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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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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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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.

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This is my knitting kit: the essential paraphernalia I use on a daily basis. When I am not carrying it with me on my knitting travels, it lives under the couch in our flat. In conjunction with my hands and brain, these are the tools I couldn’t work without. Project specific needles and yarn get called up when needed, as does my ball winder and swift. They have a less cushy life: they live in the Siberia that is my studio.

Plenty of my kit is bog standard and has been with me for years. It’s what I’ve got and I’m happy to make do. There are a few things in there that I am sentimental about, but most of it is purely functional and easy to replace. The selection has been honed down through trial and error; I like it cause it works the way I want it to and maybe I don’t know better. My fantasy is, as I lose bits or give them away, I’ll upgrade them, item by item with lovely artisanal versions. The reality is, I probably already have a back up version found while rummaging through a knitting needle bin in a charity shop or one that was kindly bequeathed by a non-knitters’ grandma.

Recently a horror befell Karen of Fringe Association: she lost her whole pouch while she was travelling. This is the woman who has a regular feature on her blog called Our Tools Ourselves (which I contributed to last year). On instagram and beyond knitters’ have been showing their gear in solidarity with Karen’s loss. They have inspired me to record in detail what is in my kit. I realise I want to share more details than just a picture. Each item has a history and reason for being in there which may be both entertaining and useful to know if you’re building out your kit, couldn’t tell what it was from the tiny instagram picture or are just plain curious.

notions_pouch_nos#1 DPNS – that’s Double Pointed Needles to the unitiated. In addition to their obvious use for knitting cuffs, socks, mittens, fingers, top of hats, willy warmers, i-cord, small creatures and circular swatches to be steeked, I find it useful to have a pair of DPNs around for when I need to reknit a section within my knitting. That is, if I have gone wrong or just want to change something more than 3 rows back. I keep a set of 3.75mm/5US/9UK with me, as that seems somewhere in the middle of the needle sizes I usually use. They are short, 13cm bamboo ones I got from Tall Yarns some years back. I keep them in a corresponding size, vintage Milward plastic pouch from when needles were still made in England. The needles weren’t in there when I found the case in one of the aforementioned tubs of stray needles at a charity shop.

#2 Kiddy Purse – practical and cute. Just like the sort I had when I was little that possibly came from one of those vending machines that are like a giant gumball machine that dispenses plastic eggs filled with a surprise. You too?

It’s where I keep my stitch markers (see item #7) and if I really am paring down my kit to be lightweight, my Chibi case (item #16, containing items #23) and folding scissors (item #22). I must resist the urge to pick off the little decorative plastic blobs masquerading as beads, though like with a good scab or sunburn, the temptation is strong. It was a gift from Lori, who recently started blogging at Nothing Too Ordinary. I’m excited she’s keeping track of her epic gig going and sharing her cool musical knowledge, not to mention her eye for collecting cute stuff.

#3 Cable Needles – helpful for twisting stitches just how you want too. These are from Brittany, the company, not the place in France. They make beautiful wooden needles out of birch in California, USA, that only improve with age (and the application of greasy fingers). I like the way they are straight, but tapered at both ends to keep the stitches on. I used to have the full set of three sizes, but one didn’t return home after a night of pub knitting. Sadly it was the middle size: my most used one. I find this shape stable enough to keep the stitches on till I need them and quicker to use than the curved ones. Wood (and bamboo, which I count as wood) really is the way to go for cable needles (and DPNs) as they don’t slip about as much as metal. Plastic works too, but I’ve not found them in a shape I like. These I bought when my friend Paula Frazer, singer and weaver, briefly had a knitting shop in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. The replacement medium metal needle is probably the one thing in my kit I’m not so jazzed about, probably because it reminds me of the nicer one I lost. I hate losing things.

#4 Shorty Knitting Needles – for emergency teaching (when I’m feeling nice). I never know when someone will ask to learn to knit. These fit in my pouch and are easy enough to give away. They are also useful for testing things out and cast-ons or bind-offs that require 3 needles. These are 4mm/6US/8UK. Theoretically knitting goes faster if you use thicker needles and yarn, however I find for teaching that these medium sized needles are actually easier to manipulate. Plus having patience is a necessity when knitting, might as well start straight away. These needles, made by Pony specifically with kids in mind, work perfectly for bigger hands too. I think they are super – short so you don’t have to work out where to put the full length of the needles straight off the bat and they’re stumpy enough to prepare you for the feel of circular needles. And they have little smiley faces. Ideally I’d have the pair they make where each needle is a different colour, but these were from a charity shop. I often use an indelible pen to draw a face on one of the tips – the variation helps newbies grasp the concept as you demonstrate and talk them through it.

