Category Archives: Guides/How-to’s

Useful things

Little tricks, little tips

During the holidays, I made some good progress on my official cosy winter project. But after so much mindless, relaxing holiday knitting, there was sewing to be done. There was a quiet spell when I was staying round my parents, so I got down to it. I picked up the needle and threaded on the yarn in my usual way, licking the end so it rolled to a neat little point for easy threading.

Yeeccch!” said my mum. “Did you just lick the wool?”

“Yes? What?” said I.

“Here, let me show you a better way of doing it so you don’t have to lick wool all the time.”

So she did. Mum’s preferred method is as follows:

1. Fold yarn over darning needle
2. Pinch yarn tightly in place around the needle
3. Slip the yarn off the needle whilst still pinching it in place
4. Stick that tight little fold of yarn through the needle eye.

It’s one of these tiny, neat little tricks you don’t necessarily work out on your own, but luckily that one has been passed down several generations of my maternal line. Now the chain remains unbroken!

It got me wondering what other little things I might be missing out on. Do any of you have tricks of your own you’d like to share? Let’s hear ’em!




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The Improved Eyelet Buttonhole

The smallest possible buttonhole you can make in knitting is only one stitch wide, and one stitch tall. The classic eyelet buttonhole is simply yo, k2tog. It leaves a one stitch hole in your fabric, but it’s also a rather weak hole, prone to stretching out over time.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – how to make the basic yo, k2tog buttonhole better. After some trial and testing, both by myself and some lovely people on Ravelry, I think I’ve got something worth posting about.


The Improved Eyelet Buttonhole is quite symmetrical and doesn’t have any single strands of yarn to take all the stress, unlike the yarnover eyelet. It’s also surprisingly stretchy considering how sturdy it is. It works best with a springy yarn, and a background fabric gauge that’s a little on the tight side. It’s particularly sturdy widthways, so I think it would work fantastically on baby cardis with knitted-in buttonholes, or button-up cuffs on gloves. Or anywhere where you need a small buttonhole really!

I happily admit to taking inspiration from the Tulips buttonhole by Techknitter, which is a rock-solid and perfectly symmetrical horizontal buttonhole. I’m a big fan of her approach to knitting construction in general. If you’ve also tried out the Tulips buttonhole, then maybe you’ll like this too.

The Improved Eyelet Buttonhole (IEB!) is worked over 3 rows and 1 stitch, and doesn’t require any extra equipment. The hole comes out at roughly the same size as a yarnover in the same yarn, and it’s centred on the second row. This eyelet involves significantly more steps than a yarnover eyelet, in much the same way the Tulips buttonhole requires more steps than a Bind-off/cast-on buttonhole, but hopefully it’ll prove worth it.

Continue reading


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Yarn Management Tricks

Here is a simple way to make your multi-colour yarn more manageable. Buy a cheap-as-hell makeup bag from your local cheap-as-hell toiletries department (i.e. Superdrug).

Haphazardly wedge the sides of this bag under a hole punch and punch away until an acceptable quantity of holes has been reached.

Thread the ends of some lovely centre-pull balls of yarn through said holes, zip up the bag and enjoy your delightfully transportable tangle free knitting. Trains, cars, waiting rooms, funerals, knit wherever!

Here I am using two lovely balls of Sweet Clement Smitten II to make a fancy striped sock (I took the seam idea from the Garden Gate pattern). It’s a very simple hack, about one step up from using an old loo roll to wind those centre-pull balls, but I’m pleased with it!


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So this is how I gave myself Space Nails

Nebula Nails

Or Nebula Nails, or Galaxy Nails, or whatever the hell else the internet has been calling them. Yes, instead of knitting, I’m going to switch things up and talk about my nails, just for a post.

For the last couple of months I’ve been making some serious progress on quitting the nail-biting habit I developed roughly around the time I developed teeth. Obviously this is not a easy habit to break. It is a small but irresistible instinct in the back of my head that says ALL IMPERFECTIONS MUST BE DESTROYED NOM NOM NAM NYAM.

