Monthly Archives: September 2013

What’s On Your Needles?

So, whatcha working on?  I’m curious.

I’m making a Peggy Sue cardigan.  It’s (hopefully) going to be pretty cute.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a trip to visit my brother in San Francisco, I came across the coolest fabric store I’ve ever seen.  I’ve now forgotten its name and its location, which is super helpful for all of you (and me, if I ever go back).  But, it had a gigantic wall of approximately 1 billion beautiful buttons.  I didn’t have a project going at the time, but I still bought some buttons to use for a future sweater.   Aren’t they the best?


Ooh!  Aah!

Anyhoo, that’s what’s on my needles.  Let me know what’s on your needles (or hook).  If you send me a picture, I’ll even put it up on the blog.

n00b Hat, Part 2: Casting on and the knit stitch

Are you as excited as I am about this project? Doubtful.  Possible, but doubtful.  I am very excited.  One of my favorite things to do is teaching people how to knit, so this is totally up my alley.

So, let’s jump right in and start casting on.  Knitted fabric is made of a whole series of loops that all interlock in a very specific way.  These loops give the finished fabric stretch, which is what makes knitting so awesome for making sweaters, socks, and hats.  The first row of loops is created by casting on.  We’ll be doing a long-tail cast on, since it’s the most versatile way to do a cast on.  (I use it on 90% of all my projects).

Start by measuring out a long tail (duh) that is about 4 times as long as your finished project.  (Since this is a hat, you can wrap your yarn around your head 4 times to estimate your length.)  Then, make a slip knot at the point that you measured.  In this case, you’ll have your ball of yarn on one side of the slip knot, and about 6 or 7 feet of yarn on the other end.  Slip the slip knot on your needle and tighten the loop so that it won’t fall off the needle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, with your non-dominant hand, grab both the ball yarn and the tail yarn with your pinky and ring finger.  Then, slip your thumb and index finger between the two ends of yarn.  Make sure that the tail yarn is the one wrapped around your thumb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUse the point of the needle to slide from the bottom of your thumb to the top, picking up a loop of yarn.  Don’t let the yarn slip off your thumb.  Your pinky and ring fingers should keep tension on your yarn, which can help this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, move the point of the needle over to the tip of your index finger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASlide the point of the needle down your index finger, then down your thumb, too.  This will hook the loop of yarn from your index finger, and pull it through the thumb loop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, here’s the scary part.  Drop the yarn from your left hand.  I promise you won’t loose your work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPull on the yarn tails to snug up your new stitch.  Now you have two stitches!  Huzzah!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd now, you keep going.  Grab the yarn again in your non-dominant hand, with your thumb and index finger between the tail and the ball yarn.  Use the tip of the needle to slide up your thumb, over to your index finger, and back down your thumb, pulling the index finger loop through the thumb loop.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep on going, repeating these steps until you end up with 80 stitches on your needle.  (I know it seems like a lot, but practice makes perfect.  You’ll be burning through them before you know it.)  When you get all 80 stitches, tie up any remaining tail yarn into a little bundle to keep it out of your way.   You won’t do anything else with the tail until you’re done with all the knitting on this project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you get your 80 stitches all cast on?  Awesome!  Now it’s time to really start knitting.  Whenever you knit, you’re going to have the “old” stitches on your left-hand needle, and you will make the new stitches on your right-hand needle. So, that’s how we’re going to start.  Hold your needle with the stitches in your left hand, and your empty needle in your right hand.  Keep your ball of yarn on your right side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre you ready to start your first knit stitch?  Yes!

Insert the point of your right needle into the front of the first stitch, with your yarn held behind your knitting.  (The “front” of your knitting is the side that faces you as you work on it.  The “back” of your knitting is the side that faces away from you.) It should look like this:  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, wrap the yarn around the tip of the right-hand needle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPull that new loop carefully through the old stitch.  This is tricky at first, so keep trying.  If you keep a little tension on your yarn, it makes it easier.  I like to wrap the yarn around my index finger to help keep tension, but if you don’t like that, try holding the yarn between your index an thumb, or wrapping it around your whole hand.  Every knitter holds their yarn a little differently. Find what feels good to you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ve made your new stitch (the loop you just made on your right-hand needle).  Now it’s time to get rid of your old stitch.  To do this, simply slip it off the end of the left-hand needle. Easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ve finished your first stitch!  Congrats!  Now you just need to make approximately 1 billion more.  (Not really.  Although sometimes I wonder about how many stitches there are in a hat, or a sweater or something.  I’ve never actually sat down to do the math.  That would be crazy.)

