Alternative cycle clips, finished socks and another hat

As is usual, I’ve started more new things than I’ve finished this week. Let’s start with the finished objects.

Blue Alternating Slip-stitch Socks

Fiished blue slip-stitch socksFirst, the blue slip-stitch socks. I can’t show you any photos of them looking perfect on the sock blockers I made for the last pair because I haven’t yet blocked them. I darned in the ends on Wednesday evening and then had to wear the socks on Thursday because I’d run out of clean winter-weight ones. We’ve had so much wet weather lately that I’ve got rather behind with the laundry. But we had a rare blue sky day on Thursday for the socks’ first outing. I’ll block them when they come out of the washing machine.

Elastic cycle “clips”

The next finished object was both started and finished this week. I hate cycle clips, I find them really uncomfortable with a nasty tendency to ride up the calf and dig in. Plus they don’t adjust well for different trouser/sock thicknesses. For a number of years I’ve used elastic “clips” instead. I started off with a simple pair of elastic loops, but it was tedious having to pull them over my shoe-clad feet to get them on, so they were soon replaced with elastic strips fastened with Velcro. The Velcro fastening allowed for adjustment to accommodate everything from linen trousers and no socks in summer to thick socks and padded hill-walking trousers in winter. But I lost one of these “clips” a few weeks ago and then, as luck would have it, I lost the other one soon after. I’ve been cycling everywhere with my trousers either tucked into my socks or rolled up ever since – neither of which is a good look. Time to make some more.

Elastic cycle clipsI’ve used the same soft and slightly furry elastic as the last time. It’s meant for use inside the waist of kids’ clothes and came from Bond’s of Farsley some years ago. I didn’t have quite enough of it so I’ve made it go further by stitching it to some non-elastic waistbanding and then I stitched the Velcro to that. It’s worked well because the firm waistbanding at each end makes it easier to pull open the Velcro.

A new Wurm

Easter bunny head

On the projects started side of the equation, I’ve begun sewing the bike transportation bag. I’ve also finished the Easter Bunny’s head – diluted red drawing ink worked a treat for shading the ears and it’s totally waterproof. I’ve made a start on a leg but I’m finding knitting on 2.25mm needles rather trying and I’ve begun a hat as an antidote. A friend made admiring comments about the Wurm hat I’ve been wearing all winter, and I found myself saying, “Well, I’ve got plenty of yarn left. I can make you one if you’d like.” She liked.

Wurn hats and yarnWhen I came to look for the yarn, I realised that while I’ve got loads of the chenille 4-ply left, there probably isn’t enough of the plain burgundy 4-ply to knit all the stripes for a second hat. I knitted with both yarns doubled the first time around, but I’ll need to put a strand of something else with the plain yarn for this one.

I’ve found some fluffy, mainly grey yarn with flecks of red that should do. There are a couple of balls remaining from a cone of it that I used to knit some gloves once upon a time. It’s yet another of my long-held leftovers – I bought the yarn some 35 years ago – and it’s time it became something useful.

90th birthday card

90th birthday card design

I’ve also started to make a card for a friend whose 90th birthday is coming up. He’s a bit sensitive about it, and definitely wouldn’t want anything that has the dreaded 4-score-years-and-ten number on it. I did a Google search for images for a 90th card and, along with the ubiquitous Scrabble ones (“90 is only 9 in Scrabble”), I saw a few that played on the Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion. I’ve designed a card based on that and printed it out at full scale on ordinary printer paper. I’ll use that as my template for the card. I’ve already carefully cut out the big 32 so I can draw the shapes onto some patterned paper.

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Led astray by the Easter Bunny

What I should have been doing this week, when not working, is finishing my blue socks or making a start on the bike transportation bags we need for our summer holiday. But instead I have been seduced by a rabbit toy in a recent Simply Knitting magazine. Well, it’s Easter, who doesn’t need a cute bunny at this time of year?

The rabbit in question (who rejoices in the name of Bertie Bunkins in the magazine) is knitted flat. I didn’t much fancy that – I’m not a fan of sewing up – so I’m knitting him in the round and with a few modifications, like no separate nose. I’ve made his snout a little slimmer too, I think it will be more rabbitty that way. If I could have found a way of knitting the ears all in one with the head as well, I would have. But I will be keeping the limbs separate from the body to make them mobile, like a rag doll.

