26 Jun 2019

Slip those stitches!

I once watched a theatre production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" in which the redoubtable Lady Bracknell sat on stage apparently knitting. In fact she was slipping the stitches from one needle to another so that the work never got any longer! However, that did avoid the possibility of a ball of yarn wandering across the stage and tripping up any actors...

However, slipped stitches are really useful even when you do actually want to knit something and can be used for shaping, textural interest and strength.

So what is a slip stitch? Basically it is when you leave the next stitch unworked and move on to the next part of the work. Usually the stitch is slipped purlwise without twisting it and with the yarn carried at the back of the work. If you just see the instructions "slip 1" or "sl 1" then that is what is meant. The stitch will then be worked on a subsequent row, producing an elongated stitch which also serves to tighten the stitches to either side. 

You will probably have seen this being used at the edge of a flat piece of knitting to produce a selvedge as in the photo above, which shows the base of the BYOB Market Bag being worked, and you can read more about that here.

Sometimes, however, the stitch being slipped is worked knitwise. You insert the knitting needle into the stitch as though you are going to knit it but then just move it to the right-hand needle without working it further. This turns the stitch so that it is now facing in the opposite direction. 

One of the first places you might encounter this is with a decrease such as a "slip 1 knitwise, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over", often shortened to SKP. In that case, the slip stitch is lifted over the next one and forms a left-leaning decrease as an almost-mirror image to the "knit 2 together" or k2tog right-leaning decrease. 

The photo above shows the lace panel from the BYOB - Bring Your Own Bag pattern. In this one I have paired the k2tog's with another left-leaning decrease, the SSK (slip-slip-knit) giving a decorative finish to the stitch. 

In both those examples the yarn is carried on the wrong side and does not appear on the front face of the work. However, there are a number of stitches where the yarn being slipped forms an integral part of the final appearance of the fabric. 

The Somertide Placemats I featured in my last blogpost are a case in point. These use a lovely slip-stitch pattern called Double-Banded Rib from our book Reversible Knitting Stitches.

On the front face, the stitch has wide slipped stitches which give an interesting surface texture to the design. These banded stitches also help to provide an extra thickness and insulation to the fabric which is important for something like a placemat where you want to protect your table from hot or cold dishes.

The reverse face shows tight columns of knit stitches with narrow lines of Garter Stitch between. The fabric lies beautifully flat and the slipped stitches give added strength to the overall design.

The slipped stitches in this pattern have strengthened the final fabric in two ways. Firstly, the stitches to either side are shortened because the unworked stitches now have to span two rows instead of just one. This pulls the stitches tighter and keeps the fabric firm.

Then secondly, relatively inflexible bars of yarn are now being carried across the unworked stitches reducing the natural stretchiness of the knitting. The resulting fabric is much thicker and sturdier. These qualities make it eminently suitable for items such as tablemats, rugs and bags.

If you want an even sturdier fabric, then you can select a slip stitch with a shorter length of travel. For example, in Anna's Nokomis Beach Bag she has used the Single-Banded Rib stitch pattern. This is similar to its sister pattern, Double-Banded Rib, but is worked over just 2 stitches instead of 4 so the "bar" of slipped yarn is much shorter.

This gives it extra strength while still retaining a very interesting surface texture. The bag is further strengthened by cotton bands sewn onto the final design giving a very practical and good-looking bag.

But for a really sturdy knitted fabric then one of the best choices is Linen Stitch. This is a simple stitch to work but grows slowly as stitches are slipped on every single row, as opposed to every 2 rows as in the examples above. The result is a fabric that resembles weaving is both the appearance and the feel of the final fabric. In fact, it is sometimes called Tweed Stitch because it looks so much like a woven material.

The photo above shows another of Anna's wonderful bag collection. This one is called the Sierra Shoulder Bag and I can attest to how strong this bag is having seen it in action carrying large volumes of items back to her apartment from Tesco's!

The above examples mostly show neat grid-like patterns, but slip stitches can also be used to decorative effect by forming diagonal and zig-zag patterns as in Anna's Calypso Handbag above. Anna has used bands of colour in this design, but the stitch pattern also looks good in a single colour. 

I hope that gives you lots of ideas for how to use slip stitches in your work, especially if you would like to make sturdy fabrics for tablemats, bags and other household accessories. 

There are, of course, many more examples of slip stitches and I haven't even touched on Mosaic patterns and other colour slip stitch patterns... So please enjoy hunting out other stitch patterns using slipped stitches.

Many thanks to Anna for the photos of her lovely bags. Please visit her website www.kikuknits.com to see more of her colourful designs.

