Craft · Knitting

Getting past the ugly for beauty’s sake

You won’t always love everything about knitting. Quite often you won’t even love the thing you’re knitting right now, even though you were super excited to get started on it. That’s okay! Learning to tolerate and embrace the less-fun things about life and knitting will help you get a handle on the best things.

Let me give you an example: last year, I designed my own shawl (which will eventually make it to the interwebs). I usually avoid long gradient yarns, which means yarns that are died in long, gradual stripes of colour, but my LYS owner got in some simply fabulous locally dyed stuff from Blue Brick yarns and I snapped some up without thinking about it.

The colours are something special. It starts a rich evening-sky blue and melts into a sea green before finishing on the colour of soft wet sand. I grew up with seaspray hitting my bedroom window, so I’m a creature of the coast. Now I live a few hundred miles from the nearest ocean.

Despite the colourway apparently being something to do with a barn (and chickens?) I see the seaside, because we all see what is most important to us.

Weymouth harbour, Dorset, UK
Weymouth harbour, Dorset, UK. I walked past this scene daily as a young adult.

I’ve lived in Canada for three years, nestled a short way outside of Toronto. I can see the lake from my window where I work, but it doesn’t move right and Lake Ontario often smells like it’s been left out in the damp too long. There are no waves, no sea spray hitting my windows, no crashing against the cliffs. The only time I get homesick is when I think of standing on the beach in my hometown, shin-deep in saltwater, toes tangled in seaweed.

Looking at this gradient, I saw everything I missed about living on the coast. An idea splashed into my mind immediately and I picked up the needles.

Knitting this shawl went in several stages. At first I forgot about the colour and focused only on the knitting, on constructing a shawl for the first time from the inside of my determined brain. It was going well, so as the wingspan grew, so did my fascination with the colours. I ogled. I prompted strangers to admire it. I loved it with all my bitter little heart.

Until I didn’t.

With only the edging to finish, I looked at the shawl, then peered at what was left of the skein. For once I had decided to knit from the centre of the ball, just to shake things up a bit. Usually I prefer the neatness that comes from knitting from the outside, though anyone who knows my chaotic tendencies may find that surprising. It meant the blue/green was in the shawl and the gold/brown was in the skein, and disappointment flooded me. How had I not noticed how drab the colours were? They didn’t pop at all! How did I see my hometown beach in this?

Disheartened but too invested to stop, I continued knitting. I ripped back a few inches because I tried to drown out the colour with a pattern too complex for the original idea. I considered stopping knitting it completely, but then as the yarn moved from bright blue to damp brown, I realised something: I liked it.

The Beach Shawl - Knitter Nerd
A small blurry representation of the colour. The blue makes it pop.

I didn’t (and still don’t) like the gold/brown colour on its own. It’s boring and not at all a shade that would appeal to me outside of a big dollop of mustard. Or cheese. Or actual wet sand on Weymouth beach (softest ever, true facts).

Yet when I held the shawl up, blocked and ready to go, I was glad that I continued. Though the colour itself was unremarkable, the finished piece made me happier than I had been with a creation in a long while. I loved the completed shawl, even if I didn’t love the brown. After all, the individual colours are not the point.

Life is like that too, have you noticed? Sometimes you’re going through such a great time, ambling along with bits of your life falling into a neat little pattern that’s leading you just where you want to be, and then you’ll step in a big fat pile of dog poop and your day is ruined. It’s easy, in situations like that, to forget the overarching gradient of the day/week/millennium and focus only on that one stripe of colour.

Suddenly, a day that had been shining with bright, beautiful colours becomes invisible, taken over by that one brown smear.

The Weymouth Shawl - Knitter Nerd
Image of the shawl blocking. I have not touched it since. Whoops.

This is an unfortunate glitch in the human brain. Spoilers for both life and gradient yarns: nothing is forever. You will clean your shoe and move on from that steaming shitpile, and you will knit past the colour you hate. Don’t stop. If you stop, you’re stuck in that poop for good, and you’ve wasted your day. Would you stop knitting a pair of self-striping socks because you don’t like the individual stripes alone?

What I’m saying here, minus the gratuitous poop comments, is that sometimes you’ve got to ignore the terrible stench on your shoe.