Knit your second stitch:  Insert your right-hand needle into the front of the next stitch, wrap your yarn around the tip of the needle, pull the new stitch through, and then drop the old stitch off the end of the left-hand needle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo stitches done!  Keep going like this until you reach the end of the row.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you get to the end, swap your needles, so that your empty needle is in your right hand, and your needle with stitches on it is in your left hand.  Then, keep knitting away!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep knitting, switching your needles around at the end of each row, and soon enough you’ll see some awesome squishy fabric start growing off your needles.  (If your stitches aren’t as even as mine, that’s OK.  It adds character!  And, if you think it’s too bad to actually wear, you could frame the finished hat as a piece of modern art or something.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis pattern is called “Garter Stitch.”  It’s made when you knit every single row.  This is the brim of the hat we’re working on.  I worked my garter stitch for about 2 inches.  You can make your garter stitch brim wider or narrower by knitting more or fewer rows.

Next week, we’ll make the body of the hat, and I’ll show you how to work the purl stitch.  Happy knitting!

Inspiration: X-Men First Class

I was flipping channels last night, looking for something to watch, and I came upon X-Men, First Class.  It happened to be starting, and I happened to be in the mood for some good old-fashioned superhero action.

Actually, I was really into the X-men when I was a kid.  I watched the cartoon every day after school for years.  I have nothing against other superheroes, but I always preferred the X-Men.  Maybe it was because they acted as a team, maybe because they included some lady superheroes (which, except Wonder Woman, don’t really exist), or maybe because they did the whole “We fight for justice, even though the whole world hates us” thing, which is pretty much calculated to tug at a pre-teen’s “I feel like a weirdo” heartstrings.

Anyway, the recent X-men movies have been pretty terrible, so I kind of gave up on them for the last few years.  But this was on TV (and therefore free).  So, why not?

Result?  Awesome.  Super good, and it has the feel of the cartoon (not like these new really dark and twisted superhero movies.  Batman, I’m looking at you.).  And, most importantly, it included this hat:


It was worn by the character Moira MacTaggart, who I had never heard of before, and frankly was neither a super compelling nor necessary character.  But she wore a cute hat.  So she’s got that going for her.  It’s a basic (ish) seed stitch beanie knit up with a k1p1 brim in bulky yarn.

Want to release your inner super powers?  Try one of these patterns:

pompon and seeds hat by Carolin Gall


Autumn by Jane Richmond


And, for the little mutants in your life:

Autumn Leftovers by Jane Richmond


Dying Yarn: Ombre

Ombre is a fancy-pants fashion word for a color that changes from dark to light as you go up or down a garment.  You know what I’m talking about , even if my description doesn’t make sense.  Ombre looks like this:


If you want to make an ombre project, like socks or a scarf, you can knit your project out of plain white wool yarn, then dye the finished projects.

(Or, you can start with a “Sock Blank.”  You can buy these from specialty yarn suppliers like Knitpicks.  A sock blank is a piece of stockinet knitting that is worked up with yarn held double.  It’s designed to be dyed, unraveled, and then knit into socks.  If you want to make your own, you totally can.  Just buy a skein of undyed wool sock yarn, hold the ends together, and knit up the whole thing.  Use super big needles so that the process goes quickly, and the fabric is nice and loose (if it’s too tight, the dye won’t take evenly). I’m using a sock blank, but that’s just because it’s what I had on hand.)

OK, so you have your knitted up fabric and your dye in your pot, just like normal.  Soak your knitted item in warm water and heat up your dye.  We’re ready to start dying.

Slooooooowwwwwly lower your sock blank into your dye.


I’m talking tortoise slow, glacier slow, slower than the bus when you’re late for an important meeting.  S.L.O.W.


Lower the project into the dye inch…by…inch.  It should take you several minutes to put the whole thing in the pot.  This gives the bottom of the fabric time to soak up more dye (and become darker), while the top part has less time in the dye (and stays lighter).


Once the whole thing is in the pot, let it hang out in the hot acidic water for a few minutes to set the dye.


Rinse it in fresh warm water and let it hang dry.  (Then, if you’re using a sock blank, unravel it and wrap into two balls of yarn.  Use these two identically dyed balls of yarn to knit up some kickass ombre socks.)


n00b Hat, or Learning to Knit: Part 1

So, I heard that some of you don’t know how to knit (yet).  If you’re interested, let’s fix that.