Head of toy rabbitSoft toys normally go very wrong for me once I embroider a face on them, so I’m taking a great deal of care with this one. I think I’ve got the positions of ears, eyes and nose about right, although I have to admit that there is a certain donkey-like quality to this rabbit. Must be the ears. I’m not going to sew them on just yet, I’d like to find some pink ink or fabric paint that I can paint onto the insides first, but it needs to withstand washing. I’m experimenting with lengths of yarn, but so far they are all too red except for one that has been coloured with a pink felt pen.

Dyed yarn testsUnfortunately, it’s not colourfast. I know I have some silk paints and other fabric paints somewhere, I just need to find them.

Back of bunny head

2.25mm needles – yikes!

The yarn I’m using is 100% cotton in a natural, ecru shade. It’s probably meant for crocheting because it’s only about 3-ply weight and I’m having to use 2.25mm needles. I bought it to knit a boyfriend a moss stitch tie. (When were knitted ties fashionable? Must be getting on for 40 years ago.) The boyfriend was an ex-boyfriend before the tie was finished, so I pulled it out and the yarn has been waiting to become an Easter bunny ever since. There isn’t a great deal of it, almost certainly not enough for a complete bunny body, which means I’m going to have to be creative. I’ll make her into a girl bunny, that way she can have stripy stockinged legs knitted in oddments of cotton 4-ply. Similarly, her torso may need to be in other colours to represent undergarments, then she can wear a dress on top.

Hey ho. It somehow feels right to be knitting something frivolous on Easter Day, especially as it’s also April Fool’s day.

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Plans for bike transportation bags

Alternating Slip-stitch socks

Spring has officially sprung and the first daffodils are flowering in the garden, albeit looking a little the worse for wear as a result of the recent snowfalls. I’ve even done a little pruning and clearing up.

Still not really the weather to be thinking about summer knitting though, and I’m continuing to work on my blue socks.

Blue Alternating Slip-stitch SocksThe first one is done already I’m beyond the toe on number two.

Bikes on planes

I’ve begun thinking about making transportation bags for our bikes. We’re planning a ride from Girona to Toulouse in the summer, which means putting them on planes yet again. Once upon a time we would simply rock up to an airport on our bikes, let a little air out of the tyres, drop the seats and handlebars, twist the bars through 90°, remove the pedals and then wheel them over to the check-in counter. A baggage handler would be summoned to take them away, we’d ask him with a smile to treat them gently and off they would go. Or, when flying with British Airways, the check-in clerk would issue us (for free) with a large polythene bag each, in would go the bike and that would be that. All quite fuss free and, as long as our luggage including the bikes was less than the 20-25kg luggage allowance, at no extra cost. As a bike that is essentially still in one piece doesn’t fit on a check-in weigh belt, the clerk would normally take our word for how heavy they were.

Alas, things began to change when the budget airlines came along. Charges are now pretty much universal, usually at the level of £30 / €30 per single flight, except for “Riotair” which charges a lot more. I can live with £60 for a return trip, the overall cost of a flight is still no more than it was 25 years ago thanks to the downwards pressure on prices resulting from so many budget carriers in the market. It makes it more cost-effective to hire for short trips, but for anything longer than about a week to 10 days it’s still cheaper fly with a bike.

The real issue nowadays is the airlines’ packaging requirements for bikes. Virtually all insist they are bagged or boxed (and at a size which makes removing at least the front wheel necessary). This is problematic for touring cyclists who want to ride to and from the airport and have nowhere to leave packaging while they are touring. For A to B tours, there is no alternative but to carry the packaging with you, which means a box is out of the question and a bag must be lightweight and foldable into a small package.

For the last 8-10 years we have dealt with this by using heavy gauge polythene bags that were originally supplied by Cycling UK, and now by Wiggle to CUK’s specification. They are very similar to the free BA bags of old, and we usually manage to get 4 single flights out of each one before it is totally shredded. While touring, these bags can be rolled up and tied behind the saddle. They aren’t as lightweight as I’d like, but they do have the advantage that it’s easy to see there’s a cycle within, which (hopefully) means the baggage handlers treat them with a degree of care. Touch wood, after maybe 40 individual flights since we first got these bikes in 1996, we’ve only had minor damage, the worst of which was a bent wheel and a damaged chainring. There’s always going to be a risk when committing a bike that’s not in a rigid box to an airline, but it’s worth it for the comfort and convenience of touring on the bike that you know well and that fits you perfectly. I wouldn’t fly with an expensive bike though.

