I'm stop number four on Kate Atherley's blog tour for her new book, Beyond Knit and Purl. She's kindly agreed to do an interview with me and has offered up a free digital download of her book to one of my readers. If you'd like a chance at winning a copy, leave me a comment telling me about your most epic crafting or cooking disaster. Enter by 5:00AM April 19, 2012 and I'll draw one name at random.

Now on to the interview.


Marnie MacLean [MM]: Hi Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview with me.

Kate Atherley [KA]: Thrilled to talk to you!

MM: For my readers who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about yourself?

KA: I'm a teacher, a designer and a tech editor. I was born in the UK, but I live in Toronto. I'm lucky enough to live less than 2 blocks from my local yarn shop, Lettuce Knit. I studied mathematics at University, and worked in the IT industry for 15 years before becoming a full-time knit professional. When I'm not knitting, I can be found with my husband, walking our rescue hound-dog around our neighborhood, and drinking coffee.

Top-Down Triangle Shawl: Spring Leaves by Kate Atherley
Photograph © Kristen Caldwell 

MM: Can you tell us a little about your new book Beyond Knit and Purl and for whom it's intended?

KA: I've been teaching knitting for 10 years, and my most popular class is the Project Class. It's a multi-week workshop and knitters bring whatever they want to work on. Every month I meet knitter who have mastered the basics of working the knit and purl stitch, but are struggling to make the leap to working a pattern. My book is for those knitters, or for knitters who are looking to expand their skills and are seeking a way to learn about socks, lace, cables and colorwork. It's not just for new knitters: it's for any knitter who is looking to better understand the craft, the techniques and the patterns.
Learning to handle needles and yarn doesn't teach you anything about choosing or reading patterns - they are totally different skill sets. My book addresses that side of things. I've tried to capture all those things you need to know to be successful in knitting from a pattern - things that aren't typically written down. I've included a glossary to help understand how patterns are written, I've included an explanation of sizing, how to read a schematic, information on ease and tables of standard ease for different styles. I've got suggestions for specific project types based on skill level. I've got explanations on how to join a new ball of yarn, and lots of advice of choosing and substituting yarn.

MM: In my experience, designing simpler patterns can sometimes be even harder than designing involved patterns, as you really have to think like the knitter instead of running with your own whims. What sorts of goals did you set in designing the patterns in the book and what sorts of hurdles did you face?

KA: The objective was to design patterns that are simple to execute and yet build skills at the same time. Because the book is organized by "skills" - shaping, working in the round, socks, cables, lace and colorwork - I had a framework for the patterns - each pattern includes skills from a previous section, and one or two of the skills taught in that particular chapter.
The key is to remember what it's like to be new - to remember that knitter might not know how to weave in ends yet. I had to question everything about the patterns and the designs - would a knitter understand and know everything they need to know to work it? And if they might not, then it was up to me to teach the skill. For example, I have a top-down one piece baby sweater in the first set of patterns, and although the first version of the pattern had the sleeves worked in the round, I had to remind myself that knitters might not yet know how to do that, so I had to adjust the pattern to allow for the sleeves to be worked flat. And then, of course, I teach mattress stitch so that knitters can be confident about seaming the sleeves.
And I have a built-in test audience: the students in my classes. Many of the projects in my book come directly from these classes, and have been road-tested by knitters of all skill levels. If a pattern isn't successful, my students aren't shy about letting me know!

Classic Cabled Sock by Kate Atherley
Photograph © Kristen Caldwell 

MM: When did you learn to knit and how long did it take to become a passion for you?

KA: My grandmother, Hilda, taught me to knit when I was a young girl - probably 5 or 6. I don't actually remember learning, it's just something I've always done! Although I knitted on and off through my childhood and teens, I didn't take it up seriously until I finished university and had some spare time on my hands. And it became a passion and a serious pursuit for me when I found the first edition Nancy Bush's Folk Socks. I loved the idea of making socks, but because I have pretty small feet I embarked on a journey to learn enough to modify the designs to make them fit.

MM: Was there anyone in particular that helped usher you into designing and teaching?

KA: Folk Socks is what pushed me into designing, although at first I was designing just for myself. I started teaching when the girlfriend of a co-worker opened a yarn shop, and she needed instructors. And I've never looked back! I am very grateful to Lorena for giving me that break!

MM: What has been your most epic knitting disaster?

