Monthly Archives: June 2011

Pies please

It’s a proper winter across much of Australia, and that means time to break out the warmest meals. The lovely Francesca from Better Homes and Gardens has been cooking a pie a week over at her blog, and her last entry is completely scumptious – Pear, Raspberry & Custard Crumble Pie. It’s as though she took four of our favourite desserts and rolled them into one!

In fact, the only thing I can think of that challenges that pie in the deliciousness stakes is the Cranberry chocolate nut pie from the Winter 2011 issue of family circle. It’s rich nuttiness is sweetened with bursts of white chocolate and made more grown-up with tart cranberries and a bit of brandy. Classic but just a little bit quirky – it’s the Kate Middleton of pies, just not quite as trim around the hips.

So, just as a special treat, here’s the recipe. You can swap the white choc for milk or for dark with up to 60% cocoa, if you prefer, and use a good shortcrust pastry from the shops if you don’t have time to make your own. And don’t forget to check out all the tips for pie perfection in our 10 Damn good pies! feature, onsale now.

Cranberry choc nut pie

Cranberry chocolate nut pie
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 60 mins
Chilling time: 1 hour
Serves 6-8

½ cup brandy or orange juice
¾ cup dried cranberries
1 quantity basic pie pastry (see below)
80g butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups caster sugar
3 eggs
Good pinch fine table salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup plain flour
100g white chocolate, chopped

SWEETENED CREAM
1 cup thickened cream
2 Tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

1 Warm brandy (or juice) in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place cranberries in a small bowl, then add warmed brandy. Cover and leave for 1 hour. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon brandy.
2 Preheat oven to 180°C fan-forced (200°C conventional). Prepare basic pie pastry, roll out and line a 23cm pie plate.
3 In a medium bowl, whisk butter, sugar, eggs and salt. Stir in walnuts, flour, white chocolate, drained cranberries and reserved brandy.
4 Spoon into lined pie plate and bake for 30 minutes. Cover top loosely with foil and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.
5 To make sweetened cream: Combine cream, sugar and vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer on medium to form soft peaks. Serve with pie.

Basic pie pastry
1¼ cups plain flour
¼ tsp sea-salt flakes, crushed
80g butter, chilled, chopped
2-3 Tbsp chilled water

1 Combine flour, salt and butter in a food processor, then pulse until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of the water and process until pastry almost comes together, adding more water if necessary.
2 Transfer pastry to a lightly floured benchtop and gently knead until pastry is smooth. Shape pastry into a 1cm-thick round and wrap in baking paper. Refrigerate until pastry is firm enough to roll out.

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Common knitting mistakes (and how to fix them)

We’ve been having a knitting circle at work this week, which is a very civilised way to spend lunch. Although most of the girls are beginner knitters, they’ve all been making great strides, because the Three Rules of Knitting are all religiously held to in this office:

1. It’s just knitting. It’s knots and holes and nothing more. The one trick is making sure that all the knots and all the holes are where you meant them to be.

2. If you stuff something up, you can always undo it. If the whole thing goes to pot, you can unravel the lot. You can even ignore your mistake without genuinely disastrous consequences. It’s knitting, not the Large Hadron Collider or brain surgery.

3. If you do make a horrible mistake and have to start again, the only consequence is that it will take you a bit longer. No-one will die, no puppies will harmed, no kittens will be forced to wear demoralising costumes (if you are knitting an outfit for your cat, you may want to take a moment to reconsider before you start again, though.)

We do all make mistakes, though. In fact, the knitting book I am writing in my head is called Great Knitting Stuff-Ups I Have Made and What You Can Learn From Them. But happily, most are really easy to fix. Here are the most common three and their remedies.

Mistake One: Knitting through the yarn

This one is easy to spot as you are doing it. Not only does the stitch look wrong, but it feels wrong. It is often harder to slip off the needle, and seems all caught up in itself. It’s a very easy mistake to make, all you have done is put the tip of the needle through the yarn instead of through the loop. If you then knit the stitch, the yarn below looks split and fluffy.

