Monthly Archives: March 2014

With a Bow on Top

It seems like everyone I know is having a birthday this month.  (Except for me.  Wah wah.)  And a rash of birthdays means one thing for knitters like me and you; lots of gift knitting.  My go-to knit gift for anyone over the age of 15 is a pair of hand-knit socks.  They’re (relatively) quick, small enough that you don’t have to spend your entire food budget on the yarn, and totally customizable.   And, of course, they’re fun to make, and always well-received.

Now, you could just wrap up your socks in wrapping paper, or stuff them in a gift bag, but where’s the DIY spirit in that?

My favorite way to package hand knit socks is in one of those little half-pint berry containers that you get from the grocery store.  Have you ever realized that they’re the perfect size to fit a pair of socks*.  These are made from recycled paper, but you can find plastic ones, too, sometimes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI roll up a pair of socks, and put them in the berry container, and take a little bit of pretty contrasting ribbon or yarn and tie a nice bow.  It’s that easy to make a perfect little gift charming enough that even Martha Stewart would approve.


*They would fit a pair of mittens, a hat, washcloth or other small accessory well, too.  I just have a thing for socks.


I am convinced that every knitter is a bit of a pack-rat.  Or at least has some pack-rat-ish tenancies.  I catch myself doing it all the time, and have to consciously make myself stop it when I go to far.

I’m not talking about buying more yarn than you could ever knit (which would be a problem, but I’m not convinced that it is possible.  At least, I haven’t reached a critical mass of unknit skeins yet).  I’m talking about those little bits of leftover yarn that you end up with at the end of every project that you are sure you can use for something else.  You can’t just throw away 50 feet of merino hand-spun.  That would be heresy!

So, when those little bits of yarn get ready to overflow your craft bin/closet/room, what to do?

I organize my scraps by weight (worsted together, sock yarn together, etc), then i pick a project.

I am a big fan of scrappy afghans to use up my little leftover bits.  My Call the Midwife-inspired blanket sits on my couch, and used up approximately a metric ton of sock yarn scraps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m in the midst of making a great big Yo Yo Lapghan with all my worsted weight scraps.  I can make a handful of yo-yos during a rerun of Law and Order.  And, once I have about 2000 (no joke… they’re pretty small), I’ll crochet them together.  I like this pattern especially because, even though I’m making thousands of little circles, if you do it right, you have no ends to weave in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother afghan that people are going head over heels for is the Beekeeper’s quilt.  I’ve never made one; I think knitting that much at such a tiny gauge without ending up with a pair of socks (or ten) would give me an aneurism, but if that’s your jam, I say: Go for it!  It looks like a super cozy blanket when it’s done.DSC_0518_medium2[1]Don’t want to make a blanket?  Think about stripes.  Match up your scraps of a similar weight, and make a cool abstract striped sweater, or a pair of fraternal twin socks.

Whatever you do, just don’t let the yarn just languish on your shelf.  Yarn is for knitting (and crocheting) and keeping you cozy and warm, so let it do what it wants to do!

Inspiration: Spring!

It’s official!  As of last Thursday, it’s spring!  And here in the PNW, it’s just gorgeous!  (Sorry to those of you in the Great White North still dealing with snow and cold.  You might want to skip this post.  I don’t want to make you jealous.)

The flowers here are just starting to bloom and we’re getting some beautiful warm spring days.  I’m having a great time exploring our new garden (we moved to a new house in the fall) and finding gorgeous spring flowers as they make their appearance.

In honor of these flowers, I thought we could do some spring flower-inspired knitting.

Tiny little snowdrops were the first to bloom:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnowdrop Beret by Marya Speton

3440218173_2e11349f2c_z[1]Hellebore are subtle and gorgeous.  They remind me of an old, overgrown forest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA151-30 Hellebore – Jacket in seed st in Andes and Fabel by DROPS design

30-2_medium2[1]We have a handful of daffodils just starting to open:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADaffodil by Martin Storey

Daffodil_back_medium2[1]And camellia bushes are covered with fluffy, cheerful flowers:


6305-cover_medium2[1]Our cherry tree (which I’m sure I will be cursing come fall when I have to clean up all the dropped cherries) is just beautiful and smells even better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABaby Cherry Blossom by Sarah Franklin

sweater_baby_cherry_blossom_medium[1]What’s spring look like in your neck of the woods?

All Twisted Up: Dealing With Skeins

Let’s talk about skeins. This is a skein:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes yarn is sold in skeins (instead of pre-wound balls).  Skeins are looser than balls, which allows you to see the texture and color of the yarn more accurately.  It’s also less work for the dyers and spinners, so often if you find fancy-pants yarn from some small fiber company, it’ll be sold in a skein.

But, skeins are a pain in the butt for knitters.  You get home from the yarn store with your brand-new purchase, and instead of starting to knit right away, you have to spend a half hour rolling the yarn into a ball first.  Infuriating!

But, have no fear.  Skeins are easily dealt with, as long as you exercise a little patience.