Breaking this destructive bitey habit has really just been a matter of replacing it with plenty of constructive non-bitey habits. Having an emery board and hand cream to hand most everywhere I go has totally cracked it. They satiate both the urge to fiddle and the need to get rid of dry cuticles and rough edges. Before I would just paint my nails every freakin day for while and come home with all the varnish picked off because I had nothing to do with my hands. Then I would get bored of all the painting and start chewing again.

The Point is: I have nice nails now!! Time to cover them with extravagant patterns that I won’t pick off a day later!!

Nebula Nails Thumbs

Below is how I did them, for people who like nail art AND knitting…


This whole style seems to be based on sponging layers of shimmery/iridescent polish over a black/almost black base and then adding some sheer glitter and optional white dots on top. Here’s my line up. As you can see I have a fine assortment of decent polish and Superdrug wonder-bargains.

So I used a very dark teal base, then with a lightly loaded brush, streaked wispy shapes over it with my nebula base colour. Like a comet trail across the sky, or an exotic solar flare or, [poetic similie #38 not found].

Then I lightly sponged on a constrasting iridescent shade over the ‘tails’ of the base shapes, before sponging a shimmery light green over the ‘body’ of the nebulae.

At this point I mixed a little white with the galaxy base colour and sponged it veeeeeeery carefully over the previous sponging to give a highlight. In retrospect I should have done this before all the other sponging. Bear this in mind! It’s a pretty subtle effect but it’s needed…

Because next you add some glitter. Awwww yuss. Today I am using Roccoco Nail Apparel Molten Lava in Silver Dollar, which I mention to you only because it is fabulous and I am completely in love with it. There is so much glitter in there it’s like foil stamping your nails. But that is too much glitter for today. So I am mixing a few drops of it in with some ancient Barry M basecoat that I neither need nor want. A much better fit.

One thin coat goes over the entire nail, and then I go back and build up more over the highlight of the galaxy until I feel it’s sufficiently space-y.

Then finally, add some white dots with a toothpick or something, so that the people around you can actually tell what effect you were trying to go for.

Topcoat that sucka and admire your space-nail-craft!

I would be very interested to know if anyone can pull this off better than I can. Comment if you do!


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Lessons I have learnt about steeks the hard way

Did you know that Kate Davies has some really good posts about crocheted steeks up on her blog? It’s true! I’ve been following her tutorial whilst simultaneously having some fun with fair isle in Excelana.

(Excelana is advertised as being a really good yarn for colourwork. I am happy to confirm that yes, yes it is)

Steeking, for the uninitiated, is when you cut your knitting vertically through a pre-planned point. It makes it way easier to knit colourwork because previously flat things can just be knitted as a nice continuous tube before being snipped. A crocheted steek specifically means cutting down the middle of a single column of stitches, having first crocheted each ‘leg’ of those stitches to it’s neighbour in the next column.

These are my first little experiments in steeking. Being that they are experiments, I have learnt some lessons. Lessons that I am going to share with you now.

Take note of these newbie errors!

Lesson 1: The direction that you crochet in matters.

A single row of crochet has a front and a back. The backs of your two crocheted reinforcement must be facing each other! I.e. Both columns must be leaning away from each other. Not only does this make it way easier to see where you’ll be cutting, if affects the steeked edge too. Observe the difference! The right way has completely hidden the ends of the cut knitting within the back of the crochet.

Here is the wrong way. Ah! The ends have all popped out! So untidy!

Lesson 2: Remember to use a hook size smaller than your knitting needles.

Like, 2 sizes smaller at least. I don’t crochet very much so you know my gauge is going to be huge and sloppy anyway. I didn’t help myself by using a hook that was only 0.25mm narrower than my needles. Look at those weird ripply bits that resulted! Choose your tools well please.

Lesson 3: Do NOT start pulling on the edge of your steek ‘just to see’ how secure it is.

Just NO. No, no no. Noooooooo. The answer is ‘not very’. Steeked edges are not load-bearing structures! Their job is to keep things neat whilst you pick up stitches a few columns away, so that they can take the strain instead. Then, when you wash your project, the fibres should felt together a bit and make things a bit more secure. That’s one of the nice things about woollen fair isle jumpers and cardigans. The steeks just get firmer and firmer with age and repeated washings.


