Magic loops and toe-up challenges

Social media is a funny old place – we show off our successes and hide our failures and attempts, so the world sees a very skewed picture of our lives. I am trying to rectify this with some honest blogs posts (it all began here).


the most recently completed pair

When you read my posts you might be forgiven for thinking that I am an expert with yarn, creating whatever garment I desire with ease and flair. You would be wrong, though. I quite often post pictures of socks I have made or am making and these always draw admiring comments. However, in general, I always follow the same pattern… actually I don’t follow a pattern, I just know how to make them one way and almost always choose that path of least resistance and do what I know.


One of the ideas behind 17 for 2017 was to set myself some challenges to do different things – one of which was “knit six pairs of socks including three using patterns I’ve never tried before“. Just yesterday I completed pair number three, but all had been made using my standard design. Today, therefore, I’m learning a whole new way of kitting socks: from the toe up (I usually knit from the top down). And not only that, I’ve abandoned my trusty double pointed needles and am having a go at using a technique called “magic loop”, which employs a circular needle (i.e. a stick on each and with a flexible wire joining them). Plus, I’m going to knit a pattern into the sock in the form of little cables rather than using a self-striping yarn. It is possible that I should have started with a simpler challenge, but if you are going to make changes, why not make really big changes?

The pattern I selected  is by Louise Tilbrook, a sock designer I admire very much, and it’s called Honeycomb Cables (pattern available here). Now, I am not guaranteeing that I will be successful, but so far I have managed to cast on, using a whole new technique called Judy’s magic cast-on (thank you You Tube, I couldn’t have done it without you) and done a few rounds without throwing it out of the window. There is definitely at least one mistake in there, but I’m hoping no one will ever notice as it will be inside my shoe when I wear the sock.

It’s early days yet, but at least 17 for 2017 has encouraged me out of my comfort zone to try something different.


I’m following the advice on the mug

Stash not scraps

It’s the fifteenth of the month, which would usually mean a ScrapHappy post, but not this month. You’ve already seen my latest scrap creation, in the form of this blanket:


a big blanket of scraps

For the next few months, my plan is not to use scraps (although it might happen on the side), but to work my way through my slightly out of control wool stash and complete some WIPs*. Whilst I have been busy using up scrap wool for charity blankets, I have worked on relatively few other knitting or crochet projects, but I have continued to add to my yarn stash.  I’ve decided that the time has come to address this imbalance and to make use of some of the lovely wool currently squirrelled away in draws and cupboards.

So, my first (small) stash-busting project is a pair of socks (which will also contribute to one of my 17 for 2017 targets). This wool came in my 2016 sock yarn club subscription from The Knitting Goddess. The theme was The Discworld and the colour combination is called Distressed Pudding**. Personally, it makes me think of Neapolitan ice cream.


scrummy yarn

There were six stripy colour combinations that came in the 2016 subscription and this is the third that I have used. I subscribed to another club this year with more subtle colourways, but since I have not knitted up any of those yet, there will be no 2018 subscription… I really have to reduce the amount of wool, not increase it.

As someone who bangs on a lot about excessive consumerism, I’m feeling a bit guilty about having this lot, especially since this is by no means all my stash. It’s time to enjoy using rather than accumulating I think.


* WIP = Work In Progress

** If you are not a Terry Pratchett fan, just accept this and don’t worry about what it all means.

Three Things Thursday: 16 March 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, home-made muffins.

Mmmmm… muffins

These were part of a very long Sunday brunch shared with friends (the segregation is lactose-free vs. those with a little lactose).

Second, finished socks.

Aren’t they bright?!

Third, sharing. My friend Ann needed some lace for a project she’s working on: she’s making an album for her wedding memories. I hadn’t got round to giving her a wedding present, so was very happy to send her this from my collection:

Lovely lace

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week – what about you?

From squares to stripes

Last week I finished my sixty million trebles projects with a little yarn-bombing in London to publicise the cause. I printed and laminated tags and attached a heart or flower to each one. London is full of railings, so it didn’t take me too long to find somewhere to hang them in the hope that they would be taken by the curious and that one or two people might get involved.yarnbomb-2I will eventually make some more square blankets for 60MT, but I need a change, so I have returned to some sock-knitting. Last year I subscribed to a sock yarn club, with colours inspired by the Discworld. Somehow, I only got round to knitting up the first ball, so I had five balls of beautiful stripy British sock wool from The Knitting Goddess, just waiting for my needles. I’ve written previously about my disappointment with a previous sock yarn club from which, whilst beautifully dyed, almost none of the wool was hardy enough for socks and I think it was intended for shawls (a bit of mis-selling, sadly). The Knitting Goddess yarn is very different – you choose that base yarn that you want, so it is only the hand-dyed colourway that comes as a surprise when it arrives. The pair of socks that I did knit using this yarn last year are lovely and robust, so I had no hesitation starting another pair. The colourway is called Salamander Flash.

