Friday, 3 November 2017

PhD diary: Wintery renewals

Dear Readers,

It's been six weeks since I officially started my PhD studies at the University of the Arts London. As usual, time slips through my hands like bathwater (warm, with a sense of familiarity), although a quick glance through my diary over the last few weeks reveals pages black with inked appointments.

The beginning has felt slightly passive - lots of people to meet, information to take in, speeches to listen to. And of course reading, endless reading, and not nearly enough writing or output of any kind, really. I had an minor accident at the beginning of October, which resulted in quite deep bruising on my hands and legs. I was in quite low spirits because of that, but also because of the very real isolation that a PhD student endures. In general, I am happy in my own company, and can stand to be alone more than most. But there's nothing quite like the madness that comes from being shut up alone in a small room for a whole day, optic nerves throbbing from too much screen time, printed words blurring on a paper page.

Every month feels like a fresh new start, but I find myself unable to keep to the deadlines that I set myself; the goals I imagined with so much enthusiasm just trickle away in a blur of tiredness and procrastination. That's one of the reasons that I thrive in the education system, and found being self-employed so challenging: an external demand negating choice, forcing output. There's so much to do, and it's so hard to do it all.

Anyway, I'd love to write a monthly PhD blog throughout my studies, but I don't want to commit to anything at this stage. Throughout 2017 I have found my writing practice more slippery and elusive than ever before. I came to accept this eventually, but I truly hope that things will get better as we reach the new year.

Till next time,


Tuesday, 3 October 2017


He said, To be honest white people don't even really ask to touch my hair any more since I got dreads. It's mostly black people asking to touch it like, Ohh lemme feel those matted locks, because I don't look like I have nice locks.

I said, Well that's good then. I can't imagine what it must be like to have people constantly demanding to touch your hair. If I was a black girl, I would be really angry all of the time. I'd go mad!

He said, Well yeah, that's why there are whole comedies written about black people and how you don't touch their hair. If you were a black girl, you'd have anger management issues.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

London, c.1895

He looked at people walking about and envied them because they had friends; sometimes his envy turned to hatred because they were happy and he was miserable. He had never imagined that it was possible to be so lonely in a great city. 
When Philip thought that he must spend over four years more with that dreary set of fellows his heart sank. He had expected wonderful things from London and it had given him nothing. He hated it now. He did not know a soul, and he had no idea how he was to get to know anyone. He was tired of going everywhere by himself. He began to feel that he could not stand much more of such a life. He would lie in bed at night and think of the joy of never seeing again that dingy office or any of the men in it, and of getting away from those drab lodgings.   
from 'Of Human Bondage' (1915) by W. Somerset Maugham. London: Vintage Books

In my writing again and again, I find myself interrogating the topic of city life, and of being a living subject in place where a mass of people struggle not to crash into on another on a daily basis. Reading Somerset Maugham, I am struck by the sense of isolation which he conveys, whatever the place. Our antihero Philip Carey is a lonely person with a tricky personality, at once incredibly sensitive but touchy, tactless, and unable to negotiate his emotions in a satisfying, constructive manner. The book contains nearly 500 pages of hopelessness, despair and difficulty, both in relationships and financially. It is uncanny how closely the London of 1895 resembles London 2017. In the end, the most surprising thing of all is that Philip gets a happy ending. Good luck to him.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Singing and brambling

Francis and I spent a long weekend in Newcastle, reuniting with beautiful Hannah. On Monday afternoon, we took a long walk through Jesmond Dene, searching for blackberries. We picked, and walked, for several hours, singing with each step. I had written an autobiography in verse last year whilst living in Stockholm, and enjoyed singing it together with Hannah very much. Here's us, above, singing whilst picking; and below, just before taking a recording of what we managed to learn.

And here's what it sounded like. Beginnings are where we start. As life continues to take a snakey path round decisions and happenings, I try to embrace what's revealed at each corner.


Monday, 28 August 2017

Deconstructing Fashion episode 5 clothing in Africa, the Carribbean, and South East Asia...

Have you listened yet to episode 5 of Deconstructing Fashion? This edition of the monthly podcast I co-host is my favourite yet. Click here to listen to it.

You'll hear from the director of the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora speak about her work tracing dress histories around the world. My co-hosts and I chat about the Costume Society conference, and Sian interviews me about my work researching Chinese dress in south-east Asia. And we discuss the state of fashion research, agreeing that what we all find the most intriguing is stories about people rather than catalogues of expensive garments.