Next time we will travel to Japan for another couple of "Postcards" from our travels. Until then,

Happy Knitting!


Anna's Website: www.kikuknits.com

19 Jun 2019

New knitting pattern - Somertide Placemats

Summer is finally here! As I write, the sun is filtering down through a canopy of green and there are hydrangeas and summer flowers all around. The table is set for lunch with glasses of fresh orange juice and brightly coloured table mats – perfect.

That's one of the highlights of summer, isn't it. Being able to slow the pace and enjoy leisurely meals together. So here's a new pattern which will make your summer dining a delight. The Somertide Placemats includes instructions for both placemats and matching coasters in a glorious combination of summer colours. 

They are worked in a wonderfully crisp cotton/linen yarn, Cotlin by Knit Picks which currently has 44 colours in its range, so you can select just the right colour for your decor.

You could make a table set with each placemat in a different colour or complete the whole set in one co-ordinated colourway. Select bright summery turquoises and azures blues to remind you of the crashing ocean waves you can see from your beach hutOr go for a more gentle colour palette of coral, seashells and sand. 

The pattern includes instructions for four different sizes of placemats so you can make the perfect set for your table, whether this is a small-sized setting for an intimate lunch or a long table out on the lanai with all your friends and neighbours. There are also instructions for matching coasters for a completely co-ordinated look.

The stitch pattern is taken from our book Reversible Knitting Stitches and lays beautifully flat. The stitch has a really interesting surface texture which adds insulation to help protect your table from hot or cold serving dishes.

The Somertide Placemat pattern can be found on my website, and is available for immediate download from the site.

Until next time – Happy Summer Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Merry it is in Somertide

14 Jun 2019

Merry it is in Somertide

I was musing on the idea of "Summertime" this morning and a poem came into my mind that my father used to read to us. He loved reading Middle English texts out loud and it always sounded somehow magical to listen to the flow of the soft almost-recognisable words. As I would sit absorbed in the recitations, the meaning would often come through even though the words seemed unfamiliar. 

One of his favourite texts was The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (as I mentioned before here). However, he would also occasionally read some of his favourite poems or Minstrels' songs from those times. There were a number of different recurring themes in these – love, loss, battles fought and won, or the ever-changing seasons.

Here is one verse which was published in "Of Arthour and Merlin" in about 1331:

Mirie it is in fomer tide;
Foules fing in foreft wide;
Swaines gin on iuftinge ride;
Maidens tiffen hem in pride.

or in other words:

Merry it is in Somertide,
Birds sing in the forest wide,
Men go on jousting rides,
and the young ladies are adorned with pride.

I love that word Somertide – it just seems to capture the season so well. There's the warmth of the sun and echoes of family holidays by the sea all rolled into one word. 

I think I actually prefer it to our more modern word, "Summertime" which has an element of a clock ticking away in the name. It is certainly true that summer often passes by so quickly it feels hard to capture it before it has gone!

I'm going to come back to the idea of Somertide next time with a brand new knitting pattern for some summer placemats. In the meantime, please enjoy some of Tim's photos of summer scenes near my old home in Hertfordshire, along with some more verses from the same book:

Mirie is thentre of May;
The foules make mirri play;
Maidens finggeth and maketh play;

Merry is the month of May,
The birds play merrily,
and the young women sing and dance.

The time is hot, and long the day;
The iolif nightingale fingeth;
In the grene mede foules fpringeth;

The days are long and hot,
The joyful nightingale sings,
and the flowers spring up in the green meadow.

Until next time,

Happy Summer Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Last-Minute Knitting

28 May 2019

Last minute knitting!

Have you ever seriously under-estimated the amount of time it takes to knit something for that all-important event? It doesn't seem to matter what the event is, whether it's something for Christmas, a new baby or, as in my case, our daughter's wedding. In every situation, the last 24 hours seems to be 1 hour of sleep and 23 hours of knitting!

Yes, dear Anna and Andrew told us they were getting married a year-and-a-week ahead of time. We even knew the colour theme and I had chosen my dress months before... So why was it only ten days before that I decided I needed a wrap? There is no rational explanation. 

We live in Florida, the wedding was in Cornwall and we knew it would be 20ÂșC lower temperature than we were used to. You'd have thought that I could have predicted I would need some kind of shawl or wrap. There is no logic.

So it was that I found myself scouring the LoveKnitting website for suitable yarns. Fortunately, I quickly came upon the perfect colour in a yarn I have used before: Willow and Lark "Nest". I used this when I made the Grayswood Scarf a couple of years back and loved using it. I ordered the yarn with express shipping and, true to their word, the yarn arrived two days before our flight!

