Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Book I Love

The Knitting Answer Book by Margarette Radcliffe is one of my nerdy favorites in my knitting library.  It's not a new book, (2005), but it's one I rediscover every 6 months or so. 

The design of it is that if you have a question about your knitting, you look up the question, and she provides at least one, if not several correct answers on how to solve your issue.  It's small and light, fits neatly in your knitting bag, and it's very good at its job.

The funny thing is, I don't use it in this way very often.  I just like to sit down and read it.  There are so many nuggets of wisdom in here, and so many questions from knitters on so many issues, I feel like it makes me a better knitter and a better teacher to read it.  It reinforces things I know, and introduces me to the reasoning for things I don't.  There are the answers to how to untwist your join in the round, but also more complex stuff like which yarn types are more prone to biasing.  There are no articles, just potential questions, and her answers to them. 

Each question and and answer only runs approximately 100 words, so a quick knitting fix can easily be had, or I can sit with it as long as I like.  The writing is clear, the solutions are accurate and effective, and frankly, I wish I could say I wrote this book.  That being out of the question, I'm really glad she did!  If you haven't seen it, take a look.  I think you might love it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Can't Stop Falling In Love

I know it has happened to every one of us: you see a fiber, and it's beautiful.  You want to get to know it a little better, but you're afraid it might not feel as good as it looks.  Plus, it's probably really expensive and full of itself.

You muster up the courage, and wear your heart on your sleeve.  You pick it up.  It's soft!  And perfect!  You turn the label looking for the price, hoping your dream of a life with this yarn won't be dashed, and YES!  It's in your price range!  Check the, it isn't one of those 64 yard skeins, it's a regular, decent sized hank.  It's love!

You and your new love go home together.  You want to make every project in your queue out of it, from socks to sweaters to that gorgeous bikini from Vogue.  You seriously consider upholstering your furniture in your new fascination. 

The two of you set a date, and you dive into a project.  It works.  It's wonderful.  You call the LYS and order the yarn in every colorway they make.  And on the day you go to the LYS to pick up your new, marvelous haul, you meet a new fiber.  It starts all over again.  You bring them both home. 

Are you fickle?  Crazy?  A yarn slut?  (Well, maybe this last one, but in the nicest possible way.)  No, you're a fiber addict.  And so am I.  Thank heaven there is no 12 step program for us!  This weekend alone I fell head over heels in love with three separate yarns.  I'm trying to give them all equal time, and am designing projects for each of them to celebrate our new relationship.  My new BFFs (and a taste of their colorways) are:

Cascade Luna - Peruvian Cotton, colors like you've always wished for, soft and crazy strong.  The finish is a little matte, and a little shine.  Worsted weight.  Woo hoo!

Cascade Epiphany - Royal alpaca, cashmere, and silk.  Touch it, and you'll want to be alone with it.  Don't share.  Let other people buy their own.  Light worsted.  Beautiful soft hand.  Very warm for its weight.  Thank you, Cascade.  I will name my next child after you.

Cascade Kid Seta - Mohair, silk and a touch of wool.  Usually I don't love mohair because I'm not good with shedding.  Honestly, this yarn is ridiculously well behaved and super soft.  Its loft is not easily crushed.  The colors run the gamut of the seasons.  The silk keeps it strong, and gives nice workability. 

Okay, enough with the blogging.  I have guests.  I need to get back to them.  We'll talk soon.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Freebie Friday Vintage Vest #171

Today's featured feebie is the 171 Vintage Vest from WEBS.  It's beautiful, and deceptively light for it's warmth due to the soft alpaca fibers in the yarn.  It holds its shape well thanks to the silk.  It's just the kind of layer that makes your lightweight tops more comfortable on unpredictable spring days.  Add a little beading to the edge and it goes out for fancy evening.  I love this sweater.  I hope you will, too.

I can't get the photo to transfer, so just click the link and take a look.  You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Knitting Pattern Central

My patterns can now be found through Knitting Pattern Central!  Thank you, Rachel!  I appreciate the recognition.