#5 Crochet Hooks – for free styling and quick fixes. I carry at least 2 with me, often more. Currently I have a 4mm, that’s G/6 in the US and an old English 8. The other hook is a finer 2.5mm. It says 12 on it, cause it’s an old English one, again from a charity shop bundle. That’s one of those in between sizes that doesn’t exist in the USA, but falls between a B/1 and a C/2. I use them for picking up stitches along edges I am going to knit from, embellishing knitted creatures with crochet extremities, doing a crochet cast-on or bind-off, picking up dropped stitches and very occasionally for straightforward crochet. They also come in useful when mending knitwear.

This is rapidly becoming an epic post as I am not even a quarter of the way through the contents of my bag of tricks. I shall leave you with this for now and flesh out the rest in the next couple of days. Otherwise I shall never ever start blogging.

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Yarn Stores in Paris (Revisited)

I’m getting ready to spend an afternoon in Paris on the way to and from the South of France in a couple of weeks. In preparation, I’m looking back over my list of addresses from the now deceased blog I had with my friend Meredith Talusan a couple of years back…

I might revisit some, but there are also a couple of new ones to stop in on, such as L’Oisive The and Le Comptoir, which I have since found out about. Do let me know if there are other favourites – or just other things to do. If it is gorgeous weather, we might just want ice cream rather than yarn. Sadly we won’t be able to visit Denis Ocabo at her wonderful chocolate shop L’Etoile d’Or as it got blown up in a gas explosion!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear Meredith,

As you head off on your work/summer adventure, I should wrap up my Paris adventure report. I feel like I didn’t do too much yarn related tourism in our brief stay in Paris, but perhaps I was wrong. I checked out some promising addresses I’d sleuthed out beforehand and others I just happened upon. They fitted around much walking and eating, a boat tour of the Canal Saint Martin, a pilgrimage to Berthillion for a cone, a long queued for viewing of the Manet exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay, a morning wandering the Marais art galleries and of course an Eiffel Tower viewing. All of that around the most relaxed few days outside of Paris visiting with my cousins and their kids; eating, drinking, talking, playing and visiting the gardens at Versailles and France Miniature.On our first day in Paris itself, straight from the Eurostar (at 8am: we were on the earliest and cheapest train), after consuming our first croissant of the trip and with a baguette under our arm (from the bakery that won this years prize for best baguette no less), walking down through Montmartre (having taken the funicular up to the Sacre Coeur), we happened upon matière active, a general craftiness store with workshop space for classes and hire for parties.

matière active

Rather than their minimal selection of yarn, it was these decals for sewing machines that caught my eye.

sewing macine decals at matiere activematière active
59, rue Mont Cenis
75018 Paris
Tél: 01 53 28 14 05

La Droguerie is on every Paris yarn store list and rightly so. It was on mine, because I happened upon her sister store when I was in Tokyo 7 years ago and had to see what this one was like.

La DroguerieYou enter through a rainbow corridor of hanks of yarn. As tempting to run your hands along as a stick along a fence. It would have been impossible to chose a colour if I was in the market for some.

Hanks at La DroguerieHere, it was the linen I was most interested in, as it’s a fibre I’d like to be using more of. It has a pretty good environmental profile, especially if you can get some grown localish and certainly in comparison to cotton.

Linen at La Droguerie

La Droguerie
9-11, rue du Jour
75001 Paris
Tél: 01 45 08 93 27

Apparently, the yarn department at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche is related to La Droguerie. There is a wide range of textile related stuff and it’s the most respectable yarn department I’ve seen in a department store for a long time. And the building is beautiful.

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche
3rd Floor
24, rue Sèvres
75007 Paris
01 42 22 81 60

It was travelknitter’s list of international yarn stores that tipped me off to Entrée des Fournisseures, with it’s beautiful entrance down a courtyard. A bit of an all rounder, it stocks buttons, ribbons and a lot of Liberty fabric (though lovely, I don’t need to go to Paris for that). The yarn selection was limited and behind a counter, not encouraging touch and feel. All in all, a little spare and chic for me, but it did introduce me to Claire Garland‘s book on knitted animals. The cover of the French edition looks much cuter than the (older) English one.

