All wrapped up

My Granny was Granny Maggie; ‘Margaret’ to some, ‘Margot’ to Granddad  ‘Mum’ to my Mum, ‘Old Sarge’ to most of us.


A Ward Sister, and a fairly stern one at times I should think, a knitter, quilter, cross-stitcher and cook, she has left rather an impression on me.  There is so much I could write about her, and one day maybe I will, but this post is really about the particular practical things I do because of her.

Between Granny and Mum I was taught to knit when I was a mere slip of a girl, but I never finished (or really even started) a project.  I knew it meant a lot to Granny for her Granddaughters (I don’t remember my brother picking up the needles – but I am happy to be corrected on this point) to have a go at it, but she didn’t push it; maybe just a gentle cajoling every now and again.

One vivid memory is of sitting in her living room, her arms wrapped around mine, as she helped me to make a knit stich (“in, over, under, off”).  As my uneven rows built on one another and my movements became a little more dextrous I remember her whispering conspiratorially in my ear: “this is fun, isn’t it?”

I was in agreement.  It was always great to spend a bit of time just-me-and-her and, quite frankly, I liked a bit of a cuddle and a curl up on the sofa.   I’ll admit though, that I wasn’t really in on the secret.  What spurred her whispered exclamation was that mysterious thing that I have only been unravelling for the past two years – how good it feels to make something, to see it emerge and develop from a cast-on row up (or down) into a real thing that you can keep or give to someone you love.

Granny, I get it now.

When she died three years ago she left five beautiful baby cardigans.  There aren’t yet any babies in our family, but one day, one of us Grandchildren might have a child of our own. Because of this bequest, each of us will have something of Granny to share with that child, a real, tangible thing.  When Mum showed the tiny white jackets to me, after a few private tears, I began to think about how important the act of making something is.  It was this that made me start to consider picking up the needles and trying to remember what Granny Maggie taught me.

Like finding a needle in a...In sorting out Granny’s things Mum found hundreds of needles in a holdall.  It seemed only right to use something that had been Granny’s to make my first ‘remember how to knit’ project.  I picked some lovely chunky, wooden needles from the confusion of steel in the bag and popped to Twist in Woodbridge with Mum to find a soft, draping yarn.  Tools at the ready, I planned a cowl.

Mum helped.  I sat on her sofa this time, with her leaning over behind me, showing me how to pick up dropped stitches and working out why I had started with 68 and now had 71.  I called her out of the kitchen while she was trying to listen to The Archers and make dinner for 8 people because I couldn’t work out why there was a big, gaping hole in my project four rows back and it just couldn’t wait.  I left it for weeks until the next time I was going home to Ma and Pa’s, ostensibly because I was too busy, but really because I had picked up a dropped purl, twisted it into a knit and couldn’t see what was wrong.


I was a needy novice knitter.  In the end though, on Granny’s needles and with Mum’s guidance, I had it – my first real knitted thing.

It really was the start of something.   I’d like to say I haven’t stopped since, but I have stalled a few times, normally due to wanting to run before I could walk (read: do complex lace knitting before I could do simple increase and decrease stitches). I am insatiable when it comes to yarn and patterns and planning the next project now though.

I tried to pay Mum’s kindness back with a cowl of her own.  It took me a while (it was initially given to her for her birthday still on the needles!) but I got there in the end.  I love that she actually wears it and even more, that she sometimes sends me amusing on-the-train-surreptitiously-taken photos of herself wearing it.  Not to worry, I won’t post those Mum.


Since then, Mum has given me Granny’s needle holdall, initially to sort out, and then to pick and choose from.  I spent a glorious afternoon organising them with a friend and then immediately put my chosen selection in a drawer, along with the ones I have bought over the past year (I have a penchant for these), to get all jumbled up again.

I needed a solution.

I asked A, my Brother, for one of Sarah Kincheloe’s cute-and-functional hand-made knitting needle organisers for Christmas and it arrived from Texas this week.  Of course it was an excuse for another afternoon of organising Granny’s needles.  Brilliant.

