Learning My Own Knit Style

This week I attended my first Red Alder Fiber Arts Retreat (AKA Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat) and it was worth it. It’s relatively local to me, just a long drive, and the classes were well balanced between beginning, intermediate and advanced. It was also smaller and less expensive than many knitting events.

Being a long-time knitter, I took moderate to advanced topics; such as Knitting Argyle Socks and Patterned and Textured Double-knitting. Overheard from an attendee coming out of the pre-requisite for one of my classes, “that hurt my head”. I agree. Some of these techniques that employ new ideas, especially with color, take concentration when you are learning them. As with everything, with practice, they become easier.

What surprised me is not what I learned in class, but what I learned about what like, and don’t, as a fiber artist. In part this is because this is a very introspective time for me. I’m on leave considering leaving the workforce (for good) or what might be a ‘next career’ for me.

Not to say that the classes weren’t all consuming. Hats off to the instructors, who were patient and expert at their craft. I would recommend the classes I took at Red Alder above many, maybe even most, I’ve taken in more than 20 years of fiber conference class attendance. I’ll talk more about them as I use the learnings in future blogs.

In general, what helped most was finding out what works for me as a knitter. Maybe it will help you too:

  1. It’s okay to be practical. I should make things that my family asks for, will wear and use. The things I was most drawn to on other attendees and display were were both beautiful and practical.
  2. Challenging to make can be challenging to wear. It’s time to clean out my Ravelry queue of hard to make, never to be worn, specialty items requiring expensive, highly contrasting, skinny yarns. On real people, they can look more costume than couture.
  3. I’m so *over* shawls. They age everyone–even the very young!
  4. Designing colorwork patterns is hard. Charting color patterns is easy to get wrong and they are worth every penny. While I aspire to do colorwork designs, for the time being it’s perfectly okay to use someone else’s tried and true pattern.
  5. New designs DO look better. Older patterns were created to sell yarn and often lacked attention to detail, especially in sweater finishing and socks. New teachers are teaching new techniques that look and fit better. And many are easy to learn and apply to old patterns.

I’m now looking forward to Seattle Vogue Knitting next month. It’s even closer to home. And, as usual, I’ve signed up for lots of classes.

I hope I never get tired of learning new things.

Have you picked up any new techniques and ideas lately?

A stitch gauge with size in millimeters on one side and US needle sizes on the other.

PS: Though I did buy things at the marketplace—real fur pompoms and an elegant stainless steel stitch gauge necklace from Crossover Industries, I managed to stick to my resolution to knit only from my stash this year.

It's Hip to Be Square – Sticking With Classic Designs

Some things are “classic” like Bach concertos and other things are likely to go the way of the song that inspired the title of this blog, Huey Lewis and the News and their song, Hip to be Square. I suspect that Bach will be heard more often and long after I’m around, given how long it has been since he was around (he died in 1750).

The upshot? Trends die and classics last. So why not knit things that never go out of style?

Last week I mentioned my grandmother used to, out of boredom, knit the frilliest, most intricate couch throws. And though I know she knit my family dozens of these beautiful showpieces; I cannot tell you where any of these are today–probably hiding out in closets. You don’t see them because they were showpieces and not particularly useful.

I’m lazy, so if I’m going to take the time to knit an afghan, rather than creating a visual piece, I’d rather see it wear out from use. And even better if it looks good too.

My first afghan, knit from yarn in my grandmother’s stash, was a series of stockinette and reverse stockinette squares with a seed stitch border. Since then, I’ve stuck with this very classic “squares” design, varying only the size of the squares, the weight of the yarn and the border. And though the first one is from many years ago, it is warm, washable, reversable and comfortable. And being a basic ivory color, it should also match any possible décor.

Simple Squares Throw in Ivory Acrylic

I’m on the last block of squares of my latest afghan in this series. After which I’m going to try a Purl Soho pattern to do something just a bit different, but not so different it won’t get used.

Shadow Squares Pattern from Purl Soho

I’m definitely happy to be a square when it comes to creating classic, useful household items. What I tend to splurge on is the fiber itself. These two afghans are a wool-silk blend and they are warm, warm, warm. Perfect for these chilly winter months.

These simple contemporary designs which are both easy to make and great for every day use.

This coming weekend I’m heading to the Red Alder Fiber Art Retreat in Tacoma. I’ve missed it every year–until this year–because of work and travel. I’m super excited to hone my double-knitting skills so I can do more reversible items. Hope to see you there!

What would you do if you forgot how to knit?

