Hot Tip: Annotate your charts

Hot Tip: Annotate your knitting charts

A good chart is a thing of beauty unto itself, but knitting from one can be a little daunting — especially if it’s numerous stitches wide and/or many rows tall. Each of our brains works differently, so it’s important to be able to annotate a chart in whatever way makes it make the most sense to YOU. Pictured here are Meg Strong’s chart and my chart for the Amanda cardigan we’re knitting for the #fringeandfriendsknitalong. And you can see our two minds reflected in them:

— Meg has enlarged hers to 8.5×14 and attached it to an 11×17 sheet of paper, along with the stitch guide and legend, and she’s color-coded all of it with highlighter pens. Each color indicates a different cable stitch, and the corresponding description in the guide is highlighted the same color. As you can see, it makes each of the cable stitches stand out more clearly from the surrounding stitches, and it’s easier to follow the direction of the cables as they lean this way and that — especially within the honeycomb. (Note that she’s also opting to mirror the diamond cables so they twist toward each other, rather than having them all twist left as written, so she’s simply made a note beneath the center crosses about which direction she’ll twist.)

— Me, I’m perfectly happy in black-and-white and small-scale. But for my brain to make this digestible, I have to divide it up into its component parts. I’ve drawn a rule (that’s design-speak for “a line”) down the chart to separate each of the sections. (“Like with like” is my mantra in all of life.) This way I can clearly see the honeycomb portions, the slipped-stitch portions (with flanking purls), the diamond panels, and the braid. The purls no longer blur together and the rows are broken up into easily memorizable chunks. And everywhere I’ve drawn a rule on the chart I’ll also place a stitch marker in my knitting. So I always know exactly where I am, and never have to think very hard about it. If I get off course, I’m going to know it within a few stitches without even looking at the knitting — the stitch markers will let me know.

The point being: It’s your chart; make whatever kind of marks are helpful to you!

There’s also the matter of keeping track of what row you’re on. I’m a big fan of a wide post-it note or piece of post-it tape, and I place it below the row I’m currently working. I like to be able to see where I’m going, since my knitting shows me where I’ve been. But lots of people do the opposite. This here post from almost exactly one year ago is also full of great advice from you guys about other ways to track progress, so check the comments on that. And if you have anything to add, let’s hear it!


AND HERE’S ANOTHER HOT TIP: You can cable without a cable needle. If you find cable needles too fussy and want to learn how to do without, Kate posted a tutorial on the Kelbourne blog.


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tip: Remember right- vs left-leaning stitches

Let’s talk about this Amanda knitalong

Let's talk about this Amanda knitalong

I’m thrilled that so many people responded positively to my suggestion that maybe you might want to knit the Amanda cardigan along with Anna and me this fall. I’m also a little nervous because I don’t really know anything about hosting a formal knitalong, having only barely hosted very, very informal ones in the past. So I’d love your input on this. Here are some questions I have:

1) Shall we all knit Amanda, or shall I declare it a Fisherman Knitalong and suggest some other patterns as candidates? (Both cardigans and pullovers.) It would be nice to all be knitting the same thing, so we can compare notes and strategies on very specific aspects. On the other hand, Amanda is available only in a book (albeit a very good book, with lots of appealing patterns) and is written for just four sizes (33, 35, 38, 40). So I can see the benefits of going either way with this. I can also imagine a Fisherman Knitalong becoming an annual (biennial? triennial?) event.

2) How formal or structured do we want this to be? Knitting to a deadline tends to make me dislike knitting, and I don’t have the bandwidth to create and monitor a Ravelry group or anything like that. But I also feel like a total lack of structure will not help any of us accomplish our sweaters. What if we set a fairly loose deadline for each stage of the sweater. I can do a kickoff post for each part, discussing things to consider before casting on, etc, and then we can have ongoing discussion of that component in the comments on that post. Everyone can post progress shots on Ravelry, their blog, Instagram, whatever publicly accessible web-based location they prefer, and link out to those from comments. Does that work? (Scheduling it out according to parts/pieces is an argument in favor of us all knitting the same sweater, or at least sweaters with the same basic construction method. Amanda is bottom-up pieces, joined at the underarm, then knitted upwards from there in one piece. Plenty of other sweaters take that approach.)