To fix it, just draw the tip of the needle back out and do it again. If you have already knitted the stitch, you might want to un-knit back to that stitch, see the fix for yarn overs, below. Or if you have already knitted a whole new row, you could drop the wrong stitch when you come to it and then pick up the stitch and work it properly, see the fix for dropped stitches, below.If it doesn’t look too bad from the front and most of the yarn is in the stitch, you can always just pretend it never happened (see Rule Two above).

Mistake Two: Accidental yarn overs

These are made by wrapping the yarn around the needle when you’re not meant to. You can do it absent-mindedly as you knit, or accidentally when you pick up the knitting after putting it down. It’s really common to make this mistake when you are doing knit and purl stitches in the same row, all it means is that you accidentally left the yarn at the back of the needles and then went to purl from the front, or left it at the front and then went to knit from the back. You can see a yarn over in your knitting, because it forms an extra stitch (a sloping one) between two proper stitches. In fact, yarn overs are used intentionally as a means of making an extra stitch, but they leave a hole in the row below.

To fix a yarn over, un-knit back to the stitch before. Un-knitting is easy. Just stretch your knitting and pull up your yarn to find the loop of the stitch on the last row. Put your left-hand needle tip into that loop, before drawing the stitch back onto the left-hand needle and sliding the new stitch off the right-hand needle. And if that made no sense to you, check out the following photos:

Mistake Three: Dropped stitches

There’s a fashion for dropped stitches in patterns at the moment, so you can sometimes get away with pretending it was meant to look like that. For the rest of the time, this is one of the scariest mistakes for a new knitter, but also one of the easiest to fix! All you need is a crochet hook in roughly the right size for your knitting wool (my knitting kit contains three, one small for socks and lacy things, one medium for most stuff and one large for jumpers and chunky scarves, that’s heaps!)

A dropped stitch is really easy to spot because you can see the stitch a few rows below, and the ‘bars’ of yarn that were the stitches that have come undone:

To fix it, just thread the loop onto your crochet hook, and then draw the bar behind it through the loop. There can sometimes be more than one bar, so just work them one at a time, from top to bottom. Keep going until you reach the top:

 

When you reach the top, just slip the loop back onto the left-hand needle.

There are two things to keep in mind when picking up stitches. If you look at your knittng, you will see that each stitch makes a ‘bump’ on one side. You want to make sure that you make the bumps on the correct side when you pick up each stitch. If they’re not, just undo it and put the crochet hook in the other way around so that you do it from the other side of the knitting. Remember that knit and purl stitches are exactly the same as each other, but backwards.

The other thing is to make sure that you put the stitch on the needle the right way round. The yarn at the front of each stitch should be a little bit to the right of the yarn on the back side of the needle, so it looks as though it is walking forwards. If it’s wrong, just turn the stitch around. It should look like this:

 

Three extra quick fixes

Tension: A lot of beginner knitters find that their work is too tight, too loose, or a bit uneven. You can work on evening up your tension by paying attention to how you hold the yarn in your right hand as you knit – I loop it once around my little finger to give it just a bit of stretch as I go. And remember to relax and not tug on the yarn for each stitch. The easiest thing is to just keep working and make your first piece of knitting something where the tension isn’t so important. Patchwork blankets are a great idea for this, because you can just knit extra strips to make things fit if your need to.

Knitting the tail: You’re rocketing along, and you suddenly run out of yarn. D’oh! You’ve knitted the tail instead of the yarn coming from the ball! Just unknit back to where you picked up the tail, pick up the ball yarn instead and keep going, you’re doing great!

Going the wrong way: You get part way along the row, and all of a sudden there’s a ‘step’ in your knitting and it looks as though the next stitches are a few rows below the ones you’ve just done. That’s because they are. At some point earlier you’ve popped everything down to go to the loo or answer the phone, and when you’ve picked it up, you’ve turned it around and gone back the way you’ve just come rather than knitting to the end of that row, so when you get back to this point, the rest of the stitches are a few rows behind.