Entrée des Fournisseurs

Entrée des Fournisseurs

Entrée des Fournisseurs
8, rue des Francs Beourgeois
75003 Paris
Tél: 01 48 87 58 98

As is often the case, I think my favourite places were those I stumbled across, with no expectations (and sometimes even no website). Seeking shelter from the rain, we popped in to Book Off, the Japanese bookshop. I’ve been meaning to write to you about all the knitting books I’ve been ordering. A couple of the new ones (they’ve mainly been older, secondhand ones) have been from Japan. The Japanese bookshop in London isn’t nearly as extensive as this one, so it was super to come across – it even had one of the titles I’d ordered in it’s extensive craft section. The most exciting part for me was the sale section, which turned up some very entertaining titles from the 80s!


Librairie Japonaise
29, rue Saint Augustin
75002 Paris
Tél: 01 42 60 04 77

Just around the corner from where we were staying in the Marais, we found one of those amazing Paris shops that sells just one thing – sticky tape. Not yarn, or even haberdashery, but inspirational none the less. One to recommend to our friend Joshua Pieper, should he ever be over that way. Did you ever get to see the drawings of tape he made with, well, tape?

Adhésifs Rubans de Normandie

Adhésifs Rubans de Normandie

93, boulevard Beaumarchais
75003 Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 31 61

Along similar lines, around the corner was a shop that sells lampshades and everything needed to make them. How great is that!? When I made one for Helena Keeffe a couple of years ago, along with a knitted sheep, as part of a little piece exchange, it took me ages to track down a vintage lampshade to use the frame of. It used to be standard to buy the frame to cover/decorate yourself (as indicated by a heap of vintage craft books), but they are nigh impossible to find in London now. I made her one with a knitted cover from white tarn, as our mutual commission was to find its home in our bedrooms. She painted a beautiful set of pillows with California wildlife with an accompanying alarm (with all the little animal noises), which has revolutionised my mornings and facilitated a happy marriage.

G. Poublan & Cie

Also note the very traditional Parisian “FERME EN AOUT”: closed in August. How civilised.

G. Poublan & Cie

G. Poublan & Cie
70, rue Amelot
75011 Paris
Tél: 01 43 38 43 43

The real treasure trove I serendipitously uncovered was ULTRAMOD. Just my sort of place: ancient, lots of drawers, and with stock from across decades. No yarn to speak of, but trimmings galore. Their storage boxes and slightly haphazard nature reminded me of those at K Trimmings when they were on Broadway, in your neck of the woods.




As well as some beautiful wooden nautical anchor buttons that I would have bought, if they had enough for a cardi, this giant rik rak was what most caught my eye. My inspection says it’s hand made, but I couldn’t quite work out how. Another project in the offing!

ULTRAMOD - rik rak


3, rue de Choiseul
75002 Paris
Tél: 01 42 96 98 30

The last and final address to be added to my list of places to return to was the chanced upon I.D.M, by Les Halles, down the road from fabulous kitchen gear window shopping in the catering trade shops and J. Detoux (where we picked up dijon mustard and other yummables to take home). Having been very restrained in the purchase of none consumables this trip (instead saving our pennies for copious tasting), this was the only place I actually bought something: a medium sized spool of fluorescent pinky orange elastic, which I am hatching plans to use in combination with colour work on the knitting machine. It makes great textures.


8, rue Francaise
75002 Paris
Tél. 01 42 33 95 67

And that was it!After that we returned to say our goodbyes to Denise in the best sweet shop ever, it’s greatness rivalled only by the proprietess and her amazing descriptions of each chocolate and what it will do in your mouth. Then there was just time for a crazy poo debacle in a bar we stopped in at for a pastis, buying bread and the most incredible souvenir gift cork screw from the fromagerie owner to open our bottle of wine on the Eurostar home.Let’s go to Paris together one day!


Mikal Ann said…
Wow, you found some places I didn’t know about – I’ll have to check them out next time I’m in Paris. But you missed one of my favourite shops – Le Comptoir on rue cadet. The blog is