Monthly Archives: September 2012

Skein Theory: New Designs and a Giveaway!

Now that fall is here, I am starting to be able to show off some of the things on my “what I did this summer” list! The inaugural issue of Skein Theory is out for fall, and I’m pleased to say that I have two sweater designs in the issue. Both are lovely worsted-weight cabled pieces that will be warm and classic items in your wardrobe.

The Ravine Pullover (also seen on the cover!) uses Galway Highland Heathers and shows off a combination of structural cable motifs down the front and back of the sweater. I actually really want to make another one of these for myself, because sometimes it’s just too much of a bummer to part with the sample!

Ravine Pullover

And secondly, the Dundurn Cardigan uses a slightly dressier, symmetrical combination of cables and ribbing and a slightly lower scoop neck. It uses Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed, which is very lovely to work with. Like Ravine, a number of worsted weight yarns would be suitable substitutes.

Dundurn Cardigan 2

These were both a real pleasure to knit and may actually be my two favourite things that I’ve knitted all year.

The whole issue contains a number of versatile fall patterns including shawls and accessories, and I’ve been granted the ability to host a giveaway for the full issue and all its patterns. Hurray!

To be entered to win, please leave a comment here on this post before noon EST on Monday, telling me your favourite thing about knitting in the fall. (So easy, I know! I’ll try to make the next giveaway question a bit more challenging. ;) )

Enjoy browsing the issue, and enjoy knitting this weekend! Happy Friday.




Filed under design, sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters, Part 6: Knitting it Up

This post is Part 6 and the last of a series of weekly posts on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you. Previously, the topic was modifying the pattern.

Knitting it Up
To the outside observer it must seem very strange to be writing a six-part series on sweater knitting, only to devote one of those parts to the actual knitting of the sweater. The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of thought and planning that goes into knitting a sweater, but often times we don’t notice the planning because it so often happens in the background of doing other things. We browse websites and yarn shops over days or weeks, considering yarn and patterns, and while the process of determining our best fit and style is sometimes acquired by sitting down once and for all and figuring it out, it is just as often a gradual learning experience accrued over time.


Sitting down to knit the thing almost seems easy by comparison – just follow the instructions along with your own modification ideas – but you may well have the opportunity for personal discretion at this stage, too. Ideally, once a knitter gets to the point of actually starting to knit a sweater, one should at least have some sense of what style and method of construction it is going to entail, and this will help you to know if you have any leeway in how to go about starting it.

For example, if you’re working a top-down pullover, there is really only one place to start – at the top, with the neck – and that’s where the pattern instructions will start. Later on you might have some discretion about whether to work the sleeves first or the body, once you’ve separated out those two portions of the sweater, but in the beginning your only major decision will be what cast-on method you’re going to use. (And in fact, the pattern might even go so far as to tell you that part too, you never know.) Anything involving out of the ordinary construction (like, say, something that starts at the bottom left corner of the cardigan front and magically works all the way around so that you finish at the bottom right corner with a complete sweater – I’m making this up but you just never know), you should definitely follow those instructions step by step.


On the other hand, if you’re working up a pattern that is made in pieces and then later sewn together, you might have a great deal of choice about where to start. The pattern instructions will most likely tell you to start with the back piece, because that’s quite typical, but there’s actually no rule that says you can’t start with the sleeves, or the front(s). In fact, I usually prefer starting with the sleeves because they’re pretty quick to get done and over with when you have energy going into the project. The sleeves will also give you an early indication of how close you are to gauge. If you mess up on one sleeve it is fairly short work to go back and start again on a new needle size if necessary, but doing this on the much larger pieces that make up the back or front can be more arduous. Another advantage of starting with a sleeve is that, if there is any kind of pattern stitch like cables or lace or colour-work involved, the sleeve gives you a smaller canvas to try it out on. Then, by the time you get to the body, you’ll have gotten the hang of it.

Still, there is a lot of momentum in the first couple of days when you start a project, and you might well be the sort of person who prefers to use that momentum on the largest piece, to get it done and out of the way. It’s one of the many reasons sweater patterns tend to direct you to the back piece first, and it can be very satisfying. And don’t forget that there’s also no reason you can’t do more than one piece at a time – sleeves make portable projects, as Elizabeth Zimmerman always advocated, so you could reserve those for your on-the-go knitting and save the larger, more shaped pieces for work at home.

Ultimately, use your discretion to do what will work for you, as you would at every step of this process. Take the moment to look over the pattern instructions to get a sense of what you’re in for, and if there is flexibility in the construction, use it to your own advantage.