If you enjoy this episode, please recommend us to your friends! 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Melting pot

We rehearse on Sundays, first in an abandoned office block turned into a home on the Grand Union Canal, then in a bedroom turned music studio in a flat above a fried chicken shop. Appearances deceive us, and a ballerina from Paris by way of Guadeloupe thinks that a blonde caucasian flautist is English because of her cut-glass intonation gained at a British school in Holland. We also have a rapping Londoner who arrived by way of Algeria, and a composer who cut his teeth on a true mash up of heavy metal, electronic dance music, Bach, organs, Afrobeats and Spanish classical guitar, who is here thanks to imperial interventions in Nigeria and Guyana, that last one being Guyanese by way of India, Africa and Portugal.

We'll look back on this period in thirty or so years time and feel incredibly bohemian, but I hope that my future self is still growing and learning and humble.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Automatic writing

The best kind of writing I feel is automatic writing. This is something which I am trying to do now, an outpouring of thoughts which form directly in my mind and reach the blank page or white screen immediately. My fingers holding pen or pressing the computer keyboard becomes an extension of my brain's inner narrative. The best work, I find, comes from this kind of automatic writing - that elusive, slippery zone which produces concepts and thoughts that are somehow pure, and somehow perfect in their difficult natural flow. My fingers press away like the veritable wind, backtracking every so often to correct errors in the order of characters, for I've forgotten my touch typing lessons of so many years ago.

I feel that there are two types of automatic writing, which to my mind is characterised by a need strong and irrepressible to form words in the world, to form concrete and even tangible words, you could say, out there on the other side of your cranium. A desperation, a longing, a possibility which is not questionable but simply realised. Firstly there is the pursuit of an idea, an obsession, a concept that sparks something within and therefore with out. And secondly there is the autobiographical narrative, the confessional, the diary. Both are wonderful, but one in particular lifts. I speak the words inside and outside, on my tongue and off my finger tips. Whisper. Lips.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Mixed-up, Mixed Race; or, 20+ Years of Eurasian Angst

Me and my nose, Ho Chi Minh City, February 2014

"Perhaps intermarriage is the solution of the great racial problem," suggested the Professor. 
"Never," said the old administrator. "Keep the breed pure, be it white, black, or yellow. Bastard races cannot flourish. They are a waste of nature."  

-from 'Kimono' by John Paris (1921). 
Published by Penguin Books, 1947, pp.12-13

Eurasians are alternatively demonised and fetishised in colonial-era literature; and post-colonial literature continues to uphold the shaky ground upon which so-called 'half-castes' tread. Commonly depicted as being unwelcome in white and 'native' communities alike, it is only recently that the positive stereotypes - but stereotypes all the same - of Eurasians being beautiful has won out. In our current image-obsessed culture, we live out the archaic assumption that to be beautiful equals to be good, and therefore good-looking Eurasians are good things too. White communities like us because we represent the allure of the exotic, but with some familiar features that remind them of Caucasians. Asian communities like us because we are often fair-skinned, with lighter hair, and may display the strong jawline and more pointed nose which is characteristic of Westerners; basically because we have Western physical traits which they themselves find desirable. It's the timeless appeal of the Other, a type of beauty in sight but just out of grasp.

Out of grasp, that is, until beauty standards met the cosmetic surgery industry and they exploded in a huge, fast, scary way. When I spent two weeks travelling around Vietnam in 2014, it was assumed that I was North Vietnamese, and I was constantly asked if I had had my nose job done in Korea. The same thing has happened with Indonesian tourists in Bali.

People were not trying to determine if I was Eurasian, half white. I was stopped by multiple groups of adoring women who simply said to me, "You're so beautiful! Did you get your nose job done in Korea?"

The famous Nose in profile, Ho Chi Minh City, February 2014

Hanh, Nelly and me, HCMC, Feb '14. All real noses: two Vietnamese, one Eurasian


I am reminiscing about this trip, and longing to see old friends. I wrote the majority of this text two years ago, and have just found it languishing in the 'drafts' folder of this blog. I am publishing it now because I have recently come to realise that although I am constantly interested and intrigued by people's experiences of race and empire, I have done very little to interrogate my own relationships and understandings of these concepts. I hope to do more of this over the coming year, and aim to document those mental wonderings and wanderings in this space, online. I feel that this is an especially relevant activity in light of my [upcoming] PhD research methodology.