The good news is that you now know how to do that tricky bit in complicated pattens where they say ‘turn your work’ 🙂

The bad news is that you need to unknit those rows back to where you should have kept going. Sorry.

Let us know if you have any problems you’d like to know the answer to, as we’ll be putting up some more tutorials in the next few months. And many thanks to the lovely Kitiya Palasakas from Better Homes and Gardens Craft for taking these photos!

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Spoonflower: fabric to order

The Better Homes and Gardens craft editor changed my life last week. And if you’re the sort of person who loves fabric, I may just be about to change yours by passing on her news.

You know that feeling, the one where you have the perfect fabric in your head to make that new project? Maybe it’s a classic geometric for a gorgeous quilt, or a floral for a cool new handbag – you know exactly what you want. Let’s say it’s a print that looks like an old newspaper, in simple black and white type. You head down to the shops.

OK, so it’s not at the shops. Shops aren’t what they used to be, you’re not put off, you head to the internet instead, and you start to search.

And search … and search … There are some gorgeous ones out there, like this, but it’s just too homey, or this, but it’s obviously not real news … In fact, as you search, you realise that what you really want is a Downton Abbey-inspired Sinking of the Titanic fabric, with newspaper pages like these! But it only exists in your head.

Not anymore! Armed with nothing more than basic computer skills and a rudimentary understanding of copyright law*, you can have your own Titanic frock! Or, in fact, any fabric you want.

It’s all thanks to Spoonflower, a fantastic US-based company that lets you upload designs and will print it for you on fabrics from quilting cotton, to organic interlock cotton to silk crepe de chine: check out the full range and prices here.

Now that would already have been enough to make my crafty week, but it gets better. Not only can you order anything from a 20cm-square swatch to a roomful of your fabric, but you get 10% off all your own designs, 20% if you order more than 20 yards (a bit over 18m). What’s more, if someone else out there has been dying for a Titanic frock, you get 10% of the money when they order fabric from your design! So if you’ve always longed to become a designer, this is your perfect opportunity, especially while the Aussie dollar is so high against the US$.

And, of course, you can buy fabric from other designers, too. There are tens of thousands of designs available. We’ve found a few faves …

For a keen gardener:
Peony

For a gorgeous apron or dessert tablecloth:
Vintage Desserts

For a cat-loving kid:
Cats keep the ball rolling

For the Household Geek:
(Small) Eleven Traveling Doctors and Blue Phone Boxes

For the time-poor toymakers (check out the finished product):

Little Red Riding Hood Pocket Dolls

And for any teens going through a Goth phase:
Salem Witch Trials Toile

*Anything published in the US before 1923 is free of copyright, so American reports of the sinking of the Titanic would be fine. In the UK, unsigned articles come out of copyright at the end of 70 years after they are printed, while signed articles expire 70 years after the author’s death. For papers that are still in circulation, it’s best to write to the editor and check about reproduction rights.

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Germs!

With the E. coli infection sweeping Europe, there’s a focus on food safety in the news. And although no cases have made it to Australia, we do suffer from our own fair share of food poisoning events. Worse, it’s cold and flu season, so we’re under assault from multiple angles.

While science suggests that we all need a bit of exposure to germs in our life, there are a lot of bacteria and viruses that we don’t want to come in contact with at all, and most of these can be found in the kitchen or bathroom. A few simple tricks will dramatically cut down on the number of nasties lurking around your place.

* Stick your wet sponges into the microwave for two minutes a few times a week. Alternatively, soak them in a solution of bleach in water or tea tree solution for five minutes. After each use, squeeze the excess water out and leave them on a rack to dry. Change over to new ones once a month.

* Refuse to dry the dishes! Research has shown that it is better to leave them on a clean rack to air dry.