I think I’m going to have the brightest feet in west Wales!

Some finished objects for Friday

As it’s Friday I thought I’d show off a few recently finished objects… I’ve been relatively quiet about crafting over the past few weeks, mainly because there’s been so much to share about food and gardening, but that does not that I’ve not been busy with my hooks and needles. I’ve made two pairs of snails – one of which has its own carry bag made out of an old pyjama leg (!) – a hedgehog (a commission which has gone to Belgium I think), a hat for my mum for her birthday, and some socks.

The hat and the colourful snail wool are both yarn that I bought from Colinette in January before they closed. The brown snail yarn is from West Yorkshire Spinners. The cream yarn used in all the snails is from The Inkpot. And the socks are knitted from Regia yarn for my swap with Kathryn.

So have you any finished objects to share… knitted, sewn, written, painted, drawn… anything creative?

The right materials for the job

This evening I’ve been quietly cursing my way through a repair… in fact it’s still not finished and I’m just taking a break to write a blog post about it.


They looked good when I made them

Regular readers may recall that last year I was very excited to have joined a yarn club. I paid a subscription and then each month for six months I would receive a ball of hand dyed sock yarn. It worked well in as much as each month I did receive a ball of beautifully dyed 4-ply yarn… the problem (it turns out) was that it wasn’t really sock yarn. To make socks that last you need a good robust yarn otherwise all the hours you put into knitting are pointless because you end up with holey socks very quickly. In fact, it soon became clear that some of the balls of yarn would be no good for socks – they were beautifully soft wool, with no strength. Sometimes the information that came with the ball did not include details of the composition of the yarn and I had to make a guess. In the end, out of the six balls I only used two for socks… and, it turns out what one of those was a mistake.

The most robust socks are not made of pure wool, but also contain about 25% nylon. This may not sound very green but, in fact, they last so long and are so easy to repair that the addition of a manmade fibre is really worthwhile. I have socks that have been worn for years and years and, because they were knitted from good quality ‘real’ sock yarn, they are still going strong.


Not very impressive

Erring on the side of caution, both pairs of socks that I made with the yarn club yarn were constructed using genuine sock wool (from a different supplier) for the heels and toes, as these are the parts that get the most wear. In both cases these parts are still fine; however the feet of one pair are worn through only 7 months after the socks were made. I am extremely disappointed, but decided to repair them and keep them going a bit longer (I suspect many more repairs may be necessary in the future).


Darning and reinforcing

So this evening I have been using a really great sock yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners (the one used for the heels and toes) for some quite extensive darning. Needless to say that I didn’t renew the subscription to the club when it ran out. In fact I did succumb to another yarn club from a different dyer… but this one guaranteed to supply yarn that was 75% British Wool and 25% Nylon every single time.

The lessons? Always use the correct yarn for the job… it saves time, money and stress. Oh and Caveat Emptor!


This one still to do


I don’t knit socks to sell – they take so long to make that even asking a paltry per-hour rate would take them out of the reach of almost all potential customers. Although a pair of handmade socks will last for years and is much easier to repair successfully than a mass-produced pair, no one wants to pay the true value. This means that, in general, if you own a pair of socks that I made, it’s because I love you! The only way I will undertake a commission to make socks is if I can barter for them – although I still have to like you a lot to even agree to do this! There are , however, folks out there who have skills that I do not and so there is a possibility of an exchange.

And so it is with my latest creations. These socks are very special: not only are they going to be exchanged for some leather work (haven’t quite finalised what), but more than that, they are made in part with wool from a friend’s sheep at The Inkpot, which is…

home grown, home shorn, Yorkshire spun, permaculture designed, pasture fed, holistically managed, non chemical, rare breed, British native, slow grown wool

Because it’s pure wool, it’s not ideal for hard-wearing socks, so the heels toes and ribbing are knitted from ‘sock wool’, which contains some nylon so that it doesn’t wear out too quickly. Even that yarn, is British (from West Yorkshire Spinners).

The recipient of these socks also already owns the first two hedgehogs that I made (Shy and Spike)… so I decided to expand the family. Therefore, the parcel contains three additions… two made from the Inkpot wool and one from the sock yarn. Of course, the spikes are made using eyelash yarn and that, sadly, isn’t British, but these three were made from left-overs from previous hedgies.

What do you make for love?

Hanging up the stockings

Apparently this evening many of you will have hung up some knitted foot attire in the hope of it being filled with goodies.

Chez Snail, we hang out our socks on a regular basis, but only on the washing line and the only thing that ever fills them is feet (and I should note that the two things NEVER happen simultaneously).


A fine display and not a mantelpiece in sight!

In fact 2015 has been a good year for socks… I’ve made a whole bunde of them over the year:

And those are just the ones I can find pictures of!