For most of my life, I’ve been a sweater knitter. I think this is because my grandmother, who taught me to knit, was a prolific knitter of sweaters—30+ a year. She also made afghans, but not as many because she’d get bored. To keep things interesting, she’d choose intricate patterns with bells and baubles. When I think of the ‘lost art of knitting’ it’s these fancy items that come to mind.

What’s amazing is after my grandmother stopped knitting, there was only one work in progress in her stash. She was a finisher, but later in life she became ill with Alzheimer’s and literally forgot how to knit. At some point, she thought if she didn’t have the yarn, she’d be less likely to want to pick up a project. And this would reduce her torment of starting and not knowing how to keep going. Except, of course, for the times she forgot that she’d forgotten how to knit.

This is how I came to ‘inherit’ a huge amount of yarn more than 10 years years before she passed away at 90 years old.

As a knitter, to forget how to weild your craft seems like the ultimate punishment. If it were me, I’d do what she did–find someone to inspire. And boy did she have a lot of inspiration to share! She’d been collecting for years and with every store closing or fire sale, her stash grew and grew until it overwhelmed her house.

As her memory faded, my grandfather reminded her that I was a knitter. So, she called and asked me to drive from Arizona, home to Idaho, to take away her stash. When I arrived, my grandmother told me it “made her sick” to look at it. She kept asking me, “you’ll use it won’t you?” at least a dozen times. “I just don’t want to see it go to waste.” I assured her it wouldn’t, and I meant it.

Then, as now, I am intensely grateful for the gift of her stash which I’ve knit into all kinds of things.

At that time, I would never, at that time, have been able to afford these yarns—not even the synthetics. Overnight, my nonexistent stash bulged with wools, silks, angora, cottons and linens as well. Most of it odds and ends, because she never knit with more than one yarn or color at a time. Since I do, her leftovers work just fine.

In this new year–new decade–in fact, I am challenging myself to put the remaining yarn to the best possible use. There will be difficulties, as many of them have no yardage or care information. It will also be fun figure how I can best use this gift of yarn to its best advantage.

I look forward to sharing!

Stash Mash – Decisions! Decisions!

The minute one project ends, I’m on the hunt for the next. And many times, I don’t even look at my queue (40+ items) or library of patterns (more than 6000).

I have projects on the needles, but I’m anxious to grind down my stash with a new project. And with so many free patterns—some with timeless good looks to them, it feels like the time to do a stash reduction is now. Especially if I’m going to make my goal of 20 projects completed this year.

One resolution (again) is to shop from my stash. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration I cannot seem to leave a wool shop or event without coming home with truckloads… And did I mention I bought loads on December 31st? 🙂

Rounding out the top of the free patterns on Ravelry I’m considering, given my stash, these are the top candidates:

  • A sweater called Sloper, by Karen Templer. Instead of three strands of worsted wool, I’d use two strands of Aran weight Rowan Bamboo Tape in Honey from my stash. Not only will it breathe better than wool, it won’t be scratchy on the soft skin of the neck.
  • A hat called Twist and Slouch, from local (Anacortes, WA) knit designer Kali Berg. It looks easy and I love the big brim, which for my small head is a necessity. I think Knit Picks Galerie  in Renaissance (jewel tones) would make a fine, colorful hat. I bought it for socks, but it’s must too thick for that.
  • A simple throw, Garter Squish, by Stephen West to chew through my copious stash of worsted weight yarns. I could make one in synthetic and one in wool and still have dozens of yarn left over.
  • An extra wide version of this Bias Scarf, by Shelby Dyas to replace a rectangle wrap I wore ceaselessly until I lost it in Copenhagen on a business trip.
  • Sediment Scraps blanket, by the knitty professors, is another possible candidate.

Where to start?

So what is tickling your destash fancy?

A Hat for Gray Days

It’s generally gray in the Pacific Northwest in the winter. Often the outdoors can inspire your color scheme to match.

This winter has seemed particularly dark due to a heavy flu and cold season in the region. What better to ward off illness than to knit and wear warm hats!

I started this hat without a pattern—I just wanted a black and gray striped hat. At first I thought of doing a jogless horizontal stripe, a pattern I picked up at KnitFit from designer Lisa Ellis. Instead of starting off that way, I decided I wanted a larger ribbed edge and liked the idea of doing it in two colors. But when I’d finished the ribbing, I thought, ‘Why not keep on going?’

I’m sharing the recipe right away, since I usually put it off and don’t do it. I’m trying to be a “finisher” this year, even in my pattern writing.

