10 Nov 2019

On trend with short scarves and buttoned neckwarmers

The autumn days are well and truly upon us, with Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night behind us and the trees starting to take on their winter forms. So I want to continue with my “Accessories” series and this time I’m looking at short scarves and buttoned neckwarmers. 

Did you know that short scarves are this years “hot” fashion accessory? Well, I didn’t know until I made one for myself! Then I saw some e-mails and fashion postings about them and realised that, once again, I have found myself at the cutting edge of fashion! It doesn’t happen very often but it’s fun when ideas coincide isn’t it. 

I made this one as a slighter shorter version of my Elizabeth Scarf pattern using a lovely soft DK yarn. I love how this came out and the fact that it is so easy to carry. With the first chill days of winter coming you don't want to be the only person carrying an enormous scarf around, so this is an unobtrusive way to add some extra warmth without the fuss. 

Another thing about short scarves is that it doesn’t take a lot of yarn to make them, so that is a double benefit for knitters! 

You can fold it over your knees at a ball-game as a mini-blanket, or sit on it if you have only a cold bench to hand. Then when you’re ready to go on your way, you can slip it around your neck and keep the chills at bay as you cycle home.

The scarf using one of my favourite stitches in our Reversible Knitting Stitches collection, Hatfield Check. This is a deeply textural stitch so it packs a lot of warmth into a small space. That is important for a short scarf, of course, because you are not going to wrap the scarf around more than once so it needs to be super-cozy.

Then wrap it around once and pin it, tie it or button it in place. Or attach a faux-button so it’s in a set shape such as a cross-over V and slip it over your head. Alternatively, just drape it around your neck to provide some light warmth by your collar. There are lots of ways to wear short scarves, so they are very versatile.

Some years ago, I made another item that I have used and reused over the years, a buttoned neckwarmer. I made a couple of these way-back-when and every autumn they come out of the drawer again. I made one to team up with a crew-neck sweater, extending its usefulness into the coldest months, while the other was a slim-line version to fit under a coat.

Well both of those were showing signs of age so I decided to make some new ones and have been having fun knitting them. I have just published the pattern for these and am pleased to introduce the “Warmington” to you!

These feature a fold-down ribbed collar which is buttoned into place at one shoulder. Then two panels gently cover the top of your shoulders and extend down to cover the vulnerable front chest and back neck to give extra warmth. 

There are two versions and the first of these is in a lofty yarn, Eco Cloud by Cascade. This is a gorgeously warm cabled yarn with a wonderful texture and insulation. I can see this version would keep me warm even in the deepest snowy days ahead. It is perfect with my Barbour jacket and also teams well with a snowy crew-neck sweater I have. I can carry it with me like having a polo-neck in my pocket!

The second version is in an easy-care DK yarn, Coopworth “Socks Yeah” DK and I love the slight sheen and smooth finish of this version. This is a perfect weight for outings into the city. Slipped under a coat and buttoned into place it will keep you warm on your commute home.

The front and back panels are worked in Double Moss Stitch, which is a beautifully flat reversible stitch so it will sit neatly under a jacket or cardigan and not ruche up. Not only is it nice and flat, but Double Moss Stitch also has a lovely texture to provide warmth just where you need it.

Buttoned neckwarmers are perfect to slip on without having to pull them over your head. This makes them easy to take off when you get somewhere warmer and then put on again when you’re ready to head out of the door. And again, they are small, easy to carry and unobtrusive so you can keep warm without bulk.

I hope the last few blogposts have given you lots of ideas for neckwear to make for the cooler months. Next time I am going to post about how much yarn you need to make a scarf (always a dilemma for knitters) and then I will be turning my attention to hats!

For more details about the new Warmington Neckwarmer, please click here.

Until next time, Happy Knitting!


8 Oct 2019

Add a twist to your knitting!

In my last blogpost, I started my new accessories series by looking at knitted cowls. These wonderful creations are great for keeping your neck warm at this time of year, since they are quick to make and easy to wear. Also, the smaller cowls only take a few balls of yarn so you may well have enough to start a new cowl right there in your stash basket.

