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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

God Bless Sharp Eyes and Gentle Tongues

On the other hand, designers do make mistakes.  It's so easy, when you know how to get there, to think that you've given someone else the right road directions.

Turns out Eight Godmothers did have a flaw in the pattern.  It should have been CO25, and the last yarn-over on the increasing rows should not have had a compensating k2tog.  With that change, the BO4 makes sense, because you're then back at 25sts.  (If you're not a knitter, this will sound like pure gobbledygook.) 

More than one sweet lady tried to nudge me toward that realization . . . not with an accusation, but with a very gracious question.  And so this morning I am appreciating the sisterhood of civility, the kindness of gentle natures.  In a world of road rage and political invective, the sweet and sincere question is a balm to the spirit.  Courtesy is not dead; it lives on Ravelry.

The amended pattern is up.

[*sheepish grin*] 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Meditation For a Long Path

Let me be grateful for this moment's occupation.

Let me find contentment in the pulling of one stitch through another, hastening not toward the garment.

When life seethes around me, let me take sanctuary in the sameness of this pattern.  Let me be soothed by the predictable, moment after moment after moment, creating certainty in an uncertain place.

For this I can control, this I can count on.

Let me find joy in the doing, knowing that the having will follow in its own good time.

Blessed be this humble stitch.
And this one.
And this one.
And this one.

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Trusting the Design

Remember Eight Godmothers?  The lacy collar that uses a Victorian edging pattern (Godmother's Edging) interspersed with wedges of stockinette?  The design I posted free on Ravelry?

To date it's been favorited 145 times, downloaded 469 times.  (Hmm, let's see:  if it had been priced at $4.00, by now the revenue would have been . . . ) 

Anyway, I've had two people private-message me asking if I forgot to call for casting on 4 stitches at the beginning of each new "godmother."  One person even went ahead, without messaging, and just cast on those 4, assuming I'd overlooked it.  (Her finished project looks noticeably different than my prototype:  her "godmothers" protrude beyond the stockinette wedges farther than they should.)

So, here's the thing:  as each "godmother" develops, it adds a stitch on every knit row (the final yarn-over).  By the end of the "godmother," 4 stitches have been added in this manner. 

Those 4 stitches are then bound off at the end of the "godmother," and the stockinette wedge proceeds as before.

Designers do make mistakes; patterns do come out with flaws.  But sometimes we just have to trust that it's going to work out.  Suspending judgment for a while, patiently following the letter of the "law," can get us where we're supposed to be. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Picot Ribbing Cast-On

This wonderful cast-on produces a picot edge to ribbing.  If you care about the fine details of your knitting, it's worth learning.  And it's not that hard, because it builds on the long-tail cast-on you (should) already know.  (See this blog's post for April 7, 2011, The Long-Tail Double-Edge Cast-On.)

This cast-on consumes about the same amount of loose-edge yarn as the long-tail, so measure roughly 12 inches for every 20 stitches.  (I hold the leading edge in my left hand and run the yarn about 4/5 of the way to the crook in my elbow:  that gets me about 20 stitches for each such pull.)

Now make a slip knot. 

Make a tent with your left thumb and left forefinger, just as with the Long-Tail.

At this point the Long-Tail takes the tip of the needle up through the hole created by your left thumb.  Hold that thought; we'll get to it in a minute.  But first, for the Picot Cast-On, you're going to bring the needle tip under the left wall of the tent

and then you're going to snag the right wall of the tent, making a simple wrap on the needle,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ribbing with a Picot Edge

The newest vision Charlotte has presented begins at the ribbed top of a turtleneck.  No ordinary spider she, Charlotte has insisted, this time, on a picot edge to that ribbing.

Here's what it looks like so far:

Note:  that is not a turned, double-back picot edge; it's a single edge that was cast on that way.

Stay tuned and I'll show you how to do it.

Tomorrow:  The Picot Ribbing Cast-On.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Charlotte's At It Again

Well, as you can see from the photo on the right, Charlotte's been busy again.  When the spider speaks, spin and knit I must. 

This lacy collar uses loops and bobbles for its closures.  The bobbles needed a little cotton stuffing, I decided.  One Q-tip per bobble provided just the right amount. 

I'll bet you've never seen a pattern call for 5 Q-tips.

Watch for it on Ravelry:  Sunday at the Sea.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where Do You Get These Ideas?

At lunch the other day, my good friend Helen (wearing the Have-It-Your-Way Big Beret, photo on Ravelry) asked me, "Where do you come up with these ideas?"

I tried to explain that it's like an image that floats in, unbidden, and won't let go until it's made manifest.

I remembered Ratatouille.  When Matt and I were writing the cookbook (Cast Iron Cuisine from Breakfast to Dessert), I would often joke, in the throes of needing to prove a new dessert inspiration, that the rat was in my hair again.  (If you haven't seen Ratatouille, the Pixar delight, this will sound grotesque.)

But Ratatouille is purely a kitchen diva.

So who is it that takes hold coaxingly, imperiously, and will not rest until the whim has been knitted out?

That would be Charlotte, I believe.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Free or For Fee?

So, a new design is finished and ready to share with the public.  Then I wonder, should I charge for it or give it away?

Others may have their own criteria.  Mine comes down to this:  how much time did I have to spend writing up the pattern?

If the design came together easily, if the prototype joins my Christmas Gift stash, and if the written instructions were straightforward, I am inclined to post it to Ravelry as a freebie.  Easy Rib Turtle Bib is one such.  Eight Godmothers is another.

But if it took me four to eight hours just to create the written pattern, then I feel entitled to some compensation for that time, especially if there were original charts involved.  Lacy Popover was exceptionally time-consuming.  Lady Folderol took many hours.

So for those I charge a little something.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Having It Your Way

Aunt Ruth crochets marvelous, inventive caps, no two alike—except they're all form-fitting skull caps.

But I like a big floppy beret.  Even better, I like a newsboy cap, or a golf cap, with a bill to protect my glasses from the rain.

So why not a convertible beret, I wondered.  One that can spring forward

 or fall back.

Done and done, worked in 100% pygora (hey, if you've got it, flaunt it).  This used two ounces, spun to sport weight, worked on increasingly larger circular needles, finished on double-points.

