The Knitting Sailor

Once I get started
April 22, 2014, 4:38 pm
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Once I get started I sometimes can’t stop.  In fact I get a bit carried away.  So much so that I have gone on a bit of a sock bender.  Like many people with an addictive personality this has taken the form of looking at a lot of socks, imagining socks on my feet, feeling sock wool and going for quick mini-hits of socks when I think no one is looking.  So my friends children have had an influx of socks.

How cute!

How cute!

I’ve tried them for the dog but she just pulls them off in disgust.  They are so cute and you can knit one in an hour.  That’s right – an HOUR.  And that’s for the bigger ones.  As an achievement junkie this is a totally new and amazing discovery.  And I can use lots of different bits of sock wool so the variety is a big plus.  The additional benefit of knitting something so small is that you can try out and learn lots of new techniques – and then translate it to big ones!  So these are toe up socks.

Starting with Judys Magic cast on there is no longer any need for looking for my tatty photocopy of kitcheners stitch.

This is using Jenys suprisingly stretchy cast off – fantastic alternative to the traditional and helps get all of those wriggly toes gathered up in one go.

2014-04-22 16.11.34

And these are toe up two at a time socks using magic loop.  I LOVE this – because you get two socks at the end of it!

These were actually a bit of an experiment as I tried to just upsize the baby pattern, which completely didn’t work and the toes were square, but after a bit of trial and effort they are looking like they are meant to.  I have also done a version of the short row heel rather than a heel flap like I usually do on proper socks – the sock is definitely a better fit and I think looks just as lovely.

But now to the bad bit.  They don’t match.  NO really – look at them – they don’t even look like they were from the same wool never mind a matching pair.  They joy of these socks is that they are being knit from one ball – one end from the middle, one from the outside.  But they have come out as what is commonly known as ‘fraternal’ rather than matching.  It’s messing with my head more than a bit – but it’s not stopping me knitting more…

Orange and Green - kind of troll colours

Additional feet required!


NB – Apologies about the lack of photos – I lost all my ‘in progress’ shots on changing my phone 😦

October 26, 2013, 11:19 am
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For our tenth anniversary I thought I would do something really special.  This is a bit of a big deal for me – I am hopeless with it – as is the Mr – primarily due to when it falls.  We got married between Christmas and New Year – a genius time to get married… the year you get married.  Everyone is in that ‘I’m-a-bit-bored-of-sitting-in-the-house-and-eating’ mood and desperate to get away from the relatives.  So a small wedding with a mahoosive party was a brilliant idea for all of our seasonally affected friends and family.

The years after it’s not so phenomenal.  As an anniversary it does, in fact, suck.  You are ‘eaten out’ so can’t be bothered to go out for a posh meal, and even if you could it would primarily consist of turkey.  You have forgotten to buy a card and of course everywhere is shut now, even if you could muster the willpower to crawl across your front door and battle your way through the wind and snow.  You would love to buy a ‘significant’ present – you know, like all those people you know on Facebook who got married in the summer and have nothing impeding their celebration of not having killed each other for another year and go on picnics and the sun shines and they buy ‘cotton’ and ‘tin’ presents and stuff, but you on the other hand have used up your one and only idea on the Christmas present – how are you meant to think of, and produce a second one after only a couple of days?

But I was determined that knitting was going to make it different.

Everything would change now that I could MAKE a present.  It was our tenth anniversary – it was important.

So I covertly cast on a pair of socks.  I had huge aspirations – I would buy a card, I would knit some socks, I would present them to him wrapped (and not in Christmas paper) and they would show just how much I cared.  I knit them on the metro on the way to work, I knit them in my lunch hour.  I knit them when I couldn’t sleep and the Mr was in bed, I knit them at the lake when he was at the pub.  But then it was Christmas.  And we were away.  I only had one and a half socks.  And a pit of despair – I had essentially failed.

The anniversary was no different – apart from that I had bought a card.

I didn’t knit the socks any more as I felt sad when I looked at them and the anniversary slipped by.

I found them last week having buried them on more than one occasion.  And yesterday I picked them up and finished them.  And it felt no different.

We have been together nearly twelve years and we are happy on more than one day of the year – so does it really matter they weren’t ready?  It turns out probably not.  And I think that there will be plenty of time for me to knit some other ones over the coming years – maybe just not with the deadline of an anniversary looming.

Don't you just love self-striping yarn?

Don’t you just love self-striping yarn?



Oh yes – its a turned heel and everything….

And however long it took to knit them, it didn’t make them fit any better.



