An eventful week

I need a catch up post.

  1. The knitting disaster

In an eventful week I have tried to make the saddle shouldered seamless jumper, featured in Knitting without Tears. Can I have my money back – it made me cry!!

Can you work out what went wrong? By way of explanation this is a seamless sweater, made initially exactly the same as my colourwork yoke jersey – three tubes joined on one needle. Then the decreasing is done first by taking up four stitches from the front and back every round, swapping to take the fullness from the sleeves, and finally reverting back to the body until we have just the saddles to work. The problem of course is that line of decreasing needs to be contiguous and look line a clear line across the sweater. It is actually a kind of mock seam and so it has to work perfectly. Otherwise the eye will not be decieved. So I now have two options. One is to pull it out and redo the yoke area. Or, and this is the beauty of the Zimmermann seamless approach, I can pull it back and create either a yoke sweater or a seamless raglan. I won’t want to make a colourwork yoke because of the stripes, but I could conceivably create a stitch pattern in the yoke. I think the raglan might be better. The yarn is recycled from the sloper sweater. It is lovely soft cashmere and will be warm, so I am thinking of having a relatively high neck. A further thought was could EZ be adapted to create a polo neck?

2. The meet up

In other news I met up with Sue from New Zealand. She reads the blog, sews, knits, dyes, and is in the UK for the first time since her “OE” (overseas experience) when she worked in our NHS hospitals as an orthopedic nurse ten or so years ago. Having had a few days in London she is off in a hired motor home to visit some of the beautiful parts of the English countryside. We had a Beijing street food meal in Brixton market and a visit to Simply Fabrics where she managed to purchase a few souvenirs.

Sue Newth
Sue Newth from New Zealand

She also very kindly gave me a silk scarf she had dyed with Indigo. She used pegs to create the beautiful design.

Indigo dyed scarf with wooden peg design
Lovely indigo silk scarf from Sue

Sue has a real sensitivity for colour and I just loved her neat grey outfit with a splash of orange – bag, glasses and lipstick. Very classy.

3. The purchase

I bought Colourmart yarn for my third seamless yoked EZ jumper. I am thinking of using the beige this time as I already have two coloured ones. But I love the green too. My mother, who enjoyed shopping, always had a solution when you liked two things equally, when shopping for shoes, for example. “Get them both!”. Obviously I will knit up the green at some point if I use the beige this time. Knitting along with me are Maggie, Michelle, Karen, Giorgia and Sue Stoney – hello girls! Have you got your yarn? Have you cast on the right number of stitches?

4. The evening class

We finished the patchwork class. Nick and I signed up with a plan to make a patchwork quilt for our new bedroom at Rainshore. We have the germ of an idea but I am not sure we will get round to doing it. The experienced ladies in the class conspired with me to convince Nick to do all the cutting and me to do the sewing. But actually he really loved learning to use a sewing machine. Patchwork and carpentry are quite similar, as it happens and he took to it like a duck to water. We both found the class a fun and useful introduction and, as ever, we met some really great people on the course. Kaye Telford started each class with a “show and tell” experience where she brought mainly her own work and demystified the techniques. And every week we made a sample. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with my samples – in fact I appear to have lost some – but I did learn some interesting techniques, and I have lots of handouts. We covered

  • Rail fence
  • Quarter square triangles
  • Log cabin and courthouse steps
  • Broken dishes
  • Hour glass
  • Flying geese
  • English paper piecing
  • Disappearing Hour Glass
  • Pieced Hearts block (flying geese)
  • Free cut panels (for borders)
  • Applique
  • Bias binding
  • Quilting
Patchwork samples
Introduction to patchwork

5. My sewing room

Nick made me a cupboard for my new sewing room at Rainshore. I absolutely love this, even before it has been painted. In fact I like it unpainted. I have a week to think about it while Nick puts in the maple shelves. The rest of the house has cupboards painted in Cornforth White. But I am thinking of a different shade of paint – pink, green or blue.

handmade sewing cupboard
Rainshore sewing room cupboard by Nick

6. And a wedding!

Esme’s friend Kate got married to George in the wonderful Asylum Chapel in Peckham. Esme was one of the bridesmaids and Kit and Ted were page boys. The place was full of English summer flowers in shades of pink white and blue (my favourite), mixed in with olives in honour of George’s Greek heritage. Kate wore a short, lace dress with a sheer back. She looked amazing. The weather was perfect and we went outside after the ceremony and showered them with dried flower petals, drank champagne and enjoyed the steel band.

I was thrilled to wear my Mondrian dress –  as we walked through the back streets of Peckham to the wedding a woman stopped her car, put her head out of the window and shouted out “I love your dress!”. I always enjoy wearing it.

Week 2 – Elizabeth Zimmerman seamless sweater with a colourful patterned yoke – #EZYokeKAL

posted in: knitting, Tips and Techniques | 13

Thank you for your enthusiasm about making your own version of the Elizabeth Zimmerman seamless sweater with a colourful patterned yoke. I am delighted that Giorgia, Helene and Felicia have started already!

Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless yoke sweater
Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater

About ten of you said you would make one along with me – and two or three said maybe later – after their holidays. Even if you can’t make the time now maybe you are interested in how to make a jumper like this. It can be made in a week (if you use DK yarn), can use up left over yarns, and is a good way to create something unique to match all your skirts or trousers. This blue one goes with all my pinks, blues, greens and yellows, for example.

A few issues have come up already, which I will try to address. As I am a beginner knitter I am certainly not an expert so I am grateful for all the advice offered already which I will also share.