Watch for it on Ravelry.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Using Up the Scraps

Who among us doesn't have leftover balls of yarn, too few to make anything with, too beautiful to throw away?  I have bags full.  There they sat, taunting me.  "You're the designer," they teased.  "You figure it out."

After a few false starts, a few dead ends, I finally turned to Barbara Walker for inspiration.

And there it was in her second volume:  Scrap Yarn Afghan Stitch.  I liked best the look of the stockinette version.

This will be a scarf.  Its lovely scalloped edge is perfect for the purpose. As you can see, I used three (harmonizing) colors in a sequence of two rows each. 

Here's a tip:  when working with three strands that begin and end on the same side of the work, begin your knit row by knitting the first stitch with the two lowest strands held together.  (The first stitch of each knit row will thus use two strands of yarn rather than one.) Then continue the row with the color whose turn it is, leaving the other one to dangle at the right edge, waiting its turn.  This will prevent long, awkward skips on the right edge.

Here's the pattern:

Using color A, Cast on in multiples of 12 plus 3.  (The illustration shows 27 stitches.)
Knit one row with color A.
Row 1:  Using color B, k1, ssk, k9, sl 2, k1, p2sso, k9, k2tog, k1.
Row 2:  With B, p6, (p1, yo, p1 in same stitch), p9, (p1, yo, p1 in same stitch), p6.
Row 3:  Color C, same as Row 1.
Row 4:  Color C, same as Row 2.
Row 5:  Color A, same as Row 1.
Row 6:  Color A, same as Row 2.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Seaweed Stitch

If you've been wondering about that Seaweed Stitch, here's what it looks like on the knit side:

The oblique knit blocks meander gently upwards and to the right.

On the purl side it looks like this:

Like its parent k4, p2 rib, Seaweed needs no border.  I like that it adds textural interest without the rigid bars of a plain rib, which to me can feel too businesslike, too masculine.


Cast on multiples of 6.
Row 1:  p4, k2, repeat
Row 3:  p3, k3, repeat
Row 5:  p2, k4, repeat
Row 7:  p1, (k4, p2) repeat, end p1
Row 9:  p1, (k3, p3) repeat, end p2
Row 11:  p1, (k2, p4) repeat, end p5
All even-numbered rows, k the knit, p the purl as they present themselves.

A creative knitter could develop riffs on this basic theme.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Evolution of a Design, Part 2

"In its knitted incarnation, the first yard or so draped nicely.  But it was somehow still too . . . hmmm, understated?  Not femme enough?  It still looked like something a guy would wear."

And then Lady Folderol wandered in.

Remember Lady Folderol, the yoke that morphs into a cascade of ruffles? 

She gave me trouble enough, that one, getting the ruffle right.  By the time I was sure of the numbers, I'd had to do yet another test knit.  This one was still on the needles, about three inches of it complete.

Lying next to Seaweed, she looked curiously refreshing, like foam on the wave's edge.  Frothy.  Girly.  So I ripped back to collar depth, added an anti-roll border of seed stitch, and bound off. 

Then it was, Where should she ride?  I tried all the usual tricks: Test it here, squint from a distance.  Try it there, walk in on it unawares.  You know the drill.

The scarf's edge seemed to work best, though then there was the obvious conundrum—all the way down an edge?  Both edges?  Well, I only had a collar's worth; might as well add that now, worry about more later, and adding it now as a collar, of course it had to be centered on an edge.  But that didn't look quite right.  Again, set it aside and ponder.  And then serendipity.

You see, when I set the scarf down this time, it fell into a fold occasioned by Seaweed's design.  A natural turn-back.  Which is as you see the finished item featured in yesterday's post.

Designs seldom spring full-blown.  Most of them emerge, evolve in baby steps:  hypothesis, test, revision, over and over.  Adding, redacting, building, ripping.

Until finally, if we're lucky, it feels just right.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Evolution of a Design

First came the leather jacket.  So supple, so soft, so comfortable:  I loved it.  But all by itself it was too . . . commando.  It needed femininizing.

A scarf would work, I thought.  Something in a brighter hue, but not plain.  Variegated, slightly, like the—aha!—hand-painted merino/tencel the Rumple had led me to.

Not plain, but not bordered.  Here was needed a stitch with some texture, a stitch that wouldn't roll at the edges or curl at the hem.  Ribbing?  Didn't feel right.

Broken ribbing, then?  Still too humpy-bumpy.

"Seaweed."  Seaweed was the thing.  Zoom in:  see how the broken ribbed blocks meander.  Nice.  Suitable for the subtle variegation.

In its knitted incarnation, the first yard or so draped nicely.  But it was somehow still too . . . hmmm, understated?  Not femme enough?  It still looked like something a guy would wear.  (I love ya, fellas.  I just don't want to look like you, ya know?)

Denouement coming.  Stay tuned.  (After all, this thing didn't get knitted in one sitting.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kitchener Tips

A few tips for working Kitchener:

1.  Hold your right-pointing knitting needles as close together as you can get them and snug your stitches up firmly as you go.  Otherwise, your Kitchener row will be too loose and when your join is finished you'll have to go back and coax all the gaping stitches into proper alignment with a tapestry needle.

If you can get your left index finger between the two parallel knitting needles, your Kitchener stitches will be too loose.

2.  If you must interrupt a Kitchener sequence (say, to answer the doorbell or the phone or a spouse or a child—you know what is most likely to break your concentration), don't leave off until both stitches on a particular needle, front or back, have been worked.  So, your front needle's "knit off, purl on" should be an indivisible package, as should your back needle's "purl off, knit on."  Keeping to that rule will make it much easier to pick up again at the right place.

3.  If you're working with a very soft yarn, consider threading your tapestry needle with an accompanying strand of thread.  This will help keep the really soft yarn from fraying to pieces.  Later, when the Kitchener row is finished, you can go back and pick the thread out.

Joining with Kitchener

Have you ever wished you could join the body (not the sides) of two knitted pieces seamlessly?  Invisible grafting, otherwise known as the Kitchener Stitch, will let you do just that.  What Kitchener actually does is insert a new row between the two pieces. So artfully is this new, needle-applied row contrived that none but an expert eye can detect the join.