Unfortunately, airlines are becoming fussier and more and more check-in staff are refusing to accept that something that is essentially a big plastic bag is suitable packaging for a bicycle. Jet2 for example, the main budget carrier which flies from our local airport (Leeds/Bradford), now insists that a bike is wrapped in cardboard and its staff turn their noses up at the CUK polythene bags. We almost didn’t get the bikes onto the Nice flight for our Riviera tour last summer – no cardboard, because Jet2 had never actually taken any notice of that particular term in their conditions before – and had to sign limited release waivers. For the flight back from Pisa we begged a whole load of cardboard cartons from a bar near the airport and wrapped them around the bikes, inside their poly bags. Fortunately, our last night in Pisa was spent at an Airbnb less than a mile from the airport, or that could have been a difficult exercise.

This time around, I want to be better prepared. An opaque bike bag has the disadvantage that its somewhat fragile contents won’t be apparent, but that can be resolved with appropriate writing and symbols on the outside. The big advantage is that check-in staff won’t be able to say, “But that’s just a big plastic bag, it’s not a proper bike bag”. I have a lot of fairly large pieces of rip-stop fabric left over from a kite-making phase which should do.

Rip-stop fabric for bike bagsI intend to make bags with internal slots in which large pieces of cardboard can be inserted, if available, to provide some stiffness and protection. On the outbound journey, the cardboard will simply be thrown away at the arrival airport and the rip-stop bags can then be rolled up and tied behind the saddle. For the return journey it would be tempting fate to rely on finding suitable cardboard boxes to cut up at the departure airport, but after last summer’s Pisa episode we know that we can carry flattened boxes on our bikes for short distances by just attaching them with bungees.

The first step in this plan was dismantling one of our bikes as if for flying, ie removing the front wheel and pedals, turning the handlebars sideways, dropping the saddle, etc.

Bicycle dismantled for transportI’ve tried wrapping an old shower curtain around it – we kept it to use as a dust sheet when decorating – to work out what size and shape the bag needs to be. I’m thinking that it will be fastened with Velcro rather than a zip – no possibility of it breaking or jamming, more foldable and openable at any point along its length, which might be useful if access to a particular part of the bike is needed. The bag will also need carrying handles that somehow go around the frame of the bike so that they don’t rip off if the bag is carelessly treated. Lots to think about.


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Diversion socks revealed

These jazzy, short-row socks are done and blocked. I love them, I will be wearing them with Mary Janes the better to show off their exuberant insteps.

Diversion socks I have nothing that really goes with them, bar a pair of grey trousers, but what the heck. The yarn (Lana Grossa’s Meilenweit) called to me from a basket outside a yarn shop in Saarburg 18 months ago and I heard the call. Sometimes you just have to buy – and knit – things that make you happy rather than things that are sensible.

I couldn’t find the sock blockers I once made from a couple of wire coat hangers. I didn’t much like them anyway, if truth be told. So I made another pair of blockers, similar to the glove blockers I already have, this time out of polypropylene sheet. My supply of polyprop sheets comes from the A4 notebooks I use, which have them as section dividers. But A4 isn’t big enough for a whole sock, I had to make each one with a separate leg section. Unfortunately, the foot parts are in colourless polyprop which makes them rather hard to see in the photo.

Sock blockersAll I did to make them was to draw carefully around a sock that fits me well and then cut out the shapes, with rounded corners to prevent them from catching on the socks when they are inserted. The blocker pieces can be rolled a little, almost into tubes, to make them easy to get in and out without distorting the socks. Blocking these socks made quite a difference.

Unblocked socks

Before blocking

Socks after blocking

After blocking

Although it was by accident not design, having the blockers in two parts works well because it makes the leg length adjustable and avoids stretching the ribbed cuff. They are also easier to store. Hopefully I will remember where I’ve put them when the next pair of socks is ready to be blocked.

More socks

Green and yellow socksThis weekend we’ve had the third snowfall of the month, which makes it quite an unusual March. In the circumstances, I have no desire to knit springlike things. Instead I’ve cast on a blue pair of socks like these green ones. I’ll make them a tad longer in the leg though. Not sure how to achieve that at present, as the slip-stitch fabric is quite unyielding and I’ll need to widen the leg a little to prevent the cuff being too tight around my calf. But I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out as I’ve started at the toe end. I’ve just turned the heel, using my favourite Fish Lips Kiss technique, which I also used for the toe.

Blue slip stitch socksThe design is Alternating Slip-stitch Socks which uses a Barbara Walker stitch pattern.



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Sock horror – emergency lingerie bags

I knitted my first pair of socks 5 years ago this month. (Happy sockaversary me, yay!) My aim is to have at least 8 machine-washable pairs, then I can wear hand knitted socks every day in winter without having to do a sock wash more than once a week. The first couple of pairs I knitted were in luxurious, silky yarns that were wonderful to wear but had to be hand washed. Inevitably, my dear husband threw a pair in the washing machine by mistake and shrank them beyond redemption.

