Sand Art socks test knit

I posted a couple of weeks ago about my first foray into test knitting. I only had to make a single sock to satisfy the completion criteria for this top-down test, but I’ve been very disciplined and made the second sock without delay. It’s all too easy to succumb to the dreaded Second Sock Syndrome and put the project away half-completed because, let’s face it, knitting two identical items one after the other is rather boring.

Here are my completed socks.

Sand Art socks 7I like the way that short rows make a self-striping yarn, or one with even shorter colour changes like this Cozy Toez, more interesting. The contrast with the plain stocking stitch of the foot portion is interesting too. The pattern I tested should appear on Ravelry soon as Sand Art Socks and I think it would be a good introduction to the German Short Rows technique. Knitting lots of little back-and-forth rows can get a bit tedious because of all the stopping and turning – unless you learn to knit backwards, which I never have – the Summit shawl is the prime example of that kind of torture.

Summit shawl

Summit shawl

I knitted it five years ago, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was needed for a Very Special Occasion (finally tying the knot after 30+ years of unwedded bliss), I’d have thrown it in a corner and walked away as soon as I realised it’s composed of thousands of very short rows. But in this sock pattern all the fiddling about is over once you reach the heel, albeit the heel is worked with German Short Rows too.

Sand Art socks 5The instructions cover various adult widths and the length is easily adjusted. I don’t think I’d recommend Sand Art for a first socks project – stick with plain stocking stitch or ribbing if you’ve never knitted a sock before – but the pattern is clearly written and anyone who knows their way around a sock shouldn’t have any problems. You don’t even have to graft the toe.

If instead you fancy continuing the short rows onto the instep, there’s a similar pattern called Rainbow Socks that you might like to consider.

This was my first test knit and I’ll certainly do it again. Having an externally-imposed deadline is a good way of ensuring that the project doesn’t languish while others are started, and it was fun to be working through a pattern at the same time as a bunch of other people and exchanging comments with them and the designer. Of course, that’s what knitalongs (KALs) are for too. (For those who don’t know, in a KAL you knit a particular pattern at the same time as others and compare notes via Ravelry, social media or real life meetings.) I’ve never participated in a KAL, maybe it’s time I broke that duck as well.

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The Fairy Leaves hat

Front of baby dressThere was a whole ball of green yarn left over when I knitted this dress for a one-year-old, plus some of the fuchsia pink too. That’s all I need by way of a reason to knit a matching Something. The Something is going to be a hat to keep the little one’s head warm as we go into the Autumn.

I want the hat to match the dress. Conveniently, the lace pattern around the neckline of this top-down, Fairy Leaves design widens from 6 stitches per leaf repeat to 22 stitches over the course of its 30 rows. Which should mean that I don’t have to do much else in the way of shaping if I knit the hat from the crown downwards.

Having the knitted dress to hand has helped the design process enormously, because I’ve been able to measure several repeats of the leafy lace and work out exactly what’s required for a matching hat. The baby’s head measures 41cm, and each leaf is about 9cm at its widest point, so I am working just 4 repeats around the hat – 5 would be far too big and a little negative ease is desirable in a hat to stop it falling off. If, when I get to the bottom of the lace, I find that the hat’s circumference is too tight to stretch to 41cm, I shall just keep increasing for a few rounds of stocking stitch before working a pink moss stitch band.

Start of Fairy Leaves hatTo get to the start of the lace – where I need to have 6 x 4 = 24 stitches – I’ve cast on four stitches and then increased at four places around the hat in four of the first seven rounds. By my reckoning, those seven rounds, plus the 30 lace rounds and the 6 rounds for the band, will give a hat that is the right height. But I’m prepared to pull it all out and start again if necessary, because it won’t take long to make such a small item in DK.

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Testing a new sock pattern

One of the many good things about the knitting and crochet community Ravelry is its forums, and several of those forums are devoted to bringing designers and test-knitters together. The designer gets her draft pattern tested in all the variations and sizes for free, while the testers have the fun of trying something “hot off the press”, again for free.