3) Can we start on September 15th? (Or maybe swatching starts on the 1st?) I need some more time with my Channel before shifting gears, plus I don’t have yarn for swatching Amanda yet, much less a decision and a sweater’s worth. I imagine many others will also need time to pick yarn and swatch. Swatching will be very, very important for a heavily cabled sweater, my lovely friends — you really want to be sure it’s going to match the pattern measurements and come out to the size you want! (We’ll talk about how to adjust for gauge, etc., no worries.)

4) How much time do we all think is reasonable for the various parts? Swatch, back (hem to underarms), left front (ditto), right front (ditto; and some people will no doubt opt to knit the body as one piece instead of three), sleeve 1, sleeve 2, yoke, button bands, neck, and seams if you’re doing them.

I don’t expect we’ll have unanimity on any of this, but let’s talk it over and then I’ll post a follow-up with details, yarn recommendations and some other thoughts before we get started. Yes?

So nice to meet you!

So nice to meet you at #stitchesmidwest!

Hi, everyone! I’m back from Stitches Midwest, equal parts exhausted and energized. Ok, maybe a little more exhausted than energized, but that will pass! It was absolutely stunning how many people came through that little booth over the weekend and introduced themselves as blog readers. It’s such a weirdly solitary thing, blogging — talking to thousands of people you can’t see. So it’s a real treat to gather faces and names, and I appreciate all of you who took the time to tell me what it is you like most about the blog. (Number one answer was definitely the Tag Team Sweater Project.) But I’d love to take this opportunity to check in with more of you about that. While I take a minute to try to get caught up around here, I’d love to hear what you like most about the blog and what you’d like to see more of as we head into high knitting season.

And of course enormous thanks to everyone who shopped the shelves at the show!

I’ll be back as soon as I catch my breath …

Spinning in North Carolina

Spinning in North Carolina

I’m back from North Carolina, which turns out to be a hard state to leave. We were at a place called Earthshine for five days to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary — four generations of us. Earthshine turned out to be the perfect place. On top of its insanely beautiful location, it’s built around a steady barrage of activities meant to be fun for all ages and to keep everyone perpetually busy. There were zip lines and a high-ropes course and pond fishing and stream hiking. There were goats and chickens. S’mores and a paper airplane competition. And a double-decker porch with the most amazing mountain views, both levels amply furnished with rustic rocking chairs and benches. Unfortunately, “knitting on the porch” wasn’t one of the options on the sign-up board, so I didn’t get much done. But there was a surprise fiber-craft moment along the way.

Woven in among all the adventure activities, they have these educational mornings that felt exactly like school field trips, which I guess they actually are. One morning was spent in their Cherokee Village making clay beads and grinding corn and throwing tomahawks. (I mostly skipped that one.) And another was in their Pioneer Village, where I knew there was to be blacksmithing and candle-making, but what I didn’t know was that there was also a little lesson in spinning wool. We were each given a handful of raw fleece, which we were taught to wash and card, after which we placed our clean, combed puffballs into a big basket. And then one of the staff “pioneers” sat down with it at a spinning wheel and showed us how it’s done. I realized as I watched her that I’d never actually seen anyone spin before, or at least not that I recall. Thankfully, it didn’t give me the spinning urge (I don’t need another hobby), but it was fun to watch. Sadly, despite the lovely hand-written sign on one of the village doors, we didn’t do any dyeing. But it was funny to find myself in the middle of this lesson in the last place I expected it. I also happened to be wearing my Togue Stripes tank that day, and everyone was very impressed that there was a real live, 21st-century knitter present!

Speaking of which, some of you asked if that sweater was on Ravelry so you could favorite the notes — it’s there now.