Here’s how it’s done:  

Visualize two lengths of stockinette, still on the needles, presenting knit-side up.  These two pieces of stockinette contain exactly the same number of stitches.  Position these pieces purl-sides together, both needles pointing to the right, with the yarn coming off the right side of the piece in back. 

Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about three times as long as the sides to be joined.  Thread this yarn through a tapestry needle.

The Set-Up:

Now bring the yarn to the front knitting needle.  Insert the tapestry needle into the first stitch as if to purl.  Leave this stitch on the front knitting needle.

Bring the yarn to the back needle.  Insert the tapestry needle into the first stitch as if to knit.  Leave this stitch on the back knitting needle.

Working Kitchener for Knit:

Front knitting needle, first stitch, insert tapestry needle as if to knit.  Remove stitch from knitting needle.  Insert tapestry needle into next stitch as if to purl.  Leave stitch on needle. 

Yarn to back knitting needle.  First stitch, insert tapestry needle as if to purl.  Remove stitch from needle.  Insert tapestry needle into next stitch as if to knit.  Leave stitch on needle.

Continue in this manner until all stitches have been removed from both knitting needles.

Here’s a mantra to help keep you on track as you work:

Front:  knit off, purl on
Back:  purl off, knit on

It will help if you actually verbalize this.  “Knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on.”

Working Kitchener for Purl

To join two pieces of stockinette on the purl side, hold them with knit sides together and follow this mantra:  “Purl off, knit on; knit off, purl on.”  The set-up is opposite of the method for knit.  Beginning with the yarn coming off of the right side of the back needle, bring tapestry needle forward.  Insert tapestry needle into first stitch as if to knit.  Yarn to back needle.  Insert into first stitch as if to purl.  Then proceed with “knit off, purl on; purl off, knit on.”

If you're careful about how (and precisely where) you pick up your stitches, I've found that you can even add to a cast-on edge using Kitchener.

Remember the piece I referred to in my previous post ("A New Beginning")?  The lacy shell that I'd finished, blocked, and assembled before I discovered it just didn't look good at its 20" length?  The garment I decided to add 6" to, from the bottom up?

I used Kitchener in the knit mode to join a 6" extension to the bottom of that piece I'd begun from the bottom up.  Here's how it turned out:

Can you find the join?

Friday, June 3, 2011

A New Beginning

I think I mentioned the merino/bamboo shell, the one I ran out of merino for and had to unwind some merino plied with itself to get enough to finish the project?  The one that, even finished and blocked, just didn't hang right, stopping short of where it needed to be?  The one that I found some more merino for in a shop in Roseburg, guided by Rumplestiltskin?  That one.

Well, the new merino has been spun and plied with the bamboo, and a new six inches have been knitted, bottom up, in the same lace pattern as the rest of the shell, to the same proportions, continuing the slight A-line slant of the finished part of the garment, which itself was knitted bottom-up, from an edge cast on in long-tail.

So, visualize this:  a lacy, sleeveless, v-neck shell 20" long, and a lacy band 6" deep.  However are they going to be joined, invisibly, so they look like a 26" garment begun from the bottom up?

Kitchener.  (Invisible grafting.) 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sweet Satisfaction

Within half an hour of my posting Lady Folderol to Ravelry, the pattern received these comments:

Anomaleah said, "How pretty!"
My response:  "Thank you. Getting the ruffle right was quite a challenge. Hubbest said it’s the longest he’s seen me struggle with one design. But I wore it out to dinner last night and his admiring reaction was oh-so-worth it!"
Seven said, "Love this. So elegant! I know someone who would just love it for Christmas!"

Today Bassetslave said, "Looks absolutely elegant!  It would make a great holiday piece, gift or otherwise."

My response to Seven:  "Yes, this would make a wonderful gift, one they couldn’t find in a store, one that conveyed your love--and your intelligence--through your handwork. Interesting you should use the word “elegant,” because I almost named the piece Lady Elegance."

And to Bassetslave:  "Thank you, bassetslave. Lady Folderol does like to go to parties and out to dinner! Bamboo works nicely because of the subtle, silky sheen. The pattern uses a grid concept for the yoke and ruffles, to avoid those long lines of text and establish a visual for the areas of increase. I recommend placing stitch markers at critical junctures, to keep track of the increases and help diagnose any errors."

And then Anomaleah responded with a comment that I'm dismayed to say I can't find now on Ravelry.  I'd love to post it here and claim bragging rights.  Her words were to the effect of, "Yes, I was thinking how difficult it would be to get the ruffle to hang right.  You are to be congratulated!"

See my big, beaming, smug smile?  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Borders and Such

Stockinette (where we knit one row, purl the next) is such a useful, simple texture.  We do see it in stockings, after all, and, in miniature, in tricot jerseys or other garments.  It's the texture most people automatically think of when they think "knitted."

It's a good stitch for production knitting.  Many experienced craftspeople find they can work stockinette without looking, guided by touch alone.  It's that automatic.

But stockinette likes to roll at the edges--that means at the bottom as well as at the sides.  When you choose stockinette, be aware of this tendency.  One of my favorite sweaters, a plain-vanilla stockinette mock turtle,  uses the natural rolled edge of stockinette to good advantage:  hem, sleeves, and neck all roll gently back on themselves.  It's part of the design.

But what if, like my dear little mama, you want to knit a long scarf, in stockinette, and have it lie flat?

Then you are going to need a border, my dears.  A simple one, a shallow one will do; three stitches will suffice if you choose them well.

Lady Folderol (featured on the right) uses seed stitch:  k1, p1, k1 begins every row.  You'll see seed on the edges of the ties in Lapped Hearts Neckwarmer. Seed stitch makes a good border for scarves, as well.  It will keep your scarf from curling into a tube when finished.

Garter stitch (where you knit every row) makes a decent scarf border, although it can tend to pucker vertically.  Steam blocking can counteract this.