Sample Mess

I received a sample knit back today, and I really wish the sample knitter had paid some attention to gauge. (It is in the agreement, in bold type.)  We're two stitches off on stitch and three and a half off on row. There are no humans made in dimensions that would work with these mittens. Not even close.

Why would you continue knitting when it's obvious that there is something very wrong?  That's the time to re-measure gauge.  If it's off, rip back and fix it.  If it's on and the garment is a distorted shape, do the math.  Multiply the gauge times the finished dimensions and see if the stitch counts match.  If they're way off, abandon ship!  Either re-write the pattern yourself, get someone to help you, or pick a new project.  There is no virtue in making a useless garment.  And in this case, the sample knitter made not one, but two.  Sheesh!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Adjusting a Pattern So It Fits You

Teaching a class yesterday, I was told of one knitter's frustration at trying to find patterns for garments her size.  I sympathized.  As nice as it would be if patterns said something like, "Liz, this will fit you perfectly if you just use a US 6 needle," they never do.  "Do you swatch?" I asked.

"Well, not if it doesn't come in my size."

If the pattern is only off by a size or two, this doesn't have to be a problem.  Grab a calculator, and adjust the gauge so that the pattern works for you.  We're not changing the number of stitches, just the size of the stitches.  Let's do a mitten pattern.  The pattern makes a women's large mitten, 8.5 inches around at a gauge of 7 stitches to the inch, and the pattern is 60 stitches around on worsted yarn. 

What size do you want?  Measure around your palm with a measuring tape.  Add a quarter to a half an inch for a normal mitten.  What's the total?  If you wear a women's small mitten, probably 7.5 inches total around for the mitten.  So let's do the math. 

60 stitches divided by 7.5 inches = 8 stitches to the inch.  So we either need smaller needles or smaller yarn.  Which one?

Look up the recommended yarn on the manufacturer web site.  Let's say the pattern says 7 stitches per inch on US 5 needles, and the website says the yarn is rated for 5 stitches per inch on US 7s.  This means the pattern is written for the yarn to be very compressed, making a denser fabric.  Compressing it further will make it hard to to work with.  So go down one yarn weight. Knit a gauge swatch with the recommended needles, and you'll be close.  Adjust needle size if necessary.  (Too many stitches per inch?  Go up a needle size.  Too few?  Go down a needle size.)  Within half an hour you'll be all set with the correct yarn weight and needle size.

If the yarn is rated for 6 stitches per inch on US 3 needles, then the original pattern is written for the stitches to be very loose.  Using the recommended yarn, go down in needle sizes until your gauge swatch gives you the proper gauge.

Make sure to count fractions of a stitch. (This is why you want swatches of at least 4" by 4".  Fractions of a stitch are easier to gauge when measured over several inches.)  On a garment with 100 stitches cast on, being off by a quarter stitch can mean several inches of extra or missing fabric. 

That's it.  Two minutes with a calculator and the internet and you'll be starting a project guaranteed to fit!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Sap is Running!

I grew up in a place where making maple syrup was an integral part of the early spring.  Here in Western New York they also make syrup, and the boiling sap is a unique smell easy to recognize in the air.

For sugar maple trees, there doesn't seem to be a more active time than spring.  The buds come out on the trees in extremely adverse weather conditions, and then, one day, it's warm enough for long enough that the sap starts to run.  The buds change color overnight, and the tapping begins.

Here in Buffalo, it was in the 50's for the last three days.  Today, in the mid-thirties.  The sap running doesn't mean winter is over, it's just a really good promise that it will end eventually.  And those first few batches of fresh, sweet maple syrup are definitely the taste of spring to me.  If you haven't been to a "Sugar house", the place where syrup is made, call around.  Go to a sugar party.  Happy spring!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Freebie Friday Yosemite Pullover

Here in Buffalo it's been in the 50's for days.  The thaw even caused a flood in my basement!  (Don't worry - the stash is safe!)  The birds are busy nest building and singing up a storm.  It's time to throw a winter's worth of biodegradable yarn scraps on the yard and let the birds decorate with it.  I love seeing little flashes of color on the edges of a  nest!  And I like to think the chicks are just a little cozier with my alpaca scraps around them.

