We are go for blanket

For the last month or so I’ve been working away on smaller accessory projects – my larger Charlotte St. cowl is even finished now and happily drying on the blocking board as we speak, my Rocaille socks are patiently getting a few rounds at a time done on the second sock – and they’ve been good projects but ultimately I realized that it’s weird for me not to have something bigger to work on at the same time as the small things. I like having something that I can let occupy a big chunk of my brain and maybe even get a little obsessive over, and having only the smaller accessories on the needles hasn’t been doing that for me.

I think this is normally the part in my process of spring-summer where I would start a Pi Shawl or other lace shawl project, but instead this time around I have been thinking a lot about blankets. It’s been about 7 or 8 years since I last knitted a blanket – in other words, long enough that I’ve just about forgotten how long it really takes – so this weekend I just wound up a bunch of yarn and started up on one.

DSC_0287Not just any blanket, mind you. This might not look like much so far, but this is the humble beginning of a Liberty Blanket, from the second Mason Dixon Knitting book by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne. I’ve admired this pattern pretty much since the minute the book came out, and when I realized I had enough yarn already stashed in two contrasting colours to start it right now, that was pretty much the only other barrier removed. DSC_0288

This is a big bold stranded colour-work pattern inspired by the Liberty of London prints (hence the name), so it’s a big enough chart that I don’t anticipate ever being able to commit it to memory. That plus the eventual size means this is definitely going to be a couch project and not a portable one. So, I’m trying to get in several rounds every day to get the first pattern repeat done as quickly as I can (there are five pattern repeats overall, of 70 rounds each).

I am hoping, possibly foolishly, that even if this takes months to get done in the end that I’ll still manage to finish it in time for this coming winter season and it’ll be a super reading blanket for the couch. So as much as I can get done in the first month will be golden. We’ll see how that goes, since all too soon there will be fall sweaters to contend with!

What project are you currently obsessed with, knitter friends? I hope you get to cast on for something “fun” soon!

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Pattern: Liberty blanket, in Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines, by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne
Yarn: Cascade 220 Heathers, #9325 westpoint blue heather and #4006 galaxy heather

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So you’ve discovered sock knitting

Since I’ve been chattering a bit about socks lately, I’ve had a few folks ask me a bit more about the whole sock knitting thing. If you are relatively new to this whole experience (perhaps you came to knitting sometime after the great Sock Knitting Renaissance of the late ‘aughts) then let me pull up a chair and drop you a few suggestions. Sock knitting is not for everyone (or rather, it is not everyone’s favourite thing ever), but it’s nice to at least try something once to see for sure if it’s not for you, and if you’re in the try-something-at-least-once phase, here are a few little bits of knowledge, from me to you.

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Start simple.

So, since we did have that great Sock Knitting Renaissance of the late ‘aughts, when it seemed like everybody was knitting socks all the time and if you weren’t knitting socks you must be some kind of creature that lived under a rock, a whole whack of sock patterns have been produced. There are so many kinds of socks out there, guys. Choice feels like your enemy at first. So, start with the simplest sock pattern that appeals to you.

One of the first ones I knitted was the Basic Sock Recipe in Knitting Rules by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. It’s a stockinette sock work from the cuff down and also includes a good description of how socks are constructed, so that even if you don’t have a pattern you can still knit socks. It’s still the first thing I recommend to new sock knitters and the whole book is awesome.

I also have my own Nice Ribbed Sock pattern, which is a top-down sock knitted in 3×1 ribbing, and is free. However, if you’re uncertain about knitting socks on sock weight (fingering weight) yarn, which is fine and makes small (slower) stitches, try a pattern that uses DK weight or worsted weight, to give you more speed and satisfaction off the top. Some of the most popular ones on Ravelry in this category are the Blueberry Waffle socks (which are free), the Stepping Stones socks (which are in the Knitter’s Book of Socks), and these Toe-Up Heel Flap Socks (also free).

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Then ask your brain what it wants to do next.

You might finish your first pair of socks and immediately love it and march yourself to the yarn store and buy twelve skeins of sock yarn and spend the next month doing nothing but knitting socks. If so, you would be in excellent company and many of us would happily empathize. On the other hand, you might finish your first pair and vow never to knit socks again, and go right back to shawls/cowls/sweaters/etc, and that is also totally valid and also there will be knitters right there to empathize with you.