Good old ribbing makes an elastic hem suitable for sweaters and vests, but if you choose it for a scarf hem, keep it really shallow.  Two or three rows at the bottom and three stitches at each side will be enough to keep your scarf flat, and if it does draw in more than you'd like, then let the flat lady teach it a little discipline.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Never Let it See You Sweat

I knew better, I knew better, but so eager was I to get back to that recalcitrant row on this most recalcitrant of patterns (Lady Folderol; you'll see her when she's ready to debut) that as soon as I'd finished with the lunch dishes and made a hasty swipe at the dish towel, I picked up that bamboo yarn on those bamboo needles.


Squeak.  Crunch.  Cling.  Stick.  Squeak.

Bamboo is thirsty.  It's a grass, after all.  Even in its fiber state, spun into yarn, it still sucks up any moisture that might remain on your hands.  This, I can promise, you will regret, for even very, very slightly moist bamboo does not move easily along your needles.  It will grab your bamboo needle and cling like a burr.

So if you're working with bamboo in the summer, or if you're just a nervous knitter, it might be worth keeping a little terry facecloth handy in case your palms begin to sweat.

Think of it as a side rag for knitters.      

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Confessions of a Bean Counter

I must admit it:  I cannot visualize geometry through arithmetic.  Those numbered increases I need to make for the yoke of the bamboo ruffled fol-de-rol, so you can get it right the first time instead of floundering around as I’ve had to do (see “Lost in Numberland”), simply will not work out for me through addition and subtraction.  The numbers just slide all around in my mind.

That’s why, when Hubbest came home today, he said, “What ever are you doing with my beans?” referring to the 19 black beans and the 93 white beans that were strung out in a l-o-n-g row on the dining room table.

“Knitting, of course,” I replied. 

Well, the last time he’d seen me do this—use manipulatives to represent stitches—they were jigsaw puzzle pieces, laid right side up or upside down (we were on our Land Cruise, with no beans in sight), so no wonder he was confused.    

Friday, May 27, 2011

Second Knit Required

It’s finally off the needles, that piece that had me Lost in Numberland.  And I still didn’t get it right.  Where the back yoke should lie smooth, it’s ruffled. 

This wasn’t obvious until the finished piece was blocked, since it’s knitted of bamboo, which becomes limpid and drapey only under steam.  Argghhhh.

Now, I can salvage the prototype by taking a few darts in the back yoke, and since it’s bamboo, which yields so nicely to steam, it will barely be obvious.  It will wear the same and look nearly the same. 

But I can’t give the instructions to YOU that way.  It must be gotten right.

So there’s nothing for it but a second knit, ‘cause I’m sure not gonna rip a blocked piece back to its base.

The big-name designers must have test knitters, accurate folks for whom it’s their first time with any given design, detail-oriented folks who can say, “There’s something wrong here” and suggest how to fix it.  Perhaps the yarn company that buys the design provides the test knitter(s); I wouldn’t know.  

I’m just out here eating the spiders.

I think I’ll dip a few in chocolate.     

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ounces and Yards

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating:  when you're buying yarn, the only measure that really matters is yardage.

Oh, you'll see patterns that call for, say, six or eight or twelve or eighteen ounces of a name brand, never specifying yardage.  I suspect that such a yarn company, who paid the designer for developing the pattern, is hoping you won't feel secure substituting another yarn.  And without the ounce-to-yard equivalent, it would be a little dicey, for you'd have to deliberately overbuy to have enough.

But look at any pattern on Ravelry (dot com) and you'll see the buying instructions expressed in yards.  As they should be.

Have you ever wished you could buy just that certain number of yards of yarn?  "Just wind me off 178 yards of that gorgeous angora, please."

Nope.  It's the whole skein or nothing.

Not so with roving, the raw stuff from which your yarn is hand spun.  Though some fiber does come prepackaged by the ounce or two (the pygora clouds I bought from Applebright Farms were put up that way, of necessity, being wound in brown paper like a jelly roll), in many cases you can ask for . . . oh, about five and a half ounces, to take a not-round number . . . and the proprietor will dutifully wind you off a good guess, weighing it in a preweighed bin until the right amount has been added.  Like hamburger from a butcher shop.  Or half a pound of nails from the hardware.

Then it's up to the spinner to make it go the distance. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Roving and More Roving

It didn't set out to be a buying trip, my Land Cruise through Oregon, though I knew well enough I was headed into prime fiber territory.
I'll just stop in at Pacific Wool and Fiber in Newberg, I thought, and see if they can match that remnant of whatever-kind-of-wool-it-is that I ran out of about two-thirds of the way through the lacy shell.  

But in the eleventh hour I learned that Pacific Wool and Fiber had chosen those two days--those two very days--to move to new quarters.  I'd have to settle for dealing by mail again. 

All the more magical, then, that in Roseburg I stumbled upon a beads-and-yarn shop.  A beads-and-yarn shop that also carried roving.  A beads-and-yarn shop that had the very same cream-colored whatever-kind-of-wool-it-is I needed

When Rumplestiltskin winks, I pay attention.

So it was "I'll have eight ounces of this, and twelve of that, and this lovely painted braid, and that--oh my goodness, how beautiful!"  Just scooping it up like candy.

The owner, of only three months' tenure, beamed when I exclaimed over the skein of icy-blue painted merino I HAD to have, for it was she who had painted it. 

I would not have realized its beauty, seeing it upon a computer monitor.  She would not have tried to sell it that way, having had no success with etsy.  But there I was, nearly giggling with excitement, and there she was, smiling at my appreciation.

The circle of inspiration had been completed; creative vision had manifested its admirer. 

I love it when that happens.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Playing With the Pygoras

Day before yesterday I held little Magnolia in my arms.  Less than a week old, she was.  I could feel her tiny heart racing as she peered up at me.  Right now her coat is a lustrous, silky black--baby black, said Jan, the breeder; it will soon turn its permanent silver shade.

But her twin wore a different shade altogether.  Pygoras range in hue from creamy white through wonderful shades of peach/apricot (the "reds"), to a rich brown.

I couldn't resist bringing home a reddish blend, the product of two separate pygora does, put up as a "cloud," looking like a jelly roll, brown paper on the outside, the heavenly soft pygora fiber inside.  I can hardly wait to put it on the wheel.  It's pure pygora, not blended with merino, so it's going to spin, knit, and wear like cashmere, I suspect.