Hope for awesomeness, expect a few annoyances
The more leg work you do before you start knitting your sweater, the less likely you are to encounter problems during the knitting-it-up part – and indeed, this is often the case for knitters who spend time thinking about fit, size, gauge, and measurement before they cast on. Still, challenges do sometimes happen, and I would say that at least 80% of your challenges or frustrating moments are likely to happen in the first 20% of your knitting time with the project. It happens to all of us, and I can think of about half a dozen projects just in the last 6 months when it’s happened to me.

Here are some examples of dumb things that have happened to the best of us (probably you, too), at one time or another:

-Casting on the wrong number of stitches and then having to re-cast-on, or immediately increase/decrease extra/missing stitches in the first row

-Making an error in the establishing rows of a stitch pattern and having to rip back to get it right.

-Accidentally casting on with the wrong needle size, because all of your needles look the same and you forgot to double-check the size before you started, and you’re not entirely convinced it’s going to make enough of a difference to the final product to make you rip it out and re-cast-on with the right needle.

-Discovering that the yarn you loved in the skein and managed a tiny swatch with is turning out not at all how you expected once you started to work with it and you’re not enjoying the process at all.

-Discovering that the yarn you loved in the tiny swatch is now pooling entirely differently when knitted up in a large garment, and you need to pull back several rows so that you can start alternating skeins every couple of rows to stop the pooling.

-Getting to the waist of the body and realizing that you have carefully and accurately placed all of the decreases for the waist shaping…on only one side, but not both, and now you have to rip back.

-Discovering that even though you swatched for gauge, and knew what size you should be making based on gauge, now that you’re actually knitting it in pattern, the size isn’t turning out how you thought it would at all, and you have to rip out to cast on a new size. (This was me this past January, when I was knitting the Gwendolyn cardigan. I ripped out, re-knitted in a happier size, and all was well in the end.)

-Something else that’s happened to you (that you might want to tell the story of in the comments – we all have stories of triumph over knitting adversity).

-Something else none of us have thought of yet.


Vigilance in that first 20% of the project time is key. I point this out not to discourage you in advance, but to point out that the sooner you can identify what your mistake is – or if you’re making one at all – the sooner you can fix it and get on with things. The next time you discover a mistake in your knitting, remind yourself that it takes a knitter with some experience to recognize where the mistake is, and that you are capable of fixing it. If you’re baking a cake and realize, when it is half-finished baking, that you forgot the baking soda…there’s not much you can do about it at that point other than get out a new set of ingredients and bake a new cake. With yarn, you get a do-over. You can have five or six do-overs, even. It doesn’t make the do-overs any more enjoyable necessarily, but it still means they are possible, which is the important thing. You can’t say the same thing about all crafts, and it makes us lucky to be knitters.

Knitting world has a way to make that easier
Because there are a lot of knitters in the world, and a lot of sweater patterns, and a lot of knitters have made sweaters successfully, there is a lot of knowledge circulating out there that falls into the general tips-and-tricks category. Keep yourself aware of the tips you hear or read, and store them away in your brain if you think you might need them later.

I think a couple of things that are pretty consistent pieces of advice, particularly to the knitter less experienced with sweaters, would be:

-If you are working flat, put a removable marker on the piece in progress that will identify the RS of the work from WS. If you are working in the round, use markers to note the beginning of the round and the sides of the garment.

-If you are working with charted patterns, don’t hesitate to make your charts easier to read by making a working (personal) copy – add Row #s if the pattern didn’t come with any, blow them up to make bigger or easier to read.

-If (well, more like when, I suppose) you need to rip out a whole row/round, try ripping out a portion at a time, not the whole row all at once – especially if you are working with slippery yarn. It can make things a bit easier to take steps like that one piece at a time.


Listen to all the advice and take all the planning you like, but at the end of the day, remember to do as pleases you in the end, even if it does involve a few moments of trial and error. Knitting is our hobby and except for working with yarn and knitting needles, none of us are actually required to do anything, so. Go forth and knit away. It is true that sweaters are not the easiest projects in the world you can knit, but neither are all sweaters always the hardest things you can knit, and there’s nothing at all wrong with challenging yourself from time to time if it pays off in the end.

It has been a pleasure to write this little blog series and I hope it’s been a useful one for you! Certainly, I am neither the first nor the last person to blather on about knitting sweaters. I highly recommend taking advantage of other resources online, from your local library or yarn shop, and taking classes whenever possible to supplement and expand your knowledge. Goodness knows I’ll have to figure out something else to do with Thursdays on this blog. I’d better get cracking on some new Works In Progress to tell you about.

