Knitting: Breaking Into Brioche

A while back, I got sucked into a particularly deep Ravelry rabbit hole and discovered the talented Susanne Sommer’s page with so many gorgeous, truly modern knits. Having added nearly everything on her page to my Ravelry favourites, I then decided I simply had to cast on soon and decided her Peachy shawl would be the place to begin.

 

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“Brioche and Garter are a match made in heaven” – Susanne Sommer

Several long nights were then spent, whilst nursing my newborn, hunting online for the perfect yarn combination. I wasn’t able to get what I wanted in Australia, so ended up getting some delicious Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles shipped from Stephen & Penelope in Amsterdam! It is really the most delicate and delightful yarn I have ever had the pleasure of holding. The urge to cast on was irresistible. Despite the multiple works-in-progress already filling my knitting bin, I really could not wait!

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The finished product

Pattern: Peachy by Susanne Sommer of Sosu

Source: Ravelry download

Price: €6

Yarn: Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles in Teacup (A), Genie (C) and Jelly (D) and Madelinetosh Eurosock in Antler (B)

Needle: 4mm long circular

This pattern used a few techniques I didn’t know, including i-cord tab cast on, two colour brioche and i-cord bind off. The cast on was tricky! I watched Susanne Sommer’s video several times over and cast on several times before I got the hang of the manoeuvring required.

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My hideous unevenly tensioned mess and rather complicated counting system.

Once, I got started, I then felt like my knitting looked like a hideous unevenly tensioned mess. Nothing like the beautiful close ups of the finished product I’d seen on the Ravelry page. In desperation, I frogged and cast on again several times before giving up and asking for help on the brioche forums on Ravelry.

Much to my delight, Susanne Sommer herself responded, reassuring me that all would come together with the blocking. So I took a leap of faith and pressed on.

Two colour brioche is a clever technique in which each row is worked twice, once with each colour. The first time the row is worked, half the stitches are slipped with the working yarn making a yarn-over loop which is paired with the slipped stitch. The second colour is then worked into the previously slipped stitches together with their yarn-over, while slipping the stitches and creating a yarn-over for those stitches already worked in the first colour.

I’ve just read and re-read that last paragraph and realised I’ve made it about as clear as mud. The visual learners among you will probably prefer to just watch this video. It’s far simpler than I’ve made it sound.

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Right side and wrong side displaying the gorgeous effect of two colour brioche stitch.

The pattern is beautifully written with details on the special techniques provided. The only minor flaw is that near the start of the brioche triangles in both sections, a few stitches are written as being worked as though they already have a yarn over, when it hasn’t yet been created. Being a brioche novice, I inadvertently worked two stitches together as a result (e.g. pattern calls for a brioche knit (brk) and I k2tog instead). Given the size of the shawl and the lacy speckled yarn, this error is never going to be noticed, so I left it!

Working brioche was initially rather all consuming and required a bit of concentration, but once I found my rhythm, with a rather complicated counting system—I had three row counters on a crochet hook to keep track of my rows and repeats—it was easy to work this project while also indulging my Netflix addiction.

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Post blocking beauty.

That is until a slip of my concentration or, worse, of the needle resulted in an error. Fixing brioche is a whole new level of knitting prowess! I must confess, I just made it up. I fiddled with the threads until I thought they looked like they were doing something similar to their neighbours. The use of two very similar coloured yarns in the biggest section of the shawl made this even harder as I could often not see which yarn went where. Fortunately, my perfectionistic tendencies are fading as I age, and I was at no point tempted to frog the whole thing and start again. Though I did occasionally pop a lifeline through the project, just in case a real disaster struck.

I won’t be entering this shawl into any serious competitions as errors abound, but they mostly are hidden well among the rows and rows that I managed to get right.

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Don’t look too closely. Errors abound.

The i-cord edge of the shawl gives it a lovely softness, but my yarn choice has almost ruined the effect. Given my time again I would use four yarns all of the same composition and type. I couldn’t get my hands on specific Madelinetosh yarn suggested in the pattern, but I wanted the same neutral colour, so I bought it in Euro Sock instead of the recommended Merino Light. I didn’t appreciate that the different structure of the yarn (4ply vs. single ply) would so dramatically effect it’s elastic properties. Indeed, I only really worked out what a ‘single’ yarn was very recently when reading a handspinning book! As a result, the difference in the stretch of my i-cord edge in the first section—where I used the 4ply Euro Sock and a single ply—compared to the second section—where both yarns were single ply—was so noticable that I thought it would ruin the project entirely! Fortunately, some gentle but firm blocking has made the difference far, far less noticeable and I don’t think it will effect the fall of the shawl too adversely.