More on the design

This pattern is created in stocking stitch which, if done on two needles, back and forth, requires one knit row, followed by a purl row. If you knit on circular needles you avoid the need for purl rows as it involves one very long knit row, arranged in a spiral. The circular needles allow you to create stocking stitch without purling a single stitch making it faster to knit. Additionally by knitting three tubes that are joined at the yoke we can avoid virtually all seams, meaning there is minimal sewing up to do (just the underarms which are mainly woven together at the end).

I was attracted to the pattern for this reason – it is a very neat design solution. I love clever but simple designs. The fact that it also has colour in it makes it beautiful and individual. When I consider what colours I might combine to make a harmonious and useful garment I get rather excited. The restrained amount of colour really appeals to me. But if you are worried about knitting with two yarns you can make this in just one colour. Or you could colour block using different colours for the body, sleeves and yoke.

Finally there is the issue of hemming or ribbing the jersey. The “downside” of stocking stitch is that it curls because the smooth face of the stitch is slightly smaller than the wrong side. It needs hems or another finish to stop it rolling up at the edges.  There are a range of options here, but you can decide at the end. This blue jersey has hems on it – a finish I had not tried before and I like it. I find that ribbed edges can be a bit “tight” around the wrists etc and they just don’t feel quite so stable when you pull them off.

Cuff treatments - knitting
Curling cuffs

Quantities of yarn

I explained that I hoped to make this sweater for myself (b34″) with about 300 grams of yarn. I am fairly stingy with fabric and yarn and I will make do with something close to the colour, or I will order some more, or I will make shorter sleeves or go for a cropped look. Mrs Zimmermann has lots of suggestions on how to stretch your yarn which really appealed to me. However all the good advice is to buy enough yarn to make your garment. Otherwise you will find your heart rate raised unnecessarily as you reach the end of the job. Two or three of you said that 300 grams wasn’t enough and suggested 500 grams. It is probably good advice to buy more than you need, but as my Mother in Law used to say “That is how Mr Coleman makes his money” (Coleman’s is a mustard brand – the amount you put on your plate but didn’t consume was what made the company rich).

Shape and fitting

This jersey is made of three tubes – the body and two sleeves. The sleeves are shaped a bit but the body not at all. It is more like a T shirt than a fitted blouse or dress. It has a little stretch in it, and being seamless it is not going to pull apart, but will (to some extent) mould to your body. There are plenty of nice shaped jersey patterns out there if you want something that is more waisted or more flared over the hips.

I have a fairly curvy figure – 33-26-38. However my jerseys measure 34″ across. I finished my sweater at the high hip which measures 34″ on me. In summary – a close fit on the high hip, plenty of ease in the waist and comfortable across the bust. The fit across the shoulders is good on me and I am going to assume that unless your shoulders are very large this jersey will accommodate them. The way EZ writes her patterns is that they can be scaled up or down – for a baby or child to a large adult of either sex. However there will be an assumption of average proportions I guess so if your figure is very unusual you may have to make adjustments.

Making a swatch

One commentator suggested a larger swatch  – I had tentatively suggested 20 stitches by about 20 rows. OK! I am lazy and I don’t really like making swatches. I especially dislike pulling out my knitting if I don’t need to. I have also been given good advice that you should knit your swatch on circular needles. Finally my knitting guru suggests soaking and drying a swatch before measuring it.

So why are we knitting a swatch?

If we want to create a garment that fits we need to know how the thickness of the yarn, the size of the needles, the tension of our knitting and the impact of the stitch pattern combine to create a certain “gauge”. So using needles that are suitable for the yarn you have knit a swatch – if you are a beginner your knitting maybe a bit irregular so it is suggested you make it bigger than the 20 stitches I meanly suggested.

Mrs Zimmerman would have you make a hat rather than knit a random swatch and I get that. But my cheat is to guess what you will achieve and then start to make one of the sleeves. This means you can measure how many stitches you knit to the inch in the round. And after a couple of inches you can try it on. Also, if you guessed right (or nearly right) you won’t have to unravel it.

Here is my sleeve swatch. I find that I have knitted exactly five stitches to the inch on my favourite 5mm needles, using Colourmart yarns merino yarn.

Checking the number of stitches to one inch

How to calculate your numbers

I was thinking of preparing a ready reckoner for you, or even a spread sheet. But maths is fun.

Bust (measure a sweater that fits you well) x stitches to the inch.

In my case 34″ x 5 = 170 stitches.

So cast on 170 stitches, or 200 or 140 or whatever you have come up with. And knit the length you want (somewhere between 12 and 20 inches – you decide).

And make sure you don’t allow your stitches to twist when knitting in the round.

Beginners knitting
Oh no!



“RTW June” – how did it go?

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 24

After a long month of “Me Made” in May I wanted to reassert my style choices. So this month I have mainly worn ready to wear options that I feel are more stylish and contemporary than my old home-made suits and tops.

I announced my intention to find clothes that are

  • Stylish and fashionable
  • Comfortable
  • Rather plain
  • Androgynous
  • Work appropriate

And I decided on a “uniform” made up of

  • Trousers
  • Trainers
  • White shirt
  • Small jacket

I was warned that my idea of a working wardrobe/uniform might be too restrictive.

Let’s have a look at some of the outfits I actually wore (you have seen two of these already) in a month that had some really hot days. On those days I reached for handmade summer dresses, of which I have a few. Otherwise I more or less stuck to the plan.

