Monthly Archives: April 2013


Swatches are lame. And dumb. And I don’t like doing them. But I do them. Because you have to. They are important. Like vegetables. Or doing sit-ups.

I get it; you’re all excited for your project to start. You got out your really cool knitting bag, and you have your lovely new yarn next to you, and those great new Addi Turbos, and you’re just itching to jump in and start knitting up that fantastic new sweater.

Making a gauge swatch is like measuring twice and cutting once (didn’t your teacher/dad/grandpa/random authority figure ever say that to you? OK… Just me). Without the proper gauge, your super beautiful, complicated cabled sweater is going to end up fitting your kid sister, or being too big for Shaquile O’Neil. And that would be sad. Making a gauge swatch is quick (ish) and painless (or at least more painless than having to tear out an entire sweater after you finished).

Cast on enough stitches so that you have about 4 inches of knitting.

Knit in the pattern called for in your pattern. For example, if the gauge says “4 sts/in in garter stitch”, knit in garter stitch. If the pattern says “7 sts/inch in lace pattern #1”, knit lace pattern #1. Work the gauge until it is roughly square. Bind off loosely, or transfer the live stitches to a piece of scrap yarn.


(For some reason I decided to be fancy and add a seed stitch border to this swatch.  This just adds more work, but if that’s what you want to do, I won’t stop you.)


Once you have the squareish swatch, lay it out flat. People who actually are good at this stuff say to wash and block the swatch the way that you will treat the final product. That is too much effort for me. Yes, doing that will give you a more exact result, but I don’t wanna. *pout* I just give the swatch a couple tugs in either direction to make the stitches sit nicely, and lay the square out flat on a table, couch cushion, or my leg. If the swatch is being particularly squirrely and trying to roll up, I might throw a couple pins in the edges to hold it flat, but not pull it too tightly (Pin it to the couch cushion… not your leg).

Then using a ruler, tape measure or gauge counter, I’ll measure three or four spots in the middle of the swatch, and see how many stitches will fall in an inch. If I get different numbers of stitches, I’ll average them out to get my working gauge.


(See how there are 5 stitches  for every inch?  I even marked some of them for you.  This swatch has a gauge of 5 sts/inch.)

If you’re swatching a pattern (like a lace or some sort of fancy-pants ribbing) you’ll do things a little differently. Instead of counting how many stitches in an inch, you’ll count how wide a single repeat is. Since you know how many stitches are in a repeat, you can use that to get a gauge.  For example, a lace pattern takes 15 stitches and is 2 inches wide. Then, your gauge is 15sts/2inches, or 7.5 sts/in.

So now you have your gauge. Is it right for your pattern? If the gauge is too big for the pattern (a lower number than the pattern’s gauge), go down a needle size or two to get the right gauge. If the gauge is too fine for the pattern (a higher number than the pattern’s gauge), go up a size or two, and try making the swatch again.

I know… it feels like busy work, but it’s totally worth it.

Actually, it is the size of the boat that matters

Gauge is a tricky concept to talk about, because it’s kind of abstract, but it’s not a tricky concept to understand. Gauge really means the size of the stitches of the knitting that you are producing. It’s usually measured in stitches per inch (for example, if you see a ball of yarn that says “4 sts/in” on the label, that means that the yarn manufacturer thinks that the yarn works best at 4 stitches per inch).

Gauge can play a HUGE role in how a project turns out. For example take a look at these two hats:


These hats are (I kid you not) exactally the same. They were both made with the Chunky Hat pattern that I posted Wednesday. The only thing I did was change the yarn and needles to change the gauge. The blue hat was knit at a gauge of about 2 stitches per inch, the red hat was knit at a gauge of about 8 stitches per inch.

So how do you get different gauges? You change two variables. Your yarn and your needles. First pick a yarn that will get you close to your gauge (by looking at the label on the yarn package you can get a rough estimate of your expected gauge). Then, through trial and error, try different needles to get your desired gauge (again the yarn label will suggest a needle for you to use).

The yarn you use will dictate (to a point) what needles you can use. For example, the bulky blue yarn is super thick, so you could probably use needles from about a 10 to about a 15. 15s are going to give you a loosely knit (large gauge) fabric, and 10s are going to give you really dense fabric with a tighter gauge.  If you tried to use smaller needles (like 5s or 3s), you’d have almost no chance of being able to knit, since the needles would be so much smaller.

