Heather

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Not too very long ago, Ms Janice (whose sweet dog, Ivan, recently passed, so send your hugs her way, if you can,) linked to this Etsy shop. I saw the most beautiful hand painted merino roving in her shop and I knew it had to be mine. I'm such a sucker for those nearly solid rovings.

I decided I really wanted to put my lazy kate to work and make a 3-ply that wasn't a Navajo ply. My scale has been on the fritz lately and my backup scale is somewhere in the deepest reaches of the city of boxes, we call our garage. The only thing to do was to wing it and hope for the best.

When all three bobbins were filled, it was clear that they all had a different amount of yarn on them. I plied all three until the first bobbin was empty.

I'm sure this is pretty common practice among other folks, but in case someone hasn't thought to do this, here's a technique I like that works as well for 2-plies as it does for 3. I decided to take the fuller bobbin and wind it into a bracelet for the Andean plying method. If I were working a 2-ply, I'd just take the only bobbin that had yarn left on it and wind it into a bracelet.

Once the bracelet was complete (note that I didn't cut any of the singles) I overlapped the the end tail of the bracelet, with the end of the tail from the first empty bobbin. I can now make my three ply from the one full bobbin and the two ends of the bracelet.

It's a bit fiddly, but it gets the job done.

I was either going to end up with a little extra bracelet or a little extra bobbin. I had hopped for the latter. It would have meant I could have finished the batch with a Navajo ply, maintaining a three ply through the entire skein (albeit with three different methods).

However, I had just a very small amount of bracelet left and it hardly seemed worth the effort to get it to a place where I'd only be feeding off the singles again, so I proceeded with a 2-ply to the end.

I ended up with about 3 yards of 2-ply, and almost 350 yards of 3-ply. Arguably, no waste, though the three yards of 2-ply are darn near useless.

The end product is pretty nice. There are definitely thicker areas and thinner areas, and over and under spun sections, but that's pretty much par for the course with my skill level.

The end product is about a worsted weight, with tons of sproing and softness. I'm toying with the idea of making some sort of felted bag, but maybe a scarf would get more use. Only time will tell.

Tutorial - Using Excel to design colorwork

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This entry has also been posted at the Create Along

Today, my intrepid reader, I hope to offer you some tips on using Microsoft Excel for designing colorwork. This will be a long and picture heavy post, so I hope you'll bear with me. Later, I will do a tutorial on designing stitch pattern charts in Excel. I am currently using Excel X for the Mac. I will do my best to provide instructions that can be used cross-platform and with older versions of the software, but your results may still vary. I've enlarged the cursors throughout, to make the actions more obvious and most of the images can be enlarged by clicking on them. Still, if you hit a snag, just drop me a comment or email and I'll try to help you out.

Many moons ago I bought a cute fair isle sweater. It was inexpensive but very cute, fit well was exceedingly warm. Unfortunately, she found her way into the wash and was never the same.

Sweater I bought and subsequently sent through the wash

Having escaped the drier, the sweater still fits but the fair isle portion pulls in and causes a weird a-line shape to the piece that is no longer flattering. I've been thinking I would like to reknit it, someday, using the same pattern, but perhaps some different colors. Excel can be a fun way to play with this idea.

Swatching and sketching Lily

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This entry has also been posted at the Create Along.

I love Calmer to pieces. It is the same yarn I used for my Deciduous pattern, so swatching would not be so much about determining gauge and best needle choice (though it never hurts to double check.) Instead, this would be a matter of deciding how different stitches would look in the yarn.

Like Julia, the process of coming to a design is fluid for me. I may start with a stitch I like, or a yarn, or even a color. The process of starting is usually a mix of sketching, looking through "inspiration" images I have around, and swatching. In this case, I decided I wanted to do something with a stitch pattern that could easily be split in two, to diverge around the armsceye. The pattern would run up the sides of the garment and would pick up again along with the sleeve cap, so that it would look, basically, continuous.

I finally decided that the Lily of the Valley stitch pattern, in one of my Barbara Walker books would work just fine.

I charted three different versions of the lace. It's a simple enough pattern that, at this stage, a chart is sufficient to see how the lace will be effected by the changes. I've highlighted the stitches that changed from iteration to iteration. I first split the double decrease into paired decreases, but I didn't want to have to seam the sleeve into the armsceye, through the double decrease. Since there is already a column of purl stitches on the outside, I thought that maybe two purls in the center would look nice. Finally, I removed the extra knit stitches on either side of the center decreases, because I didn't want the motif to get too wide.

The results is that up the sides of the garment, where the motif is intact, the purl stitches would close up, leaving what looked like a seam, along the armsceye, it would leave me a place to seam.

On to the swatching.

First I decided to knit the newly charted lace. Then I split the lace, knit that for a couple repeats and played around with the swatch to see how the lace would look as it curved around an edge. I was happy with the results, bound them off, but did not cut the yarn.

I cast on a new swatch, keeping the original swatch attached, with a locking stitch marker in the last stitch, to keep the piece from unraveling.