They are perfect for many situations from casual walks by a lake or an evening out. However, there is one situation when there can be a problem with cowls – and that is when you want to wear them under a coat or jacket. Then you might find that they are trying to stick out from your body and refusing to fold neatly at the neckline. 

There is fortunately an easy solution to that, but we need to go into the realms of mathematics to find it!

So think back to when you last wore a standard scarf under an overcoat. Did you cross one end over the other to form a neat 'V' shape? I don't suppose I am alone in doing that. It is just a perfect way to close up the gap at the top of your coat and also adds a double layer of knitted wonderment to keep cold drafts at bay.

And you can achieve that same neat fold in a looped cowl or scarf by simply adding a half-twist then joining the two ends together! It's such a simple technique but adds so much to the finished result. As you can see in the photos above, this forms a pleasing 'V' shape at the front while still allowing the scarf to curve smoothly around the back of your neck.

For those of you with a dim and distant memory of early Maths classes, you will probably remember the fun lesson where you did just this with a strip of paper then drew a pencil line along one side of it... Only to find it actually only had one side! Your pencil line went around and around and ended up exactly where you had started. 

You had just made a Möbius / Moebius strip. 

So how do we do this with knitting? Well the easiest way is to do exactly the same with your knitting as you did with your paper strip: knit double the length you want for your looped cowl or scarf then take one end, give it a half-twist and join the two ends together. 

Then there are three methods for joining the ends together. Firstly, you could sew the cast-on and bind-off edges together. This would leave a visible seam but it is an easy method and can give a good result if the knitted fabric is fairly flat.  

Another option is to begin your work with a Provisional Cast-On as I have in the photo above. Then you can work a 3-needle bind-off to join the beginning and end. This will also leave a noticeable seam but it isn't too obvious if you always make sure that it is at the back of your neck when you put it on. 

The best way, however, is to graft the two edges invisibly together. Grafting used to be known as Kitchener stitch and if that thought fills you with dread, then the other methods can work very well. However, if you are using a well-textured pattern or a chunkier yarn, then grafting is by far the best way to go as you really can't see it when you have finished.

However, there is one other requirement for a Moebius Scarf and that is that you need to use a reversible knitting stitch. This sounds slightly odd for a garment with only one mathematical side! However, by definition both "sides" of the knitting will be on view so you really need to select a reversible stitch for this.

It doesn't matter what the stitch is, so you can have fun delving through collections such as our Reversible Knitting Stitches book for inspiration. For example, the cowl and scarf I am featuring in this blogpost use Mistake Rib from the book and this gives a beautifully cozy ribbed neckwarmer.

This same half-twist can also be applied to longer scarves. We usually refer to these as Infinity Scarves but the names are fairly interchangeable. Like their shorter counterparts, an Infinity Scarf sits beautifully flat with an elegant drape when just worn loosely like a long scarf. 

However, they really come into their own when wrapped twice around your neck for extra warmth. The Moebius twist seems to make the fabric fold in a particularly appealing way, giving an intriguing shape and geometry to a simple scarf. 

The scarf shown here is the Sawston Infinity Scarf and is worked in a hand-spun Bluefaced Leicester wool. Super-soft and cozy warm it is one of my favourite sheep breeds for a wrapped scarf such as this. I love the West Yorkshire Spinners "Bluefaced Leicester DK" yarn and that is what I used in the other examples in this blogpost. If you would like to try this yarn in your next project, you can find it here.

Soft, double-sided and with an interesting twist – what's not to love about Moebius Scarves? 

I hope that has given you some inspiration for trying a Moebius Cowl or Infinity Scarf as your next project. If you'd like more information about the Sawston Cowl and Infinity Scarf knitting pattern, then please click here. The pattern includes instructions for both lengths, so you can start work on a shorter cowl or a longer Infinity Scarf straight away.

Next time, I will be back with a look at this year's hot-fashion trend: short scarves and buttoned neck-warmers.

So until then – Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Time to knit a cowl


27 Sep 2019

Time to knit a cowl

With autumn coming on fast, it's time to retrieve your knitting needles from their summer vacation and make some warm and cozy accessories for the cooler season ahead! Today, I am starting a series about knitted accessories and I thought I would start with the humble cowl.