Pattern: Super Hat

Looking for a super-quick hat to knit up?  Who isn’t at the end of April?

This hat is made with super-chunky yarn to knit up super-fast.  The finished product is super-warm for the coldest parts of winter.  It’s knitted flat, which makes it great for super-beginner knitters who are afraid of knitting in the round.  The ribbing is worked super-long  to give a nice flipped-up brim.  Super!

(I think I need a thesaurus.)

If you’re looking for a child-sized hat, use worsted-weight yarn and medium-sized needles.  If you want a doll-sized hat, use sock yarn and matching needles.


Person-sized hat:

1 Skein Lion Brand Bulky Yarn or other super bulky yarn

Size 13 needles, or size needed to get gauge

Doll-sized hat:

A small amount of Mini Mochi, or other sock yarn

Size 2 needles, or size needed to get gauge

Scissors, tapestry needle


Person-sized hat: 2.5 sts/in

Doll-sized hat: 8.5 sts/in


Cast on 10 stitches, work back and forth as follows:

  • Row 1 (and all other odd-numbered rows): Purl
  • Row 2: K1, (K1, inc 1) 8 times, K 1 (18 sts)
  • Row 4: K1 (K2, inc 1) 8 times, K 1 (26 sts)
  • Row 6: K1 (K3, inc 1) 8 times, K 1 (34 sts)
  • Row 8: K across
  • Row 10: K1 (K4, inc 1) 8 times, K 1 Row (42 sts)
  • 12: K across
  • Row 14: K1 (K5, inc 1) 8 times, K 1 (50 sts)

Work in stockinet stitch for 15 more rows (ending with a wrong side row).

Begin ribbed brim as follow for 20 rows as follows:

  • Row 1 (and all odd-numbered rows): P2 (K2, P2) across
  • Row 2 (and all even-numbered rows): K2 (P2, K2) across
  • Bind off and cut yarn with a nice long tail.

Using the tail from the cast-on edge, sew up the crown of the hat, making sure the seam is on the inside (the purl side). Don’t forget to close up the hole at the top of the hat, too! Hide the end of your yarn in the inside of the hat, and cut off any extra yarn.

Using the tail from the bound-off (brim) end of the hat, sew up the brim, making sure the seam is on the outside of the hat. This seems weird and backward, but since this hat is designed with a fold-up brim, the outside of the hat is actually hidden when the hat is worn.  Sew in the tail and cut the yarn, making sure the remaining tail is on the inside of the hat.

From the Back of a Galloping Jackass

I am a total perfectionist.  Guilty.

“But wait,” you say.  “I’ve seen typos and mistakes on this blog, and that one post has the wrong pictures, and I’m pretty sure that the third sentence in the second paragraph in your fifth post used the subjunctive mood where you should have used the indicative.”

To which I say,  “Oh crap, let me go back and fix that.”

When it comes to knitting, I’m even worse.  I am merciless with my knitting.  I’ll unravel an entire sweater if I don’t like how a cast-on edge is laying.  It drives my husband nuts.  He’ll shudder and yell “No!” when he sees me start to frog* a project.  But, if I know a project is so messed up, ill-fitting, or just plain wrong to wear on a regular basis, I have no trouble ripping up a project and re-knitting it until it’s perfect.

I do have a rule about when it is necessary to frog a project, though (although if you ask my husband, he’d probably say that I can’t finish a project without ripping it out at least once).  This gem of wisdom was given to me by a little old German lady who owned the knitting shop near my college campus, and I still use it today:

   “If it can’t be seen from the back of a galloping jackass, you don’t need to fix it.”

-Brigitte (I forgot her last name) circa 2008

Practically, this means that if the mistake isn’t big, doesn’t affect the overall fit of the garment, or falls outside of the most visible areas of the garment (for example, in the armpit of a sweater), you can leave the mistake be.

Unless you are dumb and a perfectionist like me.



*Frog-knitterspeak for unraveling a piece of knitting, because you “rrrip-it, rrrip-it.”  A dumb term, but don’t blame me.  I didn’t make it up.