It’s also quite likely that you’ll fall into the large and vague middle category, where you sort of think this could be neat, but [insert here] about the process didn’t really do it for you. Chances are, there is a personalized solution out there for you for whatever that thing is.

Was it the boring-ness of the pattern? Why not try something with more interesting stitches on it.

Did you try a cuff-down sock pattern and wished you could do it from the toe up instead? (which is handy if you want to be exact about how much yarn you use per sock) There are just so many toe-up sock patterns to choose from.

A lot of sock patterns are written for double-pointed needles. Maybe you tried that and it wasn’t your thing. Magic Loop is a nice alternative, and again, there are lots of tutorials: Knittinghelp.com, KnitPicks, my own wee photo tutorial, or heck, a quick YouTube search are all possibilities. Similar to Magic Loop is the two-circular needles method.Finally, thanks to the innovation of knitting world, you can also get circular needles that are small enough to use for a sock circumference, and 9-inch circular needles are more popular now for socks.

All of these methods are applicable for knitting in the round for any small circumference. You might find Magic Loop useful for sleeves, for example, as an alternative to double-pointed needles.

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Figure out where sock knitting fits into your life.

I knit about half a dozen pairs of socks over the course of a year, mostly by choosing simple patterns that are easy to pick up and put down at a moment’s notice, and by keeping a sock project in my handbag for portable knitting. I’ve heard from other knitters who say they do this kind of knitting at certain times of day or while waiting for regular appointments or kids’ activities to finish up. Once you get the hang of it, sock knitting can easily fill little bits of time like this and eventually, you end up with a full sock drawer and then your family starts getting socks as gifts because you can’t stop. (Or that could just be me. Hm.)

Personally, I alternate between double-pointed needles and Magic Loop, depending on what I’m knitting, and prefer working cuff down. There are so many options! Try a few techniques and decide for yourself what you like the most.

This has been your Wednesday ode to sock knitting. If you’re new to this world, welcome! It has much to distract you with. ;). Happy knitting!

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Some walking-around cables

Now that it’s July and the unofficial start of summer, I’m reminding myself of my summer knitting goals that I was making for myself back in May when summer seemed forever away and like it will stretch out with lots of time far into the future. In reality, 2 months from now September will arrive and Canadians will be sadly mourning how short summer truly is/was, so basically let’s make this summer count with some fun knitting and patio drinks and some cheezy novels, is what I’m really telling myself.

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I decided I would get at least one pair of non-plain socks on the needles this summer, to break up my usual parade of ribbed socks and Jaywalkers, and last weekend I followed through and cast on for Rocaille by Norah Gaughan. I’ve had the Knitter’s Book of Socks on my shelf for a little while and happily stared at the pages many times (as one does with one’s knitting library), and I’m glad to be getting one of its patterns on the needles. (I have also been staring at Elm, by Cookie A, so maybe those will be August’s socks).

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These socks had my number because of the cables – I also really like the way they travel around from the back of the leg towards the front, and absorb the ribbing from the cuff. I’m making a couple of modifications, namely working a heel flap and turned heel instead of the indicated afterthought heel (purely for preference – I like the way the heel flap fits my high arches). The pattern also indicates several decrease rounds at the back of the leg, of which I am working fewer than indicated to give me a larger sock circumference. It’s written for only one size (to fit foot/ankle of 8.25″ circumference), so that’s my adjustment to make it a bit roomier for my 9″ foot/ankle circumference.

This pattern definitely requires more attention than plain socks, but i’m hoping that will help stave off the ‘second sock syndrome’ by the time I get to the 2nd one. And they will be very snazzy to wear!

I hope you have some great summer knitting plans as well! Whether socks or otherwise.

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Pattern: Rocaille, by Norah Gaughan, in The Knitter’s Book of Socks
Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy, ‘blue lagoon’ colourway, stashed oh so long ago and finally being knitted

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Good job being boring, everyone

For the last week or two my knitting has been a mix of pre-knitting work, for design thoughts and big projects that I’m not ready to actually start yet (swatching, planning, figuring out yarns), and the plain old ‘just getting more rounds in’ kind of knitting that requires mostly just continued elbow grease rather than alert brain cells.