Sacre du Printemps socks


shrunken Sacre du Printemps




I was not happy.

These socks were knitted from a charted pattern (Sacre du Printemps) that had to be followed row by row and took me ages, and they were shrunk after only the second time of wearing. I’ve kept them because I can’t bear to throw them away and I keep thinking that one day I might need a small protective case for something. But anyway, after that disaster I made two changes: firstly, we now have a fluorescent yellow bag in the bottom of the laundry basket into which I place hand wash only items and I am the only person allowed to touch its contents; and secondly, I only knit socks using superwash yarn now.

Orange socks 7

Socks knitted with Drops Fabel yarn

Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented another sock-related laundry mishap. When I hung out one of my lovely orange Drops Fabel socks on the line recently, I saw to my horror that there was a hole on the underside where a strand of yarn had been broken. It must have caught on a bra hook in the washing machine, I have had to detach the odd bra from a sock before. The fact that I spin everything at 1,200 rpm to minimise the drying time probably doesn’t help. Of course, I know I should put delicates into a lingerie bag before committing them to the front-loader, but my last lingerie bag fell apart years ago and, frankly, most of my underwear is in such a state that new holes and rips go unnoticed. While I can live with damage to my M&S* smalls, I’m not prepared to countenance holes in hand-knitted socks that I have laboured over for many hours. Something had to be done.

Darned sockThe first job was darning the sock. Out came the darning mushroom that I’ve had since I was 9 and was required to take one to school. (Those were the days.) As luck would have it, the hole was in the only pair of socks I’ve ever made using two different yarns, and it straddled the boundary between the patterned foot and the plain toe. I darned it with the patterned yarn because the plain orange is destined to become part of a stripy jumper, if I ever get around to finishing it. It’s not the neatest bit of darning you’ll ever see, but as usual I was aiming for function over form, substance over style. The darn’s on the sole so no one is going to see it, even if I take my shoes off.

The next task was to make sure no more washing day sock horrors occur: I was in need of a lingerie bag to protect my hand-knitted delicates from the ravages of the husband washing machine. In the past I’ve used a bought bag made of mesh with a zip along the top, but the mesh was quite large and bra hooks caught in it very readily, while the zip had a tendency to come undone. I replaced that with a cylindrical bag I made from plain net curtain fabric closed by a drawstring fastened with a spring toggle, but that wasn’t a complete success either because the contents of the bag collected in a tangle at the bottom. They took a lot of separating and probably didn’t get a very thorough wash. I came to the conclusion that a flat, rectangular bag is probably best to give a big surface to volume ratio, allowing the wash water and rinse water to pass through easily.

Amongst my fabric stash I found two long thin rectangles of white netting, both the same size and shape but one with silver stars all over it has a slightly smaller mesh. I wonder what I bought them for – one of life’s mysteries. I also looked for some conventional fabric to strengthen the seams because sewing netting is tricky, there are more holes than threads which means most of the stitches don’t actually do anything useful, and it stretches horribly. I wanted something hardwearing that wouldn’t hold too much moisture, and a couple of offcuts of polycotton sheeting seemed to fit the bill.

Lingerie bag 1Next I needed to fasten the bag securely. Maybe an nylon invisible zip? They always require a good hard pull to open and close them, although they can be prone to sticking after a few years’ use. I didn’t have one of the right length anyway, and I was reluctant to cut down a longer one. I had a look online to see if anyone had a better idea for closing lingerie bags. Velcro is no good because it attaches itself to knits like a limpet to rock, and a simple buttoned fastening would have gaps between the buttons that would allow things in and out of the bag while it’s churning around in the machine. I came across this Simple Mesh Bag tutorial on the Inspired Wren’s blog.

Here are the end results. I followed the Inspired Wren’s instructions, apart from a different closure and a different size of bag – I just used the whole piece of starry netting cut into two. I didn’t have any matching thread, unfortunately.

Lingerie bag 3

The original version has a foldover top that is secured with a single press stud in the middle. I don’t have any of the type of snap that’s attached using a tool, but I do have a length of tape with attached poppers left over from making duvet covers. I liked this design immediately – the foldover opening will stay closed even through a spin cycle with just a few snaps to keep it in place, while getting things in and out of the bag is even easier than for a zip, because the whole of the top of the bag is open when the flap is folded back on itself.

