It’s Thanksgiving today in the US and I know a lot of you are celebrating with your families and friends. As you may have seen on Instagram the other day, we managed to get our house spruced up and looking lived-in just in time for my whole family to descend on us, so that’s what I’m doing today! But I wanted to take a minute to say to you all how thankful I am for you. Four years ago, I had no idea how to knit. Because you are interested enough to read this blog, come see me at events, and support what I’m doing at Fringe Supply Co., today my whole life revolves around it. I’m exceptionally blessed, and I owe it all to you. I can never say enough how thankful I am. So whether you’re in the US or not, eating turkey or not, I’m wishing you a warm, cozy and happy day!

Q for You: What do you knit the most of?

Q for You: What do you knit the most of?

One of the most interesting observations for me when I was a new knitter (hey, I just passed the four-year mark!) was that knitters tend to fall into camps. Sock knitters and shawl knitters seem to be the two most entrenched breeds — a sock knitter knits socks sometimes entirely to the exclusion of all else. Same for shawl knitters. Some people make so many hats they are always on the lookout for new places to donate them. In the beginning, I was chiefly (although not exclusively) a fingerless mitts knitter, and I didn’t really know anyone else who was as rabid about mitt knitting as I was. A rare breed? A weirdo? Dunno, but I lived in the Bay Area, where fingerless mitts are useful or necessary about 360 days of the year. They were quick and only use one skein of anything. There were lots of different ways to construct them, and I liked trying out all the varieties, along with different stitch patterns and whatever else. I made a lot of them. Then I got more and more serious about sweaters, and I now basically have to trick myself into knitting non-sweater things — they’re really all I need and all I want to knit. Talk about variety of methods! Every sweater can be a whole new knitting adventure. Plus there’s that whole mission-to-make-my-own-clothes thing. So me, I’m a sweater knitter who occasionally dabbles in accessories.

And that’s my Q for You today: Do you have any strain of knitting monomania or do you like to spread it around? And what is it about whatever you knit that makes you so devoted?

Pictured (clockwise from top left): Acer, Cowichanish vest, Amanda, Olsen turtleneck


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Are you a kit knitter?

yarn + water = magic

yarn + water = magic

Here’s what I want to talk about today: Water changes yarn, and it changes knitted fabric. Sometimes it changes it for the better, sometimes not so much. Knitting swatches — and blocking those swatches — is always described as a critical step in achieving the right fit. And it is. (It’s the only way you can know how big your stitches and rows are, and thus how big your finished object will be.) But it’s also so much more than that, and the “more” is far less often discussed.

I’m not an expert on breeds, fiber characteristics, how yarn is spun … none of it. Not by a long shot. But I know a few things, and a lot of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from knitting and soaking yarn. (Or watching Clara Parkes do it.) If you give it a chance — if you look and touch and listen — yarn will teach you things. So at the risk of sounding didactic, I want to talk a tiny bit about why you should soak your knitting, if you don’t already — especially your swatches.

1.) See that photo up top? It’s an amazing small-batch yarn from Hinterland called Range — a woolen-spun wool/alpaca blend that is so light and airy and cushy I actually have a hard time believing there’s alpaca in it. I met the lovely Hanahlie Beise of Hinterland in Carnation last weekend and she had with her these two skeins of the same yarn. The one on the right is how it’s sold in the skein, and the one on the left has been soaked. See how much plumper it is? I wish you could squish it. It “bloomed” — or fluffed up! — when washed. Yarns like that are my very favorite yarns, but you can’t know how a yarn will behave until you soak it. If you swatch and don’t block, you don’t really know what sort of fabric you’re creating, don’t know what the yarn is capable of — and what it is capable of might affect how it should be knitted. This yarn would benefit from being knitted a little on the loose side so there’s room for those stitches to grow. Right? (Hanahlie gave me a skein of this amazing stuff before we parted ways, and I look forward to figuring out the exact right thing to do with it.)