On these in between days with the funny almost-a-coat-but-not-quite weather, I'm always looking for the right sweater.  Cotton sweaters are great over a tee or a tank, or under a jacket or windbreaker.  This one from is a perfect fit for today. 

Yosemite Pullover

Take a look.  It's available in sizes XS to 2x.  Though the original yarn is discontinued, Cascade Pima Silk is an ideal substitute.  Enjoy!~

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sheep Square Washcloth

Here's a new square based on the Knitter's Mitten pattern I posted awhile back.  It's a Baa Baa Black Sheep theme that would make a nice baby blanket square, maybe with the Hickory Dickory Square and some of the others. 

This square is 38 stitches wide by 50 rows tall , using a worsted weight and size US 7 needles, or a DK weight and size US 5 needles.  As a baby blanket square I would do this in colorwork to emphasize the Black Sheep of it all.

Grey squares represent purling on the RS, knitting on the WS.
White squares represent knitting on the RS, purling on the WS.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cables 4, Liz 1

This weekend my knitting time was nearly exclusively eaten up by designing and knitting cable swatch after cable swatch. The cables defeated me the first four times.  I wanted the cables to be beautiful and interesting, and also follow the contours of the mitten.  I wanted them to be busy enough to trap lots of air and make a warmer fabric.  They weren't.  Wishing didn't make it so.  Finally, trial and error combined to give me a shape and design and fabric I liked.  It was a day and a half from sketch to satisfying swatch.

I now have a much greater respect for cables than I did before.  I had knit them, and had incorporated basic cables in to several designs.  I had not designed them from scratch, and had not fiddled with gauge and shaping to any degree.  Twists, pretzels, ropes, and braids all behave so differently!  Some contract the fabric width wise, some lengthwise.  Some cause a lot of contraction and some cause almost none.  Some look one way when they stand alone, and very different when they're repeated. 

Picking a yarn weight and needle size for cables has it's own set of questions.  Do I want deeply carved cables or smoother patterns?  Do I want a supple fabric or a firm one?  I ended up with worsted on US 4s, leaving a carved cable on a fabric that still retained some softness.  This same yarn and pattern knit up on 7s as a completely different fabric.  It felt delicate, like it was made from spun sugar.  The fabric was very supple, and the cables looked like an etching on the surface of the swatch.  They're chameleons, these cables are.  But we're working it out.  I think we'll stay friends. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I knit like I cook: I start with a recipe, and follow parts of it but not others.  I make the dish, or the garment, my own.

One of the most exciting things about designing knitwear is seeing other people make the designs their own.  One of the toughest things is telling Sample Knitters that they don't get to interpret at all. 

For samples, the colors and yarns are chosen in advance.  The gauge is chosen in advance.  Every line of the pattern needs to be followed exactly.  I love seeing the beautiful finished products, and I'm eternally grateful for all of the feedback on the reliability of the pattern, but I hate telling other knitters what to do!  The terrific women who knit samples for me are happy to challenge themselves with a new project or technique.  Bless their hearts.  It would make me crazy!

The trickiest bit, I'm learning, is to knit exactly to someone else's gauge.  I tend to knit my stitches a little tall compared to the average.  When I knit up a swatch to use as the base math for a design, that's the gauge.  When someone else knits it, if the row gauge is off, the pattern comes out like a fun house mirror version of the original.  If the stitch gauge is off, the sample doesn't fit normal human dimensions.  So I'm trying to make my gauge as moderate as is humanly possible to make my patterns more flexible. Wow!  It feels like trying to use someone else's handwriting.

And so it goes.  I'm sorting out a tricky bit of thumb math right now.  Thank heavens this project will be felted.  Row gauge is a little less critical.  A little.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Freebie Friday - Partridge Square Cloth

It's been a busy week in design and paperwork.  I've been so wrapped up in the book project that I haven't been translating drawings into computer files unless they pertain to the book.  Sorry!

