Category Archives: by design

Introducing Elfbaby… the hat!

Five years ago I conceived a hat for my beloved Elfbaby. It would – of course – be a pixie-style hat, with a long point. It would have a garter stitch chevron border, to show off handpainted yarn and to allow plenty of stretch for growing heads. I planned to publish a pattern.

Elfbaby the first

Claudia modelling the Pumuckl border, in Cariad Newgale

I failed to do this.

I don’t really remember why. Normally it’s the photos that hold me back (I do have something of a track record with failing to publish patterns) but evidently, we had pics. All I can say is… baby. And business. I wasn’t at my most productive.

Since then, I’ve had another baby, had another go at the pattern (adding two different border options, because pretty!), and churned out a whole stinking heap of these hats – for samples, for gifts, for my kids, who love them but keep on losing them! Sometimes, tragically, before I manage to take a photo. As was the case with Max’s first Elfhat, which – in light denim-coloured Clan – was such a fine hat, a stranger stopped me  in the centre of Zurich to gush that it was a “Kunstwerk”. Oh well. I just made more; it was a great chance to test the different sizes.

Elf the second
Max modelling the Pixi border, in Lang Jawoll Magic

At this point pictures definitely were holding me up. I had a lovely sample of the Pippi border, worked in an intense purple yarn that Claudia loved, but it was impossible to photograph. And finding a chance to get my photographer and child models and myself together and in a suitable mood for a productive shoot was not so easy either. (Given that this whole group could also be described simply as “my family”, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard, but it was.)

Elf the Elder
Claudia modelling the Pippi border, in Claudia Handpainted Fingering

Enter lovely Lorna, a Twitter friend whose photos I’d particularly admired for ages. When she volunteered to test knit the pattern, I begged her to also contribute some pictures, which she generously did.

Elf the newest
Ronan modelling the Pixi border, in Regia My First Regia

Thank goodness for Lorna. With the help of her and her adorable baby – plus a few extra months in which I knit another passel of hats and had to keep giving them away, but finally managed to achieve a photographable Pippi sample – I finally have a pattern. It’s the first I’m offering for sale. It’s only five years late. I hope you like it.

PS. Enter the code ONLY5YEARS at Ravelry checkout to enjoy 50% off the price until the end of August!
ETA: Patricia pointed out in the comments that this code doesn’t work using the “buy now” button above – I’m sorry. However, if you want to buy and don’t have a Ravelry account, please email me; I’ll be happy to refund €2 on any full-price purchases while the promotion lasts.

Creative endeavours

It’s been a big week for me. Two projects have come to fruition… one, a small but I think rather lovely pattern has finally been published. So I finally get to show off the fabulous photos of my fabulous daughter.

IMG_5089 IMG_5039 IMG_5187


No false modesty here. Come on, she’s clearly awesome.

Also awesome: project number 2.

Introducing Maximilian Luc, born late on 11 January in a great rush, and taking it easy ever since.

I’d love to write much, much more, but this project is more of an ongoing thing and (funnily enough) taking up even more of my time since launch, so… later?

Hm… what is a very small messenger?

A pigeon, of course. (You were expecting a joke? Sorry.)

This is my latest self-published design (it’s a very short list!) – a simple mini messenger bag in two sizes, suitable for kids or adults who want to carry just a few things with the minimum of bulk. Linen stitch is pretty stable, so you won’t have to line it – and I’d highly recommend trying this with a variegated yarn, or striping to use up scraps, as this stitch also plays beautifully with colour changes!

Consider this as a quick Christmas gift, or a handy accessory for yourself. It’s free from Ravelry.

Squirrelly goodness (in sock form)

Some time ago I bought two skeins of extremely wonderful handspun yarn from the talented Azzy. The first skein became deliciously cozy handwarmers for myself and Elfling; the second has just now achieved its destiny as finer, but equally cozy, socks for my very dear friend Cara.

The yarn was called Red Squirrel, and you can see why. I knew immediately it would be perfect for Cara. And with her, plus squirrels, in mind, I started thinking about a particular corner of Cape Town… the bit around the university’s arts and drama campus at the top of Government Avenue, nestled among old oak trees and full of character. (And squirrels!) Cara and I spent a lot of time there over the years, even before she herself joined the arts school. I wanted to capture the feel of that place, and futzed around a fair bit with stitch patterns – originally the design involved architectural “pillars” and “twining ivy”! All of which was fun, but the yarn really just wanted to relax a bit in the brick stitch I had in between pillars… so I let it.

Brick stitch, featuring lots of slipped stitches as it does (great for showing off variegated yarns), is very compressed vertically. This allowed me to use eye of partridge for the entire sole, which is perfect because it will be durable as well as warm. In a thicker yarn, that might make for chunky socks, but this is very fine (about a 3ply weight) and should still sit comfortably in shoes.

It’s now available as a free download from my Ravelry store.