It is kind of samey, yes. But that was what I liked about the look. It was so easy to select, to wear, even to look after. The white shirt doesn’t even need ironing if it is hung up to dry, straight from the washing machine. The turquoise shirt is an early “Pink” version of these stretch shirts – a present from my brother. In fact I wore this shirt when I started at Notting Hill Housing 13 years ago! It is still a really nice, comfortable shirt.

Overall looking at my choices I would say the wardrobe is much more colourful and varied than I think you feared.

Here are my observations.

  • Having a set of rules and a very much reduced wardrobe is liberating
  • I don’t think about what to wear – I have been going for an almost random selection
  • Each top goes with each bottom and both pairs of shoes
  • The uinqlo stretch shirts are amazing and don’t need ironing
  • I love neutrals, especially lighter colours on me (white and stone/beige)
  • I seem to have worn more colour than I intended
  • While trousers are not my very best look (as I am curvy with hips) they mean I can avoid hosiery and feminine footwear
  • I feel a bit like a 1970s lady golfer or sports woman in some of these outfits
  • In the sales I bought a light lilac trouser suit (Topshop) and a pair of wide turquoise trousers (Finery)
  • I still need some better navy shoes…

So what do you think? I have had very good feedback from the family especially my husband Nick and son Gus. They both really like the new look. Somehow looking youthful, like a young man, is a better kind of youthful than trying to look like a young girl. The boyish look – with short hair, flat shoes, trousers, shirt and jacket – is somehow age appropriate but also fashionable. Gus made the point that this is a confident look on a par with men choosing a floral shirt or a pink suit. You have to be comfortable with your sexuality and self-image to depart a little from the rigid norms.

I maybe being very judgemental but I feel that many women my age do look a bit dated and old-fashioned. They stick with what they know – hair cut, hair colour, make up, colours and wardrobe. Although my look is far from radical it is slightly unusual, but I am getting very comfortable with it and plan to stick with it.

None of this is “me made”. I could make most of these items. Indeed I have copied the Vivienne Westwood jacket and I have a good pattern for trousers. But RTW seems to fit me at the moment, and I like the opportunity to try before I buy. Also making a nice jacket, say, is time-consuming and rather expensive in terms of fabric and other materials. My beige jacket cost less than £25 and the new lilac one cost £30. And most of the trousers above cost about £25, as did the shirts. I can’t justify the expense or time to make these items which fit as good as I can fit myself. For now I am only going to make something if it is amazing, interesting, completely unique, or for a special occasion.

On the other hand I don’t see RTW jerseys that I like very much and I am finding handknits great fun to make and wear. I am getting towards peak jersey now (although I want to make a cardigan and most of the Elizabeth Zimmerman options seem to involve cutting – eeek! or should I say steek!)

Is it time for shoes yet??

There will be sewing on this blog, but maybe not as often as others. I have got some patchwork to show you – but it is a bit underwhelming. The course ends this week so I will show you what I have done. And then I will be choosing my autumn course!

Week 1 – Making a seamless sweater with a colourful patterned yoke the Elizabeth Zimmermann way – #EZYokeKAL

posted in: knitting, Tips and Techniques | 25

This post is dedicated to my friend Lois who says “My knitting skills are limited to plain and pearl, learnt as a very young child.”  And to Felicia who hates the way that many jerseys have tight ribbing at the end. “I would be very interested in a blog post with instructions for making a generic knitted sweater. I’m about ready to do some knitting again and have wool for two sweaters. But I’m still so unhappy with the sweater I made a few years ago and I want a better result next time! I like the waist on this one — it’s not one of those standard ribbed knit affairs that pull in.” And finally to Michelle who writes: “I learned to knit a very long time ago (flat knitting, two needles, follow the instructions stitch by stitch), and I have been intrigued by your experiences with Elizabeth Zimmerman’s method. So much so that I got a copy of her book. I’m still intrigued, but now also a little confused, so a ‘how to’ post would be much appreciated!”. I sent my annotated copy of the pattern to Giorgia M – so you can join too if you like!

So, no pressure ladies. Or gentlemen. But if you would like to join in you just need some yarn, circular needles and the ability to knit. Even if you can’t knit yet you can easily learn over the next 7 days. I will be making a third version of this sweater with you and I will share tips that I have learnt from Elizabeth Zimmermann, or from my own trial and error.

To start you off let’s just go through some of the basics.