As always, I would love to hear back from any of my readers, particularly those from a multi-ethnic background. Please feel free to comment on any blog posts, or contact me at chinesefashion @


Monday, 3 July 2017

Deconstructing Fashion Podcast

Deconstructing Fashion, a podcast.
Thoughts on fashion and culture, present and past.
I have started recording a fashion history podcast together with fellow MA Fashion Cultures alumni Siân and Lindsay. We are three smart women talking about fun things, so if you're looking for new podcasts and are fans of the talk show format, do give us a listen! 

You can find us on iTunes and Soundcloud. Click here for our website, which has a list of episodes with full descriptions and show notes. 

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider giving us a review on iTunes! It would really help us improve our ratings and reach other listeners. 

Find us online at and contact us at hello[at]

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Upcoming Talk: The Samfu Suit, 1920-1979

Image copyright: Anushka Tay

I will be presenting my Masters thesis The Samfu Suit, 1920-1979. Diaspora, Identity, Representation at the Costume Society Conference on Saturday 1 July 2017.

This research proved to be a journey across both time and land, taking me deep into library archives as well as into the memories of family and friends. I carried out this research in London, Singapore and Hong Kong in summer 2016 for my dissertation for MA Fashion Cultures at the London College of Fashion (passed with distinction).

This research was supported by several grants: Costume Society Yarwood Award 2016; Pasold Textiles MA Research Grant; London College of Fashion: Fashion Matters Project Bursary.

Tickets are still available. Click here for more information & booking.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Where have you been

June 2017
Time is measured out in chords learned and scales mastered, in stitches made and socks piled up in the dresser. I ask myself constantly how I have arrived in June from January, and what do I have to show? Travel, music, conversation. Friendships strengthened and knowledge gained, and then lost. All these things are invisible yet mount up to leave indelible marks on the inside. I am trying to be a better artist, by which I mean not a painter or sculptor but a daily practitioner of creation. Sometimes when things seem too quiet it's as much as a loss as when time is too full. I am trying to return to better habits, to relearn ways of working and being that led me to better places in the past. Bear with me while I try.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

mending stories :: lengthening a hand knit sock

mending stories is a new, regular feature where I will be sharing my exploration of the upkeep of loved, worn clothing. Today's culture encourages a never-end cycle of the new, so I encourage you to step back and appreciate the journeys that our clothes have accompanied us on, which are so often imprinted onto fabric, fibre and stitching. From trials and tribulations, to tips and new techniques learnt, I hope you will enjoy following along - and are inspired to mend some of your clothing too! #mendingstories

Last year, over the Easter weekend, I was knitting a pair of socks. This was my second sock project after  a long knitting hiatus, and I was feeling rather impatient. I was also unsure about how sizing works for hand-knitted socks. To fit against the contours of the foot, the fabric must stretch out and cling to it, and so there must be some negative ease. I really wanted to get the socks off the needles and onto my feet, and so, thinking that I needed lots of negative ease, I knit feet which were too short.

They seemed to fit fine at first, but during the day, the sock heels would gradually migrate from the ankle to the sole and look rather silly. I loved the colour of the socks, and the simplicity of the 3x1 ribbed pattern, so I wanted to keep them. But recently, 10 months after casting off, I've finally got round to lengthening the foot.

It took only a few hours to do, and it's really been worth it to achieve a better fit. I feel so much more comfortable now, and the socks will last longer since they're not being stretched out in the wrong places. If you have been putting off this kind of alteration on a finished knitting project, I recommend leaping in and fixing it - you'll feel much better afterwards!

How to lengthen (or shorten) the foot of a hand-knitted sock

I tried to unpick the cast-off edge, but the end of the yarn was buried deep within the fabric and was impossible to find. So I carefully made one snip in the fabric, pulled out the yarn, unravelled the toe, and knit 1.5" more onto the foot. I could have cut off the old yarn, but I liked the idea of keeping it as a reminder of this alteration. It's quite clear where I have used new yarn to knit the toe as the fabric is so much smoother. I like this difference as it reminds me of a good lesson learnt.

