Category Archives: knitting knowledge

On the subject of sweaters

This is the introductory post for my 6-part post series on the process of knitting a sweater. Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to all of the individual posts. 

Because fall is quickly approaching – and with it, sweater knitting season – I’ve been doing a bit of thought behind the scenes here at Knitting to Stay Sane (me and my yarn stash are all very excited about it) and prepping a series of a few blog posts on the subject of sweater knitting. One post a week here for the next few weeks will be about a different aspect of the process: a sort of road map to the kinds of decisions that will help you get a sweater that you like. It won’t be an absolutely fully detailed explanation of every technique or step involved – a lot of people have written or published about different aspects of this, and I’ll be pointing you in the direction of many of them – but rather, is intended to be a bit of encouragement if you are a knitter interested in sweaters or figuring out how to approach them with some thought.

I often hear from knitters about the whole Sweater Knitting Thing. Among all the many possible choices of garments or items for knitters to construct, many people point to sweaters as being among the most challenging and intimidating. I think much of this is due to their sheer size. Compared to the ball or two of yarn that is normally required for a hat or pair of mittens, or maybe twice that for a scarf, it’s true that sweaters are a commitment of both yardage and time – and let’s face it, some days you don’t have much of either. But I don’t think that project size is always the true litmus test of challenge. Hold up a scarf worked in the Orenburg style of lace in one hand, and a stockinette pullover in the other, and then ask yourself if sweaters are always going to be more challenging than scarves. It’s true that larger projects do ask a commitment of you, but “challenging” or “easy” is often in the eye of the beholder.

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However, I do agree that sweaters offer the knitter a sufficient – and often satisfying – amount of challenge, even putting aside the whole notion of size. Sometimes it is because we fixate on a particular technique that is used in the pattern (“Oh, that’s a beautiful cabled pullover, but I’ve never done cables before and I’m worried it’ll be too hard”), but it’s a rare technique that is applicable only to one kind of garment. Much of the real challenge with sweaters has to do with the fact that sweaters are garments that are going to be worn over a large portion of our bodies, and therefore need to fit us according to the many dimensions of those parts. The fact is that even if you choose a pattern which is a loose-fitting stockinette box (thus avoiding fabric-construction techniques which might be daunting), you still have to ask yourself how long you want it to be so as not to overwhelm your body, and how long the sleeves should be so as to not end up constantly tugging them down or rolling them up, and what colour it should be, and what yarn you should use, and so on. The challenge comes from the fact that we need to be in control of our relationship with the garment we are knitting, much, much more so than with other kinds of knitted objects.

If you’re a person who is already familiar with other methods of garment construction – for example, if you’re a sewist who also knits – you’ve had other opportunities to ask yourself some of these kinds of clothing-making questions. Still, knitting offers us the chance to ask different questions than other crafts. Not only are we constructing a garment, but we are constructing the very fabric that the garment is going to be made of. This fact results in a lot of agonizing over things like gauge, swatches, yarn substitution, fiber content, yardage, and so on. Put these together with the project of making a large garment, and, well. There is a lot going on with sweaters.

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For many of us, we are used to acquiring clothes by going to a store (or many stores), trying on clothes (possibly many many clothes), and buying the ones that fit and leaving the store with those specific items. Sometimes our knitterly approach to making sweaters mimics this – we choose the sweater size we think will fit, then knit it, then try it on and see if it fits. While this is certainly a way to get sweaters, it overlooks a lot of steps that are open to us as knitters to help us get the sweater we really like and will actually wear. When you knit a sweater, you have many possible decisions open to you, relating to pattern and yarn selection, fit, techniques, and so forth. Rather than viewing this as a series of little intimidations, I think it’s best to consider these as opportunities for you to be in charge and get the results that you want. You are the boss of your knitting, and even if you make mistakes they are your mistakes, not the mistakes that were made for you by some clothing manufacturer. YOU get to decide what results from the work of your needles.

