Thursday, April 28, 2011

Freebie Friday Anastasia Bear

These two are adorable, and completely knitted!  From the new magazine Knitting Today, on the right is Edward, and on the left is Anastasia.

I think any little one in my life would love one of these cheerful companions.  The litte girl in me is particularly drawn to the charming dress on Anastasia.  And those shoes! 

If you love them, too, click here.  Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stranded Colorwork Made Easier

I was emailing with a fellow knitter yesterday, and was reminded that many people dislike colorwork for more than an occasional accent in their knitting.  I tend to forget this lately, because I'm having a solid schoolgirl crush on colorwork at the moment.  But then I though back to when I was very new to stranded color knitting, and the concerns came rushing back.

1.  More colors means more skeins, which means more money.
2.  Colorwork means at least two working skeins at once, and the yarns get tangled.
3.  Following a stitch pattern is complicated enough without having to remember when to change yarns on top of it.
4.  My colorwork always bunches up like a miniature mountain range.
5.  Who wants to weave in all those ends?

Lookin at it that way, it is a little off-putting.  Let's debunk these fears in order:

1.  More colors doesn't have to mean buying more skeins, but it does mean using more yarns.  Go to your stash and see what you have that will fit the bill.  Most of us have standby favorites we return to time and again (Cascade 220, Malabrigo Merino, etc), resulting in lots of partial skeins of the same yarn type in our stash.  How many partials do you own of your favorite?  What if you added the stashes of a couple of close knitting friends?  Matching the yarn brand and model name makes for a beautiful finished look, but several different yarns often have very similar finishes, so sometimes you can use a different yarn.  (Cascade 220 and Patons Classic Wool have very similar finishes, for example.)  This usually solves the issue for me.  Sometimes I need to buy all the colors involved in a project, but it's rare.

2.  Tangled yarns are, I have discovered, a habit and not a necessity.  The way my students have had the most success breaking this habit it to knit at a table or desk with one yarn on the desk and one in a knitting bag at their side.  The "high" yarn is the yarn that will always be brought from over the "lower" yarn.  The "low" yarn will always be brought from under the working yarn.  Every time you change colors, you have the choice of whether to draw the new color over your working yarn, or under it.  If you always bring yarn 1 over, and always bring yarn 2 under, there are no tangles.  Having a table or desk allows you to put your work down while you're figuring out the pattern or chart without further tangling yarns.  One small project done in this way (one mitten, for example) is usually all it takes to develop a new habit.

3.  Complexity can be a factor, but it usually isn't.  Most patterns that involve colorwork don't involve any stitch pattern at all - just color pattern.  If you can handle basic shaping, you're ready for most colorwork.  If you're still unsure about shaping, you can still work stripes, but may want to practice increases and decreases a bit until you're confident with them.  If the stitch pattern looks like too much for you, you may have chosen one of the less common toughies.  Have your LYS staff help you choose a good fit for your skill and comfort level.

4.  Bunched colorwork means one of two things: you haven't blocked it yet, or your floats aren't evenly tensioned.  Blocking colorwork makes all the difference between a garment you'll love and a garment you're embarrassed by.  I know, when your piece finally comes off the needles you want it to be done.  It isn't.  Block it, and be proud.  Don't block, and be aggravated.

If the bunching is significant, your floats aren't even.  When you work colorwork, your tension really matters.  If you always knit on the tight side, this will be a problem in colorwork, as the floats and the stitches need to be the same tension. When you knit tightly, the stitches are looser than your floats.  Changing needle size won't solve it, but you can!  First, always keep your needle tips very close together, because separating them changes the tension of the stitches closest to your needle tips.  Knit a couple of swatches during which you let go of the working yarn after you finish each stitch. The yarn won't fall off the needles - I promise.  Your tension on those swatches will be very even, and you'll have learned to relax your tension.

If you don't knit tightly, but the work is lumpy anyway, check to be sure you maintain a high and low color.  This helps keep the tension smooth.  If you're doing all of that right and you're still getting lumpy work, turn your work over.  Looking at the wrong side, you'll see that the lumps are caused by the floats that are tighter than the others.  Frequently just one color is the culprit.  Rip out the lumpy work, and start in again.  Ease up on the tension of that one color, and your work will smooth out.

