Darn those socks!

I’ve knitted hundreds of socks and I’ve usually been of the opinion that life is just to short and busy to darn them. I told myself that making more was a pleasure and that if they wore through, this was love in a very definite sense: the recipients loved to wear them so often that holes appeared.

I had read a few posts by Tom of Holland about the joys of visible mending and darning and thought, how brilliant but, nope, not for me.

But December rolled around as it does, and here I am in the thick of seasonal knitting and I noticed that quite a few socks belonging to my significant others were showing wear and tear, and were not on the socking list (at the moment. Normal service will be resumed after Christmas). When closing down the shop, I had come across a box of darning yarn. I thought about adding them to the sale but, well, lost them if I’m honest. So when they were rediscovered, they came home with my shop yarn stash. So I had a go at darning some of my dear ones socks and actually it was ok.  It took about an hour to darn a couple of socks but compared to about 7-8 hours to make a pair of socks that’s a time saving. Of sorts.

I’m a lot quicker now and I understand the process better, so I can darn a pair in about 45 minutes and they look better too. Here’s the latest pair from my younger son’s collection. I didn’t bother with a before  – you know what socks with holes look like.

I darned one with a classic weaving using a mushroom, the other was too far gone and needed a patch – simply a square of stocking stitch whip-stitched in place. Now they look very obvious and a bit messy when just done, but the magic of washing the sock makes the darn nice and flat and barely visible (and crucially unfeel-able) to the wearer. The patch isn’t quite as subtle but again feels comfy on the foot. This is down to the natural felting of the woollen darning yarn in the wash. Here’s the darned sock after a wash. Good eh?



Now I know you’ve got busy lives and busy knitting duties so I’m not gonna say darn every single sock, but if it’s one you love, a yarn that was a favourite and the sock ‘body’ is still going strong, why not give it a try?

You’ll need an appropriate darning yarn (now available in John Lewis or online here, a tapestry needle appropriate to the size and if possible a darning  “mushroom” or “egg”. If you plan to patch, you’ll probably need to use 2.25mm needles to knit your square/rectangle of  stocking stitch.

I won’t give you instructions here (it would take so long to describe it and others have done it much better already) but try Tom of Holland or this video.

If you really get into darning, it helps to tell your family to get the socks to you while they are still thin, but not holed, as you’ve a better chance of repair. Good luck.

Travels with Vanda

Maybe you’re thinking that as winter is now upon us, Vanda (the motor-home) is safely tucked up for the winter (wrapped in blankets with a her wheels snug in great big knitted socks?) but we have continued to take her out and about …whatever the weather.

We had a weekend in Coniston in the Lake District, a couple of days in Clitheroe and were up in Grange over Sands last weekend: we worried (or I did) that cool, dark nights and wet days might reduce her charms a little – but no such thing, its been a pleasure to be out and about the lovelier bits of Northern England, no matter what the climate chucks at you. Apparently the Norwegians maintain that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes: we have changed our Vandering a little to suit the conditions but with a knitter/crocheter in your tribe, you’re never going to be short of warm woolly things.

blankets now in regular use!

Rain has been a bit trying: we got soaked to our knickers in Clitheroe walking back from the town to the camp site. My coat held out until we were five minutes from Vanda, but then I could feel the cold rain insinuating itself down my back…yuck. But hot tea, a blankie and Vanda’s warm embrace (and a little electric fan heater) were enough to get us smiling again.  Last weekend in Grange it was very cold overnight (around -1 centigrade) but we have brushed cotton duvet covers, woollens galore (and one – or two – tots of good whisky) to keep us cosy. We’ve been keener to carb heavy, spicy food in Vanda’s little kitchen, and breakfasts outdoors in the sun are a distant memory. But when you can enjoy some of the UK’s most beautiful places at a moments notice without having to compete with scads of tourists, it’s all worth it!

Moroccan Pilaff a la Vanda….


Four ‘Moroccan’ style sausages (or something similarly spicy)

1 onion, chopped.

1 medium aubergine, cut into small cubes.

1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped.

1/2 cup of basmati rice

1 stock cube – chicken is fine, made up to a pint of liquid with boiling water.