I skeined it up and washed it, then gently regretted doing that because now I couldn't make a start until it was dry! Still, I always like to pre-wash my yarns so I just had to sit on my hands until it was ready. I had decided to just do a straight re-make of a favourite wrap pattern of mine, the Scottswood Stole, so all I needed to do was check the gauge then make a start.

All went well until two days before the wedding when I temporarily forgot that I was knitting against a deadline and made the mistake of undoing about 20cm of knitting! This was to correct the tiniest of errors that only I would have noticed. Have you ever done that? The next day I could have kicked myself. The wrap was sooooo short now! 

I knitted furiously until the wee hours and then admitted defeat and cast off. I sewed in all the yarn tails then started tugging. I dampened it slightly then pulled and pulled both ends. I pinned it onto the hotel room floor, stretching it out like no self-respecting piece of knitwear should be treated. However, it worked and I found that if I held onto the ends tightly while I was wearing it, the wrap looked fine and did the job of keeping me warm!

The wedding was wonderful. Anna looked absolutely beautiful and you could not imagine a happier couple. It was a stunning day and everyone had picked up on their theme of pale blues, yellows and whites. Cornwall did its best to blow us all from one venue to the next, but the sun shone when it needed to and the photographs were lovely.

The next day, I undid the bound off edge and started adding more length to the wrap. The second event in the north was in a weeks' time and that gave me the perfect excuse to get this to the length it was supposed to be. The new couple went for a honeymoon in the Lake District and I sat on Cornish cliff-tops or in the gardens of stately homes and knitted happily. 

At last it was done and I could wear the shawl without having to tug it to be inches longer. If only I had had another week's notice! Ha!

Although I had used the Scottswood Stole pattern, it looked so different in this yarn! The original had been in baby alpaca with the lovely halo that brings. This yarn is still beautifully soft but much smoother. 

I love the way this came out in the Willow and Lark yarn, so I have added that as a new version in the pattern. You can find the newly updated version here. Now you can work the wrap in a Sportweight baby alpaca or a DK merino/cashmere!

Until next time,

Happy Knitting!


18 May 2019

Postcard from England - Ancient places and hidden doorways

In this last in this series of postcards from England, you will find us in the Welsh borderlands. I love this part of the world, with ancient castles and manor houses dotted through the landscape. One of these castles is Croft Castle in Leominster. This was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is set at the top of a hill overlooking the lands beyond. 

The castle was very grand with stone dragons guarding the main entranceway, but it also had some lovely hidden gems in the gardens behind. We walked along a brick pathway bordered by blossoming apple trees and then came upon this charming wooden doorway with a rambling wisteria alongside.

We had been dodging the showers as we had walked around the castle but a weak sun broke through as we made our way to the entrance. The trees were almost glowing in the yellow light. Mind you, I had to smile while Tim was taking this photo since behind him there was a patient queue of drivers waiting to drive down the road!

We then drove to an ancient monastery, Haughmond Abbey, just to the east of Shrewsbury. It's amazing how you can feel a sense of history in the stones there. The abbey dates from the early 12th Century and was a place of worship for 400 years before being sold to local landowners and then later used as a farm. I loved the open archways leading from one area to the next and the sheep passing slowly along the fence beyond.

The next day we came right up to date by going over the brand new Mersey Gateway Bridge to Liverpool airport. We weren’t flying from there but instead were visiting a National Trust house right next door, Speke Hall. This is an old Tudor house with beautiful timbering to the front.

The house had been built around the time of religious persecutions in the Tudor times and featured an ingenious device – a small hole cut into the eves. This allowed servants to listen to the talk of visitors and warn anyone who might want to escape quickly, hence the phrase “eves dropping”!

The next day we went just to the south of Manchester to Little Moreton Hall. We were here at the end of the afternoon and enjoyed seeing this amazingly crooked house with hardly another person in sight. We had a refreshing cup of tea in the tiny tea room before strolling around the restored knot garden with this pair of old garden rollers by the kitchen door.

I hope you have enjoyed this diversion into the English countryside! Next time I will show you what I was speed-knitting as I went. Yes, Anna planned her wedding a year ahead and yes, I chose my dress several months ago but as we knitters always do, I only decided I needed a shawl 10 days before we left..! But more about that next time.

Many thanks to Tim for all his great photos over the last three blogposts. Please do go and find him on Instagram or Flickr if you would like to see more of his photos.