KA: That's easy: the big green monster. Before I understood anything about gauge or ease or fit, I made a reckless yarn substitution. I worked a pattern for a cropped, slightly loose and boxy turtleneck sweater written for 18sts/4 inches in a bulky lime green mohair at about 14 sts/4 inches. It's still cropped but hilariously wide - about 50 inches around when it should have been 38 or so - and what should have been a turtleneck is a wide and short cowl. But I still have it - and I actually wear it! With a miniskirt, boots and a fitted turtleneck under it, it's a fun outfit for the coldest days of winter. Plus an excellent cautionary tale.

MM: Excluding glaring mistakes and omissions, what is your personal pattern peeve when working from someone else's patterns?

KA: It's a little thing, but I get pretty worked up about SSK. A common "definition" or explanation of SSK is given as "slip, slip, knit". I teach a lot of newer knitters, and if that's the description you give them, things are going to go horribly awry... There are so many ways of messing up SSK, and if we don't give a proper definition, we can't expect knitters to get it right! If I could change one thing about the way the world writes patterns, is that we stop spelling it out as "slip, slip, knit" and give a proper definition: "slip next 2 sts one-by-one as if to knit; insert tip of left needle from left to right into the fronts of these two sts and knit them together".
I'm also very disappointed by patterns for socks and mittens that are "one size fits all". The size of adult hands and feet can vary enormously: I have a US size 6 foot, and one of my best friends wears a size 11. The idea that the same size sock will fit us both comfortably is ridiculous! If we're going to go to the trouble of knitting socks, they should fit well.

MM: Is there anything that you particularly like to see in patterns, that is not necessarily the norm?

KA: The majority of sock and mittens patterns are prescriptive about needle configuration: 4 or 5 double-pointed needles, or magic loop, or 2 circulars. They don't need to be! After all, the basic construction is the same, it shouldn't matter what needles the knitter chooses to work with. We put knitters off if we're prescriptive: if you're only a magic looper, then you'll avoid all those patterns written specifically for DPNs. I love seeing patterns that are written generically, that work with any needle configuration. More options for knitters!

MM: You're going to be on an extended vacation, somewhere cool and isolated, with lots of alone time. What will you bring with you?

KA: My Signature 2.5mm DPNs and a huge collection of wild colors of self-striping sock yarn, and 5000 yds of laceweight and a bunch of Japanese stitch libraries!

MM: Back to your book, which pattern are you most pleased with and why?

KA: I must confess I love the houndstooth socks in the colorwork chapter. They look so much more difficult than they actually are!

MM: Are there any other patterns you'd like to make special note of in this book?

KA: Each chapter has a mini-project, to allow you to practice and build your skills. They're no more than an evening's work, using up scraps of yarn, so you can try something out without making a major commitment of time or money. There's a dishcloth, a lacy bookmark, a catnip-stuffed cat toy, a mini sock ornament, a coffee cup cozy and a phone cozy. These were a hoot to design, and I think they're just as much fun to knit. I also included a top-down one-piece construction baby sweater as it's such a popular type of project - and can be so very daunting to new knitters.

Houndstooth Sock by Kate Atherley
Photograph © Kristen Caldwell 

MM: You got lots of great hints and tips from knitters, peppered throughout the book. Can you tell us a bit about why you talked to the people you did and what you think their input brings to the book?

KA: I talked to my friends, my colleagues and my students - both experts and new knitters. I wanted to capture those little bits of wisdom that don't normally get written done, the advice that you get when hanging around your local yarn shop. It was important to me to talk to new and "average" knitters, as their experiences and advice are most relevant to the readers of my book.

MM: Is there anything else you think people should know about this book?

KA: It's not just for newer knitters - even experienced knitters have told me that they've learned new things and had questions answered. For example, I explain what the big deal is about "twisting the round", and why I never worry about it until after my first round is complete because it can be fixed. Even my editor told me she didn't know that trick!

MM: Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview with me. I think it'll be a great resource for new knitters.



I love bad puns. The title of this post reminds me of one of my favorite puns. I'd like to believe I coined this one. Please don't crush my dreams, if it isn't true.

Colleague: How're you doing Marnie?
Me: Just ducky, thank you.
Colleague: Ducky?
Me: That's my duck-billed platitude.

Your eye roll is compliment enough for me.

Anyway, plaid:


It's Vogue 8701. I talked about the nuts and bolts here.