* Don’t use food prep areas as storage, dumping or working spaces. Benches that have had meat juices dribble onto them from boards can be breeding grounds for bacteria, that will easily transfer to schoolbooks, the bottom of your handbag, or the tea towel that you’ve cunningly draped there in a moment of Nigella-like styling.

* Clean your cutting boards daily. Timber ones are best kept for dry foods, such as bread, while plastic ones are best for meat, though chop your veg first! (Or wash after  the meat.) Plastic boards can be thrown into the dishwasher, or sprayed with an antibacterial cleaner. If you love your wooden boards, use separate ones for meat and veg, and wash each thoroughly with hot water. Disinfect with a paste made of lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda. Let dry thoroughly between uses.

* Remember that the kitchen sink is where most of the mank in the kitchen ends up, so it needs cleaning weekly. You can use the Fly Lady method of serious sink cleaning, or just give it a good scrub with bicarb paste or Jif and follow it up with a rinse of tea tree solution or cheap white vinegar. Clean the faucet nozzle on the tap once a week, too, as old water can pool inside. Leaving it in a cup of antibacterial soap and water for an hour or overnight will do the trick, just rinse it off when you’re done.

* Wash all towels, tea towels and bedding regularly, especially if someone in the house is unwell (if it’s you and no one else ever does the washing, then pile up a quarantined basket of manky linens in the laundry and work your way through your stash of clean tatty things until you can face putting the machine on).

* Put the toilet lid down before you flush. I used to live with a microbiologist who explained the rationale behind this in graphic detail. Trust me that you do not wish to know. But in a happy side effect, since everyone has to lift a lid or seat every time, the menfolk stop complaining about the injustice of it all.

* Store your towel outside the bathroom. Most bathrooms remain more humid than the rest of the house, so your towel won’t dry out properly if you leave it hanging over the shower rail, and let’s not talk about the shower curtain it might be draped over …

* Wash your hands frequently, especially if anyone in the house or at work is sick.

* Clean taps, handles, keyboards, remotes, controllers and phones regularly with a disinfectant. These are all places where germs are easily passed from one person to another. There’s no need to use serious chemicals – tea-tree oil solution or eucalyptus oil will do the trick, or else alcohol wipes or rubbing alcohol on a cloth. I confess, I even used cheap vodka once when I was a student and we were all too sick to stagger up the road to the shops, but this is not an economical option and is best left to dodgy student households. Because this involves just passing a cloth over things, you can hand this job off to the kids. Though definitely not if you’ve gone with the vodka option.

There’s no need to go overboard, for most of us a bit of exposure to bacteria and viruses usually isn’t harmful and can even help to keep our immune systems healthy – especially for kids. It’s all about striking a healthy balance, especially over winter. Once the warm weather is back, throw open your windows and let some sunshine in for the best disinfectant of all.

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Learn to knit, save a life!

Sometimes people leave lovely things on my desk. This morning’s treat was  Born to Knit kit from Save the Children. For just $9.95, the kit contains a good pair of 4.00mm bamboo needles, a ball of 8-ply Patons wool, a wool sewing needle and instructions for knitting up a wool square. Create 16 squares and you can sew them up into a blanket that will be given to a child in India, Cambodia or Laos for their next winter. The kits are available from Spotlight, Lincraft and most good knitting shops, or directly online.

It’s a brill little kit – you could pay that much for the needles in some shops. But if you just want to make a blanky for a child, you can just as easily use a pair of borrowed 4mm needles and skeins of any 8-py wool – ask your knitting friends, we’ve usually got balls we’re dying to get rid of. The important part is that it gives you a reason to learn a new skill, and a project to practice it on. The 20cm squares knit up quickly and easily, and if you rope in a few friends, you can make up a kid’s blanket in under a month. At the end of it, you’ll know how to knit, and a small child will be less likely to become one of the 8.1 million under fives who die every year from preventable illnesses.