Following other DK patterns, I started by casting on 80, then 88, but both seemed small even for my small-sized head. I’m guessing the extra bulk comes from holding two yarns together. In the end I landed on 100 for a medium size adult hat. For a bigger or smaller size, I suggest adding or removing eight stitches (pattern can be any multiple of four).

The goal was to create a warmer hat and this design achieves it because the carried yarn creates a textured heat holding layer inside.

Contrasting Colored Ribbed Hat

This pattern should work well for any DK yarn—or for whatever meets the stated gauge. If you use wool, as I did (Patons North America Classic Wool DK Superwash), I recommend superwash and high contrast colors, with the lighter/brighter shade for the knit stitches and the darker/dimmer color for the purls.

Glossary:

  • MC – Main color
  • AC – alternate color
  • PM – place marker
  • SM – slip marker
  • DK – double knit weight yarn
  • K2P2 – Knit 2, purl 2
  • P2K2 – Purl 2 knit 2
  • P2Tog – Purl two together
  • K2Tog – Knit two together
  • CO – cast on

Gauge: 21 stitches and 14 rows over 4 inches

Needles: Size 5 circulars (16”), size 5, 4 and 3 double points for crown; medium (G) crochet hook (optional)

Yarn: 150 yards MC yarn; 100 yards AC yarn in DK weight

Recipe:

CO 100 sts with MC (darker) yarn and PM.

Row 1: With MC only P2K2 the first round being careful not to twist

**NOTE**: Row 1 is different from all the other rows switching purls for knits and knits for purls in order to prevent the purl bumps from the MC/AC color showing on the outside of the hat. But you need to do a rib–even on the all MC row to prevent the hat brim from curling.

Rows 2 through 44 (or until piece measures 6.5 inches): holding MC yarn in back, K2 with AC, place AC yarn in back and P2 with MC. Repeat these K2P2 in alternating colors until you reach the marker and SM.

Row 45: K2, P2, K2 in color. P2Tog. Repeat until you reach the marker and SM

Switch to size 5 double point needles on next round.

Rows 46-47: follow color pattern, Knitting the AC knits and purling the MCs purls.

Row 48: in color pattern, K2, P2Tog twice, K2P1. Repeat until you reach the marker and SM

Rows 49 and 50: K2P1 in color pattern

Row 51: K2tog P2, K2P1 twice in color pattern. Repeat until you reach the end and SM

Row 52 and 53: follow color pattern

Row 54: K1P1, K2Tog, P1, K2tog, P1. Repeat until you reach the end and SM

Rows 55 and 56: K1P1 in color pattern (50 stitches)

Switch to size 4 double point needles on next round.

Row 57: K1, P1, P2tog (with MC). Repeat until to end.

Row 58: K1P2 to end

Row 59: K1P2Tog to end

Switch to size 3 double point needles on next round.

Row 60: K1P1 to end

Cut yarn with approx. 18” of each color remaining.

Run the MC yarn through all of the stitches and pull tight and secure. Feed through the center of the hat crown (to the outside).

Finishing: using a medium crochet create a 10-stitch chain and pull the yarn through to secure. Clip 5 four-inch pieces of each color pulling them through the last stitch in the chain. Wrap an additional main color around these pieces to create a tassel and trim to desired length. Weave in ends.

And now for something completely different… The 2 Day Cape

I grew up with Monty Python. As a child I used to belly crawl into my parent’s bedroom and watch lying just at the foot of their bed. Sometimes I’d give myself away by giggling. This week I needed a giggle.

Home from work with the flu and just done with yet another pair of socks, I needed a knitting pick me up. Even so, I also had to have a small knitting project for flying from Seattle to Florida for Christmas, so I cast on the next pair of socks, this time for dad. And then was too sick to travel. Grumpy didn’t do my mood justice.

Even pouring over online yarn stores didn’t help, so I decided I should look at my queue. That’s when I hit on the pattern Hott Pink. Though the color was off and the design too busy for my liking, it reminded me of the beautiful bespoke cape dress Meghan Markle wore on her solo trip with Queen Elizabeth II.

I’d bought the yarn a year ago with this project in mind. If anything, I was overdue to work on something just for me.

After gauge checking with a swatch, I went up a needle size to create a bit more give in the fabric. I also made it a bit smaller around, only 42 inches to give a more fitted look. To make sure that it was easy on and off, I kept the design element of ribbing, but went with K1P1 to match better with the seed stitch.

