Posts filed under ‘designs’

The year of knitting from my head

This year I’ve decided to do the majority of my knitting from my own head, without using someone else’s published pattern as a starting point. A good friend heard me proclaim this, and thought I was crazy, what with a dissertation to write and an unfortunate dearth of free time in my life, so asked me to explain my reasoning. She raises some good points, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. Allow me to explain to you all…

Back when I re-learned how to knit in 2003, I didn’t have access to a lot of knitting patterns. I had a couple of booklets from big-box stores, and a few basic patterns I’d bought from yarn stores. So, I knitted a lot of very basic things, and used my knowledge of garment construction (from sewing and crochet) and color relationships to improvise things. The result was, at first, some very basic, often wonky or rectangular things. Eventually I discovered Knitty and some good knitting blogs and pattern repositories, and my eyes were opened. I started cobbling together different parts of patterns to make new and interesting projects. I started charting out designs in cables or colorwork and branch out in the shapes and kinds of things I knitted. Some patterns I altered on purpose, some by happy accident, and some I stayed true to, down to the smallest detail. I invented a fair number of things from scratch, and had to scrap a fair number of them, like the mesh yoga mat bag that was better suited to holding a dozen soccer balls, or the cozy alpaca shawl with dyelot issues that blocked out larger than a bedspread. But some were wonderful, like the iPod holder for wearing under my coat, or my first fair-isle hat, or the satchel with an endless knot worked in cables (which was given away with nary a photo taken). It was this kind of fearless and inventive knitting that got me a job at Stitch House, and which got my heart pumping.


Then, in 2007, after months on a wait list (get offa my lawn!), I joined Ravelry.  And it was awesome. But it also changed the way I knit. All of a sudden, patterns were not just something you could find on one webzine or in a shop. Patterns were fodder for conversation. People would recognize the patterns I knitted, and would complement me on them when they recognized them. I found that people at the yarn shop were more likely to swoon over a nice project that they recognized than one that they didn’t know. And, as a salesperson, it was in my best interest to knit things that customers could find online or in the store and buy yarn for. Saying, “Oh, I’m making it up as I go along” not only sounded strange, but it also didn’t sell any yarn. Soon, I was knitting almost exclusively from other people’s patterns, and preferring “hot” patterns over obscure ones. And it made me a little uneasy. One fantastic thing about other people’s patterns is that you learn how someone else would tackle a problem. And sometimes it’s fun to figure out what they’re doing, and make a judgement call: do I want to do it their way, or do I have a different idea I like better? But if the pattern is clearly-written and well-edited, and you don’t intend to do anything crazy like restructure the shaping or add in many new elements, often following a pattern requires very minimal mental acrobatics. And after a while, I started to miss those acrobatics.

So this year, I’m knitting from my head. I no longer have the pressure from working at a yarn shop, and, like the year in Russia that ignited the spark of my most creative early knitting, I’m knitting to keep sane and happy more than to show off my pretties to others. I’m not saying that I won’t knit anything from a pattern this year, because I’m happy to be carried away by something beautiful. There are a lot of gorgeous patterns in my queue, and I’ll be happy to work on some of them. But I’ve also got a lot of gorgeous ideas in my head. Knitting from my head means taking those ideas, and instead of going to Ravelry to find some close approximation that someone else figured out, it means going to my sketchbook and figuring out what my vision for the project actually is. It means swatching, and calculating, and trial and error. It means stash-down, it means cold-sheep, because I can tailor my projects to my yarn stash and not the other way around. And it means taking more control over my spare time, and using it to feel awesome about myself and the things I do. When I knit from my own head, I’m allowing my own interests to shine, and embracing the puzzles, the tricks, the difficulties. And the beauty in figuring out the solutions to those problems. And the pride of successfully having untangled the Gordian knot.

And, maybe I’ll make some lovely patterns to publish and share with all of you in the process!