And you don’t need to be super-crafty. The kit is designed for ages eight and up, and includes step-by-step instructions for everything from casting on to casting off. Knitting really is easy, it’s just knots and holes – even a no-knitting numpty can become a Purling Princess in a few months. I learned to knit when I was 28 and not particularly crafty at all. One of my friends taught me how to cast on, and then, in the days before YouTube I bought a secondhand book and learned to do the rest. My third project was lacy socks, and I’ve never looked back.

These days you don’t even need to buy a book. Googling for instructions brought up millions of responses and tens of thousands of videos. Because all of us learn differently, the best approach is to just try a few until you find the one that suits you. For people who really love a book, our lovely friend Francesca from Better Homes and Gardens taught herself using this one, and says it’s great for helping you fix problems, too.

Though if you have a few minutes to waste, this is possibly the greatest how to knit video ever, even though it’s really Russian crochet, it’s a very fine giggle. And manly!

How to knit like an Icelandic man from Iceland on Vimeo.

If you’re feeling all inspired now, don’t forget that Wrap With Love also sends knitted blankets out to people in need, both around the world and closer to home, after events like the Queensland floods and Victorian bushfires. Their squares are 25cm/10 inches rather than 20cm, but check out their easy patterns for diagonally knitted squares or ones that decrease down a centre ‘seam’.

And if you’ve never knitted before and have no stash of wool to knock over, Morris and Sons have a sale of up to 80% off wool and needles at the moment, both in their Sydney and Melbourne shops and online.

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Adapting knitting patterns

One of my favourite things about winter is that no-one bats an eyelid if you drag your knitting about with you. In the last month, I’ve finished a hat at a casual dinner party, whipped up two pairs of fingerless mitts over weekend pub lunches and come ever-so-close to finishing off a tunic for my godless-heathen-daughter, thwarted only by the fact that one of the balls of wool has been hidden by one of the cats and so I need to wait on new arrivals from the US before I can do the back neck and sleeves.

We’re living in a golden age for knitting at the moment, with genius patterns available in books, magazines and available from companies, designers and keen amateurs on the net. But try as we might, sometimes mistakes creep through into published patterns, and sometimes what’s available doesn’t fit with what we want. Happily, there are easy ways to spot problems in advance and fix them before you begin to knit. And for wools we can’t find or for patterns that don’t come in quite the right size, it can be relatively easy to make quick fixes that will work for you.

Read on for our solutions to the most common problems, and don’t forget to leave us comments with your fixes, too!

I can’t find that wool

This is one of the most common problems knitters encounter. Many patterns are designed internationally and call for yarns that are simply not available in Australia or New Zealand. Others use specialist brands that are simply too expensive for some of us. You have two options here. The first is to order from an international supplier, which can be an economically sensible choice, even with postage factored in, while the Australian dollar is doing so well. Check around a few, and check the parcel rates before you order – I’ve found that Europe tends to be cheaper than the UK, and the US most expensive, but other people I know have had great rates from American suppliers. Laughing Hens is brilliant for Rowan and Debbie Bliss, or check out Ebay, especially if you are looking for smaller lots – many people with three or four leftover balls will unload them at reduced prices there.

The lazypants option (for people like me) is to use a similar yarn that is locally available. Yes, I know that all the patterns say that you should only use the yarn specified, but let’s be honest, it’s not as though it’s lifesaving medication. I’ve substituted a lot of yarns happily over the years and have rarely regretted the decision. In some cases, I think the result has been dramatically improved. My fave fingerless gloves call for a yarn that doesn’t seem to be available anywhere outside of Seattle. It’s a pure wool Aran-weight tweed, 100m to 50g, and 18 sts and 24 rows over 10cm of Stocking stitch using 5.00mm needles. Luckily for me, Western Australia’s Jo Sharp does a gorgeous yarn that’s similar: Silkroad Aran Tweed. It’s 85% Wool, 10% Silk & 5% Cashmere, with the same tension and 95m to 50g. It was close enough for me to experiment with, and it turned out to be a perfect solution, and even better than the original because the slight amount of extra bulk gave a better finish than the one in the picture, while the silk and cashmere make the gloves a little bit softer than the pure wool would have been.

