Magical stitches and a late Summer shawl…..

my Ishbel

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen….Goethe

You might want to put the kettle on and make a pot of tea as this is a bit of a long post……For the past five years I’ve had a skein of yarn, all softness and shimmers.  I’ve called it my sleeping beauty skein as it’s just been sleeping….waiting for my knitting to improve enough beyond little dish clothes…..over this last year I’ve been slowly practising my knitting and I think barely a day has gone by when I haven’t knitted a row or two, ohh and there’s been plenty of un-knitting and ripping back going on too, but I often find that by making mistakes I then learn something I didn’t know, (just the yarn gets un-ravelled not the learning)….slowly slowly slowly my skills have grown (actually it feels very embarrassing to call them skills as my knitting feels more fledgling and fluttery than anything else) ….but finally I felt confident to cast on a shawl that’s owned a piece of my heart for several years…..

mind where  the cows have been

I first saw Ishbel about five years ago and about the same time I saw this yarn…. both the colour and the glossy gorgeousness of the skein seemed to whisper “buy me buy me”…’s been ferreted away since then for when I felt confident enough to start my Ishbel shawl…I don’t think I was really quite sure of when that one day would be….the skein was just tucked away safe, and has been sleeping like some fairy tale princess…..

If you regularly read my blog you’ll know I really only began making sense of knitting last Autumn, and while before that I’d knitted dishcloths and very simple pieces, actually being to read or understand my knitting was somewhat beyond me,  reading a pattern…well, all those yarn overs and slip stitches was just goobledy-gook and as for charts…I might as well have been trying to read hieroglyphics.  But very gradually I found myself being able to follow a pattern and with the Karise shawl I found I was actually  able to read a chart… while I know this is because I was just becoming more familiar with the instructions and often the techniques used are variations of something I’ve just done, it doesn’t make it feel less magic, and I do still have to pinch myself when I’ve cast off whatever I’ve knitted as I can’t quite believe I’ve made it myself…. this is especially true with my latest knit…the beautiful beautiful Ishbel.

ishbel waves

I love Ishbel so much, the shape of the shawl is wider at the sides and less deep in the back so it feels like you’re getting a bigger shawl for your yarn… the curved arcs of the lace almost looks like brush strokes …..The lace pattern is very rhythmic with those undulating shells flowing back and forth….

The Alice Sock yarn is quite simply breath-takingly beautiful, all shimmering hues of soft sea green delight, deep pools of blue and reminds me of glass washed up on the beach. The yarn is rich and silky and the added cashmere makes it feel incredibly luxurious. .the actual colour of the yarn is a bit deeper and jewel bright than in these pictures, and the fabric feels gorgeous, glossy thistle puffs of silk and softness.

Because the yarn was so wonderfully kitteny I found that it helped to scrub my hands (which are a bit gnarly and dry after I’ve been pottering about weeding the garden) with a dribble of grape-seed oil and a teaspoon of sugar, paying particular attention to the skin around my nails, this yarn wanted to be treated nice and fancy and didn’t care for rough hands…


unblocked Ishbel

When the shawl was un-blocked it was a bit hard to see exactly what the lace was doing, and actually it reminded me rather of over-cooked pasta shells, a bit squidgy …and the bottom edge is all rumpled and curled….while I was knitting the shawl I used a whole load of stitch markers which were quite weighty and when I’ve taken pictures of the knitting process then the lace had sort of secretly shown itself….

I also downloaded the stitch count which you can find on Ysolda’s support page just here, and this was really helpful (it’s like Ysolda’s there holding your hand)…between umpteen markers and the stitch count this was the first time I’ve made anything that I didn’t have to un-knit .

Alice ishbel

I don’t think I’ll ever stop marveling at how a wee soak in warm water and a little time and patience quite transforms knitting, and with a handful or so of pins, lace grows and opens up, looking quite different to when it’s first cast off the needles.

Ishbel shawl

I didn’t find this the easiest knit but then I’m a beginner and didn’t expect to, however I loved every minute of it.  Just being patient with myself and not rushing, checking my lace after every repeat, and counting my stitch rows…..definitely worth the time, and the sense of achievement I felt casting off…wonderful….I’m truly so over the moon happy with my finished shawl and know it will be a pattern I will knit time and time again.  Indeed, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I’ve already cast on my second one.

If you’re on Ravelry, then all my making notes can be found via this link, if not then most of them were repeated in my earlier Ishbel post.

(I know I look a bit fraught and fretful in a couple of pictures, but the cows had just come off this meadow and I was constantly having to mind where I step and avoid the cow pats.)





