Happy knitting to all!




Filed under Uncategorized

Diving in

It’s technically fall, now, here in Southern Ontario, and although we’ve still not fully entered bundle-up territory (at 20C today I was still sans socks), there was enough of a temperature dip over the weekend to throw the knitter’s brain into action. Suddenly, I want to knit all the things. In my head, I am knitting all the things. All of these things, in fact:


That’s a pile of 2 potential sweaters and about a zillion accessories. They’re all going to be awesome, I know it.

What I am actually knitting, however, is this new cabled thing that just a week ago was still a pile of orange yarn. (It’s Cascade 220 Heathers, in colour #2425, because someone asked last week and the colour number is the best I can do – it’s probably formally named something awesome like persimmon or blaze).


Although I am not used to enjoying the colour orange quite this much, I’m not all surprised to be enjoying cables, and basically I just want to keep knitting nothing else but this until it’s done. (I can’t, because there are other designs and class prep and other people’s patterns and then there’s that pile of yarn up there in the top picture, and, um…yes. What was I saying again?)

I usually tackle sleeves first to get them done and out of the way quickly, but this time I went the more traditional route of knitting the back first so that a large part would be complete, and I’m glad I did. This is what I want to be my Rhinebeck sweater and if my pace continues like this, I’ll have it done with time to spare. (Probably. I think.)


What fall knits are you lusting after this month?
Happy knitting this Tuesday!




Filed under Uncategorized

On the Subject of Sweaters, Part 5: Modifying the Pattern

This post is Part 5 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you. Previously, the topic was reading and interpreting the pattern.

If you’re a knitter who has knitted a lot of patterns exactly as written in the printed instructions and had a lot of success with that approach, I congratulate you and wish you much continued success. It does happen often, and for many knitters it happens quite frequently. Just like some knitters always “get gauge,” other knitters manage to execute patterns as written and get results that look fabulous on them. It depends both on the individual knitter and the pattern’s style, size, and shape. Realistically, though, this is not something everyone manages to do all the time. And even if you don’t ever find The One perfect pattern for you, you DO always (well, maybe of the time) have a functional brain (or at least a caffeinated one) and you have a personalized all-access pass to the one thing you need to make a sweater fit you better: your own body.


I’m of the opinion that the happiest, most successful knitters are those who take control of their knitting as much as is comfortable and reasonable. This is a good default position to have anyway, but particularly when you’re working on a large garment that needs to look wearable on your body. It involves measuring yourself, deciding on preferred style, fit, and ease, but also modifying the sweater pattern as needed. A lot of knitters do this fairly intuitively, or as a result of accumulated experience. You’ve probably seen a fair number of blog posts or Ravelry project pages where a knitter posts photos of their finished garment and a few notes along the lines of: “This was a fabulous pattern and I loved making it! I did it just as written except I made it longer, changed the neckline, and combined the XL with the M size to get what I wanted.” Knitters who have done this sort of thing before will nod sagely. “Sure, like you do.” Knitters who haven’t done this sort of thing before might well stare wide-eyed at the photos and notes. “But, HOW did you do that? What do you mean you combined two sizes? How does that even HAPPEN?”

The fact is that it’s rare that you’ll come across a pattern that fits all of your desired specifications at the same time, and you’re well within your rights to change things as you need to. I feel good about this as a knitter, and as a designer I completely expect knitters to change things up if it will get them the result they want while knitting from my patterns. Any time you make a conscious adjustment to the pattern that diverges from the written instructions, you are engaging in pattern modification, and it can open up a world of wonderful results for you.


What kind of modifications are we talking about, exactly?
If you’re an experienced knitter, I will bet that you have a mental list of typical modifications you execute on a regular basis whenever you knit a sweater. I do too, and so I thought I’d broach this topic first by pulling out pieces from my own sweater wardrobe once again, and breaking down for you what modifications I did for them. (The pattern links below will be Ravelry links.) These are sweaters you’ve seen before on my blog and in this series. For reference: I am a 5’9″ woman with a 37″ bust, 42″ hip, 16″ cross-shoulder measurement, and prefer a length of 24 ins for most fitted sweaters, and a 19-20″ sleeve. These are the key pieces of information I go in with when it comes to pattern modification. Though I have a bust size that puts me well into the range of mainstream patterns, I have yet to find a commercial pattern that accounts for all of the above numbers/preferences in the same place. I am much like a lot of other knitters on the planet in this respect.