Hot Tip: Remember right- vs left-leaning stitches

Hot Tip: Remember right- vs left-leaning stitches

If you’ve been knitting for very long at all, you’ll have encountered multiple kinds of increase and decrease stitches. You may also have come to realize that each one has a lean to it. (For instance, your first hat may have used k2togs for all of the decreases, which creates a sort of swirling crown, since the k2togs all lean in one direction.) Perhaps you’ve even come to understand that for every right-leaning increase or decrease, there’s a corresponding left-leaning version. To prevent fabric that leans one direction or the other, increases and decreases are often deployed in mirrored pairs, such as a k2tog (right-leaning decrease) paired with an SSK (left-leaning decrease). Or m1L increases paired with m1R increases. The trouble many knitters have is remembering which stitches lean which direction. So here’s an invaluable tip I picked up from Barry Klein once upon a time:

A stitch will always lean in the direction the working needle is pointing when you work that stitch. Stop and repeat that to yourself a couple of times, and point with your index finger like it’s your needle. When you insert your working needle into the front of your stitch(es) — as with a k2tog or m1R — you insert it from left to right. The needle points to the right and the resulting stitch will lean to the right. Conversely, when you knit through the back of your stitch(es) — as with SSK or m1L — you insert the working needle from right to left. The needle points left, and the resulting stitch will lean left.

Once you have that lightbulb moment, reading charts becomes much simpler. For instance, the “\” symbol leans left (“my needle will be pointing left, so I’m working into the back of the stitches, which I do when I SSK!”) and the “/” symbol leans right (“my needle will be pointing right, so I’m working into the front of the stitches, which means a k2tog!”). With the m1’s, you do have to think a tiny bit harder: “If I want it to lean left, m1L, that means I’m knitting into the back, so I will have picked it up from the front.” And vice versa. But you’ll have it memorized in no time flat.

Hot Tip: Remember right- vs left-leaning stitches

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

So if you read this blog, you know what a huge admirer I am of Jared Flood, his knitting designs, and his illustrious company, Brooklyn Tweed. And I’m obviously far far from alone in that. I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with Jared in recent months, first at Vogue Knitting Live in Seattle and then again at Squam, where he was the “knitter in residence.” (My new goal in life is to be dubbed “knitter in residence” somewhere other than my own illusory front porch.) While those encounters were just brief conversations in crowded venues, I was struck by what a pleasant and genuine person he seems to be, as I’m sure you’ll see by his answers to my Our Tools questions. I also hope you’ll love the photos (Jared had the clever idea to photograph his worktable at various moments over the course of a few weeks) and that you’ll join me in wishing him HAPPY BIRTHDAY today. Thank you, Jared!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

Yes, I have some experience with all of these things, but my primary interests are knitting and sewing. Knitting is obviously my main “bread and butter” — both as a hobby and now as my career! Sewing is something I’ve picked up later in life, particularly after falling into a career path as a knitwear designer — learning to sew has been a natural outgrowth and feeds my interest in shape, textile architecture and fabric. Slippery slope there …

I’ve dabbled in weaving and dyeing, but would not consider myself anything other than an amateur in each area! I recently took a card weaving class, which was completely amazing. Add it to the growing list of hobbies I wish I had extra time to pursue!

I got bitten by the spinning bug in 2007 and was very actively spinning during that year. It taught me a lot about yarn (a subject that I am very passionate about!), and was probably one of the first steps toward my future as a yarn producer.

I would consider myself a pretty good crocheter, but I tend to gravitate to this hobby more for the structural nature of the craft rather than the resulting fabric/garments. I love crochet as a sculptural medium. I also have a very geeky interest in Japanese crochet charting. (If you’ve never seen these charts, they are beautiful works of art in their own right!) I’ll admit to much of my crocheting being an excuse to study and appreciate those charted illustrations!

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

The tools I regularly use for knitting are very simple — my general preference is to use as few tools as possible to do the maximum amount of tasks. I do 90% of my knitting work with interchangeable circular needles (I am an Addi devotee!), a tapestry needle, rust-proof (coilless) stitch markers, a large gridded blocking board and blocking wires (I absolutely adore my Handworks NW hand-burnished blocking wires – couldn’t live without them) and my smartphone (calculator and camera are in regular use!). I may have occasional use for an odd tool like a pom-pom maker or sharp scissors for steeking, but in general this simple list of tools gets all the work done that I need.