  • Small sharp scissors with pointy blades
  • Double-pointed or long circular knitting needles to achieve the same gauge as your sock
  • Optional: double pointed or long circular knitting needles in a smaller size than your gauge
  • Tapestry needle
  • Smooth waste yarn (e.g. fine crochet cotton)
  • First, look for the yarn you used to knit your sock with. If you no longer have it, choose another yarn in the same weight which contains at least 20% Nylon (polyamide). This could be a similar or a contrasting colour (get creative!) 
  • Decide if you want to unravel and re-use the yarn currently in the sock toe, or if you have enough to use new yarn.
  • Determine how much length you need to add (or remove). You could measure a well-fitting handknitted sock and compare it to your old one, or just measure it against your foot
  • Work out how you knitted the toe. Is it a standard toe that you've knitted frequently, or did it incorporate special shaping? This may affect the length that you add to the sock foot.
  • Establish the direction of the sock: whether the sock was knitted from the cuff downwards, or from the toe upwards.
  • Find the needle size that you previously used.
  • For toe up socks, or if you don't need to re-use the old yarn: determine the row where you will re-start knitting. Put a lifeline through all stitches on this row by threading a length of smooth cotton through the right leg of each stitch across the whole row.
  • Very carefully snip away at the row above this one. (Do two rows above if you're feeling nervous!) Pull out all the excess. You will be left with a row of live stitches sitting on waste yarn.
  • For cuff down socks, or it you will re-use the old yarn: make a small snip through one stitch at the very top of the toe where it was grafted together. Pull the ends through a few times until you unlock the knitting and can unravel the whole toe. You will be at the foot, ready to start knitting again.
  • Put all live stitches onto your knitting needles. It may help to initially slip them onto smaller needles, but remember to then knit them off with the right size needles. 
  • Count the stitches; double check for any dropped stitches or potential errors.
  • Knit the foot in pattern until you have added enough length.
  • Knit the toe.
  • Enjoy your well-fitting socks!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

dream knitting: simple textured shawls

When it comes to stitch patterns, these days, I'm finding that simplicity is best. I love easy, repetitive knit-and-purl stitch patterns, and lace that uses garter stitch and eyelets. Garter stitch seems to be quite divisive amongst knitters. It's incredibly repetitive, grows very slowly, produces a thick fabric that doesn't curl. It's the first stitch pattern that you learn as a knitter, and it's taken me a while to see its charms - but I absolutely love it. I've been excited to see the growing number of shawls and large scarves in knitting land using simple knit-and-purl stitch patterns, and I'm hoping to knit one soon. But how to choose the pattern? Here are some which are on my mind...

Textured Shawl - photo by thegentleknitter

First is the really simple 'textured shawl recipe' by Orlane. This version is by Nicole, a.k.a. the gentle knitter, which I saw on her wonderful podcast. Nicole used a subtly mottled yarn and I think that this is absolutely stunning. Come to think of it, a lot of this list is heavily influenced by Nicole!

Campside Shawl by Alicia Plummer 

The Campside Shawl has a lot of holes in it and looks great bundled up around the neck. I dislike the ribbed border, and would replace it with garter stitch.

Ene's Scarf by Nancy Bush

Slightly more complicated is Ene's Scarf. This is an old pattern published in the book Scarf Style, which I own but have never knit anything from. I've seen really lovely versions of it knit in natural sheep shades of beige, cream and grey.

Dunyvaig by Kate Davies

Finally, a scarf rather than a shawl, is Dunyvaig by Kate Davies, from her most recent book Inspired by Islay. I really like the textured stripes, and I don't currently have a hand-knitted scarf, so it would be a good addition to my closet.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

L'amour de la laine... yarn shopping in Paris

I recently took an absolutely wonderful trip to Paris with my partner. We were lucky with mild and dry weather, and spent our three days walking along the Seine, gazing through shop windows, and eating delicious food non-stop. We also called in on several yarn shops, which I'd found by searching 'tricot' (knitting) or 'laine' (wool) on Google Maps.

On the first day we went to Cat'Laine, in a little back street, which had a really nice, varied selection of yarns; I bought some black/grey gradient sock yarn. We also visited Lil' Weasel, a gorgeous yarn boutique in an art nouveau shopping arcade. Lil' Weasel had beautiful displays and slightly more luxurious yarns, including some hand-dyed skeins. I decided to stick with commercially-spun wool sock yarn, and found this pretty shade of blue yarn to knit some lacy spring socks. I'm afraid that we didn't think to take photos in these two shops as, quite simply, we were in a bit of a daze due to getting up at 5am to catch the Eurostar.

Towards the end of our trip, I was wondering out loud whether I should pop back into Lil' Weasel to purchase a sweater-quantity of yarn since it was a such a lovely shop. But whilst checking the map, my partner spotted one more yarn shop I'd saved which I'd forgotten about, and suggested going there instead. So we popped into La Droguerie - and I'm so glad that we did!

Communing with the yarn at La Droguerie
Yarn everywhere!