I do want to make one broad statement – all of the sweater patterns I mention here today are really fabulous patterns, and they are in good company with hundreds (thousands, really, possibly millions) of many others out there in knitting world. The fact that I modified them doesn’t make the patterns any less awesome – it just means I made sure they would be the final result that I wanted to get.

The turquoise cardigan above is my Gwendolyn cardi that I finished last winter (pattern by Fiona Ellis), in Cascade 220 Heathers (I am very sorry to report that I don’t remember the exact colour name, though I’ve received oodles of compliments on the selection. It’s a nice turquoise heather, is the best I can say.) This is a set-in sleeve seamed cardigan worked from the bottom up, with no waist shaping. It is finished with a hood and a button-band. There is no waist shaping involved in this sweater, which meant I didn’t need to pay attention to placement of the slim part of the waist in relation to my body. The cross-back measurement (across the shoulders) matched quite well with what I wanted, so my main concerns were: a) choosing a size, and b) modifying for length. Part a) is something I documented in an earlier blog post, and involves the fact that I ripped out and re-started with a different size when I was halfway through the back piece, because it was clear that it was turning out too small for what I needed. Part b) was fairly simple – I added 2-3 ins in length simply by knitting to a longer measurement between the hem and armhole separation, than indicated in the pattern.

A third modification came on the sleeves, when I decided to carry ribbing up from the cuff all the way through the inside of the sleeve, even though it wasn’t specified in the pattern. I decided I liked the idea of ribbing as an extra bit of snugness and comfort, and it worked. Otherwise, I knitted everything as written, and I am very happy with the result.


This pink number is my rendition of the Dusseldorf Aran, also by Fiona Ellis. It is a pullover with a high scoop neck, set-in sleeves and seamed, worked from the bottom up. The sleeves also feature pleated ruffles and i-cord bows, for extra prettiness, though they’re hard to see in this photo. The modifications I did on this are as follows: a) modified to add length, b) lowered the neckline, c) expanded the cross-back measurement to be slightly wider. Another common modification I have seen with this sweater is to make it as written, but eliminate the pleated ruffles at the cuffs for more practicality. This would involve casting on a smaller number of stitches that will comfortably fit the wearer’s wrist, and increasing evenly to achieve the same number of stitches as needed at the upper arm.

To a) modify for length, I used my preferred measurements for my back-waist (from collar/back of neck to waist, measurement 3 here) and my preferred length from waist to hem as references, and compared with the pattern schematic. In the end I added about an inch before the decreases at the hip, and another inch after the increases and before splitting for the armholes. This is a pretty typical step for me because I have a slightly longer torso than mainstream sizes tend to account for, and I’ve gotten used to doing it. To b) lower the neckline, I got out my measuring tape and figured out how deep I wanted the neckline to be, compared to the centre of my shoulder, then subtracted this number from the vertical depth of the armhole. The resulting number is the length between the armhole and the beginning of the neckline, and that told me when to start the neckline shaping – which I did as written, just slightly earlier.

To c) alter the cross-back measurement, what I did was simply decrease fewer stitches within the armhole shaping decreases. I then made sure to execute the same (altered) number of decreases on the front piece, to make sure they matched. Another way to have done this, however, would be to have kept the armhole decreases the same, but add vertical dart increases in the stockinette portions at the shoulders (as opposed to attempting that within the cabled panels, which, errr, let’s not.) Altering the cross-back measurement is also a fairly common step for me and for most people, because the relationship between our bust size and shoulder measurement is pretty arbitrary. It has to do much more with unique combinations of body shape, musculature, posture, and athleticism (I am actually sure that since taking up yoga the last several months, my shoulders have added some muscle back there, and I should probably take that cross-back measurement again), and really much less to do with predictable proportionality and overall body size. Two women with vastly different body sizes and shapes could well have the exact same cross-back measurement, but they sure as heck won’t be knitting the exact same pattern in the exact same way.