March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Best Friends

New Year, new post! Life has been busy, with dissertating and living and all that, but I wanted to show you all what I’ve been working on most recently in the knitting world. Meet Hibou and Étoile, the very best of friends:


Ravelry Project pages: Hibou and Étoile

The inspiration for this charming duo comes from an absolutely adorable YouTube video I stumbled across, of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In it, a cheery owl decides to take an adventure up into the sky, to see what that star is really all about. The star and owl exchange friendly glances, and holding hands, go off on a playful frolic through the clouds. Eventually, realizing that they belong to two different worlds, the star and owl regretfully part, but the implication is that their friendship endures. Or something like that.

What is undeniable is how cute it is. And how absolutely intoxicating it is for my toddler, who would watch it 15 times in a row if you let him. So, for the holidays, I decided I’d make a pair of stuffed animals so that he could have his own starry adventures. I’m incredibly proud of how these came out (especially the owl) and I hope that sometime I get around to writing up a detailed pattern, so that others can have adorable owls too. For now, though, I’m happy to share the basics of construction, which can possible help inspire you to try something similar yourself! A lot of people think that stuffed animals are a lot of sewing up…but these are practically seamless. A little fiddly, yes, but almost no sewing involved.

I started off with the star, because it was the most straightforward in my mind. I’ve made knitted stars before, although my last star was started along the outside, with decreases forming sharp lines along the radii, which was something I wanted to avoid in this star.

For Étoile, I started in the center and worked outward, with lifted increases, to try to minimize the overall visual appearance of the increases. I also decided to have the increases fall along the “armpits” of the star, and then work the peaks separately afterward. So, I cast on 5, joined in the round, and increased in 5 places every single round, alternating left- and right-leaning lifted increases.

When the body of the star seemed big enough, I put it on a holder, and then did the same thing again, so I had two pentagons. Then the fun part. Lining up front and back, with the purl sides together, I worked in the round over 1/5 of the star’s front and 1/5 of the star’s back (from “armpit” to “armpit”). Here, I did double decreases at both sides every other round, to make a “seam” look that would actually be seamless. I did the same thing for each of the points, picking up stitches at the corners to avoid gaps (like you would for glove fingers), until there was just 1 point left.

At this point, I wove in the ends that I could, and stuffed the whole thing. Once stuffed, I decided on the placement of facial features, and used a pair of black glossy safety eyes, backed with a small circle of white felt, to make eyes. The mouth and eyebrows were done with black embroidery floss, and not being an embroiderer, I probably didn’t do this the most efficient or effective way. But, to make the large filled areas for both mouth and eyebrows, first I stitched the outline of the shape I wanted to fill, using 2 plies of floss (I don’t have any pictures of this process, as it was done in hiding and in a rush in the nights before Christmas!). I did the outline in split stitch, and fairly small stitches, to be as secure as I could on the loose knitted fabric. Then, I sort of made up a fill stitch – it’s like satin stitch, except that it’s not flat and it doesn’t totally encircle the fabric it’s worked on – it makes figure-8s between the two rows of split stitches, only on the surface of the knitting. I don’t know what it’s called – do you?

Anyhow, I filled in these shapes, then went to work setting in the eyes, so they’d look more naturalistic and less bug-eyed. To do this, I used 2 plies of the yellow yarn (Cascade 220 SW) and a long soft-sculpture needle, and essentially just sewed the fabric just around/behind the eyes to the stuffing beneath it. I secured off as best I could, finished knitting the last point, stuffed the last bit before finishing, and secured off the final end, tucking it back inside the stuffing to finish.

The owl was trickier. I started with the legs, and made two crown-down “hats”, each with 5 increases every other round. When they were big enough, I joined them together in the round, and worked some short rows to fill in the gaps in the front and back. Pretty quickly, I realized that the owl was a lot fatter than I’d planned him to be, so instead of having his wings come straight out from his body, I decided to do “raglan wings” and have the body gradually taper up to the neck. I had to do some tinkering with this, but it paid off. The front and back were worked flat, and then rejoined in the round for the neck. I did some quick decreases followed by some quick increases to make the neck shaping, and then increased in 8 places every other round to make the bottom of the head, worked even a bit, and then decreased in 8 places every other round to make the top of the head. I finished the crown of the head just like a hat, pulling through the small number of remaining stitches.