A kinky curled karise……

kinki skein of alpaca and silk

A few weeks ago now I mentioned I’d been un-ravelling some projects that I’d either fallen out of love with or which weren’t quite how I’d wanted them…one of them was a very recent knit using some soft and silky alpacca/silk by Artesano…..I wasn’t too sure how this yarn would respond to being un-ravelled and washed but the kinks and curls pretty much came out and by the time it was wound into balls it looked fine…..

Pretty much as soon as my Cloud of sheep kisses Karise shawl was cast off another one appeared on the needles, this time using the alpacca/silk as I was curious as to how the lace would look in such a different yarn…….I do find this yarn quite slippy to work with and decided to use some ChiaoGoo Lace needles which I bought from Meadow Yarn in Suffolk (they’re actually based just a couple of miles from where I grew up), these needles aren’t quite so pointy as Hiya Hiya sharps but they still pick up any psso’s or k2tog’s in the pattern really well, also they have a lovely heavy cable  (it actually feels just like a bicycle brake cable) which I thought this yarn would benefit from.  Anj is always incredibly helpful and has put up with no end of my questions about different types of needle and I very much appreciate the advice she has given me.

first section of lace from chart A

I love the egg shell blue colour of the yarn and it’s glossy and shiny and all sorts of lovely but I must confess it doesn’t quite grab me the way that the Tamar did…’s also a bit “sticky” to work when it gets warm out in the garden….I didn’t find this with the Tamar even though a couple of the days I was knitting with that it was really “phew what a scorcher” weather…..however, the lace knitted in this yarn is looking nice, it’s opening out more unblocked than I think the Tamar did so it will be interesting to see how it looks after washing and blocking.

lace knitting and stitch markers

I’m still needing to use the stitch markers I made at Christmas , and in fact as I’ve now got another shawl on the go (think I’m becoming a bit of a shawl fiend) I’ve had to make some more of them so I have enough for both shawls……the stitch markers are really easy to make and make good use of old jewelry bits and bobs and vintage beads I’ve had ferreted away for goodness knows how long….

stitch markers and head pins

I do find using a pair of jewelry pliers very helpful. These ones are bent nose pliers (though the bend hasn’t really come out in the photo) and I think I got them from my local iron-mongers but you can pick up little sets pretty cheap at craft shops/ebay etc…..I’ve also got a small pair of wire cutters and a pair of rounded long nose pliers.

Rather than use a jump ring I like to use the little ring from a toggle clasp fitting, they don’t have anything to snag on your yarn and fit my needles fine.   The tiny eye/ring at the bottom is all part of the fixture and it’s through this that you thread your bead and head pin.  I’ve also made some with tiny lobster claw clasps but I find these a bit catchy when I’m knitting so don’t tend to use those so much.

While I was sorting out beads to use for more stitch markers I found a little tin full of smoky amber glass beads which had once been a necklace that my friend Joyce gave me years ago when I must’ve been about 15 or 16.  Joyce passsed away earlier this year so it’s very special to be able to make some stitch markers with her beads, she’ll never be far from my thoughts while I hear these tingling and tinkling as I knit

head pins

The head pins I use come from a local bead shop called Raphael Crafts, it’s owned by a lovely lady called Anne who is incredibly friendly and helpful…she also has a jewelry shop just up from her bead shop which has a really nice range of earings and necklaces.

Along with regular flat bottomed head pins, Anne also stocks these smaller ones which have a silver ball bottom.  Now some beads will too big for them and the smaller pins are going to just slip right through, but the old glass paste beads I’m using from my box of delights and the glass beads from Joyce seem to fit fine….the pins are also finer than regular ones so are easier to cut, bend and twist back down into the bead.  They’re pretty wee, only about an inch or so in length but I really like using them.

I also find that this non wool yarn doesn’t like snaggy hands so I’m regularly scrubbing my fingers and hands with a dribble of grapeseed oil and a teaspoon of sugar, I rub this over my fingers paying particular attention at the base where the skin gets drier and also around my nails and cuticles, then I just wash it off in warm water and pat dry……It’s nice and relaxing to do, and it’s good for your hands to give them a massage… you can always add a drop of essential oil to the grapeseed oil if you want to get posh and swanky…..



Kitchen cupboard hand scrub and balm……..

cornflower,oatsa nd ground rice


Now it’s all officially Spring and the weather here has warmed up some, the layers are slowly being peeled off to reveal a pair of rather neglected and tired looking hands much to my shame…..generally I’m very good about applying liberal amounts of hand cream in the evenings but I’ve been a bit of a slack Alice of late and my poor old hands are really showing their age.