The first category of stuff will start to turn into active projects soon enough, and in the meantime the second category has been seeing some good effort. Really, it’s that second category that takes up the lion’s share of knitting time at some point – when you know what you’re making and it’s not terribly difficult, so it’s just a matter of spending time on the project until you get it done. It can start to feel boring and repetitive after a while, and perseverance is the main skill you’re sharpening more so than anything technical.

At some point, though, perseverance gets you finished things. And closer-to-being-finished things. In the last week I’ve finished a pair of Jaywalker socks…

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..started a new pair of ribbed ones…

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…and kept up a few more rounds on my Charlotte St. cowl. I’ve even got the 2nd ball of yarn wound up and ready to keep making it as tall as I feel like.

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I’m headed away for the weekend and these last two “boring” projects are totally coming with me, but I will of course be tossing another ball of sock yarn in there for a just in case project. Something that might even ask a couple more brain cells of me – airport and airplane knitting are just too good of an opportunity to waste the knitting time in.

So, great job knitters, cranking out the rows and doing the boring bit. You’re doing awesome work.

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Pattern: Jaywalker, by Grumperina (free Ravelry download)
Yarn: Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock, in ‘harrison’

Pattern: Nice Ribbed Sock (free on Ravelry)
Yarn: Socks That Rock Mediumweight, ‘bleck’ colourway

Pattern: Charlotte St. Cowl
Yarn: Georgian Bay Fibre Co. Fingering weight, ‘tower hill green glass’ colourway

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How to Read a Yarn Label

This past season I’ve had the chance to do a couple of LYS workshops on yarn substitution, which is a regular challenge for many of us knitters since we just have so much fantastic yarn to choose from in the 21st Century marketplace. One of the key steps in this process (which becomes much more intuitive, the more you do it, I promise), is to be able to read the labels (or ‘ball bands’) on your yarn. Because if you don’t know what weight the yarn is, you won’t be able to confidently use it as a substitute for the yarn called for in the pattern. You might not be able to use the original yarn in the pattern, but you CAN look for a yarn of the same weight (i.e. does it call for a fingering weight, DK weight, worsted weight, etc).

If you’re trying to figure out what weight of yarn you have, the key bits of information you need are things like how many yards per weight of yarn (fingering weight yarn, for example, tends to fall around 400 yds per 100g/3.5 oz), and what gauge it’s recommended for (again, fingering weight yarn, will have a gauge in the area of 27-32 sts/4 ins or 10cm). This sort of information is huge, and if you are new to this whole adventure of figuring out yarn weights, even these two pieces of information will give you a fabulous place to start.

However, there’s a lot of info packed into these tiny slips of paper. Two years ago I made an anatomy of a yarn label post summarizing exactly this kind of info, and I’ve updated it here with some handy-dandy colour-coding, using 3 different yarns as examples. I pulled these labels from things in my own yarn stash.

How to read a yarn label(Click for the original, larger image, if you want to embiggen)

Reading a Yarn Label:

1. Yarn Company Name (marked in red)
This is the company or dyer which produces the yarn. There will usually also be some contact information or company website/email along with this, somewhere on the label.
Examples above: Berroco, Knit Picks, Cascade Yarns.

2. Yarn Name (marked in dark orange)
This is the name of the yarn line itself. Often this will have the weight of the yarn listed within the name, as is the case with the Hawthorne Fingering, above. We know that one is a fingering weight. The others don’t tell us the weight within the name, so we can use the other information to interpret this.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca, Hawthorne Fingering, Cascade 220 Heathers

3. Stitch gauge, sts/4 ins (marked in dark yellow), and
4. Stitch gauge, sts/1 inch (marked in pink)

One of the most crucial things you need to know about your yarn is what the recommended gauge is, in other words, the intended number of stitches per amount of knitted fabric.
Some companies will provide this in stitches per 4 ins, some in stitches per 1 inch. You can see the Ultra Alpaca label uses a little square icon to represent the gauge over 4 inches (20 stitches and 26 rows), and the other 2 labels indicate this just in writing. The Knit Picks label also adds the CYCA icon (a little yarn ball with a #1 on it) that represents its weight class according to their system. Many yarn labels will include the CYCA icon but don’t expect to see it all the time. (I had to search a bit in my stash to find a yarn that used it, interestingly enough. Also, you’ll see stitch gauge but may not always see row gauge (as is the case with the Cascade 220 Heathers label).