For the wings, I picked up stitches around the armholes, and worked even about an inch. Then, I did a centered double decrease at the bottom point every other round for a few inches, and then every round until I ran out of stitches. After finishing one wing, I stuffed him and worked on the face features.

The mask was originally going to be made with commercial felt, but I wasn’t happy with the result, so I knitted an 8-shape out of feltable wool (Knitpicks Bare Worsted), and felted it by hand in my kitchen sink. Doing it this way meant I could stop felting as soon as it was the right shape/size, and then I could wet-block it to shape over a ball overnight so it would lie nicely on the face. I sewed it on with a whipstitch.

The beak was made in two triangles, one slightly larger than the other, sewn together, then stuffed with a tiny bit of polyfill and sewn on over the mask.

The ears are little pyramids, with doubled decreases in 3 places every other round, and sewn onto the head using mattress stitch with a little polyfill stuffing inside. To make the eyebrows, I did a bit of applied crochet – single crochet, double crochet, and triple crochet, filling in the space from the eyes to the tips of the ears.

Eyes were the same safety eyes and white felt as the star’s eyes. I set both eyes into the head the same way as I did for the star, using a length of white yarn.

I knitted the other wing, then did a bit of embroidery on the wings using the knitting yarn, quilting some of the stuffing into wingfeathers, and pinching the wing edge so that it puckers like feathers.

Feet are just little lengths of I-cord, sewn on with the leftover ends from the beginnings of the legs.


I hope I have time someday to write this all up in more detail, with elaborations and numbers, but until that day (should it ever come), I hope someone gets inspired to be adventurous and make something adorable!

January 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Venezia

I can’t remember when I first discovered Venezia. I didn’t yet subscribe to Interweave Knits in 2006, but I did fall HARD for Eunny Jang’s designs that winter, when I was living in Russia and knitting to keep sane, so we’ll imagine it was sometime that year, or maybe in my first year of grad school. I added it to my Ravelry queue in August 2008, so maybe it was then. In any case, when I saw this sweater, in its stranded, blue-green glory, I knew it had to be mine.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 2.01.49 PM

I eventually bought the pattern, and as I set down to look at the chart, I noticed something interesting, nay, disturbing. The pattern had 9 colors – 5 background shades, but also 4 different “white”s.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 2.03.13 PMThat’s sort of crazy, I thought. Couldn’t this just be done with one white, and a nice range of background colors? Maybe with contrasting edging? So I set to work recoloring the chart, in a more reasonable number of hues. Photoshop is my friend for situations like this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 10.52.11 AM  Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 2.06.13 PM

Armed with this new chart, and yardage estimates, I went to WEBS in pursuit of 2-ply Shetland (this is now December 2010). They had cones of Shetland, but not the 50-gram skeins I was hoping to find. They did have Reynold’s Whiskey, however, which came in close-enough colors to my chart. So, I picked up my colors (I had to order the white online), all 16 skeins of it, and then…sat on it for 2 years.

If you’re a knitter, you’ll understand. First, I needed the right needles, and then, when they arrived, I was in the middle of other projects. And then I was busy, and then it was the summer, and who wants to start a big sweater project in the summer. And then, and then…

Part of it, too, was that I was a little scared. This sweater had a lot of knitting in it. And steeks. And the sizing had to be right. And then I probably would want to tweak things. And really, in 2010, I’d only knitted one or two sweaters, despite having made lots of other pretty things. Sweaters sort of fill their own category. So I waited until the time was right. And apparently, the time was right when I had a squirmy baby in the house and was burnt out on lots of other things in my life. The Venezia was reborn.

By then (August 2012), Reynold’s Whiskey had been discontinued, so I had to cross my fingers that I had enough yarn. Word to the wise, overbuy your yarn. Really, just do it. Luckily, I had plenty of everything, and now have extra enough for a little vest or a sweater for JL, but I’d be so sad if I hadn’t.