Did you know that the cowl has a history stretching back more than 1000 years? Today we think of a cowl as a simple ring of draped fabric or knitting to go around your neck, but originally it referred to a hood attached to a garment such as the monks would wear in the Middle Ages.

Of course, people have always worn hoods, hats or coverings for their heads in winter, but the cowl seems to have arrived in England with the Normans in 1066. The french soldiers often wore a form of close-fitting cowl under their helmets as an additional protection during battle. 

However, it gradually softened into a loosely-draped garment covering the shoulders and with a hood attached. Monks such as the Benedictines adopted this as part of their every-day clothing. Many of us will be able to picture this clearly, especially if you are avid reader of the Cadfael series of books, most wonderfully translated into a TV series with the redoubtable Derek Jacobi as the lead.

 By the 12th century the cowl was a regular item of clothing, both in the cloister and the general population but it later faded from use.

Stepping rapidly forward to the 1920's, a designer named Madeleine Vionnet introduced a new style of cutting on the bias as a modern interpretation of ancient fashion from Greek and Roman times. The garments that she produced had a wonderful drape and flow and she named the new neckline a "Cowl Neck".

It was then a simple step for the knitting community to combine these two ideas: a warm, draping knitted fabric going around the neck as an addition to any outfit. Like the mediaeval hooded cowl but without the hood.

Today, there are many different styles of cowls. The one above, the Teversham Cowl, is a short close-fitting style which is easy to pull on. This length of cowl works well for men, especially if worked in a thicker yarn. 

However, short cowls also suit women very well and are quick to knit. The photo at the top of this blogpost shows Anna's new cowl pattern, the Essence of Fall Cowl which uses just 1 ball of yarn in each colour so could be quickly completed before the cold weather sets in.

This shorter-length style is especially useful at this change in the seasons because you can slip them easily into a pocket or bag, ready to bring out if the weather turns a little cooler. 

However, cowls can also be worked in a longer, wrapping style. This is another of Anna's cowl designs, the Rainbow Cowl. This can be draped like a scarf or wrapped around twice to give an extra layer of warmth for the colder days. 

This longer version is easy to slip over your head without destroying an intricate hair-do. It can also double-up as a knee-warmer if you sit with it on your lap, so is very good for subtle warmth without the appearance of being too bundled-up.

I hope that's given you some inspiration for a new cowl or two to start your autumn knitting! I'll be back next time with some more cozy accessories and will look at Moebius Cowls and Infinity Scarves.

Until then - Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Autumn Accessories

Anna's Website: www.kikuknits.com
Anna's blog: www.kikuknits.blogspot.com

21 Sep 2019

Autumn Accessories

Today marks the Autumn Equinox and although it's still sunny and warm outside, I expect you have noticed like I have that the mornings already seem darker and the evenings are noticeably cooler.

Yes, autumn is on the way and soon it will be time to watch the leaves change colour and get all those jobs done in the garden for Fall Clean-up. I do love the autumn – that feeling of being a kiddie again as you kick through the piles of leaves and trying to catch the next one as it floats gently down. Simple pleasures but I never seem to tire of them and I expect most people feel the same.

It's also a time for reflection and meditation, isn't it. There may be lots to do: raking the lawn, trimming the bushes, preparing the house for the coming snows and low temperatures. But while you're working you can lose yourself in an audiobook or stop to watch the squirrels scampering around gathering acorns for the winter.

Then after a job well done, you can go back indoors for a well-deserved cup of tea and some knitting by a sunny window. What could be better...

So I am going to start a series of blogposts about small, simple items that you can make a start on now while there is so much to do outside. Cowls, scarves, hats and other accessories that will make a big difference when the cooler weather starts to bite. 

This might be an item you wish you'd had last winter, or perhaps someone close to you is dropping a lot of hints that they could do with a little bit of knitted wonderment. Either way, they'll be finished in no time at all. That's the beauty of small items – there's not much knitting needed to complete them!

And first-up in the list of items I'm going to be looking at will be cowls. I don't know about you, but I always feel warmer if I can keep the cold breezes from chilling my neck. You round the promontory and suddenly a cold breeze from the North whistles across the lake and finds that small gap at the top of your collar [brrrrr....] 