Pygora fiber deserves a wider audience.  Right now, only a few discerning shops stock it.  But breeders who send their fleeces out for processing, as does Jan Becker of Applebright Farms, may sell the resulting roving direct, by mail.

The product you buy bears the name of the individual from which it came, so identification is easy.  Since pygoras come in such a wide range of hues, and of shades within those hues, do be sure to get enough to complete your project, unless you know the breeder/seller has more of that individual's product on hand.

Spinning to a two-ply, sport weight yarn, I find I get about 150 yards to two ounces of roving.  On this trip to Applebright Farms, I brought home six ounces of 100% pygora in a red blend, and six ounces of creamy white blended with 10% tussah silk.

The cost of this exquisite fiber, so highly labor intensive in its production, is more than justified by the luxurious nature of the knitted garment.

And after all, when your own time is your biggest investment, why not work with the very best?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Designers and Spiders

When I said, "That's what designers go through; we rip so you don't have to," it brought to mind a story:

Long ago and far away, I was visiting with my neighbor and her two little boys.

Scott, the toddler, spied a wolf spider running across the room.  Quick as a bird, he snatched it up and stuffed the hairy spider in his mouth. 

His preschool brother looked up at their mother in wonderment.  "Gee, Mom," he said, "aren't we lucky we've got Scotty to eat our spiders for us?"

Designers eat the spiders for you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lost in Numberland

Where have I been, you wonder?  Lost in Numberland, I reply.  Wandering vaguely.

There’s this blouse, you see, that inspired a vision, a vision of a yoke embracing back and shoulders but transforming into a ruffled front.  Simple enough, thought I, knowing that it’s all in the numbers.

But a merry chase those numbers have led. 

Sideways wouldn’t work; beginning at the front, relying on short rows, proved a dead end.  Rip and try again.

Top-down held promise, relying on regular increases.  The yoke, a series of wedges, complied.  The ruffle perplexed.  Follow along:

(Row 1: *KLL, k9.  Row 2: Purl.   Row 3: *KLL, k10.  Row 4:  Purl.  Row 5:  *KLL, k11.  Purl.) 

Can you see the wedges developing?  So far, so good.

Now the ruffle for 12 stitches: 
(Row 1:  *KLL.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

What’s happening?
Right:  all jammed up.  Rip and try again.  Give it more room.

Same song, second verse, ruffle for 12: 
(Row 1:  *KLL, k1.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL, k1.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

Any better?  A little, but needing more room.  Rip and try again.

Same song, third verse, ruffle for 12: 
(Row 1:  *KLL, k2.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL, k2.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

After 18 rows of this logic, the ruffle-for-12 no longer fit on the needles, the increases were crowded in so tight. 

Then came my epiphany:  the yoke worked because, numerically, it resembled a slice of a Fibonacci sequence, an ever-expanding spiral.  The ruffle didn’t work because it didn’t build on itself in the same way; it was creating a spiral whose width didn’t expand.  I was merely building wider corkscrews.

Palm to forehead.  Duh! 

Here’s what I know and had forgotten:  Numbers only look flat.  Beyond that deception, their implications play out as replicating wedges, expanding spirals, constrained corkscrews.  Because every number has its numberNESS, its geometry as a result of its arithmetic. 

This is what designers go through.  Or avoid, if they’re experienced/smart enough. 

We rip so you don’t have to.   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Don't Skip the Test Swatch!

"Don't chase the wheel," said My Teacher Paula.

The same applies to knitting.  Rushing fiercely into garment production, without having invested time in gauge preparation.

Who among us, eager to begin that journey of a million stitches, has not bypassed knitting our own test swatch?  The designer made that decision for us, we rationalize.

Yet, though the yarn be the same and the needle size identical, the designer's knitting is not yours, any more than their handwriting is.  Glenna's knitting always looked done from handspun; Ivy's mimics a machine's regularity. 

Over the course of a million, or a thousand, or a hundred, or a dozen stitches, those differences add up.

You're even different from yourself, over the course of a large test swatch.  I always cast on double or three times what the gauge measurement would predict.  If the gauge is 19 stitches to 4 inches, I'll cast on about 42–45.  Then I'll measure 4 inches worth at three or four spots along that length, settling on the average of those measurements.

I know, I know it's not micrometer material, but when it comes to handwork, numbers are not as cut-and-dried as you might imagine.

And what you begin, will inexorably reveal the mathematics of its foundation.  The implications of an idea.

Be sound in your foundations.  Knit that test swatch! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Not Getting Ahead of Yourself

My Teacher Paula said something else that has stuck with me:

"Don't chase the wheel."

To the uninitiate, watching an accomplished spinner at work, it would appear as if the whirring wheel, driven by the spinner's treadling, is the driving force. 

It's not.  All the wheel does is put a twist on things, at the same time winding the twisted threads onto the bobbin, thus neatly storing them out of the way.

Watch a little kid sit down at someone's spinning wheel and pump away at the treadle.  Watch the mess that quickly accrues.

It's all in the preparation.  How the fibers are pulled out from the roving.  How the twist is restrained (producing worsted) or allowed to ride up into the roving (producing woolen).  How well the tempo of the draft matches the tempo of the treadling.

A novice will just pull away, pump away.  But a seasoned spinner will pause the treadling to make corrections to the thread, eliminating slubs or filling in thin spots.

It's all about seeing where the real action is.  It's all about not getting ahead of yourself. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

One-Way Roving

Paula (patient Paula; tall, strong Paula; Paula the sheep-raiser, Paula of the hard-working hands), Paula taught me to spin. 

The lady who sold Hubbest my Ashford Joy wheel had failed.  "Just do it like this," she'd intoned, as she continued her own spinning.  A fiber person all my life, I'd never felt so lamely foolish as I did at being unable to imitate her. 

Working alone hadn't worked.  The wheel balked, the wheel slipped, the roving clumped, the roving fell apart, until in frustration I gave it up.

Hubbest believed in me, though.  Even though the wheel sat unused for . . . was it three years? 

Then, through a note on a bulletin board in a fabric store, I connected with My Teacher Paula.  (That's how she put it, "My Teacher," referring to the woman from whom she'd learned.) 