5.  Weaving in ends can feel like punishment after you've finished your piece.  Nothing will make your work ready to wear instead, though.  If you leave 6 - 8 inch tails, weaving is easy.  Trim off the excess when finished.  If you don't know how to weave in ends, ask at the LYS, YouTube, or ask a knitting friend.  Still not interested?  Most LYS will weave in your ends for a small fee.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Earth Day

Earth Day is great.  It got me to thinking about environmentally responsible yarns, needles, and notions.  Karma is largely about the concept that what one puts into the universe comes back to you, so putting a respect for the earth out there is the right choice.  Certainly responsibility is a great goal.  And so I really considered.  I wanted to make good choices.

What qualifies as responsible?  Everyone's answer seems to differ.  Fully organic, cruelty free, sustainable fiber and tools is the ideal holy grail of responsible.  But how to source it?  How to verify?  When verified, how to handle production issues?  Color shortages?

Then I went even deeper.  Are only vegan (animal-product free) yarns right?  How much do you need to know about the farms producing vegetable products?  Are rayon and viscose made from sustainable, organic cellulose cool?

I concluded that I don't know.  So I looked at it from another direction.  Like someone trying to quit smoking, isn't the intention a great start?  I think so.  Some companies are making yarns that are more responsible than they were previously.  That's a step in the right direction.  Other companies have made a commitment to organic fibers, but not necessarily to organic labeling or handling or shipping products.  What is enough?

I've decided that I'm pleased to support any company headed in the right direction.  I will make my next major design project focus on sustainable fibers of a variety of descriptions.  I'm not going to be judge and jury of what is good enough.  I'm going to be pleased that so many companies are making an effort.  I don't know where this path will lead, but I'm excited about it. 

What are your favorite eco-friendly yarns?  What do you like about them?  Are they comparably priced to conventionally made yarns?  Thanks in advance for your input.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Freebie Friday with Nicky Epstein!

Happy Earth Day!  This is a gorgeous freebie from Nicky Epstein.  Her website offers periodic freebies, but they are often fee for a limited time only.  If you love it, download it soon, before it's a paid pattern!  It's called the Celtic Knot Afghan, and I think it would b gorgeous in earth-friendly fibers to celebrate the day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fun Freebies

Do we all know about this?  This site provides a new, free knitting pattern every day.  You may find terrific inspiration here.  Look 'em up!

If you like their page on Facebook, the free pattern pic will appear on your page every day! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Full Time Mittens is Coming to an End

I promised myself that the full-time push on the mitten book project would end on Sunday the 17th.  I need to pay more attention to my job, my family, and my friends.  I wish I could show you the finished samples!  They're really cool, and beautiful, and cozy.  Alas, no pre-publication pics are allowed at this time.  Rats.  Soon, I hope.

I kept to my plan, and yesterday was a work day.  So, ironically, it snowed yesterday, hard enough to stick.  Visibility was down to a quarter of a mile at times.  I thought it was funny that I had peacefully knit mittens on my porch in 75 degrees two weeks ago, and went back to work in snow. 

I'm still working on the book, just not full time.  So now I'll be a little slower about finishing the remaining patterns, polishing the chapters, etc.  I'm almost ready to send the first round of samples to the publisher.  My nerves are frazzled!  I love these mittens, and yet I second guess myself quite a bit.  Soon it will be out of my hands, and in the hands of editors, and I must say, it will be a relief! 

What I noticed in the midst of winding down the mitten intensity and winding up the work stuff is also a little ironic:  I really need more mittens!  When I don't need to have pristine samples for photography for the book, I'll have to make myself some mittens.  I have several older pairs that are starting to show their age, and need to have some "dress" mittens. Strange that I've been waist deep in mittens for months, and don't have any to wear to work.  30 odd pairs designed in a row later, maybe I'll put it off a little while. Maybe next winter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CNY Wool and Fiber Festival

Well, I'm back.  I had a lovely time.  There were so many really nice people!  There were about 20 vendors, all with cool product.

There were also 6 spinning wheels in use that I saw.  A charming woman named Ann patiently tried to remind me how to spin.  Treadle, pinch, draft, and again.  After most of an hour, I had achieved about 12 feet of yarn, and several yards of completely ruined roving.  Ann didn't laugh at me once, which is remarkable.  She was calm and supportive the whole time.  The skill of spinning is more complex and delicate than it looks.  I saw crafters making gossamer-thin threads, and multi-ply yarns. Beautiful.  I am definitely in awe of their skill.

