Friday, December 28, 2007

End of the Year Sale, and more on Noro Sock Yarn

Just a reminder to those of you who don't already know (and you should) about the annual end-of-the-year sale at Kiwi. It continues until the 31st, and sale prices are 25% off of everything in the store, with yarns on the sales table now 50% off. This is a great time to stock up on those necessities that you keep thinking about, the yarn you have been wanting to treat yourself to and just haven't yet, or to get great bang for your buck with the Holiday gift certificates. Stop in before the end of the year to take advantage of the sale.

Well, As you can see by the photo above, I have finished the first sock of my pair with the new Noro Kureyon sock yarn, and finished the ribbing for the second sock. I've had great fun working with this yarn, I always say that Noro yarns are like reading a great book: you think to yourself, I really need to stop and go - do laundry, wash dishes, go to bed, go to work - your choice. But you can't put it down, you just have to see what is coming up next. The pattern I have used is called Annetrelac Socks, and it comes from the Interweave Knits Holiday 2007. In this pattern, the entrelac is worked only on the upper part of the sock, with the lower sock worked in stockinette. The color variations have worked perfectly together for the entrelac effect, though next time I plan to try the entrelac sock pattern from the book Socks, Socks Socks by XRX Publishers. That pattern is a toe-up with entrelac patterning all the way up the sock. I'm curious to see which effect I like better.

A few bits of info that I can give you now that I have been working with this yarn for a few days - like all Noro yarns, because they are hand-spun, there are variations in the thickness of the yarn from time to time. In general it is on the finer side of sock yarns that I have used, and I find that the occasional thicker blips just give this yarn texture and interest. Use a smaller needle and knit firmly for a durable fabric with this yarn. Also, there is a lot of spin in the Noro sock yarn, so any time that you get any slack in your yarn it will twist back on itself. Because I always wind yarn into a ball before starting to knit with it, I was able to mitigate the effect by winding the ball counter to the twist, but I think that if you were to knit straight from the skein it could be fussy on occasion. I mention these characteristics of the yarn not because I feel they are faults - they are not. But to give you some info on how to work with this unique yarn. I've seen three other pairs of socks in progress with this yarn, and they are all beautiful, the colors just lend themselves to all manner of stitch patterns.

A note about winding skeins into balls before knitting. I do realize that not all of you are the fanatics that I am, with a ball winder and swift set up permanently in your dining room. Take a few minutes before you leave Kiwi, and if the ball-winder table isn't busy, wind up a few of your skeins to get yourself started. Why do I do this? Because I want to learn about the yarn before I start knitting with it. How tight is the twist? How rough or soft is the yarn? Are there any knots in the yarn that I have to be aware of beforehand? What is the 'hand' of the yarn? Is there vegetable matter in it? A little? Lots? An entire field? Is it going to shed? These are great things to know and take into account before you begin working with the yarn, and many times the information can make your process easier as you work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Noro Sock Yarn

Noro Sock Yarn
Are they not three of the most beautiful words in the English language? I mean to ask you, what's not to like in that equation? Yarn? I love yarn! Socks? Me likes knitting socks! Noro? Pfff! Don't be silly, of course we love Noro!

This wonderful yarn hit the shop last Thursday, and first thing Friday morning I was in there laying my hands on a few skeins. Since making a couple pair of socks lately for Christmas gifts, I have fallen in love with sock-knitting all over again. My first project when getting back to knitting was a pair of socks. I remember sitting on the bed at my sister's house that night with a ball of yarn, a set of dpns, and a book on knitting open in my lap so that I could figure out what the heck to do with all that stuff. At the moment I have 1.5 projects to knit, or design and knit for upcoming January classes, and as soon as those are off my plate in the next week I am diving into a pair of socks with this wonderful new yarn. Lynn had a sock on the needles that same day.already

The Kureyon sock yarn has a total of approximately 450 yards of yarn to it's 100 gram balls, so there is plenty in one skein to make a pair of socks. The fiber content is 70% wool, 30% nylon which should wear well and give lots of spring to the fiber. It is a handwashable yarn - socks like these are worth a swish in the sink.

The other day, someone on one of the knitting lists was asking which element other knitters find first - the pattern or the yarn - (several people answered simply, 'Yes!') and my answer was: whichever one I see first. If I see a yarn that I love, I'll buy it, even if I don't know yet what it will grow up to be. If I see a pattern that I love, I'll start with that, and then find the yarn that works for it.

In this case it was definitely a yarn-first deal, I knew I would have no problems finding a pattern that works for the type of long color changes that Noro yarns are known for. Then last night, flipping again through the Interweave Knits Holiday 2007 issue, I saw the Annetrelac Socks, and knew that this would be the first thing I try with this yarn. I love my Lady Eleanor that I made with Noro Silk Garden in entrelac, and I can picture that Noro Kureyon sock yarn would be perfect for this type of pattern. The KnittingZone also has a downloadable entrelac sock pattern called Basket Case Socks that would probably work wonderfully for a sock yarn such as this.

I can see myself altering either of those patterns to get my ideal, but at any rate, these are going to make some gorgeous socks, and would be equally as wonderful for wrist warmers - good last-minute Holiday gifts!

As a last note - a reminder that Old Pueblo Knitters, our local knitting guild, is having it's December meeting tomorrow, Thursday that 20th, at 9:30 a.m. at St. Philip's Church at River and Campbell. There will be a Holiday gift exchange - something small - a potluck (Desi asks that we not all bring deserts!) and a baby shower for Tia. Guests are always welcome, and hopefully I'll see you there!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Holiday Knitting, Part Two

Well, I am finally looking at the end of my 'planned' gift knitting. Today I will finish my sister's second sock, run it through the washer and dryer, and wrap those puppies and get them all ready for the mail tomorrow - ten days past my hoped-for mailing date, but not shabby, nonetheless.

If you are still knitting franticly away, or stuck for some ideas of what to knit, here are a few quick ideas for you with free patterns...

The Winter Issue of Knitty is out, and while they always have some really great free patterns, the focus in this issue seems to concentrate on one-skein or other quick projects. If you want a lace project that is fast and also very elegant and feminine, there is a LOT of buzz on the lists about the Ice Queen, a lace smoke ring or cowl done with beads - very beautiful. Speaking as someone whose list of favorite things would have to start with lace-knitting and beads, this is definitely on my to-do list.

The Tudora is a quick neck-warmer worked with cables and a single button, really pretty and practical. Halcyon is a lovely lace scarf with a edge detail of ribbon threaded through eyelets. I have been looking for an excuse to buy more of that gorgeous Louisa Harding Sari Ribbon at Kiwi, and I think this is it. I love lace scarves as they are quick gratification for the lace itch, and their light weight means that you can wear them all day without feeling too heavy or wrapped up. I get tons of compliments anytime I wear one, and I think this one needs to be added to my collection.

And Oh My Gosh you have to take a look at Square Cake, a really beautiful small bag done with my two favorite elements (say them with me, now), lace and beads! In two different sizes, small and smaller, this would also be a quick and delicious gift to make.

In the 'more involved, but just as gorgeous' category would certainly be Aoife, a bolero jacket accented with Celtic-style cabling. I can already picture it for myself with a rich color - perhaps a deep garnet, with the cables done in a contrast color such as a black yarn with a bit of sheen (maybe I can figure out how to throw some beads into those cables!).

This issue also includes their usual selection of great sock patterns, something I think Knitty is well-known for, and I am already mentally queuing up the Chevrolace Socks and Azure.

But the pattern from this issue that I find the most intriguing would have to be Jeanie, a stole that combines cables and dropped stitches in a way that I haven't seen before. Each element separately, yes, but not in combination like this. Very interesting texture!

