifetime. The production itinerary of a big box yarn looks a lot like the round-the-world ticket of an American 20-something on a westward looping trip to self-discovery. The journey might start with an Antipodean sojourn (for raw fibre), then whizz through rapidly modernising China (for processing). To be swish, there will be a stop in Europe (for spinning in Italy). Next port of call is India (for packaging). Along the way there might be a stop or two more, even some backtracking before returning home. While we might be able to justify the carbon footprint of personal travel with the benefits of eye-opening exploration, there’s a growing awareness that such globetrotting is frivolous for our consumables. Especially if they can be made close to home and the international quest they are sent on is actually a question of the bottom line. Like budget airlines, there are hidden costs and a lot of fine print.

Wool of a specific place, sheep and people – where perhaps the landscape or history dictates or creates a yarn’s colour – is an exciting thing. Chances are, if a fleece protected a sheep native to your local environment from the elements, it will be ideally equipped to do the same for you. In an age of global brands, where the market is saturated with homogenous, mass-produced products, it’s important, satisfying and rewarding to find ways of circumventing them. People do it for all kinds of reasons: to be responsible, forward-thinking, old-fashioned, elitist, or simply to support friends and neighbours. The knock-on benefits of local yarn are countless, not least in the friend-making department. We all like a good story and the stories you’ll receive and have at your disposal with these yarns is incomparable to any big brand, no matter how hard their PR department works to spin a tale.

Attempts at knitting purism abound – only knitting lopapeysa in Iceland wool or just using Shetland wool for your Fair Isle knits. There is sense to this: many regional styles of knitting grew from the properties of the local fleece, but remember that there also would have been no other yarn available at the time. And if you don’t actually live in those places, some of the point is lost anyway. A more accurate reflection of our contemporary world is to engage in fusion knitting. Like fusion cooking, it involves melding ingredients and preparation styles from different regions of the world in a way that recognises and appreciates their heritage. My friend Celine has a wealth of knowledge regarding European single country yarns. Geography always plays a role in her decisions about which yarns to combine in her next project. She likes the fleece to be grown and spun in a single country in order to support the local business ecosystem, traditions and environment, but after that, she feels free to combine them. The provenance of each yarn and the stories of how she got them, whether from her local mill or as a souvenir from her or her friends’ travels, are knit into the project and make it all the more special.

Ready for some educational exploration of your own? You could do worse than reading Sue Blacker’s Pure Wool: A Knitters Guide to Using Single-Breed Yarns (A&C Black Publishers Ltd, 2012) and Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Wool (Potter Craft, 2009). When November rolls around, be ready to join the Wovember fun (yes, November isn’t just for growing out your moustache). If you appreciate a royal endorsement from Prince Charles, there’s Wool Week in October. Most importantly though, ask around – check out your local yarn shop, farm shop, city farm, county fair, or sheep and yarn festival – and who knows what treasures you’ll discover. And if your travels take you further afield, yarn packs very well.

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Some Are Knitting

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 13, Summer 2015

It’s summer time! Let’s paaaaaaaaaaaaaartay! A time for skimpy clothes, scrumptious salads, trashy novels and open-air romance. There’s skinny-dipping, mosquito whacking, and jam making to be done, but what of knitting? Should we go cold turkey while it’s warm out? Pah! Of course not! Here are some quasi- scientific points to ponder as you pick your projects from these pages.

DURATION – how long is your summer? This pertains to both how long you will be able to wear summery garments and how much time you have to work on projects. Regardless of how quick your hands can form stitches, you also need to be realistic about how many waking hours you can give over to knitting. This may be dictated by nature or the unfortunate fact that other things in life need attending to. With kids around for longer hours than in term time, are they the sort to bring ice cream and knit the cuffs for you or do they require an eagle eye and ready hands? At work, do your summers mean time off or peak season?