My endeavours have been slightly encouraged by joining a ‘sock yarn club’ about five months ago. I signed up for six months so that I would receive a skein of hand-dyed sock yarn every month for the duration. I’ve liked the colours, but I have been rather disappointed by the fact that three of the five lots of yarn received so far have not really been suitable for socks – being spun from soft yarn and not reinforced with some hard-wearing man-made fibre.  The yarn is perfectly lovely, but I feel a little let-down that it is sock-weight yarn (i.e. 4-ply) rather than what I consider ‘real sock yarn’.  I used one skein to make the lovely spatterdash wrist-warmers, but now have two beautifully soft fine yarns that I’m not sure what to do with. I’m really hoping that the last of the six is suitable for socks.

Anyway, not to be deterred, I have decided to subscribe to a different sock yarn club for 2016. In this case, the yarn type is the same each time and really is sock yarn. In fact, the yarn is posted out six times a year, so that’s a little less frantic. This club is perfect for me as 2016 is themed ‘Back to Discworld‘. It’s being offered by The Knitting Goddess, an indie dying company based in Harrogate (near where I grew up). There will be a different discworld-inspired colour scheme for each skein… now won’t that be great?

Anyway… whatever you are doing with your socks today (I’ll be knitting some morefor my mum), have a great time!

Woolly wonders

Welcome to British Wool Week.


Jute bird roosting pouch

I have to confess that I have started the week working with jute, as I have an order for four bird roosting pouches. I had hoped to link up with a producer of wool twine to create these, but after initial interest, they went very quiet and so I’m working with my tried and tested fibre. However, I have lots of wool from actual sheep in my stash and several orders that require its use. So this week I will be making a start on some socks to barter (I don’t sell socks – they take too long to make, but I do exchange them for other craft work, in this case a leather knitting pouch) and a shy hedgehog (with a British wool tummy), plus I’m about to start experimenting with making an echidna (by special request) that will also include British wool. The socks will have heels and toes made from WYS Aire Valley yarn that’s a mix of British wool plus nylon for strength, but the main part will be pure wool from The Inkpot – a farm in Lincolnshire run by the amazing Hannah T.

Aside from orders, there’s Mr Snails latest socks to make a start on – these will be knitted from hand-dyed Polwarth yarn from Burrow and Soar. And I really want to make a start on a neck-warmer made from the beautiful hand-spun Portland wool made by Hannah F. (Spinning a Yarn).

IMGP6560You may be wondering why I get so excited about using wool – particularly British wool, There are several reasons. First, it’s so versatile – there are so many breeds of sheep, each producing wool with specific characteristics, that it’s possible to find exactly the right wool for a particular job. Next, wool is very forgiving to knit and crochet with – it’s got some give to it, so unlike cotton, variations in tension are not so noticeable, which is a boon for beginners. Then there’s the production of wool. Sheep can be reared on very marginal land – areas where it’s too steep or the soil is too poor to raise crops. With good management flocks of sheep can have a beneficial impact on the environment. Plus, this way we can support local producers and help to ensure our rural communities do not disappear. Then there’s ‘yarn miles’ – things like cotton yarn cannot be produced in the UK, so there’s lots of transportation involved; plus, with cotton, there’s a high water demand (in places where water is often a scarce commodity) and (unless it’s organic) a very heavy pesticide load. And finally, wool, unlike many yarns, is a natural fibre – don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the case with some of the plant-based yarns such as bamboo,or soya – they are man-made fibres that use plant material as a raw product.

So, here’s to wool and all it’s benefits. Happy wool week!

Sock in British Merino (colour 'prize-winning pumpkin') and commercial sock yarn for heel and toe

Sock in British Merino (colour ‘prize-winning pumpkin’ from Burrow and Soar) and commercial sock yarn for heel and toe

Twisted thinking

This is a warning about the perils of certain blogs… you start reading them, you get sucked into the cosy descriptions of yarn bombing and steeking and then the insidious side of things appears. Descriptions of delicious yarn with pictures and links to fantastic collections of temptation; you find yourself drawn in with the chance of winning a skein of your very own. But, of course, you don’t win.., and by that time it’s too late, you are hooked*.

And so, thanks to The Twisted Yarn, I found myself a member of the Burrow and Soar sock yarn club (15% discount with a code from Twisted’s blog). Every month for six months I will be receiving a skein of hand-dyed yarn to fuel my sock-knitting addiction. The first one arrived yesterday, along with a few extra goodies and I thought that you might like to see the loveliness that is my yarn “prize-winning pumpkin”:

The theme this month was ‘harvest home’ and I think Fran who dyes the wool has captured the colours of winter squashes and pumpkins so well. To be honest, this is well away from my usual selection of palettes but I’m rather pleased to explore something rather different,  Next month, however, the theme is ‘behold the sea’, which will probably fit right in with my usual colour choices.

Twisted, you are a bad influence – thank you!


* well, at least you are if you crochet

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