Now I’m all organised I can’t wait to sink my teeth into my next project, but I suppose before I do, I ought to get to the point.  This post isn’t just ‘wrapped up’ because of my oh-so-satisfying knitting needle roll (thanks A!).  It is ‘all wrapped up’ because of Granny.

She was a woman who showed her love to you in everything she did, the things she made you, the food she provided, her jokes about leaving you some monstrosity in her will.  She rarely told you about it though, not in the way my immediate family do, with a “love you” at the end of every conversation and a freeness with expressing emotion through words, poetry, conversation.  So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that she showed her pleasure that I was going off to University by doing something for me.

She made me the quilt you can see in the background of the first image above.  It is hand sewn, made of pieces of fabric from curtains and dresses that had been around me all my life and based on a pattern called Grandmother’s Garden.  The ‘path’ is made from a sheet which was given to my Great-Grandmother, Daisy, as a wedding present, while the border is made up of a maternity dress my Mum wore.  Granny said that this was because “Mother draws it all together”.  Spot-on Granny.

It is utterly beautiful.  This picture does not do it justice.  It has been with me for all of the eleven years since she made it.  It has been carted to each university house, rented place with friends and now my very own flat.


I look at it every day, and when I do, I remember the day that Granny gave me this gift.  We went upstairs to my room and laid it on the bed.  We stood and gazed at it for a while.  I gave her hug in thanks and, as I did, she whispered conspiratorially in my ear that now I had my quilt I would always be “wrapped up in love”.

So there it is.  Now, I have a project to cast on and a cuppa to drink as I look out on snowy scenes.  You should stay wrapped up too, it’s chilly.

Fightin’ Words

When I decided to start knitting again (after an 18 year hiatus) I decided to search the local area for a knitting group. It had been two years or so since I moved to St Albans from the Midlands, and I seemed to have spent most of my hours at work during that time, so it promised a way to meet a few people and start to feel like I really live here, no longer just resting my head.

A quick internet search later and I had found a group that meets on Tuesdays (the first and third of the month to be precise) and here was the real boon; THEY MEET IN A PUB. Brilliant. It turns out to have been a great move. I’ve made some lovely friends, learned zillions of things about yarn and knitting and crochet and how many glasses of wine I can drink before my knitting becomes one pattern repeat forward and two back because I was just-not-paying-attention. At all.

We are fairly good at keeping our projects up to date on Ravelry, and one member of the group had shared a recent finished project which caught my eye. Once I had seen these mittens, with their comic-book-geek-chic, I knew they had to be E’s Christmas present. The man spends much of his time (when he is not working or watching NFL or Baseball) reading comics and graphic novels, and encouraging others to read them.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of colour work, despite the chart and pattern being so clear. I put off starting for a while and wasn’t really sure where to begin. So I ruined the surprise. It was the only way. Once I had told E this was what he was getting for Christmas I HAD to make it.

We went on an amazing trip to Amsterdam in October.

While we were there I took us on a little diversion to a yarn store, De Afstap, and enforced some colour choices. E picked out a couple of brilliantly contrasting yarns for his Fightin’ Words in Rowan Cashsoft 4ply, and I no longer had any excuse for not giving them a go.

I used the cast-on recommended in the pattern which is from Ysolde Teague’s blog. It was challenging at first, but totally worth it, and I have used it in other projects since. Once you get your head around it it’s a lovely cast on for one by one rib, you just have to make sure you keep your finger on your last few cast on stitches, and orientate them correctly so they stay nice and neat.

I took my completed cuff for the ‘Bam’ glove to group one Tuesday early in November and asked for advice as to how to proceed. I was scared about adding in the contrasting colour and not really sure how it would work in practice with four needles, two balls of yarn and a knitter who is all thumbs at the best of times. A lovely group member, D, showed me how to hold the second yarn continental style so that my yarns didn’t get in a twist and I was surprised how much simpler it was than I had imagined.

I did have trouble with my tension; ‘Bam’ has got some areas where the green almost doesn’t show through the grey, but as I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the project, so my stitches became more even and the pattern more uniform.


