Bo-Peep and The Owlers

Wool may not have been high on my list of priorities when I holidayed in Hastings last week – my focus was more botanical, exploring plants of the coast – but my discoveries were to include wool after all!

Best known for the events of 1066, Hastings is also famous for its links with historical smuggling. As I found out at a popular visitor attraction, The Smuggler’s Caves, wool was one of those commodities subject to illicit handling and movement. The activity was originally a shifting of illegal exports (rather than imports). Wool was smuggled out of the country  as early as the 13th century when it was a luxury item, and King John had stamped an Export Duty on wool in 1203. This covert transportation of wool became known as owling due to participants’ use of the owl hoot as an alarm call. The Owlers plied their illegal trade for several centuries and by 1700, approximately 150,000 packs of wool were smuggled from the Sussex and Kent shore alone.


In the 1800s, when the Napoleonic Wars raged, circular forts known as Martello Towers were built along the coastline. Their primary function was defence but they were also used to incarcerate smugglers caught by the Preventive Services. A mile or two from Hastings Old Town stood Bo-Peep Martello Tower. Within an innocent-sounding nursery rhyme about a shepherdess of the same name as the tower lurks a darker story:

Little Bo-Peep (Preventive Men)

Has lost her sheep, (smugglers)

And doesn’t know where to find them.

Leave them alone 

And they’ll come home,

Dragging their tails (tubs*) behind them.

I wonder which came first – an innocuous children’s rhyme reappropriated by criminals? Or the smugglers’ tale hidden in the rhyme, a jibe against the law enforcers? I’m don’t why that particular Martello was known as Bo-Peep – I’ve noticed there is now a pub of that name, and the rail tunnel next to the station of St Leonard’s: Warrior Square is called Bo-Peep Tunnel.

The other unexpected woolly discovery was to be found on the new Hastings pier:


Very typical of British seaside resorts – except they’re normally painted, not knitted. Of course I had a photo take with my mush in the face slot.. but I won’t be sharing that pic!


* Tubs: Booty was hidden in barrels or tubs, and the locals employed to carry them from the beaches to their hiding places were called Tubmen.


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Crocheted urchins

Hello! It’s been a time. Knitting was taking over my life a bit, so I wanted to shift focus for a while, back to the horticultural. I found this article while researching something on orchards. It shows a stunning use of crochet to decorate a public space. That would definitely stop me in my tracks!

Choi+Shine Architects





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Toe Up, Two Down

The path to sock enlightenment is not proving an easy one. My first pair – years in the making – shrunk in the wash.. Oops! I put them in the ordinary wash at 40 degrees, and I can’t even get them on my feet anymore (now I know what Cinderella’s ugly sisters felt like if they were trying on her socks rather than her glass slipper!) Maybe I’ll use them as dusters..

I wanted to make another pair quickly before I forgot the process, so I went to good ol’ Ravelry and found this freebie pattern:  As the design calls for worsted yarn and chunkier needles than the first sock pattern I attempted, they worked up more quickly. The only hiccup was grafting the toe – this time I tried the proper Kitchener stitch instead of the crocheted graft I used before. The only thing I would change if I made these socks again would be to use a different sized needle for the cuff: the pattern called for 2.25mm needles compared to 2.75 for the rest of the sock, but I reckon I would either use the same size as the main body, or 2.5mm if I went smaller for the cuff, as I thought 2.25mm was a teeny bit on the tight side..


Cuff down socks: Seersucker stitch and Rye Pattern

I then decided I wanted to try a toe up sock pattern, and went for a basic pattern from the book Socks From The Toe Up by Wendy D Johnson. But I made a couple of idiotic decisions. To begin with, the pattern specified 2mm needles – eek! Titchy takes too long! And the yarn I chose was not great for the ripping back which is inevitable when learning  new techniques (i.e. Turkish cast on, fleegle heel and I was rusty on M1 increases). The yarn in question was Debbie Bliss Rialto Luxury Sock. It has a haze, and this tends to catch on itself when ripping back, especially as 2mm needles create small stitches which knot up easily. Eventually I reached the leg of the first sock and managed to accidentally break the yarn (even though I was doing plain stocking stitch at that point, my brain sometimes rebels at repetitiveness, and I did something wrong, so had to unravel..) At which point I got so exasperated, I lost the will to continue, and decided that pattern in this yarn on those needles was too much trouble! So I went large again. Far more sensible to learn on chunkier yarn and thicker needles. The pattern was another freeby from Ravelry and it went a lot more smoothly.


Toe up socks

By then I had thought of a title for this blog post I wanted to write so I knew I wanted to make another pair of cuff down socks. I thought I’d have a go a go at designing my own sock. I’d seen several stitch patterns I liked and I opted for the Seersucker stitch, which was written for flat knitting but was easy enough to convert to circular knitting. I had to look up what a seersucker was – sounds like some sort of leech to me! But it actually means “a lightweight fabric with a crimped or puckered surface”. In green yarn, it brings to mind dragon scales..

The final test is how comfy they are in my gardening boots and, of course, if I can wash them without shrinking them. Dusters anyone..?

