Knitting A Tension Square – Do You?

Swatches After Blocking

I did something truly incredible for my latest knitting project. I actually made full tension squares!

For those of you who don’t know, at the start of any knitting project, you should knit a 10x10cm swatch, using the recommended needle size and following the number of stitches and rows suggested by the pattern. (A good knitting pattern will always have directions for a tension square.) The square is to make sure that you’re using the right size needles to achieve your desired size of make – an exercise that could and should save you months of wasted work.

Ever spent half a year knitting a jumper, only to pull it over your head and realise it’s way too big? I have. You only make that expensive mistake once. (Or twice. Okay, maybe three times…)

Some of us knit tight; some of us knit loosely. I tend to knit loosely and often need smaller needles. Still, it’s rare for me to complete a full tension square. Who has the patience? I often knit half a tension square, take a few measurements, do some maths, work out whether or not I need to change needles, prostrate myself before the God of Knitting, hold a wet finger up to test the wind, cross my fingers and toes, set up a wool shrine, then launch in. Hey, what’s six wasted months between friends?

But on behalf of my readers and my own curiosity, this time I decided to do things the right way. What impact would different needles make? I went for two that were only 0.5mm different in circumference – 2.5mm and 3mm. Would 0.5mm really turn out such different results?

Knitting needlesFirst things first, my tension squares needed blocking. Below, you see them pre-block. Not exactly helpful.

Pre blockingI simply soak and wring out a clean tea towel to use as a damp pressing cloth with an iron on the wool setting. Nothing sophisticated going on here.

Blocking CollageOnce blocked, I pinned out my tension squares. Time for the tape measure. And… Wow, what a difference!

Small Swatch

Large SwatchThat’s 40mm variance in width. Though interestingly, my depth on the larger swatch remained close to the required 10cm:

Large Swatch DepthFor me, depth of knitting is less of a deal breaker than width. I can’t change the width my needles give me – how wide a jumper will be, for example – but I have more control over the depth of a jumper. I’ll just knit more or less rows!

So, I think this proves that it is definitely worth knitting a tension square. Can you imagine these differences over hundreds of stitches and transferred to a final make? Can you?! Of course, that’s not the question I really want you to answer. This is the question I really want you to answer:

Honestly. How often do you knit tension squares?

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Simplicity 1941 In Chambray

Simplicity blouseDoes anyone remember The Dress That Just Wasn’t That Into Me? Some readers were kind to me in the face of adversity, but there was no denying – I’d created a sack and wasted some lovely dot chambray, bought from The Village Haberdashery.

This made me sad – until I realised I had some fabric left over in my stash. I was just able to eek out a second Simplicity 1941 from the remains. I kept everything simple (no contrasting thread or buttons) in the hope of creating a blouse that will go with almost anything. Can’t beat a classic!

I think this experience is what we call a salutary lesson. Part of sewing success is understanding which fabric suits which make. Chambray – blouses, not dresses! Lesson learnt.

Cuff detail

You can see the pleated sleeve heads much better in this fabric. I also added the sleeve bands omitted from my last make and added a simple embroidery detail on the cuff. Why bother with sleeve bands? They stop your sleeve hems from curling up! Ask me how I know…

A few construction tips on this blouse:

  • The button band is described as ‘self interfaced’. Ignore this – it makes for some shoddy buttonholes. Second time around, I added fusible interfacing.
  • The first button is positioned very close to the top edge of the button band. On both makes, this meant my machine didn’t have enough fabric to grip and fouled up buttonholes. My recommendation is to forego this buttonhole. You’re never going to button your blouse up right to the collar.
  • I basted my sleeves in and was really glad I did. One of them was perfect, the other less so. My less-than-perfect sleeve was ripped out and repositioned. Basting stitches saved me a lot of frustration.

That’s it! What are you sewing this weekend? And have you learnt a salutary sewing lesson recently?

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Ready To Trek The Pattern Trail?

Pattern Trail

Are you visiting the Isle of Wight over the next few weeks? Maybe you live here? Perhaps you have a sewing machine at home. It could be that you’re looking for a bit of fun in these dog days of summer. Then you need the Pattern Trail!

Pattern 1 CollageI brought several sewing patterns to the Isle of Wight with me. Why? I didn’t have a sewing machine. Because I’d had an idea. I was going to hide six patterns in various locations around the island. I’d supply six sets of photo clues to their secret homes and … the rest is up to a reader.Pattern 2 CollageCan you track down one or more of the patterns? I promise you, not all of these will be easy to find. There are only three rules:

  • No trespassing
  • No vandalism
  • No litter

I think I can trust you on these three counts!

pattern 3 Collage

I can’t wait to find out who discovers these hidden patterns. The Cynthia Rowley has already been cut and used by me. There are a few really great patterns here, including Vogue and Sew Over It classics. Each has been wrapped in a cellophane envelope to protect it from the elements. I’ve tried to place each somewhere it will be protected from rain. Every pattern has a message from me. On a couple of occasions, you may need to be brave enough to ask someone to hand a pattern over. They’re all the clues I’m giving you!

pattern 4 Collage

If you’re reading and recognise locations, maybe you want to leave your own clues in the comments. (Revealing the location might spoil the fun.)