I’m probably a little bit more obsessive about the tools I use for design. I have been a lifelong lover of pens and notebooks, and my notebook collection is one area where I probably seem like a hoarder. Though in recent years, I’ve found a specific brand of Japanese notebook that I use religiously: spiral binding, hard plastic cover, perfectly sized sheets and — most importantly — a dot-rule grid. I love working on grids (which thankfully I need to do often in knitwear design), and a dot-rule grid allows me the presence of the grid without a large amount of visual clutter coming from traditional gridlines on graph paper. It’s the perfect marriage of graph paper and blank sketching paper — again, the more versatile the better.

I’m also very particular with my writing and sketching tools. I like precision tools, so tend to use Japanese writing utensils — both pens and mechanical pencils — with tip fineness in the range of .3 to .4 mm. (Now my inner geek is really coming out!)

The other tool area that I remain uncompromising about is software. I spend a lot of my time doing design and photography work on-screen, and over the years have honed in on those tools that are most well-designed and efficient for my own workflow. I spend a lot of time working in Adobe Illustrator (an absolutely amazing piece of software!) working on design mock-ups, pattern drafting, chart and schematic illustration, etc. Illustrator is seriously powerful, and having spent the time to figure out specific ways it can work for my needs has been totally worth it over the years. For digital photography, I am completely reliant on my Wacom tablet, which transforms photo processing (at least in my own head) from something mechanical to something much more painterly. It allows digital photography to feel more like hands-on work in a darkroom, which I really love.

A few other pieces of software that I can’t live without are PathFinder for Mac (a browser replacement for Finder that is incredibly feature-rich and geared towards power-users who manage a wide variety of files, folders, directories, servers, etc.), OmniPlan (a beautiful solution for project management, which I rely on for all sorts of project planning, most notably scheduling for all of our overlapping collection schedules at Brooklyn Tweed), and Curio (a “mind mapping” software that I use for visual planning and organization — when curating or putting together a design collection, color story or pattern roster, for example).

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I’m a very organized person in general, and I like for my tools and supplies to have a good system of order. First, I am constantly trying to whittle down my tools to only the most essential things I need. If I haven’t used a tool for a year or more, I most likely will donate it or give it away. I find the constant process of editing my tools very liberating – and a sort of meditative practice, like constantly reassessing yourself and your needs for your current situation.

For the tools that I do use regularly, I like compartmentalized organizers or other custom-sized vessels. (I have a weakness for the Container Store.) I keep my circular needles organized in hanging case with sizes clearly marked. Circular needles are by far my most beloved tool for knitting.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

With my knitting, I’ve been working hard for the last few years to minimize both my stash and the number of unfinished, outstanding projects that I have languishing. It’s certainly been an exercise in self-control, as any avid knitter can probably understand — but it’s been a very rewarding payoff. For the first time, I have only a handful of in-progress projects in my life, and as such can store them in very simple ways. I love woven baskets, so store most of my projects in various corners of my living space in baskets that I’ve been collecting over the years.

My ultimate goal would be to have 1-3 projects “in-process” at any given time. I haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s a goal that I’m slowly but surely moving closer to.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I inherited my mother’s sewing machine — a Japanese machine from the late ’70s that works wonderfully. I love knowing that I’m working on the machine that churned out tons of awesome, neon children’s clothes for my brothers and me in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Do you lend your tools?

Not usually — but I think that has more to do with the fact that I am a very solitary maker; my crafting pursuits and social life don’t intersect much. (Aside from my day-to-day interaction with my team at Brooklyn Tweed, which provides plenty of creative stimulation!)

When it comes to lending tools, I usually prefer to give something away instead — it’s all part of my constant effort to pare down my tools to only the essentials. As I get older, I notice that I tend more and more towards a minimalist approach to my tools and possessions in general.

What is your favorite place to knit?

I like knitting really late at night when the world has gone silent. I find that this is the best time to let my mind wander and to really enjoy the process of making stitches.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am a fall and winter creature to the core. I have a quiet, pensive personality – and I find that my innate personal traits seem more at home in the colder months, when the weather forces us to slow down, stay indoors, and contemplate the inner workings of our lives.