First, unloop the ends of the skein from one another.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen carefully tease apart the skein until it lays nicely in a big ring, being sure to keep the strands from tangling.  I like to do this step on the floor to give myself plenty of space to work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADepending on the brand of yarn, the skein will be held together by one or more (usually between 2 and 4) bits of scrap yarn.  You can cut or untie the scrap yarn, whichever is less scary to you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, I to loop the whole skein over the back of a chair, my knees, or around my husband’s hands (if he’s in a helpful mood).  This will keep the big loop of yarn from tangling as I roll it into a ball.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Go slowly and be patient, and if something weird happens (like loops of yarn start flying around) stop immediately and put the loops back around the chair.  If you start getting a tangle, if you keep going it will only get worse.

Next week we’ll talk about how to roll yarn into the perfect ball.

**And a note on Swifts:  If you are a moneybags, there is a tool called a yarn swift that is specifically designed to hold your skein of yarn (instead of a chair back) while you wind it into a ball.  Some people swear by them, but I have never had an extra $65 to spend on a swift (not when I could buy yarn instead!)

And This Is How I Did It

Wednesday, I talked about a sweater I made for my grandfather, based off one that his mother made for him decades ago.

I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I combined a couple patterns, added my own details to create this customized sweater, and went from an idea to a finished product.

I started with the description my Grandfather gave me, “A brown and blue sweater with deer on it.”  From there I guessed that he meant an old-school ski sweater with some sort of color work pattern on the front and back.

235792[1]I looked at patterns for ski sweaters, and none of them were quite right.  They were either too fancy (too many colors or too fussy-looking), or more formal than I knew my grandfather would like to wear (he is a hunting, fishing, outdoors-y type).

Instead, I decided to start with a very simple pattern that I had used before, and modify it to my liking.  I picked the Weasley Sweater by Alison Hansel.  It’s a simple and easy drop-shoulder sweater that comes in a million sizes from infant to grown-up.  I’ve knit a couple sweaters from the pattern before, and they have all turned out really well.  (And the pattern is available for free!)1116161018_78043aab2b_z[1]

The only thing that I don’t care for with the Weasley Sweater is the rolled hem and collar.  Instead, I knit a k2p2 rib for the bottom, and a k2p2 crew collar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, instead of working the whole shebang in plain brown, I added a stripe of blue just above the cuffs and hem.  Adding a little bit of color work at cuffs and hem is a very “ski sweater” thing to do, and a stripe is the simplest color work you can do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy next problem was the deer motif that I had to put on the chest.  I looked at a lot of patterns, and finally decided to use the deer motif from the His & Hers Reindeer Jackets from Patons.  I originally planned to work the deer using the intarsia technique, but then I decided that I wasn’t insane.  (Intarsia and I don’t get along very well.)

Deer_Sweater_-_front_medium[1]Instead, I knit up the whole sweater in plain brown (except for the blue stripes at cuffs, hem, and the edges of the chest panel), and used the duplicate stitch to add the deer after once the knitting was done.  It took approximately 100 years to finish the deer (not really), but I think it was worth it.  Because the whole chest panel is knit plain, the sweater is stronger than it would have been if I had worked the deer in intarsia (and I think it looks better, too).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, with a couple different patterns, some planning, a little futzing, and inspiration from the ghost of my great-grandmother, I think I managed to make exactly the sweater that my grandpa was looking for.


Inter-generational Knitting

Over Christmas, I got to visit my grandparents in The Great White North (aka, Wisconsin).  In between blizzards, I chatted with my grandfather, and we started talking about his mother (my grandmother).  She was an amazing woman and an extremely accomplished knitter.  She was actually buried with her blue ribbon that she won at the Wisconsin State Fair. Pretty impressive, right?

In the process of our conversation, my grandfather mentioned that his mother made him a sweater when he was younger.  He had loved it, but it had somehow gotten lost over the last 50+ years.  She had designed it especially for him, in brown and blue, and had put deer on the front and back, since he is an avid deer hunter.

The conversation stuck with me (since I am apparently very sentimental), and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was sad that the sweater had been lost.  It kept bugging me until I decided that I had to try and recreate the lost sweater.

I don’t have a photograph of the original sweater, but I knew that it was a sweater made for my grandpa in the fifties (or so).  I imagined it would have been a sort of traditional Norwegian ski sweater, the kind that you see on vintage postcards from Colorado.   And, I knew that it was blue and brown.

So I just guessed the rest of the way and came up with this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m sure it’s not an exact replica, but I think it turned out pretty well.   My grandpa loves it, and that’s what matters.  I hope I did my great-grandmother proud.

Inspiration: Aran Knitting

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and instead of drinking (virtual) green beer and wearing obnoxious glittery green shamrock jewelry, let’s talk about something that’s more traditionally Irish (and way less racist).

partypatty[1]Aran Sweaters are gorgeous and so cozy.  They are traditionally made on the Aran Islands, located off the west coast of Ireland.  And with most traditional crafts, they live in a fog of tradition and old wives’ tales.   Supposedly, they were supposedly knitted in untreated wool for fishermen by their wives.  They left the lanolin on the wool to add an extra water-proofing layer.  (I suppose this makes sense, but can you imagine the stink of a fishing boat full of people in unwashed wool sweaters?  Ugh!)