Wait, no. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

I’m saying that if you keep knitting past that colour you don’t love, you’ll end up with a project you do. And even if you don’t, you’ve still completed something with talent and meaning, and your life is richer in experience if not in shawls. Keep knitting past the mustard smear. It’s worth it.

This is a small chunk of something I’ve been writing for a while outside of my blog. I’ve never posted any of it anywhere, so I’d really appreciate hearing what you folks think. Do you want to see longer, more in-depth posts about craft, especially how it relates to self-development and activism? Let me know!

Books · Craft · Knitting

Knitting socks (which actually fit)

Yesterday I picked up my knitting and started a new sock. It’s for a friend from yarn they bought. I have their foot measurements already, so I did a gauge swatch (I know, shocking for me!) and figured out the maths of the whole thing. This is much, much more organised than I usually am in sock knitting, but there’s a reason for it: if I’ve worked it out right, they’ll actually fit my friend.

In the past I’ve been lax about this, bizarrely. I’m a bit of a lax person when it comes to fine details anyway, so it’s not a shock that it transferred over to my knitting. Relaxed, that’s what I am. That sounds a lot better than ‘absent-minded and all over the place’. Sometimes I’ve knitted socks that barely fit my foot and are too loose around the leg, but I don’t care. I kept them, I wear them. I’m stubborn that way, and I still love my creations.

However, it is possible to make socks that actually fit, and I learnt that last year.

I think I mentioned that my friend and I went to a class with Kate Atherley at The Purple Purl. We turned up late because Toronto traffic is evil but even in that time we learnt so much.

Kate Atherley has very strong feelings on socks. I respect that. She showed us how to measure our feet and what gauge to aim for and what yarn is best for socks. By the end of the night I was so inspired by the awesomeness that is knitting and maths that I went out and designed my own shawl – not sure how that is what my brain took out of it, but you can’t account for the little grey cells.

If you want to learn about this magic and set your knitting brain aflame, you should check out Kate Atherley’s book Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet. No, this is not a sponsored post; I do not yet even own this book, though it’s on my wishlist and one day I shall have it, it shall be mine, my precioussss. However, I’ve had enough looks at it to know that it’s incredibly useful.

Even better, it’s logical thinking that’s tricked my illogical mind into actually planning ahead when knitting something. Sometimes. Okay, occasionally at best, but it’s a start.

Do you use unmodified patterns for socks or do you do your own thing to make it fit perfectly?


Getting fit, knitter style

Recently I realised I’d put on weight. Now, I’m not the body-shaming type, and this in itself would not be a problem. However, if you’ve been a long-time reader of my blog you might recall back in 2011 when I fell very sick with IIH and had to postpone going to Canada by three months while I recovered.

IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension) is when the cerebro-spinal fluid in my skull stops draining properly, and though they don’t know for sure what causes it, they’re pretty certain it has to do with weight. I can confirm that I lost a lot of weight at the time and kept it off for a long time, and I have suffered no further symptoms since. Realising that I’d gained so much weight without noticing startled me, because I really don’t want to have those huge blind spots in my vision again, and I really, really could do without ever having a lumbar puncture ever again.

Don’t click on that last link if you’re squeamish about spines and/or giant needles like I am.

As a result, I’m back at the gym. I bought myself a fitbit with my birthday money last month and have been more careful about what I eat, since I was starting to binge on chocolate again (god, I love chocolate). I’m not super strict about it but I really don’t want to get sick again so this is the best course of action.

What does any of this do with knitting, I hear you ask?

There’s a certain patience to being a knitter that I find translates well into working out. When I’m knitting I don’t always love what I’m doing, but I keep going. I continue stitch by stitch by stitch until I get to my goal (a finished object, most of the time!). With working out, I feel I engage the same part of my brain; I don’t want to be working out, exactly, but I keep going minute by minute by minute because I know the end goal will be worth it.

Have you ever felt anything like this? Do you engage similar parts of your personality – determination, stubbornness, creativity – to things outside of craft?

Craft · Knitting

Suddenly, a cardigan appears

Over the last week I have finished a few projects  (on their way to the blocking mat) and frogged one fairly major project (story coming later this week). Since everything on the needles is giving me attitude, I decided to start a project I’ve been excited about for a while.