*a pinch of cumin, oregano, chilli flakes.

*chopped flat leaf parsley

oil for frying.

  1. Using your sharp knife, split the skin of the sausages and gently remove it.
  2. Form the sausage meat into pieces about the size of the top of your thumb. Roll them gently between dampened hands to shape into rough ‘balls’.
  3. Fry the balls gently in your pan with just a small splash of oil – they will give out their own oil as they cook so don’t overdo the oil.
  4. When they’re brown, remove them from the pan and put them on one side.
  5. Add the vegetables to the oil and gently fry them for a few minutes. NB the aubergine will soak up the remaining oil in the pan, but don’t be tempted to add more. Just keep the veg moving.
  6. Add the rice, and give everything a good stir, cook gently for a minute or so and then add half the stock.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and, if you have them, add the spices too.
  8. Cook very gently for about ten minutes, add more stock as the rice soaks it up.
  9. Add the balls back to the pan, and cook for a further 3 minutes adding more stock as necessary.
  10. Check the rice – if its as soft as you prefer, serve, if not cook for another minute or two.
  11. Add the parsley if you have it and serve in deep bowls with flat breads and greek-style yogurt.




My artists model reclining on a bed of yarn while wearing a Christmas jumper. Of course.

Right so it’s only one month in, but #nobuyzone isn’t too tough so far (if I fancy a ball of yarn/new t-shirt etc, I just have a look at the pictures of my stash/wardrobe contents on my phone and, well, count my blessings and walk away from the temptation…sometimes slowly). But the little voice that says ‘flipping heck (or similar) haven’t you got enough stuff already?’ is leaking into other areas of my shopping.

I absolutely love ‘do-dabs’ for the house (I blame a couple of shops for this: Dubai’s The One which I used to frequently so frequently that it might as well have been a crack house, and John Lewis in the UK. Siren’s both). We have a lot of cushion covers, candle holders and y’know ‘ornaments’. And yet I love those pictures of minimalist homes: all white walls, white fur covered white sofas and sanded limed floor boards, but it wouldn’t be compatible with my love of curry, tea, coffee and red wine and life… I mean, look at my desk…not in the least bit ‘clean’. So I’ve been walking away from do-dabs too. Don’t worry – I have enough candle holders to last me a lifetime.

The question is, what do you replace ‘shopping’ with: I was in Manchester at the weekend and we visited the Christmas market, popped into various shops and I bought…. soap. We (the universal we) have been learning for the last few decades to view ‘shopping’ as an activity. I don’t mean food supplies or necessary household goods, but that random strolling around busy shops, touching stuff and buying yet another grey t-shirt. I heard a woman in a shop recently saying “ I won’t leave this place without buying something” while literally grabbing at random stuff. Whole cities have been built around malls, and one of the criteria for a vibrant town or city is a good ‘shopping’ centre.

Some people in Manchester seem to have replaced it with drink. But I’m too old to spend Saturday afternoon in the pub without dire consequences. I can’t hike at the moment (damn you arthritis) and exercise is similarly awkward. Cinema and theatre are fabulous before you shout out, but not exactly social in the way that ‘shopping’ is. So. Here’s my question, how do you replace ‘shopping’ in a culture that is now literally built around it?

Finished objects:

Crappy weather and ample time are conducive to knitting, so I’ve finished these super-duper socks, and this rather poorly photographed hat. The socks are my pattern and West Yorkshire Spinners and Rico sock yarn. The hat is vaguely this made in a combination of Adriafil New Zealand (delicious) and Rico something-or-something. I also crocheted a cowl/neck-warmer/collar for my son (have we settled on a name for those yet?) in a rib stitch and the left over aqua yarn from the hat. It’s gorgeous and cosy and in consequence he won’t take it off to have it photographed!

a little break

as the sun goes down….

Week three of the #nobuyzone has been slightly more challenging than the previous two as I was on holiday – sort of – in Dubai.

My husband still has some business links out there, I had air-miles to use up before they expired and it was a sort-of anniversary too. Twenty years ago I packed up a house, waved it off to storage, got on a plane with two young children and headed out to join K (who had already been living there for a couple of months).  We stayed for 7 years and saw the country expand and prosper at an exponential rate as we raised our two small boys. It was a great place for a young family, but eventually we were ready to head for home when secondary education beckoned.