The modifications to this sweater were many. First, I lengthened the torso of the sweater, and even then it rides a little short, so I ended up ripping out the original turned hem and adding a long ribbing to bring the edge lower. I mix-and-matched sizes, to make a 38″ hip and a 36″ bust, and changed the increase/decrease rate to go with the new length. It was smooth sailing through the sweater body, and the sleeves too, although I did wait about 6 months between the body and (two-at-a-time magic loop, stranded) sleeves, because it was summer and I was tired of all that colorwork.

Then was the fun part. I decided that there were issues with the construction of the original Venezia – the sleeves were too boxy, and I wouldn’t like a boatneck in scratchy shetland wool, all the way up to my collarbone. So, I wanted to substitute in set-in-sleeves, preferably worked in the round with the body seamlessly to avoid issues lining up the colors in seaming, and to make a V- or scoop-neck. Here’s what I came up with:

So, it’s a little messy, but what you see on the right is the shape of the sleeve cap, in the middle are the armscye decreases, and on the left is the V-neck shaping in black, with the scoop neck shaping and the back-of-neck shaping superimposed in blue. I used some sleeve calculators and a pinch of experience/common sense to figure this out, and then stuck to it pretty faithfully in the knitting. Here’s how it knitted up:

Venezia Left Sleeve – bound off across the top.

You’ll see that the top of the sleeve cap doesn’t reach as high as the body does – at a certain point, you need to bind off the top of the sleeves, and continue with a little steek for the top of the armscye. There is also a steek for the neck in the front, and also a tiny steek for the back neck.

Neck steek on left, armscye steek center.

I then did a strange modified incremental three-needle bind-off over the tops of the shoulders. Here’s what it looked like when I finished knitting, before scissors were introduced:

This is the neck opening, with the front facing down.

This is the least like a sweater that it looked, but soon (the next morning), the scissors came out. I crocheted all the steeks, and soon this happened:


Sweater! (see the scissors in the second photo there?) I have to give some credit to my friend Mira, the first person who ever cut a steek in my presence, for making this moment possible.

It took some experimenting to be happy with the hems and neckline, but eventually, it was done, with a nice corrugated ribbing on the sleeves and neck, inspired by Eunny’s Autumn Rose.

All those color changes meant a whole heck of a lot of loose ends on the inside:


I decided that instead of weaving all those ends in, I’d french braid them down the sides. Brilliant! Next time, though, I’ll spit-splice them and not worry about the side seams being a little off, because it’d be pretty near invisible anyway.

Braided arm “seam”

And it was done in time for Rhinebeck! Last year it was too hot for fancy knits, and the year before I was all self-conscious in my Sylvi, but this, this was a Rhinebeck sweater. Perfect.


Playing in the leaves at the Ravelry Meetup, with JL in *his* Rhinebeck sweater.

October 25, 2013 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Heck yeah, socks!

So, I like socks. I like knitting them, wearing them, buying them, fondling sock yarn, the little itty bitty sock needles, all of it. And I love teaching other people how to knit socks, too. The problem is, knitting a sock can take a while. Sure, there are some people who crank out a knitted sock a week (ahem, Yarn Harlot), but the sheer number of stitches on tiny needles can be daunting for a new sock knitter.

For my beginner sock classes, I like to have students work with worsted-weight wool and larger needles, so they can knit up a finished product faster and see their stitches easier, too. Despite the fact that this is a pretty basic project, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the patterns available to me or my students, so I set about writing my own.

This pattern comes in 6 sizes, from a woman’s small through a men’s large (that should fit through a size 13+ shoe, if you’re brave enough to knit socks that big!), and the sizes are color-coded throughout to help you keep track of your project numbers. All the instructions are spelled out with particular clarity in the notes, so even a very beginner knitter can feel comfortable taking on his or her first pair of socks. You should be able to knit and purl and join in the round in order to knit these.

The pattern is for sale on Ravelry for $4 (click “buy now” below), and I hope you check it out! Soon, maybe you’ll be as crazy about knitting socks as I am!


March 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Noro + Malabrigo = ♥

Have you ever wondered what would happen if two of your favorite yarns became one, so to speak? Nabbing the attributes of one and the other to make a more perfect yarn?