2) See the photo in the middle? That’s (the now discontinued) Shibui Merino Alpaca. It’s a sweater I started long ago and will apparently never be finishing, but this photo is a good example of the most commonly known result of blocking knitted fabric, which is that it relaxes into itself. Lace opens up; stitch patterns lay flatter. These two sleeves are identical, but the one on the bottom has been blocked. The individual stitches have all settled into their new shapes, and the fabric has become more cohesive, with a very slight halo. In this case, it’s also become more drapey. (Too drapey for my taste. A lot of people like drapey; I happen to not.) If the pattern called for the wool/alpaca Hinterland above and you were substituting this yarn, or vice versa, you’d wind up with a garment that hung and wore and behaved very differently from the designer’s version because the yarns are so different, despite their seemingly-not-that-different fiber content.

3) And then that photo on the bottom? You’ll have to take my word for what’s going on here, but that’s the blocked swatch and one of the unblocked sleeves for the sweater I’m knitting from my Sawkill Farm yarn. Again, this a yarn that blooms a bit when washed — compare the fringe on the left edge of the swatch with the working yarn just above it — and can tolerate a slightly loose gauge. But beyond that, what you’d find if you could see and touch these two things in person is that the swatch feels very different from the skein or the unblocked sleeve. Again, I’m no expert, but apparently some yarns are washed one last time after they’re spun (before they’re skeined) while others are not. This one feels lovely in the skein but seemingly hasn’t had that post-spin wash, so there’s a little trace of machine oils on the yarn — again, not uncommon. (This was pointed out to me by more astute friends. I wouldn’t have been able to explain the difference.) The washed swatch is a clearer grey and it feels as light as air. If you’ve ever felt lopi — the yarn of Iceland — you’d be able to guess that there’s some Icelandic fleece in the mix here. It has that weightlessness and fuzziness, which wasn’t apparent until it was soaked.

When you soak a piece of knitted fabric, you might find these things — yarn blooming beautifully, getting softer, taking on an appropriate drape (or not). Or you might find that your nice plump cables fall flat, or that your heel stitch exhales to the point that your formerly perfect-fitting hat falls down over your face. (These are real examples from my own life.) Different breeds and blends do different things. Worsted-spun is different from woolen-spun. An undyed yarn can knit up and behave differently than the same yarn plus dye. All of these nuances and complexities are what make yarn and knitting so fascinating. And the best way to begin to understand and appreciate it on that level is to simply run some tepid water* and give that swatch a dunk.

*For those about to ask what I recommend as far as wool wash, my longtime favorite soap to use when blocking knits is the bar soap that I’ve recently been able to start selling. Anything with lanolin — which is stripped from wool in varying degrees during processing — will increase the softness of wool when used.

SEE ALSO: How to knit and measure a swatch and How do you block your knits?

Have knitting, will travel

Have knitting, will travel

If you follow me on Instagram, you know the saga of my week and why I was AWOL from the blog yesterday. Tuesday morning I was scheduled to fly to Seattle, arriving in the afternoon and launching into a few days’ photo shoot. As I was walking out the door, I got a text message that the flight was canceled and I would need to rebook, and for the next 6 hours I praised the universe for my good fortune. The rebooked flight would still put me into Seattle at a reasonable hour, but meanwhile I got SIX WHOLE HOURS that didn’t exist before. So what did I do? Lots of things. But what I did first was repack.

Due to lack of time to edit, at that moment I had two big suitcases in the back of the car, and I fervently wanted to only take one. I never, ever check luggage but packing for a shoot meant I had no choice, so I at least wanted to enjoy the benefits of that act. The second suitcase had been a last-minute, early-morning act of desperation. I’d woken up frantic about things that didn’t make it into the first suitcase, about whether that suitcase would survive being checked, and most of all about the fact that my beloved, irreplaceable Sawkill Farm yarn was in there. So I’d packed the second suitcase, intending to carry it on.