I’m really intrigued to see if anyone successfully completes the Pattern Trail. Do send me a photo at didyoumakethat[at]fastmail[dot]fm. If this works, who knows – there could be more to come! And if you are inspired to set up your own Pattern Trail, go ahead.

pattern 5 Collage

pattern 6 CollageGet trekking and get lucky!

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How To Block A Shawl – On Holiday!

Blocking a shawlBack in – gulp – January, I bought some turquoise wool and began knitting the Trousseau shawl. Here in August, I’ve finally completed it. Don’t anyone ever accuse me of being a fast knitter.

There was only one problem. The last stitch had been knitted on holiday with family in the Isle of Wight, far from my blocking wires back in London. I was eager to see the fully blocked shawl. Could I block it without the necessary equipment? A quick Google search threw up some bullish responses to this question. Sure thing, kiddo!

This shawl has been knitted around Europe and in myriad locations – trains, camp sites, beautiful cities. Am I the only person who does most of her knitting on holiday?

Knitting Around The World Collage

Karen of Didyoumakethat knittingOn my holiday, I’d been lucky enough to stop by a knitting shop where I bought yarn, some plastic darning needles and lots (but not enough) of pins.

I sourced an old towel and dug out a 15-year-old sarong. I really didn’t mind if a little bit of dye ran into this. (It didn’t.)

The Steps I Took

1. I trimmed all loose ends on my shawl, using a pair of kitchen scissors.

Trimming2. I threaded a length of contrasting (but complimentary in colour – just in case of dye running) yarn through the straight edge of the shawl. This is where I’d normally run a blocking wire.

Threading3. I soaked my shawl in a sink of cool water. I didn’t allow my angora wool to sit around in water for any longer than necessary, and I was very gentle when it came to squishing the water out of my shawl.

4. I tightly rolled the shawl in a towel and sarong to squeeze any final excess water out of my make.

Blcoking Collage5. I went into the largest room in our house – my parents’ bedroom – happy to disturb my 71-year-old father who was trying to read (aka nap) in quiet. No such luck! You don’t mind if I just pin out my shawl in this corner of the bedroom, do you? Watch out on your way to the loo!

Dad6. I laid out a fresh, dry towel and my old sarong  on the carpet and spread my shawl on top.

7. I started pinning!


Finally Pinned Shawl8. I was short of two pins for my scallop edges (just my luck!), so I finger pressed them into shape. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker.

Finger Pinning9. I left to dry overnight, hoping I wouldn’t hear any yelps of pain from a parent on a night time visit to the bathroom.

And how did things look the next morning? I think that’s a lovely shawl – and neither parent stood on a pin!

Didyoumakethat Trousseau Shawl

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Simplicity 1941 in Isle of Wight Liberty Tana Lawn

Simplicity 1941

When I first visited the Isle of Wight a year ago, I fell deeply in love and have been dreaming of a return visit ever since. Liberty of London must have been channelling my dreams. For their Spring/Summer collection this year they released the Isle of Wight tana lawn.

The lawn cotton is to die for, smattered with charming and real details from the island. I’ve never had so much fun with people jabbing fingers at my chest:

That’s Carisbrook Castle!

Isn’t that St Catherine’s lighthouse?

Liberty print details

Isle of Wight beach

I immediately and hotly needed some of this fabric. Only one problem – stocks were disappearing fast. For months, I kept re-checking websites and kept being disappointed. When I finally spotted some available, I snapped it up. But I only had a few days left to sew something ahead of my next holiday on the island and I was determined to wear the Isle of Wight whilst holidaying on the Isle of Wight. By the skin of my teeth, I think I succeeded!

Liberty blouse Collage

For a quick-ish holiday make, I turned to the Simplicity 1941 pattern, kindly sent to me by Sunny Gal Studios. It’s another Amazing Fit pattern. Am I allowed to admit that at times during the make I wasn’t entirely convinced this was going to be so amazing? How wrong I was.

Would you like some construction details? I cut according to my size around the chest but at the waist and hips I went down from the suggested ease by 1.5 sizes. The sleeve heads are pleated, which with a crisp fabric gives them a fab 1940s puff. (For a fascinating blog post on the 1940s puff sleeve, read this.) The pattern works with princess seams and has you baste the side seams together (and baste your sleeves in, if your patience runs that far) for fitting.