  1. We are going to make a virtually seamless jersey. This is because making pieces and sewing them together can be quite challenging for a beginner and often looks a bit rubbish. By avoiding seams you are likely to get a better looking jumper. Also seamless allows you to make the jersey on circular needles. This means you can avoid knitting purl stitches which many knitters dislike, even Mrs Zimmerman. Finally I think seamless garments are more streamlined and elegant.
  2. The main idea is to create three tubes of seamless knitting (from the bottom up) – one body piece and two sleeves. Once knitted up to the underarms, you will put them together on the circular needles and then knit the yoke. Starting at the widest part – the width of your body including the arms – you then decrease stitches to make the jersey smaller until you get to the neckline – the hole for the head.
    Jersey once yoke is knitted. Seams at underarm are open and hems/ribbing to come
  3. The size of the jersey is determined by you, not the pattern. This is actually freeing rather than frightening. There are some rules of thumb you will quickly work out for yourself, but the most important thing is to measure an existing sweater that you like to wear rather than your body, and then to work out how many stitches to cast on for the body. The measurements you will need are – jersey circumference, length from underarm to hem (eg waist length, high hip etc) and  sleeve length (from underarm to cuff). Measure an existing wooly or just decide on the design you want. The gauge is the number of stitches to create an inch (or 2.5 cms) of knitting. This is a bore but it is important. My dear friend Aida made a huge jersey recently because she got this wrong. (Sorry to embarrass you darling!)
    Me trying on Aida’s too large sweater
  4. You can check the gauge by using say 5mm needles and DK yarn; or say 3.5mm needles and 4 ply yarn. This is just a suggestion – you do have to make your own mind up, or use what you have! Cast on say 20 stitches and knit in stocking stitch for say 20 rows. Then measure one inch or 2.5cms across and count how many stitches are included in this length. It is likely to be a whole number and a part of a number eg 4.25. This is the figure you times by your chest/bust circumference measurement to find out how many stitches you need to cast on. The width is the important measurement – depth is not important as will be measuring the length of the jersey with your tape measure as you go along, rather than counting rows.
  5. Now you know how many stitches you need to cast on for the body. For me (s8 UK), with my personal knitting tension, I have used 160 stitches for DK and 200 stitches for the four ply. This is just a point of reference – you may be smaller or bigger, and knit tighter or looser. The other casting on you do is for the sleeves and the number of stitches is a percentage of your first cast on number for the body ie 160 or 200 in my case. I will explain this as we go.
  6. This jersey has the option of a bit of patterning at the yoke. This is the lovely, fun bit that makes your jumper unique. You can choose four colours (or one, two or three) that helps your jumper match your skirts and trousers. But you don’t have to do the colourwork – the jersey would be very nice plain.
    Elizabeth Zimmermann
    EZ seamless yoked sweater in pink
  7. How much yarn to you need to make a jersey? This is a hard question for me to answer as I am not an expert. I never have quite enough and my own prototype jerseys were made with insufficient yarn and I just added similar colours together. A lot depends on the size you are making – for a baby, a man or a child or for yourself. But if you are buying yarn specially I would say get enough –  it is uncomfortable to worry about running out. You can buy nice wool at less than £5 a ball and you will need about 6 x 50 grm balls for a woman’s jersey. You could use synthetic fibres or luxury yarns if you like but mine was done with Merino yarn and it is nice and soft and I am happy with it against my skin. Maybe, first time, use up something you have at home, and do a better version second time? If you toile with your dressmaking there is nothing wrong with doing a practice version. If you are short of yarn you can do shorter sleeves or waist length. My pink one has 3/4 length sleeves and comes to the high hip.

That is enough for now.

Work out your gauge and I will show you how to do the maths. Very easy maths! I am barely numerate but I find the Elizabeth Zimmermann’s “per centage system” much easier to follow than a pattern that tells you exactly how to knit each stitch. I have found these commercial patterns difficult to follow as you don’t have the idea in your head to start with. It’s a bit like being taught to dance with diagrams of the steps. Perhaps it is easier if you first learn to express your own rhythm and move to music before you try to learn specific steps. Did you know that Argentinian tango is entirely improvised (not in a show, but when danced freely in a dance hall or on the streets) – the woman follows the man who makes up the steps as he goes along. This sort of knitting, to my mind, is much easier than following a pattern eg K3, P2, skpo, etc. Although it has a few instructions like that you will understand what you are doing and you are much less likely to make mistakes.

Do let me know if you are thinking of joining in, by commenting below.  I know I am “the blind leading the blind” – what right have I to teach others to knit? Only that I battled to get the skills I have and I think I know a good way to learn and to teach. So if you want to have a go too – it is very satisfying to make a nice jersey, and it is fairly quick – then get some needles, yarn and practice making a swatch and I’ll see you next week.

Sad News

A few of you asked me to update you about Jessica – my friend’s young niece who lived with her Mum and sister in the Grenfell Tower

I am very sorry to tell you that the police, the school and the family have now confirmed that Jessica very likely perished in the fire. Despite their very strong family ties, an incredibly supportive network, great friends and a strong religious faith the family is understandably distraught. Please hold them all in your thoughts and prayers at this unbearable time. Thank you.

A missing poster for Jessica Urbano put up after the fire in Grenfell Tower, West London. June 16 2017. A huge tribute wall set up for the victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze is demanding ‘jail for those responsible’. Seven people are named on the wall with the message rest in peace, they include: K Maliki, S Meerabux, D Miles, Maria Kelopatra, Ray, Marley, Yasin and Jess. Residents, victims and well wishers were making pilgrimages to the 18ft wall near – the tower, all of Thursday morning. Boxes of coloured feltip pens have been left for people to scribe messages of the support.

Helmut Lang – 1990s designer

posted in: Designing, History of fashion | 10

Still considering my own New Look of pared down androgyny, I took a look at fashion history.

When I did my City Guilds training in fashion in the 1980s, our History of Fashion module finished in the 1970s, although our tutor Judy Tregellan did her best to encapsulate the defining features of 1980s style. But by 1990 I had three little kids and no time, money or energy to keep a close eye on fashion trends. I wore a baggy track suit, managed to get my hair washed, but rarely cut, and gave up my subscription to Vogue. The last claim is a joke – I never had a sub to Vogue – although little known fact was that you could read it in the Equal Opportunity Commission Library in Manchester.

However I wanted to catch up with the decade that I lost Looking back now, how do we define the 1990s, in fashion terms?

It’s hard to see a defining “look” as so many trends were evident – from Supermodels to Kate Moss (a more natural, slimmer version), from Grunge to Glamour, from neon colours and exercise wear – a wide variety of incoherent trends can be discerned. For me the two notions that were both new and ground-breaking were Minimalism and Deconstruction. I loved both these trends and while Alexander McQueen  pursued a highly creative deconstructivism and Tom Ford (for Gucci) captured a pared down, sexy and highly commercial minimalism, the person who combined both into highly wearable outfits was Helmut Lang, which makes him my Designer of the Decade for the 1990s.