The do-over was a gift. After pulling everything out of both bags and whittling it down, I had what I wanted: one suitcase to check and one backpack on my back. Hands-free travel, with perfectly organized knitting. My plan was to have my most immediate knitting in my Field Bag in my backpack. (With backup knitting in the suitcase, obvs.) Upon boarding, I would stash my backpack in the overhead and keep the Field Bag with me. I’d done all the planning to cast on my Sawkill sweater in flight, but I also had myself convinced I needed a new extra-warm hat for this trip and might knit it on the plane. So in my trusty Field Bag, I had my swatch; a wound skein of yarn; all the necessary needles; waste yarn; my tool pouch; balm; kleenex; a random extra tape measure; and eventually nuts and cookies handed to me by the flight attendant. Five more skeins of the Sawkill were bundled up in a large linen Bento Bag in the bottom of my backpack. But because I’m neurotic about having options and had also convinced myself I needed a new bulky hat for Seattle and might knit it in flight, I also had a (leftover) triple-wound skein of Lark and all the needles needed for the hat, tied up in a small Bento and tucked into the Field Bag along with the rest. I like to take a Russian-nesting-dolls approach for maximum organization: projects in bentos in a Field Bag in a backpack. Dreams come true.

It’s good that I managed to get so organized because I wound up being in transit for almost 24 hours (not counting the six from the first delay). I got to Seattle a full day behind schedule, after spending the night in Denver, and launched right into the shoot. So it’s been a bit of a week. But it’s also been a great one — I’m here shooting the holiday goods with Kathy and can’t wait to show it all to you! And I’ll be at Tolt this weekend for the anniversary party and book launch. Are you coming?

IN SHOP NEWS: The sparkly winter issue of PomPom arrived yesterday, along with additional copies of the fantastic fall issue that sold out so quickly — you can get your hands on either or both at Fringe Supply Co.!

Happy weekend to you all—

The Rhinebeck report

The Rhinebeck report

I don’t suppose I can go to Rhinebeck (aka the legendary New York State Sheep and Wool Festival) and not blog about it. I have a tragic dearth of photos, though, because my hands were frozen solid for most of the weekend and I didn’t reach for my phone much. Monday morning I did — I took a whole bunch of future-award-winning photos of my sweet friends and the beautiful farm we visited, but then discovered (too late) that my phone wasn’t saving any of them. At least I have my memories.

The highlights: SO MANY of my favorite people, seven of whom I got to share a house with (I even got to meet Nicole Dupuis quite unexpectedly); best falafel of my life; an incredible number of Fringe tote bag sightings; the visit to the aforementioned farm, owned by a guy who turns out to have grown up in the same Kansas suburb as me; amazing yarn from that farm. All in all, a great trip.

To be honest with you, I spent all day Saturday wondering why I had worked so hard and traveled so far so I could spend an entire day standing in painfully long lines. It was like sitting in traffic for six hours. Seeing so many beloved faces while standing in those lines was the only thing that made it bearable.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I seriously considered telling my housemates they should go without me. I could really use a day of rest, and having a creaky old Hudson Valley farmhouse to myself for a few hours sounded way more appealing than a repeat of Saturday. But I’m SO GLAD I went. Sunday the crowds were manageable, and while it was even colder (it snowed on us!) and I looked like a very sad sack indeed — with my army shirt-jacket over my beautiful bulky sweater, droopy hat over my unwashed bun of hair, shivering so violently I lost a few pounds — I had a lovely time. I got to see the animals, eat the falafel I couldn’t get anywhere near the day before, visit many more of the vendors’ booths. Still, it looked like I was going to leave empty-handed.

Late in the day, Anna mentioned that we should all go to the booth where she had bought some nice tallow soap on Saturday, in a building I hadn’t been in. The booth was well done and the soaps on the front table were prettily packaged. As I stood there sniffing the bergamot soap and wondering whether to buy one bar or three (you know bergamot is my favorite) I noticed the deep freezer in the corner, a hand-lettered sign over it listing out the kinds of meats inside. Kate and I were debating what variety of sausage to take home for the evening when I noticed the bushel basket of yarn to the left of the freezer. Hold up now. I had picked up and put down numerous skeins of yarn over the weekend. All small-batch and perfectly lovely, but nothing that sparked joy, as they say — I didn’t want to buy something for the sake of buying something. But this was the perfect natural grey, and as we talked to Kallie about her wares and their farm, I wanted to buy from her. Of course I’d take a skein along with my soap and sausage, and so would the rest of my housemates, and we instantly started planning to all knit the same hat from it, to commemorate the weekend. But as I stood there, petted the skein, read the unusual mix of fleeces involved — Romney, Icelandic, Finn and Texel — I thought, now why would I not buy a sweater’s worth of this? Have I not been saying the wear-everywhere grey sweatshirt sweater is the giant gap in my closet? And have I not been trying to decide on the perfect grey yarn for that sweater? And was this not a beautiful, unusual, memento yarn I had in my hand, direct from a farm I’d love to support? Yes. Yes to all of the above. So I bought a sweater’s worth and will cherish the sweater it becomes.