Thirdly, I present my Autumn Rose pullover (pattern by Eunny Jang). It is a stranded colour-work pullover knitted in the round from the bottom up, with raglan sleeve shaping and a steeked neckline. It is intended for negative ease, which means the garment itself is slightly smaller than the wearer. It is one of the most modified things I have ever done, even though it probably doesn’t look like it. The modifications I did were: a) increase the length, b) raise the scoop neck, c) elongate the raglan shaping decreases at the shoulder, and d) change the colour selection. Altering for length is something I did in the above two sweaters as well, and many others, but in this case it was more challenging because the pattern did not come with a schematic. All I had to go on were the length indications within the written pattern, and these were a bit more sparse than what one might hope for (for the record, Eunny Jang is a brilliant knitter and designer, and I am pretty sure any omissions like this are a result of sparse editing, not her own talents. It happens). So, I had to go from my own numbers and essentially design my own pattern schematic indications from scratch.

When it came to part c) changing the raglan shaping decreases at the shoulder, I knew what kind of length I wanted for myself based on my relatively broad shoulders (as compared to my bust size), and I knew what my row/round gauge was, and so I estimated from there how many rounds the raglan shaping needed to take up to get the total raglan height that I wanted. The result is that I did the same number of raglan decreases as indicated, but spaced out over more rounds. (You can do this in the other direction, too, if you need/want the raglan height to be shorter, by working the same number of decrease rounds over fewer total rounds.)

Altering the height of the scoop neck was a judgement call for my own preference – the original pattern is gorgeous and modern and includes a very deep scoop neck, but I wanted it to be just a touch more modest for myself. So I did the opposite of the Dusseldorf Aran step, and raised the neckline by beginning it a couple of inches later than originally indicated in the pattern, which in this case amounted to starting the neckline shaping and raglan shoulder shaping at about the same time. However, what took the longest time in this was d) changing up the colours. For a single-colour garment it is mostly a matter of picking the colour off the yarn store shelf that you really like, but in this case, substituting 11 different colours required some time and swatching and decision making. (I wrote a whole post about it, at the time.) I liked the pattern, but the colours used in the original sample (and many of the kits for same) had a much rustier colour scheme than I usually knit, so I wanted to customize this. I did 4-5 swatches before arriving at the colour combination that I liked. It was well worth the time I took to do that, because holy crap look at it, this is freaking gorgeous. (I still have all of the swatches, too, and if you take colour-work or steeking classes with me I often bring them out for show and tell ;) )

Sound good? Good.


What else?
These are some examples from my own closet. You can see that the kinds of modifications I made to the three pieces above aren’t entirely dissimilar, but they do vary depending on the style of the sweater and what I want to get out of it. For most knitters, probably the most typical set of modifications they do are to get the overall size they want. For example, if you want the sweater to be worn with 2-3 inches of positive ease, and you have a 40-inch bust circumference, this means you’ll want a garment that is either 42 or 43 inches around in the bust. If the pattern only offers you a 40-inch or 46-inch size as the closest options, though, you might be able to modify things to get you “between sizes,” either by adding stitches to the smaller size or subtracting stitches from the larger one. Knitters with bust sizes on the very small or very large end of the size spectrum are more likely to be familiar with this process, because they are also more likely to have to modify for size simply to create the pattern size they need. Still, pattern size ranges are more expansive than they used to be, and indie designers often want to try harder to include as many knitters as possible. One hopes this will keep improving, but nevertheless, bust size isn’t the only thing that determines a good fit, and many knitters with mainstream bust measurements are well used to modifying fit or length or other aspects of the garment, to suit their own body and preferences.

The best thing any knitter can do is approach the pattern notes as strong guidelines rather than a locked-in set of commands, and diverge from them where and when they need to – and relax with a sigh of relief if/when you don’t end up needing to change anything. The simpler the pattern is, chances are, the easier it will be to modify, so keep that in mind if you are new to the process.


Modification is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. Designers write patterns based on standardized guidelines as well as personal style choices that may or may not completely match your own preference. If you could achieve a better look or fit with a pattern by modifying it, for the love of wool, PLEASE DO IT. Off the top of my head, these are some pretty common modifications that you’ll see:

-Changing the length (longer or shorter) of the body or sleeves

-Changing the placement of the waist to best fit your own (adding or removing length between the waist and armholes, or between armholes and shoulder, to achieve a different length than the pattern indicates)

-Changing the width or circumference by adding or subtracting stitches from the body of the sweater, if possible.

-Changing the width or circumference by changing the gauge (this also depends on whether you’re working with a yarn that is happy at the altered gauge), but keeping the original stitch count the same. A looser gauge will result in a bigger sweater, a tighter gauge will result in a smaller sweater.

-Changing the amount of ease by knitting a larger or smaller size as compared to your bust size, than is originally intended by the pattern notes. (this is style-dependent and preference-dependent as well).