With these lessons learnt, you can move on to other things, like adorable I-cord bind-offs and dreaming about the perfect fair isle cardigan.

That 200 Fair Isle Motifs book is turning out be really handy by the way! If you are a fellow book-haver you may be interested to know that I used motifs 50, 106 & 153 in my swatches (the XO pattern is just improv).


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Assembling Your Tactleneck

I would’ve called this post “Assembling your modified drop-shoulder jumper that is also knitted entirely in ribbing” but I didn’t think it was catchy enough. As you can see I’ve done a whole bunch of knitting for T’s jumper. Over 70,000 stitches of knit 2, purl 2! I have a new sympathy for the knitters of ridiculous Christmas jumpers now; A couple of reindeer would have made this 50% less brain-melting.

But now it’s time for sewing. Drop shoulder jumpers are pretty easy to sew together, but a little strategy is needed when the fabric is made of super-elastic ribbing.

First the shoulders (I’m doing all the sewing in mattress stitch). Now is a great time to go plonk the neck opening over the head of your recipient to check it fits (it totally did!).

Next, the sleeve heads. The nice thing about drop shoulders is that you can just sew the whole thing flat. But first you have to tie/pin that stretchy ribbing in place! I personally like using bits of scrap wool I can untie as I go along. Here I’ve fixed the centre, and all the corners.

You can keep things even by sewing half the sleeve head at a time. Start from the centre and work outwards.

Remember that knitted fabric has roughly 4 rows to every 3 stitches in a given length, so try to sew through 2 rows of the body after every 3rd stitch through the sleevehead (if that makes sense). The corner needs a few extra reinforcing stitches too. Knitted corners get all the stress!

So after attaching both sleeves you’ll wind up with a gigantic expanse of knitting. Fold it in half and voila! It magically looks like a jumper!

Then it’s just a simple case of sewing up the sleeves and sides in one nice continuous seam (but not one continuous piece of yarn, it’ll get really ratty by the end). At this point you are completely justified in fixing yourself a good stiff drink.

That’s a lot of stitching to do. Over 400 rows worth. Maybe I should stop calculating these things beforehand?

…Oh and there’s still the neck collar to knit…


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Altering Fair Isle Charts in Excel

This week I thought I’d write up a little bit of Excel charting trickery I haven’t seen anywhere else on the internet: A simple macro that lets you ‘paint by numbers’.

Excel is pretty handy for making quick and dirty colourwork charts for knitting, what with it being bundled with so many PCs. Open up a new workbook, set the column widths to 2.25 and you have a nice grid for playing around with!

But if you’ve tried this often enough in Excel, you’ll know that altering the colour scheme is kind of a pain. Copying formats around is not something Excel does spectacularly well, even in the newer versions where you can apply styles.

So I like to use this little setup.

I start by making a ‘palette’ where each number has a background colour I want in the pattern. I then build up a number chart of the pattern I want. Then I run my macro: For every number in my palette, it looks through the chart to find that number. When it finds a match, it copies the background colour of my palette number to a cell 17 rows below the matching chart number. The result is a full colour chart transposed 17 rows below my number chart.

So when I want to change the colours in the pattern, all I have to do is change the palette’s background colours and run the macro again! It’s a real time saver if you’re like me and can’t decide on a colour scheme.

Enough waffle. Here’s the code (Please read on for an explanation of how to use it):

Sub Paintbynumbers()
Dim Chart, Palette, c As Range
Set Chart = Range("L9:Z24")
Set Palette = Range("D5:D9")
For Each i In Palette
 For Each c In Chart
 If c.Value = i Then
 Selection.PasteSpecial Paste:=xlPasteFormats
 End If
  Next c
 Next i
 Application.CutCopyMode = False
 End Sub

If you want to use it in an Excel workbook yourself, make sure macros are enabled (check security settings), hit Alt+F11 to open the Visual Basic Editor, click Insert>Module and paste the code into the new window. This should work for any version of Excel from ’97 onwards.

