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The knitting pages are now mostly practical, concentrating mainly on things you could well find out for yourself about knitting as your style and skills progress.

On this page you can see:

Ripping and Recycling
plum yarn
plum socks

Here's the used yarn I bought earlier this year, for a ridiculously low price, in a charity shop. It's pure cotton, and the remarkable thing about it is the beautiful colour, sadly lost by my poor camera work. It's a plummy hue, on the pink rather than the blue side of purple, and vibrant as mercerised cotton can be. The reason I know it's pure cotton is that it takes ages to dry when washed! Another thing to be aware of if you're going to try knitting with cotton is that the smooth nature of the fibre makes it tend to split up into separate 'plys' as you knit, so you have to make sure the needle goes through the entire yarn rather than splitting it - easily done and easily corrected once you get used to it! Cotton doesn't have the tiny 'hairs' like wool or acrylic, which make those fibres stick together better than cotton. But cotton is much smoother to knit with, very hard wearing and holds its colour very well. And hand knitted socks are a joy to wear.

front view back view
These image are my last surviving memory of many hours of knitting in recent weeks. So it's a pity (from my point of view) that the photo quality isn't better! But you can perhaps see that the back view, on the right, shows what I suspected all along - see below - that the yoke is far too big at the back, so that the back of the garment falls into an ugly hump shape. The thing is, never to waste time on regrets! I enjoyed ripping it up and making the yarn ready for a future project - and I especially enjoyed the end of the whole unsatisfactory business.

Projects on the go

In times of old, when I first started knitting, one would go to the shop, choose some yarn and a pattern, buy a ball or two and then 'lay away' the remainder until it was needed or could be afforded. Now of course, we are more likely to buy online, to have more than one project on the go, and even to buy yarn that we don't have time for at the moment but couldn't resist buying. A plastic bag used to be suffient for my 'left-over' yarn, but now it's called a stash and it fills a whole cupboard. Does that sound familiar?

Actually it's no bad thing to have more than one project on the go. I like to have a fairly challenging one which will take a lot of hours over several weeks, and an easier one with short rows which can be worked in spare moments or on journeys. Here is my current challenge, a top down cardigan with minimal pattern instructions.

top down cardi

It seemed straightforward, an easy concept with no fancy stitches, promising hours of relaxing knitting. However! Because you have to keep trying it on until the ever-expanding yoke is the right size, it involves several trials of putting the thing on spare yarn (because though I am not large, the measurement around my chest plus tops of arms is more than my 120cm interchangeable needles and so I couldn't try it on whilst still on the needles). And that has been a big nuisance. The learning point here is that with a step-by-step pattern you would know exactly how many increases you need to make to cover the yoke and tops of arms, and how to divide the stitches at the important stage where the sleeves meet the body. This is very important, in fact you could say that the whole garment hangs on it! Another point is that increases done over garter ridges can never really be neat. And I would have liked to see a back view of the cardigan being worn, because I suspect that the sort of yoke with increases only down the shoulder line would work much better than a yoke like this, done as a simple disc. This sort of yoke might be better when used only for the neckline to shoulders section, dividing for the sleeves much earlier, at the points of the shoulders. In fact when I try this on, the back section looks distinctly wavy.. Even after so much work I may still rip it down. I will say, though, that the yarn knits beautifully - it's Jeanie, a lovely soft Aran weight 100% cotton by Stylecraft.

plum socks

My easier project is a pair of cotton socks, worked with sock weight yarn which is part of an excellent charity shop bargain. It's been worked before, though thankfully I didn't have to unravel the former garment myself. It doesn't matter that I haven't soaked and straightened the yarn beforehand to take out the wobbles, because socks are very forgiving in the wearing (when did you ever have to try on a pair of socks in a shop to make sure they fitted?)

I'm glad that I made myself become familiar with sock making. I always do the traditional English form and there are good reasons why it became the gold standard. Toe-up socks are actually more fiddly at the heel stage (in my opinion) and, as I've said before, it's easy to use just a small amount of yarn by dividing the yarn in two (as you would with a to-up sock) if you start at the top end with a provisional cast on and come back later to use up the whole of your yarn. Of course there are many more than two styles of sock knitting, which you will enjoy exploring later if you decide to take up the noble pastime of sock knitting.

new yarn

Oh and did I say that it's nice to have at least one thing that you're looking forward to knitting! My next socks will be made with this delicious smooth 100% cotton yarn that I bought on holiday. They may not be worn until next summer but it will be nice if they are ready for Christmas giving.

A simple formula for finishing socks and hats

Below is a formula for finishing off a tube shape (like the top of a hat, or the toe of a sock) where you want to achieve a dome shaped finish. This is different from most traditional ways of finishing a sock, which most commonly use a chisel shape instead of a dome. It's also different from what you would do if you wanted to produce a pointy hat, where the decreases are spread over a longer length, or indeed a tea-cosy type of hat where you simply gather the stitches into a strong thread and finish off.

For this formula I am indebted to Ursula von Wartburg's 1973 book The Big Book of Knitting, which is still available second hand very cheaply online. It's a book aimed at children and progressing, by explaining simple principles, to showing how to knit all the standard knitted garments, including socks. Photos of intricate socks made 40 years ago by children as young as 9, are enough to make you weep.

These instructions apply to socks knitted in the traditional top-down way. There are good reasons why top-down became traditional in the west, which you will discover if you are tempted to get more deeply into socks! And if by any chance you want to use up a whole skein which might run out before you come to the end of the second sock, you can start each sock a little way above the heel with a 'provisional' cast on and divide your remaining yarn into two for finishing off each sock.

    Firstly, where to start forming the toe? You usually start decreasing when the sock just covers the little toe. To be even more precise, you may want to know that if you start with 6 stitches between decreases you will make a 6.5cm long toe box; 5 stitch decreases make 5cm long toe box; 4 stitches make 4cm long and 3 stitches make 3 cm long, etc.

    Instructions apply to knitting in the round, but you can easily adapt if you prefer knitting hats on two needles. In this case, read 'row' for 'round'.

      Divide the stitches on the round by 10, or use the nearest number for dividing by 10.
      From this number, subtract 1.

      For instance, if you have 71 stitches then divide 70 by ten then subtract 1 = 6.
      Similarly, if you have 36 stitches then divide 40 by ten then subtract 1 = 3.

      Start the decreasing round by k2 tog at the beginning of the round, then knit the number of stitches from your calculation, then k2 tog, then knit your number, all along the round.

      Then knit the same number of rows straight as the number of stitches between decreasing stitches above.

      In all the following rounds, the number of stitches between k2 tog is decreased by 1, and the number of plain rows is also decreased by 1.

      Finally k2 tog all along the round. When you have either 2 or 3 stitches on each of your 3 needles, draw the yarn through all the stitches and finish off neatly.

toe end socks sock toe end

(my favourite socks have rounded toe boxes using this formula)

hat stretching

Please note: If you simply want a flat shape for the top of a hat, as for instance for a beret style, then simply OMIT the extra rows between the decrease rows, and decrease on each alternate row.

The hat in the photo is actually being stretched on the seat of a stool. A classic remedy if the hat turns out a bit too small!

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