Moral of the story is, stitch gauge is one of the strongest indications of yarn weight, and there are several different ways it can be represented. Welcome to knitting world! We have many ways of doing everything! It is both confusing and delightful.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca 20 sts and 26 rows/4 ins or 5 sts/1 inch, KnitPicks Hawthorne Fingering 7 sts/inch or CYCA category #1, Cascade 220 Heathers 18-20 sts/4 ins.

5. Yarn fibre content (marked in brown)
When substituting yarns, it’s ideal to get a yarn that has both the same weight and the same approximate fibre content as the original one called for in the pattern. For example, if it calls for a worsted weight wool yarn and you substitute a worsted weight cotton/silk blend, there’s a good chance your results will differ. Try to get something close to the original if you can. Also pay attention to your own preferences – if you knitted an alpaca hat once and found it irritating to wear, then you know what to avoid in future.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca 50% alpaca/50% wool, Hawthorne Fingering 80% superwash wool/20% polyamide, Cascade 220 Heathers 100% Peruvian Highland wool.

6. Yardage of ball or skein (marked in light green)
This will be crucial in deciding how much of the yarn you need to purchase to complete your project. If you’re choosing Cascade 220 Heathers, and you need 1700 yds of worsted weight wool to knit your project, then at 220 yards per skein you need to buy 8 skeins. (Also don’t forget, most cell phones have calculators on them, if it’s been a long day and even basic arithmetic is feeling hard).
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca 215 yds, Hawthorne Fingering 357 yds, Cascade 220 Heathers 220 yds per skein.

7. Weight of ball or skein (marked in dark green)
In combination with the yardage information, this will also help you determine the weight category of the yarn. The more yardage you have per 100g/3.5 oz, the lighter the yarn is. The less yardage you have, the heavier the yarn is. Worsted weight yarns are around 200 yds/100g, Fingering weight closer to 400 yds, Bulky weight is around 125 yds. These is some leeway of course, but even a rough estimate helps you size up the skein of yarn you’re holding in your hands.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca 100g/3.5oz skein, Hawthorne Fingering 100g skein, Cascade 220 Heathers 100g/3.5 oz skein.

8. Colour name or number (marked in light blue)
This is one of the most crucial reasons to keep at least one yarn label from your project until it’s finished. If you need more, you’ll certainly need to know the colour name, and in many cases dye lot number if it is offered. If it’s a commercially dyed yarn the dye lot will identify other skeins dyed in the same batch, so if you can match dye lots you’ll know you’re getting the same colour as exactly as you can. However, hand-dyed yarns are done in small batches and don’t usually come with dye lots, so ordering an additional hand-dyed skein is still possible but more likely to have colour variation than what you chose original.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca Colour 6288, dye lot 804; Hawthorne Fingering, Compass Kettle Dye. (The Cascade 220 Heathers does have a colour number, but it got chopped off in this photo. It’s colour 9459, Lot 2K0093).

9. Needle size recommended (marked in dark blue)
This is the needle size the company recommends using in order to achieve the intended stitch gauge. It may be given in metric or US needle size categories, or both. They may give you one needle size or a range. It may be the same needle size you need to get that gauge, or it may not. If in doubt, use the recommended size as a starting place to make a swatch, then see if you need to adjust your needle size to get stitch gauge.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca 5.0mm/US #8, Hawthorne Fingering US #1-3, Cascade 220 Heathers 4.5-5.0mm/US #7-8.

10. Washing instructions (marked in purple)
How to care for your finished item will relate strongly to the fibre content. For example, the Hawthorne Fingering is made with superwash wool, and is also listed as being machine washable. This is not likely to be the case with regular wool. Sometimes the washing instructions will be written out, other times through the use of laundry symbols, as is the case with the Cascade 220 Heathers. The Hawthorne Fingering uses both.
Examples above: Ultra Alpaca Hand wash in cool water, Lay flat to dry; Hawthorne Fingering, machine wash gentle/tumble dry low; Cascade 220 Heathers, hand wash and dry flat.