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World’s slowest, but possibly most lovely, bind off.

The i-cord bind off (lovely photo tutorial here) has got to be the world’s slowest way to cast off. But it is also one of the most lovely. I really love the effect of the bind off in the neon bright pink of the Jelly yarn. Super squishy! It draws a big underline across the bottom of the project and gives it a very finished and polished quality.

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Suboptimal blocking conditions.

Blocking this gorgeous number wasn’t done as delicately as I would have liked due to a lack of blocking mat real estate and also a lack of patience for blocking wire placement on the part of a certain hungry baby. I used wires along the long edge of the shawl, but the shorter edge I just used a few judiciously placed sewing pins. Despite the imperfect technique, the blocking has brought out the absolutely beauty of the brioche, as Susanne Sommer promised me it would, and I have fallen in love with it all over again.

I think this is my favourite knit of all time, which, having knit for the better part of 20 years—the last 10 of them in earnest—is not a minor accolade. I’m so excited to have discovered the diversity and creativity of the Ravelry rabbit hole and as a result, I still have a knitting bin full of works in progress and even more projects I simply cannot wait to cast on.

 

Knitting Baby Stuff: Raspberries & Cream

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Quaintly in DK weight yarn.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, I love Pekapeka patterns!

I had two little one-year-olds to knit for this year. The Little Boy Blue went down a treat and I’m hoping this girly knit is also a hit with the gorgeous Miss L as she celebrates her first year on this wild planet.

This gorgeous wild raspberry variegated skein from Gradient Aus had been sitting in my stash for a while and so I was delighted to discover this larger version of my old favourite, Composite, required just the right amount of delicious pink yarn to make the 12-18 month size.

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My last variegated knit with expanses of stocking stitch. Not a big fan of the smudge effect.

Pattern: Quaintly – DK

Source: Ravelry download from Pekapeka

Price: $5 USD

Yarn: Wild Raspberry from Gradient Aus (100g)

Needle: 3.5mm & 4.0mm circular needles

As for her Composite pattern, Kelly Brooker again has very clear and detailed instructions which make it difficult to go wrong. I used the charts to knit the lace sleeves (something I am still learning how to do well) and apart from one slight error, which would only be noticed on exceedingly close inspection of the capped sleeves, I managed to knit this while watching The Killing with subtitles. Though, I suspect I may have missed less crucial parts of the dialogue.

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The button band is written to be sewn together except for the top button. I’ve left it open so a large baby head can fit through without tears.

The button band is designed to only open at the top button and the remainder of it is supposed to be sewn down, however I left it open to allow for easy dressing. As the mother of a baby with an exceedingly large head, I am acutely aware of the issue of small necklines and I didn’t want to gift a garment that induced crying at every wear! If I’d noticed the mock button band in advance, I would have planned to pop and extra real button hole in. Hoping it doesn’t gape strangely when on.

Despite the gorgeous vibrant colour of this yarn, I think this is probably my last variegated project using big sections of stocking stitch. I’m not the biggest fan of the smudge look and have already been investigating other ways to use variegated yarn. Excited to try a linen stitch scarf and some cool socks, both waiting in my Ravelry queue as experiments in alternatives.

But first to finish that previously frogged nemesis knit.

Knitting Baby Stuff: Greensleeves

Having nothing to do with the English folksong about a lover’s betrayal and far more to do with sleeves that are green, I am blocked and ready for the latest arrival, a delightful little Mr. who arrived just as the last drops of water evaporated from this sweet little knit.

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A frontless cardigan is far far harder to spit up on.

Pattern: Newborn Vertebrae

Source: Ravelry download

Price: Free!

Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Fingering in Canopy

Needle: 2.75mm & 3.25mm circular + DPNs

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The collar curls slightly despite my extra stitches, so should still be cosy against the nape of baby’s neck.