Surrounded by a mountain of notions scattered on my bed, in two days, with only a few backing up (many to get the fit just so) I finished. So much faster and more satisfying than two months for a pair of socks!

Here’s how it turned out! So pleased!

Sock-a-Rama

Though started before the Blacktop Ferry Socks, the Ultra-fitted socks took considerably longer. Thinner yarn, smaller needles, more stitches to the inch; it all adds up longer time on the needles.

I’m headed back out on my international travels so I swung by my LYS and picked up more (not needed) wool and another set of size 0 wood needles (since I broke my last pair). Not sure which ones I’ll take for the trip, but I think I’ll stick with my new ultra-fitted pattern.

Which would you choose?

And yes, I am on a German sock yarn kick. It’s because I’m feeling too lazy to cake the locally made and dyed sock yarn hanks. 🙂

Rock ’em Sock ’em

Extermely Fitted Socks

Many times, I’ve said, that socks are my least favorite to knit. And yet…

Socks are the first to mind when I cast on these days. Partly, its demand pull (Nick is a sock fiend) and partly it’s what’s in the stash (READ: went on a MASSIVE sock yarn buying spree). Mostly, it is the need for a traveling project.

With a commute like mine from Orcas Island to Seattle (a once a week round trip), I need the packable project. And I must admit, socks are growing on me. They can be hard or easy, depending on the level of sophistication. I’d say, other than extremely custom fitting of Nick’s funny foot, I’m still in the “plain” sock mode as an “intermediate” sock knitter.

I envy the beautiful projects by experienced sockers, with all the intricacies of lace, braids and such. I also started with patterned socks. These days I tend to be more plain and practical, with the exception of fitting. And I must be getting better because this final pair, still on the needles, is my own pattern. Not only is there lots of fitting, it’s got a Turkish cast-on and a German short-row heel.

In the future, I’ll try and make it a download, but with a new job, long commute and very little free time (even for knitting and blogging) that might be a while. Certainly not until they are finished.

For now, I’ll just have to be happy about the Blacktop Ferry Socks I just finished. This happy accident is because I ran out of the Yarnachy Liberty sock wool I started with.

Now you see the blacktop, now you don’t. 🙂

Wooly Skye

In Broadford on Skye, is The Handknitter Having Fun shop. I often find astounding deals of wool there. This year, since socks were my travel project, as if often the case, socks yarn was top of mind. And for another reason as well—I lost a just finished sock on an Edinburgh tram.

Wooly clouds on the Black Cuillins from the Sligachan Hotel

We time our visits to Skye to coincide with the climbing season. This year we were a week later than usual. I expected it to be warmer than it was two years ago when I brought long-johns and wished for t-shirts. This year the opposite was true. It was cold, rainy and blustery. I on one hike I was wearing almost everything I owned, soaked through and got blown off my feet by a gust of wind.

Reverse view from Loch Scaivaig on a sunnier day

Not to say the trip was a bust—not so! I was there for rest and the weather gave me time for knitting and a bit of shopping. I picked up three beautiful sock skeins and started another pair of socks, having brought two projects for the trip. Here are the three skeins which seem to be color inspired by the location.

Can’t wait to see how the socks turn out. Too bad they take so long to knit!

NOTE TO SELF: hand dyed—don’t use different skeins and expect them to look like the belong together. This said, in spite of cutting the skein in half and caking it in reverse, the Schoppel-Wolle Zauberball® socks I started are variegating in the most peculiar fashion. Even if I make that mistake, it won’t be *this* different.

Even with taking a ball in the middle and caking it opposite, these socks look VERY different from one another

And Then There Was One

I love travel. It’s a good thing, given I travel 33-50% for my work. This means I also like being at home when I have time off.

My husband has a love of Scotland that comes from his youth in the South of England. His father took him to the Isle of Skye when he was fifteen and every year or so, we go back. And for me, it’s all about the hiking and the wool.

The project I brought was a pair of socks using Knitpicks Felici in Stormy Sky (fitting for Scotland). It was a special striped run I’d picked some up at Stitches West last year. And I was so excited to finally use it and hopeful my husband would have a spare pair of socks for hiking.

We used Edinburgh as our basecamp for the trip. We only passed through the city—several times as we came and went from visiting friends and family in Southern England before we headed to Skye. I was just reinforcing a heel when our stop came and I thought I’d safely tucked the sock away, but when we got to the hotel, I was one sock short.

Yes. I did cry. But then I immediately picked up my needles and cast-on another pair.

You gotta get back on that horse and ride it! Am I right?