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Isla inspired phone cosy


That floral motif from the Isla cloche which I wrote about a couple of posts ago… Y’know, I liked it so much that when I was asked by my cousin to make her a phone cosy for Xmas, I decided to whittle out the motif from the hat pattern and incorporate it accordingly. I’m only writing about it now, over a month later, because we finally met to exchange gifts on Friday. My cuz does sometimes read this blog and, of course, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. She beamed with delight when she ripped open the wrapping paper.

I used the leftover yarn (Malabrigo Rios) from the Isla cloche I made for a friend, and I chose a moss stitch for the base of the cosy to represent the crumb structure of a good soil that the flower might be growing in. The reverse side of the cosy is in plain knit stitch. I decided against an envelope flap and button like on my phone sock. Instead I opted for ribbing using a smaller needle, and thought the result was much better.

In return, cuz gave me a stitch dictionary for knitting in the round. Just right for plotting designs for socks. I’ve got several ideas brewing and don’t know which one to go for first, like a kid in a sweetshop. (I usually went for rhubarb and custard in the end. Wonder what that suggests about my sock knitting future..)


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Hat Magic

Magicians pull rabbits from their hats. Me, I pull yarn. I don’t have a yarn bowl you see, and to stop my ball of wool from from rolling around the floor gathering bits that I’ve yet to hoover up, it occurred to me that my cap could be a decent substitute. And in this, if nothing else, I was astute!  I tried using a bowl from the kitchen, but glass is slippery and the yarn would jump out onto the floor if I was too exuberant in my pulling technique. The cap is more effective as the fabric grips the yarn slightly, and the sides of the hat also collapse in a bit, helping keep the yarn in situ.

Yarn bowls are marvellous inventions though – the slit in the side of the basin manages the yarn so that it doesn’t ever bounce out. I gifted one to a friend, and tried it out before I wrapped it, and realised just how ingenious the yarn bowl is. Another friend has a neighbour who is a talented ceramicist and the next time I see her, I will suggest she make some and sell them at our local yarn store. I would certainly buy one, as I like her work. Meanwhile, I will continue using my hat.


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Good-by, and Keep Cold

There is a poem I like by Robert Frost in which he addresses an orchard, saying:

“How often already you’ve had to be told,

Keep cold, young orchard. Good-by and keep cold.

Dread  fifty above more than fifty below.”

Well, the same can’t be said for us gardeners! Earlier in the autumn I heard various reports that this is going to be a gelid winter, so I figured I’d better make me a hat for work, as I lost the plastic-fleece one I had before. And having read that plastic-fleece is bad for the environment¹ (even though it’s a creative way of recycling), I decided against getting another one like it.


My first attempt was the Twisted Toque designed by Helen Sharp in the book 60 Quick Knits (20 hats, 20 scarves, 20 mittens in Cascade 220) which I didn’t end up liking when I finished it. It made me look like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine! I made a hat for a friend as a Christmas gift which I liked so much I nearly kept it.. but then I decided to make one for myself, in Purpuras rather than Jupiter. I didn’t want to write about it until after Christmas, incase the friend in question saw the post and knew what I was giving her. The pattern is Tanis Gray’s Isla Cloche available free from I added a few extra rows to make the hats slouchier. All three hats were made using Malabrigo Rios.


Apart from a brief frosty spell in November, it’s been too mild for a woolly hat so far this winter. Needless to say, when Jack Frost was about (and “after our fingers and toes”) I hadn’t finished my hat! Still, there’s a couple of months left before spring, time enough for the snow that fell in the Sahara to migrate to London!

¹  I first read about this in the following post:


Filed under Makes


I’ve written previously about the faff of DPNs, and how this drove me to pick up the hook to fulfil my desire to make socks. Having sported the pair I crocheted a couple of times, I’m not convinced they wear comfortably. The structure of crochet stitches is more bumpy than knitted stitches and though I’ve read methods to lessen this, I’ve returned to attempts to knit socks. And I’m pleased to report I’ve had success…


More importantly, I don’t need thick-soled hobbit feet to don them with a smile.

It’s taken me a while to get to this point. I got as far as decreasing for the toe on one sock, and put it down as I was quite busy and felt I shouldn’t rush  it. I didn’t pick it up again for ages and by then had forgotten how I did things. So in the interest of making socks that match, I ripped back to the beginning… and lost my way again somehow. So my sock yarn looked like this for a time..


My successful attempt happened after the decision to work two socks simultaneously – or as synchronously as possible with DPNs. This meant knitting part of one sock, stopping, then knitting the same part of the second sock before continuing. In this way, the process of each section remained fresh in my mind and I was more likely to match tension etc. Things went quite smoothly… but I misread the heel flap instructions: on each row, I did sl1 K1 (or P1) across, rather than alternate a row of sl1 K1 with a row of purl across. It made the heel shorter and tighter than it should’ve been, but I only noticed when I reached the toe of the second sock. Well of course there was no way I was going back and re-doing the heels! Grafting the toe was a bit of a problem too. It didn’t help that I was venturing this late in the evening (never a good time to try something new!) and I ended up crocheting a graft rather than use Kitchener stitch. It worked okay, but each graft had an ‘ear’ on the left hand side.

Despite the heel mishap, this first completed pair of knitted socks has proved comfy – definitely more so than those I hooked up. I’ve now got a long list of socks I want to make. I’m close to completing a top down pair in aran, and I think I will try a toe-up pair next…



Filed under Makes