Throwing a Lifeline

In a recent discussion on the Ravelry board for A Stitch in Time volume 1, the issue of lifelines came up in relation to the pattern Knitter’s Delight.
As you can see from the image of Knitter’s Delight, above, it is a lace pattern. This is where the lifelines come in… If you have never knitted lace because you are worried about messing up the pattern, or if you have tried and struggled and ended up ripping it out, then you need to know what lifelines are.
Used under Creative Commons from The Bees (Thanks, Annie!)
A lifeline, in knitting terms is a safety net which provides a place to unravel your knitting back to if you make a mistake. You can see from the image above that this knitter has used a contrasting piece of crochet cotton, threaded through the stitches at a point where her lace pattern changes charts.
You might choose to use a lifeline after each lace repeat or half repeat if it is a large complicated one. Lifelines are predominantly used in lace knitting because it is difficult to tink (knit backwards to unpick) or unravel the multiple yarn-overs and k2togs that make up the pattern. However, they are a really good addition to any complicated knitting pattern, especially one using a technique that you are trying out for the first time. There’s nothing stopping you adding lifelines to your fair isle, cables or anything else you fancy.
Used under Creative Commons from Dave’s Portfolio
But how do you add a lifeline?
You already know that it is an extra, separate piece of yarn threaded through a row. It should be threaded through the live stitches either by using the piece of yarn on a darning needle after you have completed the last row of the repeat, or if you have interchangeable needles, you can put the yarn through the tightening hole in the cable and knit it through the last row as you go.  It is possible to add a lifeline further down your knitting by using a darning needle, but this makes it more fiddly to catch all of the increase and decrease stitches.
Top tip: be careful not to thread your lifeline through a stitch marker, or it will not be possible to slip the marker on the next row.

The knitter whose work you saw in the picture above used a contrasting cotton crochet thread, so it would both be easy to see and also to remove from the knitting afterwards. Linen thread and waxed dental floss are also good to use. If you don’t have any of these handy, just make sure that you use a yarn that is a lighter weight than the main yarn you are knitting with and that it has a smooth finish.

All you need to do to rip back to the lifeline is to slip the knitting from the needles, carefully unravel the knitting (this may be more difficult if you have something which has mohair in it, like Kidsilk Haze). Once you get to the lifeline, you won’t be able to unravel any further. This is the point where you will need to put the knitting back onto your needles. Carefully insert the needle into the first stitch that has the lifeline through it, and pop it onto the needle. You can either take the lifeline out of each stitch as you go along, leave it til the last one is done, or just leave it in to continue being a lifeline (I prefer leaving it in, especially if I’ve gone wrong once!) Move on to the next stitch, popping it onto the needle and continue until you get to the end of the row. You will be left with a correctly knitted row which will have no dropped or twisted stitches.

Basically then you continue on as you were before, and if you make another mistake that warrants frogging a few rows, you have a lifeline there still.


Chilli Pepper Drying Tutorial

This year I planted chilli peppers and ended up with lots more than I am able to use. I’ve given away some and made others into chilli jam, but am still left with a trayful. I decided that drying them would be the best thing to do, so I can use them throughout the winter.

There are a few methods that you can use to dry the peppers including sun-drying or slow-baking them in the oven. Since this is the rainy British autumn and a shared oven, I decided to go the traditional route and dry them by stringing them up to dry. Here’s how I did it:

You will need: chillis, some large plastic buttons, some strong thread or fishing line, a large needle.

Step One: Secure a button to be the stopper at the bottom of the string of chillis, as below.

Step Two: String up the chillis by threading straight through the middle of each and pushing to the bottom of the string, against the button.

Step Three: When you’ve strung up all of your chillis, or when the line seems heavy, hang it up in a dry, well ventilated area to dry.

Mine are going into a draughty garden shed tomorrow. They should take about a month or so to dry out completely.

I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that chillis can burn – do wear gloves if you are at all sensitive to them and be sure to wash your hands after touching them.

Dyeing with Food Colouring Tutorial

I knit, I sew, I spin, sometimes I even crochet. It was really only a matter of time before I started to dye. Strangely enough, it was the one part of my Textile Art degree that I really disliked. It was messy, time-consuming and frankly, I wasn’t much good at it. Perhaps because I didn’t persevere for long enough.

Recently I have been frustrated that I can’t find the right colours in commercial yarn that I want for my projects. The green isn’t lettuce enough, the blue has too much yellow undertone, or there is always the same  mustardy brown in every variagated colourway of Noro (I dare you to tell me I’m wrong on that one).

I decided to take another look at dyeing. It seemed the only way. Knitty have a good tutorial on dyeing yarn. I adapted this and mixed in some elements from a 1970s handicraft book of my Mum’s to come up with my own recipe for dyeing using food colouring. It is cheap, fun and doesn’t require any special ingredients or equipment.

You will need:

  • Wool yarn (light coloured)
  • Large microwave-safe bowl
  • Jugs for mixing colours
  • Cup measures
  • Colander (optional)
  • Teaspoons
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring (liquid kind)
  • Water
  • Access to a stainless-steel sink and a microwave*

*You can also do this on the hob, but I’m not sure of the timings.