This is a pattern I created years and years ago.  I was part of my college club the “Knitting Illini” (at the University of Illinois, hence the “Illini”).  We had to teach a new crop of people how to knit every year, and we didn’t want to scare them off with great big scarves, or boring washcloths.  I thought a hat was a fun, useful, and small enough project for new knitters.  And, you end up with a hat at the end of a couple of weeks. Win-win.


It’s a basic beanie with a garter stitch brim.  It’s knit flat and seamed up the back.  It’s pretty much one size fits all, and is super cozy.  I have a couple I’ve made over the years and I wear them all the time.

I’m going to be posting small chunks of the project every Friday for the next couple weeks.  That way you can play along at home.  As you work on the hat you’ll learn how to cast on, knit, purl, decrease and finish a project, skills that constitute about 90% of all knitting.  And, if you keep up, you should end up with a pretty nifty hat by the time truly cold weather kicks in.

“Yes!” you say.  “I want to do this!  What do I need?”

Well, dear reader, you don’t need much:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA-1 skein of worsted weight yarn.  You can go luxurious or cheap, or somewhere in between.  If you want to go the cheap route, Red Heart SuperSaver costs about two bucks and can be found literally everywhere.  If you want to go the luxurious route, find an independent yarn store and ask the clerk to get you something fancy for a worsted weight hat.  May I recommend Malibrigo?

-1 pair of size 8 knitting needles.  Whatever kind you like.  I recommend straight needles for ultra beginners.  Wood or metal, doesn’t matter.

-1 tapestry needle.  I forgot to take a picture of this.  It’s a big sewing needle.  Sometimes they are metal, sometimes they are plastic.  You’ll use this at the very end to finish your hat.

-1 pair of scissors (or really strong teeth, I suppose).  You won’t need these until the very end.


Pattern Spotlight: Weasley Sweaters

I must have mentioned at some point that I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd.  It’s true.  And I’m not one bit ashamed of it.  I’ve probably read through the books at least five or six times.  I even dressed up with my friends to go to the midnight release of one of the last book.  Then we all sat up until dawn reading.  Good times.

One of my nerdier purchases (which is saying something), is my well-used copy of Charmed Knits, by Alison Hansel.  It’s an unofficial Harry Potter knitting book, and it is utterly delightful.


If you’ve read the books, you know that Mrs. Weasley knits sweaters for each of her seven children every Christmas.  And, if you’re a knitter, you know what an undertaking that must be (even with the help of magic!).  It’s one of the ways she demonstrates how much she loves her family and how much pride she takes in protecting them.


In Charmed Knits, Alison Hansel has two patterns.  One pattern is for a full-sized Weasley sweater (with sizes running from toddler all the way up to adult XXL).  The other is for a miniature, Barbie-doll sized sweater.  She suggests bending a bit of wire into a teensy coat hanger to turn your tiny sweater into a Christmas ornament.  (It’s pretty much the most adorable thing ever.)  I’ve made both the full sized sweater (minus the big double-stitched letter on the front; I’m a nerd, but not that much of a nerd) and at least a half dozen mini sweaters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(This is a mini-Weasley sweater I made for my friend Kate’s Harry Potter-themed 29th birthday party.  Also pictured, a felt Mimbulus mimbletonia and a scroll with a magic incantation.  Like I said, I’m a nerd.)

The coolest thing about these two patterns?  They are constructed in exactly the same way.  So, if you’re worried about making your first sweater, why not try knitting up a mini Weasley sweater first, to see how everything fits together before you go?  The two patterns are great beginning sweater patterns; simple, and knit at a largish gauge to make the projects go quickly.

So go find a copy of Charmed Knits, and make your family some sweaters for Christmas.

Inspiration: Sugar Skulls

We won!  We won!  I’m very excited.  You’re probably not super excited (or even know what I’m talking about), but it’s my blog, so I get to talk about what I want.

My roller derby league had their championship bout on Saturday, and my team, the Sugar Skulls, battled for third place (out of four) against the Royal Crush.  I’ve been on the team for about a year and a half, and we’ve never won a game. But this weekend, everything came together so well!  We fought super hard and kicked so much butt.  We ended up beating the Crush by almost 90 points (which is quite a lot).

Here we are yelling… or something… not sure what.1274419_565660210137289_415152936_oI got to jam!  I scored points for the first time ever in a real bout!

1272791_565662013470442_1709690174_oAnd! We even got a trophy.  (Not sure why Karny has it down her shirt, though.)

1209033_496514740438171_535438389_n(Photos by Danny Ngan and N8Zim)

Anyway, I’m super proud of all my teammates.  We all worked our butts off and played so well together.