It seems as though everyone on the two main knitting lists on Yahoo is knitting at least one (many are knitting several) Fidget. What the heck is a Fidget, you ask? A Fidget is a short, thick, very warm scarf that buttons at the neck, or as my husband called it, a neck-warmer. The pattern is free on the One Sheep Hill website, and I can testify here that it is a quick and easy knit. I made one Friday at the same time as teaching Knit Doctor and giving a private lesson. They only require about 100 yards of chunky yarn, size US 9 needles, and four buttons. Can't get much simpler than that.

And if you have a little spare time for gift knitting - and even if you don't... Our own Desi's husband is a sergeant with TPD, and every year the department does a Holiday party for the kids in our city that fall through the cracks of other charities here in town. We have had a collection box at Kiwi for the last couple of weeks that has been filling up with knitted hats and scarves (that is where my Fidget is going tomorrow). Can you take some time out of your day and knit up a quick hat or scarf to make some child's Holiday warmer and brighter? Don't have the time? Maybe bring by an unwrapped gift for a child. The deadline is nearly upon us, this Wednesday, the 12th, and shame on me for not mentioning it here earlier. My husband and I have had a really, really hard year financially with one blow after another, but we have a roof over our heads, food on our table, and warm clothes to wear - in other words, we have it a lot better than too many people out there. Let's share and make the world just that little bit better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Knitting

I suspect that at this time of year, I am not alone in frantically trying to whip out some Holiday gift knitting. Monday morning, long before the crack of dawn, I dropped my husband off at the airport so that he could fly to Sacramento for a week for training on his new job. When I got home, as soon as it got light out (I hate turning on lights in the morning - if it is too dark out to see, then by God, maybe I should still be in bed asleep!) I cast on for a pair of socks as one of his Christmas gifts. Mind you, my husband doesn't celebrate Christmas, but I do, and for me, that is enough to qualify a loved one for a gift.

It is my fond hope to get these socks finished before he comes home so that he won't even have a clue what I have been up to. I'll have to really work at it, but I should be okay.... Hopefully I'll finish the first sock tonight.

The yarn is Wildfoote Luxury Sock Yarn in Master Grey, and the pattern, called 'Diagonal Cross-Rib Socks', and is designed by Ann Budd. The pattern can be found in 'Favorite Socks, 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave'. I have found the stitch pattern very easy to work and just as easy to remember, they are going fast!

This means, however, that I have put the socks for my middle sister on hold in the meantime. The 'Snicket Socks' pattern is on the website Magknits, at and were designed by Sabine Riefler. I'm using Regia 4-fadig Tweed in color #52. I have fallen in love with this yarn, it is delightfully soft to knit with, and let me just admit right here, I am a fool for tweed yarns. I found this pattern a little harder to 'get' at the beginning, but once I caught on to what was happening, it has been a piece of cake. Word to the wise, when she tells you that you can opt to work the short-row heel she describes, or work a favorite short-row heel of your own preference, go for hers! I tried two different favorite short-row heels that I have had GREAT success with in the past - three times each! Then figured, Oh, what the heck! and tried her method, and it worked like a charm. I'm now on the second sock, and whipping right through it.

Over the summer I made a lace shawl for my Mom, using Merino Oro laceweight and the pattern 'Scheherezade' by Melanie Gibbons of Pink Lemon Twist. I think she is going to be nicely surprised. Now I have to be sure she doesn't try to wash it in a machine!

Finally, well, I did knit something for my oldest sister, too. And after much thought, I have decided to go ahead and include a picture of it here. You have to understand that my sister reads all of my blogs faithfully, and last year I mistakenly included a whole blog entry about making her gift. Totally blew it! She then had the nerve to leave a comment on my blog that she liked her gift - a whole month before Christmas. This year when I emailed the fam and mentioned that I had finished her gift and was ready to mail it out, she replied that she would probably open it before Christmas. But what the heck, here is a picture of it for you all... Sis, don't peek!

Gotcha, Sis!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Patterns and Copyright Laws

With the holiday season approaching, this is the time of year that we see craft shows popping up all over the place. Some are set up so that a portion of the proceeds go to charity, others may be just a group of people who want to get together and sell their handworks. This is a good time, then, to review copyright law as it pertains to patterns and the sale of items made from those patterns.

In either of the above instances, if the pattern you are using to make your items is not your own completely original design, then you need to be aware of copyright laws as they pertain to patterns before you make an item to sell.

If you go into Kiwi and wander into the books and needles room, you will see a sign on the wall that tells you that we will not copy patterns for anyone. To do so is a violation of copyright law. You may purchase a pattern and make a working copy of it for your own use. I often do this so that I don't have to carry a whole book with me everywhere I take my knitting (which is everywhere), and can make notations directly on the pattern where needed. You may take a book out of the library and make a copy of a pattern that you are interested in making. What you may not do is make a copy of the original pattern, and give or sell the copy to someone else. To do so avoids paying the designer for their work. It is the same as pirating movies or music, and is the wrong thing to do.

It is also illegal to take someone's pattern, tweak it a bit, and sell the idea as your own, either as a pattern or as a finished item.

This is taken from the U.S. Copyright Office's website (
"How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to
authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly,
you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent. See Circular 14, Copyright
Registration for Derivative Works."

Likewise, if you have someone else's original pattern, you may not make an item from that pattern for resale without direct permission of the designer to do so. The pattern is considered the designer's intellectual property, and for anyone else to attempt to profit from a designer's intellectual property without permission of the originator is a violation of copyright law.

As a designer, let me give you a small idea of what goes into designing a pattern. First, I start with an idea or concept. Next I will make a rough sketch or chart of the pattern idea. I look for (and spend money on buying) quality yarns that will do what I want them to do for this design. I work up several swatches to decide needle size, stitch patterns, fabric drape and feel. This can take several days. Now I sit down and calculate my pattern, the number of sts to cast on, etc, and write a prototype pattern. Finally, after as much as a week of preparation, I can begin to knit. As I knit - and this can be as much as 90 hours or more of knitting for a sweater pattern, or even 20-30 hours of knitting for a felted bag - I am making notations as to pattern changes, increases and decreases, etc. Next I block and finish the item, and take the time to make several good photographs of the finished item. Now, 4-5 hours are spent at the computer turning my notes into a readable pattern that a stranger can understand. Ink, paper and protective sleeves are bought in order to print up physical copies of the pattern. And the knitting consumer comes along and purchases the fruits of all that labor and time and money spent, for the grand price of $5.00 for most of my patterns. If I am selling my pattern through another party, I am actually getting half the cover price to put in my pocket, one-third of which I pay in taxes. While the process is enjoyable and even compelling, the remuneration doesn't even begin to compensate for the work and creativity that goes into it.

If, therefore, someone were to take my pattern and give a free copy to a friend, they are literally taking food off of my table. If they make an item to sell for profit without my permission, they are keeping a roof from over my head, making it difficult for me to meet expenses of daily life such as car expenses, utility bills, medications, health insurance, dental care, etc. If you went to work tomorrow and worked all day giving your best, wouldn't you be upset it someone else got your paycheck?

Some designers pursue copyright violations ruthlessly. There has been an instance of one designer who sued - and won - against someone who made a sweater from one of her designs, and then later sold the sweater at a yard sale because it didn't fit her.

I am not unique in that all of my patterns have a copyright symbol on each pattern page. With or without that symbol, my design is copyrighted by law. Because of a conversation I overheard about a year ago I began adding a line to my patterns in that same area that states that one may not reproduce the pattern, or make items from the pattern for sale. This is a clarification for purchasers only - even without this notation on a pattern, copyrights automatically prevail.