If you’re an experienced knitter, you have probably discovered that reading yarn labels becomes a normal habit and you can do it pretty quickly. If you’re closer to the beginner experience, this might seem overwhelming, but it’s also one of the best ways to “level up” in knitting world – know your materials! It’s all easier to learn with practice.

I hope you’re enjoying some fine knitting this Tuesday, and that your yarn labels have all the information you need from them. Until next time!

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Around and around

Thank you for your lovely comments last week on my new Fortuna pattern! I’m pleased with it myself and am glad it is out there in the world. They’re saying this summer is likely to be a milder summer around Ontario so I may end up getting some wear out of it myself right away.

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Having a big project come off of the needles is so satisfying, and yet I always have a short while where I have to remind myself what else I wanted to work on next. While I was finishing the cardigan all I could think about was other things I wanted to knit, but now that I can reasonably cast on anything I want, I’ve forgotten what those things were. Well, not entirely – I do want to get more socks on the needles, especially as I’ve managed to cast off my latest pair of ribbed socks (above, in Socks That Rock ‘hard rock’ pink and grey).

There are big projects (well, sweater projects at least) that I want to work on, of my own design and others, but for the moment I’m distracting myself with some smaller knits before diving into the next big thing. I’m still ticking away at the current pair of Jaywalker socks, and I reminded myself that for about a year I’ve wanted to knit a bigger version of my Charlotte St. Cowl that I did up a couple of years ago, so I finally decided to do just that.

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I’m doing a ‘medium’ circumference as noted in the pattern modifications, and I’ve got about 800 yards of this nice warm green yarn to work with so I’m thinking about just going for as long as I can possibly stand it, or until the yarn runs out, whichever happens first. Right now as it’s being knitted up it’s in that lace stage of looking like crumpled weeds, but I’m picturing it as a nice fluffy loose cowl to layer up in come September, which will be super.

Hard to believe the weekend is almost here already – my knitting plans are all set, thank goodness! I hope yours are as well. Have you got “big” or “small” projects on your to-do list?

Have a fabulous Thursday knitter friends!

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Pattern: Nice Ribbed Sock (free on Ravelry)
Yarn: Socks That Rock Lightweight, ‘hard rock’ colourway

Pattern: Charlotte St. Cowl
Yarn: Georgian Bay Fibre Co. Fingering weight, ‘tower hill green glass’ colourway

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New Pattern: Fortuna (Cardigan and Pullover)

Happy Friday, knitter friends! I’m pleased after a couple of months of working away at this to be able to share my new sweater pattern with you. Fortuna is currently available on Ravelry and will also be available shortly on Patternfish and Loveknitting. (I’ll update those links as they become active).

Now that it’s done, I love it, will totally be wearing it in the warmer seasons (especially if I go back to spending more time in an air-conditioned office, but also they’re calling for a cooler summer again this year, so one never knows), and even though this pattern started life as a pullover I think I love the cardigan version even more. Hurray for light lacy sweaters!

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The cardigan is shown in Tanis Fiber Arts ‘lucky penny’ colourway, which is just super, and when I went to find buttons these little clover ones were so perfect and exactly the right size I needed, so with the whole luck theme going on the name ‘Fortuna’ stuck. I like it.

This pattern uses fingering weight (or “sock” weight) yarn at 6.5 sts/inch over stockinette, and is shown here in Tanis Fiber Arts Purple Label Cashmere Sock. It’s worked seamlessly from the bottom up with a raglan yoke, and there are options for 3/4-sleeve as well as full sleeve, depending on your preference. And, as mentioned, it comes in both a pullover and cardigan format!

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Both the cardigan and pullover show off a narrow lace panel on the back, and wider lace panel(s) on the front(s), for some nice flair and also breezy comfort. The cardigan is shown with 3/4 sleeves, the pullover with full. I’m really looking forward to having both of these in my wardrobe to reach for as light, casual layers. I’m especially eyeing the pullover as a throw-on-over-jeans layer in the not-quite-fall-not-quite-summer times.

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I hope you like it, dear knitters! It has been fun to work on. And I must say thank you to my friend Lisa for modelling for me, fellow knitters are always so great at that.

I hope you have a fabulous Friday and a great weekend of knitting ahead. Have a great one!

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