Blue Selbu hat

Blue Selbu

Before publishing my Blue Selbu hat in 2016 I took advantage of this and had my draft pattern tested by several experienced hat knitters, to whom I shall be forever grateful. While they didn’t find any major flaws, their feedback allowed me to improve the clarity of the instructions in a number of respects. Now, when I look at the Ravelry project notes of those who have made a Blue Selbu, I see that a few have commented that the pattern is well written, which gives me a buzz. There’s nothing more dispiriting than getting halfway through a knitting project and then being stumped by the instructions – apart from finishing a project and finding you went wrong somewhere because the pattern was ambiguously worded.

I’ve never taken on the test-knitting role though, until now. Having recently finished my linen jumper and the Fairy Leaves baby dress, I was looking for a new knitting project to keep my hands busy. It’s not really socks weather, but it will be in another month and I could do with at least one more pair to reach my goal of being able to wear hand-knitted socks every day without having to do a sock wash more than once a week.

Sand Art test knitI had a flick through the latest appeals for test-knitters in the Ravelry forum I belong to and found a design that seemed to call to me. These socks are knitted with short rows, not unlike the Diversion socks I made in the Spring, and the pattern calls for the German Short Rows technique to be used just like my version of Diversion.

They are called Sand Art and you can see why.

Cozy Toez yarnI’m using Cozy Toez, the third time I’ve used this sock yarn. The colour changes are very short and that is producing an interesting effect in the short-row sections. I’m enjoying seeing how it works out, and also keeping the designer updated on progress and any difficulties with her pattern – nothing major so far and the first sock is done so it should be plain sailing from now on.

First Sand Art sock


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Baby dress finished

This dress for a one-year-old has been on the go for a couple of months, but in my defence I have been knitting other things at the same time. And spending untold hours on renovating a garden bench.

Front of baby dressNow that it’s done I am reasonably happy with it. I do wonder if the colours aren’t too bright though. We’ll have to see how the baby and her mother feel about it. The yarn is Drops Cotton Light, a 50% cotton DK that comes in a big range of colours.

I changed a few things in the pattern (Fairy Leaves), as is my wont. Most obviously, I used 2 colours instead of one. That meant knitting an extra plain row/round before each moss stitch band to make a neat change of colour.

Also, I adjusted the number of stitches to give an odd number for all the bands worked in the round, because for some reason they were supposed to have an even number, and that doesn’t work unless you do K2 or P2 at each transition from one round to the next.

The pattern as written called for the sleeve bands to be knitted to and fro and then sewn up – needless to say, I didn’t much like that idea and worked them in the round instead.

Back of baby dressFinally, I omitted the vertical band of moss stitch that is supposed to run down the centre back of the bodice as a continuation of the opening placket. I replaced it with stocking stitch, which IMHO looks a lot better.

I have a full ball of green yarn left and a fair amount of the pink too. I’m going to try and make a hat that incorporates the leafy lace from the neckline of the dress.


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Double decoupage

While cycling though SW France a few weeks ago I bought a cherry pastry from a boulangerie and was handed it in a brown paper bag with vintage advertisements printed all over it. One of them was even a bike advert, which seemed appropriate. On leaving the shop I whipped the pastry out quickly, before the bag got stained with cherry juice, and folded it up carefully so as not to crease any of the adverts. I popped it into the back of a guidebook for safekeeping, thinking I’d make some greetings cards from it when I got home. Then I forgot all about it until I took the guidebook out the other day to look something up.

Instead of cards, I’ve used the adverts to embellish a storage box made from a 2-bottle wine carton. I needed a box pretty enough to sit on a shelf and tidy up various notepads, envelopes, airmail stickers and similar small items of stationery that were gathering dust and looking messy.

Decoupaged storage boxThe wine carton had wings on the front edge of the lid that tucked into the sides to keep the box closed. That method of closure was going to be too fiddly for a box that will need to be opened regularly, so I started by cutting off the wings.

Wine cartonThe next issue was the wine producer’s name printed on the lid. None of the vintage adverts was big enough to cover it unless I positioned the largest one straight, with its edges parallel to the edges of the lid, and I was after a more random look. Apart from anything else, there was a small area missing from the bottom edge of one of the adverts that was going to have to be hidden by overlapping another one. The only option was to paint the lid. I mixed acrylic paints to give me a cream colour that worked with both the décor of the room in question and the manilla colour of the carton and the boulangerie bag. I applied two coats using a small radiator roller.