Some people say that families (or individual knitters) each had traditional motifs that they would use on each sweater.  I’m sure there’s some truth to this.  Everyone has patterns they gravitate to and patterns they can’t stomach.  But, as a knitter who gets bored when she has to make a second sock, I can’t imagine that someone would tie them self to making sweaters with the same pattern over and over forever.

My favorite piece of lore surrounding the Aran sweater is the idea that each motif has a symbolic meaning.  I don’t know how true it is, but it’s a great thought.  The traditional honeycomb pattern  means “hard work”, cables mean “safety,” and diamonds mean “prosperity.”  It’s like the sweater is a good luck charm for your family member to wear, which is an idea I really like.

Want to try your hand at Aran knitting?  Here are a couple (more or less traditional) patterns:

Staghorn Aran Second Edition by Janet Szabo

5280327608_aa0025b2ac_z[1]Baby Poonam by Norah Gaughan

baby_poonan_lg_medium[1]Aran Felted Hot Water Bottle by Ann Budd


Pattern Spotlight: the Pi Shawl

Happy Pi day!  (In America, anyway March 14th (3/14) is Pi day.)  Let’s celebrate by eating pie and talking about Elizabeth Zimmerman’s super nifty pattern, the Pi Shawl.

This pattern (or un-pattern, since, like most of EZ’s patterns this one is more of a guideline or than written out instructions) is available in several of her books, but it was originally published in the Knitter’s Almanac.  Hey look!  There’s the Pi shawl right on the cover.

Elizabeth-Zimmermann-s-Knitter-s-Almanac-9780486241784The Pi shawl is a circular shawl knit in the round from the center out (so it’s great if you hate casting on.  Less great if you hate binding off).   It’s based on the relationship between circumference and diameter, so that every time you double your rows, you double the number of stitches by working a row of (knit 1, yo) increases.  So, all the shaping happens in only a handful of rows, which means that the rest of the shawl can be used for adding whatever lace, stripes, or whatever else you want.  It’s a great way to play around with new stitch patterns, or to try out a lace stitch that’s been bouncing around in your head.

You can go lacy and delicate with thin lace yarn and openwork designs.

2005150285_6c0618787c_z[1]You can do stripes and simple eyelets.PICT0342_medium2[1]You could even make a cozy round blanket with thick wooly yarn.

photo_1__medium2[1]Happy Pi Day!

Pattern: Sunday Morning Slipper Socks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPour yourself a cup of tea, pull out a favorite book, and slip on these thick and cozy socks for the perfect lazy Sunday morning.  Delicate lace flows from the leg to the top of the foot, making these super-warm slippers surprisingly girly and flattering.  They’re thick enough to be extra-cozy, but thin enough to leave on when you slip on your clogs and run to the store for some fresh doughnuts.  Worked in wooly DK-weight yarn and larger-than-normal needles, these socks knit up in a snap, so you have time to make a pair for yourself, your mother, your sister and your best friend.

See the pattern details on Ravelry.

Or, get the pattern here for $3: 


Finishing and Felting

Finishing a project properly makes the difference between a “thing I just knit” and an “heirloom-quality hand-knit”.   If you’re knitting up something with a “right side” and a “wrong side” (like a sweater or socks) weaving in the ends is perfectly adequate.  With these garments you can just let your little ends dangle inside, and no one will know or care.  But what about when you make something without a wrong side?  For instance, a shawl or a scarf?

That’s where I deploy this little torture device:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s my needle felter.  Look closely.  See those razor-sharp little needles with tiny little skin-ripping barbs?  Terrifying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese little puppies cost about $10 and are available at most craft stores or online.  They are used to do (duh) needle felting.  But they are awesome at dealing with knitted ends.

Hey, look!  I have an example end that I want to hide.  I wove it in like normal, and then trimmed it to about 1 inch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll you do is hold that sucker against your knitting and poke it with your needle-felting tool.  I like arranging the end in such a way that it “disappears” into the pattern.  For example, into the trough of a patch of garter stitch, or (like here) up along a column of  ribbing stitches.  Once you have the tail where you want, poke it a couple times with the needle-felting tool. (Carefully!  Don’t stab your fingers!)  Those little barbs on the needles will catch the fibers in the tail and tangle them with the fibers in the knitting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter poking the tail a handful of times, you’ll see your tail virtually disappear!  Isn’t that cool!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are two tiny caveats for this technique, though.  First, it really only works on yarns made with natural animal fibers, since it is a variation of felting.  Acrylics, cottons and linens don’t have the right fiber structure to let the felting alchemy take place.  And second, don’t felt it too much.  The more you poke the tail with the needle-felter, the more fibers get pushed out the other side of the fabric, which can leave you with a fuzzy backside.  And no one wants a fuzzy backside.