It's a chain of wisdom, a hands-on passing of the knowledge, like knitting and crocheting and quilting and weaving, all those crafts that link us to our forebears in productive creativity.

Anyway, My Teacher Paula said that roving has direction.  Pull from the wrong end and the fibers can cling and snag.  Pull from the right end and they surrender gracefully to your draft. 

I couldn't feel it then, with that white corriedale roving.  But I was willing to believe her.

Today Buckwheat, the pygora wether, proved her correct.  Having run out halfway through my Buckwheat project, I'd had to send for some more.  All willy-nilly, I picked it up to spin and on Day One it slid with sweet surrender toward my spinning bobbin, drawing from the roving as gracefully as it had when this project began.

But today I went at it from the wrong end. 


Paula's words came back to me, then.  "Roving has direction.  Pull from the right end."

She was right. 

Whirr, whirr, whirr.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


It'd been coming along well, my newest creation, a v-necked ladies' shell knitted of corriedale and bamboo I'd spun and plied together.  Lacy, airy, floaty, enticing . . . until the yarn ran out.  Halfway up the final front half.

Sure, there was plenty of bamboo roving in my stash, but I'd used the very last of the corriedale.

Except for that small test ball where I'd plied corriedale with itself.  If only I could unwind that winding.

Well, why not?  If a drop spindle can spin (maybe that's why they call it a spindle)?, why can't the same principle unspin?

So picture this:  Having teased apart about two feet of corriedale from the bamboo with which it was entwined, and having carefully hand-wound each end onto a bobbin—clockwise, of course—and having tucked a small lead weight inside the plied ball, for heft, and having secured the weighted, plied ball loosely with a rubber band to prevent too much yarn from unwinding, here stand I, winding with the right hand, winding with the left hand, while the weighted ball-to-be-unspun is twisting in the wind.

It took about ten times longer to un-ply than it had taken to ply those threads together, but finally, finally I had two separate bobbins of corriedale.  Ready to meet their bamboo mates.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Inventing Cables

Ten-year-old Maria wants to learn cables.  She’s fascinated with the play of over-under, turn and return.  

Are you?  It’s easy.  Easy as eyelet lace.  Once you understand what’s happening, you can create your own cabled patterns.  Where do you think all those wonderful twisty, snaky inventions came from?  (A fellow named Jay Petersen figured out the ball above and the pillow below.)

Such elaborate inventions, the entrelac you see above and the fascinating fishermen's sweaters we all know and love, are within our grasp, one cable at a time.  

So let's see how cables operate.    Maria can do it; so can you.

Grab some worsted and those #7 or #8 or #9 needles.  Oh, and a cable needle.  If you don’t have a cable needle, use a double-point needle.  If you don’t have a double-point…well, I’ve been known to use a toothpick.  It’s only an open-ended holder, after all.

So cast on the usual twenty stitches.  Long-tail makes a good cast-on.  Then purl the first row. 

Why start with purl?  Because we’re casting on with long-tail, and purl makes a natural transition from the single edge of long-tail. 

Another reason to begin with a plain knit or purl row is that the cables, as you create them, are going to make the fabric pull in a little, so it helps to have a foundation row following the cast-on before you begin cabling.

The purl row will become the wrong side, because we’re going to do knit cables over a knit background.  (You can do knit cables on a purl background—many patterns call for this—but it’s not the best choice for a beginner.)

As with the eyelet lace, all our changes are going to happen on the right side, which in this case is always going to be a knit row.  Every purl row will be a consolidating row, as it was with the eyelet.  Keeps things nice and simple.

To recap:

CO 20 (long-tail preferred)
Row 1:  p20.

Now the fun starts.  Knit the first four stitches as usual.  Why four?  Because we need to leave a space at the edge, the more clearly to see the cables at play.  We'll balance this with a space at the left edge, where we also will do a plain k4.

These cables are going to be 2 stitches wide.  The first one is going to lean to the left, crossing in front of the knit stitches behind it.

So, slip two stitches (slip as if to purl, not to knit) onto whatever you’re using as a cable holder.  A toothpick will work, actually.

This cable is going to lean left, in front of the other stitches, so bring your toothpick to the front of the work and leave it there for a minute.  Just let it dangle.  Knit the next two stitches you see on your left-hand needle. 

Now, return the two stitches from the toothpick to the left needle.  (Don’t let the toothpick twist, or the stitches will be in the wrong order.) 

Next, knit those two stitches you just transferred from the toothpick to the left needle.  One cable cross made.

Knit four more stitches in the regular manner.
Now we’re going to make a two-stitch cable, crossing to the right.

Slip two stitches onto the toothpick, then hold them at the back of the work.  It’s OK to just let them dangle; the toothpick is rough enough that they won’t slip off.

Knit the next two stitches as usual. 

Now transfer the toothpick stitches to the left needle and knit them in proper sequence.
Second cable made, crossing right.

Knit to the end of the row.
Purl 20.

Your work should look like this:

Let's move those cables toward each other.  
Knit 5, hold 2 in front, knit 2, toothpick stitches to left needle and knit them (that just shifted the cable to the left by one stitch).  
Now knit 2 for the space between the two cables.  
Now let's bring the left cable one stitch to the right: 2 on toothpick, leave in back, knit 2 from needle, toothpick stitches to left needle and knit (that shifted the cable to the right by one stitch).
Knit 5 to finish off the row.
Your work should look like this:

Let's close the gap between the cables.
k6, 2 to the front, k2, k2 from cable needle.  (First cable shifted; now for the second.)
2 to back, k2, k2 from cable needle, k6.
Your work should look like this:

We can make those cables twist over each other.  Watch.
k8, 2 to front, k2, k2 from cable needle, k8.
Are you seeing this?

From here, you can decide where you want them to go.  Make your shifts one stitch at a time, as above, but when you want to jump one cable over another, knit the whole cable the way we did here.  

If you get confused about which maneuver moves the cable in which direction, here's a rubric:
                                  I left it in front, I'll be right back.

A caution:

Though the process is always the same, the notations for cabling vary from book to book.  You may see the very first operation we performed called Cross 2 Left, and abbreviated cross 2 L.  Another book may call it Cable 4 Front, though your crossing cable is only two stitches wide. 