-Changing the height of a neckline (lower or higher)

-Changing the shape of a neckline, i.e. from a v-neck to a scoop neck or vice versa.

-Changing the stitch pattern, i.e. adding a texture or cabled stitch pattern to an otherwise plain stockinette item.

-Combining different pattern sizes within one garment, i.e. working with size 2XL for the hips, but size L for the rest of the torso and shoulders. This involves working more decrease rounds to achieve ideal waist shaping by combining the two (very different), or adding vertical darts to accomodate more decreases in multiple places.

-Changing a pullover into a cardigan, or vice versa.

It’s a wide, wide world of possibilities out there, folks! I recommend perusing Ravelry project pages of sweaters you like or friends’ projects that you like, and notice when they talk about what they did differently. I really, really enjoy that part of Ravelry, that lets people write about what they did to make the pattern fit them best, and it can help others to achieve good results by letting them in on a few ideas.

For a whole world of ideas on how knitters modify different garments of different kinds, check out Julie’s Modification Monday

To think more about modifications that are related to body size and shape, many of the references I listed in Part 2 of this series are relevant, since this is all about achieving the fit that you want.

This post series is almost at an end, dear knitter friends! I look forward to visiting you with one more post on this theme next week, and I hope that your sweater knitting season (as fall approaches) will be a successful one. Until next time!


Filed under sweaters

If it’s a colour jag I’m okay with it

Yesterday, I finished up the sweater that resulted from that pile of delicious Madelinetosh tosh DK I bought on impulse over the summer. It’s great, and it’s almost ready to get shown off, and I am excited to share it with you, and this Sequoia is such an autumnal red-orange colour that the timing really couldn’t be better.


Like a lot of knitters, I have the tendency to stick to certain parts of the colour wheel when choosing my yarn colours. Reds, purples, greens, pinks are the shades you’ll see a lot of in my stash, and I love them a lot, but I’m trying to branch out. Yellows and oranges are the least common colours for me, so I’m approaching them a bit sideways by bringing in orange first, sneakily by way of red. Reddish orange, yes, I think we can be friends.



I did up the button-bands, and finished it all up, and gave it a bath, and now it’s blocking while the notes are off with the tech editor, which is all fantastic.

But I have to admit, I might be even more excited over the fact that I get to bring a new pile of red-orange wool onto the needles. This little stack of Cascade 220 Heathers has been waiting in the wings for almost a year, and I’ve known since about February exactly what I want to do with it.


There’s just so many awesome yarns out there, and so little time. I’ve got other colours waiting in the wings who might not stand for this orange colour jag business for too much longer. Better get knitting.

Happy Tuesday, knitting friends!




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On the Subject of Sweaters, Part 4: Reading the Pattern

This post is Part 4 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you. Previously, the topic was yarn selection and substitution. 

Before Casting On
So, you’re knitting a sweater. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’ve done everything an ideal knitter would do up until this point: You’ve gone through a considerate process of selecting a pattern that you know will work for you and your sweater-wearing lifestyle needs; You’ve measured your body and considered what kind of fit and ease you want from the sweater and have chosen your pattern size (and style) accordingly; You’ve chosen a yarn that will work for the pattern in a colour that pleases you; You’ve even knitted and washed a gauge swatch (or possibly more than one) to make sure you’re knitting at the gauge you need…Now you can go right ahead and cast on and start the sweater, right?


Right! Well, more accurately, you could go ahead and do that. In fact, a lot of knitters would probably do that before doing any of those other things. You may have even been that knitter in the past. You might have been that knitter just this morning. In fact, there is really very little that is required of you in knitting – you need to use yarn and knitting needles, but that’s sort of it as far as hard-and-fast rules. You’re free to make changes on the fly if you think it will improve the final result, you can rip it all out and change to another pattern if you feel like it, or you can just knit blythely along and not change anything from the instructions at all and just see how it goes.

If you want to make sure you have a handle on everything you’re going to be doing to make this sweater, though, you should do that thing that most patterns put up towards the beginning of the pattern/magazine/book notes: “Read through entire pattern instructions first before casting on.” It’s the knitter’s version of RTFM (here, have the XKCD comic version, too), and if you’re feeling a little worried right now about having neglected this instruction in the past, don’t worry – you’re neither the first or last knitter to have skipped that step. I probably did it twice just last week. It’s also sometimes a matter of what level of experience you’re at, or familiarity with the kind of project, or confidence or willingness to just see what happens as you go that affects whether a knitter will actually follow that step. But you know, there’s just no harm at all in actually doing it, and it might even save you a few moments of confusion later on.