And the best solution for that is a cowl. Small, easy to carry and instant warmth. Perfect. 

In my next blogpost, I'll explore cowls some more and include a bit about their history and some examples for both men and women. Anna has a new cowl pattern coming out soon and I'll include details about that too!

Many thanks to Anna for the photos of her Winter Warrior Cowl and MittsFind the pattern for those here

The photo at the top of the page shows one of our favourite walks in the UK at French Street in Kent – beautiful in any season, but especially in the autumn sunlight. And the middle photo shows me gathering a veritable bouquet of spent hydrangea flowers in our garden in Massachusetts.

Until next time - Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Where we like to knit

30 Aug 2019

Where we like to knit

If you have ever perused the deepest recesses of my website, you will see that I have a gallery of places where I like to knit, courtesy of my husband Tim's photos. This gallery spans a long time period from shots of me knitting by a Scottish loch when our eldest daughter was at Edinburgh University nearly 15 years ago right up to earlier this year in Cornwall.

Well, it's time to add another photo to that collection! However, this time Tim has captured a lovely photo of both Anna and I knitting in Sweden. In the photo, I have just started a new pink scarf using the yarn that I was straightening in the last blogpost. Then by co-incidence, Anna has also just cast on a new project! This is going to be a soft cowl in a beautiful variegated green yarn.

It has been gloriously sunny and warm during our visit to Sweden this year and it has been so enjoyable to be able to sit and knit by the side of the lakes and rivers here. In the photo above, we are in the gardens of Grönsöö Palace on the shores of Lake Mälaren just to the west of Stockholm.

Grönsöö is a beautiful palace with formal gardens in a stunning variety of colours, apple orchards and an ancient lime tree which was planted in 1623! There is also a most unusual Chinese pagoda which was built in the late 18th century. Inside the pagoda, flower decorations have been formed from groups of shells which is a really unique feature of the structure.

This oriental theme has been echoed in other places in the garden with ponds and bridges which resemble both Japanese gardens and Monet's famous lily pond in Giverny, France.

Grönsöö is situated at the end of a long spit of land and originally you could only reach it by boat from the lake. However, there is now a bridge that crosses over a wide expanse of bullrushes and grasses to connect it to the mainland. I stood on the bridge for quite a while and it was mesmerising watching the strengthening wind playing through the grasses and making them dance in the breeze.

Then on our way back to Anna's house on the other side of the lake, we passed a large stand of silver birches. They are such graceful trees, especially when grouped into such an impressive group as this. 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of Tim's latest photos from our travels. Please do go and find him on Instagram if you'd like to see more of his work. I'll be adding the latest photo of "Where we like to knit" to the knitting gallery on my website, so if you have an odd minute or two please do have a look there at some of the pictures.

Well summer is rapidly drawing to a close and September is coming very soon. Next time, I am going to start a new series with some quick knits for autumn! This will include ideas for some cozy cowls to try to keep those pesky chills at bay, then I will be following up with hats and scarves that you can start now ready for the winter ahead.

Until then - please keep safe if you are in the path of the coming storm!


18 Aug 2019

Straightening crinkly yarn

As you may have seen from my last few blogposts, I have been knitting a pink cardi recently – despite the heat and humidity in this part of Florida! Summer is brutal here and it can make you seriously question why you are trying to knit anything. Still, it would be a sad day that didn't involve at least some knitting, wouldn't it...

So now that I am mostly finished with my cardigan and just needing to sew the pieces up, I can safely recycle the yarn I used for my samples. I always like to work a number of large-sized samples and leave them in place while I am working the main garment in case I want to compare them with the work in hand. 

However, now would seem a good time to take those apart and prepare the yarn ready to use for something else.

So here's the wonderful thing about knitting: it might take a few evenings to knit something, but it takes only a few minutes to undo! That was something I learnt to appreciate when I was weaving. You would spend ages scrambling around under a loom or tie-ing up the warp. Then finally you could start your project. However, if you saw a mistake or wanted to change something, then it took an absolute age to undo.

