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Is it Too Hot to Knit?

I hear all the time from people who can’t think about knitting in the summer time. Have you heard this too?  Maybe it’s just me and maybe it’s just my job, but I knit when it’s cold and I knit when it’s hot. But I don’t knit outside, in fact I don’t do much outside in the summers of Maryland. It’s been really hot and muggy here during summertime. It is hard to breathe when you’re outside. And there are gnats and mosquitoes. Sounds great right?

Knitting at the library during a presentation

Instead I stay inside and I will watch a movie or binge watch a TV series. And I find other places out in the “wild” where I can knit. The local coffee bar, my library branch, at the doctor’s or vet’s offices, at a restaurant. So even if you don’t have air conditioning, there are places you can go to get a little knitting done.

Knitting at a restaurants while waiting for our orders.

Why? Because my good friend Ellen once told me her secret to high knitting production and this is it: Knit a little bit every day. Knit for 10 minutes. Knit while you’re in line at the MVA. Knit during a staff meeting. If you knit a little every day, you will be finished with your sock, hat or sweater rather soon. If your project just sits in your knitting bag or your yarn bowl, it isn’t getting finished.

So in the past few weeks, I’ve been out knitting in public, mostly at the vet office because Chester is having chemotherapy.  I have had some great conversations with people because I had my knitting out.  People are curious and people have questions or reminiscences about their grammy or aunty.  I know that sometimes this can be annoying….I just want to knit in peace. It also brings up a feeling of community.  That has been a bright ray in the midst of an otherwise dreadful day.

Knitting at the vet office

So my advice to you is to go out and knit in public, even if it isn’t the official knit in public day. You will get make more progress on your projects and maybe you’ll have a good conversation with someone new.  Let me know where you are knitting and how it’s going!

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Sock Blanks: What Are They? Why Would I Use Them?

Hot Fuschia Sock Blank

Let’s talk about sock blanks.

What are they?  A sock blank is a pre-knit fabric that is then used in an entirely different way than it’s first rendition.  It is not a sock. It is not in the shape of a sock. It is a rectangular shape.  Does that make sense?

Why are they call “sock blanks”? I think this name was originally coined by the manufacturers of these fabrics.  They were made with sock weight yarn for the hand dyer to dye, paint, or print onto.  And there simply hasn’t been a change in name and really there should be. I think there would be less confusion that way.

How do they come? There are “double” sock blanks and “single” sock blanks.  Doubles are made with 2 threads in each stitch. Singles have just 1 thread in each stitch.

What can I do with a double? With a double you can knit Two at a Time socks. This way you will get matching socks. You can also just reknit the blank, holding the yarn double to make a cowl or scarf.  If you don’t know how to make socks TAAT,  then you can knit with one of the threads and you will ball up the other one as you go along.  And if you do this you can make socks, scarves or shawls with the single thread.

What can I do with a single? You can reknit this fabric into anything you desire; a cowl, scarf, shawl or even a cardigan.

How do I work with the blank? There is a “live” end that unravels and the cast on edge that doesn’t unravel.  So work from the live end. Unravel the stitches as you knit your new garment.

Why would I do this? I hate to rip out knitting!  Well the fun part about knitting with sock blanks is that it is a mystery. Your finished product will NOT look like the original.  If the sock is dyed in a gradient fashion, it will stay a gradient but will have some striping in it. If it is printed or dyed with a pattern, that pattern will not be maintained.  You will have a more spreckled, freckled look to your finished product.  What I love about these fabrics is that as I knit, the new fabric is coming into focus. It is becoming its own new fabric. This mysterious nature keeps me knitting.  I want to see what will happen next.

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Correcting Mistakes

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again,

this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

It was brought to my attention that one of our patterns had a couple of flaws in it. Thanks Anja! That pattern has been out in the world for a couple of years. I wonder why I’m only hearing about it now. I hope people have it in the knitting queue, rather than in their trash heap.  I’m so glad that I was able to find out about the error and fix it.

I left out a stitch in 2 rows. An incorrect number of stitches is a fatal error. The cowl would get smaller and smaller. Not a great design for a cowl, right? Now it has been fixed.   And it is ready to be released out into the world.  

Click here for revised pattern for Rivulet Cowl. Yes, even if you don’t already own that pattern, you can click too and get a fun cowl pattern to knit. Think of it as a great Valentine’s gift!

  Click here to buy Zephyrette, our exclusive luscious blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere, for this pattern. 

 

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What’s Your Preference? Cowl or Scarf?

I am a cowl girl. Yes, I spelled it right.  I prefer cowls over scarves.