Spring and summer can be lovely, of course, but as a Pacific Northwest native, I am severely ill-equipped for East Coast heat and humidity in the summer, even after almost a decade living here!

I do, of course, knit year-round — and very happily. I don’t discredit the role my air conditioner plays in my ability to knit with wool even during the hottest days of summer, however.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

While I don’t think it should be considered a “quirk,” I absolutely love swatching. I know I am in the minority of knitters with this, but there it is!

I love spending time and care on my swatches, getting a feel for a new stitch pattern and a new fabric, studying the behavior of the yarn at a certain gauge, and getting to know the essence of my garment before I begin work on it. A lot of people seem surprised or shocked that I finish my swatches with the same care I do any other knitted item (charting them, wet blocking, weaving in ends, squaring all the edges, etc.) but to me it just seems like good sense. Plus, I love having perfect little swatches around me — they give me inspiration and help fuel new ideas.

What are you working on right now?

For Brooklyn Tweed, I am working on my designs for our Winter 2015 collection, scheduled for release in January of next year. In my personal knitting, I’ve been playing around with some linen yarns, and am working up an open-gauge linen pullover for myself that will be a great summer “knock around” item. I absolutely love linen — and especially love that I can throw it in the washing machine and it will get softer and more worn-in with time. It’s also such a huge contrast to my true love — wool — that it feels nice to change it up and explore new fibers when I have the time.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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Photos © Jared Flood

Future most-worn handknit

Greetings from Utah! Awhile back Ashley Yousling, one of my favorite knitterly people, happened to mention that she had never knitted anything for herself — only for other people. I loved what happened next, and am happy to have her here to tell us all about it today. Thanks, Ash!

Future most-worn handknit

My journey as a dedicated knitter first began much like Karen’s, with the discovery of Joelle Hoverson’s Last Minute Knitted Gifts through a friend I worked with. The seed was planted years earlier as a child, when a great aunt taught me the basics of knitting. Renewed interest and patience did not come until adulthood and even then it would take time to foster this fiber relationship. I’d often start projects and never finish them. This was an enduring trait I’d had since childhood. But when my niece was born, I chose small projects and found great satisfaction in finishing them. I completed a variety of knits that year, ending it with an ambitious goal of knitting everyone’s Christmas presents. My interest waned drastically. It wasn’t until I found out I was pregnant with my son that I picked up my needles again. That is when my love affair with knitting and wool truly began.

I again started with small projects, but this time chose increasingly more difficult and time consuming patterns. Much of my renewed dedication to knitting was owed to my growing knowledge of fibers and technique. A few months back I realized I had never actually knit anything for myself. Someone tagged me on Instagram asking, “What is your most-worn hand knit?” I didn’t have one! The next day I started on my first personal knit, a pair of very colorful socks.

Soon thereafter, due to much knitting jealousy (it’s a real thing I swear) I wondered if I had the gumption to knit a sweater for myself. I had never knit anything adult sized for the very reason I mentioned earlier. With much encouragement from knitting friends Karen and Anna, I took the plunge and ordered ten skeins of Brooklyn Tweed Loft for my first sweater, Reine. As soon as the yarn arrived, I got to work, focused on doing everything the “right” way. Swatching, measuring, note taking and so on. Progress was slowed only by my career and motherhood, not by any lack of interest. With every hurdle overcome, I fell more in love with knitting, more infatuated with wool and more confident in my skills as a maker. I suppose I had a very well-written pattern to thank as well.

This past week I knit the final stitches on the sweater, made just for me. I still can’t believe the fit or feel. It’s pretty magical. I discovered the antique buttons at a local haven I’d been hearing about, Exclusive Buttons in El Cerrito, and couldn’t be happier. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, make sure to visit. The sweet little old lady Mary has owned the place for 30 years and has a story or two to go along with your purchase.

If you’ve been holding back, consider this a pep talk. Go knit yourself something amazing.
—Ashley Yousling

Future most-worn handknit

For more from Ashley, check out her blog, Woolful, and follow @woolful on Instagram. And p.s. I can’t believe I never made it to Exclusive Buttons before I left town!