I’ve wondered. And so, when my dear Auntie Faith wanted a scarf (in blues and teals and purples), I got to thinking. There was some lovely purple sock yarn around, but it wasn’t distinctive enough. My eyes fell on the Noro Kureyon Sock – fingering weight, 1ply, in lovely, long color runs of blue, purple, green, and magenta.

yummy on its own…

The downsides to Noro? The sock yarn is fine. Would make for a rather insubstantial scarf in the end. Also, it’s scratchy! I’ve been promised that the sock yarn wears beautifully – softens, blooms, etc. But I don’t want to have to “age” my yarn – I want it nice now.

From whence was born a brainstorm. Because I also have a skein of the most luscious 1ply laceweight yarn – Malabrigo. In the striking deep blue colorway of Azul Bolita:

Do you see where I’m going with this? Not yet?

Pattern to follow in the near (?) future!


As the OED has now entered it into common usage, I can say with no pause that I heart this project.

March 27, 2011 at 9:30 am 3 comments

Nose Cozy

I’m not a witch, I’m not a witch! This isn’t my nose, it’s a false one!

This was a fun little knit to compensate for my chilly house. Can be worked in any yarn at any gauge, I used Mountain Colors Worsted on size 4s for a dense fabric, Cascade 220 would be another great choice, but really, the sky’s the limit!


CO 22 sts (or enough to get 3.5″ in your gauge).

Work short rows as follows:

Knit across to last stitch (k21), wrap and turn (see below for notes on wrapping and turning).

Purl across to last stitch (p20), wrap and turn.

Knit across until last stitch before wrapped stitch (k19), wrap and turn.

Purl across until last stitch before wrapped stitch (p18), wrap and turn.

Continue in this manner, working until 1 before the wrapped stitch, and wrap and turn until there is only 1 unwrapped stitch remaining.

The second half:

On next row, work unwrapped stitch, and at the wrapped stitch, pick up the wrap, and work it together with the stitch it wraps. Wrap the next stitch and turn.

Work across until next wrapped stitch, pick up the wrap, work it together with the stitch, wrap and turn.

For all following wrapped stitches, you’ll be picking up 2 wraps and working them together. Continue in this manner until you work through all the stitches. Bind off all stitches, tie on cords to hold your nose cozy on, and you’re all set!

On Wrapping and Turning:

[Full wrap-and-turn tutorial here]

My experience has told me that the best way to do wrap-and-turn short rows is to work up to the stitch that needs wrapping, move the yarn between the needles (frontward if you’ve been knitting, backward if you’ve been purling), slip the stitch to the right needle, and turn the work. When you turn the work around,  put the yarn in “working” position – to the front for purling, to the back for knitting – and slip the stitch from left to right again. This wraps the stitch, and you can see the wrap sitting along the bottom of the stitch’s shank. Notice that the stitch hasn’t been worked, just wrapped.

Some of you may have found instructions that change the order of events depending on which side of the work you’re on, but trust me on this one – wrap, slip, turn, slip. It makes a nice, smooth fabric with no holes.

When working the second half of your short rows, you’ll be picking up the wraps. On the first stitch of each side, you’ll pick up just one wrap, but then you’ll wrap and turn again, leading to double wraps which both need to be picked up and worked with that stitch. When you’re working a wrap on the knit side, pick up the wrap from the front of the fabric from below the wrap. I then put the stitch on the right needle along with the wrap (knit-wise), and pull both wrap and stitch onto my right needle entirely. This allows me to put the left needle into both loops securely (think of the last steps of ssk), and makes knitting them together much simpler.

On the purl side, you’ll want to pick up your wraps from the back of the fabric, from the bottom of the wrap. This can feel awkward, especially when you’re picking up a double-wrap, but persevere! I find Addi Lace and Knitpicks needles, with their sharp tips, to come in handy in these situations. Similarly to the knit side, once I pick up the wrap, I also pick up the stitch to be worked, but I move both pieces to the right needle and re-insert the left before moving on – it makes the execution of the stitch considerably easier.

Next nose cozy I make, I’ll take pictures to make this crystal clear, because my favorite photo tutorial has vanished from teh interwebz! O noes! [Edit: see here for photo tutorial!]

Enjoy your nose cozy in good health!