I’m making the same gloves in a third yarn at the moment, Eki Riva’s Casual baby alpaca. It’s 100m/50g, but 22sts and 30 rows to 10cm, so these gloves are lighter and lacier than the others. Gorgeous and soft for indoor use, not so fab for outside in a stiff breeze.

To see what yarns you can substitute with ease, learn as much as you can about the original. If the pattern doesn’t list it, try the web. You’re looking for:

* Metres/grams (yards/ounces): write down both figures where possible as some yarns only list one or the other. Since most come in 50g or 100g lots, those are the most convenient figures to have. Look for figures that match, or have only a small difference – 5% is fine, 10% is usually about the limit.

* Tension details: you’ll find these on most ball bands (the paper wrappers on yarn) and they generally give the number of stitches and rows required to get to 10cm. Look for figures that are as similar as possible, though I have found that two extra stitches or rows can be OK if you are just making small accessories. Be careful if you’re making a larger garment, though, as all those extra bits can add up. You can cheat your way around this if you are passionately committed to a particular yarn that is a bit wrong: use smaller or larger needles as required to reach the tension specified in the pattern. It will alter the flow of the garment, so be sure to start with a trial ball and knit up a sample to check you’re happy with the results.

* Fibre content and style: different fibres can act in dramatically different ways, especially when one is a vegetable yarn like cotton or linen and another an animal fibre like wool or alpaca. Stick to something similar for best results, or be sure to knit up a sample first to see how it will turn out. The style of yarn is handy for two things, firstly it will narrow down your search (it’s much quicker to check the tension squares on the Aran-weight yarns rather than every yarn in the shop), and secondly, it will give you an idea of factors such as loft, silkiness, tweediness and so on that will influence your choice. You might need to check out yarn shops and reviews on the internet to find out this information.

I like the pattern, but not the yarn

Ah, the story of my life. I have what hairdressers like to call ‘particular’ colouring: pale skin but very dark hair and eyes. About 10 colours look terrific. Most others, various degrees of awful. For example, the divine duck egg blue in this cape from Debbie Bliss’s Folk Chic?

Makes me look like the Corpse of the Week on Castle, or a Very Special Case on Grey’s Anatomy.

The easiest thing to do here is to look for other colours in the same yarn. This one is Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK, which comes in lots of lovely colourways, including the dark red, black and navy tones I know I can carry off. But a handy trick is to look for other yarns from the same supplier, too. Many are constructed to similar weights with only slight fibre differences, or perhaps different colourways, separating them. So I could also have tried Debbie Bliss’s Rialto DK, which would give a similar result in a slightly sturdier yarn, and a choice of six colours I can wear rather than three.

Ask your local yarn shop for advice, or email, or tweet, the yarn company directly. Many are brilliant at responding to customer enquiries, and most have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts where other uses can sometimes help you out even more quickly.

It doesn’t come in my size

There’s little more disheartening than finishing a project, only  to discover the designer’s idea of a small is size 10, or large is size 12, or that one size fits all means fits everyone over 165cm.  Read the pattern’s measurements and take your own before you start anything. Look for patterns that come with those cool little graphs of the finished item and lots of measurements for things like shoulders, bust and back length. It’s best to start out with a pattern and size as close to your own measurements as possible, but you can make some adaptations, too.

For large or complex garments like cardigans and jumpers, you’ll need a bit of confidence before messing about with things. But if you’re happy to rip out failures and re-knit, it’s always worth a try. Look for plain areas where you can add in or lose some stitches or rows as required: more stitches = wider; fewer stitches = narrower; more rows = longer; fewer rows = shorter. Remember that if the garment includes a pattern repeat, like a cable, moss stitch or lace, you will need to take out one whole repeat if you plan to change the number of rows, or else start or end the garment on a different row, as you can’t take any out from the middle.