Woolfest 2013
July 18, 2013, 8:17 am
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It was totally epic!  This year I took my mum who hadn’t been before and it was even busier than last year.  Stuff that was exciting this year –

  • Rare breeds show – this actually seemed to be ‘breeds that you may know and love in the British Isles’.  They all still really looked like sheep to me.  Apart from the Alpacas.  Obviously.
He struggled with the goat.  He'd lost his notes about that one.

He struggled with the goat. He’d lost his notes about that one.

  • Re-visiting the scene of the crime.  That’s right – this is where it all started last year, and I was determined that Kate got my mum hooked this year.  Think she succeeded….
I got a hug when I told her I now had my own wheel and everything....

I got a hug when I told her I now had my own wheel and everything….

  • Look - its like real wool - and she's only been doing it for three seconds!!

    Look – its like real wool – and she’s only been doing it for three seconds!!

  • Going to the fleece sale (I was SOOOO good – I didn’t buy anything (From the fleece sale.  OBVIOUSLY I bought stuff from Woolfest…)
All of the fleeces had names and sometimes photos of the sheep on them - they were gorgeous and I was very restrained not to add to my herd....

All of the fleeces had names and sometimes photos of the sheep on them – they were gorgeous and I was very restrained not to add to my herd….

  • Admired the wool-art.  This was actually made really close to where I live by a group at the Linskill Centre – it’s always the way that you travel to see something that’s local to you…
Millions of hours of work!

Millions of hours of work!

They're not real

They’re not real

  • Found this amazing display and blog – Land Keepers – please go and have a look – the photos of the farmers on their land and the beauty of the Lake District in rain, snow and hail are all there.  I’m not showing you a photo to build the suspense.
  • Took an excessive number of photos of sheep.  You will be thrilled I am going to share with you.
We're all sheep

Grumpy looking sheep


Curly looking sheep


Giant fringe sheep

  • Took the bag of goodies I bought and hid it.  I have a baby blanket to knit.

May 29, 2013, 6:05 pm
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So in the fairytale, the beautiful princess was locked in a dungeon (/ tower/ cellar /pick your own inconvenient place to be imprisoned) and made to spin straw into gold.  It is so obvious this fairytale is built on fact – because trust me the stuff I am spinning is worth more than gold.  It is, in fact, as the American Express advert says, priceless.  This is because of the time it takes.

But I am so totally proud of it that I have taken to carrying bobbins of it around in my handbag to show people.

From Shetland sheep

Turns out people aren’t interested.

Even the dog is a bit bored and would rather go sniff the sheep fleeces.

I get it, it’s from an alpaca. Can I have a sausage now please??

Actually, that isn’t true.  Lots of knitty people are interested, and I can totally get kudos when I explain that the purple stuff is all the way from the Shetlands (bought last year at Woolfest) and the rest is Alpaca.

I’ve kind of fouled up with the Alpaca however.  Look at it.

It's Alpaca
It’s Alpaca

It’s not just pretty its also soft and warm and totally beautiful.  And I made a foolish promise.  My brothers fiance wanted to create a felted Alpaca bag.  Alpaca yarn is very expensive, so when we were at another wool event (I know – there are more than one, but I didn’t admit to it in case you judged me…) I foolishly promised to spin her the wool myself.  reasoning that it would save loads of money, and be fun and could be her Christmas present.

It wasn’t finished for Christmas, so I bought her lama wool to use instead.  It didn’t cut it…..

And now I have my first spun Alpaca finished.   I don’t think I can give it to her.  To be felted.  Do you think she would take my firstborn instead?

Fun with Fleece
May 14, 2013, 7:24 am
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Do you remember these?

Trust me - they look bigger in real life

Full of sheep

I got them with one of my spinning wheels.  I have had no idea what to do with them, so they have sat in my house for some time now.  So I did what I usually do, cry for help!  And my distress call was totally answered by Julie from Crafty Recycling who I sail with.  Julies philosophy is that you can re-use everything – and she has been processing fleeces into wool for all sorts of things for years.  Most importantly she wasn’t afraid to open the boxes….

So a couple of weeks ago I rocked up at hers with my boxes.  And we opened them.  And this is what we found.


There are a lot of sheep here…

I know – look at all those sheepy piles!  Even unpacking them was exciting as we had no idea what we would find – fortunately no dead bodies.  In fact we even had royalty (well aristocracy) – the label on the mushroom coloured fleece in front of the nearest box had a tag on declaring it ‘the Countess of Swinton‘ – although I suspect this may be from the countess’s farm, I prefer to think it was a very special sheep.