What To Look For
When they say ‘read through all instructions first’, don’t forget about all the pieces of information on the front page. You can generally count on a project description, materials list, gauge estimation, and possibly even a list of required skills to be printed even before you’ve flipped to the second page of the pattern. The project description may indicate things about the style, intended fit or amount of ease, and the method of construction (top-down, bottom-up, seamless, sideways, etc), although this will certainly vary widely between patterns.

Patterns produced by large, mainstream publishers will also often indicate a skills rating – easy, beginner, intermediate, advanced, and so forth. These categories also have some depth and breadth to them, and can feel a bit random sometimes, often because certain techniques are judged to have skills ratings on their own. For example, if a project has seams or cables, it is more likely to be charged as an intermediate pattern, but I could hold up a wide variety of patterns that qualify both as seamed garments and cabled garments, so I personally recommend ignoring the categorical rating and focusing instead on the individual skills required for the garment, and your comfort level of trying them out for the first time on that particular project if you haven’t done them before.

The materials will tell you things you want to know about the yarn, for sure, and most of our attention tends to go to this part of the materials list first. It’s what we’re spending most of our money on and it’s the part of this whole endeavour that can make or break a successful pattern – poor yarn choice can result in a garment that gets resigned to the back of the closet, or ripped out only to be returned to yarn state and re-knit into something else.


However, the rest of the materials list can also tell you a lot about what is going to happen in the process of making the pattern. If a skills list is not provided, reviewing your materials list and the pattern instructions can help you with this. Consider what each of these materials are likely to be used for. If it calls for buttons, then you can anticipate having to work some kind of buttonholes during the knitting or finishing process. If it calls for a tapestry needle, you can expect to work some kind of seams, or possibly kitchener stitch for grafting under-arms or joined collars at the back of the neck. If stitch markers are on the list, that likely means you’ll be working with differentiated stitch repeats that need some markers to help you keep things straight; or, it could be a sweater that joins to work seamlessly at a raglan or circular yoke, and stitch markers are needed to differentiate the sleeves from the body. If waste yarn or stitch holders are included, then you can anticipate having to put stitches aside at some point – perhaps for the under-arm of a sleeve on a seamless sweater, or for a three-needle bind-off for a sweater shoulder, or for the centre of the scoop-neck of a pullover. (Other popular occasions for this include the thumb gusset of gloves or mittens). And finally, if it calls for a crochet hook, you can expect some kind of crochet work at some point, most likely in the finishing stage for edges or embellishment.

In general, what you want to be looking out for when you read the pattern instructions is how it is constructed and what kind of steps will be involved in achieving that construction. Also, what kinds of techniques you will need to do. Is there waist shaping involved? Do you need to measure yourself to make sure the waist shaping will meet you at the right spot, or would some adjustment in length be desirable/possible?

Check to make sure you know what size you’re making, and take a pencil or highlighter (perhaps on a for-personal-use photocopy of the pattern if necessary), and underline or circle your own size notes at the part where various stitch counts or pattern repeats are given for multiple sizes at once – a la S(M, L, XL, 2XL) or similar. Does the pattern refer to charted stitch patterns? Double-check them to make sure you’re familiar with the notations the charts use, and refer to the glossary as a reminder.


How many words does the pattern devote to the instructions? A lot of printed publications aim to reduce the amount of page space taken up by a pattern, to keep the page count down and therefore keep printing costs down. Sometimes this results in them shortening everything. Not just K instead of knit, but “st st” instead of stockinette stitch, “g st” instead of garter stitch, “EOR” instead of end of row, and so on. Are there any abbreviations in the pattern glossary that you’re not familiar with? A lot of self-published patterns that are sold online are likely to have more wording and overall information in their written instructions (because they are limited only by what they can put into a PDF file, not a printed page), however the bare truth of the matter is that style varies greatly between designers and between publishers. Every so often you may just happen upon an instruction that isn’t worded as clearly as you would like, and this is when a solid reference manual or helpful knitter friend can be useful.

The other key piece of info to at least glance at – if for no other reason than to see if it exists – is the pattern schematic. The pattern schematic will hint at the shape and style of the garment, and give you at least a minimal amount of measurement information at a glance. Most schematics will indicate length, bust circumference, sleeve length, armhole depth, and shoulder width, but many will also go as far as to tell you sleeve cap depth, wrist circumference, length from waist to hem or from waist to collar/back of neck, and more. The photographs should also at least hint at this kind of shaping and fit as well, and you can judge for yourself based on your own measurements and body knowledge if this could be modified to fit you better. If there isn’t a schematic, some of this information can usually be deduced from the written instructions. If you are working from the bottom-up, it will tell you how long to knit for until breaking to work the armholes, and that will indicate length measurement from the hem to under-arms, for example. Again, schematic information does vary a great deal, so your mileage here may vary.