So you can see that the issues that come about from copyright violation are two-fold: the morally and ethically wrong act of stealing someone's livelihood, and covering your own bottom against possible legal issues that may arise from violating copyright. If you are interested in making items for sale - either for charity or for profit - you must contact the designer first in order to be granted permission to do so. Be aware that you may be asked to pay royalty fees if you are given permission. If you do not ask and are not granted permission to sell an item made from another person's pattern, and proceed to do so anyway, be aware that you are committing a crime, and may be pursued through legal channels. Be smart: Ask first.

Respect and show gratitude to the people who take the time and trouble to share their ideas with the world.

Some good references to copyright as it pertains to patterns-
Copyright FAQ for Knitters:
Links to good sites here:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Patchwork Knitting with Irene York

I just spent the greatest two days! On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2nd & 3rd, Kiwi Knitting Co. presented a workshop lead by Irene York, a knitting designer and teacher whose specialty is Patchwork Modular Knitting. Irene has studied with the master of the technique, Horst Schultz, in Berlin, and hosted him for workshops here in the States. We here in Tucson are fortunate that after all their travels and roaming, Irene and her husband have settled just outside of Tucson, giving us this amazing opportunity to take one of her workshops without having to travel far.

Patchwork Modular Knitting is a process of knitting that creates small pieces that build upon one another to create your fabric, much in the same way that a patchwork quilt is made of small pieces of pieced fabrics. Part of what makes the techniques so much fun is that the possibilities are endless - the fabric can be built in almost any direction at any time. I came away from both days of the class with my mind reeling with all sorts of ideas and half-formed designs that I want to incorporate into my own design work and knitting projects.

Both days were well attended, with a full house on Friday for the 5 hour workshop on equilateral triangles and U-shapes. I've done several modular knitting projects before this, but knowing that there is always something more to learn, I was excited about working new shapes that I hadn't encountered before. The most common shape we see with modular knitting is the mitered square, but there are a world of shapes beyond that - rectangles, isoceles triangles, equilateral triangles, U-turn squares and rectangles, diamonds, circles and shells, to name those that come to mind right away.

The basic techniques were ones that I was already familiar with, and could (and did) apply them to the new shapes with great glee. But for those in the class who were new to the whole process of modular knitting, the techniques and methods were very accessible, and before long everyone was knitting away, concentrating on their patterns.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Irene is her teaching style. In these days where it is considered a plus to be as energetic as inhumanly possible, it was such a joy to learn from someone who gave you the info you needed to proceed, and then just let you get on with it - with plenty of help if you needed it as you went along. Several people remarked on how nice it was to have such a quiet class so that we could concentrate on our patterns and our knitting without our minds having half an ear also paying attention to the conversation. On Saturday, one of the students also thanked Irene for not talking while we were working, and said what a treat that was in a class. I would definitely take another class from Irene, I found her presence as a teacher to be very calm and reassuring. That is a great thing in someone who teaches a subject such as knitting.

We were well fed on both days, with a lunch of sandwiches and a huge fresh salad brought in from Chopped on Friday, liberally augmented with snacks and desert, as well as coffee and teas from Rincon Market. On Saturday, for the 3 hour class, we grazed abundantly on veggies and baked goods, with the great treat of the day being one of Sarge's pumpkin cheesecakes.

Classes on both days concentrated on techniques, and we were also given patterns to make different bags using the new shapes we were learning. We each picked out a yarn kit when we came in containing three colors of coordinating yarn, with stickie notes and pens to help keep us on track. Friday's bag starts with a base circle made up of equilateral triangles.

From this base we began to build up sides to the bag, made from U-turn squares. Last night I finished my sister's Christmas present, so today I plan to sit down and work on the remaining sides and finishing to my bag. The units go pretty quickly, and like chapters in a book, are good places to pause and get up to toss the laundry in the dryer. I sometimes half joke that someday they will find me in my knitting chair, dessicated and starved, with my knitting still in my hands. It is nice to work on projects that have a natural stopping point!

On Saturday we worked with shell shapes, including half shells for each side and for the upper edges. It is interesting to work in modular shapes that don't have straight sides, and to see how they can be fit together. I know just how I am going to use this shape in a design - when I have a spare few minutes!

Those who love to combine travel and knitting should note that Irene and her husband also lead several knitting retreats in San Miguel Allende during the year that get rave reviews and repeat business from knitters who have taken them in the past. I'm not able to bring her website up at the moment, but the URL is

If you joined us this weekend, you know what a great time we all had for a fantastic price. If you were not able to join us this weekend, don't miss it the next time!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bunad Mukluks

I wish I could say that the steroids are enhancing my knitting performance, but that would be lying. Somewhere along the line I picked up a cold last week, and for an asthmatic, that is not a good thing. I ended up in the ER Friday morning, was glad to hear the X-rays showed no pneumonia, but apparently all that rattling and buzzing when I breathed was due to really, really annoyed asthma. And so now, in addition to the inhaled steroids and other meds that are part of my normal daily asthma control routine, I am on oral steroids, nasal steroids, antibiotics and high doses of anti-histamines. My public service announcement for today? Please, if you get a cold or flu this season - and I sincerely hope you don't - think about people out there with compromised immune systems due to chemo or other illness, and stay home. For some people out there, the common cold can be a dangerous thing.

Yesterday morning about this time I sat down to work on some socks I am making for one of my sisters for a Christmas present. This is a wonderful cabled pattern from Interweave Knits called Williams Street Socks. It is a simple 10 st cable worked every sixth row, so in the first cable round you hold 5 sts to the front, work the next 5, and then work the held five, etc. to the end of the row, knit 5 rounds. In the next cable round your 5 sts are held to the back. So I have been working the pattern starting with the cable round, working the 5 stockinette rounds, and then putting my knitting down to do other things, knowing that when I come back I will need to start by working the next cable round. I've been doing this all week, without any problems. Until yesterday morning.

For some reason, when I picked up my knitting, I could not at first read the knitting to know which way to go with the cable - zig or zag. This is not normally a problem for me, but between illness, lack of sleep from coughing all night, and major drugs, I had NO CLUE which way to cable. Finally I thought, What the heck, dive in, and if it's not right, all I have to do is frog it. So I started with the sts held to the front. Finished the round, looked at the knitting, and realized that the sts should have gone to the back. Ok. Frogged back to the beginning of the round, held the sts to the back, and worked the round again. And realized that I had held the wrong 5 sts to the back. Frogged back again, and did the round right.

I mention this not so that I can humiliate myself in public, after all, it wasn't a problem until now. But to show that we can all do those really, really silly things sometimes, and the worst that happens is that you have to frog back and fix it. Knowing my cognitive limitations for the moment, I worked out a plan where I can keep track of which cable crossing I just worked on my st counter. Now I've finished the foot and am ready to tackle the heel.

I am a big fan of Interweave Knits magazine and publications, it is a rare thing that they come out with a new book that I don't HAVE to possess for my own. They have a fresher outlook on knitting that I really like. Recently they brought out a new book in their Style series called Folk Style. Wow! Great designs, great color! There are several patterns in here I am looking forward to making for myself, such as the Grand Tour Waistcoat and the Algonquin Socks. The Modern Quilt Wrap is started with stash yarn, but on hold until I finish my holiday projects. I know one of my sisters would love the Paisley Shawl.