This is the Partridge on a Fence.  This square is 38 stitches wide by 50 rows tall using a worsted weight (Cascade Cotton Rich or Pima Cotton)  and size US 7 needles, or a DK weight (Cascade Ultra Pima) and size US 5 needles. 

Grey squares represent purling on the RS, knitting on the WS.
White squares represent knitting on the RS, purling on the WS.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Knitting - Free Pattern

It's coming up on one of my favorite holidays here, St. Patrick's Day.  There's a long darn time between Valentine's Day and Easter, and I appreciate any excuse for folks to get together and smile.  And that this year it's only 9 days after Mardi Gras?  Well, that's outstanding!  (Of course, there are still 30 days until Easter after St. Pat's, but I'm sure we'll come up with something to do!)

Scanning through some favorite patterns, I came across this one from Knitty 2006.   It's the Cambio Sweater by Libby Baker, and I think it's cute as a button.  I'm thinking of knitting it in a soft green, or an acidic lime green, as a fun addition to the spring wardrobe. 

Other quick knits for the spring include wraps, tanks and tees, and of course my St. Paddy's Mittens (in the menu at right) from last month.  Buffalo is fickle in spring.  I've sunbathed on Easter, and shoveled on Mother's Day, so  tank tops and mittens really are both part of the spring wardrobe here.  It's a little schizophrenic, but it's a knitter's paradise!  (There's no place like home.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Making Mittens Class

I will be teaching my class, Making Mittens a few times this year at various festivals and conferences, and wanted to tell you a little more about it.

This class focuses on letting knitters design their own mittens from the yarn they want to use.  Particularly with handcrafted yarn, there is often not a pattern for the exact item one wants to knit.  This class covers basic mittens construction, techniques, and how to design a mitten from a gauge swatch made from any yarn.  This is a vital skill for any spinner who wants to supply patterns to their customer, and to any knitter who doesn't want to be bound by the patterns they can find.  Students will leave class with 3 patterns from me, and one pattern of their own that they have started in class.  They will have the skill to design or modify mittens to work with their choice of yarn.  A class packet including notes and patterns will be provided.  There are no supplies to purchase.  Materials to bring are published in each festival and conference brochure.

I still have several dates open this summer and fall.  If you'd like me to come and speak or teach at your event, I'd be happy to talk to you.  If you're taking my class already, I can't wait to meet you!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Updates du Jour

Here's what I've been up to:

As busy beavers go, I haven't been slacking.  I've been working on the mitten book project diligently, teaching classes, writing the shop newsletter, darning my daughters worn out mittens, finishing my other daughter's mittens, publishing the first Fund Raising Pattern, designing the Freebie for Friday...  I'd like to express a heartfelt beaver "dam".

I've recently purchased and started using Intwined Studio design software.  I adore it!  It makes the process exponentially faster, largely due to the feature of chart-document mirroring.  If I type knitting symbols into a chart, the instructions are updated automatically!  If I write instructions, the chart is updated.  What a time saver.  Line by line instructions that match the chart just magically appear.  I do check and edit for clarity, and have been super-pleased with the results.

I'm organizing a couple of classes I will be teaching this season at fiber fairs and knitting conferences.  Each host organization likes to have their own spin recognized: organic fiber, hand crafted, technique, advocacy, charity, etc.  I LOVE THIS!  It makes my relationship with knitting a much richer experience.  That said, it also takes quite a bit of time to design class packets for each specific focus.  There are more than enough hours of typing in my life already!  The good news is I'm becoming a much faster typist.

On the design front, I've been on a kids' mitten design streak, and having a ball.  Cars, toys and ice cream, Oh MY!  I would really like to have a life in which the designs I create for children make sense in my wardrobe.  Not today.  Today it's very adult - editing, medical appointment, fiber fair letter, knitting conference meeting...  Maybe tomorrow. ;)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Charity Mitten Pattern Announced!