Knitting needles in a vintage display cabinet
La Droguerie is a haberdashery selling buttons, beads, trimmings, yarn, fabric and patterns. You step in off the street to a dreamy corridor of yarn. Sample skeins of every colour of each yarn are hung up on two walls, wools followed by cotton. On each type, there's a card stating the composition, meterage per 100g, and recommended needle size; dotted around are example garments and swatches knitted from each yarn. At the back of the shop are all the cones of the yarn, which will be wound up for each customer. You select the yarn you want, then tell the shop assistant how many metres you need; s/he calculates the weight, and then winds up your skeins of yarn from the big cones at the back. I had such a great time browsing the yarns, and as you can imagine, they came in wonderful colours.

 After a lot of deliberation, I choose this aran weight wool in a bright jade green, which I will knit into a cardigan. I bought 1000m, so I decided to just take a bit cone home, rather than make the shop assistant wind it all off. This kind of system (taking a sample to the shop assistant at the counter) is common in haberdasheries, but quite unique for yarn shops; the staff were all really helpful and patient.

My partner doesn't frequent haberdasheries or yarn and fabric stores as much as me, and he really enjoyed looking at all the colourful displays, browsing the cards of buttons and jars of beads, and taking photos. It was impossible not to come home with something, and I will treasure my handknitted garments all the more with memories of such a special trip.

Sweet shop bead displays, mirrored ceilings, and an amazing knitted rendition of a Sonia Delaunay painting 

Absolutely beautiful faux astrakhan fur trims

Rainbow buttons

Friday, 24 February 2017

January & February: stress knitting, storm knitting

February has simply flown by, I have no idea how. I've been busy with writing deadlines, preparing for a music examination, rehearsing with a new band, and learning Mandarin Chinese. Along with the deadline-related stress and other pressures in my personal life, I had been feeling really down due to the global political situation, which in my opinion has gone from bad to worse, with a plummeting £ and rising inflation helping nobody. I found myself channelling this sense of frustration and helplessness into my knitting, and in doing so, I completely turned around the energy from negative and destructive to productive and creative.

The green socks are my most recent finished project; I have also made blue socks for myself, and a pair of red lace socks for my partner (which are so bright that they have proved impossible to photograph). I've enjoyed seeing his jolly flashes of red ankles during the last few extremely grey months. I'm happy to have knit up these two balls of sock yarn that I purchased in early December, but am constantly surprised by how differently self-striping yarn knits up, compared to the skein!

In December, I knit a pair of fingerless gloves for my Aunty's Christmas present. I used hand-dyed Shetland yarn from my stash, which I bought in Doncaster in 2013. The pattern is 'Tuuli' from Pom Pom magazine issue 7, a copy that I had some writing published in. I really loved these gloves and was so sad to give them away to in January, I knit a second pair for myself. I made my pair without the turn-up on the cuff, as I was running out of yarn. I really love how incredibly light Shetland yarn is, these gloves are really warm and weigh next to nothing. They've kept me nice and toasty whilst driving in snowstorms and playing the piano in chilly rooms.

I have been thinking of starting a knitting/sewing video podcast, and I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice you had on the matter. Would you watch it? What do you think I should include? Do you have any tips?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Screen, paper and face

We are sitting in the window of a chain café on the edge of the Strand. We are drinking small cups of coffee with Italian names which have just been prepared using coffee beans grown somewhere in South America. We have been looking at photographs taken fifty years ago in West Africa of people running, dancing, jumping, playing. A painter told me that good paintings lift you, they give you something, you walk away feeling like you're richer. She's not keen on photography, yet I feel that this notion of being rich in spirit even when your pockets are empty can be applied to all works of human creativity. Certainly, I feel wonderful after looking at all those photographs of anonymous people in a far-away place and a far-away time. They are here and I am there.

Back to the present, and suddenly we hear a burst of shouting and calling. A group of people are passing by waving placards, and I remember the notice that I'd seen tied to a traffic light at a pedestrian crossing advertising a march to show support immigrant workers. I'd also seen it advertised online, and suddenly here it is in front of me. I am at leisure, sitting here in the middle of the day philosophising, because my four grandparents migrated to London to study, to work, to seek refuge from persecution. They found jobs, then each other; they renounced their former citizenships to settle and stay; they raised children. They paid taxes. They never claimed social benefits. Why would they?