Lang only decided to move into fashion after he failed to find the perfect jacket and T-shirt in the shops and was forced to make his own. And he left fashion to become a fine artist when he felt constrained.

His pared down, simplified aesthetic was technically challenging and completely modern. He broke with many traditions – moving his shows from France to the US, putting his shows out via the internet during this decade, and leaving his own company when he felt his creativity was compromised. A look we currently take for granted (and one I interested in, designing my own work wear look) is industrial, sharp-cut, pared down, androgynous, predominantly black-and-white and includes both basics like white T-shirts and black skinnies with beautiful, detailed and cutting-edge items.

Many of these styles feature a simple, round neck white vest. In addition trousers with a flat front, the three button suit for men and low-rise jeans were all design idioms coined by Lang and now completely ubiquitous wardrobe staples. To my mind these looks and many others are wearable classics, with a twist. Still fashionable and sought after his 1990s ready to wear items are aspirational but also plain and restrained.

For more marvellous images, see Vogue feature.

Lang created a new design language for the 1990s and beyond. His minimalist approach revealed the underlying architectural quality of the clothes, but these are not stiff structural creations. The soft, translucent fabrics, the layering and shadow effects, the use of transparency is just the bees knees as far as I am concerned. I also love the palette – black, white, neutrals, splashes of yellow, cerise, blue and golden-yellow from time to time.

Helmut Lang has always been interested in this light and shade/layered translucency. I find it fascinating! I saw this photo of Kate Moss in a Helmut Lang top and wondered if I could knit it?. Also we have Erin O’Connor in a knitted vest.  The Kate Moss top is so beautiful. Is this something a beginner knitter could create, in some way?

Obviously not! It appears to be a translucent shell top, worn over a simple white vest, with diaphanous pink fabric (bias cut neon pink chiffon?) lightly attached across the bust and also wrapped around the upper arms. Is it even constructed or is it just for show? But I am hooked on this look and will be experimenting. Stay tuned!


My Ombre Jumper

Thank you everyone for your kind, supportive messages following the Grenfell Tower fire. It meant a great deal to hear from so many kind people – it has been really hard and upsetting for so many people, but I do believe that things in our industry will improve as a result of this major tragedy. They need to. We don’t have any news of Jessica. I feel bad to speak about knitting – but life goes on – work, family and our creative work.

I so enjoyed making the seamless yoked sweater described in Knitting without tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann. I thought I would try her second seamless pattern – the raglan sleeve. I don’t really go for the raglan as I like a more defined shoulder line. But as the knitted raglan seems to be a variation on the yoke sweater which rather suits me, I decided to give it a go.

I wanted to use my four ply cashmere set which came in lovely shades of beige, soft blue and grey.

Four ply cashmere

In order to ground the jersey and make it work with my dark coloured trousers and skirts I started off by casting on 2×2 rib in deepest charcoal. This shade is my black. Although Zimmermann suggests adding the ribbing or hems at the end I had a clear idea of what I wanted with this sweater. I wanted an ombre effect – shading – from deep to light. Dark grey to light beige, via light blue.

cashmere 4 ply
Casting on with charcoal cashmere 4 ply

Zimmermann also suggests starting with dpns and using two lengths of circular needle cords I just stick with one, finding that magic loop works well for me.

As with the yoked sweater the three tubes of knitting – one body (200 stitches) and two sleeves (40 stitches, gradually increased to 66) – are joined on the needles, leaving a few stitches (16 in this case) on a thread at the underarm.

Knitting an ombre jersey
The body section

You can see in the photo above how I tried to blend the colours by introducing a line or two of the next colour before I progressed to the block of colour. Knitting with four ply and 3.5mm needles is slow progress, but I find the knitting most pleasant. The finer needles are easier to use, more precise and elegant. I like the effects I got with the chunky yarn but it is much harder on the hands.

Eventually I was ready to join the sleeves to the body and I put all the stitches on to the one long circular needle. At this point I came across a knitting pattern for a similar jumper. This is a top down, raglan sleeved jumper in two styles So Faded by Angela Mowry. Although Angela has made her jersey with some fabulous hand dyed yarns I think the basic idea is an ombre sweater. I decided to include a detail from this pattern – ie I purled the very top of the raglan sleeves. My neckline is lower cut and I produced a waist length jersey similar to her cropped version. Although I didn’t set out to copy the Mowry jersey specifically I soon realised that you don’t really need a pattern to make a straightforward jumper like this. Elizabeth Zimmermann empowers you to create your own jumper to your own specifications.

And as well as finishing my jumper I bought some new shoes! These are like trainers but made of leather. They come in navy, but like many commentators I wish that darker trainers had darker soles. But lighter trainers look good with a white sole. I think the cool beige leather is a great colour and picks up the beige at the top of my sweater. I like lighter colours on me, and this is a good summer sweater. Overall a really fun project. The main issue for me was I didn’t know how best to strand or join the yarns over several rows. I just twisted, and swapped colour but it wasn’t very satisfactory.

Elizabeth Zimmerman
My new Ombre jumper (EZ seamless raglan)

The sweater also looks nice for work – I haven’t really needed a jacket in this warm weather and a sweater is a good substitute that can be put in my bag if it gets too warm.