Small victories

I’m feeling pretty good this week. There’s no big excitement or achievement or anything, I just feel a little bit pleased with myself, like I’m getting a bit more on track with doing the things I want to do.

I’ve started exercising regularly again. Last year I was doing really well, but a long holiday followed by extended family flu sessions and Christmas and… stuff… threw me totally off. Now I’m back in the groove, or getting there. So yay for getting moving.

And I made a playdate with a neighbour. This is such a small thing, really, and yet a big thing. See, hardly any of my London friends have kids – certainly not around Claudia’s age. And of course she doesn’t have siblings. So if I want her to socialise with other toddlers – which I do – I really have to make an effort to network. And I’m crap at that. Despite the fact that our street is positively hopping with babies and toddlers. (Seriously. They’re everywhere.) I think part of the problem is that other mums tend to have their networks already set up: their own friends, relatives etc, if not in the actual neighbourhood then not too far away (and they have cars, which we don’t). So although they’re perfectly friendly, they don’t have much incentive to make an effort themselves; and my few previous overtures have been well received, but not reciprocated. But honestly, it’s my problem, not theirs: I just have to learn to be much more proactive than I have been so far.

A couple of weeks I was thinking this very thing, and as luck would have it, I ran into two of these neighbours that very morning, and Made a Move. The first failed – because she’s moving to Russia! Oh well. But the second one took, and she came round on Tuesday. Fun was had, and she left with a follow-up date for next week. Level up in the Mom game?

And last: I finally – FINALLY – published a pattern on Ravelry.

Cinders is something I made absolutely ages ago – finished in May 2010, in fact! I designed it to show off two beautiful, but underperforming, Purlescence yarns (Jenspun mohair and Serina bamboo). And then, deeply mired in babywrangling and such, I completely failed to finish editing the actual pattern. I’ve finally done that (though to my shame, somewhere in the past 20 months I lost the original measurements, so the schematic isn’t complete). It involved learning to use Inkscape to create a schematic diagram, and Intwined to create a chart: yay new skills! So here it is… and now, on to the next thing on my half-finished design list. Hm. I wonder how long it will be before you hear any more about that?!

In search of sproing

I recently received a lovely compliment on Ravelry from someone who admired my design Twist & Shout, but said she hadn’t made it because she couldn’t find a suitable, animal-fibre-free yarn. Well, that sounded like a challenge. (Not that I expect her, or anyone who happens to like the pattern, necessarily to make it; I certainly don’t think I stand any chance of making a tenth of the patterns I like. But yarn substitution is a growing fascination with me, especially since I worked on a few issues of Yarn Forward and Inside Crochet, when I got to suggest alternative choices for the published patterns.)

Any yarn chosen for this jacket needs to be fairly bouncy, and lightweight.* Both are important because there’s just so much knitted fabric involved, and all that ribbing is in danger of stretching out and losing its shape. Sproingy yarn also makes for good cables. Sproing is not easy to come by in plant fibres, though, so you’ll probably need to look for some acrylic or microfibre content, which as a bonus will make it a bit warmer. What immediately sprang to mind was Rowan Calmer – a soft cotton blend that doesn’t behave at all like (heavy, inelastic) cotton – but that’s a DK, and T&S calls for aran. So, to Ravelry yarn search. I was looking for cotton plus acrylic or microfibre, with a specific eye to the yarn construction. Calmer is that rare beast, a true cabled yarn (Z ply on S ply), which is seriously effective at creating bounce, plus loft (lightness!), plus pill-resistance.** As my original messager pointed out, you don’t want to invest that much time and money in a jacket that then pills all over the show…

Turns out there are many, many possibilities. The following are, I think, the most promising; although I haven’t actually used any of them personally. Most of them I’ve never even seen; I am basing my choices on construction and user comments. So, use your own judgment.

Rowan All Seasons Cotton: Reportedly stretchy and light, with good stitch definition. Ticks the boxes. Must admit I haven’t loved it when I’ve looked at balls on the shelf, though; it has a tiny bit of that acrylic feel.
Filtes King Kim: I’ve never even heard of this brand, but the chainette construction and fibre blend look promising.
Plymouth Jeannee Worsted: A good-value yarn, but according to reviews, it still performs.

There, for what it’s worth, you have it. I’d love to hear more ideas, especially if anyone has actually made it with a non-animal yarn and can report back on performance.


* Starmadeshadow, I should admit at this point to being just a leetle worried about the Sublime I recommended for your version. As you know it’s turned out surprisingly weighty. I think it’ll work out, because it is elastic (and so pretty!), but you need to be sure it’s a good fit across the shoulders, and definitely bind off the top of the back and pick stitches up again for the collar – don’t try the crochet cheat I suggest in the pattern.

** Which is why I like Rowan’s pure cashmere yarn – also cabled, making it significantly more durable than most cashmeres.