There is a problem in this country called race, and people who do not have peach skin, deep eye sockets, straight hair and thin lips are ceaselessly made to feel unwelcome. I can't be proud of a country whose people constantly question my birthplace. It is always assumed that I, and others who resemble me, come from somewhere else. The location is abstract, and foreign, and far away. When migrants are demonised by the media and by politicians, as they currently are, I wonder what is the desired alternative. Nationalism in England has a nasty undercurrent of racism and fascism. Currently, new migrants and religious minorities are scapegoated for the nation's problems; whilst descendants of old migrants are constantly made to feel unwelcome, like we're not part of the country. I guess that I don't always want to be British, but I am, and there's no where else for me to go. This is the home that I come from, and I have no choice but to stay.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House

We finally made it to the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House; it was absolutely wonderful, in so many ways.  It closes on the 26th February, so I am typing like the wind in order that any readers might have time to catch it in the next 5 days!

Malick Sidibé was a Malian photographer, who took iconic portrait photographs in Mali following independence  from French colonialisation in 1960. I had previously seen his photographs hung in group exhibitions, and this is the first solo show in the UK. The exhibition was divided into three sections according to their topics and style, and framed photographs were hung in three beautiful high-ceilinged rooms in Somerset House. Nightlife in the capital Bamako depicted snappily-dressed groups of men and women dancing the twist and showing off their record collections. Daytime by the river Niger showed groups of teenagers posing, playing, swimming. The last room displayed a selection of studio portraits, some of which were certainly more posed than the location photography, but all were equally energetic. Sidibé's subjects are notable for their charismatic style, whether clothed in a three-piece checked suit with polished loafers and pork-pie hat, or standing topless wearing a sarong or old jeans. His photography is utterly fresh; you can almost hear the peals of laughter, shouts or cries ringing out. The atmosphere of the exhibition was kept equally upbeat with a varied soundtrack designed by DJ Rita Ray, which I felt was really successful.

All photographs were black-and-white, and were heavily textured from darkroom processing. The crinkly photographic paper was hung loose in white frames, which really gave an additional layer of tactility to the show. We are in the age of images which exist only onscreen, and I can honestly say that the curatorial choice to emphasise the physicality of photographs made it a very special show. I look forward to more like it in the future, and really encourage you to go before it closes!

Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali. Somerset House, till 26 February. 
Free entry!
Click here for more information.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

A year of socks

Hello Readers, and Happy New Year 2017! Unfortunately I was struck down with a cold on January 1st, and spent the first week of 2017 sick in bed. Luckily I'll get another go at new beginnings with the Lunar New Year at the end of January, so until then, I'm catching up on un-blogged projects that I was working on during December. And without further ado - my 2016 Year of Socks!

This was a personal challenge that I set myself. Last January, I moved to Sweden for 5 months in order to do an Erasmus exchange with Stockholm University. I couldn't bring my library, my piano, my cello, or my sewing machine; but instead tucked in two balls of a luxurious mustard yellow sock yarn that I'd purchased at the first Edinburgh Yarn Festival back in 2013. I hadn't knit a pair of socks in about 7 years, and I wasn't sure if I still could. But socks are a small project, and I had space for this yarn amongst all the thermal underwear and woolly jumpers that I'd squashed into my suitcase.

Knitting on a Stockholm bus

I cast on for these socks at the end of January 2016. They were knee high socks knit toe-up on 2.5mm needles. I swatched for them diligently, and it was my first toe-up project. I knit them on buses and subways in Stockholm; in cafes drinking endless cups of hot black coffee, and at the wonderful monthly knit night at Nordiska Museet (a Swedish folk traditions museum, kind of like Stockholm's equivalent to the V&A).  They took a lot of patience, I got bored more than once - but once they were finished, I was officially hooked! I decided to challenge myself to see if I could knit a pair of socks per month during the rest of the year.

Woolly socks for me

In total I have made 10 pairs of socks, and I'm really happy with the results. 4 pairs are for myself and 6 pairs are for my partner. Some months (August and October) were entirely sock-less; other months (November) were furiously productive and I made more than one pair. I also have 1 orphan sock that I knit in December, but its partner was abandoned in the Christmas knitting rush. Together, my completed socks form a pleasingly colour-co-ordinated set, rather like a multipack you'd buy in a department store.

An array of colour co-ordinated socks for my partner

I'm most drawn to neutral (ish) shades which can be easily combined with everyday clothing. I always use hard-wearing commercial sock yarn containing at least 20% nylon. Some socks have been more successful than others; but they have all been worn quite heavily - which really shows in the photos! My partner has taken to wearing his hand-knitted socks with great enthusiasm which is really pleasing for me - I love the fact that my hand-made gifts are being worn every day, and it makes me want to knit him more & more.