The next morning, we went to visit Kallie and Michael’s beautiful farm, Sawkill Farm in Red Hook, and that was my favorite part of the whole trip. That’s where I took all the beautiful photos that didn’t save (I’ll never get over the loss of the one with the piglet running through the sunbeam!), but you can see the pics my friends took on their Instagram feeds: @toltyarnandwool, @fancyamber, @fancyjaime and @kelbournewoolens.

Kallie mentioned that her email and Instagram lit up after we posted about buying her yarn, and that makes me really happy. And I’m also happy for everyone else who saw it and bought some, it having been her first, small batch. But here’s the thing I want to say if you’re feeling like you missed out on Rhinebeck or this yarn: Wherever you live, there is very likely a fiber festival of some kind. Not to mention farmers’ markets. Go to them! There will be farmers there from your part of the world, and some of them will have their own yarn for sale. It’s awesome to travel to other places and find special treats to take home, but the real beauty of farm yarns is meeting farmers and buying directly from them, wherever you may be. You just never know what you might find.

Oh hey, speaking of which — this weekend is our local festival, Fiber in the ’Boro, and we will be there again with our Fringe Supply Co. booth. So if you’re anywhere near Middle Tennessee, get there!

Pictured are my housemates eating the famous apple cider donuts; gorgeous skeins of Sea Colors yarns hanging against a wall; a cashmere goat; and my haul of Sawkill Farm yarn in my favorite tote bag

Cowichan-style Knitalong FO No. 2: Meri Tanaka

Cowichan-style Knitalong FO No. 2: Meri Tanaka

Our second Cowichan-style Knitalong panelist with a finished vest is Amirisu editor Meri Tanaka, with her sprightly colored interpretation. Below she talks about what worked out for her, what didn’t, and how she embraced it all. For more from Meri, follow her on Instagram and the Amirisu blog. And if you missed our earlier Q&A about how to read a Japanese knitting pattern, make sure you check that out!

. . .

You knitted your vest with a single strand of Puffin (bulky) to get the size of the vest down. How did you like doing the colorwork with Puffin, and how do you feel about the fabric for this pattern?

Oh, I love the fabric! If I had been knitting in a tighter gauge, or in the round, it would have been much easier. Because I wanted to maintain the puffiness of the fabric, for the yarn to bloom when blocked, it was very challenging to keep the stitches even on the wrong side.

You mentioned you were struggling a little bit with the stranding from the purl side when swatching and I wonder whether you got the hang of it over the course of this vest. Were you trapping your floats Cowichan-style, i.e. trapping every other stitch? Or how did you do it?

I did get used to it toward the end, but it required a lot of trial and error. I knitted the back panel in Cowichan-style trapping, about half of it, but was not very happy with the result. The stitches tend to get uneven this way, because of my moderate/loose gauge. Before I blocked it, I ended up pulling yarn from the wrong side here and there to make the stitches look more even. You can see the difference clearly when you look at the front panel. If you look at the red leaf-like pattern, strands are trapped on the right front, but I didn’t do it on the left front. I figured that it looks so much better if I don’t bother doing it.

In addition to knitting at a finer gauge to get a smaller sweater, you modified the motifs to affect the row count. Tell us about the changes you made in that regard. And are you happy with the motifs you came up with?

Yes. I wanted to make this vest very fitted with zero or negative ease. To avoid looking like wearing a kid’s vest on a women’s body, I made it longer, which is about the same length as the original pattern. I added 10 rows to the lower body, by adding a triangular dot motif and a red line, as well as replacing one of the main patterns. I wanted to replace the geometric box-line motif with something more organic, so I did a lot of Google Image Search to find one that I like. I charted the motif on graph paper, which took no time at all. I am very happy about the result!