And then there is my eternally cold aunt. Last year I made her the crocheted felted boots from the Fiber Trends pattern, and I hear that she has worn them right through. This year I decided to get serious, and made her the Bunad Mukluks from Folk Style. This is a really quick and easy project that uses just over two skeins (so buy three!) of Lamb's Pride worsted. This is a yarn that I really enjoyed working with, and will use for lots more projects. I picked a bright red as that is her favorite color, and elected to leave out the tassels in the back. As you can see, they are just a giant pair of socks...

that you felt...

and sew slipper bottoms onto...

Couldn't be easier! And now they are ready to go out in the mail in plenty of time for her birthday. I'll definitely be making more of these, especially for myself.

So in the meantime, keep knitting! Look at resources such as books and magazines for inspiration, and enjoy our craft.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Afterthought Pocket

The principle glory of the afterthought pocket is that it is, well, an afterthought. You don't have to plan it ahead of time, you can work it after your sweater is completed, you can even put them in several years later. You think to yourself, Gee, I want pockets in this sweater. So whip out 3 dpns, scissors, matching yarn and a yarn needle and do your thing.

The Afterthought Pocket, blocking

To begin working an afterthought pocket, you simply decide where you want your pocket to go. Try the garment on, stand in front of a mirror, and attempt to put your hands into pockets. Where your hands first meet the garment, there should the pockets be. Take off the sweater and mark where you want the pockets to go, and measure out approximately 4-5" worth of sts (about 1-1.5" wider than the width of your hand).

Now, with one of your dpns, pick up the sts in the row above the row you have marked for the pocket opening. In my case, this was 20 sts. Next, with the second dpn, pick up an equal number of sts in the row below where you want your pocket opening to be. You should have a needle holding sts, a row of knitting not held on the needles that lies between the two dpns, and then a second needle holding an equal number of sts.

Pick up your scissors - and taking a deep breath - snip a stitch in that in-between row, right in the middle of the intended pocket opening. With the point of your yarn needle, pick the yarn in the snipped row out of the sts that are held on the needles above and below the opening. It is important that on both ends of your opening you do not take the loose yarn completely out of the last top and bottom held sts, but rather leave the yarn passing through one st once, then once down (or up, as the case may be) through the corresponding stitch at the same end, on the other needle. This helps to prevent a gap at each side of the pocket where the knitting on either side isn't joined to the pocket area. It should look something like this-

Now, using your spare dpn and the sts on the bottom needle, use the Knitted Cast-On method to cast on 3 sts at the right side of the pocket. Work an I-cord BO by *K2, K2tog tbl, slip all three sts back to the left needle*. Repeat until you have bound off all the sts on the bottom needle, you should have 3 sts left on the right needle - put these on a coiless pin to hold for later, and break off the yarn leaving a 6-8" tail to be woven in.

Working the I-Cord BO

Next, work the sts held on the top needle for several rows (about 1-1.5 in.) in the same pattern as your sweater. Switch to stockinette st, and if desired, you can gradually increase a total of about 1" worth of sts at the sides as you knit. At the same time, I knit in the tails from either side of the pocket that are left from the un-picked row that formed the pocket opening. Knit your pocket to the depth desired, and leave the sts on the needle. Break off the yarn leaving a 6-8" tail to be woven in later.

Now, turn your garment inside out, and carefully pin the pocket to the inside of the garment. With matching yarn and yarn needle, sew the pocket into place beginning at the right upper corner, down across the pocket bottom, and then up the left side of the pocket. To sew down the pocket bottom, pass your yarn needle through a purl bump on the sweater fabric, then through a held st on the dpn. As you sew the pocket sides, be careful to leave a bit of slack in the pocket fabric so that from the front side the pocket doesn't pull on the sweater fabric, and remains invisible.

Finally, use your yarn needle to graft the 3 I-cord sts left at the edge of the pocket trim to the garment, and then weave in all ends. When you block the sweater, be sure to run a blocking wire through the center of the I-cord trim to prevent the pocket trim from sagging.

Voila! You have pockets!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Buttonholes, and the Adult Surprise Jacket

On October 29th, I will begin teaching a class on the Adult Surprise Jacket. Anyone familiar with the mind of Elizabeth Zimmermann will recognize the name and convoluted design of this wonderful jacket. EZ (as she is affectionately known on the knitting lists) designed the Baby Surprise Jacket first, and then had so many requests for an adult version that she eventually translated the pattern so that each adult knitter could formulate a pattern that fit them. EZ was famous for wanting knitters to think for themselves, and I would venture that her written patterns are a perfect demonstration of that concept, with the ASJ being no exception. You are given no yarn weight, no yarn amount, and no needle size, but rather are instructed to work a swatch to your liking, measure for gauge, then measure your favorite-fitting jacket and calculate your pattern from there.

I have long admired the look of both the BSJ and the ASJ, and had always wanted to make one of my own (in that long list of things I want to make) and a class gives me the perfect excuse to do so. So first I stepped over to my trusty yarn cabinet and surveyed the contents. I have everything sorted out according to weight, then if there are specific projects that a pile of yarn is earmarked for, those are all bagged together and labeled. Anything else is fair game. Because I intended to this be a jacket rather than an 'indoor' sweater, I wanted to use at least a worsted weight, perhaps heavier if I could. This past January I made a Philosopher's Wool cardi and I had lots of left-over yarns from that project. Sitting right next to them was a yarn from Noro called Transitions. Lynn gave me a skein of this two years ago for Christmas, and it is just so beautiful. I never knew quite what I wanted to use it for, being too lovely to felt, so I bought a few more skeins, and they have been biding their time in the yarn cabinet. And best luck of all, this yarn is in colors that work perfectly with my PW yarns. Finally I needed another yarn to hold it all together, and chose a chocolate brown Eco Wool by Cascade that Lynn has in the shop. After swatching on a Sunday, I was all prepared to start this project two weeks ago today.

Today I am ready to place my buttonholes. I think the majority of knitters are with me when I say that I really, really dislike finishing. And yet, I confess here and now in case you have ever wondered, if I have ever been to your house, yes, I did straighten out the pictures hanging on the walls when you were out of the room. Bad finishing makes me crazy, and there is a certain discount yarn company that also makes me nuts when they send out their quarterly catalogue filled with photos of un-blocked sweaters. So I have come to realize that it isn't the finishing I dislike so much, it is all the fussiness involved in making things right. Consequently I plan out all my finishing before I even begin the project. By the time I have completed a sweater, I typically have one end to weave in from my bind-off, and that is all. Any edges that will not receive some manner of edge treatment afterwards all match, and Lynda is a happy gal.

For me, one of the fussy bits is placing the buttonholes and sewing on the buttons afterwards to match. In a pattern like this one that just tells you vaguely to work 7 buttonholes evenly spaced, I have to whip out my little 'math thinking cap' (which is very little indeed) and figure out where to put the darned things.

I start by placing the top and bottom buttonholes first, and marking those sts with coiless safety pins. I like my top button to be about 1 - 1/2 inches below the neck edge, depending on the weight of the yarn used and the size of the buttons. The bottom button is usually placed about 1.5 - 2 inches (or more, really, depending on how it looks) above the bottom of the button band and marked with a pin. Next I count the number of sts between the two pins, subtract one st for each of the remaining buttons, and divide that number by the number of buttons left to place, plus one. So in this case, it calls for 7 buttonholes total, I have already placed two, and have 5 buttonholes left. There are six spaces (5+1) between seven buttons. So if I have 59 sts between my top and bottom buttons, I subtract five sts = number of remaining buttons, and get a result of 54 sts. Divide 54 by 6, and you get nine sts between each of the buttons. Go back to your sweater, count 9 sts down from the top coiless pin, place another pin in the next st. Repeat til you have all your button holes marked.