If you are a knitter new to sweater knitting, or simply a knitter happy to learn more about the whole process of working a completed, satisfying sweater, this blog post series will definitely be you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the process of constructing a knitted sweater, from pattern selection and construction styles, to gauge, yarn selection, and finishing. I don’t intend this to be a comprehensive guide to all things involved in sweater knitting; I won’t, for example, be giving you step-by-step breakdowns of how or where to add short rows or demonstrating all kinds of increases or decreases – but I’m going to include links to resources along the way for things like that which might be helpful. While this will not be a comprehensive guide to every possible sweater pattern or every possible detail involved, it will help you find your footing in the land of sweater knitting if that is something you are interested in learning more about. I won’t tell you what sweater you should make or how much time you should give yourself to knit it, but I do hope that when you do arrive at making these decisions for yourself, you’ll be armed and ready to do it right.

Part 1: Choosing A Pattern

Part 1 (Addendum): Browsing For Patterns

Part 2: Construction, Style, and Fit

Part 3: Yarn Selection and Substitution

Part 4: Reading the Pattern

Part 5: Modifying the Pattern

Part 6: Knitting it Up

Looking forward to seeing you all next time! I hope you’ve got something fun on the needles, whether big or small.

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Filed under fearless knitting, knitting knowledge, sweaters

It sneaks up on you

This weekend I finally got around to finishing up the last bits of work on my Gwendolyn cardigan. I seem to have the well-honed ability to under-estimate the amount of time finishing will take me, and in this case it had sort of slipped my mind that, oh wait, even when I’d finished the sweater parts, I still had to do the hood and the button-band before seaming everything up. Whoopsie daisies. But it’s done now and having a nice Soak bath before blocking, while I take an easy day recovering from a bit of a cold and resting up before spending the week with a super fun knitting visitor coming in for vacation time and knitterly hijinks. (How many knitting stores is too many knitting stores to show her around Toronto? We will find out.)

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Gwendolyn is a lovely pattern to be sure, and one that asks a moderate amount of challenge from the knitter without being fully overwhelming. I like Fiona’s designs (unsurprisingly, since I am fond of cables), and I also admit that I prefer seamed sweaters when I can get them. The seamless sweater definitely has its benefits and I’ve knitted a few of those in my time as well, but there is something very satisfying and structural to me about working up a nice seam and watching the completed garment come together seemingly before one’s very eyes.

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This is a pattern that requires you to work up the side seams by seaming reverse stockinette (with the purl side facing), rather than seaming up regular stockinette (with the knit side facing) which I tend to encounter more often and admittedly gravitate towards as a personal preference when designing seamed sweaters myself. As I worked this up I remembered the first time I learned and used that skill – it was many years ago when I knitted my first Ribby Cardi by Bonne Marie Burns of Chic Knits, and man, I was so annoyed. I’d gotten good at seaming regular stockinette seams by that point (and sort of liked it), but had never done it for reverse stockinette, and the idea of seaming up on those purl bumps just seemed far too aggravating. I remember I did the first few inches of the first seam as sort of a haphazard effort, only to eventually cave and go find out the real way to do it.

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I went and consulted the nearest knitting reference manual that I could find, which I am pretty sure at the time was my sister’s copy of Stitch & Bitch. The pictures and written explanation were clear, and after a couple of minutes I had it down. (I actually still recommend this book as a clearly written, priced-to-own beginner’s manual. Those books have a lot going on. While I’m here, I also love my Vogue Knitting reference book, and Nancy Wiseman’s book on finishing techniques.)

Last week I was also having a bit of back-and-forth chatter on Twitter with Kate (a Toronto knitter/tech editor/teacher), about how we write knitting patterns and managing the amount of knowledge/explanation that we include in the instructions, and how hard it is to know where to draw the line. How much do we explain? How much do we expect knitters to have to find out for themselves?

Truthfully, I’m still figuring out the answer to that. I enjoy knitting, I enjoy teaching, and if I can impart a bit of knitterly wisdom like how to work a cable without a cable needle by tucking it into some pattern instructions, then boy howdy I’m going to do that. But I do know that, inevitably, every knitter is going to get to a point in their knitting lives when they encounter a new instruction or a technique they’ve never heard of before. It might be something the pattern/book explains to you, or it might not. When that happens, you get the opportunity to learn something new, and run scurrying off to the nearest reference manual/fellow knitter/yarn shop/internet to figure out how to do it.