Collection of cowls made in Zephyrette

Where does that preference come from? As a weaver, I made a TON of scarves. They are linear. They are finite. They are fun. They can show off your dyeing, your yarn choice and your skill at a weave structure.  But they fall off. They are always slipping to one side or the other. They are like snakes in the way that they can just slide off your neck and the next thing you know they are on the floor, under your seat, around the corner you just turned.  

Handwoven scarves

Cowls are like close friends. They envelop you. They warm you. They comfort you. Some may say that they can strangle you or be too cloying.  But I think they are the best.

And I like to knit in the round. I prefer it actually to the monotonous back and forth, back and forth that knitting flat requires.  Even when knitting flat, I use circular needles. They are comforting. They seem more secure to me. Not once have I lost stitches off the end of a circular needle.  So for all those reasons I’m a cowl girl.

What about you? Cowl or scarf? What is your preference? 

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Is swatching a dirty word?

Do you do it? Or do you just dive right into a project?

Newest swatch for handspun sweater made with BFLXCormo lamb fleeces
As many of you know, I started this journey as a weaver.  How closely you set your threads is the key to getting the fabric that you want.  And once you know that you can build the rest of your calculations and get your yarn on the loom.  But knitting isn’t quite like that is it?  Most of us try to match the yarn in the pattern and if that yarn isn’t available in your collection or in your yarn store? What then? Some of my friends, and you know who you are dive right in with enthusiasm and the dream of a great new garment, but as they knit they realize, hey this is just too big or this is just too small.  A shawl, a cowl or a scarf can be very forgiving. They don’t have to be a particular size.  But what if you want to make gloves, mittens, socks or a sweater, fit does matter.  

I’ve been having yarn spun for me for several years now. And one thing I know for sure is that a small mill spun yarn is very hard to get spun in those classic sizes of DK or worsted or sport. I can get a yarn that is on the line between DK and worsted. I can get a yarn that is between sport and fingering.  So how are you supposed to use these yarns to make a published pattern?

You need to swatch! And you need to swatch any particular stitches that are in your pattern.  If your sweater has a cable, swatch it. If your sweater is in a basket stitch or a double moss stitch, swatch it.  What I hear people saying is, it takes time!! It takes extra yarn!! And you may be perfectly lucky and your garment may turn out the right size and shape without it. But what if it doesn’t? Then how much time have your wasted? How much material have your wasted? Will you rip it out or will you just set it aside in disgust?  

Here is my current long term project. I want to make my first handspun sweater.  I have a pattern in mind. It is a cardigan. It has double moss stitch as the body and the sleeves are cabled.  I am using 2 lamb fleeces from my Blue Faced Leicester/Cormo crossed ewes.  And I need to figure out if I want a 2 or 3 ply yarn.  So I need to sample the yarn AND the sweater.  And I need to determine the best way to process this fleece, whther to card or comb.  This past Crafternoon, I knit my swatch out of 3 ply. I was also able to really get a grip on how to spin these fleeces to minimize the noils and bits of chaff. I am combing the wool and then spinning off the combs.

Fleece on the combs ready to be spun
And as you can see, the resulting yarn (on the right) is turning out more lustrous and smooth than the carded yarn on the left. 
left side is carded fleece and right side is combed fleece
So please, spend the time to swatch. You will be a happier knitter.   
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The Health and Wellness Benefits of Knitting and Crochet

colorwork mittens

It’s a proven fact. There is research. Yes, knitting and crochet does in fact enhance your health and well being.  I know that when I am feeling low and tired, but still feel the need to “do” something, I take out my project bag and knit a few stitches or rows or repeats. I also take my knitting to meetings. Keeping my hands busy with knitting does keep my mind focused on during this meeting.  Thankfully my boss is not bothered by this, in fact she does put out crafts and fiddles to keep hands busy and minds available for learning.  I do have to say that I usually take “brainless” knitting that I can do without following a chart or thinking too much about what is being made. 

I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of women, children and men who are knitting and crocheting, especially in the age range from 25-35. We even had a young man (13?) search us out at 3 fiber festivals this fall to buy yarn and roving. I can’t wait to see what he makes with his collection. So you can imagin how really happy I am to see a great article and a new book on the subject. 