Elizabeth Zimmermann
Ombre sweater for work

Now I have made a couple of yoke jumpers, and this seamless raglan sleeved jersey, from Knitting without Tears I may try the third version of a seamless sweater – the exciting seamless saddle-shouldered sweater – “a little more sophisticated, but worth the effort, really, and great fun to make”, according to Zimmermann. I love the boring black and white photos supplied. They inspire because they are so blank. I am looking at this and seeing red – or stripes or colour blocked sleeves. Or maybe there would be room to do some patterning across the upper chest, or just a plain sweater. It’s so exciting – the endless possibilities implied by this simple photograph.

EZ Seamless Saddle Shouldered Sweater
EZ Seamless Saddle Shouldered Sweater

In the meantime one of my IG friends Lois has asked for a lesson in how to make these jumpers (which are all based on the same principle). I will do a blog post to explain it for her, which may be of interest and useful for others.

A very bad week

posted in: Uncategorized | 58

You know I work in social housing in London, and that we own lots of homes in the Notting Hill/North Kensington area. Last week there was a terrible fire in a 27 floor tower block – Grenfell Tower – in our heartland.

Everyone in the UK will know about this appalling incident as dozens of people have died and several more have sustained atrocious injuries.

Grenfell tower, in flames

There is no way that tower blocks or any residential building should be unsafe and a major fire risk. We have strict building regulations and fire safety requirements. Every year I get complaints from residents who have to move their bikes from corridors and we even ban pictures on the hallway walls due to the fire risk this theoretically creates. In other words we are vigilant and observant in relation to health and safety issues, especially fire, and we do our utmost to prevent fires because they can be devastating and fatal.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the block go up in flames on the TV. At the same time local Notting Hill Housing residents were emailing and tweeting about the disaster. Once the fire was extinguished – some 24 hours after it started – everyone in the block was homeless and it was clear than many people had perished in their homes. Such was the desperation of one woman, that she dropped her baby from the window of her 10th floor flat; others tried to making parachutes so they could jump to safety. One man lost five members of his close family. Just the saddest, most terrible, devastating incident during my long career in social housing.

Notting Hill had three flats in the block, purchased specifically to house homeless families temporarily. We have heard from four individuals who survived. The others eight are missing.

I also have a friend, who used to work at Notting Hill, and previously at Servite Housing. Her 12 year old niece was lost in the fire, although her Mum was at work and her father managed to escape. Supported by many friends and family she is still searching, praying, holding vigils  and hoping that Jessica will yet be found.


We are a close community and many of my staff live in the area or have friends and family there. Many others are also affected. 20 or so of our resident families, along with many others, were evacuated from the area due to concerns about the stability of the building adding more uncertainty, grief and dislocation to an already deeply hurt community. We have offered 27 homes that are available now for people to move into but it is too early for many who have lost so much. They will want to remain in the community halls, sleeping communally, until they know more about what has happened to their families. It is shocking and just desperate, and our teams are affected and reeling too. Like the fire service, the police, the Red Cross, the churches and the community they are doing all they can to mitigate the disaster. It has taken its toll on us all.

I am angry that we, I, my association and the council did not do better for these poor people. They took the flats, made them home, and then died in their beds, or as they tried to escape the black smoke and fierce flames.

I am angry that our building standards, fire safety approaches and technical specifications failed to keep people safe – these were avoidable deaths. I am involved, as a Board member of the National House Building Council in the raising of building standards in the UK. At work I meet the fire service regularly and take a strong interest in doing all we can to prevent fires and keep our homes and residents safe. The standards we offer in rented homes, especially to more vulnerable and low income families need to be higher than those we set for ourselves. So we have carbon monoxide alarms, regular fire drills, widespread information, checks and more checks. Yet we failed to protect those families.

I want us to reconsider how we build and repair our high rise properties. I want us to see higher standards for building and maintenance and I want the fire service and other local authorities to have skilled staff to lead, fight for excellence and to protect the public. I want us to learn from these needless deaths and to get it right for those we house and care for.

We have 4000 homes in the Notting Hill area which means 4000 families who saw the disaster, heard the cries for help, smelt the horrible stink of the billowing black smoke, who were frightened, traumatised and saddened beyond words. Many people, including the tenants – often poor and dispossessed themselves, many of them fasting as part of Ramadan  – have moved heaven and earth to help their friends and neighbours, giving time, money, food and clothing to help those burnt out of house and home. My daughter Esme who works for the Council has been involved in helping the affected children and their families.

Grenfell fire
Notice in the lift at work

My teams of staff were superb. They have worked long days to help all those who have been evacuated. They have used their spare time to volunteer, to distribute food, to help organise and to support those who are now without anything at all. It has been hard on them. Working in conditions like this – with hundreds sleeping in makeshift beds on the floor of churches and community centres – is most unusual for us in an advanced economy. We all feel responsible for what has happened. All of us feel a terrible sense of guilt. But this does not mean anyone is specifically to blame – much as it is human nature to blame someone for causing these deaths. The inquiry will determine this, as will the police investigation, but I think we have all tried our very best, but we let our residents down. I will carry this one with me for the rest of my life.


Who wore the trousers first?

posted in: History of fashion | 13

I am still thinking about adopting a work “uniform” – moving away from my 1960s skirt suits – to a more androgynous look, based on trousers.

I have therefore been wondering what it means to wear the pants, and about the meaning of women wearing trousers historically. I don’t know if you follow American Age Fashion but Lynn Mally has a great interest in women (in the US) wearing the pants. I love her posts, but often find the material she presents to be very US focused (unsurprisingly – the clue is in the name of her blog). I was wondering about the early adoption of trousers for women here in the UK.