It's got a wide ballet neck in front and deeper v-neck in back

Vogue_8701_28 Vogue_8701_27

This is my first try matching plaid. It's not for the faint of heart, but I loves me some plaid so it won't be long before I try it again.

I find the best solution to plaid that might not perfectly match, is to show it next to something cute and distracting.


Admit it, it totally worked. Slip me some skin, Thea.


Even better, just leave the dress out altogether.

The pooches


Free to be you and twee*


Last year, I made some reusable shopping bags that I shipped off to loved ones for the holidays

Reusable Shopping Bags_21

Reusable Shopping Bags_05

It's from a fantastic pattern I picked up at a local quilt shop, but which you may purchase here, if you're so inclined.

While I was sad to see them go, I knew I'd make more, I just didn't know (though I should have) that making 12 of the same item is a special kind of torture for me. It's not that they are hard or laborious or anything, it's just, well, more and more of the same thing.

But after sitting on these half finished bags for months, I finally found the motivation to finish them up, in all their glorious adorableness.

Woodlands_Reusable Bags_17
Six folded bags and a sash to keep them tidy. Don't mind the wonky hook and loop tape.

Woodlands_Reusable Bags_20
The sash can hold up to 6 bags...

Woodlands_Reusable Bags_27
...or as few as 2 bags

Woodlands_Reusable Bags_19
Templates for the tree and leaves are included in the pattern.

And seriously, how fricken cute is this fabric?

Woodlands_Reusable Bags_08
The squirrels are killing me

I believe it's now discontinued so you'd have to hunt around if you wanted to get some. it's called Woodlands from Anthology and I made the whole set with 1 half-yard bundle of the entire line, along with a few yards of bleached muslin to line the bags.

And before you ask, yes, I still knit. I even have proof:

some knitting

This one isn't even a deadline project, just something that might end up being self published.

This and that

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I've been sitting here for minutes trying to come up with a blog post title so I could start writing this post. I've decided to give you a crappy post title so I can just get on with it.

Last weekend, Kate and I went to Madison to present a Twist Collective fashion show. Kate blogged about it here. It was a heck of a lot of fun. The folks in Wisconsin are friendly and welcoming and clearly appreciate knitting. Go...um...Badgers, I guess. I think that might be one of them there sports teams out yonder.

Speaking of badgers, you might as well watch this:

We are crazy busy with Twist stuff right now, and I have a few other secret knits in the wings, but I've fit in a bit more sewing. I mentioned with my last post on sewing, that I'd taken the Bombshell Dress course at Craftsy. Well, I signed up for Susan Khalje's Couture Dress class and instead of using the included pattern, I went with something a little more my style, if I had a style, and any occasion to wear such a dress.

McCall's 6350_03

If you are into sewing, you can read more about it over here. I'm also signed up for the Starlet Jacket class, which is good because my sleeve setting in skills are pretty lacking. Also, I'm unreasonably excited to try my first bound buttonhole.

And, of course, we try to put aside a little time and money to hit the coast with the beasts.

Oregon Coast_March 16, 2012_74

Rain or shine, it's always gorgeous there. Also, seriously, look at this face.

Oregon Coast_March 16, 2012_78


Yah yah yah, cue the double rainbow guy


Last weekend was my birthday; one of those unremarkable, mid-decade, you're-too-old-to-care-about-your-birthday-still kind of birthdays. We're still eking by on a single salary, and unemployment has dried up so there were no big plans. We figured, being our frugal new selves, that we'd lump my birthday, Thea's 5th birthday, and valentine's day all into one "celebration." I think we managed to pull it off on a shoestring budget. Check out the decorations at our fête!

Febrary 18, 2012 -- Depoe Bay, Oregon52

D-dog provided streamers

Febrary 18, 2012 -- Depoe Bay, Oregon29

There was an air show

Febrary 18, 2012 -- Depoe Bay, Oregon16

Panda entertained us with her acrobatics

Febrary 18, 2012 -- Depoe Bay, Oregon46

And the other birthday girl seemed utterly pleased with the whole day.

Febrary 18, 2012 -- Depoe Bay, Oregon47

I guess it works out that the things the birthday girls want to do most, cost us very little. I believe they call us "cheap dates."

If you average out for dog years, Thea and I are about the same age, this year. As a pup, she was such a handful, unfazed by reprimand, destructive, and mischievous. She's matured into one of the most sweet, loving and playful girls you could ever imagine. I love her so much and am glad to have an excuse to share my birthday celebration with her.

Here's to many more years to come.

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