Adventures in knitting cables with Snowy Owl

Quite a few years ago, I was a new PhD student and went on the university-recommended two day training course entitled something like 'how to do a PhD'.  It was for all new(ish) PhD students and would cover the main stages of a PhD, from literature review to viva.

In theory, this is a great course, giving you a general overview of the next three (four) years.  In reality, though, it isn't that useful.  In groups, we had a PhD topic to 'do' in two days.  My group was doing something on energy, something science-based.  The differences between a chemistry PhD and a sociology PhD and an English PhD and a philosophy PhD and a geology PhD are enormous and quite frankly a lot of the things I had to do on this course were not at all relevant to anything I would have to do in my own research.  I began to begrudge the time I was spending on this course, especially when lunch arrived, massively incorrect, we only had half a sandwich each and there was nowhere nearby to buy anything else.  My group also seemed to be taking it really seriously.  One person, however, appeared to be taking it about as seriously as I was, and that person was Vikki.

I liked her from the beginning - she wrote in purple pen, for a start.  We quickly got bored with the  'hello, my name is Amy, I'm researching breast cancer, what are you doing?' conversations and moved on to talking about more interesting things, namely what we were going to bring in our own lunches tomorrow and Brownies.  By the end of the second day, we'd swapped phone numbers, arranged to have a proper lunch the following week and I'd persuaded her to come to Brownies one evening.

Fast forward a few years and she is now one of my closest friends and the Snowy Owl to my Fluffy Owl.  When I lived in Durham we had lunch together every Wednesday, having lunch in one cafe/restaurant and then moving somewhere else for cake and tea/coffee before deciding we probably ought to go back to our offices.  If I wrote a list of all the eateries open in Durham during the years I was there as a PhD student I am confident we could write down each other's preferred order.

Now I live 300 miles away from her, but we text each other daily - normally about her children and knitting  (Ben: "you've been texting Vikki all evening.  What are you talking about?" Me: "Wool".  Ben: "Still?").  For it is Vikki I have to thank for getting me back into knitting.

My mum and grandmother taught me to knit when I was younger and I've always been surrounded by knitting, I had lots of lovely jumpers growing up.  But both my mum and her mum knitted garments - they've lovely garments produced by clearly talented ladies, but I've never wanted to knit garments.  I still don't.  I used to knit lots of little squares which would get sewn up into blankets. 

I knew Vikki liked knitting, but I thought in a sort of casual way, a hobby every now and again.  It was only when we started having our lunches that I realised just how good she was (is).  She used words I didn't understand, techniques I couldn't even begin to think about how they worked, and when I had a good stalk of her Facebook and Ravelry accounts I could see that she could make gorgeous, gorgeous items.  Not just clothes, but blankets and hats and scarves and all manner of things.  There was a whole world of knitting out there and I wanted to be a part of that!

When she was expecting her first baby, I decided to knit her a blanket.  This would be my first proper knitting project.  Mum took me to a knitting shop, helped me choose a pattern and some wool, showed me some stitches and off I went.  I used a lovely yellow wool (yellow for Brownies) and her son apparently still uses this blanket regularly.  I well and truly had the knitting bug, I could make items which were pretty and useful!

Since then, I've learned to crochet and if I'm honest, I do prefer crochet to knitting.  But Vikki is always inspiring me to knit more and try new things.  She is also responsible for most of my winter accessories (she made me an owl hat I love so much I've asked for a replacement as this one is looking a bit well-worn) and a year or so ago sent me several kilos of oddments of yarn to keep me knitting whilst I was unemployed and bored.  She's had several patterns published in magazines and whilst the items are not always things I'd want to knit myself (she's designed a lot of things for children which really aren't my cup of tea, I'm still not interested in knitting garments) I can see just how good they are. I've also proofread a lot of her patterns so I know they're well-written too.

I recently won a competition on her blog  - the prize was her latest baby blanket pattern called 'Pargetry' (I think you'll need to be logged into Ravelry for this link to work) and the yarn to make it.  My package arrived this week, Ben collected it from the sorting office for me ("it's from Vikki, does it contain wool?" "er, yes") and so far my weekend has been spent learning how to knit cables.

Cables are clever little things - they look very impressive and are actually quite easy when you get the hang of them.  They involve slipping a number of stitches off the left hand needle and on to a fiddly little cable needle (or crochet hook, or pencil, or whatever other straight implement is close to hand), knitting a couple of stitches from the left hand needle and then knitting the stitches from the cable needle to create a crossed effect.

It's very clever.

The first row after the border took me four attempts - apparently I find it difficult to count in sixes.  Well worth persevering, though.  The second row only took two attempts and since then I've merrily been knitting away.  Counting is very, very important though, otherwise this happens:

You can see towards the top of the photo that my counting went wrong at some point and two of the cables have gone a little awry.  Whoops.  It's about 10 rows down, though, and there is no way I'm taking back all those stitches to correct it.  Hopefully it will be much less noticeable when the whole blanket is bigger.

The parcel from Vikki also contained a ball of sock yarn for my commute - 100g of sock yarn is much easier to use on a train than the enormous 400g ball of Aran weight wool!  I love parcels from Vikki.  May we continue to have long text message conversations about wool, knitting socks, books and cake.  And may goat burgers once again feature in my Wednesday lunchtimes ;-)


  1. This is such a nice tribute to a friendship! I love those moments when you know you've met a like-minded soul.

    1. Especially when you feel at the time that it's going to be good!

  2. Wow I'm so impressed with your knitting skills! I can barely crochet, but I'd love to be able to knit properly in the future. I'm also interested in your PhD now, I work in radiotherapy so breast cancer is something I deal with on a daily basis. What was your research on?

    Rachel x
    The Inelegant Wench

    1. My PhD explored the experiences of men diagnosed with breast cancer as well as their involvement (or not) with cancer charities. I also interviewed staff members at a national charity. Lots of focus on the pink ribbon and men as a very small patient group.

      I think this blanket is misleading people as to how good I am - if you took the pattern away from me I would have absolutely no idea what to do next!

  3. Aw what a nice story! I've only attempted cables a couple of times but they were pretty easy ones so I had no real issues...yours looks more like something that my brain would have to be engaged for! :)

    1. Brain engagement required...I won't tell you how many rows I've had to take back! They look so impressive though, I'm really enjoying it. Although I have to admit I look forward to the even numbered rows which are just knitting and purling! My brain takes a little break for a few minutes! Just as long as I keep counting....

  4. Thank you for the embarrassingly lovely post! And yes, may the late night text conversations about tangled yarn, non-matching stripes, squishy wool, babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers continue.

    And there are ways to fix a cable without unravelling a whole row, but I think I'd have to show you that in person. Come and visit soon :-)

    1. I will come and visit soon - the north east is calling!


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