 

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Repetitive motion induces a kind of relaxed state that is similar to the deep relaxation you feel after meditation or yoga
  • Knitting and crochet, after learned, will decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.  It also reduces your level of cortisol, which is the hormone that gets released when you are under stress. 
  • Studies are now showing that knitting and crocheting may reduce your chances of suffering from dementia. 
  • An added benefit is that you are making tangible object so that your feelings of self esteem and accomplishment are increased.  
  • Knitting and crochet are now being used in therapy programs for eating disorders and smoking cessation. These therapies work because of the relaxation and because your mind is focusing on something other than your addiction.  
  • Knitting and crochet groups are popping up all around as the number of fiber crafters goes up. The benefit of adding social interaction while knitting is another added benefit.
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Yarn Weights and Measures: What Do They All Mean?

grist1
I’ve been thinking a lot about what all those ways that yarn manufacturers, including myself, categorize the yarn.  There are so many ways of speaking about the size of the yarn. The standard yarn weight information is set up in a table with discreet squares. But I’ve been studying this lately and I’ve noticed that there is overlap,  a lot of overlap among the yarn weights. So it seems to me that this is really a continuum. Just look at the info about YPP, yards per pound, the overlap here is really large. Why is that? It has to do with the spinning process.

yarn weights

Was it spun in a woolen way with lots of air and softly spongy and so it has a bigger diameter? Or was it spun in a worsted way which compacts the fibers and aligns them all in one direction and so it appears thinnner. These two yarns could have the same YPP but a different grist or appearance and they will behave very differently. So use these as a guide, but the ultimate test is your own swatch. These two yarns were both supposed to be a DK weight. But the diameter is SOOOOO different. They knit up differently too. The green one knits like a lace weight yarn. It is our Heritage BFL yarn. And the turquoise yarn is Fingal’s and truly knits like a DK yarn. It is also made with BFL wool and both were made at the same mill.  Go figure!!

grist2

This really comes into play when you are wanting to make that special sweater. You are wanting to use yarn from your stash, not go out and buy the yarn that the designer used. Or maybe that yarn isn’t available anywhere near you. This is when those standard yarn weights become important. And even more important than that, is to knit up a swatch. Not only a stockinette swatch but also a swatch in pattern.

 

But is a swatch important when it is for a garment that doesn’t fit your body, like a shawl or a cowl? Well, I think getting the gauge close is important so that the stitches look the same. You may not need to get it “exactly” right if it isn’t going to “fit” your body. What is important to do is to check the size of the finished project, because many times the photographs used in the pattern, may be on a mannequin and not a person. It may be made for an extremely small or large person, someone whose body is vastly different than yours.  Sometimes making a swatch seems like wasting your time and a waste of yarn. You will probably only need 25-50 yards for a swatch. It will reduce the chance that you would need to frog your project.  I think it is important to make sure that the stitches look right. You may be a looser knitter than the designer or vice versa. So changing your needle size will be just what you need to get your swatch to look like the picture. Those are important questions to answer and it is worth the time to figure this out before you jump into your garment.

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Why You Should Use The Good Stuff

“I’m just learning, so I’m going to use cheap yarn/roving until I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to waste it.”

goodyarn1

I hear those words all the time in my spinning and knitting classes. I even said it myself when I was learning how to knit socks. Before I had the yarn business, I wanted to knit socks, everyone was doing it. So I went to a craft store and bought yarn and needles and the book “My first socks” or something like that. I knit and knit and knit. I was just about to the heel, when I met Ellen. We roomed together at a SOAR retreat in 2007. She saw my sock and said, “You need to get good sock yarn. That yarn will just not do.”  So at the vendor booths the next day I bought a skein of really teeny sock yarn. I was totally scared. I had to buy smaller (#1) double pointed needles, too. Ellen shepherded me through the casting on of 62 stitches and making the K2P1 ribbing. But that was as far as I got that weekend. At home I again reached the heel. Ellen coached me online and I was able to get through the instructions for the short rows of the heel. I could pick up the stitches easily and finish up that first sock. I cast on the other sock and soon completed that sock. What I learned was that Ellen was right. The socks turned out so well.  I was kept engaged because the hand dyed colors kept changing through the socks. Yes, making those socks was more enjoyable. The colors were better. The end product was actually wearable, not 6 sizes too big.

goodyarn2

Since that time, I tell my students to use the “good stuff”. It is like taking out that silver and china and using it! Don’t save it for “later” and never, ever use it.  Enjoy what you have! Don’t deprive yourself until you are a better knitter or crocheter or spinner. Use it today! Because if you don’t and continue use the wrong yarn or roving, you may just give up before you get to be a better knitter (spinner or crocheter).  It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. And you will think to yourself, thank god I didn’t use the good stuff when I had no business even trying to learn to ____ (fill in the blank with spin, knit, crochet). So pull out that beautiful yarn, buy that gorgeous roving and USE IT!!

 

P.S. I love those socks and wear them every year.

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Using Hand-Dyed Yarns: Epic or Fail?

If you are like me,  you have many, many hand-dyed yarns in your stash! I am just so drawn to bright, vibrant colors and it is hard to walk away from a beautiful skein.  The question is what kind of garment should be made with these yarns to really show them off.  I have learned a couple of lessons the hard way and I wanted to share these with you so you will be pleased with your knitting, crocheting or weaving results.