Then… Second glove syndrome hit, and hit bad. It was November and there seemed like all the time in the world to finish the pair. I had loads of other gifts to make and E had already got half a present… so it was only fair to get on with something else.

This was a philosophy which led to the most difficult of Christmas Eves. At home, in the bosom of my family (which includes three teenage Bonus*-siblings), I had to lock myself away from the fun all day to knit the bloomin’ glove.


After much ribbing from my younger brother, A, approximately ten mince pies (they were small ones) and a few minor grumps I finally finished the ‘Pow!” glove. Just before midnight. I hadn’t woven in the ends, but at that point wrapping all the other presents for my family seemed to be a higher priority.

In the end it wasn’t a surprise present, but I know it was one of E’s favourites (he has been wearing them on his Boris Bike to work) and it’s certainly one I’ll never forget giving. I don’t even mind the flaws or the dodgy tension. I’m just pretty proud of them really.

Bam! Pow!


*Read ‘foster’, but they really are a bonus, so it’s only right.

A couple of hats

It’s been a while.  I know.  I have realised that as things drew towards Christmas, and term became more and more of a whirlwind, I began to procrastinate in different ways; ways mostly involving mindless TV shows and wine.  I have missed jotting things down, that little bit of time afforded to considering words and how best to express my joys or frustrations in whatever project has been keeping my thumbs particularly busy.


Just before the holidays began it was this WIP which was on a Christmas deadline.  A friend at work has recently had some bad news; a very good friend of hers who has been in remission from cancer has unfortunately discovered that more treatment is now needed.  She is expecting to lose her hair again, so some hats were requested.  I was thinking about the softest yarns I had worked with this year and thought of this.  I have loads of the Mustard and Teal stashed because I have been promising E a scarf for more than a year (bored, bored, bored), but thought that the deep reddish-purple of the Cyclamen was suitably feminine.  I suggested a range of patterns and my colleague chose this little number.

I find reading even the simplest of lace patterns quite difficult – I know what every abbreviation means, but can’t seem to see the symmetry or understand how it will eventually lead to the intended outcome without seeing a chart.  The k2togs, yos and ssks swim around on the page entirely unpredictably and I find myself craning forward and pointing and losing my place so often that I may as well not bother.

I therefore decided that the only thing to do was to learn to chart patterns myself and spend some time to save it later.  I used this guide to help me and thoroughly recommend it.  It was simple to follow and I ended up with an entirely useable document – which surprised me somewhat.  The only thing I altered is that instead of using a screenshot to save my finished chart I selected the relevant section of my document and saved it as a PDF.  Anyway, this is the chart I created.  The project pootled along quite nicely after that.

Finished Beanie
It sells itself as a ‘slouchy’ beanie, which I’m sure it would have been if I had used the correct needle size.  I like the dense feel this chunky yarn gives when knitted up on smaller needles, so used 4.5mm circulars and ended up with a snug fit.  I would probably go bigger next time, or simply repeat the lace pattern once or twice more.  I was right about the yarn though, it is beautifully soft, and I feel really pleased that this little gesture might help to cheer someone through a tough time.

A day or two later and I was sprinting towards the finish line on another project; this time a tinier one.  A friend of E’s from university, a really great friend in fact, has had her first baby.  On a particularly horrible Monday evening we were invited over to H and D’s particularly welcoming East London flat to meet their baby girl, Scout and eat the most hearty of lamb stews. I was determined to make her something for her first Christmas but as our plans (as they often are) were rather last minute I was in need of a quick knit.  I decided this was just the ticket.

It was truly an overnight project – I started it in the evening, knitted until late and got up early to carry out my pom-pom duties.  I was tickled with how it turned out – particularly the way the cables alternate and diminish, leading your eye up to the jaunty little bobble.

Scout's Cabled Bobble Hat

I think if I were to make another I might try a two-by-two rib and extend the rim a few more rows, just to stabilise it a little.

Well.  That’s one post-Christmas post dealing only with things that occurred pre-Christmas.  I fear there may be a few more of these to come in the great blog catch-up of early 2013.

I can only apologise.