Plus it was my birthday Sunday. What better excuse to cast on a cardigan?


I only started this yesterday and it’s already ten inches deep. It’s a welcome break from troublesome projects!

Animals · Craft · Vacations · Yarn

An Alpaca Surprise

It’s wonderful to get away for a while. In the middle of July we packed up our things into a car that is much smaller than it looks from the outside, like a sort of reverse TARDIS, and drove a few hours along the edge of Lake Ontario with our knees by our chins. It’s been a long time since I went camping and I had no idea what to expect from a Canadian campsite, so I was excited for new experiences (and hopefully raccoons).

As we drove through the gorgeous Southern Ontario countryside my head whipped around when my girlfriend pointed out a field full of alpacas. I noticed the sign ‘gift shop’ and tried to be polite and say we could maybe stop on the way back? If we had time? Except somehow I gave in and we turned around, pulled into the yard, and descended upon the friendliest alpaca farmer I’ve ever met.

We’ll pretend I’ve met more than one.

The farm was Nuevo Norte Alpacas in Colborne, and the owner – I believe her name was Amy – opened up the gift shop just for us. Well, me. My girlfriend and her mum weren’t in it for the fibre.

Nuevo Norte
Nuevo Norte

She showed us down to the gift shop and I told her that one day I wanted to keep alpacas, and she was super helpful. I feel as though I learned more in that half an hour than anything I’ve learned before. She explained the entire philosophy behind how she cares for the alpacas (and she has 80+ so she should know), and that she got into it for the fibre as much as anything else.

I bought two sets of roving and a beautiful grey lopi yarn from their flock, and geeked out about knitting and spinning. On the way back Amy (I think) showed me the wild woad growing on her land which I had never seen in person – only in pictures. She brought us to the pen full of pregnant alpacas or those who had recently given birth, plus some thoroughly adorable crias (babies). I learned that alpacas all poop in the same spot in the field and that crias will stand for a long time in that spot with nothing happening while they’re still nursing. This entertained me more than it should.

1000 Islands 018
I know this isn’t the kind of image you came here to see, but you’re welcome! 😀

Though I cannot get back out there easily for now as I don’t drive, once I do – and have some spare time – I will be going back. My aim to one day keep alpacas is sincere and I think I’ve found a place that would be perfect to learn more.

If you’re ever passing through, check out Nuevo Norte Alpacas. They do tours and workshops and classes, and they have some gorgeous fibre for sale.

Craft · Knitting · Needles · Tools

How I Avoid Ladders on DPNs

Whenever I talk about how much I love knitting with double-pointed needles (DPNs), people who aren’t converts talk about the ladder. It’s that awful run of loose stitches you get where you switch needles, and it does make your knitting look less than tidy.

It took me a long time to get the hang of avoiding that ladder and sometimes even now I’ll end up with one if I’m working at an unusual gauge, but I’ve mostly got the hang of avoiding it and this video shows you what I do.

I wasn’t feeling chatty so you get slightly sarcastic, extremely silly captions instead (which is basically my natural speaking tone anyway).

Oh, and you also get some old timey music to cheer you along. You’re welcome.

Craft · Knitting

Knit in Public Day 2016

You know what I love even more than knitting?


On Saturday 18th June I got to spend a few hours in the sun (well, the shade) with a bunch of clever, interesting people, all of whom happened to be either knitting or crocheting. We rocked up to the Whitby library courtyard, rearranged things a bit, and had a jolly good time knitting in public.

World Wide Knit in Public Day is an international thing. A lot of people (mostly non-knitters) have asked me recently where it comes from and why it’s a thing so of course I had to look into it.

The beady-eyed among you might spot a reflection of a person in a pink and grey dress – that would be yours truly.

Turns out a knitter called Danielle Landes started it in 2005 as a way to bring knitters together. Not surprising, as knitting’s reputation as a solitary sport is slowly dying.

It also helps people realise that knitting is NOT a dying art form and that people of all ages participate and come together because of it. I couldn’t imagine not knitting now that I’m a part of the community (even though I am super angry at my current project).