TEMPERATURE – how hot do your summers get and how much does that vary from your winters? Are you off somewhere nice? If your summers are cool and winters crazy cold, you don’t really need an extensive wardrobe of hot weather gear. Strappy vests are aspirational to the point of frivolous and therefore an extra exciting treat to knit. If your summer morphs seamlessly into autumn, which bleeds into winter oozing into spring, you are under much less pressure to choose carefully. What you wear is much of a muchness and you can only dream of the joys of a chunky sweater and the ability to wear three pairs of hand knitted socks at once. If your winters are titty-freezing cold and your summers face-meltingly hot, well then, you have to be on top of your game.

SCALE – where will your WIPs travel with you this summer? Will you be going by bike, car, train, foot, plane or ferry? There always seems to be a lot of worry about flying with knitting needles. I’ve been polling knitters for a couple of years now: needles are confiscated once in a blue moon so, unless you are specifically unlucky, you’re good. If in doubt, check your airline and airport guidelines: if they say it’s ok, print them out and take them with you as proof. Besides, short length wooden or plastic DPNs, circulars or straights are unlikely to trigger alarms until we get a pencil bomber. Alternatively, not bringing needles is an excuse to visit the local yarn shop as soon as you arrive.

PATTERN – garment-wise, t-shirts, sleeveless thingamajigs and lightweight cardigans for cool evenings (or air-conditioning) are the preserve of summer knitting patterns. Shawls are perennially popular because they are multipurpose and free size. Crochet bikinis are winging their way back in to fashion, along with all things 70s from knobbly weavings to facial hair. Hats, cowls, socks, mittens and gloves might not be necessities in the summer, but they do have the benefit of being small and portable.

MATERIAL – more than the pattern, yarn weight and fibre content are the deciding factors in what makes a summer knit. In the winter the bulk of a warm woolly project in your lap is deeply satisfying. In the summer that same project is a burden. Look to finer weights of yarn, working them loosely or in lace. Cotton and linen are perfect. Keep an eye out for interesting combinations of plant and animal fibres. These can balance out detractors offering the best of both worlds. Try something like Lyonesse 4ply or DK from Blacker Yarns (50% wool, 50% linen) in colours created with Sue Blacker by Sonja Bargielowska whose Confetti pattern was in PPQ8. Twig from Shibui is a DK with 46% linen, 42% recycled silk and 12% wool. Karin Oberg makes Kalinka 41 (70% linen, 30% cotton) and Kalinka 21 (55% linen, 45% wool). Hemp for Knitting combines hemp with all number of other plant and animal fibres, even cashmere without the lumpy, bumpy, scratchy associations. ONION knit makes an organic wool (70%) and nettle (30%) blend that is incredibly glossy and soft with great drape, available in 4ply, DK and aran weights. They also have a 50/50 organic wool and cotton blend. Allino from BC garn is neatly 50/50 cotton and linen. Dandelion from Madeline Tosh is merino, with a 10% hint of linen.

COLOUR – get your colour fix now, be it poppy, primary or pastel. Oddly, ‘safe’ colours are for winter when it’s most dreary out and we could do with a shot of brights. So be adventurous now. If you simply can’t hack non-neutrals, stick with white, that way you can over dye it when you grow some balls.

VELOCITY – how fast a knitter are you? Are you a speed demon with a clean slate and no need to sleep? Go ahead – knit the lot, twice over. Are you a knitting tortoise with a busy schedule? Face up to the fact that for your garment to be ready and wearable ALL summer including the very first hot days of spring, you probably should have started in March. Get a jump start on next summer’s wardrobe. Stroking it in the depths of winter will bring solace. Fashion and crafting, like food, have growing ‘slow’ movements.

Consider whether you are knitting in the summer, for the summer or both. Then cast on, find a hammock and relax. Ice cubes and cocktail umbrella optional.

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Minimal Schminimal

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 12, Spring 2015

Swedish minimalism is about pared-down chic with a flourish of cosy, viewed through pale Nordic light. It is a contemporary understanding of old-fashioned that elevates simple shapes in monochrome and mineral colours, and is ideally set off by bare wood. There is a love of stripes, triangles reminiscent of pine trees, and the odd red horse. Summers are endless light and wild flowers. Long winters allow for optimum crafting in houses that are warm enough to leave your shoes at the front door and where everyone wears nice socks. There is candlelight and the scent of cinnamon wafts through the air, it is tidy and blissfully well- ordered. You have space to notice and appreciate beautiful details and careful curation. Sounds lovely, right? Gosh, yes it does!