January 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm 7 comments

Colorwork and Computers

The long-awaited Colorwork and Computers post (promised a month ago, but then life got in the way).

If you, like me, are too cheap to spring for KnitPro or other knitting-specific programs, never fear, you can still go far with the programs you may already have. Marnie MacLean has some very handy tutorials on how to use MS Excel to make colorwork charts and also for creating multi-sized patterns. But, let me explain what it was I really wanted to do, and how it wouldn’t work.

I wanted to make a fair-isle pattern, using 4 or 5 colors, and with only a handful of pattern motifs, but with different variations of where the colors appear. Simple enough. Something like this:

In this case, this is one of the many pattern variations from my Eric’s Hat (ravelry project page – login required), seen here in it’s uneven glory:

You’ll notice this pattern in the lower center there. I wanted to document it, and play with some of the other possible permutations of the design by shuffling the colors around. Marnie’s technique was great for completely altering the color palette, but what if I wanted to rearrange the 4 colors in a different order?

Two variant color schemes

No, you don’t have to resort to Photoshop layers and selective replace (I tried it, and it’s messy. Keep away). Instead, you just need to utilize two features of Excel that come standard – the Scrapbook function (a more intense clipboard), and the color swatch option.

So following Marnie’s advice, we make a spreadsheet, set the blocks nearly square, and make our pattern. For this, we only need to color by hand a small bit, because it’s a repeating pattern.

To color, we use the fill color option on the formatting toolbar. Make note of which colors you use to fill in, as we’ll be fiddling with them later.

Fill in your design with your colors of choice, and using Microsoft’s Scrapbook option (Tools>Scrapbook), copy the pattern piece (select, drag and drop). Then, with that color pallet saved, you can go into Excel’s color settings and start getting groovy.

Go to Excel>Preferences>Color, and find one of the colors you used for your design (they won’t move around, so click on the same box as when coloring in). Click “Modify.”

Now, if you want to use these same 4 colors in a different order later, it will help if you save the color to the small bar on the bottom here. So, click the color from the wide bar at the top, and drag down into one of the smaller cubes on the bottom of the “Modify” menu. It’s now stored. Before doing anything else, click “OK” and do this for all your 4 (or more) colors – saving them to the bottom menu via “Modify”.

Once you’ve done this, the rest is cake. In the Modify screen, just click the color on the bottom that you’d like to trade out for. Green goes to white, blue goes to orange, and so on. Once you’re all swapped, have a look at your image. Your colors should be all different.

Copy this to your Scrapbook, and do it all again.

When you’ve collected a scrapbook full of clips, you can start using them to build your pattern.

Voila. For many instances of fair isle, you’ll probably be content using the “Modify color” feature to swap colors around, so you can see your motif in shades of blue, or green, or red. The same concepts apply, you just don’t need to save the color to the bar at the bottom.

BTW: Having used both Excel and Numbers (Mac), and really wanting the Numbers to work, I found that it just doesn’t have the same functionality. Microsoft has us this time…

And one last note about fair isle theory, while we’re talking colors. It’s not just the hue that makes colors stand out against one another; it’s density as well. A bright fuchsia might look nothing like that lime green in “color”, but in fair isle they’re just not going to make a great contrast. The great Eunny Jang once mentioned using a black and white photocopier on your design – if you desaturate the pattern , by making it black and white, and the contrast still shows, you’re golden. If the b&w version looks muddy, you’re in trouble.

With computers, though, this becomes even simpler. Why go through the trouble of knitting a swatch of these colors and finding a copier, when you can just as easily print your charts out in grayscale? Or, even better, just desaturate the image using a graphics program. Like this:

Look at how little contrast remains between the green and orange! For this, I just copied the cells into Preview, and in the “adjust color” tool, took the Saturation slider all the way to the left, down to zero.

When desaturating the picture of the original, we see that the contrast is a little better, but not much:

For reference, the band is orange, the dark stitches blue, and the middle green – they start to blend in.

Hope this gives some food for thought when playing with colors and computers! There’s a lot you can do!

August 2, 2010 at 10:00 am 1 comment

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