Another gorgeous knit from the very talented Kelly Brooker of Pekapeka, this cardi is designed with no front. Making it perfect for keeping a winter baby cosy during some skin-to-skin or even just looking cute without having to worry about dribble and chuck stains ruining every wear.

Goodness knows a new mother does not need more washing!

With that in mind, I cast on in a superwash sock wool from KnitPicks and the result is my first variegated project (subtle variegations of my rainbow mini skeins aside). I was a little hesitant with this at first. The yarn was originally purchased for socks which would have been almost stripy, but with the longer sections of knitting across the back of this cardi, the variegations did start to give that slightly smudgey weirdness that in a bad colourway can make one slightly queasy. I’m not entirely sure I’ve avoided that effect with this knit, but with the brightness of the greens I’m hoping the result is mellow happiness rather than seasickness.

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The shorter rows of the sleeves give a pleasing stripy (rather than squeamish smudging) effect.

The pattern is simple to follow and excellently written. The only thing I varied slightly was in picking up the body ribbed edging, the instructions call for 3 of every 4 stitches to be picked up around the edge. I picked up every stitch across the back of the neck as I found this neater. The result is still perfect and I wondering whether it may have pulled in awkwardly across the shoulders if I’d picked up less.

My blocking has successfully turned this into a long straight cardigan compared to the very shell shaped ones I saw on the Ravelry projects page. I’m hoping it still keeps little Mr. cosy and warm and snug as he cuddles his mummy this winter.

Knitting Baby Stuff: Lace & Simplicity

In the madness of life with an 8-month-old baby and a often busy work life, time got away from me and I completely failed to have a knit ready for the arrival of a friend’s baby girl last week. With no time to order yarn online or get to the yarn shop, I rummaged through my stash and my pattern books and decided on making this gorgeous knit again.

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Simple cap sleeve top with button. I didn’t oversew the button band as advised in the pattern as I had a baby with a massive head and know that neck opening just ain’t big enough for some heads.

I’ve made it once before and been very pleased with it on both occasions. With a little dedication to the cause, I managed to get it finished within a few days and once it’s finished blocking, will get it off in the post on Monday.

IMG_5738Pattern: Composite by Kelly Brooker of Pekapeka Design Studio (she also wrote this pattern… another go to favourite for new arrivals.)

Source: Ravelry

Price: Free!!

Yarn: Stash scraps – Sublime Cashmere Merino Silk DK. I think. Lost the ball band.

Needles: 80cm 3.5mm circular and 30cm 4mm circular – from different sets so they’re easy to tell apart.

This pattern knits up surprisingly quickly and is very pretty with little lace cap sleeves. Given the size, the concentration for the lace is only required for 13 rows so it’s still a suitable in-front-of-the-telly knit, though you may want to watch something not too challenging during the lace rows. There’s a slightly tricky section where you use both the small and large needles simultaneously, which Kelly describes in the pattern as being “a bit like playing with an octopus”, but as she also points out, it only lasts a few rows so it’s manageable.

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Weighing up my chances of finishing the knit with yarn to spare.

I particularly liked that Kelly specified the weight of yarn required for the knit. This meant that by temporarily borrowing my husband’s baking scales I could work out whether I had enough yarn even though I was using pre-wound stash scraps which had been half used.

Pearls:

  • Weighing yarn is a great way to work out how much of a ball you have left and whether you’re likely to finish the project on your scraps
  • Lacework requires concentration, even when simple, so avoid watching anything too in-depth or challenging during those 13 rows!
  • The pattern calls for oversewing of the button band to join the two layers. I didn’t do this, as the button allows for the neck opening to fit over baby’s head and as the mother of a particularly large headed baby (greater than the 98th centile… no seriously, a lot greater!!) I know how frustrating a small neck opening can be.
  • This knits up quite small, but after blocking should be right to fit a baby for their first few months in this crazy world.
  • In writing this post, I’ve discovered the Pekapeka Design Studio page with a bunch of gorgeous free patterns to choose from! You can find them here!

Crochet: But the loveliest of all was the unicorn…

As I mentioned last post, I have been learning on the go making my first crochet stuffed toy for a friend’s baby. A unicorn!

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The loveliest of all was the unicorn.