The first charity to get a fund raising mitten is the American Red Cross! Proceeds from sales of this pattern go to the American Red Cross.  The American Red Cross has a rich tradition of teaching Americans to knit, and a tradition of helping those in harm's way through education and donations.

This mitten was inspired by the families of servicemen and volunteers deployed around the world.  It's a quiet way to remember an organization supporting Americans in harm's way at home and around the world.  Let's make this first project a blow out!

Learn more about the American Red Cross here.

Here is the sample as knit by the intrepid Colleen.  It's feeling a little proud of itself.

Thanks in advance for supporting this great cause!

Belated Freebie Friday

I'm sorry to admit I didn't get a freebie out to you yesterday, but I'm hoping to make up for it today.  The M*A*S*H Mitten was inspired by looking at some old WWII Red Cross knitting patterns.  The Red Cross distributed yarn, needles, and patterns for necessities for the US Armed Forces.  Americans considered knitting a patriotic duty, and it became part of the normal coursework in elementary schools all over the country.  Several million garments were produced for the Red Cross each year of the war, and distributed by them to the appropriate recipients.

The mitten is worked flat to allow for the intarsia white circle.  The red cross is added in duplicate stitch.  Enjoy a little retro flavor.  Or surprise a veteran in your life.  Pattern available on Ravelry under M*A*S*H Mittens. download now

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ghosts of Knitting Past

I was trying to tame my stash last night.  I don't know why.  I know better.  I had this notion that I could separate all the wools from all the non-wools, and that this would somehow make my life more - I don't know.  Better.  In this process I discovered many things:

Applique Stocking Sample

1. I own a whole heckuva lot of yarn.

2.  The stash is about the same weight as my dog.  Max is a German Shorthaired Pointer, Labrador Retriever mix.  Think your average 8 year old child.

3.  My children become concerned when they see the entire family room furniture and floor covered in yarn, when I'm sitting in the middle, head in hands, saying, "Maybe. Maybe."

4. While purchasing yarn I have largely disregarded my allergy to wool.

5. I really DID buy a ton of Cascade Pure Alpaca about a year ago.  I just found it again after looking several times.

6. While purchasing yarn I have made a great many dubious choices.

Tweed Faroe Mitten.  Why?

Why would I buy one skein of cashmere that is only 60 yards? Why would I buy tweeds for a Faroe Project? (Yes I did.  There are pictures to prove it.)  Why did I store the stash in so many different places?

How could I lose track of making Christmas stockings for my children, and just quit after designing and knitting a sample? Why would I store FOs in with the stash?  When did I ever think I would use acrylic for anything except baby blankets?  Why is my darning egg in with the bulky yarns?

This makes me think that a few years from now, while re-sorting the stash, I may find more unanswered questions.  Will I be wondering why I made so many cowls?  What was my obsession with mittens all about?  How much sock yarn does any woman need?  What the heck was I thinking the last time I sorted out the stash?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

I have finished the design for the mittens to be knit on US 2 or 3 needles.  I haven't made a sample, but the design is drawn to the scale that I knit to with some Cascade Cash Vero DK on little needles.  It's surprisingly fun to design at that scale!  Colorwork in small stitch sizes allows for shapes that just won't work up on larger stitches.  Be patient!  When I've knit good chunk of sample, I'll let you know.

I'm also working on the charity project.  Thanks for all of you who have sent emails, posted on Ravelry, or sent PMs.  I'm in the process of selecting the second charity we will donate to.  The first charity mitten pattern sample is coming along nicely, but I'm making a few adjustments along the way to make it as easy as possible to make.  This pattern will contain a bonus pattern, too.  I'm doing a retro-styled tribute to the organization in a simple mitten pattern.  The bonus should be finished tonight or tomorrow.

My calendar is starting to fill in with teaching events and knitting conferences and festivals. Thanks for the updates and invitations.  I love being invited to teach or speak, and always look forward to meeting more knitters.  There are always such creative people with such wonderful ideas at these things!  We knitters are a pretty cool bunch, I must say.

Thank you again for all the support and ideas and updates.  You guys rock!