Many of our friends in Dubai stayed there and we caught up with them this week, got a bit of a tan and toured favourite Dubai places: it says a lot about our lives there that food and drink were the focus – we were never beach club fans or sun-worshippers!

Oddly life there used to include a lot of malls: first off it was a good place for a walk if the temperatures were soaring – the air conditioning was heaven! But it’s got to be said that shopping was a feature of the lifestyle. There are dozens of malls, thousands of shops and all the recognisable brands from around the world from M&S to Crate and Barrell. Most westerners were out on an ex-pat income (and usually tax-free) and earning more than they had at home so maybe a little more free-spending than usual.

I liked spending on our villa: picking up candle holders and cushion covers, kitchen do-dabs and cookware, but many people I knew loved the fashion shopping and spa treatments – you could always find whatever you were after in one of Dubai’s many malls!

So we visited a couple of shopping haunts and had a stroll around the country’s biggest centre. And what a weird feeling it is to wander up and down a shopping mall and not browse the shops – I didn’t particularly feel particularly virtuous or deprived – just disinterested. I had made a couple of things to wear for the holiday as a treat and that was enough. I don’t know if this will last but if it does not buying should be doddle (yep, that’s likely….)

Naturally I didn’t take knitting and so my works in progress are still …well, in progress. I’m at the armholes of K’s sweater so that’s good, but to be honest that’s about it. Hopefully I’ll have more to show you next week. In the meantime here’s a little collage of  pictures I took of the Abu Dhabi Louvre – a newly opened and wonderful addition to the capital of the UAE.

the rather wonderful Abu Dhabi Louvre.

A tale of grey t-shirts.

Why do we keep some stuff, and why do we throw some stuff away?

I was ironing a treasured t-shirt the other day. It’s grey, beginning to bobble and seems to be prone to sucking up grease for some reason (that reason might be my love of curry, but that’s another story). I bought it in a sale and there’s nothing especially remarkable about it. It ticks a lot of essential boxes – a-line, grey and comfortable – but it’s not a unique wardrobe ‘piece’ in that respect. I just love it. Don’t know why.

It made me think about all the things that I’ve bought and thrown away. Why did I like these things enough to buy them, but not enough to keep them? I rarely get rid of things because they have worn out – do you? (Socks could be the only exception, and that is one of the reasons why they’re a good knitters project!), but I have got rid of perhaps hundreds of pounds of stuff that I bought, rarely wore and gave away for nothing.

Changing room mirrors are a factor (I reckon I don’t need to lose weight, just get the same mirrors that they use in Next), addled reasons for buying (as a treat/salve/reward/revenge) is another. Weight gain and loss used to be a problem for my wardrobe (and self-esteem)*….. But often I just bought on a whim and added the stuff to my collection without ever really thinking about it, and then fell out of ‘love’ with them.

I am interested to see what happens to my clothes and shoes over the coming year – what wears out? What needs mending? What could be refashioned? I already fix my families jeans (they seem to wear them out weirdly quickly, whereas mine merely gracefully succumb to lycra fatigue…)

It’s been a couple of weeks of #nobuyzone and I’ve had no pangs of regret yet, and there’s been a certain pleasure in rediscovering old friends from my winter wardrobe, now that the weather had changed. By the way, did I mention that I have a lot of scarfs? Just as well, but I wish I had engaged in a little hat and glove excess too!

Works in progress – I have two sock halves, I find that second sock syndrome is slightly improved if you have 2 pairs you can alternate. NB this doesn’t always help.