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Eventually, though, you’ll get to a knitting instruction and it’ll sneak up on you that – wait a sec – I already know how to do that, and you’ll just carry on doing it. Years ago I annoyed myself into learning how to do a reverse stockinette seam on a Ribby Cardi (now long since gifted away), and now I can do the same thing on my own Gwendolyn cardi for me, and just go right ahead and do it. (Thankfully, though, there are still plenty of frontiers left to cross. Years later, me and kitchener stitch, we still have our battles – err, learning opportunities to manage. It’ll be good – eventually I’ll annoy myself into learning how to do it properly, and then I’ll have to find something new to figure out.)

What’s something you’ve learned from knitting lately? It’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure. Happy Monday, and happy knitting!

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Filed under finished object: sweater, knitting knowledge

Colour toolboxes

Thank you all so much for the lovely feedback on my Firefly socks in my last post – it is always so reassuring to have knitter-geek solidarity. It’s been a sock-a-riffic summer so far, and still with a bit more summer time to go!

Another one of my ongoing projects this summer has been to spend time thinking about colour. I’m planning some colour-work designs in the fall and winter ahead, and in addition to sharpening my fair isle skills have been pondering colour theory and ways to practice colour knowledge in a compatible fashion with knitting. As much as has been written on colour theory, most of it assumes your medium is something mix-able, like paint or pastels, and I’ve been thinking about how to work through various ideas and colour brainstorming in yarn form. It’s also been neat to think through more ways of teaching this kind of thing, should future such opportunities come up.

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One suggestion I got from another instructor at the Haliburton Arts School in July (herself a painter) was to go and get the full 96 pack of Crayola crayons – it has a wider variety of hues than your average box of pencil crayons, and at a much friendlier price than most formal art supplies. It makes for easy graphing or colour-testing to check out colour combinations, when you want options for, say, magenta and periwinkle instead of just pink and blue. And the boxes still come with sharpeners inside! Ah, childhood memories.

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I do love that they wrap the crayons with the spectrum in mind – you can tell at a glance which colours belong to the blues or the violets, right when you’ve picked them up. I also find it interesting that the number of reds and violets, as well as blues and greens, far out-number the other shades. I suppose these must be the shades that kids reach for most often?

But then, there is still the question of the yarns themselves.

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Inspired by a photo circulating on Pinterest which displayed embroidery floss on clothes-pin bobbins, I decided to create my own yarn “paintbox” with my colour-work yarn (here, Knit Picks Palette). I have so many colours to choose from if I were to start making selections for a design that it gets unwieldy to pull out all the yarn at once (those two big tubs are starting to get heavy…and overstuffed…oh yes, let’s definitely get some of that yarn into garment form!), but this way I can have them all in a box at a glance, and sort all the shades according to their hue.

It is the awesomest. If I want to look at, say, all the blue-greens, there they are! I think pretty soon my (smaller) Cascade 220 stash is going to get the same treatment.

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Ah, colour. So much fun, so little time.

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Filed under colour-work, design, fair isle, knitting knowledge, stash

Ticking along

(Because several people asked at my last post – if you want to know more about any future Toronto TTC Knitalongs, join the Ravelry group, follow the TTC Knitalong blog, or simply keep a close eye out on my blog or others like Team-leader Michelle, because advance information about signups is/was available in all of these places.)

I am not entirely sure where this last week has gone, so quickly. Actually, scratch that – I do know where it has gone, but I am still at a loss as to how we are already halfway through the month of July. Can’t we just stick a pin in the middle of summer and have it go on for an extra couple of weeks without having to reckon with the ever-approaching August and therefore the ever-approaching end of the sunny pace of life?

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Things are ticking along, at any rate. Last week I taught my as-yet last scheduled class of the summer at Passionknit, in Toronto, and we cut up some steeks darned good (photos above). I am moving along on various design projects for Tanis Fiber Arts, Indigodragonfly, the Sweet Sheep, as well as some ideas for me, and happily have been offered a teaching contract for the year (in central Ontario, which means a temporary move for me also). I am continuing with my running and training for a half-marathon (late September, fingers crossed), and knitting away in bits and pieces.

This past week I had the chance to head up to the Stratford (Ontario) theatre festival, with an online pal who came through town for a visit. We saw plays, did a bit of shopping, and made the fantastic discovery of the Chocolate Trail, which basically amounts to you paying for an up-to-8-stops pass to various chocolate-serving establishments in town. It was awesome. Chocolate, more chocolate, and then we had chocolate martinis. I regret nothing.