Inspiration: Castle

I’ll admit it, like most people who watch Castle, it took me a couple years before I really started to get into the show.  The real reason I started watching it was because Firefly had been canceled (so sad), and I wanted to watch something with my favorite space-cowboy-pirate in it.  Nathan Fillion doesn’t play the same character, but this did happen in season two, and it’s pretty delightful:

But, I suppose you came here for the knitwear, so here you go:



Super cute, right?  It’s a pullover with set-in sleeves and a hood (I think, though it might be a sailor collar.  Would you believe that she doesn’t turn around the whole episode?  Seriously infuriating.), and a great chunky cable running up the front.   The cable up the front is actually made of two smaller cables that mirror one another, then when it reaches the hood, the cables split and continue up the hood, which looks pretty cool. And, while this is clearly a store-bought sweater, you could make one yourself pretty easily.  Here are a couple sweaters with similar shapes:

Mountain V-Neck Sweater by Kathy Cea (This is the right cable, but the sweater shape is perhaps better suited for a man)

Bitter End by Kayla Dyches

Granville by Fiona Ellis

Spheroid and Oblong

So, now you know about the Toy Society, eyeballs and I-cord.  What to do with your new knowledge?  How about making a cute, round(ish) little creature to brighten someone’s day?

I like making these little guys with sock yarn on tiny little needles.  That way they can ride around in a pocket or purse.  But, using bulky yarn and larger needles, you’ll end up with a bigger, more huggable critter.

Feel free to play around with the shape of your Spheroid, too.  Adding more even knit rows between the increase and decrease rows will make your guy more oblong.  Removing the knit rows will make him more UFO-shaped.

Remember, if you’re making this little guy for a kid under the age of 3 (or anyone who is dumb enough to eat buttons) forgo button or beaded eyes.  Safety eyes, while they’re safer than buttons, are still not 100% for little kids.


A few yards of scrap sock yarn.  A ball about the size of a Ping-Pong ball should be plenty.

Size 2 double-pointed needles

Polyfill or wool roving for stuffing

Safety eyes, buttons, beads, or contrasting-color thread for the face

Scissors and a tapestry needle


7 sts/inch, but it really really doesn’t matter



Cast on 8 stitches, and join to work in the round

1. k

2. [k1, inc 1] around(16 stitches)

3. k

4. [k2, inc 1] around(24 stitches)

5 and 6.  k

7. [k3, inc 1] around(32 stitches)

8-10. k

11. [k4, inc 1] around(40 stitches)

12-15. k

16. [k3 k2tog] around(32 stitches)

17-19. k

20. [k2 k2tog] around (24 stitches)

21-22. k

23. [k1, k2tog] around(16 stitches)

24. k

25. [k2tog] around (8 stitches)

Cut a 1 foot long tail.   Using the tapestry needle, pull the tail through the loops.  If you’re using safety eyes, add them now.  Stuff the body, and close up the top.


Complete rows 1-7 of Spheroid.

Knit 20 rows even.

Complete rows 20-25 of Spheroid.

Cut a 1 foot long tail.   Using the tapestry needle, pull the tail through the loops.  If you’re using safety eyes, add them now.  Stuff the body, and close up the top.


Using double-pointed needles, cast on 3 stitches, leaving a 1-foot tail.  Work as an I-cord for 8 rows.  Cut a 1 foot tail, and use your tapestry needle to pull the tail through the loops, and tie a knot so the leg doesn’t unravel.  Hide the end of the tail in the middle of the limb and trim.  Leave the cast-on tail to use to sew the limb to the body.

Repeat until you have enough limbs.  (Usually this is 4.  But, if you want to make an octopus, 8 would be more appropriate.  Or of you wanted to add antennae, you should make 6)

When you have enough limbs, carefully sew them onto the body, using the remaining cast-on tails.  Weave in the ends and trim.  Hide the ends in the body of your little guy.

If you haven’t already added a face, do so now.



Maybe you’re not too good with a needle and thread… Maybe you prefer your knit toys to have big old buggy eyes… Maybe you just aren’t a fan of how embroidered faces look.  No sweat.  Try safety eyes!

They’re super easy to use, and (in my opinion) the most professional-looking than buttons or beads.  Technically they are safe (hence the name) for younger children, but I’d still be careful if you give them to itty bitty kids  who like to chew on things.