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I’m sure as an 8 year old, I never noticed the frighteningly sexual flavour to Pony’s sideways glance and perky bottomed posture. (Image from here)

This pattern is based on the My Little Pony dolls which were hideously popular in the late 1980s. As a child of Pritikin bread parents, I am now surprised that I had one, but I somehow got my hands on a glorious purple, blue and pink silky maned creature. Like many things from one’s own childhood the tackiness and awfulness (do ponies really need ridiculously long eyelashes and a coy smile?) is often lost in a sea of fond memories of a more innocent time. I’m sure as a 8 year old, I never noticed the frighteningly sexual flavour to Pony’s sideways glance and perky bottomed posture. The subtlety of this message is long gone, and the modern version of My Little Pony dolls seem to have done away with the pony aspect all together!

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The subtlety of My Little Pony’s sexuality is long gone. The modern version of a My Little Pony doll. (Image from here)

So, leaving the eyelashes off and adding some silver hooves, I embarked on the creation of a nostalgic, but hopefully not seductive, version of the beloved Pony.


Pattern: Friendship is Magic

Source: Knit One Awe Some blog (via Ravelry)

Price: Free!!

Yarn: Stash scraps. I used Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk DK (apricot, hot pink and light grey) and Morris & Sons Empire 8ply in yellow for the horn.

Hook: 3mm

This pattern is a single crochet version of another pattern. I made this version as the photos looked better. I have no where near enough experience with crochet to have any kind of stitch preference. In fact, I know so little about crochet, I had to look up what a single crochet stitch was as all my books start with double crochet as the simplest crochet. Turns out my books are English. This pattern is American. An American single crochet is an English double crochet, and an American double crochet is something completely different. A handy little conversion chart can be found here.

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A bamboo double-pointed knitting needle holds the head in position while I sew it on.

The benefit of the single crochet version of the pattern, I suspect, is that the weave of the finished product is tight making it good for stuffing without getting visible holes.

The style of this toy is something called amigurumi – a Japanese word which, from what I can gather, essentially means ‘cute crochet stuffed toy’. Not entirely sure one needs a specific word for that, but there you go.

The keys challenges of this pattern, besides getting the hang of crochet in general, were in the making up. It took me a while to perfect the technique for sewing pieces together neatly. Of course, if I’d looked it up, I’d have found a handy tutorial like this one and got it right from the start. I didn’t. So, the back legs are sewn on with the edges showing which irks me slightly. But not enough to try and pull them off and risk ruining the whole thing!

The back legs were hard to get into a good position and despite following the instructions in the pattern and tucking in the upper edge as described, they still splay a little too much for my liking giving the pony a slight straining forward type appearance. No risk of this Pony having a perky bottomed pose!

I made the eyes from felt. I drew eyes on paper, cut them out and then used them as stencils to cut out felt shapes. I was initially worried that sewing the felt in layers (white then blue then black) would cause a bulky lump of an eye, but I was pleasantly surprised by how flat the eye became as I sewed it. I stitched around the edge using a single strand of white wool for the white and blue pieces and then a single strand of black embroidery thread for the pupil. The little ‘sparkle’ was done with white again.

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The whites of the eyes are sewn on. My hand stitching makes it look a little ‘homemade’. But, not a major issue as it is homemade.

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The blue is sewn over the top. Doubt about pulling this off sets in and I ponder the possibility of having to remake the whole head.

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Surprisingly tolerable result.

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No risk of this pony having a perky bottomed pose.

The mane wasn’t nearly as tricky as I thought. I crocheted it all as one piece with increasing lengths as I went so it ended up short at the front and longer at the back. I’d have liked to do it thicker – as in more strands – but the limitations of using scrap stash yarn struck and I ran out of pink.

Pearls

  • Stuffing this really firmly helped it to stand up even though the legs are a bit wonky.
  • I did this in a spiral style (i.e. no single chain at the start of each round) and used a stitch maker to keep track of the start of each round
  • I found sewing pins to be too slippery when trying to put the pieces together to check positioning prior to sewing. They worked for small bits (eyes & ears) but for positioning larger sections (legs, neck, head) I used a double pointed bamboo knitting needle.

Speaking of nostalgia…

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Image from here.

While making this unicorn, I’ve had The Unicorn Song in my head. I know it from this Don Spencer LP which we had when I was growing up. I have become slightly obsessed with finding a copy of it for W.

I cannot find it.