In celebration of our Skull-y victory, let’s do some skull-y knitting:

Skull Hoodie, by Bernat Design Studio

skullhoodie_2_medium2[1]Los Muertos: Slouchy Day of the Dead Hat for Samhain, by Erssie Major

IMG_8337_medium2[1]Skull Tea Cosies, by Tea Cosy Folk


Lazy Susan Beanie


I love knitting stripes.  Changing colors back and forth keeps my interest, even when making a super simple project like this beanie.  But, as you know, I am utterly lazy.  I absolutely detest stopping my flow of knitting to attach and reattach new balls of yarn.  And weaving in all those thousands of tiny ends at the end of a project is pretty much the worst.    The Lazy Susan Beanie avoids both of these issues by working both colors at the same time, knitting them in a spiral pattern that ends up looking like perfect one-row stripes (get it?  Lazy Susan?  Because it spins and is for lazy people… like me).

Also, this pattern is a great way to experiment with color and dying your own yarn.  I knit the sample with a turquoise variegated yarn and a dark purple/black semi-solid which I dyed using food coloring.  (You can read my posts for more information about dying yarn with food coloring.)  Try using different color combos for different results!

You can get the Lazy Susan Beanie pattern here:

Lazy Susan Beanie

Oh, so that’s who you are

It’s been a week since I put up the post with my demographic questions, and the results are in!

Now, only about 10 people responded, but still!  Very exciting.  That means at least 10 people read my blog (and care enough to fill out a poll), which is about 9 more than I expected.

Anyway, according to the results, you guys (or should I say gals) are all female.   About half of you are in your fifties, but the other half of you are spread out in age from teenagers on up.

Most of you learned to knit in your teens/early adulthood, some earlier, some later.  And a couple of you don’t know how to knit (yet!)!  This surprised me.  We will have to fix that!  (I have a great project for absolute beginner knitters in the works for the next couple weeks.)

Apart from knitting, you guys are a very busy group!  Crochet and sewing are the most popular crafts, but you also enjoy embroidery, quilting, fine art, and spinning.

Very cool!  Thanks to everyone who completed my poll.  I thought it was interesting to see what you guys are up to.alpaca-health-6

(I didn’t know what photo to include for this post, so here are some ridiculously cute alpacas.  You’re welcome)


(Oh, you want me to fill out the poll too?  OK… I’m Female, in my 20s, and I learned to knit when my mom taught me as an itty bitty kid (in second or third grade).   I crochet, sew clothes, love cross stitch, spin my own yarn from time to time and have a quilt I’ve been working on for the past 5 years.)

Lots of Lots

Like I mentioned in my dying posts, it’s really really ridiculously hard to dye two skeins of yarn separately and end up with the same color finished product.  Even for companies who do nothing but dye yarn all day.  Point in case:

WP_20130802_009(Pardon the cell phone pic.  I had to start knitting, so there wasn’t time for finding my camera…waiting for the sun to come out.  Don’t judge me.  I know I have a problem.)

I actually bought these three nano-skeins as a single mini skein. They were the ends of a couple different batches (aka. dye lots) of yarn, supposedly dyed the same way.  See how the one on the right is more olive-y?  See how the left one is greener?  And the one in the middle has a lot more blue in it?  When you buy hand-dyed yarn, you have to expect there will be a bit of variation in dye pattern between dye lots.  (Even mass-produced yarn has some variation between dye lots.)  Sometimes it’s subtle, but sometimes it’s super obvious.

How do you avoid this?  You’ve got two options:

Option 1:  Buy all your yarn from the same dye lot.  Look on the label, and you’ll see information about the color.  The colorway (the color the yarn is supposed to be) will be indicated.  Usually the colorway has a descriptive name (like Heather Gray, or Sunshine Yellow, or whatever), but sometimes it’s a serial number.  It depends on the company.  The dye lot will be indicated by a number.  It’ll be written “Lot:###” or “Dye Lot:###.”  Usually yarn stores will stock mostly one dye lot at a time, but check anyway, just to be sure.

If you can’t find enough skeins of yarn from the same dye lot, you can move on to Option 2:

Stripes.  Lots of stripes.  If you mix your yarn together (changing the yarn you work with every row or two), changes between the dye lots will blend together and become unnoticeable.  If you’re working in the round, think about using my spiral technique from Friday.

This option takes approximately another metric ton of extra work, but if you’re talking about the difference between making a sweater that you will wear for the next ten years, or a sweater you’ll leave sitting in the bottom of your closet, it might be worth it.  Just sayin’.