First Footing (Ceilidh Oidche Challain)


I’m really pleased to introduce my first sock pattern, which is now available as a kit in my online shop. I knit socks all the time, but for some reason have never yet designed a pair…until now! This very seasonal design celebrates the Scottish New-Year tradition of First Footing, which, in Gaelic is known as Ceilidh Oidhche Challain (translating as “a visit on Hogmanay night”). In Gaelic, Ceilidh does not really signify a party, in the terms we know it today, but should be thought of more generally as a sociable visit. Ceilidh Oidhche Challain would traditionally have been very jolly affair indeed, as communities celebrated the turning of the New Year together with the sharing of songs, tales, and verse. So if you fancy first footing this Hogmanay, why not do so in a fresh pair of socks?


The cuff-down sock pattern covers two sizes – small and medium – to fit adult feet with 8in or 9in circumferences. The kit contains pattern, project bag, and lovely Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage yarn, in a choice of two colourways, indigo or madder (the same as the Toatie Hottie kits).


So pop on your socks and prepare for Hogmanay!

First Footing kits are now available.

Ode to my Socks


 A comment from CinOz in response to the previous post pointed me towards this wonderful Pablo Neruda poem, which I thought you’d enjoy reading.

Ode to my Socks

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.

Pablo Neruda. Trans. by Robert Bly.

Of Note


I’ve been really inspired by some fantastic knitting books which have turned up here recently, so I thought I’d give them a shout-out. First up is Rachel Coopey‘s much anticipated first collection. Rachel is truly the Queen of Socks — she has a distinctive feel for pattern and structure which suits her foot-shaped canvas perfectly. Her designs are thoughtful, precise and definitively knitterly — she often reverses or mirrors stitch patterns across her socks in ways that are not only aesthetically pleasing but will really engage the maker’s interest through a pair. For example, Milfoil (the green pair that you can see above), has a horizontal mirror between cuff and foot that makes each sock the opposite of the other, while in Budleigh (my favourite design in the collection) neat cables and twisted stitches flow through the design with a vertical reflection that separates left from right.


Inside the book are ten beautifully written and laid-out patterns; a technical section with instructions for essential sock-knitting techniques (including a useful illustrated afterthought heel-tutorial) and jolly English seaside photography. What’s not to love?


You can pre-order the book directly from Rachel here.

Next up, and top of the tree for pure knitterliness, is Lynne Barr’s new book, The Shape of Knitting. Lynne has an amazingly innovative approach to stitch, and I think she is one of the most creative and inventive designers around today.


My approach to design tends to be very referential. I see a thing, or read a thing, or hear a thing — I like the thing — and I want to somehow render, or celebrate, or get to the heart of the thing in stitches. Lynne’s approach is completely different, and I completely love it. She says:

Inspiration isn’t always derived from things we see around us — or even from words we read or hear. Sometimes it comes from something intangible within us. When playing with a technique, I sometimes feel like a dowser, but holding knitting needles instead of a dowsing rod to guide me toward an unknown goal.

I feel about two hundred years behind Lynne’s design-aesthetic — a plodding Wordsworth to her John Ashberry. Don’t get me wrong — I love the technical aspects of designing, and I like to make stitches do things for me, but I think that Lynne’s relationship to stitch is on another level entirely — like the listener of a symphony who has somehow become a sort of instrument themselves. If you have any interest in the creative possibilities of knitwear design, then you need to immediately get hold of a copy The Shape of Knitting to put on your shelf next to Lynne’s previous book.

Finally, here is a book I’ve been looking forward to seeing for some time.


I admire Rosa Pomar for many reasons, but perhaps most for her thorough commitment to exploring and documenting the history of Portuguese textiles from the grass-roots up. Behind this wonderful book stands several years work, as Rosa has travelled around Portugal, researching animal husbandry, spinning, weaving, knitting, garment construction, and the traditional craft and design practices of men and women all over her beautiful country. Though my Portuguese is non-existent, I still find so much food for thought here.




As well as exploring the history and distinctive techniques of Portuguese hand knitting, the book also includes patterns for twenty lovely accessories inspired by traditional design. I think that this one is my favourite . . .


. . . not least for the way it showcases Rosa’s own Mirandesa yarn, which is hand spun and plied in Trás-os-Montes from the wool of Churra Galega Mirandesa sheep. This book marks an important landmark in the way the history of hand knitting is researched and written about, and you can buy it from Rosa here.

hedges, walls, and an ancient sock

We have been out and about in Border country. This part of the world is rolling and green and utterly lovely at this time of year. The fields are full of lambs and calves; the hard edges of the roadside are softened with the haze of new growth; the hedgerows are white with hawthorn and cow parsley. “It really looks like England,” said Tom, as we drove South. “Probably the hedgerows,” I replied. However much Wordsworth tried to gloss them as natural – “little lines / Of sportive wood run wild” – hedgerows are, of course, one of the obvious signs of private property and enclosure. This landscape is completely parcelled up inside their pretty green walls. Pretty stone walls abound down here, too.