Pay attention to the photos illustrating the cable you are trying to work, and run the notations by the reality check of the exercise we've performed today. 

It's all about maintaining control.  It's all about understanding what's going on. 

You can do it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inventing Eyelet Lace

Now that you know how to cast on, increase, and decrease, we might as well go ahead and invent some lace.  You’re ready.  Seriously.

I want you to see that you can create something as you go.  Creating is controlling.  Changing at will.  Innovating rather than following by rote.

Creating is understanding.  Seeing the connections between actions and results.  Realizing the implications.

If you can create, you can intelligently follow another creator’s pattern.  Catch their mistakes, even.  Trust me.

OK.  Find some yarn (worsted weight is good) and needles (about a #7 to #10 should be appropriate).  I’ve used a circular needle because that’s my default position.

Using the long-tail cast-on, CO 21 sts. 

(If you’ve just now discovered this blog, go back and follow the instructions for The Long-Tail Cast-On.)

Row 1:  purl. 

(You do know how to purl, don’t you?  Insert your needle into the front of the stitch, tip pointing toward you rather than away, as the knit stitch does.  Push the yarn back through the hole.  Knitting pulls the yarn forward; purling pushes the yarn back.  Simple as that.)

Row 2:  k8 (knit 8 stitches)
              SKP (slip one stitch as if to purl, knit the next stitch, pass the
slipped stitch over the knit stitch)
              k1 (knit 1 stitch)
              yo (yarn over:  see The Yarn-Over Increase)
              k10 (knit 10 stitches)

Row 3:  p21 (purl 21 stitches)

When making lace, the increases and decreases usually happen on the right side, which is usually the knit row.  This makes it easier to see what you're doing.  The wrong side, usually the purl row, consolidates the changes you've just made.  Brings them into focus.  Notice that you can now see the eyelet you made.  Subsequent rows will more clearly show the decorative ridge developing where you made your SKP decrease.

Notice:  when making lace, usually the same number of stitches are preserved across the row. These patterns are easier for a beginner to follow.  There are some more advanced lace patterns that will vary the number of stitches from row to row:  save these until you've logged, oh, about a couple of years of knitting experience.  

Also notice:  in order to preserve the same number of stitches across a row, every increase (in this case, the yarn-over, which makes the eyelet hole) must be balanced with a decrease.  Where you put that decrease is not as important as remembering to make one.  

We've just placed our decrease (the SKP) before the increase, with one knit stitch intervening.  Let's work a couple more rows and you'll see an attractive vertical ridge developing because of this placement.

Row 4:  Repeat row 2.
Row 5:  p21.
Row 6:  Repeat row 2.
Row 7:  p21.
Your work should now look like this:

Notice that the eyelets form a vertical row.  To their right is a discernible vertical ridge created by the SKP repeats.

I started these eyelets in the middle of the row.  That was purely an arbitrary decision.  You can put them anywhere you like.  

But if you want to continue playing along, let's start a set of eyelets to the right and also to the left of this middle set.  Let's use the k2tog decrease so you can see the difference in effect.  And let's place the decrease immediately after the eyelet, rather than one stitch before.

Row 8:  k4, yo, k2tog, k2, SKP, k1, yo, k4, yo, k2tog, k4.

If you lose your place easily, just mark off each operation after you've completed it.  It'll slow you down, but at least you'll know where you are.  Experience will teach you to read from the knitting to find your place.  

Row 9:  p21.
Row 10:  Repeat row 8.
Row 11:  p21.
Row 12:  Repeat row 8.
Row 13:  p21.

There's nothing magical about knitting the same row three times.  I'm being purely arbitrary, so you can watch the eyelets develop.  

By now your knitting should look like this:

Notice the difference between the vertical ridge to the right of the middle set of eyelets (created by the SKP and k1) and the more subtle effect of the k2tog immediately following each of the eyelets on either side.

We can move those side eyelets.  Let's shift them toward the center.

Row 14:  k3, yo, k2tog, k1, SKP, k1, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k5.
Row 15:  p21.

Your work should look like this:

See how the side eyelets are moving toward the center?

Let's move them in even further:

Row 16:  k6, yo, k2tog, SKP, k1, yo, k2tog, k6.
Row 17:  p21.

Are you seeing this?

 I'm thinking that if we moved the side eyelets in one more space, we could call this Little Arrow Eyelet Lace or some such.  And if we repeated it on either side, and if we continued knitting those same 19 rows, it could make an attractive over-all fabric design.  We might want to add a row of plain knitting and purling in between vertical repetitions of the motif.  Or we might want to stagger the arrows (like a tic-tac-toe effect).  

We have the helm, Scotty.  

Now go and make up some lace.  Tell us about it so we can try it too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


So we’ve reviewed casting on stitches (a number of ways) and increasing stitches (also a number of ways).  Now let’s look at ways to decrease. 

Basically, there are two methods:  passing a stitch over, or knitting (or purling) two into one.  Let’s look at the passing method first.

SKP (slip, knit, pass) aka skpsso (slip, knit, pass slip stitch over)

We slip one stitch, passing it from the left needle to the right as if to purl (this keeps it from getting twisted, thereby preserving the “knit” look). 

Next, we knit one stitch. 

Finally, we lift the slipped stitch with our left needle, bring it over the stitch just knitted, and drop it.

The resulting slipped/dropped stitch will lean toward the left.  Keep this in mind when you’re choosing how to decrease.

k2tog (knit two together)

Just as it sounds, you insert your right needle, knitwise, into the front of the second stitch on your left needle and also the front of the first stitch. 
            Then you knit both of these stitches at the same time.

The resulting k2tog stitch will lean slightly toward the right.  This makes an effective counterpoint to the left-leaning SKP.  Consequently, many patterns that call for a decrease at both ends of a row will prescribe a SKP toward the beginning and a k2tog toward the end of the row.

But the k2tog can also be done by knitting into the back of two stitches.  The results will be subtly but detectably different than the k2tog performed from the front.

The k2tog has a corollary, p2tog (purl two together).  This is always performed from the front of the two stitches to be purled. 