The black ones are Hebridean and have exciting golden tips, the beige ones were Shetlands, with some ‘mules’ which are mixed breed fleeces.  Overall the fleeces were all in good condition if a little dry.  The things you are looking for is how dry it is, if it’s really matted or if it’s felted.  In any of these situations then you might as well not waste your time.  We chucked one, but all of the rest were still good to go.  So I still had a herd.  My house just isn’t that big…

So what do you do with a pile of sheep like this?  Well you get a sheep dog to help you – Molly was most enthusiastic to help us herd one of the fleeces into the bath to start to clean the fleece ready for working with it.


I love sheep me. Can I put one in my mouth please?

This appears to be the easy bit – you basically put it in a bath with soda crystals and then go and drink tea.

Manky fleece

Manky fleece

I know, it’s not a good look.  There are lots of different ways to do this and if you look on the tinterweb then there is lots of different advice, but this seems to be a pretty no-nonsense approach.  This was also a chance to see what you can do next.  Julie has a drum carder, and having washed the fleece will then pull it apart and comb it out with a pet comb and then put it through the carder which looks like a giant machine of torture!  It actually combs out the wool ready to use.  This is where it really takes some time – every last bit needs to be combed through by hand to work out any last bits of plant material or anything else.  I suggest a hot tip would be to not let your sheep anywhere near anything that might go in its fleece.  Like grass, or plants, or poo.  Or you could wrap it in cling film or something.  Because I can see this bit taking AGES.  Sigh.  But nothing is wasted, anything you comb out can then be used for toy stuffing, or put on your garden as mulch, or put in a little feeder for birds to make nests out of.

Once the fleece had had a bath, we were ready to give it a final rinse and get it dry.  Because the water that came off it was very brown looking and had definitely been attached to a very muddy and happy sheep!

Yes that’s right, it’s a fleece in a pillowcase that’s going in the washing machine.  Visions of felting were floating around by this point.



Key thing with all of this is to make sure that you are using cold water and then this isn’t a problem.

So what does it look like when you have finished?


Very much cleaner

The bit hanging down at the back is its tail!   Apparently its really good to have it still look like a sheep as it makes it easier to handle.  I just think its more exciting looking.  But look how not-brown it looks!

So once its dry this sheep is off to be carded and spun.  Have to say, all this work is starting to make buying yarn a cheap occupation when you see all the work that goes into it.

One down – 47,000 other fleeces to go.  Should be finished for Christmas.





Just like buses
December 4, 2012, 8:14 am
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So you pine all year, and then two come along at once!

Please ignore the background - we're decorating and its a mess

Nearly looks like a bike when you see them like that

That’s right, I am now the proud owner of not one but two spinning wheels!

They are both Ashfords, both about the same age and both sitting in my house.  I could barely contain my excitement.  Not least as collecting them had involved road trips to Scarborough and York.

Beautiful in the winter sunshine

Beautiful in the winter sunshine

One was from E-Bay, one was from a friend of the Mr’s who had heard I was looking for one – and before I knew it we were committed to both.  But with a brill deal on both I am reasoning that I can always sell the one I don’t like as much.  this was until my Mum started eying them and saying that actually it looked like more fun than she had expected.  and before I started to think that obviously it would be good to have two wheels – you know, one for home, one for the sailing club…

They have obviously been well loved – and Mavis even showed us some of the things that she had made with hers – including a cardigan with beautiful colours in it – all dyed from plants.  I think I am some way off that for the moment!

The second wheel was a real surprise – it came with some extras – a Carding Drum which lets you comb out fleece ready for spinning, but that actually looks like a Spanish inquisition type torture device and a couple of extra boxes.  When I was introduced to this box I was told there was some fleece in there.  When we went to collect, a couple of boxes had turned into 5.  And when I got home and looked inside the first box…. There were two actual sheep fleeces in it.  Complete with straw and sheepy smell.  I don’t know that I have ever been more stunned.   I just looked at them.

Trust me - they look bigger in real life

Trust me – they look bigger in real life

So on rough calculations I have around ten fleeces from ten actual sheep.  It’s a flock of my very own.  I have absolutely no idea what to do about this, so at the moment they are sitting in the spare room being interestingly sniffed by the dog who has finally found a sheep she can get up close and personal with.  I’m just hoping the sheep don’t want them back.

And I have one of them working.  Kind Of.  What I’ve got from my attempts over a few hours is this – it’s lumpy and bumpy and looks like this –

Lumpy, but really fast

Lumpy, but really fast

So I am super loving it.  But I need to put them away as we are in the middle of a decorating nightmare – so over Christmas I am going to have lots to play with once we are finished.