We had crossed the border to have a walk around the Borders’ definitive wall – the one belonging to the Emperor Hadrian.

It has been quite a while since I’ve done any low-level walking in England, and I found it interesting. The land is fertile and well-drained; the paths are clear and well-defined. There are stiles and gates enabling you to pass through the criss-crossing walls and hedges. There are wooden waymarkers everywhere — one rarely has to consult the map. There are wary sheep and dubious cows. One’s dog must walk to heel at all times. I am not saying that the Highlands are in any sense any more wild or natural or anything – Scottish landscapes are, of course, equally carefully managed and controlled. It is just different, and those differences feel quite striking.

The most interesting walls we saw yesterday were those at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. When researching a feature a while ago, I had read about a child’s sock that had turned up at the Vindolanda excavations – an ancient, envelope-shaped bootee of woven wool. It had been pulled from the ground intact, and is probably the oldest complete woolly sock in existence in Britain. I really wanted to see it.

If you haven’t been to Vindolanda, I would definitely recommend it. The site’s finds are marvelous, and are presented extremely well in the recently-refurbished museum. Being a snotty historical type, I was less sure about the 1970s reconstructions of a wooden gatehouse and section of wall, but the museum collections really blew me away. No photography allowed, so I can’t show you any of these wonderful objects, which I found moving in their ordinariness and what they suggested about daily life in a garrison town on the edge of Empire. The textiles were the highlight for me: the sock was incredible, and certainly well-worth the wait, and there was also an intriguing insect-proof wig, and an amazing and very beautiful collection of shoes (Vindolanda probably has the best-preserved collection of Roman leather in the world). References to textiles abound, too, in Vindolanda’s famous writing tablets, with one correspondent sending the no-doubt grateful recipient “socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants.”

After all those walls, we crossed back over the border to take advantage of Scotland’s more liberal ideas of public access with a spot of wild camping.

There is nothing quite like a copper beech on a soft Summer evening

even the bracken looked nice

and you can’t argue when your chosen spot comes complete with its own swimming pool.

socks, owls, &c. . .

(recognise that darned heel, Mandy?)

Some of you may be interested to know that the above appears in this month’s issue of The Knitter magazine. It is the first piece for publication that I’ve produced since the stroke, and because of this, I feel unusually proud of it. Did you know that such a thing as sock police existed? No? Get hold of a copy of The Knitter and find out more! I really enjoyed researching this article, and turned up many whacko stocking-related oddments on ecco and elsewhere….For example, I didn’t have a chance to include this intriguing piece of advice from John Gardiner’s Inquiry into the Nature, Cause, and Cure of the Gout published here in Edinburgh in 1792, but I thought you might enjoy it. . . (if enjoy is the word, ahem).

“As soon as a fit or the symptoms of an approaching fit appear, the patient is directed to draw on each foot three or four socks, made of the finest and softest wool, commonly sold under the name of Welsh flannel; over them a pair of short hose or bootikins of oiled silk, drawn as close as possible around the ankle…After the bootikins have been neatly applied, one, or two more socks are to be drawn over each and to cover the whole, a pair of soft woolly Shetland stockings.”

If I’m counting correctly, that’s eight pairs of socks. . . imagine.

This now-familiar image of my headless torso also appears in The Knitter in the context of a discussion of Ravelry knitalongs. And when I went popped over to Ravelry to have a look at recent o w l-related activity, I noticed that there were more than three thousand projects listed ! Three thousand o w l s! I felt I should commemorate this exciting discovery in some way, and found that Amy, from Hartlepool, was the three-thousandth knitter of an o w l sweater. Congratulations Amy! (I am sending her a wee owl-themed gift to commemorate the momentous occasion.)

And finally, as this picture would suggest, I did make it to Stirling, but unfortunately not for very long. . . frankly, I can hardly believe that I actually wrote a whole blog post about having a migraine and I do not want to produce another along similar lines . . . suffice it to say that I was able to spend a few happy hours with my friends before returning home.

I was quite put out, but this wee feller was still happy to see me.



Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit Rosie’s Yarn Cellar, and spend a lovely afternoon with Jen, Jenna, Wendy, Magda, Lisa, and many other knitters. It was so nice to spend a few hours knitting and chatting in exceptionally good company, and when I left, they presented me with some good, strong, black leaf tea (which made me feel very at home as I had been, just that morning, cursing the generic horror of Liptons — whatever it is in those bags (cat fluff? ground-up egg shells? dust balls?) it certainly is not tea!) . . . as well as this marvelous vessel from which to imbibe my favourite beverage:


Hoot hoot! Thankyou, Rosie’s! I wrapped the owl in many layers and you will be glad to hear that he made it safely back across the Atlantic with me. I arrived home to find that a number of Very Exciting things had turned up in the post. First, a package of delight arrived from Hamburg. Lovely Viv (who loves neeps as much as me) made me these beautiful embossed leaves socks.


