Baby knits

Today I’m sharing a couple of knitted projects that I’ve recently finished for our baby. Although I usually shy away from knitting clothes for babies, as they grow out of them so quickly, I couldn’t resist these lovely patterns. The first is a very cute jumper that I found on Ravelry. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! Simple garter stitch, knitted in a T-shape, with some casting off for the neckhole, and some more knitting in a reverse T-shape. You then simply fold it in half and sew it up. So great! I admit I have a thing for pom pom trim, so I added that to the hem to finish the jumper off, along with some heart-shaped elbow patches. SUPER CUTE.

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The second project was actually a request from Jim. Back in 2011, when on holiday in New York, we found an adorable child’s hat in the gift shop of the American Folk Art Museum. With thoughts of babies in the waaaay too distant future for us to even consider buying it, we left it in the shop. When we found out I was pregnant Jim immediately remembered it but alas, the shop no longer stocks it. So he set to work finding a similar pattern online. And he did! This actually only took me about a week to knit, and although it was slightly fiddly in places, it was pretty fun to make with all the different colours. It’s a great stash-buster, too. I really love how this hat turned out and can only imagine the cuteness when our baby is old enough to wear it! You can find the pattern for free here.

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A rattle for baby

With our baby due in just over three months (erk), I decided it was about time to craft something fun for her. After all, I’ve recently created plenty of cute things for other friends’ babies, and apart from the pants I posted about a few weeks ago, until very lately I hadn’t actually made anything for our little one. All of a sudden, though, I had three projects on the go, and this is the one I finished first.

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If you haven’t heard of Ravelry, and are into knitting and crochet, hot-foot it over there. It’s full of great knitting and crochet patterns, many of them free (!), and is wonderful for baby clothes and toys. When I stumbled across this adorable baby rattle crochet pattern I knew I had to make it. I love the simple bunny design, and I opted to make one in the same lovely mustard-and-cream colourway. You can find the pattern right here.

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The bunny is stuffed with quilt wadding, and in the middle is a Kinder egg toy shell filled with lentils, and wrapped in sellotape, for safety. This was a really quick project, and loads of fun to see the little guy taking shape. I used this 100% cotton yarn, which is really soft and smooth to work with, while being very sturdy – perfect for making a child’s toy. Hopefully this rattle will last our little one for a while, and withstand a few washes. In the meantime, Mr Bunny hangs out in the moses basket with the, ahem, few bits I have already bought for our baby. A comfy place to be.

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Starburst baby blanket

More knitting, more projects, more babies to knit for! A lot of folks are having babies around us at the moment, so I have a little production line on the go. First up is this starburst pattern baby blanket. I’d wanted to have a go at crocheting starburst rounds for a while, having done the whole granny square thing to death.

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I spied the lovely pattern in The Gentle Art of Knitting by Jane Brocket, and after splurging on a rainbow selection of wool, set to work making a baby blanket for our friend Helen‘s new little lady, Thora.

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Having already crocheted a full-sized granny square blanket for myself, I knew a baby blanket would be a great way to try out this lovely starburst pattern. Much smaller, and much quicker. Still, crocheting 30 squares is no mean feat, and with weaving in ends and sewing together, I was literally racing the baby to the finish line/birth day. Happily, she won, and knowing a little girl had been born meant I could go all out and finish the blanket off with a pink shell border, another crochet technique I’d been wanting to try for a while.

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This blanket was really fun to make, and I loved playing about with the colours. So effective, and so pretty! I have seen lots of lovely colour starburst combinations on Instagram, in greys and blacks. I think a bright and colourful 70s style one with a black border would look awesome.

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Sock It

Sooooo…socks! Yep, I knitted me some socks. Actual, wearable socks knitted on double pointed needles, you guys. I like to think that I’m a pretty accomplished knitter, but my knitting resolution for 2013 was to learn to use double pointed needles. Cos they really used to scare me! What the hell, four tiny little needles, all inserted somehow into your knitting, boinging around of their own free will and causing absolute havoc! No thanks. But after my obsession with this book, I was determined to face my knitting fears.

And I did, ahead of schedule! For Christmas 2012, I knitted Christmas baubles for friends and family…

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But I was still quite frightened of socks. There’s a heel to turn, foot shaping and of course making sure it actually fits your foot! I needed a nice simple pattern to gently ease me into the world of sock knitting. My friend Sophie is a sock-knitting whizz, and with a bit of inspiration and encouragement from her, I finally went for it. I chose Jane Brocket’s pattern from her gorgeous book The Gentle Art of Knitting, and set to work.

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I used Regia Funstripe sock wool in a perfect-for-me colourway of pink, blue, yellow and brown. This wool stripes as you knit, so it’s really lovely to see the random colours emerge! After a fiddly start, I was away. And you know what? It wasn’t all that terrifying. Just some ribbing, then a lot of knitting in the round. I realised that with socks, there is rarely any purling. Because you’re going round and round in a circle, you simply knit away, so all your wrongside stitches stay inside the circle and your lovely outer side is all knit stitches. Great!