They come in two parts: the eye, and the backing.



Figure out where you want your eye, and push the eye shaft through your knitting.  (Make sure you do this before you close up and stuff your critter.)



Slide the backing on to the post, and use your muscles to push it all the way down.  They’re sometimes hard to get all the way on, but they’ll go eventually.  Be really really sure that you like where your eyes are placed before putting on the backing, because they are almost impossible to remove once they are attached.





Safety eyes are carried at most chain craft stores, but you can find a more extensive selection on Etsy and other online retailers.



Now, go fourth and give things eyeballs.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m being watched or something.  Eep!


Face it

You have spent hours and hours and hours working on a teddy bear, doll or other plushie, and you are just about done, when you realize it doesn’t have a face.   While a faceless doll can be cute on occasion (although they are usually creepy), you probably at least want some eyes.  You have a couple options, but the easiest is usually an embroidered face.

If you are making your plushie for kids under 3, animals, or particularly dumb adults, embroidered faces are best, sinc there is nothing for them to swallow or choke on.  Using an eye-colored yarn or embroidery floss, sew through the back of the head, make a stitch or two for each eye, and sew back through the back of the head.  If your doll has hair or a hat, it the ends will be hidden.  If you don’t have hair, try making a tiny little knot at the back of the head, and then burry the tail in the head, trimming off any excess yarn.  stitched eyes can be very expressive:







All of these faces were made with these super simple stitches:

French Knots

Running Stitch

Now, go fourth and give things faces.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m being watched or something.  Eep!


When I first learned about I-cord, I was told that the name was short for “Idiot-Cord.”   Supposedly it has this name because the first person who made I-cord did it on accident because she was an “idiot” who forgot to flip her knitting around when she started a new row.  I think this is kind of mean.   Especially since I-cord is super fun to make, useful, and more than a little ingenious.  Maybe we’ll pretend the “I” stands for ingenious.

So, what is I-cord?  It’s a very thin tube of knitting.  It can be used as a tie or drawstring, and back in ‘ye olden times’ was used to make shoelaces before they were commercially available.  I-cord is knit in the round, but on two needles, which makes it super easy to make.  If you can knit a garter stitch swatch, you can make an I-cord.

Here’s how you do it:

Using double-pointed needles, cast on 3-4 stitches (you could cast on more stitches if you want a thicker cord, but I-cords with more than 4 stitches end up a bit wonky looking).


Usually at this point, you’d flip your knitting, so that the working yarn is on the right.  But, since we’re making an I-cord, we’ll do something a little different.  It’ll feel a little weird at first, but it’ll work, I promise.

Without flipping your knitting around, slide your stitches to the right hand end of the needle.  The working yarn should be coming off the left side of your knitting.  Take the needle with your stitches on it in your left hand, and your empty needle in your right hand.  Knit across.



Do the same thing again.  Slide you knitting to the right end of the needle, and knit all stitches.  Repeat ad nauseum, making sure not to flip your knitting between rows.


See how your knitting is turning into a little tube? That’s an I-cord!  Give the I-cord a little tug after every couple rows to settle the stitches into a nice even cord.



Keep going until your I-cord is as long as you want it to be, and then finish by either binding off, or sewing your tail through your active loops (like you do at the top of a hat).



Now, don’t you feel ingenious?


Inspiration: The Toy Society

The Toy Society

Imagine you’re walking down the street, and you spot a little package hanging from a tree, or sitting on a bench.  “How odd,” you think, going over to investigate.  You pick up the package, and notice it’s a precious little hand-made stuffed animal.  “Oh no!” you think, “Some little kid’s lost their toy!”  But then you read the note attached to the package, and you realize that someone’s put this toy here so that it can be found and adopted into a loving home.

How cool is that?  Very cool, in my opinion.  The Toy Society is a loose association of crafters across the world that does just that.  Visit their website and take a look at what they do.  I’ve made several plushies and dolls for the Toy Society and left them around here and there for people to find them.

Want to try your hand at a random act of toy?  Try one of these delightfully simple projects:

Gnome Baby by Tonya Gunn

Elefante by Susan B. Anderson

Anything Animals by Rachel Borello Carroll