Amy Klee, from Stone Edge Fibers, Phelps, NY, explained quite a bit about her herd, and which types of sheep yield which types of fiber. She was pleasant and informative, and I really enjoyed getting to know her.  Her yarns were varied and remarkable, in particular due to her jewel-toned color palette.  It's stunning stuff, and though I'm allergic to wool, I'm hoping to find a way to work with it.  It's just seductive!

Chris Gilman, from A+ Alpaca Fiber Mill, showed me her wares as well.  Whe runs a small mill and dying operation in Jordan, NY.  The fibers were soft and beautiful, and for handmade product the price was surprisingly affordable.  She also possesses a unique color palette, with a variety of solids and marled colors. 

I wandered the fair for about 2 hours, and then took a spinning lesson.  I knew I was tempting fate, but I had doubled up on the antihistamines in the morning, and thought I could get away with it.  WRONG!  My hands developed hives, and I had a full-blown allergy attack.  I went in the restroom and washed my face and hands, took off my sweater to get stray wool fibers farther from my face, and sucked down some cool water.  Not enough.

I went to my car with itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing, and took a look in the rear view mirror.  Swollen red eyes.  Rats.  My fiber day was over - no getting around it.  On the long drive home it occurred to me that I probably will never take another spinning lesson with wool.  That was a mistake.  And I'll need to wash my hands often as I go through the fair, and try not to touch my face.  Because I'll be back next year. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Freebie Friday Sheep Puppets

These were too cute to pass up.  If you're the Easter-observing type, these would be adorable for a child's basket.  Otherwise, they're super for any little one who likes puppets or make-believe. 

Sheep Puppets

The Malabrigo site has been inaccessible intermittently, so I can't give you the exact pattern link, but if you go to the main link ( and it opens, navigate to free patterns and it will be in the middle of the second row.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Central NY Fiber Frolic

This Saturday is the Central NY Fiber Frolic in Baldwinsville, NY.  It's a small fiber fest, but from all accounts well run and well attended.  This will be my first year going.  I can't wait!

I learned to spin as a child from my grandmother.  She had a beautiful antique spinning wheel in her living room, and I couldn't keep my hands off it.  My grandmother was not amused.  Finally, as punishment for playing with it, she decided I needed to learn to use it properly.  As you might imagine, I thought this was a whole lot less fun than just spinning the great big wheel, and using the carders to brush the tips of my hair.  But learn I did.  I learned not to play with a tool if you don't want to be tasked with using it properly. 

Now, as an avid knitter, I regret not sticking with the spinning (although, of course, the wool allergy is a drawback for spinning).  I don't know if that's a hobby I'm going to ever add to the repertoire, but I would like to know more about fibers and yarns and how one becomes the other.  Different styles of yarn architecture behave differently.  Single ply is different from two ply is different from braided is different from wound.  Yarns with an oval form are more prone to bias than those that are round.  I want to understand!  Right now I have to look most of this stuff up.

So, off to Fiber Fests and Frolics I go.  I will sit through spinning classes and lectures, and pepper vendors with a million questions.   I will learn things that will enhance my life as a knitter and designer.  I will forget more of it than I'd like, and have to learn it again.  And I won't play with any body's spinning wheel.  I don't want to get in trouble.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Healthy as a ?

If I was sick as a dog, I guess I'm as healthy as a horse. A horse with spring pollen allergies, anyway. 

Now that I can smell again, I'm surprised and delighted at how great it is to be able to smell yarn!  I opened up one of my big stash boxes this morning, and after the aroma wafted up to my nose, I took a deep sniff.  It was great to smell the coffee, and the hyacinths in the yard, but truth be told, the yarn was the big thrill for me. 

I'm off the heavy cold medications, and down to antihistamines.  This means I can knit again!  Knitting on cold meds was like trying to knit drunk (or at least how I think that would be.)  Designing on cold meds wasn't too bad, though.  I like the sketches.  I don't understand most of the notes I wrote to myself in the margins, but that's okay.  (What happens to your brain when your sinuses are plugged and you take a bunch of cold pills?  Strange stuff...)  At least I have the sketches. 