Now - and this is the genius part - mark the corresponding sts on the other side, and leave those pins in place until you are ready to sew on your buttons. Now you know exactly where the buttons need to go in order to line up perfectly with the buttonholes. When you are finished, block your sweater first and then sew on the buttons where they are marked by the pins.

Ok, now time to go finish those button bands!


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Welcome to the Ranch!

On Wednesday of this week I attended, for the first time, a meeting of the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild (TH&SG). Now I should confess right here - as I did to all the members attending as I introduced myself as a visitor - that I neither spin nor weave. So what the heck was I doing there?

Back in August, when I was having the month that I never want to repeat, in the middle of a particularly difficult day I ran into three great people in the unlikeliest place - the waiting room for ICU & CCU at Northwest Hospital. They are women that I have met before at Kiwi and at OPK meetings and workshops, and are all a pleasure to run into anywhere, but to sit and knit and chat with the three of them that afternoon was just a big, huge ray of sunshine in my day.

Now it turns out that they are also all three members of TH&SG. So we talked a lot about TH&SG as we sat and knitted, and that was when they told me about the fiber ranch. Now, I have to be honest with you, you could assemble a congregation of insurance salesmen, and I would still show up for the meeting if it meant that I also got to see the fiber ranch. Fortunately, no hard-sell experts were to be found on the actual day, but rather a large group of the warmest and most welcoming strangers & friends that I have encountered in the longest time.

For a non-spinner, non-weaver (tho they vow to change all that, but we shall see) the appeal of such a group is several-fold. As I said, these are darned nice people. And, they are darned creative people, too, with an enormous sense of humor. Just wait til I tell you about the study groups!

As with other guild meetings of my experience, the day started with the business end of things, and since they had not had a formal meeting all summer, there was a lot to talk about. For a stranger in their midst, I got a lot of information about how the guild operates and what they had to offer. Everyone who got up to speak was very comfortable in front of the group, and had their own fantastic way of presenting their information. This was how I learned that the TH&SG has an extensive library that some hard-working souls spent their summer cataloging and organizing. With 6 (count them, six) general categories. No one who was there will forget the number of categories! I learned of the passing of two members, and the obvious deep affection in which they continue to be held by their fellow guild members. There was talk of a sale of gifts from the family of one woman, to benefit the guild, and the establishment of a scholarship based on the gifts from the other woman's family. Upcoming events such as sales and shows were discussed. And there is a great community outreach program at Ochoa Elementary School, where they are helping lucky children to explore and have fun with fibers.

And then, there are the study groups. If the study group people will give me the leeway to paraphrase their group info handout I'd like to tell you a bit about the many groups this guild supports.

I've been talking with one member, Carolyn Webb, over the last year about the Felting Study Group that TH&SG holds. I have to confess that for various reasons I have yet to make it to one of the study group's meetings, but they sound really, really interesting. Every technique from nuno felting, needle felting, wet felting, knitted fulling, as well as felting artists & resources are discussed. My idea of great fun is anything that reminds me of the creative parts of kindergarten, and to me, the idea of getting elbow deep in water, suds and fiber and making art out of the process sounds too good to be true.

The next group that sounds really interesting to me is the Basketry Study Group. They will be constructing a variety of baskets using reeds, metals, cotton, paper, and found materials. I wish I had known about them in time to join them in making Nantucket baskets this summer, but there is bound to be lots of interesting techniques to learn and baskets to make.

My husband is really interested in the Dye Study Group. He has been wanting to learn to dye yarn for some time now, and would I be crazy enough to argue with that? This group will be learning about color and the dyeing of yarns, fabric, fleece and reeds.

There is also the Porrey Cross Weaver's Study Group, which will study selected topics in weaving. Their particular topic for the upcoming year will concentrate on the use of color. The Tapestry Study Group will focus on tapestry weaving structures used for both Navajo weaving and free-form tapestry weaving. The Marketing and Sales Study Group will explore marketing tactics and discuss possible sales venues. The Surface Design Study Group will study the embellishment of fabric to enhance the visual and/or tactile impact of the piece.

Last, but not least, is the Spinning Study Group, the people responsible for the handknit/crocheted/woven ranch you have been seeing here. This was their project for the past year, and my photos here can only show you the tip of the iceberg that is this detailed ranch. I would be hard pressed to name my favorite part, each element was so creatively imagined and fashioned, from the wanted poster on the back of the knitted barn to the rooster on top of it. The clothes laying by a log that were discarded by the skinny-dipping sheriff, who is now ogling the knitting Lady Godiva (wearing beaded pasties). The outhouse! With book, knitting and a tiny toilet roll, not to mention the half-mmon on the door. The cat on top of the ramamda that was made from yarn partly spun from cat hair, as the coyotes were made with yarn partly spun from dog hair. The knitted campfire, the clothes hanging on the line, the knitted wire fence holding in the knitted pigs!

I think you get the idea by now that this is a great group of people, who enjoy exploring the creative. Even if, like me, you are a non-spinner, non-weaver, I believe that there is a lot here to offer to anyone who wants to meet some new people and learn some interesting new crafts. Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday morning, the 24th of October at 9:30 a.m. in the Kiva Room at the Junior League. The address is 2099 E. River Rd.

CORRECTION- In my last post, I gave you some misinformation regarding the Gwen Bortner workshop sponsored by OPK and Kiwi Knitting. The Ten Textures classes previously described will be held on Friday, January 18th, and the Pocket Full of Color class will be held on Saturday, January 19th at Kiwi Knitting. Both are six-hour classes and are held from 9 a.m to 4 p.m., with time allowed for lunch.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Upcoming Special Events At Kiwi

My grandparents emigrated from the Ukraine just before (my grandfather) and during (my grandmother and uncle) the Bolshevik Revolution. To say that it was a difficult process for them would be making the greatest of understatements, but that is not where I mean to take you today. My grandfather died before I was born, but one thing he told my father over and over again was that knowledge is the only thing that no one can ever take away from you. I figure that given what the man experienced in his life, he knew what he was talking about.

One of the characteristics I have inherited from my Dad is an absorbing passion for knowledge about any subject that interests me. I remember time after time my Dad finding a new fascination and being compelled to learn everything there was to know about that particular thing. From golf to fly-fishing, ham radio, the clarinet and the saxophone, scuba diving, wood-working, photography, gun-smithing, engraving - you name it, the man can still tell you every detail on the subject til you think he is a walking encyclopedia.

For me those passions have been fewer and further between, but just as overwhelming. I worked in the salon industry for over 20 years - starting as a colorist, but the majority of those years as an aesthetician. Every time there was any opportunity to learn more about my profession, I was given the means and encouraged to do so. My employers sent me to places as far and near as Miami, Las Vegas, New York, Long Beach and London so that I might learn more techniques that I could then bring back to the salon and apply to my work - and to teach to co-workers, bringing everyone's skills and knowledge base up to the next level so that we could better serve our customers, and not coincidently, earn more for the business and for ourselves. It was just a given that if there was any chance to learn more about what you were doing, you took it.

But I found my real passion in the industry when I began to learn more about Aromatherapy and started incorporating it into my skin care practice. I was self-employed by then, and quickly saw that there was so much to learn on the subject - indications, applications, safety - that it was important to take a certification course in Aromatherapy in general. To expand my knowledge in the application of Aromatherapy in skin-care in particular I went to London for a course in that aspect of the subject. In less than a year I had met my husband Graham through the international Aromatherapy community, and we were married less than a year after that. We opened our own business that combined a shop with Aromatherapy products and my Aromatherapy/skin-care practice, and had massage therapists, manicurists, and alternative practitioners working with us. I wrote several articles on Aromatherapy and skin care for magazines, as well as articles on the safe practice of Aromatherapy. We organized and held annual Aromatherapy conferences in Tucson that brought in participants from all over the country and speakers from all over the world. And all this came to us because of a passion for learning everything I could learn about a subject that fascinated me.