Beach iiThis is such a sweet blouse and I can definitely see myself making more. I wanted to use this liberty lawn on something that I would wear again and again, rather than a self-indulgent summer dress that would get two outings a year. I think the above photo proves how adaptable this blouse can be. After two days of solid wear, I still love it. The perfect make for a perfect holiday, I squeezed this into my 2014 summer sewing.

Do you have any blouse patterns that have proved surprisingly satisfying?


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Wilderness 2014 – Craftastic

Wilderness Knitting

I have just returned from a weekend at the Wilderness Festival in deepest, darkest Oxfordshire, where I survived by my wits and fighting off the wolves. Which, roughly translated, means I have spent the weekend beneath canvas, sipping cider and G&Ts, whilst sitting in the sun (and rain), listening to music … and knitting!

Camp Knitting

Who knew that collapsible camping chairs and their handy beer can holders are great for holding balls of yarn whilst knitting! But it wasn’t just about the camping. I found the whole festival both creatively inspiring and confirming.

At the last moment of packing, I threw this satchel into my rucksack. It turned out to be absolutely perfect for long days on my feet and away from my tent, when I’d need the bare essentials of sun cream, purse, phone, sunglasses, tissues … and that was about it.

Guy Latiluppe Bag

This is the Guy Latulippe Simple Satchel I made and blogged about during my time writing at The Guardian. (The comments on the original article turned into an interesting semi-debate over the two issues of hardworking creatives charging for their work and the ethics of fast fashion. Can you guess what my opinions were?)

This is a corking pattern and satchel. I’ve never met Guy, he lives in Canada, and I can’t really remember how we found each other through the Internet. All I know is that I massively respect his aesthetic and creative enterprise. Which means I’m really pleased to see that Guy’s Simple Satchel passes the ultimate test. It survived a festival!

P1090413Why isn’t this man sporting a Simple Satchel?!

I also wore a lot of handmade outfits whilst camping. My second Lilou dress was perfect for hot days, as was my Tiny Pocket tank. Tana lawn suits tight packing. The fabric rolls up so small and any few creases quickly fall out. Perfecto!

P1090455With no shadow of a doubt, my favourite venue at the festival was the Secret Forum – an open tent that hosted a series of free talks and debates. (When was the last time you attended a good debate? For me, as a teenager!) I’ve been in a very ‘think-ey’ mood of late, and this was just perfect for me. Clutching a morning coffee, I could wander into the tent, sit on a bale of hay and listen to a philosopher, an environmentalist, a voice coach, a politician, businessman or … Craftivist Collective! I saw both Sarah Corbett of Craftivist Collective and Doug Richards, the founder of School for Creative Start Ups. Doug was fantastically eloquent and inspiring. My best friend and I left the tent sparking with ideas!

It’s easy to be a bit eye ball roll-ey about the modern rise and rise of festivals, but this weekend allowed me to be with good friends, to hear inspiring people, to think and dance, think and eat, think and queue for the showers. It allowed me to think. I think that’s a good thing.

When did you last get a salve for your soul and what are your top tips for working down time into a busy life?

photo (16) copy 3

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Liberty Lilou

Liberty Lilou iiThis is my second make of the Lilou Dress from Love At First Stitch. I used some liberty fabric bought at Christmas from Birmingham rag market. I can remember hesitating over the purchase. Even off a market, the fabric was a tad pricey and I have a tendency to equate ‘cotton’ with ‘cheap’. Why was I paying double figures per metre?

Now I know why. Because the tana lawn is absolutely beautiful to work with. During construction, I was full of admiration for the clever print. Seams just melted out of view. If you’re a beginner with an eye on hiding mistakes, you could do worse than stretch to some of this type of fabric. It behaves really well and doesn’t crease badly during wearing.

ongping sewingI was able to tweak details with this second make. I shaved some depth off the armhole on the left side so that my sleeve doesn’t fall off my wonky shoulder. Despite having made this once before, I still needed to baste the zip in to assess fit. All fabrics are not created equal. The linen on my first make had a loose weave; the tana lawn did not. Tiny details, that make big differences.

Liberty LilouI suspect this is my last summer dress make for 2014 and it already holds good memories. A lot of the construction was completed during a weekend when I had house guests. Like a good host, I’d sacrificed my bed to sleep on the sofa – metres away from my sewing machine. So when I woke early in the mornings with a creaky back, I’d get up and sew in the quietness of my home. I love sewing when I know other people are sleeping. Do you?


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Are You A GTS or a Rebel?

Goody Two Shoes.jpg

I’ve noticed there’s one particular in which I seem to be very different to other Sewists out there. I’m a right old Goody Two Shoes! Whatever the pattern tells me to do, I darn well do it.

detailed instructionsYet all around me I read the most revolutionary details. ‘I took the bodice of X and hacked it with the skirt of Y, changed the gathers into pleats, raised the neckline…’ Here‘s A Stitching Odyssey mixing vintage and contemporary sewing patterns in one make and nary a thunderbolt of Sewing God Fury!