Whilst I enjoy the look of socks with simple knit-and-purl patterns, the subtle detailing tends to blur with wear. Ribbed socks are the most successful for fit, as the sock leg doesn't slouch down. Lace socks are the most fun to knit, but must only be knit in a very hard-wearing sock yarn. The lace fabric actually allows for more ventilation in the sock, which is definitely a good thing

In chronological order, here are the details of each pair of socks that I knit.

1. January & February: Little Cable Knee Highs

My re-introduction to sock knitting wasn't faint-hearted: I went for a full-on pair of knee-highs! Read more about them here.

Yarn: Old Maiden Aunt Superwash 4-ply (100% superwash merino wool), bought at Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2013 and hoarded for 3 years.
Pattern: Little Cable Knee Highs
Needles: 2.5mm Karbonz circulars, Magic Loop
Construction: Toe-up; gusset/short row turn/heel flat; elastic bind-off
Heel: slipped stitches to form columns, but this was my first sock in 7 years and I didn't get it right!
Notes: This marvellously extravagant hand-painted yarn has turned out to be the worst choice for socks, and it has worn terribly. I adore the look of these socks, but after a few hours, they slip down annoyingly. I've taken to just wearing them around this house, which is a bit of a shame, but I can't face unravelling them!

2. March: Autumn Leaf Ribbed Socks

After the extravagant yellow knee-highs, I wanted something quick, simple and everyday for my next sock project.

Yarn: Regia 4-ply sock yarn (75% wool, 25% nylon) bought in London
Pattern: Basic ribbed socks
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: Top-down; Dutch heel
Heel: Dutch heel
Notes: My first socks were a little on the roomy side, so here I tried to use negative ease to get a snugger fit. Unfortunately I went a bit too far in shortening the foot length, but they are still wearable. I also disliked the square Dutch heel that sits right underneath the foot, preferring a heel technique that clings to the contours of the heel. Surprisingly, the Regia yarn has fuzzed up a little.

3. April: Leaf Skeleton Socks

With these socks I was inspired by the small details inserted into cuffs, heels, and toes that were featured on historical socks from the archive at Nordiska Museet. I added a little garter lace insertion into the ribbing.

Yarn: Hjertegarn 4 (75% wool, 25% nylon), a Danish yarn bought in Stockholm.
Pattern: Gingko socks
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: toe up; heel flap
Heel: slip stitch columns
Notes: this pattern, whilst pretty, is not very well-written. It features an extra-long gusset and no short-row shaping for the heel turn. The lace pattern also doesn't transform that cleverly from the foot into the leg.

4. May: Burgundy Ribbed Socks

Here, I started experimenting with sock patterns, and combined the toe-up construction of my yellow socks, with the neat ribbed pattern of my rust socks. I made these for my partner. Burgundy is his absolute favourite colour, and it seemed strange that despite owning an example of every single type of clothing in burgundy (and/or associated colours of claret, maroon, plum etc) he had no burgundy socks!

Yarn: Drops Fabel Long Print, bought in Stockholm
Pattern: My own toe-up sock pattern using 3x1 rib and incorporating a rounder heel
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: toe up; gusset/short row turn/heel flap; elastic bind-off
Heel: (K1, slip 1 purlwise) to form columns
Notes: The yarn has pilled and fuzzed up a lot, and become rather matted in certain areas. Despite this, they've not developed any holes, although they have been heavily worn.

5. June: Blue River Ribbed Socks

Using the same pattern as above, I made these for my partner. He chose the yarn himself, and these are probably the most-worn socks out of the whole bunch.

Yarn: Bergere de France Goomy 50 (75% wool, 25% nylon). Bought in London.
Pattern: My 3x1 rib pattern
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: toe up; gusset/short row turn/heel flap; elastic bind-off
Heel: (K1, slip 1 purlwise) to form columns
Notes: The yarn has pilled a little, but overall the socks have worn very well. I'm not entirely happy with the bind-offs for a toe-up sock: they are either too tight or too slack, and don't match the elasticity of the rest of the fabric.

6. July & August: Subtle Socks

A pair of everyday socks for my partner to wear at work. The pattern is barely discernible (especially on camera!) but in real life, the texture is very pleasing, even elegant.

Yarn: Patons Diploma 4-ply (55% wool, 25% acrylic, 20% nylon). Bought in London.
Pattern: Hermione's Everyday Socks
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: Top-down; heel flap/short row turn/gusset
Heel: eye of Partridge heel, garter stitch border
Notes: Black socks are hard to knit. I could only work on these in daylight, so they were quite slow-going. I was initially reluctant to use this yarn as it's such a high synthetic fibre content; but it was the only black sock-weight yarn stocked in John Lewis! The plus side is that they should be quite long-lasting.