No problem with knitting. It's as easy as pie, but you do need to do some work to get your yarn back so it is nice and smooth again. So if you don't know how to do that, read on:

* * * * *

Firstly, you need to wind your yarn into a skein. I actually do this in two stages: first I wind it into a ball, then I skein it up. It just seems to work slightly better that way than trying to deal with the undoing and skeining at the same time. 

At both stages you need to make sure the yarn doesn't get over-stretched or it won't look the same as it did the first time you worked with it.

So, start by finding an end to work from. In the case of my samples, I don't cast them off so it is simple to undo, but with a finished piece you might need to discover where the yarn tail was sewn in and prise it free. 

Tease out a little yarn and wrap it around a couple of fingertips a few times. 

Take it off, pinching it between thumb and forefinger so it doesn't break free. 

Now start to undo your knitting, taking time to appreciate the little pop-pop sounds the stitches make as they are released from the knitting! Wrap the yarn around the tiny ball, trapping your thumb and finger in place so they make a little space between the strands of yarn. 

Wrap about 5-7 times, then remove your fingers, turn the ball slightly and wrap in a new plane. 

Keep doing this until the ball is large enough for you to hold between your thumb and two fingers, then as the ball grows in size between thumb and three fingers, nicely spaced apart. Wrap over all the fingers holding the ball, so that when you remove your hand the yarn will be able to relax unstretched.

Continue to wind until you get to a yarn tail, then stop. Set that ball aside and start a new one, even if the ball is only very small. Continue undoing your knitting until you have reached the point where you either made the mistake / changed your mind / reached the end! 

If you are carefully undoing a small section back to where you made a boo-boo, then stop winding a row or so before that point and capture the knitting onto your needles. Then gently undo the work, stitch-by-stitch until you get to the place in question. It is all too easy to undo too much knitting as it happens so fast!

So now you have your yarn ready in balls and waiting for the next stage. Have a look at the yarn – can you see how it retains a crinkly "memory" of the knitting? In the photo above, the ball on the right has not been used yet, while the one on the left has just been unwound from a sample. If you tried to knit with this yarn, your knitting would not be smooth or even. Worse, after washing, those waves would relax and your knitting would spread.

So we need to smooth out the wrinkles, which is easy in the case of yarn. Shame it's not quite so easy to smooth out the wrinkles you see in the mirror every day! 

To do this, we need to first wind the yarn into a skein. I covered that here so follow those notes to wind the ball into a skein. Now, if the first ball was a large one your skein might be big enough to work with. If so, then add some figure-of-eight ties as I showed in that blogpost and set the skein aside. 

However, if you have lots of small pieces of yarn, start by winding the first onto the skein winder, then tie the next one on with a large and very purposeful-looking bow (you want to be able to find this easily later). Now keep on going until you have a good-sized skein. Tie a piece of waste yarn to the very last piece of yarn so you can identify that point when you come to undo the skein, and again secure the whole skein with figure-of-eight ties.

When you have all your skeins prepared, adjourn to the kitchen. Put the kettle on, first to make a cup of tea, and then put the remaining boiling water into a wide, flat saucepan. Carefully hold the first skein over the top of the saucepan and "bounce" the centre of the skein up and down or side-to-side in the steam. 

You will see when it starts to relax a little as the strands will get straighter and your hands can move a little further apart.

Move away from the saucepan, waft the skein in the air to cool it a little, then move your hands to position another part of the skein into the middle. Steam that part and continue doing this until the whole skein shows soft, even yarn with no crinkles. 

Repeat this process with every skein, then set them in an airy place to cool and dry. Don't weight them, but just let them rest until they are ready to use. Then off you go! You're ready to start knitting / reknitting as the case may be.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the delights of reusing yarn. I always find it a very satisfying process seeing old, crinkly yarn turning into fresh new wool!

* * * * *

I am off on my travels again, this time to the UK and then to Sweden to catch up with my daughter Anna and see some of the lovely knitting she has been producing recently. I'll post my next blogpost from there! 

Btw, Anna has a brand-new blog, the "Adventures of a Happy Knitter", so please go and have a look at that here.

Until next time – Happy Knitting!



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