In the same way my nostalgia lessens the tackiness of My Little Pony, I am quite convinced that the music of my childhood is no where near as stupid or irritating at the children’s music of today.

In asking friends for suggestions on children’s music that won’t make me pierce my own ear drums with hot pokers, a lot of people suggested I just let him listen to our ‘normal’ music. But, Rufus Wainwright will not teach him the different noises animals make, how to count to ten or let him know that little fishies should listen to their mothers if they don’t want to get lost at sea. Instead, we could send him off to preschool singing songs about cigarettes and chocolate milk. Not ideal.

The best modern children’s albums I’ve found so far are Laura Viers ‘Tumble Bee‘ and ‘For The Kids: Three‘. Both very very (disappointingly) American. I even find myself singing along with an American accent. Sigh.

The Unicorn Song by Irish Rovers
(Lyrics sourced here)

A long time ago, when the Earth was green
There was more kinds of animals than you’ve ever seen
They’d run around free while the Earth was being born
And the loveliest of all was the unicorn

There was green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
The loveliest of all was the unicorn

The Lord seen some sinning and it gave Him pain
And He says, “Stand back, I’m going to make it rain”
He says, “Hey Noah, I’ll tell you what to do
Build me a floating zoo,
and take some of those…

Green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
Don’t you forget my unicorns

Old Noah was there to answer the call
He finished up making the ark just as the rain started to fall
He marched the animals two by two
And he called out as they came through
Hey Lord,

I’ve got green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but Lord, I’m so forlorn
I just can’t find no unicorns”

And Noah looked out through the driving rain
Them unicorns were hiding, playing silly games
Kicking and splashing while the rain was falling
Oh, them silly unicorns

There was green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Noah cried, “Close the door because the rain is falling
And we just can’t wait for no unicorns”

The ark started moving, it drifted with the tide
The unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried
And the waters came down and sort of floated them away
That’s why you never see unicorns to this very day

You’ll see green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
You’re never gonna see no unicorns

Knitting: A Stocking for W’s (second) Christmas

I had great intentions. They just got started a little late. So when I completed the fair isle part of this stocking at around 9pm on Christmas Eve, I finally conceded that this was not going to be a stocking for W’s first Christmas. His second Christmas would have to do.

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This project was inspired by the rediscovery of my own childhood Christmas stocking, looking a little worse for wear, at the bottom of a box full of tinsel and baubles. I recalled the joy of finding it stuffed with goodies on Christmas morning. My parents, rather cleverly, managed to elicit the delight of many many presents by individually wrapping parts of my present and stuffing them in my stocking – for example one year my stocking was stuffed with many little parcels, each a single brick of Duplo.

Keen for W to share in the delights of a stuffed stocking on Christmas morning, I decided to knit him one. I was after a classic style without too much busyness and something that was his, all his.

photo 3I modified this pattern to incorporate his initial. My first ever self-written fair isle pattern. Given I’m pretty new to fair isle, my execution isn’t awesome and there’s a bit of puckering around the edges. It was only as I reached the snowflake that I thought I’d better investigate techniques for carrying yarn across the back for large spans in fair isle knitting and I found the answer here. As a result my snowflake ain’t too bad. Not awesome, but not terrible.

My big mistakes of this knit were (a) using stocking stitch for the cuff – hello cuff curl – and (b) not increasing the stocking length sufficiently. As I knit this project using 8ply (DK) yarn and 3.75mm and 4.0mm needles, the sock ended up quite big but I didn’t increase the stocking length to compensate so the whole thing is a bit out of proportion.

So, either W will love his imperfect stocking and as he grows older see the imperfections as part of what makes it his, all his. Or my Virgo self will fold and do a different, better, perfect stocking in time for W’s second Christmas.

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Pattern: Nordic Star Stocking

Source: Millamia

Price: Free!!

Yarn: Scraps from my stash – Sublime Cashmerino Silk DK in Christmas colours

Needle: Straight needles, 3.75mm for cuff and 4.0mm for stocking and sock. Accidentally switched to my larger needle prematurely which makes the cuff not quite big enough to fold down over the stocking nicely.

Pearls: Given my fair isle skills are a little of the dire side, I used a life line technique prior to starting the snowflake. Came in very handy once I realised my massive long floats at the back needed fixing. You can find instructions on life lines here.