I am not happy about this state of affairs. I feel that I should have more creative vision and the confidence to take the building blocks and hurl them out of the window. I do like the bodice of the Anna dress. I wonder if I could hack it with the skirt of the Lilou?

But that would mean breaking the rules!

Are you like me? Butter wouldn’t melt? Or do you have a devil sitting on your shoulder? Any advice for the Sewist who needs to relax her approach?

Oh, and if you’re interested – the patterns in the first photo were a gift from my best friend’s partner. That’s right. I’ve trained grown men to source vintage sewing patterns, buy them, and transport them several hundred miles to hand over to me. I can’t be that green, then.

ongping sewing

My current project. I’m obeying all the rules.

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Tilly and the Buttons Lilou Dress

Lilou Dress ivHey, guys! Keeping cool in the sun? After a pointless trek to Ella’s dog groomer, only to discover a calendar clash, I’m ever so slightly overheated. Not that I’m complaining about a British summer that actually delivers on the sunshine. These times are to be cherished!

This is the intermediate dress from Tilly and the Button’s Love At First Stitch. It’s one of seven patterns (plus variations), which at an Amazon cover price of £10 for the book means that each pattern costs you £1.43. Admittedly, some of those patterns are very beginner-friendly and all of them will need tracing. But, still. That’s a bargain in my book (forgive the pun) and has given me a perfect linen dress for summer, fabric bought from Minerva Crafts here.

I made three toiles of this bodice:

  • One to assess fit
  • One to adjust fit
  • One to apply a split bust dart, of which I am disgustingly proud.

Lilou Bodice DartsDon’t ask me how I worked this. I still don’t really know. But having applied an FBA to the Lilou, I was aware of a huge bust dart that held all the danger of giving me Killer Nipple Guns. Kapow! Nah, not saving the world, just wearing a dress. One answer to this challenge is to divide your bust dart into two, avoiding unnecessary bubbles at the point.

I took this much care over the bodice fitting because I’d love to make this a go-to pattern. It’s so adaptable. I can really see this as a summer or winter make. No collars or unnecessary fuss to get in the way of cardigan wearing.

To all those people who’ve raved over the pleat fitting of the skirt on this pattern – dang right! This is the uber flattering answer to a gathered skirt. Breathable and flirty, it moves gorgeously.

Lilou Dress iiHow did the dress stand up to the sun? Fantastically well. I need to do some further tweaking to my back bodice, a day of wearing revealed. I’ve always had issues with my left shoulder sitting low and the strap on this dress kept falling down. I feel a blog appeal to expert readers coming on!

Walthamstow FestivalI can’t resist sharing the above photo. Ella and I gatecrashed preparations for a local festival this morning. You wouldn’t believe the number of naive fools trying to steer me out of the tent, muttering words like ‘health’ and ‘safety’! Have blog, don’t take orders, will photograph. Especially when there’s a cake that matches my new dress. Yum!


Lilou DressIn closing, now is probably the moment to officially platform my status as Sewing Geek Extraordinaire. Just in case you want a close up of the necklace I’m wearing. I ordered it bespoke.

NecklaceHave you made the Lilou Dress? And do you have a weird body quirk like my dodgy left shoulder? Don’t be shy, we all have them!

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The Dress Just Isn’t That Into You

Staple Dress in blue chambrayThis dress was sooo difficult to photograph, which suggests it’s just not that into me. Possibly not my most flattering make. Will that stop me from wearing it? No way! It’s breathable and comfortable, and in summer heat that’s exactly what I need.

Staple Dress in chambray

This is my second make of the Staple Dress in one of the best fabrics I have ever worked with – a dot chambray from The Village Haberdashery, who currently stock several chambrays.

I don’t use the words ‘best fabric’ lightly. Not when I risk making The Man Outside Sainsburys jealous. But seriously, you won’t regret investing in some of this beauty. Seams melt away beneath the press of a moderately heated iron, it behaves, is light and malleable and just – ooh! Can’t beat a good chambray, and a good chambray is hard to find.

Walthamstow is enjoying the summer and so is Ella.

Walthamstow Summer.jpg

Ella at Hollow PondsI think I must have known that this dress wasn’t going to be all that when I decided to add a false plackett with flower buttons in order to avoid the hospital gown vibe.

Plackett ollage.jpg

This was my first time ever shirring. Guess what, guys? It’s easy!


ShirringThis experience proves to me that the Staple Dress needs a stunning fabric to lift it beyond the pedestrian. But sometimes it’s fine to be pedestrian. Sometimes you just need a cool dress to wear when walking the dog on a hot summer day.

How are you keeping cool this weekend?

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