As far as techniques, you’ll be able to tell from reading through the instructions if you need to work increases and decreases for shaping, if charted instructions are required, and so on. Don’t be too intimidated if there are techniques or steps you haven’t done yet. You have to start somewhere. If you’re knitting a sweater with cables but haven’t done cables before, well, there is just no rule anywhere against that. Dive in if that is the cabled thing you want to work on. It IS true that the technique you haven’t tried yet has the potential to trip you up more so than familiar knitting steps, and you might well have to rip out and re-knit something along the way, but that’s not really a reason not to try it.

…And then change it if you want to
The best time to have a look through the pattern instructions is to discover if or how much to modify the instructions to fit your size and style. A great deal about size and fit can be customized by modifying existing patterns, and very often only a few things. This will be the subject of next week’s post in this series!

Until then, happy knitting, and have a few more resource links in case you need them:

Charts Made Simple, by JC Briar – for knitters who struggle with working from charted patterns, or need help learning how to do this effectively.

Knitspeak, by Andrea Berman Price – a guide to all the little glossary terms and knitting idiosyncracies that make up pattern notes and knitting language. This is a really fun pocket-sized guide.

The Secret Language of Knitters by Mary Beth Temple – a humorous guide to knitspeak that includes not just jargon but vernacular like “design element” (mistake that became a garment feature), and so forth.

Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee – if you want to learn a bit about knitting technique and the struggles we all encounter, and laugh at yourself at the same time.

Principles of Knitting, by June Hemmons Hiatt – the last reference manual any knitter may ever need, because it is so comprehensive about everything from swatching to buttonholes to finishing techniques. For reference use more so than bedtime reading. (Heh).

Until next time, knitting friends!




Filed under Uncategorized

And all I got was this really nice skein of yarn

This past weekend I visited the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter’s Fair, which is usually a pretty good time and once again did not disappoint in the knitterly festivities. This time I was pretty good at browsing for new things and chatting with familiar faces (and new ones – you can’t help but bump into people in some of those corridors between vendor stalls), but remarkably sedate in my shopping. I emerged with just one skein of yarn. Mind you, it was a pretty great skein – 1000 yds of silk/merino laceweight from Fyberspates, purveyed by Feather Your Nest. It’s always nice to shop the stalls from the folks I wouldn’t normally visit otherwise, plus I found myself waiting for my sister or mother at some point and just staring at their shiny display, and in a matter of minutes it became not a matter of whether I would buy some but which colour I would buy. It’s great and I already know what I want to make with it.


And speaking of yarn and colour decisions at knitter’s fairs, I do sort of love how all of that unfolds. You can find yourself standing in front of a yarn display and picking up a skein and just holding it and suddenly be in conversation with the person next to you about how great the yarn is – and for all you know you have no chance of ever talking to that person again and have never seen them before in your life, but hey, let’s absolutely stop what we’re doing and have a chat about yarns and colours. Makes total sense.

The other nice part of the day was getting to see Stephanie’s talk on ‘This Is Your Brain On Knitting’ (highly recommendable), which in addition to being completely hilarious is extremely informative and validating about why knitters get so much out of knitting. I spent much of that lecture and the rest of the weekend knitting my then-current now-complete pair of ribbed socks, which was made even more satisfying by the knowledge that knitting as a repetitive visual-spatial pattern does, in fact, make our brains better and our selves more relaxed.


These are my latest Nice Ribbed Socks, in Socks That Rock Mediumweight, ‘Backstabber’ colourway. They really are that pink. So wonderfully, aggressively magenta-pink-and-purple that I sort of want to cast on five more things in this colour, but instead…


…I cast on another pair of ribbed socks in an entirely different colour. (More Socks That Rock, in Lightweight this time, ‘Tlingit’ colourway). There will come a day soon when I do talk to you about other projects besides ribbed socks, but today my friends, today is not that day. Ribbed socks are awesome, fall is coming, and it turns out repetitive visual-spatial motion (aka knitting ribbing) is super awesome for my brain and therefore I have prescribed myself more of it. Onwards with September knitting!


Filed under finished object: socks, socks