Until next time, Happy Knitting!


15 May 2019

Postcard from England: Bluebells and meandering ways

When I was about 8 or 9, I would often cycle for hours with my friend who lived nearby. Those were the days before mobile phones or excessive traffic on the roads and we would venture deep into the hills surrounding our hometown. After several miles of walking our bikes up steep hills and then zooming down the other side, we would stop for lunch in woodlands carpeted with a vast expanse of bluebells. They just seemed to be everywhere, the gentle blue stretching away under the trees and into the surrounding grassland beyond. 

So I was so pleased to see bluebells growing in profusion as we drove into Cornwall recently. We just don’t see them in Florida and it is many years since we were in England in the right season. We researched good sites to see bluebells and discovered that a National Trust property called Lanhydrock House was especially noted for the carpets of deeply coloured bluebells lining the approach to the house. 

In addition, the woods were perfumed with wild garlic which was flowering alongside. The backdrop of blue really made the white flowers stand out beautifully. 

We then drove on through incredibly narrow country lanes to visit St Enedoc’s church nearby. The church is noted for its remarkable history as it was almost completely engulfed by sand dunes in the 19th century. In fact, the local name for the church was Sinking Neddy! The clergy had to hold one service a year for it to remain consecrated and they did this by cutting a hole in the roof and lowering the members of the congregation inside!

These days, access is much easier as the church has been dug out and the dunes stablised. It is a beautiful old church dating from the 12th century and among the people buried there is the British Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman. His gravestone looks out towards the bay and the beautiful coastal sunsets beyond. 

We saw many more bluebells as we drove out of Cornwall going north and encountered some more when we visited a picturesque timbered house called Brockhampton in Herefordshire. I sat and knitted on a bench in the orchard, happily listening to the ducks paddling in the moat and enjoying the afternoon sunshine. 

In my next blogpost, we’ll visit some timbered houses in Cheshire and Liverpool. Many thanks again to Tim for his wonderful photos. I love being able to knit in these lovely locations while he frames his shots! If you would like to see more of his work, then please follow him on Instagram

Until next time, Happy Knitting! 


13 May 2019

Postcard from England: Weddings and Wild, Wild Cornwall

We are on our way back from a wonderful fortnight in the UK, with gatherings of friends and family in both the south and north of England. So here are three postcards with some of our adventures in the Old Country!

We started our journey in Cornwall with Storm Hannah bearing down hard on our heels. The day of our arrival was warm and dry for the first few hours, but as we drove towards the west the weather changed until we had to pull over and let the pounding rain ease up a little. Over the next two days, we watched the forecasts with unease: would the storm arrive just as our daughter Anna and her fiancĂ© Andrew met to take their vows? We researched how to take the best wet weather wedding photos, and they scoured the town for wedding-themed umbrellas. 

In the end, the rain clouds passed just as they emerged from the service and the strong winds just blew Anna’s wedding dress into beautiful drifts of cream and lace. They were so fortunate! So please join me in congratulating the new couple. Those of you who follow Anna’s website and Instagram accounts will see her proudly using her new name, Anna Alway. 

We stayed in Cornwall for another few days after the wedding and went in search of National Trust properties in the area. If you are ever visiting the UK, I can really advocate getting a membership of the National Trust or its US sister organisation, the Royal Oak, so you can visit as many of these properties as you like. In Cornwall they not only look after old houses but also miles of coastline and even some abandoned tin mines. 

In this photo you can see me knitting by one of these, Botalack Mine. This is in a wild and windy location and the mine is situated perilously close to sheer cliffs down to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Tim’s photos of the site captures the stunning beauty of the location and makes you marvel at the miners who braved the conditions at the mine through all weathers. 

The waves were not especially strong on the day when we visited but still easily crested the rocky outcrops in the bay. I can only imagine how frightening those waves must be when they reached the height of the chimney in the mine! Miners’ tales speak of the roaring sound of the waves overhead on stormy days and the fear of them crashing into the mine shafts... 

On the day we visited, we were spared those fearsome conditions and instead were able to enjoy the beauty of the area along the Coastal Path. Clumps of spring flowers clung tenaciously to the slopes and dry stone walls, with pink Thrift and yellow Gorse competing for attention against the dark stone cliff faces. Truly Cornwall at its best. 

In my next blogpost, we’ll stay in Cornwall with views of bluebell woods and the church where Sir John Betjeman is buried. If you have enjoyed Tim’s photos from Cornwall, then please follow him on Instagram to see more photos from our travels. 

Until then, Happy Knitting wherever you are! 



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