How fab are they? In the package were a number of other gorgeous treats, including some seeds, which shall produce actual — rather than knitted — leaves on the allotment next year. Viv, you really are a *star* – your socks made me very happy. Thanks so much!

And here we see the contents of another exciting package:


This is Liz‘s beetheid, which she kindly sent on a brief trip North so I could see just how nice it looks at first hand. What I find really interesting (as I always do with colourwork) is how radically colour placement affects tone. The grey background of the ‘neepheid’ and the ‘beetheid’ are exactly the same shade (Jamieson & Smith no.27), but appear totally dissimilar — the purple / gold of the neep colourway, and the burgundy / brown of the beet colourway have brought out completely different qualities in the grey. ( Here are pictures of my original neep, and Viv’s super incarnation, if you, too, are interested to compare.) I love Liz’s beetheid — its so jolly and autumnal. It’s with some regret that I’ll return it in the post tomorrow. . . .


. . .but I’ve been keeping myself occupied, colourwork-wise, swatching like crazy, and repeatedly marveling at the remarkable things that colours do to one another. Here’s one favourite that I recently knitted up.


This is a swatch with a purpose. I made it wide and deep enough to fit my heid; added a knitted-in lining out of some exceptionally soft and cosy angora; and finished the edges with (you guessed it) icord . . .


This cosy, ear-warming headband constitutes item no.1 of my proposed entirely-woollen-winter-walking-outfit. I was looking forward to trying out its unique warming properties upon a windy Scottish hill . . . . But then someone got his hands on it first. . .


This headband is very practical, quick to knit, and clearly appeals to blokes as well. I now need to make myself another, which will prompt me to write up the (very simple) pattern. This will be a FREEBIE, and I’ll post it here later this week

And finally, as so many of you have been asking about The Shoes, I shall oblige you with the details: They are made by Red or Dead and are available here from Schuh. I saw my friend Mel in a pair a few weeks ago, and immediately had to buy some exactly the same as hers. At the top of this post, you can see my giant copy-cat hooves pictured alongside Mel’s neat, wee originals. Both of us agree that these shoes are exceptionally good for walking. They are also the sort of shoes that feel immediately foot-friendly, and require no breaking in. I like mine so much, in fact, I may well have to buy another pair in a different colour.

some socks

I have been knitting some socks for about three months now, and finally finished them last night. It generally takes me a good long while to make a pair of socks. While I enjoy the process, for me, there is somehow no urgency about them. I do understand how some knitters find them completely addictive, but I am not among their ranks. For I am, at the moment at least, an outfit knitter. That is, in this year of making rather than buying clothes, I have become a shallow product-focused person who tends to knit things with specific outfits in mind. As said outfits rarely involve woolly socks, they are generally shoved to the bottom of the knitting pile. I’m also not commuting by train at the moment, so the sock knitting has definitely been suffering.

Anyway, here are the socks I made:

They are the Spring Forward pattern from the current Knitty that everyone seems to be making at the moment. I like the zigzags, and the lace, but it is the yarn that really swings these socks for me. It is from the wonderful Oxford Kitchen Yarns and came in a package of treats from Lara (thanks L!). The yarn is British Blueface Leicester. It is deliciously soft and slightly sheeny and there is something very distinctive about the way it takes colour. I love the natural dye on the yarn: both delicate and saturated. And the colour is really just lovely. To me it has a rather old-fashioned English feel: like the colour of old silks, or plum jam in rice pudding. I think the name of the colourway is actually light plum, and this seems just right to me. I also really like the way this very slightly semi-solid style of yarn shows off a textured pattern. Anyway,I now find myself very tempted by the lovely biscuity colours of some of the DK and Aran weights of Blueface Leicester dyed at Oxford Kitchen Yarns.

It is difficult to take pictures of socks whilst one is wearing them. But it was even harder for Tom to photograph my feet with the use of just one hand. I insisted he have a go anyway. He did a good job considering.

Patern: Linda Welch, “Spring Forward” Knitty, Spring Summer 2008
Needles: 2.5 mm circ (I am stuck in the magic loop)
Yarn: Oxford Kitchen Yarns, British Blueface Leicester sock yarn, “Light Plum”
Ravelled here

monkey see, monkey do

I made monkeys! Just like everyone else. . .


But how I love em!

Monkey love!


Monkey dance!


The wonderful Sue made me a superb pair of blue Monkeys last summer, which have served as my staple walking sock ever since. It was time to make myself a new pair before I walked hers into the ground. I don’t make socks very often, but they really were a delight to knit. These are made from old maiden aunt sock yarn, in the cherry colourway. I knit them on one 2.5mm circ. I am also sporting my favourite shoes, for maximum monkey fun.


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