Through my friend Alison Inman OBE, my attention was drawn to a recent radio programme about the history of women in trousers. I am not sure this is accessible outside the UK or for very long, so I will share a couple of the ideas therein.

The radio programme brought the Pit Brow Lassies to my attention. Banned (eventually) from working underground (although some dressed and acted as men to retain their jobs) these women worked on the surface in the Wigan area of Lancashire, shovelling and sorting the coal during the 19th century. Their job was to identify and discard the stones and other waste from the coal supply. They wore men’s trousers, held in at the waist with a belt. They would generally wear a long or short apron over the top and wooden soled clogs on their feet, and a scarf on their hair. Picture postcards were sold of the colliery women such was the novelty of women in trousers. One woman in the programme was reported as saying that she would flash her trousers to passing men for a small fee. Presumably the ability to see her outline much more clearly, in the days when skirts were voluminous and very long, was sufficient thrill for the voyeur.

Colliery worker

Over the years the trousers made of cotton or corduroy would be patched and repatched with a wide variety of fabrics. Over a short time the coal dust would land on the fabric and turn it all blackish brown. Apparently each pit had its own “uniform” and women could be identified through their clothes. I am assuming the Worsley pit women (below) are carrying woolen shawls, as well as baskets and flasks. It seems likely they have trousers on underneath their aprons.

Worsley Pit women

A picture from 1890 shows women in Wigan wearing tight headscarves in an attempt to keep their hair clean. It appears they wore shawls or heavier scarves over the top for warmth in cooler weather. I love the classic football team pose!

Wigan colliery workers

Many of these women were photographed by Arthur Munday, an upper class Victorian who was fascinated with strong, dirty working class women. Ellen Grounds posed next to Munday in her workwear, apparently to show how “big and strong” she was. He married a maid and had her dress up in many guises as he photographed her. His box of candid shots, left to one of our major museums, contains interesting information on contemporary working class women. 

A very thorough piece on Victorian working women is provided by Witness2Fashion. 

While working women were wearing men’s clothes in order to enable them to participate in the workforce, upper class women in England were adopting bifurcated garments to allow them to participate in sporting activities. The wonderful outfit below is probably made of velvet, with leg o’ mutton sleeves, a neatly shaped bodice and important buttons. It looks smart, comfortable and stylish. The full bloomers/plus fours are elegant and made mounting a bike both possible and decent.

Stylish Cycling Costume

At the same time the rational dress movement was formed by intellectuals, and involved middle class women refusing to wear corsets and choosing clothes influenced by the Romantic and Arts and Crafts movements.

The Rational Dress Movement (1881)

These photographs come from Letchworth Garden City that used to be run by a friend of mine.


In the end trousers were chosen increasingly not only for their comfort but also for the message they convey. Women are as capable as men. They can compete on a level playing field – especially in relation to work and sport. Why have men in the UK been unable to appropriate the skirt? Probably because they do not want to compete on women’s playing fields – the field of housework, childcare and caring.


Wardrobe Planning Upate

posted in: Style advice | 20

I reached the end of Me Made May in state of some dismay; my largely me made wardrobe was bringing me dissatisfaction rather than joy!

I felt it was static, failing to evolve with the rest of the world. For MMM17 I wore things that (photographic evidence being rather reliable) I had also worn for MMMay16. Although this may imply style-satisfaction, or that I am frugal and sensible, I am nothing of the sort. I know what suits me, I understand style and colour but I also hanker after novelty and freshness. Ceci commentated that on a long holiday with a small wardrobe she just got bored with it. There is a reason we feel a strong need to buy/make new clothes.

I had an overwhelming urge to throw it all out and start again.

A few commentators said the same – I am not really sure where this urge comes from. It is more than adverts and consumerism. I think it is part of our human condition that we like to dress up – emulating others we want to be like or look like, or conversely we want to set trends and influence the world. And perhaps a built in aversion to being satisfied.

My objectives were more specific. I outlined a set of requirements for my weekday wardrobe (for weekends anything goes)

  • fashionable and stylish
  • authoritative enough for a senior manager working in a modern, cosmopolitan setting
  • comfortable
  • neat and tidy
  • rather plain

I have tried to work through what I want and need.

Now you may remember my slight obsession with trainers during MMM, where I noted that on most days I had big, fat trainers on my feet. Thank you for commenting on the appropriateness of my footwear, and all the suggestions on how to choose comfortable but more work appropriate looks. However I have now decided I don’t want to change from walking shoes to workwear, as this involves carting shoes round in bags and having two personas.

I want my whole wardrobe that works with trainers!

Maybe that seems peculiar, but in the same way I once moved from heels to brogues and “masculine” lace ups at work (which was a little radical and usual at the time) I am now going to make the move towards trainers as my new normal, with the brogues (or sandals or even heels once in a while) as the exception.

I have been looking for the perfect trainers – which has been challenging with an hour wasted in Office in Oxford Street trying on just about every style – but not finding what I have in mind. I shall have to learn to make shoes at some point.

In the meantime I have been planning the rest of the look. I am moving away from variety, towards predictability/a uniform. I have chosen a look similar to the one my sons wore for Sixth Form.

  • Trousers
  • White shirt
  • Leather belt
  • Small jacket (lightweight and colour for summer; darker shades and heavier fabrics for winter)
  • Trainers

I have chosen “male” looks here. I don’t want to dress as if I am a man, but there is something very compelling about the pared down, androgynous look of trousers, jacket and shirt/plain top.