However, I like that the focus is on other knitters(/crocheters), because community is important. It’s the perfect way for people with social anxiety to get out of the house, because knitting gives you something to do while you socialise and comes with a built-in conversation starter: “Oh my goodness, what yarn/pattern/stitch is that?!” for example.

Some of my favourite people in the world are in this photo.

I love my fellow knitters. Knit in Public Day gives me an excuse to share time and conversation and laughs with them in the sunshine instead of my local yarn store.


A thank-you and an update

First (and most importantly): thank you to the fabulous people I have in my life, both here on the blog and in my physical vicinity, who have proven themselves to be amazing people in the wake of tragedy. I’m tired of thinking about the bad things happening in the world right now, but I’m grateful that at least I’m surrounded by so much light.

You may have noticed I didn’t post for the rest of the week. That would be because last week was… difficult. Orlando shot me into anxiety mode, and then I had a root canal and had to take wacky painkillers for a couple of days. Not conducive to writing.

I’ll be posting about Knit in Public day on Wednesday because it was super fun, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the lovely people who comment here and write their own lovely blogs. The knitting/craft community has been my lifeline more than once and apparently that will continue.

Even when a project makes me want to quit knitting forever.

More on that later. 🙂

P.S. If you, like me, have found the world a tad scary in recent weeks, I recommend distraction in the form of these simple cute games. Especially the Cat one.

Craft · Crocheting · Needles · Nerdery · Tools

Why knitting won my heart

If you’ve been following my recent series of posts, you might wonder how I jumped from being totally obsessed with crochet to being a dedicated knitter. Though I learned to knit before I learned to crochet, I took to the latter much faster.

I thought knitting was too fiddly, and it was too difficult to fix things. I could fudge anything with crochet, so I went with the hook.

For example, see this post from November 2010:

Recent times have also seen me attempting to knit once more. It didn’t go well. I can cast on and I can do the knit stitch quite confidently but then I notice I’ve dropped a stitch and instead of trying to work out how to fix this problem, my brain explodes and I spend so much time picking the bits of skull out of the yarn it’s not really worth it, you know? So I am not getting very far with the knitting needles.

What changed?

Circulars. Yep, the moment I figured out how much more convenient they are, I could not stop.

It only took until March 2011, too. Though by this time I was fully entrenched in the craft community of my hometown, I had avoided knitting as a matter of course since I abandoned my first project. Then I discovered circular needles.


There’s the first example of knitting on my blog after so many months of crochet, and it’s on a pair of terrible, cheap, metal and plastic circulars. I say they’re terrible because I cannot stand knitting or crocheting with metal where I can help it; I’m a wood person all the way.

Here’s what I had to say about knitting on circulars:

I find them so much nicer to use outside of the house since you don’t poke the person next to you on the train and your project is less likely to slip off the end. Absolute bliss.

These days I either knit on circulars or DPNs. I knit with the latter when I’m making socks or gloves/mittens, and circulars for almost everything else. I love being able to shove the project down onto the cord to stop it slipping off in my bag, and I love how little space it takes up compared to straights. It also doesn’t feel as heavy, since you can balance it in your lap.

I’ve been paying attention to how I use DPNs lately since people have asked me for tips once or twice, and I’m going to post a few tips I’ve found useful when I’m trying to avoid getting tangled in my own project or forming unattractive ladders up my socks.

What turned knitting for you from a passing interest to something more?


From Everything… to Nothing.

A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to be making all the things. I was writing every day, reading a lot, and knitting almost all the time. Somehow between that I managed to squeeze in some little projects: sewing on beads to a felted pot someone gave me, needle-felting a small strange cat face, and making all the Dorset buttons I could.

It was fun. I was on fire with inspiration.

Now… it’s faded. There have been some changes in my life which are positive but taking up all my time and energy. I still write quite a bit and read all the damn time but I haven’t had much time for crafts in the last few days.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a funk. It’s been three days. Four, max. This is ordinary for most but quite a long time for me not to be doing creative things.

Thankfully I have this evening free so after walking the dog I plan to sit my butt down, take a deep breath, and finish those mittens I’m making. If I spend that time also binge-watching Elementary, well, everyone needs some downtime don’t they?