That done, I cut out the adverts and stuck them on the lid with PVA glue, then gave all the outer surfaces of the box 3 coats of watered-down PVA to seal them.

Lid of decoupaged box

underside of flap

Magnet under opening flap

Without the wings on the box lid there was nothing to hold it closed, a situation I remedied by sticking a thin neodymium magnet under the opening flap and a steel washer at the corresponding position on the end of the box.

I added a loop of leather on the outside of the flap to give me something to get hold of when tugging it open. Magnet, washer and leather were all stuck on with 2-part epoxy adhesive.

Result: a useful storage box that is attractive enough to leave on show and hasn’t cost a penny to make. I only wish I’d bought more pastries and had a few more of the vintage adverts to use for cardmaking. Must look out for other shops using the same bags the next time I’m in France.

Decoupage potBeing in a decoupaging sort of a mood, I also covered a small coffee tin in a scrap of William Morris wallpaper.

It has become a useful pot for holding pencils, pens, pairs of scissors, etc.

I am well on the way to getting my stationery supplies tidied up.

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Renovating an antique bench

In the 1960s the Chairman of the British Railways Board, Dr Beeching, famously rationalised the network by closing many branch lines and small stations. Unwanted station equipment was sold off and my parents acquired a sturdy platform bench with cast iron legs, plus a pair of Victorian street lights which had originally been gas-fired. I remember the day they all arrived and were installed in our garden.

Railway bench before renovation

Before renovation

When we moved house some 40 years ago the lamps had to be left behind because they were concreted in and connected to the electrical supply, but the bench moved with us. Later, I became the owner of the legs after another parental relocation to a house with a small garden – the original wooden seat and back had rotted by then. My dear husband treated it to new wood painted green. It has given us much pleasure ever since. I especially like the fact that it reminds me of my father, now dead, who used to have a rest from gardening sitting on it with cup of tea and listening to the cricket or the rugby, depending on the season.

The bench is easy enough to pack away, the wooden planks simply slot through the two legs and are bolted onto them, but we leave it out all year and sit on it occasionally even on winter days when the weather is fine. In summer we have breakfast sitting on it, and afternoon tea, and it is long enough for one person to stretch out on for a snooze if they wish. The seat planks need some attention every year, rubbing down the blisters caused by summer sun and winter rain before re-painting, and one of these days I will replace the softwood with a tropical hardwood that only needs a coat of oil every now and again.

In the 20 years we’ve had this bench we’ve never done anything to the cast iron legs, and I don’t remember my parents ever painting them either. Quite possibly the flaking paint has been there since pre-Beeching days. I looked at the legs the other day and decided they really did need a refurb if they weren’t to rust away entirely.

Removing the rustI dismantled the bench and set to work on the legs with a scraper, a manual wire brush and a wire brush attachment on a power drill. I was quite tempted to take a blowtorch to them or simply build a bonfire around them, but cast iron is brittle and I was afraid that temperature variations could cause cracking. The powered wire brush proved effective at removing the worst of the surface rust, but some of the layers of paint were surprisingly well adhered and needed to be tapped off  – I used a combination of the pointy end of the scraper and the soft end of a masonry chisel because I was again worried that clouting the cast iron with the sharp end might result in a catastrophic crack. This venerable old bench deserves the gentle touch.

GNR letters in the castingMy dear husband came and helped after a while, which was just as well because it was a long process. After an afternoon of scraping, brushing and tapping we got all the loose paint and rust off and could see the initials GNR in each casting – Great Northern Railway. According to Wikipedia, GNR was formed in 1846 and subsumed into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923, which means my bench (or rather, its legs) could well be over 100 years old, maybe even 170 years old. It definitely deserves some nice hardwood.

Undercoating the legsI found a tin of “straight to rust” primer/undercoat in the paint cupboard. I bought it for using on the rusty bits of radiators and similar, it saves time when repainting if you don’t have to rub down as far as the bare metal. It’s a bit of a funny colour (beige) but it works under both light and dark topcoats. I have given the legs two coats of this paint with 2 coats of a specialist metal gloss on top. Hopefully, that will be that for another 15 years or so, at least.

After repainting the legs

After repainting the legs

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