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Then we got to the heel and there was some deep breathing, but Jane’s instructions really are clear and simple, and she guided me through well. Bit more knitting, a fiddly toe cast-off (as you can see from the bumpy toe on my right sock), and it was done!

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Oh, and then there was a second sock to knit…I launched into this straight away, because I knew the curse that befalls many sock knitters: putting off that second little guy. You’ve achieved the first one, it looks lovely, but man, there was a lot of plain (i.e. boring) knitting going on there. I’ll just do it…later. Another day. Six months on, arghh I still only have one lonely sock! I wasn’t about to let that happen, and I think I knitted the second sock even more quickly than the first.

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My next sock attempt may well be the french knot polka dot ones from Anna Wilkinson’s lovely book. Until then, I’ll pad around the house in my new striped lovelies, gazing at them adoringly and high-fiving myself. Cos, you know, SOCKS. I can knit ’em.

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A Sweater for Spring

Recently, I raved about Anna Wilkinson and her book of wonderful knitting patterns. And even more recently – this past week, in fact – I finished knitting my first piece from her book: the simple fair isle band sweater. This sweater is a great project for a beginner looking for a bit more of a challenge: some ribbing, decreasing and fair isle colour-changing. The pretty pattern even inspired my beginner friend to have a go at fair isle knitting – and she loved it! The sweater was a delight to knit, and the bright colours helped me though some dark wintery afternoons. Today I will give you a little tour through the making of my sweater. Beware: image-heavy post ahead!

The sweater was the first thing I fell in love with when I flipped through Anna’s book last Autumn, with its bright and surprising colour combination. I would never have put deep mustard and raspberry pink together, but they work brilliantly. Two days after getting my hands on the book, I ordered my wool and set to work…

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Front and back finished…

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Knitting the neckline with circular needles…

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Front and back and both sleeves finished…

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Blocking the front panel…

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And sewing the pieces together…

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More blocking…

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One final bit of sewing…

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And it was done!

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I knit this sweater on and off throughout Autumn and Winter, but it seems the perfect thing to welcome Spring: woolly and warm, with short sleeves for those fleeting moments of afternoon sun. We had a lot of snow around these parts lately, but over the weekend the sun came out, so it was the perfect time for a little photoshoot. I teamed my sweater with high-waisted jeans and my beloved floral Doc Martens boots. And of course, a warm hat, because it’s still chilly out there you know! But it won’t be for long. My sweater says so.

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Book review: Learn to Knit, Love to Knit

I became aware of Anna Wilkinson after seeing one of her beautiful fair isle designs on the front of a Debbie Bliss knitting magazine back in 2010. The unusual colour choices paired with a traditional pattern caught my eye straight away, and of course, I bought the magazine.

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I discovered that, upon graduating from Winchester School of Art, Anna won first prize in the 2009 Knitted Textile Student Awards, and then went on to have her work exhibited at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. Impressive stuff! (The interview is, incidentally, also where I first heard about Grey Gardens, and now I’m a huge fan, so thanks Anna!) I didn’t forget about Anna and her talent for design, so last Autumn I was not at all surprised to hear that she was about to have her very first book published. Hooray! I immediately ordered a copy for the library where I work, and after an agonising month-long wait, finally got my hands on Learn to Knit, Love to Knit.

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And boy, I really wasn’t disappointed. It’s a beautiful book, with thorough instructions and bright, clear photographs explaining the very basics of knitting through to all the more complicated bits – cabling, knitting buttonholes and duplicate embroidery.

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Learn to Knit, Love to Knit also employs a very novel approach, with the first section (Learn to Knit) containing ten projects for those just starting out, and the second (Love to Knit) detailing ten projects for more experienced knitters. But this doesn’t mean that beginners can simply play it safe – oh no, the very first project of the book involves knitting mittens, and stripes. And another thing I love: this book is not about sensible homeware – it’s all about garments and accessories. For you! Although I am quite happy to knit myself garments, I know others who feel like they should be making more, well, useful items. After seeing some of the patterns in this book, you won’t be able to stop imagining them hanging in your wardrobe.

The first section of the book includes very non-beginner garments and accessories such as a delicate lace collar, the colourful arm warmers featured on the book’s cover, a perfectly feminine lace top and a knitted collar and matching muff! The round-necked raglan and random striped sweaters are both beautiful as they are, but also provide the perfect basis for designing your own patterned jumpers. Of course, stylish and pretty photography always helps in a knitting book, and Anna and her team have definitely got this pegged.