BUT!! Please note the red highlights! These are values you will have to change yourself according your charting needs!!

The first is the cell range of your number chart. The second is the cell range of your palette. The third is the number of rows to offset the colour chart from the number chart by. This third value must be greater than the number of rows in your number chart or the two will get all mushed up together.

Then just select the ‘Paintbynumbers’ macro from the Excel macro menu and you’re away (or add a macro button to the worksheet – the help file will tell you how if you’re stuck). You can generate all the colour schemes you like!


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Where to find vintage knitting patterns online

Are you a fan of vintage knitting patterns? I certainly am. Luckily for us there are many places to get that vintage pattern fix. There are currently numerous good pattern books in print. But sometimes you want just one individual pattern. That’s where the technological marvel that is the internet comes in! Please enjoy this handy vintage link-fest!

Vintage Knitting Patterns – For Sale

The Retro Knitting Lady
This is one of my favourite sites, even just for browsing. The Fair Isle section is a spectacular wall of 1940s and 50s knitting fashion! You can pay for a pdf, or have the original mailed to you.

Iva Rose
This site sells reproduction knitting patterns and specialises in 1920s and 30s fashions.

Vintage Knitting Patterns
You can order some extremely comprehensive and properly reprinted collections of vintage patterns from here. There are patterns dating from 1895 to 1963!

“The largest collection of knitting patterns in the world” apparently! I can believe that, looking around the site. There are a couple of freebies available on it, but most patterns are for sale. Please note: you can only buy physical copies of patterns.

Knit on the Net
Susan Crawford has published many vintage reproduction and inspired patterns in print, but some are also available individually online. Worth a browse if you can’t be bothered translating old pattern formats.

Vintage Knitting Patterns – For Free

A Rarer Borealis
A blog that posts an eclectic mix of free knitting patterns from the 20s-50s. From the bizarre to the cute and peppy, it’s well worth bookmarking.

Subversive Lesbian Anarchic Femme
Another blog with free vintage patterns posted to it – lots of 30s and 40s stuff from Australian archives.

London V & A
The Victoria & Albert museum has a small selection of WW2 knitting patterns available. These are wearable, but historically noteworthy patterns of military wear and wool-saving clothes for the women and children left behind. 

Free Vintage Knitting Patterns
Well this does what it says on the tin! This is an enormous site that has gone to great lengths collecting free knitting patterns wherever it can find them. You will find patterns for every need, from blankets to jumpers to dog clothing. 

Vintage Purls
Free mid-century knitting patterns for everyone, from New Zealand publications.

Antique Pattern Library
The patterns and guidebooks scanned in here are from the 1850s onwards and include knitting, crochet, needlepoint, tatting, tapestry, all sorts of crafts! A mix of mostly American and English patterns as far as I can tell. A very large site.

A Good Yarn
A scan of “Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manual,” 1922 is available here.

Where NOT to buy vintage knitting patterns

Copyright is a bit of tricky issue to navigate at times, but there’s honest mistakes and then there’s shamelessly and repeatedly ignoring a pattern source in favour of profit. If a vintage pattern site does not explicitly state that the copyrights have been checked then it’s probably not a good resource.

The reason  I’m providing an actual blacklist is because most of the vintage knitting patterns being sold on the sites below have been stolen from the completely free sources I have listed above. This swindles you, the customer, and the honest sites who have done their homework and make revenue from advertising. Plus it’s just rude.

  • Ebay seller Bythelightofthemoon
  • Etsy seller toknittowoo


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How to keep your knitting budget from spiralling out of control

Knitting is an addicting craft, but like most crafts, it’s not particularly cheap.

However it’s cheap to start. You just need a £1 ball of yarn from the bargain bin and some sticks! Once you actually get good enough to make your first jumper you may no longer find that cheap acrylic yarn to be good enough.

By now you’ve amassed a few needles, some accessories, gained some knowledge of the different yarn fibres, joined Ravelry and discovered all the awesome free patterns the internet has to offer. Eventually you will buy some luxury hand-dyed sock yarn and never look back. It’s just a slippery slope to spending £45 on 100g of qiviut or several sets of carbon-fibre needles

Whoa there! Before you become the warmest hobo on the block!