I  much prefer making my own hand balms and treatments, mainly because I then know exactly what goes into them, but also my budget never seems to stretch very far for anything too fancy…..and if I can make an effective and pretty cheap (we’re talking pence) cleanser, scrub or general balm from ingredients I’ve already got in the cupboards then so much the better.

This is one of my favourite hand cleansers, it’s nice and gentle and takes as much time to make as a kettle takes to boil to make a cup of tea…’s a real store cupboard recipe and if you don’t have vegetable glycerine then you can use a runny honey (it’s a bit stickier but the smell then more than makes up for the goopyness)

I use a spice grinder to grind up the oats and rice really fine, it’s always best to give the grinder a wipe before using it if not you end up with a spicy or curry scented  hand cleaner.  I try to avoid making up too much at anyone time, it doesn’t keep for long just a few weeks (up to two months in the fridge).


rose water


Store cupboard hand cleanser


vegetable glycerine (or you can use runny honey


ground rice (you don’t need to use posh carnaroli rice, plain long ground is fine)

ground oats


almond oil (a light olive oil or sunflower oil if you don’t have almond)


In a bain marie (I’m not fancy so tend to use a glass bowl sat on top of a saucepan filled with a half inch or so of water on a medium heat), gently heat a couple of dessert spoons of vegetable glycerine (or the runny honey) in the glass bowl, slowly stir in a couple of heaped tea spoons of cornflower to make a thick runny paste…remove from the heat.

Now add a little rosewater, just a splash and stir, mix in a couple of heaped tea spoons of the ground oats and then the ground rice.  Mix and add a small dribble of oil.

Continue to mix, if it’s too much like stirring a Christmas pudding then add another splash of rosewater.  Once it’s at a nice gloopy consistency then scrape it into a small sterilized jar and if you’ve used honey then it’s better to store it in the fridge.

To use, just scoop out a marble sized bit, and gently rub all over your hands and fingers, pay particular attention to the skin between your fingers as I find this gets the most dry.  Wash off with warm water and pat dry…’s like a lovely soft massage for your hands and fingers so is nice to use any time of day.

Don’t forget to label it so you remember when you made it…..

Another excellent hand scrub, (though one a tad more abrasive so if you have very sensitive skin then maybe don’t use it,) uses a slightly heaped tea spoon of coarse sugar, a splash of olive oil and a squirt of mild washing up liquid… mix the ingredients between your fingers and hands, you want to really rub it in and spend a good couple of minutes rubbing around knuckles and finger joints…it feels like a proper work out for your hands..wash off in warm water and gently pat dry.  This is great for using if you’ve been out in the garden and gotten all grubby. or if you’ve been mending a puncture on a bike…I’ve read that the sewers in the Haute Couture ateliers use something similar to keep their hands soft and smooth to prevent snagging fine silks and fabrics…..


cocoa butter and beeswax


Queen Bee hand balm…..

When I’ve spent a long day piecing or hand sewing or crocheting then my fingers can get a bit cramped feeling or twitchy, it’s not arthritis they just have done a good days work…to reward them and keep the skin in best condition I like to make my own hand balms, it’s a recipe I’ve used on and off for nearly 20 years…when I’ve had a lot on and have been somewhat neglectful of myself and my hands look a bit worn and aged then a few days of using this religiously morning, noon and night soon has them looking and feeling heaps better….although it keeps quite well, I prefer to make just a small amount at a time so I can vary which essential oils I use in it (though it works just fine if you don’t add them)…


cocoa butter

beeswax (I prefer the golden almost orangey kind rather than the white)

almond oil

essential oils*


In a bain marie (again I tend to use a glass pyrex bowl in a small saucepan that has about half an inch of water in it, and have it on a gentle heat) slowly melt a heaped teaspoon or so cocoa butter and a heaped teaspoon of beeswax…..stir gently with a small metal spoon.

Pour in a little almond oil, about 2 dessert spoons and gently warm…..remove for the heat and stir well.

Carefully transfer to a small sterilized glass jar.  Add your chosen essential oils if you are using them and stir with a clean wooden skewer or cocktail stick.  Allow to cool thoroughly before using…..

Rub in to your hands and fingers, pay particular attention to your fingertips and nail bed, and the skin between your fingers…rubbing this in is lovely and relaxing…the smell of the beeswax is just mmmm eye closingly nice, and it’s good for your fingers and hands as the heat from rubbing allows the oils to penetrate while encouraging the circulation in your hands to speed up a bit.

* I love using rose maroc oil (though it’s a bit pricey, a cheaper option is the gorgeous rose geranium oil…it’s fantastic smelling.  I also use lavender and thyme.  Another nice combination is regular geranium and lemon (although ladies of a certain age will recognize this as the smell of those little flat tubs of hand cream so beloved of Nanny’s in the seventies.)