This second swatch was specifically to determine gauge and to play around with the decreases. I had to decide if my full fashioned decreases would happen by working the outermost purl stitch with one adjacent knit stitch or whether I'd work the decreases right after the purl columns, utilizing two knit stitches. I decided that I didn't want any glaring indicating that I had worked a decrease so I chose the former option. When stretched out, the knit decreases looked better, but I wanted this piece to have a slim fit but not so tight that the purl stitches would actually show, so the stealth decrease won out.

After knitting everything, I washed and blocked my swatches, still keeping them attached to the ball and to each other.

I have more than enough yarn to complete the project, but I still never like to cut yarn just for a swatch. Sometimes, you just have to cut. For instance, if you are going to work in Rowan Denim, you will really need to send your yarn through the wash to check the gauge and you can't do that if it's attached to 30 grams of unknit yarn. However, if you are just going to hand wash your piece and you don't expect the yarn to change drastically in the process, leaving it attached should not be a problem, and if you find yourself a little short for yarn near the end of the project, you can cannibalized your swatch for the extra needed yardage.

All while I'm swatching, I'm thinking about how I want to knit the piece. In fact, there's really no point during the designing and knitting of a piece that I won't diverge down another path if the mood suits me. However, in the interest of trying to document the whole process, this is the current state of my grand scheme.


This is how I envision the final piece. It'll be a pull over with a boat neck and shaping at the waist. The sleeves will be raglan style to allow the lace to angle gently. I figured a set in sleeve would require the lace to diverge too severely and wouldn't look good. And of course, the piece will be named, "Lily."

Now that I have my gauge and my vision, I can begin to plot out the actual pattern.

I like to set up a grid to the same scale as my gauge in Adobe Illustrator, and graph out every stitch. This, obviously, is the body. The piece will be identical in back and in front. I'll start plotting the sleeves later, but for now, this gives me enough info to start knitting.

"Gauge" is not a four letter word

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This post has also been added to the Create Along blog.

Whether your are designing your own knitwear, or knitting someone else's pattern, a gauge swatch can be invaluable. This is not to say that you cannot design and knit without swatching first. For as long as there has been knitting, there have been people who picked up yarn and needles and simply jumped forth, feet first, into their projects.
That said, there are some distinctly useful reasons to consider knitting, washing and blocking a swatch of any yarn you plan to knit with, and if you love knitting (and I think you do) you can make this a fun aspect of the project.

When I think of designing I think of it like building with Legos. Each block can be a different size, so that 10 –1 inch wide blocks stacked next to each other will be an entirely different length than 10 - half inch blocks in the same arrangement. If you are planning to make your Barbie a fort, replete with moat and dragon, you'll need to make sure you build it large enough for her and her cavalcade of cannons (to keep the riff-raff out, of course.)

These blocks have different gauges.

Saying that her walls need to be 20 blocks wide doesn't mean anything if you have 4 different sizes of blocks to choose from. Pick the blocks that are too small, and Barbie just isn't going to fit inside. Pick blocks that are too large and you might find it no longer fits on the dining room table (where we all play with our Legos and Barbies!) Gauge tells you how big your building blocks are and gives you the Rosetta Stone to knowing where to go next with a pattern, whether it's your own or someone else's.

Once you know you have X number of stitches and Y number of rows per inch, you can easily determine how to decrease evenly from your hips to your waist, then back out for your chest, even if your measurements are wildly different than the average. Without those numbers, you might find yourself decreasing too quickly or not quickly enough and that either means a trip to the frog pond (rip-it, rip-it, rip-it) or an ill fitting garment.

Furthermore, knitting a gauge swatch gives you a chance to get to know your yarn; how it commingles with your needle choice, and gives you a chance to try the stitch pattern and see if it suits your taste. I can't tell you how many times I've realized that my needles were poorly matched to my yarn, occasionally with disastrous results (think rough wooden needles snagging smooth microfiber.)

Best to leave those discoveries to the swatch stage before you've begun knitting rows of 200 stitches.

Finally, as designers, you are not limited to the gauge and needles specified on the ball band. Your yarn may knit up with too much drape, or not enough, when knit at the specified gauge, but go up or down a few needle sizes and the fabric may be just what you hoped. Use your gauge swatch as a chance to find that perfect match between the two.

I could stand up on this soapbox all day, extolling the virtues and joys of knitting gauge swatches, as these are just the a few highlights, but I don't want to scare you all off yet.

My next post will show my theory in action! Stay tuned for my adventures in swatching.

PS. Go team CALMER!

The Create Along

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Today is not just auspicious for being my 32nd birthday. Today is the day that Julia and I are kicking off a Create Along.

I'll be parallel posting, both here and there, along with my normal blogging. We sincerely hope that anyone with a love for, or interest in designing knitwear, will join us. To join, send an email to createalong (at) gmail dot com, with the subject line, "JOIN."

I'll be making my first post tomorrow, but Julia has a great one up there right now.

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