Now that my health issues have made it necessary for us to give up our business and for me to make a career change, I have found a new passion in knitting. I love that it combines my two great requirements for a burning interest - creativity, and the opportunity to learn more and to challenge my brain with each new project. My Aromatherapy books have been sold or given away to make room for shelves and shelves of knitting books. Instead of a cabinet full of exotic Essential Oils, I have a cabinet full of yarn stash. When I choose a new project I try to choose something that will challenge me and make an opportunity for me to learn new techniques. I am having a GREAT time on Ravelry meeting knitters from all over the world, seeing their projects and talking about knitting. I belong to two Yahoo groups about knitting and have learned immense amounts of information from the members, as well as been able to pass on some of my own knowledge to others. Every time our local knitting guild - Old Pueblo Knitters - has a guest workshop, you will see my smiling face right there, learning everything I can. Even if the subject is something I think I know a lot about, I always, always learn something new and valuable to take home with me and apply to my own projects.

Now we are fortunate that Kiwi Knitting is helping to bring some great opportunities to Tucson for learning more about our craft through some very interesting workshops. In November Kiwi is sponsoring a workshop taught by Irene York. Irene is an amazing designer who works primarily with modular knitting techniques. If you have been in the shop recently you will have seen her modular bags as well as that breathtaking shell shawl on display. Irene spoke at an OPK meeting a few months back about her work as a designer, as well as her influences and learning path. It was a wonderful opportunity to see and pass around many of her beautiful designs. Irene has taught classes for The Knitting Guild of America and at many of the 'Stitches' events. Modular knitting is at once so visually complex and interesting, and so easy to work, that it has become one of my favorite design elements. Right now I am working on two different modular knitting projects, have just finished designing a third and am about to start a fourth.

On Friday, November 2nd, Irene is presenting 'A Mixed Bag'. This class will teach you to knit a unique bag while learning how to knit and join modular equilateral triangles and U-turn units. In this informative and inspirational class you will discover the unlimited possibilities in creative modular knitting. Yarn kits and patterns are provided in the class fees, and lunch is included. The class is from 10 am to 3 pm, and costs $75.

On Saturday, November 3rd, Irene will present 'Patchwork Shells'. Shells might look difficult, but in reality they are quite easy to master and fun to incorporate into garments and accessories. In this class, the knitter will work shells and half-shells and acquire techniques for joining shells without sewing. Yarn will be provided. The class is from 11 am - 2 pm, and costs $50. Be sure to sign up as soon as possible, as class space is limited to 15 participants at each session.

In January 2008, in cooperation with Old Pueblo Knitters, Kiwi will present a day with Gwen Bortner. To paraphrase the workshop info given to me by Elizabeth Wells, the Workshop Chairperson for OPK: Gwen Bortner is a Craft Yarn Council Certified Teacher and is accredited by the Professional Knitwear and Designers Guild in both teaching and design. She has been published in a variety of knitting magazines and is the lead designer for her business, Knitability, LLC. Gwen's passion is teaching and she enjoys every opportunity she has to share her love of knitting with others. Gwen is an extrovert and over the years she has developed her own signature style that includes high quality, detailed handouts and memorable explanations with the use of "knitting aerobics". Gwen's teaching philosophy can be summed up in the following quote, "As a teacher, I have learned more about knitting than I ever did as a designer. Students' questions lead me to think about the "why" part of knitting and if there is more than one "correct" answer. I provide very few absolutes in the classroom. Although I may have a preference, experience has shown that "my way" is rarely the only way and being inclusive is so much more inviting. My mantra is "knitting is fun" and if the class isn't fun, then I am not doing my job."

On January 17th, through Old Pueblo Knitters, Gwen will be presenting a 3-hour workshop entitled, 'Good Reading'. Learn what is on your needles. Students will review basic stitch construction, learn to determine where they are in a pattern, and experiment with converting finished stitch patterns into words. These are valuable skills for knitters of all experience levels. Class cost is $30. Contact Elizabeth Wells at 520-886-7630.

On January 18th, Gwen will present 'Pocket Full of Color', a six-hour workshop. Intarsia, Fair Isle, stranded, slipped stitches are some of the various color techniques. Gain a basic understanding and some hands-on experience with three types of color-work while creating a small pocket-style bag. Students will learn tricks for working with multiple colors, creating consistent fabric, and the basics to charting your own design. Cost is $60, and includes lunch. Contact Elizabeth Wells.

On January 19th, OPK and Kiwi Knitting will present a six-hour workshop with Gwen at Kiwi Knitting, called 'Ten Textures'. Learn a new technique every 30 minutes and walk out of class with a variety of textures that can be added to your knitting projects. Techniques will start with the basics and build progressively throughout the class. If you are tired of stockinette or love the look of textured fabrics, this is the class for you. Cost is $60, and includes lunch. Contact Elizabeth Wells.

Don't let these amazing opportunities to learn more about our craft pass you by. Not only can I promise you from personal experience that the day itself will be amazing, with good company, lots of laughs, tons of amazing information, and great food, but also the information that you will take away from these classes will bring your knitting up to a whole new level of skills. Yes, there will be students in the classes who are already very skilled knitters (here is a little secret for you - this is how they got to be very skilled knitters, by taking every chance to learn new things). And there will be just as many, if not more, in the class who are new to knitting and just want to improve their skills and learn something new. Everyone is friendly and willing to share tools and knowledge. You'll see me there!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Advice to New (And Some Not-So-New) Knitters

Okay, all you Cowardly Lions of the Knitting World! Repeat after me:
It's just needles and yarn, it's just needles and yarn, it's just needles and yarn... :-D

My second project after getting back into knitting after a 37 year hiatus was a pair of socks. My first was a sweater. And aside from the fact that I would never want to meet the gorilla who would have fitted into that sweater (I frogged and then donated the yarn to the knitting guild years later, I couldn't bear to look at it any longer), I learned a LOT from the experience!

For the socks I bought a sock kit with yarn and pattern, and a set of double-pointed needles from Morehouse Farm while on vacation back home, a copy of 'Mary Thomas' Knitting Book' from Barnes & Noble, and sat down and knitted myself some socks. I had never made socks before, I had never used dpns (or even seen them before that day), never done short rows or heel turns, but I sat on the bed at my sister's house that evening with the instructions on one side of me, Mary Thomas' book on the other, and dove in. And before I knew it I had a pair of socks. You see, I didn't know I was supposed to be intimidated by that project. Now I can knit a pair of worsted-weight socks in a day with my little 12" circular.

My point is not that I think that I am Lynda the Amazing Wonder Knitter, but to show that nothing bad happened to me from deciding to just dive in and try it. I didn't die, I didn't lose any limbs, my family members are all still alive and healthy. :-) Nuclear war did not ensue, no one starved to death, global warming was made no worse by my efforts. No one yelled at me or made fun of me. And if they had tried to make fun of me they would have been in deep trouble, because I had a fistful of sharp pointy sticks, and I knew how to use them!

I think that what makes a person become a great knitter is not inborn talent, because none of us is born with knitting needles in hand (luckily for our Moms!). It isn't Years of experience - though Depth of experience is a great thing. It is NOT BEING AFRAID to try something new. If it doesn't work - and we are all guaranteed to make mistakes - you just rip it out and try again. See? No harm done. And you have learned something very valuable from the process. You get double value from your yarn because you get to knit it twice. Good knitters have to be fearless, and have to give themselves permission to be beginners, to know nothing, to make mistakes and to try again.