Did you make any other mods to the pattern?

When I began knitting the back panel, I was shocked to realized that some parts of the armhole edge (solid color stripes) require intarsia, and to avoid it I needed to trap the main color all the way across to knit the second armhole. The same situation happen for fronts, all the way from the bottom to the end. I didn’t like the idea of doing intarsia on the front band, where I will be pulling hard all the time, nor trapping the MC yarn where there is nothing else to knit on the other side like the upper back. Which is why I knitted the front band separately, in ribbing.

I was a little nervous whether it would work out, but it turned out to be quite easy. I picked up 2 stitches per 3 rows on the straight edge, and a stitch per every row on the neck edge slope (19 stitches). From there, the front collar was shaped by Wrap & Turn — work in rib for 15 stitches, W&T, work in rib to the end, turn, work in rib for 13 stitches, W&T, etc.

The other mod I did was to add pockets on the sides. To do this, I left about 4″ unsewn where I wanted the pockets to be, and picked up 22 stitches (11 on each side), worked 18 rounds (4″+), and grafted it together in Kitchener Stitch. It was easy, and I love how it turned out.

Watching everyone else knit their vests — both on the panel and in the larger community — was there anything you saw that made you wish you’d done something differently?

When I decided to knit the front bands separately, my initial intention was to attach a zipper instead of buttons. To do this, I figured that knitting the front collar by itself then crocheting on the straight edge was the way to go. But that meant I would need to recalculate the front collar. The biggest reason I abandoned the idea was that the body was more fitted than I had expected (though my gauge was spot on — I guess my hips are bigger than I imagined!), and I needed the button band to add a bit of width.

I saw what you did with your vest — I cannot wait to see it finished!

If I should knit it again, which is very likely, I will change the main motif entirely, so that changing the size would be more flexible and easier. Perhaps one big motif on the back, and something smaller on fronts. The idea excites me, and I’ve already started thinking about which colors to choose!

It seems like we’re all bound for at least one more vest! Thanks so much, Meri!


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: FO No. 1, Andrea Rangel (full series here)

Slow Fashion October, Week 4: WORN

Slow Fashion October, Week 4: WORN

Happy Week 4 of Slow Fashion October, where our theme is WORN — i.e. heirlooms / second-hand / mending / caring for things / laundering for longevity / design for longevity (bucking trends, quality materials …). Longevity is an overarching theme of the slow fashion discussion, but it’s not just about choosing well-made goods over cheap ones, it’s also about how to care for those things or extend the life of those you already own. There have already been so many great stories shared about treasured garments and their long lives, and I’m hoping to hear lots more, along with lots of thoughts on how to make things last.

My hope had been to have that previously-promised sashiko tutorial for you today, but sometimes I bite off a bit more than I can chew and I’ve definitely done that this month. With everything going on, I haven’t been able to photograph and write that yet, but I will get to it as soon as it’s feasible, I swear.

Meanwhile, I want to point you to my essay from last spring, Make, Knit, Mend, if you haven’t already read it. And I also want to direct your attention to some people who are specifically influential to me and/or in the larger community when it comes to this week’s theme. Images clockwise from top left, this group leans very heavily on the mending end of things, which is just one facet of the week’s theme—

Tom van Deijnen (aka @tomofholland) runs the Visible Mending Programme and launched the #visiblemending hashtag on Instagram

Luke Deverell of Darn and Dusted is another huge influence, doing beautiful things to worn-out garments and working to change people’s perceptions of mended clothing — also on IG as @darnanddusted

Katrina Rodabaugh of Make, Thrift, Mend was mentioned in my Make, Knit, Mend post above — I met her at the embroidermending workshop that inspired that post (and where I did my first patch to those jeans everyone asks about). She’s been making especially great contributions to the #slowfashionoctober feed; see her @katrinarodabaugh page for that

Molly de Vries, my good friend at Ambatalia (who makes the indispensable Bento Bags) has “the non-disposable life” as her personal mantra and posts a lot on her Instagram feed about her strategies for everything from avoiding take-out waste to laundering her clothes so they’ll last

I can’t wait to hear from you all this week!


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Slotober Frock step 2: What will it be?