I can feel myself being swayed even though I am not a minimalist by any stretch of the word. For starters my theories on minimalism are far too expansive. The crux of it is that I am suspicious of it, I’m convinced it is hiding something. This doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the studied simplicity, beauty and challenge of it.

Minimalism is aspirational; something you strive for and struggle to achieve. Like aspirations of grandeur, minimalism is easier to achieve with wealth. If you can afford to buy whatever you need when you need it, you don’t have to keep it around “just in case.” Bigger houses allow the same quantity of essentials and a smattering of fripperies to look comparatively sparse. Plus there’s more storage space to keep things out of sight. Curiously though, minimalism likes to conceal its wealth in a monastic romanticism of poverty or at least frugality and denial. The aesthetics of minimalism are about educated taste: understated, knowing, and perhaps just a little smug.

Knitting, on the other hand, is very much about excess. Thousands of stitches make up any given item and there’s always more to knit. Even when working with a minimal style, your brain will be full of endless possible projects, skills to acquire, techniques to try, gifts to give, knowledge to share, stories to tell, prowess to divulge. Knitting is about being resourceful and creating your own terms of grandeur, be they minimal or maximal. Whether you have a desire to be ahead or abreast of trends, or to wind back the fashion clock, there are many options. There’s even scope to be a trailblazing eccentric. You’re in control of making the things you want and making them fit you and yours, regardless of how you measure up to rarely relevant statistical averages or currently desirable body types. Unlike fashion magazines, knitting patterns (both contemporary and vintage) often use family and friends as models, rather than specifically hired folks with aspirational body types. As far as idealised bodies go, the sexy blonde stereotype is inextricably bound to Sweden. Interestingly though, these women hail from a country that supports women in ways very few others do. The confidence this recognition imparts on all Swedish women, regardless of looks, is palpable,

A couple of months ago I visited the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) in Stockholm. It is a wonder-filled museum of decorative art, something of a Swedish equivalent to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The focus, however, is firmly on the country’s own design history. It is the representation of a place rather than a survey of the whole wide world. By museum standards their textiles collection is a rummager’s dream. It is not displayed on the walls or in open cases, but in a long galley of a room, flanked on both sides with large plan chests. Glass topped drawers (314 to be precise!) slide smoothly out on runners to reveal the fabrics inside. I approached the knitting drawers with a desire to explore the roots of Swedish minimalism which inspired this issue of Pom Pom.

The thing is, I didn’t find anything even remotely minimal in those drawers. There are stitch counts upwards of 30 per 10cm/4″ over intricately stranded floral patterns, knits embellished with embroidery and fringed edges as dense as pompoms. I spotted various techniques of double knitting used to increase warmth and weather resistance, which is necessary in a climate that gets (pardon my American) butt-freezing cold. And COLOUR! Made in a largely preindustrial era when you were in charge of making your own entertainment as well as your own wardrobe, the items in these drawers satisfied both these goals. The handmade garments and fragments of knitting are examples of skill, imagination, ingenuity, practicality and play. It would appear that when items like these were all still handmade and people were highly skilled, minimalism wasn’t valued as much. It seems it was preferable to exercise and show off your skills. What I saw on show was knitters flexing their muscles.

When I see feats of creativity like these I find it inconceivable that it became part of popular thought(and humour) that women lack mathematical, scientific or technical skills and spatial awareness. Though I didn’t see any harbingers of minimalism, there is a different lineage I can trace. Those drawers contain the work of accomplished, adventurous, industrious, aesthetically savvy women with brains of steel; the type of Swedish women I am accustomed to meeting now.