I love Christmas.  I’m going to decorate the pasting table.

Is a sheep a hasty choice?
November 15, 2012, 7:10 am
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To take true consideration if all of the options here is my list about why it would be great to have an alpaca / lama in the garden.  This is to endure the full facts are explored before I bring an animal into my suburban back garden.

I say alpaca / lama as I have never really understood the difference between them. I think lamas are taller. I’m sure someone clever would be able to tell me.

  • If I had an alpaca in my back garden then I could make heaps of money by selling the fleece as its really expensive fibre
  • I could hire it out in the winter to star in nativity productions
  • It would be able to peer over the fence and entertain the neighbours grandchildren (if it was a tall one which makes it a lama)
  • I could run visits for knitters and sell them alpaca / lama related items – e.g. a book in the shape of an alpaca / lama, alpaca / lama flavoured wine etc.
  • In the summer I could take it to the beach to take the kiddies for a ride
  • I could make my own cheese (or is that goats?)
  • My lawn would still be beautifully manicured – but so would my bushes due said animals increased height

Concern may be that they spit and don’t get on with the sheep, and as they are part of the camel family they might find the North East a little chilly….  Also, the last time I met a camel I had to buy a rug.

It’s a real camel. Or dromedary. Or something.

Don’t ask.


New Plan
November 14, 2012, 7:04 am
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Get a sheep to live in the back garden.  Reasons why having a sheep in my back garden would be a good idea –

  • It would save me lots of money on wool
  • It would be locally produced, organic wool and of the finest quality
  • I would not have to mow the lawn again
  • The sheep would be a friend to the little dog and the fishes in the pond
  • It could be a business investment as I could spin the wool and then sell it for lots of money to pay for the sheep’s upkeep
  • I could knit it a scarf and then sell photos of it wearing the scarf for Christmas cards
  • It would feed itself on grass so would be very cheap
  • In the winter it could live in the Mr’s shed – so it would have the added benefit of getting the shed cleared out
  • It would mean I could find out what sheep nuts actually are
  • We could take the sheep for days out to Kielder and it could play with lots of other sheep
  • People would visit and make a fuss of the sheep so it would become a talking point

Thinking about it, maybe I need two?


Is getting good, bad?
November 13, 2012, 6:47 am
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I finished my spinning!  So last time I wrote about this I had spun one ball and knit up half a pattern.  I had done this because

  1. I was too excited to wait
  2. I really really really wanted to prove it was real wool and not pretend wool
  3. Lots of people who spin, spin what they need as they go
  4. I was scared it might turn back into fluff if it wasn’t quickly marshalled into a knitted item
  5. I was too excited to wait

But I only had enough to do half of the collar and it looked like this


You can see why I was excited

Inspired to dash on, I then got straight back on with the spinning!  I was a little bit quicker this time and a little more careful.  If I got a big blobby bit of wool then I would go back, tease it apart and re-spin it all tidily.  I was quite chuffed with my attention to detail.  I seem to have got through a lot of fluff very quickly with this project – I guess because I am making quite thick wool due to inexperience.  I also think that there must be something that you need to do to make thinner wool – if I let the thread get too thin then the weight of the spindle (and the already spun wool) makes it snap.  So I think I have a chunky wool spindle.

It took me another three days to repeat the process, but my spinning was definitely better – more even and finer looking.  I don’t know if you can see it on the photos.


More perfect-er wool?

And two hours later I had finished the knitting.  There are lots of bonus’s here.  For six days making wool I reckon I got three hours knitting (if that).  Based on this calculation I am never going to be able to keep up with enough spinning to fulfil the knitting side of things.  Therefore I am still going to have to buy wool too – yay!

So what does my finished item look like?

I added extra buttons because they are super lovely buttons… and I put the first one in the wrong place.  It’s a lovely pattern, and I definitely think it suits the homespun nature of this wool – it’s also really easy to knit – I am contemplating dashing out 27,000 of them for Christmas presents.  Pattern is HERE.

So this only leaves me with one problem.  The wool looks different!  The first lot is less ‘spun’ than the first lot, and the second lot is definitely got more definition about it – I suspect I would have got different wpi if I had actually checked (of course I didn’t check – who do you think I am!).

So the knitting to the left is more fluffy than the knitting to the right, right?

So I am now doing that thing where people compliment me on it and I say – ‘oh thank you!  I spun the wool myself!  But what you can see is that I did it in two lots and I think I got better as I went on and if you look where these two ends overlap you can really see that there is a big difference in the wool I ended up with so it doesn’t quite match….’.