I am making my husband a sweater – it’s this pattern in Plutolopi yarn. We picked up this un-spun pure wool in Iceland, where my husband fell in love with their traditional sweaters. He did the maths, looked at me and bought the yarn instead of the ready-made. I am enjoying the knit but the yarn covers me in fluff and it’s big…he’s big, his chest is big, ergo – a lot of stitches.IMG_3976
IMG_3978Finished? The crochet scarf/wrap in Isager Highland wool. It’s nice but the pattern is shockingly bad, and the finished item is barely long enough to qualify as a scarf or wrap. Beware…


*I now just stay plump. Much easier…





Why do we buy stuff and how much is enough? Well I guess you could say that we buy stuff because we need it. And ‘enough’ is enough to satisfy those needs. But everyone seems to have a fridge or freezer these days that’s stuffed with food, cupboards heaving with supplies and even a drinks cabinet, but who hasn’t stood in front of them and thought “I need to go to the shops”? Our wardrobes are heaving with clothes that are seldom worn (requiring frequent de-cluttering and trips to the charity shops). And our houses are packed with things that have little utility and end up joining our unloved clothes at the dump.

We buy to make us feel better: to heal a hurt, to salve ourselves on a bad day, or reward us on a good day. Another  new outfit for a ‘special’ night out, or because the dress you love has been ‘seen’ too many times. We buy the latest ‘thing’ so we can  feel a wee bit superior to our our neighbours or, shamefully, our friends, or because someone suggested that hanging on to the the tech we’ve grown used to, makes us dinosaurs.

Your nana probably had a tiny wardrobe that she shared with the family – and she probably still had room for all the winter coats. She might have had just enough knickers for a few days between laundering, with a few skirts and cardigans in heavy rotation. And she made them, and repaired them and turned them into rags for the kitchen when – eventually – they were done. She would’ve had draws full of paper bags, margarine tubs and she used soap until it was worn to a sliver. Socks were darned, as were sweater elbows. Trousers were patched. Shoes were soled and heeled, polished regularly and were a major expense.

So we have clearly gained a wealth of choices, prosperity and home comforts, but I’m beginning to suspect that somewhere along the way, we have lost something too. Respect for the things we own possibly, the ability to take care and repair the stuff we have, and maybe occasionally a sense that buying something else won’t make us feel better….maybe it even contributes to the feeling that something is awry.

Now I don’t want to go back to the world where my Nana lived: there was poverty, the fear of unemployment, cold houses and dreary meals, but I feel that our consumption is getting out of control and we buy things as a substitute for something that has gone AWOL from our lives. I don’t know what that thing is, but by giving up buying for a year, I hope to find out. Will you join me?

#nobuyzone Nov 2017/Nov 2018.

Works in progress and a finished object…no really.

As a break from the embarrassment/heart searching of my preparation for the big #nobuyzone year long experiment, I have a bit of knitting to report on – including…..ta dah, a finished object!

Works in progress include this lovely sock – very vanilla pattern, but West Yorkshire spinners sock in Mojito and destined for the Christmas bag I think.IMG_3943

I love West Yorkshire Spinners yarns and I am happy to report that running out of them during my year long yarn diet is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. They are one of the few major UK yarn producers that use UK wool and they make some of the most scrumptious knitting yarns (at totally do-able prices). As I am no longer a  stockist this isn’t some sort of traders ‘line’ either. If I have a beef with them, it’s that their patterns let them down a wee bit. But if you’re like me, you’ll mostly find your patterns on-line anyway.

Crochet-wise, this little pattern, ‘Katinka’ by Isager is almost at the finishing line, I just have to complete one remaining stripe of the grey, then it’s going to get a jolly good blocking, and this is NOT going to end up as a gift…it’s mine, all mine! I love that pattern motif and the colours are just dreamy. It’s a two-ply lace weight, and crocheted on a 3mm hook so a long time in the making. This was not helped by a pattern screw up. The yarn quantities given were um, mean/incorrect/wishful thinking and I had to take a full stripe back and make up an alternative to the pattern as written. As me and crochet are not old buddies I used a simple eyelet pattern in between the more complicated motif rows. It works. More or less. But can I just say that Loop of London’s customer service isn’t all that.

The finished object is my grey cardigan. I finally managed to work out what was wrong and fix it. And I really rather like it. It’s not elegant, but it is warm, cosy and has a lovely drapey feel to it. I have changed the button for a much larger grey shell one since taking these (as usual, awkward) selfies wearing it, but I can see it being a major contributor to my winter wardrobe.


Next week…. it’s the final countdown to the #nobuyzone. Can I resist the temptation to buy all the things in the last week?