Generations of us have felt that we are competing with cleanly machined lines while we navigate a world of consumer excess designed to pull the handmade rug out from under our feet. We have some ground to regain when it comes to the skills and acumen required to cut loose and make great things. Our ideas of perfection will shift along with them. What I learned in my quest for the roots of Swedish minimalism is that the missing key in many cases is confidence. We need confidence to try, experiment, fail and be excellent. So I am willing to concede that some studied simplicity may be the route to a place of joyous rich complexity. But let’s not dwell too long in demure understatement.

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Episode 4 in which, much like the gay strip club in San Francisco that I once helped sew silver-lamé curtains for, there appear pouches, rings, devices for making perfect balls and some bent tips. After all ‘naaien’ which means sewing in Dutch is also a vernacular term for having sex.

This post wraps up everything that I have in my notions kit and to celebrate I’ve made a playlist to musically accompany read it. All of the songs have ‘notion’ in the title, except for the first one and you’ll hear straight away why it had to be included. I’ve weeded out the death metal tracks and a couple of others I just couldn’t take for diverse auditory reasons. Click the video and you’ll get the whole playist.

Oh yes, and I finally cover why I carry that lighter with me in my knitting kit.

#18 ZIPPER POUCH – where all the other stuff gets put. Crocheted out of yarn made from cut up plastic bags. Repurposing at it’s best and fondly referred to as “plarn”. It is made by The Invisible Sisters:  a livelihood project employing women in Metro Manila. I was in Manila regularly in 2013, on route to Ifugao where I was part of setting up Ricefield Collective. I love the way knitted and crocheted recycled plastic bags look, but personally find it quite an unforgiving process on my hands. I wouldn’t work with it as a hobby, so it’s nice to have someone who is earning some money from it make them.

#19 KEY RING – it’s a sheep and it dangles. It has no function beyond the immense importance of being decorative. It is softly strokeable and not vegetarian; being made from a little piece of sheepskin and leather. It’s the perfect dark red: a good reminder to myself that this (when done right) is one of my favourite colours. I got it at Ardelaine an amazing woolly cooperative in the Ardeche, in Southern France. In in 1975 they bought a defunct woollen mill and got it going again. Today they make wool clothes, yarn and mattresses which they sell in the shop. There is also a bookshop and a cafe that sells local produce. It can be found along a road that winds through beautiful country. My cousin’s son tipped me off about it when he gleefully told me that every kid on his school bus had vomited when they visited because the road was so bendy. It is absolutely worth the carsickness to go there! Wear your motion sickness bands, roll the windows down, eat ginger biscuits (or sweets) and stop regularly for the scenery. You’ll be extra rewarded if you go in lavender blooming or chestnut season.

When I visited with my aunt and uncle, we timed our arrival to coincide with one of the daily tours. We were shown around by Gerard, a founding member of the cooperative. Even those of us not so invested in all things woolly were enthralled.


That’s Gerard, talking to us about spinning.

#20 POMPOM MAKER – for quickly making the icing on the cake. You can make pompoms in many different ways. I like to think I’ve tried them all and then a new approach comes my way. There is nought wrong with cutting two same sized donuts out of a cereal box. That is how I made them throughout my youth and well in to adulthood. Of all the pompom specific gadgets I’ve experimented with, the ones from Clover are my favourites. They even make heart shaped ones, but I’m not going there. I have all the sizes for the round ones, even the giant one, but I rarely use it – it makes poms that are too heavy for the top of hats and require practically a full ball of yarn to make. It’s the medium sized yellow one that I carry around with me. It makes a pompom of around 4.5cm in diameter (depending how densely you wrap it and how much of a haircut you give it) which is perfect for the top of most hats.

#21 NEEDLE GAUGE – cause it’s hard to tell just by looking at them. A Susan Bates’ “Knit-Chek”: light weight and whatever, it’s a standard. I’ve been known to carry a second gauge that converts old English needle sizes to centimetre sizes too. I’d love one that combined all three. Even though the old English sizes are defunct, for those using second hand needles, they are useful to have included. I like the fact it has a built in ruler and the sizes are in a straight line. OK, yes, I totally have needle gauge envy with people who have cute shaped ones like this:

Or funny wooden ones like this:

I wonder which needle size pokes through the lobe that controls visualising numbers, cause I’d like to give that one a poke. It would make pattern writing so much easier.