7. September: Horse Shoe Lace Socks

These socks took me ages to finish (probably because I knit a cardigan between the first and second sock...) They feature a scaled-down version of a typical Shetland horse shoe lace, which I always enjoy knitting. I'm not entirely happy with the bind-offs for a toe-up sock: they are either too tight or too slack, and don't match the elasticity of the rest of the fabric. After this point, I abandoned toe-up sock knitting for the time being.

Yarn: Sandnes Garn Sisu (80% wool, 20% nylon). A Norwegian yarn bought in Stockholm
Pattern: Mermaidia 
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: Toe-up; heel flap/short row turn/gusset; sewn bind-off
Heel: (slip 1 purlwise, K1) to form columns
Notes: The yarn is a little heavier than many other sock yarns, so the socks are a bit thicker. I found it stiff and a bit scratchy to knit with, but this could be due to a tight gauge.

8. November: Sporty Stash Busting Socks

These socks were an experiment in stash-busting. I was beginning to build up quite a pile of sock yarn leftovers, and I hate stashing, so I wanted to see how far I could get with just buying one ball of plain 'fresh' yarn. I think they make a fun casual pair of socks. I gave these to my partner for his birthday.

Yarn: 1 ball Hjertegarn Sock 4 (75% wool, 25% nylon), a Danish yarn bought in Stockholm. Remnants of Bergere de France Goomy 50 (a French yarn bought in London!)
Pattern: Hermione's Everyday Socks
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: Top-down; heel flap/short row turn/gusset
Heel: eye of Partridge heel, garter stitch border
Notes: As I was using leftovers, I didn't try to pattern-match the stripes on the contrast sections. These socks have become quite fuzzy with wear, but it's OK for a casual sock.

9. November: Winter Blues Socks 

At this point, I affirmed that my favourite socks to make, see and wear incorporate simple textured stitch patterns. I also love uncomplicated but striking uses of colour. I gave these socks to my partner for Christmas.

Yarn: just over 1 ball of Drops Fabel sock yarn in blue (75% Wool, 25% Nylon), and leftovers of black yarn for the contrasting toe and cuff.
Pattern: Mount Airy Socks
Needles: 2.5mm bamboo DPNs
Construction: Top down, heel flap/short row turn/gusset
Heel: eye of Partridge heel, garter stitch border
Notes: Drops Fabel is a great yarn that's very cheap, however it gets fuzzy quite quickly. The subtlety of the diagonal purl pattern, and the beautiful eye of partridge heel, has become lost after a few weeks' wear.

10. December: Luscious Ribbed Socks

The last pair of 2016, and the first pair of 2017. I completed these on a day last week when I was still bedridden, but slightly more lucid. They haven't been worn yet, which is why they look so skinny and weird! The yarn was an absolute joy to knit with, but I am concerned that it won't be that hard-wearing. I originally made these socks for myself; but when I finished them and put them on, I let a out a big sigh...They were so much my partner's colour that it looked like they already belonged to him! I kept feeling like I'd stolen his socks, and couldn't wear them with a clear conscience. So I gave them to him for our anniversary at the beginning of January.

Yarn: Rowan Fine Art (45% Wool, 25% Nylon, 20% Mohair, 10% Silk), purchased in London
Pattern: My own top-down, 2x2 rib socks
Needles: 2.25mm Addi Lace circulars, Magic Loop technique
Construction: twisted 1x1 rib cuff; heel flap/short row turn/gusset.
Heel: (slip 1, K1) heel flap with garter edges
Notes: I love them! The best fit I have achieved overall.

2017 plans...
I find the look of these 10 socks squashed into this wooden crate incredibly pleasing. It was much emptier once I separated my socks from my partner's, and it would be lovely to fill it up again over 2017; but I'm not going to set myself a challenge this year. Various family members have requested sweaters, and so I've decided to take the focus away from socks slightly.

Recently, I have discovered similar sock-knitting initiatives linked to podcasting/Instagram, such as the Box O'Sox KAL which requires 12 pairs of socks in 12 months. I don't want to set myself up for failure, so I won't be taking part, but the hashtag is fun to follow anyway!

That's not to say that I won't be knitting any socks! I have somehow acquired 4 new balls of sock yarn; there's an unfinished pair to complete; and there's some old stash yarn to use up too. So that's pointing to at least 7 pairs of socks in 2017. On that note, I'd better get knitting!