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Then on Saturday, just to round off the week, I made my way into the big city to the Toronto Textile Museum, where I participated in a workshop on Orenburg Lace with Galina Khmeleva.

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Um. Consider my mind blown. Or, rather, I feel as though somebody just came along with a key and opened up the door to something that you hadn’t noticed was there. It was great, sort of a technical workshop and history lesson all in one. This is a knitting practice that wraps together fibre craft, practicality, technical fluidity, beauty, and function so completely that for about a split second you sort of wonder if someone is actually kidding. But no, there is no kidding. This is LACE. Lace that means serious business.

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This week the name of the game is all about getting as much done as I can before getting on a plane on Thursday. I am heading off for several days’ vacation to hang with my friend Liz, and we shall knit, see bits and pieces of San Francisco and LA, make a brief stop at San Diego Comic Con (Sunday tickets were all we could manage), and I imagine, do the appropriate amount of lying around and being women of leisure. I mean, isn’t that what one does when one goes to California? I certainly hope so.

Over and out until next time! Possibly from the other side of the continent.

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Filed under design, fearless knitting, knitting knowledge, lace

On sizing with needles

In the knitting world there are different ways of changing the size of the thing you are knitting. In general, we expect knitting patterns to include more than one size, or if not multiple sizes then at the very least some form of guidelines for modifying the size if necessary. Most of the time this happens by changing the number of stitches and possibly also the number of repeats of a particular stitch pattern involved in the garment.

However, occasionally you will encounter a knitting pattern which accomplishes a change in sizing by changing the needle size, and maintaining the same (or, mostly the same) pattern instructions otherwise. The effect is that the number of stitches stays the same, but the gauge – and thus the size of the finished object – changes. This approach is less common, and I know that some industry guidelines actively discourage it. In general, I would argue that it is not an ideal approach in all situations, but I am quite in favour of applying this technique in certain instances. My Viper Pilots sock pattern as well as my 14 Karat sock pattern (pictured below), both used this technique, and the glove pattern I’m about to release this week (sneak peek below) also uses this method. The socks I’m working on for Elinor’s Socks Revived contest will likely also employ the changing-size-by-by-changing-gauge technique. I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I use this approach in some scenarios.

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First, let me say that I don’t think this is an ideal approach for all garments. Sweaters or knee socks or other garments that need to be fitted to a large portion of your body should absolutely come with a variety of size instructions and this is best accomplished by changing the number of stitches. Changing the gauge in both row and stitch may not accomplish the exact proportionalitiy you want.

However, if we’re talking about relatively small garments that are going on your hands and feet, there’s a better likelihood of still achieving good proportional fit by changing gauge. By changing needle size you can easily achieve a better fit in circumference, while still maintaining the freedom to adjust length as needed. For example, in both the Viper Pilots and 14 Karat socks, I still include instructions to work the charted pattern until X inches before you wish to start the toe – this still accommodates a variety of foot lengths. The same can be said for gloves.

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Using this approach also allows you to maintain integrity of the stitch pattern being used, without having to add or remove stitches. This is important for patterns which would become quite visually different with a change in stitch number, and when there is no obvious repeat of a motif.

Still, the main reason I like to use this approach – for socks in particular – is to conserve yardage. I have size 11 feet and I am extremely mindful of that fact when I select sock yarn for my own socks or for my designs. You will not find me using sock yarns with yardage less than 350-360 yards per 100g(ish) skein, and in fact i’m much more comfortable if that number is closer to 400 yards than anything else. My sock yarn stash reflects this.

Essentially, if you have big feet and are worried about having enough yarn left to do the socks you want at the length you want, the easiest way to add more worry to that equation is to increase the stitch count. More stitches use more yarn. I’m pretty comfortable up to about 72 or even 74 stitches in circumference on a sock, but upwards of that number I get pretty nervous. If you can achieve the same size difference of adding 6-8 stitches over 2.5mm needles than what you would get by simply increasing to 2.75mm needles, then I’m going to go for the needle change if it means the sock will fit me AND it will still look good and meet my yarnly needs. (The socks below are two separate sizes, worked using exactly the same pattern instructions – the difference is one needle size.)

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, but Glenna, if we change the gauge how do we know we can still use the same yarn? Well, sometimes you don’t. You may well have to use a different yarn from what the original pattern sample uses. (I will often make suggestions when I do this). When it all comes down to it, I do not see this as a problem.