#22 FOLDING SCISSORS – for surreptitious scissor action. Their foldability keeps the points protected and are cheap enough that if they get borrowed or confiscated, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. I’ve had at least one pair in my possession since I was little. They are just so clever. I lost a pair of these while I was in the Philippines. It was the only thing I lost while I was there, even though I had been warned by nearly everyone who had been to or was from the Philippines that I would have everything I had with me nicked.

#23 SEWING NEEDLES – for stitching together knits. I like to carry needles in a range of sizes appropriate for different weights of yarn. I certainly prefer using a needle that is too big rather than too small. Mainly I use them for sewing in ends. In general, I love me some bent tip needles particularly for grafting. Clover is the easiest brand to find them from nowadays. I have three sizes, perhaps more exist, but these do me well. I also keep a few regular straight needles in there and even some with sharp tips. Usually you don’t want sharp tips, as it can damage the yarn, but sometimes they come in useful, like when doing a knotted steek. The needles are also called in to action for the likes of embroidery and repairs, and on the odd occasion to get the sim card out of my phone. I store them in item #16.

#24 LIGHTER – yes, to set fire to yarn and knitwear. Burning a little piece of yarn is a great way of getting a better idea of what the fibre content is when there is no ball band or label to tell you. I’ve never been a smoker or an arsonist. I’m not that great at using a lighter and have been known to burn my thumb when trying. I prefer matches (they smell nicer), but somehow it’s a lighter I carry around for when I want to test whether there is synthetic content in yarn. Briefly, if the flame burns bright and leaves a powdery ash that smells a little like burnt hair, it’s an animal fibre. It will still be powdery, but not as stinky if it’s plant based. If it’s plastic based, it will melt in to a hard blob. It’s hard to tell specifics of blends, but it will show if there is a synthetic in there. If you intend to try this while out charity shopping, it’s best to quietly snip a little bit off and step outside, rather than spark up inside and risk the fire alarm going off or worse still, the sprinkler system.

#25 Hang Tags – see #17 – these are the same, but bigger. I like options.

And that’s it, I think that may have gotten me over the hump of starting to blog. I shall try to make it shorter and snappier from here on out. Or maybe not. My plan for my blog is to have a place where I can go in to things at greater length than makes sense on my sweaterspotter instagram feed.

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Episode 3, in which there is a cat related item, machine knitting has its influence and I share a tip for greater success when making pompoms. And I dream about row counting rings and yarn-toting unicorns.

#11 Measuring Tape – pull the cat’s tail and a tape measure extends. Press the button and it zips back in. This tape measures up to 150cm/60″, which is generally plenty long enough for the body parts I’ve knitted for and certainly long enough to measure a cats tail (unless you are illegally harbouring a panther). I most often use the side that has centimetres on it, but the inches on the reverse are essential for conversions so I can write my patterns with both metric and imperial measurements. This cat measuring tape was made by the ever colourful and humorous French brand, Pylones and was given to me years ago by one of my French cousins.

#12 Slippery String – a little habit I picked up machine knitting. I keep a length of synthetic cord for when I want to do a provisional cast on. The trick is that it is strong, densely spun and slippery, so you can pull it straight out when you have the stitches on your needle again. Silk could work too, if you are strictly natural fibre inclined. I keep it stored wound in a little thread tidier that snaps open and closed. It tends to get all knotted otherwise. I can’t seem to find a link for the type I have, but while looking I was reminded of these slightly less practical (for this specific application), but exceedingly more cute ones that I have coveted for a while. They are the brain babies of Missy Kulik. She makes sheep and sausage dog ones too.