There are 2 categories of hand-dyes: semi-solid and wild color. The skeins below are what I would call wild color. They have multiple colors sitting next to each other in the skein. They can be manipulated to pool if you like seeing spots of color, or they can appear like random color.

  
When you use a wild color skein, use simple stitches and simple shapes to really show off the colors you so love. Let the color itself do the work.  A pattern like Hitchhiker would be wonderful to use.  When you use a pattern with more complex shapes or patterns you might get an epic fail, like this shawl I made with a 2 color skein. You can barely see the lovely leaf shapes.
 
I also love wild color for socks and cowls, because I like to get pooling, stripes, argyles and spirals.
I also like to use the inside and outside of the yarn cake so that each sock has a little different pattern.
Because the wild color skeins have different color placement, for larger projects you may have a pattern change when you switch skeins.  You can minimize the jarring effect by knitting from two balls as you end one ball and begin the next. To go even further, you can compare your skeins to determine if the repeats are more similar from one end or the other of your skeins.
The skeins above are semi-solid. They have variable saturation but are all one hue or color. For semi-solid skeins you can use all kinds of fancy stitches and patterns. They are great for cabling and for lacy shawls.  They really show off your knitting expertise.

My one big caution is this, even if the skeins were dyed in the same dyepot, at the same time, they still may not match perfectly. Small batch kettle dyeing is just like that. So for bigger projects, like a sweater, you should absolutely knit from 2 balls when you are switching skeins. I would also suggest that you pick your skeins carefully to make sure the ones you get match well.  If you don’t do this, you will most probably get a definite line where you changed skeins and after all the work you just put into making this sweater you want to be totally happy with it.  Believe me I speak from experience! Another epic fail that I fixed by frogging and redoing is this sweater below. I reknit  the entire sweater using two balls. I was so frustrated that I didn’t even take a picture of the failed rendition.  Now that sweater gets raves by everyone who sees it.

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Swatching and Stash Appreciation

stitch samples

Do you swatch? I hear all the time that people do not like to swatch so they don’t swatch.  I suppose if you are making a shawl or scarf that doesn’t need to be a particular size you don’t need to. Or if you buy the yarn that the pattern says to use, you don’t need to. Or if you have a head, feet or hands that are “normal” size for most hats, socks or mittens, you wouldn’t need to.  But if you are making a fitted garment, like a sweater or using custom spun yarn from a farm or if you are “shopping” in your stash, you need to swatch.

But if you are like me, swatching can save you time and heartache in the end.  I do have a small stash, but more importantly, since my yarn is custom spun, I have yarns that aren’t the same as the yarns you can get at your LYS or craft store.  I want to use it and I want to share it. So I need to make sure that I know what it will do and how it will knit up.  Sorry crocheters, I really can’t figure out crocheting. I need to know what special mojo my yarns have so that I can share them with the world.  So I must swatch.

yarn swatch

For my famous Celtic Cardigan, I wanted to use my Fernham’s Choice yarn. It is a 80/20 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and kid mohair. It is a wonderful squishy worsted weight yarn, perfect for a warn cardigan.  The pattern called for 18 stitches/26 rows + 4 inches on size 8 needles in the stockinette stitch. and each cable had it’s own gauge as well.  I swatched and swatched until I got that gauge, but the needle size was different.  If I hadn’t figured that out, I would have ended up with a sweater that was totally the wrong size.  Even with this swatching, when I started knitting in earnest, my gauge loosened and I ended up  about 6 inches too wide. This would have been devastating if I wasn’t already having to take out the sweater for the million other things I didn’t like about my knitting.

The lesson for me is to swatch before I make any larger project.  I will also be swatching for my customers, in order to get a good idea of the gauge for my custom yarns.  What I like to do is to make a 5 inch square that is surrounded by about a half inch border of seed stitch with a 4 inch area of stockinette. To determine needle size, I use a spinner’s control card to get an idea of the WIP (wraps per inch) which I can then translate to the standard yarn language of lace, fingering, sport, dk, worsted, etc.  That gives me an appropriate needle size to use for my swatch.  If I start to knit and find that the needle size isn’t quite right, I simply take note of that for my swatch tag and change the needle up or down.spinner's control card

 

So when you see my gauge on the labels that is your jumping off place.  Each knitter has their own “gauge” as well.  Are you a tight or loose knitter? So you throw (English) or pick (Continental)?  After some time knitting, you will know your knitting “handicap”. At the trunk show recently, a group of knitters came into the shop. They began to talk about going up or down a needle size (or two) from the posted gauge of a yarn.  I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I do know I’m on the tighter end of knitting.

I hope you are inspired to do some swatching before starting that sweater or using that luxury yarn like our Zephyrette.  What have you learned about your knitting style through swatching? Do you have a swatching (or not swatching) story to share? I’d love to read your stories and learn for you too!!