Lingerie bag 4These lingerie bags would certainly be prettier made from a printed craft cotton like the Inspired Wren version, but once again I’ve chosen substance over style. I’m tempted to make a couple more out of the plain white netting, then I can wash just one or two pairs of socks per bag and have enough to use when travelling to prevent things like tights and silk scarves from getting snagged in a suitcase or drawer.

* Marks and Spencer – knicker suppliers to more than a quarter of British women.

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The Beast from the East

Not much progress to report this week on anything crafty, other than half a sock. This is the second Diversion and I’ve just turned the heel.

Diversion socks Lana Grossa sock yarnFor once, I haven’t tried to create identical twins. Even if I’d had enough yarn to do so, my attempt would probably have been doomed to failure because the all-over pattern of short-row lozenges would highlight any tiny inconsistencies in tension. The colour changes in this Lana Grossa yarn are quite abrupt, with the result that a shift in colour that comes a few stitches earlier in one sock than the other could well end up in the adjacent lozenge, completely altering the look. I will be content with fraternal twins, these socks are complicated enough as it is.

Why the lack of progress? We’ve been too busy dealing with the 8” of snow that landed on us. Journeys that would normally be made by car or bike have had to be done on foot but I spent 2 hours on Thursday shovelling snow off the drive so that we could get the car out of the garage if we needed to. The garage is up a steep slope from the road and I didn’t fancy slithering down it and not being able to stop at the bottom.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that, for the first time since I was an impoverished student and had no option but to cycle everywhere, I’ve kept my bike out this winter instead of putting it into hibernation in the garage from November until March or April. It has undoubtedly helped my fitness, because I didn’t suffer too much from all the snow clearing and stomping about through deep snow. I’ve been using the bike for short journeys in all but the worst of the season’s rain, ice and wind, but I’d held off fitting the new drive train components I was given for Christmas until the weather was good enough to be able to work on the bike outdoors.

Well, the weekend before last I rode into town and could hardly hear myself think above the graunching noises coming from the gears and chain. A quick inspection revealed that the winter’s salted roads had hastened the deterioration of the drive train – the chain was already very worn and the gears were missing the odd tooth anyway, thanks to various airlines and their habit of treating bicycles like suitcases. I was on borrowed time if I wanted to avoid a catastrophic failure.

When I got home I found a spot in the garden that was in the full sun and stripped off the chain, pedals, cranks, sprockets and rear wheel. I wrestled with the freewheel and couldn’t shift it. By the time I’d admitted defeat, the sun was too low in the sky to get over the hills to the south of us and the temperature was only just above zero. I retreated indoors.

The next morning, Monday, dawned very cold but bright again. I enlisted my dear husband to use brute force on the freewheel and he eventually got it off. He nobly offered to stay outside in the bitter wind and reassemble the bike with the new chainrings, cranks, gears, freewheel and chain while I went in and warmed up.

Bike with new drive train

Almost like new

I had no desire to go for a ride later to test the set-up and make final adjustments to the gears and chain length, as by now the so-called Beast from the East weather system was blowing in. And then, on Tuesday, the snow came, and on Wednesday and Thursday more snow. The roads were near-deserted as everyone decided it was just too perilous to risk driving, but there were a lot more pedestrians than usual which was rather nice. We all stopped and chatted to those we passed on the icy pavements and lanes, whether stranger or friend, in that terribly British way, making comments about the unnecessarily apocalyptic weather forecasts, the lack of snowploughs and gritters, the cancelled rail services, late milk tankers, school closures, empty supermarket shelves and so on. There’s nothing we Brits like more than some proper weather to discuss and administrative shortcomings to moan about.

My bike with its shiny new components has remained untested for the last week because the local roads still have more snow and ice on them than I’d like, although the thaw is now well advanced and flooding is the next risk. I’m looking forward to trying out the new gears – they’re lower at the bottom end of the range, and that should make a welcome difference when tackling the hills around here and when touring with my usual 10kg of luggage. I didn’t particularly go looking for lower gears, it’s just that this bike is over 20 years old and the 18-speed gear sets that were common then are somewhat harder to find nowadays. And mountain biking has taken off in a big way since the 90s, with the result that there’s a lot more demand for gears that will allow MAMILs and MAWWWBSDILs (that’s middle-aged women who wouldn’t be seen dead in lycra, like myself) to get up hills.

When I do get to go for a test ride, I’m rather hoping that I’ll need to shorten the chain by a couple of links and then I can make another chain-and-cork key ring. The old chain was so worn that it wouldn’t even be strong enough for that, I have no idea how it didn’t break.

Wine cork and bike chain key rings

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