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I love that Anna doesn’t let the beginner knitter shy away from these projects, which I know would seem daunting to some of my knitter friends. But as I always tell them, if you can knit, purl and decrease, you can knit a jumper! Anna certainly seems to share this view, and her book is marvellous at encouraging less experienced knitters into having a go at something more challenging, and, dare I say it, interesting than a scarf.

Anna’s penchant for bright, bold and often surprising colour choices is still very much a trademark of her work. The second section, containing the more advanced patterns, certainly explores this further. The ‘Love to Knit’ section contains a preppy college-style cardigan, a fair isle tank top (added to my to-do list), polka dot socks (also on the list), a cabled tam and snood and a stunning embroidered cardigan which two friends immediately requested for their birthdays.

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The final pattern in the book is one I may have to move straight onto after I’ve finished my current project. Anna teams deep mustard with dark turquoise and a pop of bright pink in a beautiful little tweed cape. Perfect for the transition into spring, so I should really get knitting…

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My first project from this book, however, is the the short-sleeved fair isle sweater, knitted in that fuschia pink and mustard yellow. I would never have put these two colours together, but when Anna suggests it, it works. I’ve been knitting the jumper on and off since last Autumn, and it turns out that bright pink and deep yellow are the perfect antidotes to wintery weather.

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It’s clear that I love this book, and I am excited to see what the future holds for Anna. You can follow her work on Facebook and Twitter, and if you ever get stuck with one of her patterns, rest assured you can contact her for help. I emailed her recently when I got in a pickle with the fair isle sweater, and she wrote back straight away. Yes, I am firmly in Camp Anna. And if you treat yourself to this lovely book, I have no doubt that you will be too.

Teddy adventures

Last Autumn, my mum thrust my brother’s teddy bear at me and said, “Can you do something with him?” Poor Teddy Sam had spent years living in a cupboard at home in my brother’s old bedroom, and was a bit of a mess. His old t-shirt had gone missing and stuffing was disappearing out of the holes in his neck, head and body. He had been loved too much. His body was limp and flat and he badly needed some TLC, so I agreed to fix him up for my brother for Christmas. Let’s just get a couple of things clear first:

1. My brother is 31 years old
2. My brother named Teddy Sam after himself

Here he is, the poor little man. AAAAAW

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So I took Teddy Sam home and sewed up his head. Then I added some wool toy stuffing to his belly and sewed up the holes there. He was much plumper and, I believe, much happier already!

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Next I had to cover Teddy Sam’s modesty. I was originally going to knit him a fair isle tank top but, with Christmas fast approaching and other presents needing attention too, I decided that might be a bigger job than I could manage. So I turned to my trusty “Stash of Unfinished Knitting Projects” (also known as “Projects I Got Stuck on and Never Finished”) and found the perfect thing.

A knitted child’s dress ended up being far too long, and as I couldn’t figure out why – or be bothered to unravel all the wool – it sat forlorn in my projects box. Luckily for Teddy Sam! It was the perfect shade of cheery red, and I knew it could be easily adapted into a teddy-sized jumper. It would also involve me using a sewing technique I had never used before: steeking.

Traditionally, steeking is used when knitting jumpers or cardigans in the round, without any interruptions for openings or sleeves. After knitting, the garment is sewn and then cut (yes, cut!) to create sleeves and a front opening, if needed. There is an excellent explanation and tutorial on steeking over on Knitty.

So I did a bit of research on steeking – turns out there is a wealth of useful information all over the internet. I then measured Teddy Sam’s arms and body, then used pins to mark out where I would need to sew the piece of knitting to fit him.

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Next, I sewed along my marked lines – twice, to make it as secure as possible.

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I then carefully cut just outside the lines I had sewn, to create a T-shaped piece of knitting. Then I turned it inside out…ta da!

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In the photograph above you can see a pink line of wool along where the neck hole would be. Before cutting the hole, I used an embroidery needle to thread wool through two rows of knitting either side of the neck hole. This ensured that the stitches were secure and wouldn’t unravel when I cut the hole.

As you can see, the bottom of the knitted piece had a few rows of garter stitch. I wanted the top to match the bottom, so planned to knit garter stitch around the neck hole. I realised, though, that Teddy Sam was not going to fit through such a small hole with rigid stitches, so I decided I would have to put him in the jumper and knit the neck around him.

With some, ahem, gentle tugging, I got Teddy Sam into the jumper, removed the pink wool holding the stitches together and inserted four small double-pointed needles around the neckline.

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I then knitted several rows in garter stitch all around the neckline. This was rather fiddly, and I have to admit that some fudging was done.

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But it turned out pretty good!

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Finally, a bit of embroidery along the sleeve edges and a big old S on the front completed Teddy Sam’s jumper.

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And come Christmas, my brother seemed pretty pleased with newly-spruced Teddy Sam. I’m really happy with how this project went, despite at parts having to make it up as I went along. I learned some new skills, and gave a loved teddy a new lease of life. Now I’m looking at my own teddy, who looks a bit scruffy himself…