Some garments are easy to adjust. This gorgeous cropped cardi from Ella Rae has a long panel of stocking stitch forming most of the body:

For a short-waisted person, 2-6 rows can be dropped out of the unshaped sections without any stress, while the same amount could be added for a long-waisted version. Although the original pattern comes in four decent sizes, you could lose stitches from the unshaped vertical parts of each piece for a tiny version and add them just as easily for a buxom cardi.

Similarly, these fingerless gloves from Slumberland come in a standard women’s size and have lines of purl and cable stitches. To scale them to up a man’s size, just add in an extra repeat or two of the purl and cable stitches, for a size in between, add the extra stitches but drop a needle size to form a denser knit. You can do the same thing with beanies, but remember that you will need to keep the decreases even when you come to the top of the hat. Take a look at the original pattern, there are usually four-eight sets of decreases worked evenly, just shift them to the new even points and work as in the original, keeping in mind that it might be a little longer because you have more stitches to decrease.

Complex shapes are probably best left alone until you have the experience to work out how to alter them (and either the patience to start again if you go wrong, or a large amount of graph paper to draw it all out in advance), but if you want to try, go ahead! It’s just knitting. The worst thing that can happen is that you will rip it out and start again. It’s not as if you’re tanking the global economy.

How do I know it will work?

One of the loveliest things for knitters these days is the large number of amateur pattern makers sharing their creations on sites like Ravelry and their own blogs. Some go on to become professionals, like Ysolda Teague, while others just share their creations and keep up their day jobs.

However, mistakes can creep through when we write up instructions. They manage to get into even published books, so it’s not surprising that the rest of us can be a little less than perfect. If you love a design, don’t be put off by the fact it’s from an amateur, just go through it carefully line by line before you start. If you’re experienced at reading knitting patterns, you can usually see the problem on the page, otherwise, take some sample yarn and knit up any bits that look super complicated to you to see whether or not they’re going to work. It’s always better to waste one ball rather than 20!

I adore this Butterfly Beret pattern from Rachel Lufer and have knitted four of them so far (alas, all given to friends):

Before I began the first one, I read the pattern for the butterfly stitch, which happens over a 10-row, 10-stitch repeat. The instruction for Row 10 was: *knit 7, butterfly stitch* rep from *, which is only 8 stitches. That was never going to work! Drawing out the stitches on graph paper, it became obvious that the instruction should have been *Knit 7, butterfly stitch, knit 2* rep from *. Easy! Most mistakes stand out like this, just keep in mind how many stitches you begin with and the fact that they all need to go somewhere, every row. If there are more stitches than there are instructions for them, either you made a mistake the row before, or the pattern has left something out. Look at the next row and it’s usually obvious which it is!

(There’s one other little mistake in that pattern as it starts the decreases with the yarn in front butterfly stitch part of the repeat, when it should start with the Knit 5 part. Email me at familycircle@pacificmags.com.au if you want the corrected pattern rather than trying to fix it on the fly – makes a great hat!)

Most patterns are quite reliable. Typos are usually obvious, and if you look at the picture as well as the instructions, you will spot the most common typos in advance (casting on with the wrong colour and casting off on the wrong side for collars and sleeves). Most major yarn companies publish corrections to the mistakes in their published patterns, check out these excellent fixes from Patons as an example, so be sure to go online and see if there are any listed for the pattern you like before you begin.

For amateur patterns, check out the comments before you start. Corrections are usually listed there, or at the very least you will see Help! comments flagging that there is a problem. And do join Ravelry! There are thousands of members, many of whom might have made the same thing you’re about to, so you can often find great corrections and tips on the pages of others. Plus it’s a great source of tried and tested patterns, as well as being a fun place to chat with other knitters.

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