I sat that evening at my sister's house and looked at those instructions for the heel flap, scratched my head and thought, Huh? Well, okay, I'll give it a try. Then I read the part for the heel turn and thought, WHAT? Well, if that's what they say, I'll do it and see what happens. See, the thing is, I already knew and accepted that I knew nothing. So every idea, every instruction, every concept was new to me. That was the whole point of taking on the project: I wanted to learn something new. And there was no one sitting beside me to tell me that socks are tricky to knit, that heel turns can go bad.

What makes a great knitter is being absolutely fearless about trying new things. And one of the many things that I love about knitting is that it is filled with little tricks that are so easy to learn, and have such cool results and make you feel like a genius when you are done. I still think that heel turns are little knitting miracles. That you can make knitted fabric go around corners! Wow! How cool is that??? Look at me! Look what I just did! And every new project teaches you something new.

When choosing a project to start next, I always like to look for something that will challenge me, a technique I haven't tried before, or one that I haven't perfected. By the end of the project I know how to do that technique pretty well. Those knitters you can think of that seem to know how to do everything? That is only because they had the courage to try something for the first time. When you come to me on Friday mornings for Knit Dr. so that I can help you out of a jam? That is only because I have already made those same mistakes myself, on my own projects, and had to fix them. I can promise you that probably no knitter's projects are without mistakes, but you never look at them and say, Geeze, would you look at that! You can see that she worked a purl instead of a knit in row 57, and had to ladder back and fix it. Or that she forgot a yarn-over on the fifth lace repeat, and had to do a Make 1 in the next row to compensate. Yet I can promise you that those fixes are in there.

So by all means, have doubts, ask questions, come in to Kiwi for help and support and classes, but like the commercials say, just do it. It'll work.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Got Gauge?

Nearly every knitting pattern you will ever look at will give you gauge or tension information that is vital to working your project successfully. This important information tells you the gauge that the designer achieved while working the pattern. If you want your project to fit and drape in the same way that the original does, then it is essential that you match your gauge to the designer's intended gauge for the project.

But how many times have I heard people say that they never do a gauge swatch? Time after time knitters tell me that 'I always knit to gauge', and therefore they don't bother with doing those pesky gauge swatches, they just dive into their project. Well, I've got bad news for you: 'Gauge' is not some Golden Standard that all designers must attain before they can start designing projects. Every knitter is different, therefore every designer's gauge is likely to be different from every other designer's gauge. I've seen patterns where the designer expects a gauge of 3 sts/in with DK weight yarn and size US 7 needles. Ponder that one for a bit. Three stitches in an inch is what you might expect to get with a chunky or a bulky yarn, not a yarn weight that is two to three sizes finer. I used up to a size US 13 needle and still was not able to achieve that gauge, and the fabric I was getting was very loose and holey, not at all what I wanted or what was pictured in the book, although the designer answered my questioning email with the indignant assurance that those numbers were indeed correct.

There is nothing more stressful than making an entire project and finding that it doesn't fit. I had the good fortune that my first sweater, when finished, would have been a bit loose for a gorilla on steroids. Ever since then, I have been careful to always work a gauge swatch on projects where fit is going to be essential to the success of the project.

If you have stopped into Kiwi and talked about gauge swatches, you have probably been shown these two swatches - worked by two different knitters, with the same yarn, same size needles, and same number of stitches.

Gives you pause, doesn't it?

Not only will gauge vary from knitter to knitter, your gauge may even differ from day to day and time of day to time of day. Maybe you are knitting after a very tough day at work filled with stress, and you are taking it out on your knitting. Perhaps you are knitting the next morning with a nice cup of tea at your elbow and the birds singing outside after a good night's sleep. I can promise you that your knitting is probably going to be tighter at night and looser that next morning. My gauge on the same project is tighter now than it was a year ago.

Given all this, maybe now you are thinking that it is important to do your gauge swatch before starting your project. Good for you! But do you know the proper way to work a gauge swatch? Uh-huh. The patterns don't explain that, do they? I'm going to pull the gauge information from a couple of online patterns, and we will work from there.

Example 1 - GAUGE
20 sts/28 rows = 4" in stockinette stitch

Now, if you are like most knitters, your first instinct is probably to cast on 20 sts on the size US 7 needles called for in the pattern, and knit for four inches. Then you'll leave it on the needles, and measure an inch somewhere in the middle and call it a day.

If, however, you are going to spend the time to work the entire project, and the money to buy good yarn, you might want to take the time to do the gauge properly. So, if the gauge is given (as it always is) for a 4" (10 cm.) swatch, you are going to want to cast on enough sts to get 6". In this case, that would be 30 sts. Twenty stitches divided by four inches as called for in the pattern gives us an estimated five stitches per inch. Six inches times five stitches per inch equals thirty stitches. Why do I want you to work a swatch that is 6" wide? Because you will probably have stitches that are either looser or tighter at the edges (beginning of the row) than they are in the middle when you start to relax into the row. So you want to be able to measure 4" in the very center of the swatch. Some people like to work their swatches with a garter stitch border, I don't because I feel that it throws your gauge off of true. I want the raw gauge.

Now, using a needle one size smaller than the pattern calls for, work the swatch in stockinette stitch for about 4 inches. Work one row in reverse stockinette, and then switch to a size larger needle - the one called for in the pattern - and work a further 4 inches. Work another row in reverse stockinette, and switch to a needle that is one size larger than the one called for in the pattern, and work for another 4 inches. In photography we call this 'bracketing', better known as covering your bottom. You want to work your swatch in these three different needles because if you are not able to magically hit the correct gauge with the needle called for in the pattern, you are covered for one needle size in either direction, and that usually covers all your needs. If by chance it doesn't, then you have a pretty good idea how far up or down you need to go in needle size in order to hit gauge. Too many stitches per inch? Your needle is too small, go larger and swatch again. Too few stitches per inch? Your needle is too large, and you need to go smaller. After completing your swatch, bind off, and get ready for the next stage, blocking.

Why block your swatch? Because at some point your are going to block/wash your sweater, and gauge can change a LOT after blocking. I've seen sweaters gain as much as a couple of inches in width after blocking. And you would be astounded by how much cotton can grow in length after blocking. Start by measuring gauge on the swatch before blocking. These numbers are important, write them down and save them somewhere, you are going to need them later. Take a ruler, and in the center of each area of the swatch, line the left edge of the ruler up with the edge of a column of stitches. Count the number of stitches over 4 inches, and write it down. Measure the number of rows over four inches by lining the long edge of your ruler along the side of a column of stitches, count the number or rows in your swatch, and write it down. I'm a lot more concerned with hitting stitch gauge than I am with hitting row gauge. If I can only have one or the other, I want to hit stitch gauge.

Now, grab the ball band for your yarn, and look at the washing instructions. That is what you are going to do to your swatch, either hand-wash or machine wash as required by the ball band info. If you are hand-washing, lay the swatch out smoothly on a doubled towel after washing and let it dry thoroughly before moving on. Once it is very dry (I like to leave mine over-night), measure all your gauge measurements for each section again. You might be surprised to see how much the gauge changes with blocking. Write all these measurements down next to the ones you took before blocking your swatch. Find the after-blocking gauge that matched the gauge called for in the pattern, and you are ready to start your project. Take time to measure your gauge on the project again from time to time as you work, matching it to the before-blocking gauge for the needle size you need to use to get gauge. If you can match that as you go along then you know it should match your after-blocking gauge once the project is finished and blocked.

Example 2 - GAUGE
28 sts/ 44 rows = 4 inches in lace pattern after blocking
This one takes just a bit more thinking as you have to work your gauge swatch as above, except in the lace pattern used in the pattern.