Exaggeration aside, knitting cheaply doesn’t mean sticking to artificial yarns and naff needles. There are some nice and easy ways to stop your new favourite hobby burning a hole in your pocket. You can have that merino cardigan without the financial guilt:

1. Look to your elderly relatives!

When my grandma heard I was into knitting she promptly gifted me with a large selection of old knitting things. 75% of my needles used to be hers, as well as all my crochet hooks and a couple of stitch holders! Not everyone is lucky enough to have such an extremely crafty family member, but the older generation are far more likely to have accumulated such things as needles over their lifetimes. Chances are, if you’re the crafty type, you got it from somewhere! Pick up their torch! Why not politely ask if there are any old supplies that are no longer needed?

(Sub-tip: Learn your imperial needle sizes)

2. Knit skinny.

The downside of DIY clothing is that you end up paying per square inch. Sure, you can get around this by knitting tight-fitting clothes but that’s not what I mean by knitting skinny! Another option is to just use less wool per square inch – knit with thinner yarns. It’ll take longer, but as well as saving money you get more accurate shaping and a more flattering, drapey fabric. Bonus!

Case in point: As a UK size 14, I usually spend around £40+ on a jumper in DK weight wool. That’s roughly 1800 yards or 500g of fibre. £38 (625g or 2500 yards) of Jamieson & Smiths 2-ply jumper weight wool on the other hand, has turned into two half-sleeve jumpers and a pair of gloves and I still have ample yarn left for a hat! That’s  quite a bit less than you’d pay for pure wool clothing on the high street.

£38 worth of J & S

All that, and some leftovers!

3. Trawl the internet.

The internet is obviously an invaluable tool for finding discounted products. But where to start?

My go-to wool sites are Black Sheep Wools and Deramores. I think I must mention them quite a lot on here, but that’s because they are cheap, cheap, cheap.

If you’re after some big commercial brand like Rowan or Cascade, then a good bit of Googling will turn up something.  You can also try searching for ‘x 10’ in eBay’s crafts section and see what job lots come up.

For discounts on smaller brands, you’ll have to get close to the source. Find the brand’s website; it’ll be the best place to hear about discounts and sales firsthand. ‘Mid-sized’ brands will often be sold from other independent online yarn shops and they will offer sales of their own.

It may sound like a lot of work, tracking down the little guys, but if you’re on Ravelry just find the brand group page – there are often discounts offered to members.

4. Swapsies!

Stuck with yarn you don’t like? Don’t buy more, just trade the old stuff. Online knitting communities like Ravelry have a whole load of yarn swaps going on. Your uninspiring bag of 2-year old yarn is someone else’s perfect stash and vice versa.

If you’re lucky you might even find you’ve traded up a little!

Incidentally I am super-pleased with my latest swap!

5. Advance planning.

Here’s something I’ve learnt the hard way: Don’t buy a load of yarn because it looks/feels awesome and assume you’ll work out what to do with it later. You won’t!

Have a pattern first. Buy yarn later.

This sort of forethought prevents all sorts of woes: regrettable impulse buys, random unwanted balls cluttering up the living room, unflattering garments knitted just to make space for more yarn etc. You will always find yourself knitting something you want, in the right colour, with the right amount to hand.

The thrifty knitter is an organised knitter. Well, it’s an obvious thing to say, but a hard thing to practice. You can always make an advance plan to splash out on random things too! After all, you’ve saved all that money by following the other tips haven’t you?


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A Guide to British Yarns

If there’s one thing Britain has lots of, it’s rolling green countryside. And where there is grass there are sheep. We have a lot of wool going for us as a result. We have a national Wool campaign, a national Wool week and now, November has been declared Wovember!

So before the month is up, I thought I’d do my bit in showing some love for British wool. Now, Britain has two big well-known yarn brands – Sirdar and Rowan – but there’s a great deal more out there.

UPDATE: This directory is clearly going to get huge so I’ve moved it to it’s own page. Enjoy!


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