This recipe dyes about a 50g skein of wool, but you can always adjust the measurements for more.

1. Make the yarn into a skein for easier handling. Use either a niddy-noddy or wind it round the back of a chair. Tie it loosely in four places.

2. Soak the yarn in a mixture half and half of white vinegar and water for a couple of hours, making sure it is completely wet. The vinegar acts as a mordant which keys the yarn to take up the dye.

3. Mix 1 1/2 cups of water with 1/3 cup of vinegar and your food colouring. Depending on the colour intensity required, use up to about a teaspoon. If like me you want to use multiple colours, divide the water and vinegar mix into smaller jugs before adding the colouring.  Test the colour with the corner of a piece of kitchen roll and adjust as you need.

4. Before dyeing, gently squeeze out the yarn and place it into the bowl. If you are using mutliple dyes, arrange it as you see fit.

5. Pour on the colours as you wish. If using only one colour you can turn over the skein a couple of times to ensure even coverage.

6. Microwave on full power for 5 minutes. Allow to cool before repeating for another 5 minutes.

7. After cooling, drain and rinse the yarn in cold water in the sink until the dye is out.

This may take some doing, especially with yellows, it seems…

8. Gently squeeze the excess water in a towel and air dry the yarn flat.

Ta-Da! The finished product. It has been nicknamed ‘Piccalilli’ by my Mum after the violently coloured condiment that my Nan was so fond of making.  Personally I prefer ‘Nasturtium’.

This yarn will go on to be used for knitted brooches and probably some cat toys. I haven’t tried washing any of the yarns that I’ve dyed in the machine as yet, so I can’t tell you how they fare. I probably wouldn’t recommend knitting socks out of it unless you were sure about the washing! The combination of heat and vinegar is meant to make the dye colourfast, but never say never.

I hope you have fun making your own colour combinations or overdyeing those boring wools in your stash to recycle them into something vibrant and new.

P.S. If you are messy like me, you can get the food colouring off your hands (or face) with biological washing powder.

strawberry jam tutorial

One of the best things about the British summer is the strawberries. I love them. There seems to be a glut at the moment and all the shops are slashing their prices. With the season for my favourite variety Elsanta almost over, I went out and bought up a few punnets. The resulting jam was rather tasty and I thought it would be good to show you how I made it so that you can too.

Mums Recipe Tin

Mum's Recipe Tin

The recipe is an old family one which is tried and tested by four generations. Although it was originally written in imperial measurements, I’ve converted it to metric as that’s what we’re using in the UK these days and it makes it easier for buying your supplies here.

You will need:

1kg strawberries (hulled and  quartered)

1kg granulated sugar

The juice of one lemon

1 sachet pectin

300ml water

You will also need a perserving pan, jars and jam pot lids.

You will also need a perserving pan, jars, jam pot covers, a jam funnel, a ladle and a saucer.

Hull and quarter the strawberries and put them into the preserving pan. At this point also place a saucer in your fridge to cool and turn your oven to approx 150 degrees celsuis.

Weigh out the sugar and add it to the pan, along with the lemon juice, water and pectin.

Mix the ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring occassionally to make sure all of the sugar is dissolved and to prevent the jam sticking to the bottom of the pan.

While the jam is coming to the boil, wash your jars in hot water, dry and place in a hot oven to sterilise. You can use any jars, so don’t throw away any from your shop-bought goods.

Let the jam boil steadily for about 15 minutes before testing it to see if it has reached setting point. Spoon a little of the boiling jam onto the chilled saucer and leave to cool for 10 seconds or so.

If the surface of the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger, the setting point has been achieved. If not, boil the jam for a little longer and test it again. It should not need to be boiled for longer than 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in a little butter or margarine to help remove any film. Some may need to be removed with a slotted spoon. Leave to stand and cool for about 30 minutes. This prevents the fruit sinking to the bottom of the jars when decanted.

Ladle the jam into the sterilised jars using the jam funnel before sealing with jam pot covers or lids. In Britain you can buy packs of jam pot covers comprising wax disks, cellophane covers, elastic bands and sticky labels. I use these, but you can also buy jars with lids. I believe there is a different canning system in America which uses special jars and lids, so use whichever way you are happy with.

Personally, I don’t like the look of the cellophane lid, so I like to cover it with some fabric too. I used some scraps from IKEA today.

Be sure to also mark your jam with the date it was made and show off that you made it too.

Lastly go and find some crusty bread and enjoy it!

The finished article: IngridNation’s Time Travelling Strawberry Jam

If you were wondering, the name comes from a Twitter conversation with @alliekbean that I had while making it. It started like this…

@InnyMThere’s a particular point when making this that the smell changes to intense strawberry jamminess and sends me hurtling back in time

..and continued in a sea of Dr Who references. That there are Torchwood specials on BBC1 all this week too adds further to my justification in naming it. I only wish I had some TARDIS-blue cloth for the tops.

Please do use the recipe and tutorial to make jam for your own consumption/charity fundraising, but please do not use it for commercial purposes or reproduce the tutorial without first seeking permission and linking to this blog.

Copyright © Ingrid Murnane 2009. All rights reserved.