#13 Linen Yarn – for the tying up of pompoms. This was one of those easy solutions that made me kick myself for not adopting it earlier. Who hasn’t had the strand you use to tie your pompom snap? If you are lucky you can remedy the situation, if not your room was sprayed with a thousand 5cm sections of yarn you just spent an age wrapping round a cardboard donut. This is because the lovely woolly yarn you used to make your hat is plenty strong enough for knitting with, but not really tough enough for tying high-tension knots to keep those densely wound softy fluffy pompom strands tightly bound together. If you secure your pompom with something stronger than the yarn you made it with, you’re in like Flynn, cause you can pull that knot really tight. This linen yarn is left over from a shawl pattern I am working on using the stitch pattern I designed for my Sceles Tshirt that appeared in Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 9.

IMG_5691#14 Universal Counter – for keeping track of what row or round I am on. This type of row/round counter can be slid to the end of straight needles or moved around with the stitches if you are knitting in the round (and your needle isn’t much thicker than 6mm/10US/4UK. It’s practical, but not much of a looker. I have a colourful collection of the kind that slides on to the end of straight needles. It is possible to convert that sort by threading them on to yarn and tying a knot to make a loop; they’re of no use for circular knitting if you don’t. There are devices you can place next to your knitting, which I haven’t made much use of and of course you can make prisoner style chicken scratches on the back of an envelope (or ideally on the pattern print out). There there are a growing selection of row counter apps too. I eyed up a little electronic finger ring that looked a little like a tiny digital swimming pool locker key when I taught at Gather DTLA in December. But this silver one from Kristan MacIntyre is the one to totally covet though…

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Now all I need to do is remember to change the number and remember whether I am changing the number when I start a round or finish it.

#15 Mechanical Pencil – it’s small and cute and you can click it. As much as I adore the smell of sharpened pencils, I am also a big fan of the mechanical ones. They are always sharp, so they don’t necessitate the carrying of a pencil sharpener or the quandry of where to dispose of the scented shavings. They don’t rub off on stuff. As a kid they just seemed so fancy and special. My Opa used them and I still have some of his. I got this tiny one at Marukai in Gardena, Los Angeles. It is miniature and therefore insanely cute and perfect to go in a travel case.

#16 Chibi Case – makes it clear where your needles are. Apparently the Japanese slang word ‘chibi’ is a combination of small, short, cute and deformed. Generally now it refers to a style of animé drawing that is all of the above. The Chibi Case from Clover is what their needles come in (see item #23). I don’t think you can get the case separately. A big plus is that when the needles are inside, it works like a rattle – all I have to do is shake my bag to know they are in there and I can safely leave the house with ends to sew in. A Dutch friend was really puzzled as to why I kept a spliff case with my knitting. The similarity is clear.

There’s this ‘official’ one…

And this less condoned one…

So if you’re somewhere where it is easier to find a koffie shop than a haberdashery, the second option could provide a more relaxing substitute.

#17 Hang Tags – quick, write it down! These little paper swing tags are intended to be price tags. I use them to hang from my knitting to keep track of what I’m doing. When I need a note in a specific spot, I can write it and attach it straight to it. When I knit a swatch I record the needles I used, the yarn, gauge and stitch pattern for prosteriety. At least that is what I am trying to facilitate doing. When I still forget I get to kick myself even harder!

OK, next time it’s the final episode of what’s-in-the-pouch.

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Episode 2: in which I continue the guided tour of my knitting kit. We start with the most historic item and end with fat sheep, I mean sheep fat.

#6 Calculator – the most sentimentally charged item in my kit. This Texas Instruments TI-1100 has been with me since secondary school and thereby, of the tools in this baggy, it is the one that has been in my possession the longest. It isn’t solar powered, but I sometimes have to double check that it isn’t because I’ve never changed the battery. I think it might be magic. Oddly, I don’t remember where precisely the calculator came from; I’ve had it that long.

Tucked in the inside sleeve is a holographic sticker that has lost its stick. It once came from a bottle of guarana cola – when that first hit the shelves in the early 90s. You wouldn’t know that from looking at it: the name of the drink and ingredients have long since worn off. I didn’t drink the stuff, but my friend Eleanor did and she stuck it to the front cover of my calculator during a maths lesson.