Although I have habitually worn skirts for work and trousers at weekends, I have got to the stage where I want to wear comfortable but semi-formal trousers for work. Below I am wearing some pull ups from Uniqlo (that have elastic at the back!!). Or “WOMEN SMART STYLE ANKLE LENGTH TROUSERS”. I was aiming for this kind of thing with my disastrous Style Arc Talias.


Here are two or three initial attempts at dressing within my new rule. Two of them feature the same pants (the check ones are from Uniqlo), same jacket, and the same shirt with different belts and scarves. The beige jacket is more summery and fresh. However my belts seem to have a mind of their own in these photos! I may have to put belt carriers on these pants to neaten the look.

I feel this outfit meets the requirements of my brief. And Authority is achieved through the business shirt and jacket, the belt/scarf colour makes it feminine and adds a little personality, and the fact the trousers are checked gives a nod towards fashion/style. I may need to play around with the rules a bit more, but I felt good and really “myself” in these outfits. For an important evening meeting I wore my nice, blue brogues and took the look up a notch.

Shiny navy brogues (Finery)
Shiny navy brogues (Finery)

At the moment, being “summer”, I don’t need knitwear although it may be possible to use a tank top/vest, pullover or cardigan instead of a scarf for colour/individuality. I am going to experiment with the rules I have set. I don’t want many items in my wardrobe, so I will be seeing how many looks I can get with a limited selection of garments.


Novice Knitter – Starting colour work

My knitting to date has been rather plain – stocking stitch in neutrals or plain deep colours. I yearn to knit cables or in glorious technicolour. But my first attempts at colourwork were not so hot.

Some things went well with my Fara Raglan – I more or less understood the chart approach and I think I selected really nice colours. But unfortunately I struggled with getting the tension loose enough in the colour work rows. The whole thing looks tight and ugly, and although some suggested steaming, and others a tea cosy (!) I would rather relegate it to the stinging criticism of the flames (or just the dustbin).

Fara Raglan

Nevertheless for someone who is really enthused and excited by colour I knew I would have to confront my difficulties and make something full of colour and vibrancy at some point.

I am attracted to these 1980s Kaffe Fassett patterns – especially the floating circles and the Persian poppy. Although I prefer the smaller floating circles I love the way the colours work with the poppies. I looked at Ravelry and saw hundreds of the poppy – best used perhaps as a cushion cover. For some reason the smaller circles have far fewer examples – I guess they are less showy, but for wearability maybe a little subtlety is good. I prefer it I think as the background is clearly delineated whereas with the poppies it all seems to blend in. Maybe that is the charm.

I really like circles and round shapes, as you may have noticed with my silk painting! I struggle to make things square or rectangular. I have this idea that everyone has a favourite shape. My favourite is the circle, but I also love the square. Triangles don’t really do it for me, rectangles are boring and hexagons do my head in. How about you?

The main reason I love Kaffe Fassett (and he was really big in the 1980s when I started crafting) is that he searches out and celebrates slight mismatches, shading, variation and slightly surprising colour combinations. Of course to some extent these photographs and garments are very dated, but nevertheless I find them inspirational and decided to give his approach a try.

Incidentally someone noted that I seem to have accumulated quite a stash for someone who has only been knitting for a few (its nine actually) months. The thing is I have been buying bargain “sets” from Colourmart –  the ends of the roll or bin ends of the yarn world. Less than 50 grams, sometimes a bit knotty, in varied colour batches. Actually I love buying remnants, bits of stuff left over that I can use. I get a real pleasure out of this. So I started knitting a third Heavenly using a mixture of stripes and trying for those little circles of Kaffe. But I found knitting with three colours very challenging, and decided not to go on. I guess I can unravel this, or it joins Fara in the bin.

Heavenly, in colour

Below some of my bargain sets in lovely shades.

Right now you may be feeling a little bit sorry for me. Lots of effort, no output!

So it was a great sense of relief that I came across Elizabeth Zimmermann who has taught me so much in a very short time. You can get this book second hand on eBay for about £5. It is the only book you really need. There are four versions of a seamless sweater in here and lots of useful information on how to do colourwork. Finally, with Elizabeth by my side I cracked it.

A few handy hints for successful colourwork (ie if you want a good result without much skill)

  • Only do two colours per row
  • Use both hands – one colour in each. Luckily I had this (seemingly strange) advice on my blog early on and had been practising my “continental knitting (yarn in left hand) with my first colour work experiments. It worked perfectly.
  • Don’t carry the second colour more than five stitches
  • Don’t twist at the back (as I did with my first two disastrous experiments)
  • Keep your knitting really, really loose
    Elizabeth Zimmermann
    Even loose knitting bunches up a bit until soaked
  • Choose one or more colours to match your skirt (or trousers)

As a result I made two jumpers, using up my blue and light pink remnants. You can easily see the colour changes on the front of the jumpers as I made no attempt to hide them.

I also used the EZ method of calculating the size of the sweaters. If you are interested the blue one has 180 stitches cast on, the pink 160. They both fit well. On the blue I did hems at the cuffs and hem, but used 1×1 ribbing for the neckline. I used ribbing on the pink one. And I love them. They have a sort of 1960s vibe, reminding me of my childhood and of more innocent, happy times. I used more or less the same pattern for the simple colourwork, although I extemporised more with the blue one but found the neckline a touch high – two versions just show what a difference the colourways make. A two colour jumper would be really nice, but you can easily get four or five colours in.

I am so pleased with these jumpers and will find them easy to incorporate into my weekend, and working wardrobes.