Many yarns are versatile and will accommodate a slight gauge change without too much trouble. This is, incidentally, why I tend to prefer the moderate fingering weight area – not too light, but still squishy. Yarns like Tanis Fiber Arts fingering weight, Madelinetosh Tosh Sock, Dream in Color Smooshy, Sweet Sheep Tight Twist, Fleece Artist merino sock, these all come to mind in this category. Many yarns will allow a slight change in gauge and still look good at either gauge. If you change the gauge drastically enough that you need to jump an entire category – i.e. from fingering weight up to sport weight, or sport weight up to DK, then that’s possible, too.

Whether or not you are using the same yarn as the pattern sample, you still have to ask yourself the same questions about whether or not you are getting the gauge you want. And the modern knitting world we live in has So. Much. Yarn. We have a lot of options if we want to change the yarn – and if it’s worth it to you to knit the pattern the way you want, it’s worth taking the time and effort to find the right yarn.

This has been today’s knitterly ramblings from my brain. Catch you again next time, with yet another pattern release! I’m on fire, I tells ya. On fire.

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Filed under design, fearless knitting, knitting knowledge

New Pathways

Yesterday I made good use of my current schedule-less schedule to head into Toronto for Cat Bordhi’s class at Lettuce Knit. She is slotted to teach at the Sock Summit and her full-day ‘New Pathways’ class based on her sock architectures book is one of the ones I was anxious to take. So, when Lettuce Knit announced Cat was making an appearance around here this week, I took the opportunity to make sure I’d experience her class – and now I have one less class to try to book myself into at the Sock Summit!

I recall last summer sitting at a knitting night at the Purple Purl and one of the ladies there was struggling with a sock, so I helpfully offered to have a look at the pattern for her. It was Cat’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters book, and I quickly realized that this involved knowledge I did not possess. I became certain that I would need to learn about this some day, and this week, some day arrived.

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Cat is an extremely energetic and patient teacher, and one gets the sense that she is a person who thinks about knitting constantly, creatively, enthusiastically, and is able to respect and appreciate mainstream or traditional methods while simultaneously breezing past them in about five different ways before lunch. This was a big motivation for me in taking her class, because I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in my current sock knitting methods and I would be disappointed to get so comfortable in my ways that knowledge becomes a barrier more than a support. I’m ready to expand my knitting brain a bit further, and I want to knit some of Cat’s awesome socks. And Cat will definitely lay some knowledge on you.

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Her class took us through the basic approaches to the socks in her book, and things like the heel-turning, cast-on methods, and overall theory of sock construction that she relies on. There was more than one moment of “Ohhhhhhhhh” throughout the day, as we practiced on making teeny tiny little socks. Keri was quite taken with hers – SO CUTE, right?

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Each sock demonstrates a key architecture from her book. I completed one during the class, started a second on the bus ride home, and when I got back I cooked dinner as fast as I possibly could (because don’t you hate it when meeting physical needs like hunger gets in the way of your knitting time), so that I could finish the second and then decide on a ‘real’ sock to start in on from the book.

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Much of what Cat does relies on thinking mathematically in a way that frees you. Take these two wee toe-up socks, for example. They may look slightly different, but mathematically they are virtually identical. They are the same size, same gauge, have the same toe, same heel, and have the exact same # of stitches, round for round. The only difference is the location of the increases over the arch of the foot. And would you get this? According to Cat, you can put them anywhere. No really, anywhere. As long as you increase 2 sts every 3 rows, between finishing the toe and starting the heel, you are good to go. It is mind-blowingly true. And her book demonstrates several different different architectures based on this truth.

And so, I have begun a Real Sock after my bit of training yesterday – am trying out the Bartholomew’s Tantalizing Sock first, but I think I could have started with any of them. I am looking forward to seeing it take shape.

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I’m also on cat-sitting duty this week, chez Beatrice, Ramona, and Halley, and wouldn’t you know it Cat’s socks are actually fully cat-approved.

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Now if I can just figure out how knitting these socks will help me write my conference paper I need to do for next week, I’ll be golden. What do you think the chances of that are?

Catch you later as the adventures continue. Keep your knitting close by!

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Filed under cat bordhi, cats, fearless knitting, knitting knowledge, socks