And if you’re really dexterous, you won’t be intimidated by p2tog’s relative, p2togb (purl two together back).  Though some would rather train to be a contortionist, if you take your time and have not knitted too tightly, you can indeed go into the backs of two stitches at once and purl them together.

If the pattern needs to decrease by two stitches, it can either call for you to knit three together, or it can combine the SKP with the k2tog in this way:

            Slip one stitch purlwise.
            Knit the next two stitches together.
            Pass the slipped stitch over the results.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Invisible Increase

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Lifted Loop Increase

So, to get more stitches we can cast on at the beginning or end of a row.  (The loop-over works well for this.)

But in the middle of a row, we can’t cast on.  Then our choices are to

            make something out of nothing:  the yarn-over (yo)
            turn one into two:   the bar increase (kb-f or kf-b)
                 and moss increase (kp)
            raise the running yarn:  the make-one increase
                 (M1R or M1L)

or we can lift a loop (KRL or KLL).  This is a good choice when many increases must be made in the same row, because a long sequence of bar increases or make-one increases can get really tight. 

You’re going to find this easier if I give you the long version:

            KRL = knit right loop
            KLL = knit left loop

So where’s this right loop we’re going to knit?  It’s the top of the stitch immediately below the unworked stitch presently on your left needle.  

Just lift it (with your left needle) and knit into the back of it (with your right needle).  Then continue on course.  Easy.

And that left loop we’re going to knit?  It’s the top of the stitch two stitches below the worked stitch presently on your right needle. 

Lift it with your right needle, place on left needle, knit into the back of it.  Continue on course.

If “raised” and “lifted” get confusing, just remember—

            we raise the runner
            we lift the loop

Tomorrow, for you who have stuck with this whole exercise, a bonus:  the invisible increase.  Did you know there was one?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Raised (Make-One) Increase

So far, we’ve seen how to add a stitch that was not there (the yarn-over increase) and how to get an extra stitch by doubling up on an existing one (the “plain increase,” otherwise known as bar and moss increase).

Now let’s look at how to use part of an existing stitch to create a new one.

This method is called the “raised increase” and also the “make-one increase.”  It uses the horizontal bit of yarn between two stitches on opposite needles (the “running yarn”).  The raised (make-one) increase can be worked so the made stitch leans to the right or to the left.

Raised (make-one) increase, right (M1R):

            Insert right needle under running yarn from front to back.

Transfer raised running yarn to left needle.
Insert right needle into the front of this raised running yarn and knit it or purl it.
The made stitch slants slightly toward the right.

Raised (make-one) increase, left (M1L):

            Insert left needle under running yarn from front to back.
Insert right needle into the back of the raised running yarn and knit it or purl it.  The made stitch slants slightly toward the left.

Though the visual difference between M1R and M1L is subtle, if you’re making a small, sculptural object such as amigurumi, these subtle differences are noticeable.
Tomorrow, the lifted increase, also called the “lifting up the loop” increase (KRL and KLL).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Increasing: The Bar and Moss Increases

We’ve talked about the yarn-over increase, which adds a stitch by creating a new one.  Now let’s look at the bar increase and the moss increase, which turn one existing stitch into two.

The bar increase, sometimes also called the “plain increase,” abbreviated K-fb:

Knit into the front of the stitch as usual, but do not remove the stitch from the needle.  Knit into the back of the same stitch.  Now you can release the increased stitch from the left needle.

or K-bf

Knit into the back of the stitch to be increased.  Do not remove stitch from needle.  Knit into the front of the same stitch.  Now release the increased stitch from the left needle.  Personally, I find it easier to make the bar increase this way.  For me, it’s just less awkward to knit into the back first, then the front.   

It’s called a bar increase because the created stitch wears a little horizontal bar across its base.  This has two advantages:

            1.  It’s easier to locate and count the created (added) stitches.

2.  You can turn it into a decorative element by making two bar increases, one right after the other.  If on subsequent knit rows you make the bar increase in the same place, it creates the appearance of a single chain stitch flanked on each side by little bars.

The moss increase:

            This also makes two stitches out of one, but in a slightly different manner.

Knit into the front of the stitch to be increased.  Do not remove from needle.  Bring yarn forward.  Purl into the same stitch.  Now remove from needle.

Be aware that this kind of increase can create a noticeable hole in your fabric.  It’s best to save the moss increase for a side edge, where the joining of the seam will hide it.

Tomorrow, the raised (make-one) increase.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Increasing: The Single Yarn-Over

The simplest way to add a stitch to a row of knitting is with a single yarn-over (“yo”).  When the yo is subsequently knitted or purled (on the return row), it leaves a hole, which you want if you’re making lace or eyelet, but which you should try to minimize if all you’re after is a simple increase (see reverse yarn-over, cross right; and reverse yarn-over, cross left).  

To make a regular yo . . .

when the next stitch is a knit:

Bring the yarn forward between the two needles, wrap it over the right-hand needle, and continue working with the yarn in back.

when the next stitch is a purl:

Bring the yarn forward between the two needles, wrap it over the right-hand needle, and bring the yarn forward again.  Continue working with the yarn in front, as for a purl.  This leaves a slightly larger hole than a yo between two knit stitches.

at the beginning of a row:

When the first stitch is a knit, put the right-hand needle under the yarn and proceed to knit.

When the first stitch is a purl, wrap the yarn over the right-hand needle and bring the yarn forward, then proceed to purl.

in garter stitch, use the reverse yarn-over:

Instead of bringing the yarn forward between the two needles, begin with it at the back of the right-hand needle, then bring it forward over the needle and to the back between the needles.  Continue knitting.  This leaves a smaller hole than a regular yarn-over.

cross right (stockinette):

Create a reverse yarn-over on the knit row, then when you reach the created stitch on the return (purl) row, purl off into the front of the stitch.  This will make the stitch cross to the right.

cross left (stockinette):

Create a reverse yarn-over on the knit row, then on the return row, purl into the back of the stitch.  This will make the stitch cross to the left.

The cross-right and cross-left produce a close stitch, with no eyelet.  Used as a pair (say, on either side of a gusset), they give a smooth, flat seam.

Tomorrow, the bar increase and moss increase (making two stitches out of one).