Please shoot me.  And pass me some more fluff – it won’t spin itself you know.


Just a little love and engineering
October 12, 2012, 8:23 am
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The problem with eBay is that you go looking for one thing and end up buying something totally different.  Sometimes this is because you have had a wonderfully convivial evening at the end of which there seems to be nothing more to but to buy a wreck of a boat unseen from the other end of the country.  Sometimes it’s because you only realise you REALLY need something once you have seen it pop up on the screen.  Sometimes you get carried away and get into a bidding war over something you don’t really want just because if other people are bidding then it MUST be good.  On this occasion my downfall was none of these.

I had visited this online emporium to look at spinning wheels. Spinning wheels are very expensive so I thought by having a look here I might be able to pick one up super cheap.  Alas, it was not to be – even on eBay they seem to go for quite a bit.  But just as I was about to give up a surprise item popped up.  It was a knitting machine!

Now I have used a knitting machine before, my mum used to have one and I remember many a happy hour spent untangling wool from it.  I can’t remember what I made – but I’m sure it was good.  I texted my mum to ask what had happened too it… She confidently assured me that she had sold it or given it away.  I was thinking about it lots now.  I had had a lovely time playing with it.  It made a special knitting machine noise and everything.

The auction had a very bad picture.  I like it when that happens as it usually means that no one else would be bidding on it.  The description was a bit pants too, but on closer reading promised the boxed knitting machine came with books and an intarsia carriage!  Wow.  I was getting very excited by this point.  I decided to sleep on it as the auction didn’t finish until the next day.

The morning dawned bright, cheerful, and very,very quickly as I was up at an ungodly time for my team meeting.  It was a really busy day and only after lunch that I realised, horror of horrors, that I had missed the end if the auction!!!!

I was devastated. In my head I had already knit four jumpers and a pair of socks on it.

Unable to resist checking how much it had gone for I called up the listing.  It hadn’t sold.  I couldn’t believe it!  Undeterred I dropped the seller an email offering cash and a collection later that night – it was in the same village as one of my friends from the sailing club and I thought offering to pick it straight up might close the deal.

After a nervous wait I got a response.  YES!  I was now the proud owner of a ‘zippy-punch deluxe’ which I immediately decided to name Jeremy.

I was so excited.  And when it turned up at the club I was beside myself.  I unpacked it from its original box and polystyrene packaging and started to set it up in a corner of the club house.

Unpacking my amazing knitting machine

It was like new and had obviously hardly been used.  Having put it all together I moved the carriage across the needles for the first time.

It was amazing – it sounded just like my mums, all knitty and clippy and zippy!  I threaded it up, and with much reference to the manual, cast on.

This is kind of where it all goes wrong so if you are of a nervous disposition please stop reading now…

Having moved the carriage right to left, I tried to return the carriage to the right.  It wouldn’t move.  On closer inspection it appears that the needles were all getting caught underneath the knitting carriage – when they were meant to be inside it.  Well I had a few words with Jeremy, but even talking nicely to him wasn’t solving the problem.  After half an hour of this a qualified engineer and all round fixer-of-things finally stepped in and brought his years of experience to bear on the problem.

Open carriage surgery

And then it looked like this.

I’m not sure there are meant to be bits left over

That little bit of cardboard is really important.  It’s one of the bits that were screwed into Jeremy to make his knitty mouth bigger so the needles pop back into it.  Special thanks to my special engineer friend!

An hour (and some beer) later and we were ready to go.  It worked!  Well…. kind of.  It turns out the problem with knitting machines is that they don’t quite do what you expect.  After a perfect cast on and rattling backwards and forwards I discovered a little problem.

What’s that bit of loose thread on the right there?

My first bit of knitting looked very exciting.  Except that there were some needles without wool on them any more.

Well that’s OK – I have special tools to pick up stitches with.

Turns out the special tools to pick up stitches need to be used every time you touch Jeremy.  I think he is a bit sensitive having been left in his original box for so long.  It is now past midnight.  Everyone else has had beer and I just have a grumpy Jeremy and some hacky looking wool I have spent most of the night untangling from Jeremy’s innards.

All of a sudden it comes to me – what I made on my Mums knitting machine.  The reason I couldn’t remember was because what I actually made was – nothing.  I just spent hours doing exactly this!  Are knitting machines the biggest con of all time?  How do Marks and Spencers get jumpers knitted if they don’t work?  I must be missing something.

I am sure that Jeremy just needs a little love and he will be just fine.  And after all it could have been worse – an evening playing with wool is never wasted.



Should have bought a spinning wheel.

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