Now, the above instructions work great if you are working on a piece that is going to be knitted flat. But suppose your sweater is going to be knitted in the round, like a Fair Isle cardigan or pullover? Enter the ITR (in the round) gauge swatch...

Work the swatch with the info as given in the pattern and as above, except for this... You are going to work your swatch in the round. Why? Because very, very few knitters will get the same gauge on a stitch pattern knitted flat as they will get while knitting in the round. Most knitters have a slightly larger purl stitch than knit stitch, caused by the way that most of us wrap our purl stitches - they go the long way around the needle. This is why you get that gap after a cable, or your last knit stitch in a rib is big and funky. This can really throw off your gauge for a project knitted ITR if you don't do a proper gauge swatch, since knitting stockinette in the round is all rows of knit stitches, with no purls.

To knit a swatch for a project that will be knitted in the round, pull out two dpns (double-pointed needles) each in three sizes: one set a size smaller than called for in the pattern, one set the same size as called for, and one set in a size larger than is called for in the pattern. Cast on the appropriate number of stitches onto one needle, and knit one row. Slide the stitches all the way to the right on your needle, just as you do when working I-cord, leave a big loop of yarn in the back that will stretch across the back of your swatch without pulling it out of shape, and knit across the row again. Repeat.

Front of a gauge swatch for knitting ITR

Back of a gauge swatch for knitting ITR

Swatches can give you other useful information, too. I work them when designing patterns so that I know that the design I am working on is going to have a stitch pattern that I like, as well as to find the gauge that I am working in.

This swatch tells me that with the strand of linen I am adding to the fabric, it isn't going to have enough bounce or elasticity to correct the looser purls on my ribbing. So I work my last purl stitch of each part of the 5x5 ribbing by wrapping the stitch in the 'wrong' direction and knit it tbl on the next row, and find that corrects the ribbing for me by the time I get to the top of my swatch.

This swatch tells me that if I change the Fair Isle pattern in this sweater, then I am going to get a much tighter gauge than is called for in the pattern. But I like the weight and drape of the fabric, so I would rather reconfigure the pattern to suit my swatch, rather than change my gauge to suit the pattern.

This morning I started cleaning out my yarn cabinet and came across bags of swatches I have done for previous projects. It was fun to look at each one and remember the project it went with. Sometimes I ended up needing the yarn from my swatch in order to finish my project, sometimes I didn't. But each of those little squares of knitting equals a project that turned out the way I wanted it to, all because of taking the time to knit a gauge swatch first.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Swan Lake Stole, and Blocking Lace

Just about this time last week I finished my Mystery Stole, made in charcoal Zephyr lace yarn. About a week later than I had hoped, but still not so far behind that I was feeling too terribly guilty about all the other projects waiting in line. The official name for this pattern is Swan Lake, and it is based on the ballet of that name. I found the project very enjoyable, and it was interesting to work on something on complete faith - not having any idea what the outcome would be, but going with it anyway. For a control freak like myself, that was a big step, and also part of the fun. I love the finished shawl and look forward to using it as cooler weather descends upon us.

On Sunday morning I got everything I needed ready to block my stole. I should warn you: I am a BIG fan of blocking my finished pieces. I learned to sew at a very young age, and it was always emphasized to me that you have to constantly press your work as you sew if you want to have crisp, professional results. I made all my clothes for many years (and would still, if it wouldn't cut into precious knitting time) and always had the ironing board set up and the iron ready before I sat down at the sewing machine. The same idea applies to blocking your knitting. If you and I have ever had a conversation about making a gauge swatch, you know that I not only urge you to make a big swatch, I also tell you to wash and block your swatch before measuring for gauge. This is absolutely vital to success in a finished project. By the way, I also suggest that you measure for gauge before blocking and note those numbers down, so that you can see how much of a change occurs in your garment before and after blocking your work. I've seen many a finished piece grow a good bit after the blocking process, so in order to properly judge the fit of a finished piece, you have to block your swatch.

But blocking, you may think, isn't so important on projects where size is not an issue, such as scarves or shawls. Not so. Blocking always puts the finishing touch on a project, and is the difference between having it look hand-crafted, or look homemade. I always tell concerned first-time lace knitters not to worry about what their project looks like as they are knitting it, so long as they are accurately following the pattern. Lace, I always think, looks like a dog's dinner until after it is blocked. It looks like something you would reprimand the cat for doing. But take the time to block it and like the enchanted swans in Swan Lake, it transforms as if by magic into something of even greater beauty.

Blocking can be accomplished with as few or as many of the available blocking tools as you wish. But I have to tell you that the blocking wires I got last year for my birthday just changed my life. And that this year I have whispered into Santa's ear that I would love a blocking board. Next year it will probably be a woolly board, but we won't go there now...

You need a few basics for blocking lace-
- a flat surface to block on
- an absorbent material to put under the piece to be blocked
- a lot of pins
- a spray bottle with water
Much desired extras would include-
- blocking wires
- blocking board

There are also lace-blocking frames that allow you to string your project out between two parallel supports - kind of like the center of a snow-shoe - and then stand it up against a wall to dry. I imagine these would be wonderful to have, but I am not yet that dedicated to the idea of having one.

Flat Surface - I have heard many people say that they block their shawls either on the carpet or on a queen-sized or larger bed. I don't have spare floor space or a spare bed hanging around the house, but what I do have is a dining room table that has long served as a fabric-cutting table, a beading project table, and heaven knows what else that doesn't relate to food as often as it does to textiles and creativity.

Absorbent Layer - A couple of old bath towels will do here, I like to lay them out flat two layers deep. This way I can pin into them without scratching my table, and they absorb the moisture used in blocking.

Now for the blocking process. When blocking garments, I like to wash them according to the instructions on the ball-band before beginning to block. With lace, I don't wash them first, but start by pinning the piece out while it is still dry.

First I thread the wires through the long sides, and pin them carefully so that the selvedges are laying flat and smooth, and the parallel sides measure equidistant from each other at several points. This allows me to know that I am blocking my piece evenly. Don't spare the pins - the closer you pin, the more precise your blocking will be.

Next I thread wires through the work on any tricky areas - including points, and circles or semi-circles. The flexible wires are great for blocking out points on a curved edge, and getting them even without lots of painstaking pinning and measuring of each point.

If there are any strong design lines within the piece, I like to thread a blocking wire through them as well to make sure that they block into a nice, straight line.

Once I have everything thoroughly pinned out, I take my spray bottle and completely wet the knitting. Think of this as though you are setting hair - you have to wet the hair and put it into the form you want it to take, and then let it dry completely before you take it out of the forms. Same thing here, after all, we are working with animal hair. Once I have it all dampened, I gently pat it all flat with my hands, and then try to be very patient and let it dry in peace without me feeling it every time I go by (not successful there) and not taking it out of the blocking wires and pins before it has had time to really set well. I learned as a child that the sooner I went to bed on Christmas Eve, the sooner it seemed as though Santa came, instead of sitting up late waiting for him when he darned sure wasn't going to show up while I was still awake. Same principle applies here, I like to block things at the end of the day so that I can wake up the next morning and have my blocked piece all ready and waiting for me. Just a personal foible, but it may help you, too.

If you are thinking about starting your first lace project, know that we have several devoted lace-knitters at the shop who would LOVE to help you at every stage of your project. Just as I take great pleasure in turning normal people into knitters, I also love turning normal knitters into lace knitters. Lace knitting can open a whole new world to you, and if you already know how to work an SSK, a K2tog, a YO, and a double decrease, then you already know nearly everything you need to know in order to successfully knit lace. Try it, I promise you will become addicted.