I own a proper knitting calculator and have a calculator on my mobile phone, but this is the one I turn to when writing patterns. Sometimes I wish it had a backwards button.

#7 Stitch Markers – where am I? What’s going on? These safety pin type markers are from Clover and I love them. I like the fact they are removable. I can slip them as I pass them to keep track of circular knitting rounds. Sometimes I clip them in retroactively to flag up issues that need sorting in the next round. Often they get clipped in as reminders of what I’ve done where. In this way they help me trace my actions when I’m knitting a sample for a pattern to be fully written up later on. I have no less than a hundred of them. As well as being stored in the little zipper purse (item #2), I clip them onto the zipper pulls on my backpack, so I always have one handy. In a pinch I’ve been known to use sandwich ties, paperclips, safety pins and scraps of yarn in place of more official Stitch Markers.

Before shops in London cottoned on and started stocking these, I used to mule them back from the USA. Various family and friends would put in orders too. As much as I enjoy watching other peoples handmade stitch markers with characters and assorted other sparkly danglers, these really are my favourites.

While I was in the Philippines for Ricefield Collective, I found some that looked identical to these, in a wider range of amazing colours. Sadly they snapped one by one in the space of a couple of hours once I’d clipped them in to my knitting – brittle plastic. Aside from the obvious disappointment that caused, it was quite entertaining as they made little popping sounds akin to the satisfying ‘pop’ jam jars make when they seal hours after you have filled them with hot homemade jam.

#8 Stitch Holders – for keeping stitches live. They’re the Tupperware of the knitting world. I really like coloured ones, purely for aesthetic reasons. I’ve picked these up over the years from charity shops and second hand shops, I even bought a couple of them brand(less) spanking new from a 100 Yen shop – the Japanese equivalent of a Pound Shop or Dollar Store – when I was in Tokyo in 2001. They are useful when I need to free a set of needles for a different project or when I don’t want to commit to casting off. It may seem like I carry quite a few with me, but if I’m knitting a sweater in the round, I need 4 for the armpits and then I still like to have some spare. They are a range of sizes so they can be matched to what I need. When factoring which size to use, I consider how many stitches need to go on it and where. If they are attached to an in progress project, I prefer them to be smaller, so they get in my way less as I pass them and the weight doesn’t pull my stitches.

If I remember to slip them in facing the right direction, I can graft the stitches from the body and the sleeve straight off the stitch holders. This isn’t as easy to do if you save your stitches on scrap yarn, which works perfectly well and in some specific cases, better. Generally I find it quicker to use stitch holders, but scrap yarn is the no-need-for-extra-gadgets approach or what to do when all other stitch holders are already holding stitches.

#9 Pins – for pinning knits together before and during sewing. I got these at that same 100 Yen shop in Tokyo back in 2001. I wish I had gotten more. They are made of bamboo and have a large enough head to not slip between the stitches, blunt tips to not split the yarn and are long enough to actually be useful when pinning chunky knits. There is no plastic to speak of, so no risk of melting when the iron hovers over. I’m a big fan of mattress stitch when it comes to sewing together what I’ve pinned.

#10 Hand Cream – for lubricating the knitting process. I get really dry hands. I blame it on winter and having psoriasis, but I have a nagging suspicion knitting also has something to do with it. I try to be extravagant and slather it on all the time, but in reality I can get a bit thrifty, particularly with the nice stuff. I like a lotion that feels like it really gets in there; moisturising without leaving my hands too greasy or stinky and certainly not the sort that makes them feel weirdly sweaty a couple of minutes later. My current tube is from De Noord Kroon, a company based on Texel, one of the North Sea Islands of The Netherlands. It is highly sheep appropriate as it is made with 10% lanolin, a by product of the beautiful fleece that hails from Texel. It absorbs well, but since lanolin is the grease found in sheep wool, it wouldn’t matter if some got back on there. It smells like grandma hands. I got it when I visited Saskia in her shop, Ja, Wol in Rotterdam. And here she is…

IMG_1299I will leave you with her lovely smiling face and give another instalment of details about my tools soon.