I need to write and edit my brains out this week to get through this draft of the book project, and then life can return to normal.  I'll knit in the natural breaks between writing.  And I'll try to squeeze in laundry (it's way overdue) and groceries, too.  There are no deadlines on running the household, so these things have been falling by the wayside as I congestedly staggered through writing for these last 10 days.   Luckily the weather has broken, so even though I'm out of jeans, I can switch to shorts.  The groceries are becoming a priority, though.  A woman cannot live on cereal and coffee alone. 

I need a staff - people to take care of this stuff while I work.  Any volunteers?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sick as a Dog

I don't understand why they say "sick as a dog" when someone is really sick, but I'm really sick so I guess I'm the dog thing.  I'm looking over at my dog, and he looks perfectly happy.  Whatever.

I've received another shipment from Cascade for the mitten project, and it is beautiful.  This is round three, and the sample knitters are doing a terrific job.  I can't wait to see the rest of the finished products. 

I'm working on samples of my own, as well as designing and writing.  We'll see how cold medication and a fever effects the writing and design processes - if things look a bit psychedelic in a few days when I'm feeling better, I may have some re-work to do.  I've tried to knit in this condition, and it's not going well.  I've knit the same 4 rows three times.  I gave up.  I finished design work on a pair of modern Fair Isle mittens last night, and I think they're really cool.  Again, post fever may be a different story.

Anyway, it felt strange not to be blogging for a few days, so I'm here.  It might be a few more days before the next post.  I'll be slamming TheraFlu and sleeping until this cold/flu is gone.  I hope you're feeling well.  We'll talk soon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pattern Hunger

Every time the season changes, I find myself hungry for a new crop of patterns to play with.  I dig through my magazine back issues, hit the bookstore for this season's new book offerings, design a bit of my own, and sketch what I see out in the world that strikes me as new and interesting. 

The thing that always sucks me in, though, is an internet search for new patterns.  I don't know where you look, so I've listed a few of my favorites here. is cool for a thousand reasons, including that you can search free or paid patterns, yarn weight, size, gender, specific yarn brand and type, and more.  By far the largest pattern collection available, it lists patterns from books, magazines, blogs, websites, flyers, and more.  You can scan photos of the completed projects made by Ravelry members in a variety of yarns in a variety of colors.  Pattern notes from real knitters can guide you around the occassional pattern typo or confusing directions.

Knitting Pattern Central is a site filled with free knitting patterns.  They are primarily new, original patterns sourced from blogs, but there are also patterns from yarn manufacturers' web sites.

Patternfish is a webstore with knitting and crochet patterns available starting at $3 US, and more.  The cool thing about it is that there is a distinct number of patterns that are exclusive to this site.  Always good if you're on the hunt for something you've never seen before.

Etsy is a webstore which contains a wide variety of hand-crafted items.  Some are tools for crafters, like buttons, patterns and knitting needles.  Other items include jewelry, home decor, clothing, and furnishings.  This site works for me because it's a quick way to survey trends in hand-crafting across many disciplines at once.  There are loads of exclusives, and the selection grows and evolves every day.  Prices vary widely, as does content. 

eBay.  Really.  It's a great resource for out-of-print and international knitting books.  It's also great for vintage tools, patterns, and new-never-used kits from days gone by.  I scored a Christmas Stocking kit from the early 60's with pattern and yarn for $18 last year, and I still treasure it.  Vintage patterns are great for inspirations for color, construction and silhouette. In fashion everything old comes back in some new form, and working a vintage pattern in a modern yarn in a modern color is often just the thing to satisfy my pattern hunger. 

Knitpicks has a large selection of patterns and kits, and the pattern pages clearly indicate which ones are new.  If you're trolling for the very latest, that's a big help!  Featuring garments, home decor, whimsies and toys, there's plenty of variety. 

Jimmybeanswool has a nice variety, good photos, and offers the ability to shop by best selling and/or new. 

I hope you find a bunch of great patterns this season.  Where do you hunt for them?  Let me know.  I'll be happy to share.  (Unless you want to keep your best sources to yourself!)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Freebie Friday - Up Up and Away

I've been using a program called Intwined Studio for most of my design work for the last couple of months, and I've really come to love it.  Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to select strictly for the chart, and not the rest of the page.  So, here is your Friday Freebie, still in Excel.  As always, this cloth is 38 stitches by 50 rows, and does well in worsted yarn on 7s and DK yarn on 5s.  White = knit on the RS, purl on the WS.  Grey = purl on the RS, knit on the WS.  Enjoy!