New Favorites: Fair-weather friends

New Favorites: Fair-weather friends

Summer has arrived in full force, after a really lovely and long Spring and pre-Summer, as I’ve been calling it. Which means the air conditioners of Nashville are all officially on full blast, my sinuses are on the fritz (TMI, I know), and all I can think about is how to keep my neck warm. These pale beauties are both calling out to me:

TOP: The Purl Bee’s Crosshatch Cowl is as spare and simple as it gets — and would make the perfect constant companion (free pattern)

BOTTOM: The Bonnie Banks Shawl has flirted with me twice in my inbox — first in a link from a Clara Parkes email about the yarn, then in an email from the designer, Beatrice Perron Dahlen, who had kindly sent me the pattern after I’d favorited it at Ravelry. I’ve sworn off shawl knitting, of course, but this one is mighty tempting.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Crochet temptations

My tiny giant cloud


Here’s a little anecdote for anyone who’s ever wondered why or whether gauge matters.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Rebekka Seale’s blanket workshop in her beautiful studio, with a bunch of lovely women who had traveled from all over. I had provided Knit and Let Knit totes for everyone, and Rebekka had filled them with giant spirals of undyed merino roving and size US50 circular needles. We all introduced ourselves and then set to work knitting fluffy 3×2 ribbed blankets, while chatting and eating and oohing and aahhing over how beautiful the materials were. (And how the rose meringues for dessert looked just like our clouds of roving.) Of course, nobody ever thought to wonder about gauge or knit a swatch or anything — it’s a blanket; who cares, right? By mid-afternoon, we each had a substantial amount of fabric on our enormous needles and I suddenly noticed how vastly different my stitches were from Jennifer’s, who was sitting next to me. We were using the same exact yarn and same exact needles, had cast on the same number of stitches and were knitting the same exact stitch pattern. And yet, as you can see above, her stitches were almost twice as big as mine — as were pretty much everyone else’s at the table. The result being that I was knitting a baby blanket while everyone else was knitting one suitable for adult-sized humans.

In the end, in this case, no big deal. I was already wondering how on earth I would keep this beautiful thing away from my cats, so I took it as a sign, bound off, and seamed it into the biggest cowl known to man. (Just in time for 60-degree weather.)

The moral of the story: Knitting with the yarn and needles used in a pattern is no guarantee of matching results. If size matters, knit a swatch.

My tiny giant cloud

Knit the Look: Multi-marl infinity scarf

Knit the Look: Multi-marl infinity scarf

Not long ago, in one of my favorite installments of Knit the Look, I recommended adapting Stephen West’s free Ferocious Briocheous cowl pattern to knit a rich, cushy, all-black scarf. Today instead of paring that pattern down, I’m suggesting ramping it up! I love the multi-marl infinity scarf on this unidentified beauty, and again it’s Stephen’s pattern to the rescue. The pattern is written for fingering-weight yarn, while this scarf is much chunkier and marled. So we can kill two birds with one stone by holding the yarn double and casting on roughly half the stitches specified in the pattern. (Do a swatch to figure out the right needle size for this — US8, perhaps? — and what the stitch gauge works out to be, so you can multiply that by your desired width.) To get the mixed marl effect, knit most of the scarf holding one strand of charcoal with one strand of ivory, then swap out the charcoal for a bit and hold two strands of ivory, then hold one ivory and one red, and back to two ivory. I used luxurious Road to China Light in Hematite, Riverstone and Ruby for the photos, but these are easy enough colors to approximate that any neck-friendly fingering-weight wool would do. Or if you want it even chunkier, hold two strands of worsted!

See Vanessa Jackman’s original post for another shot of this gorgeous girl and her gorgeous cowl.


UNRELATED: The Wabi Mitts kits were restocked on Friday and announced to the shop mailing list over the weekend (are you on the list?) so the stock is a bit depleted again, but there are still four colors available at the moment! More on the way …


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Preetma Singh’s rollneck sweater


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

New Favorites: Alicia Plummer’s clever summer cowl

New Favorites: Alicia Plummer's clever summer cowl

You may have picked up on the fact that the striped linen sweater-in-progress seen in a couple of recent photos (here and here) is my hybridization of those two Pam Allen linen tanks I recently fawned over. I’m using Quince and Co’s new Kestrel yarn. It’s my first time knitting with linen, plus it’s an unusual linen yarn: a worsted-weight, chain-plied tape. It’s quite odd, yet compelling, and I’m eager to knit more with it when this is done. The heft of it is peculiar, and I find myself wondering what it would be like to knit a summer shawl out of it. (I think it could work well for something like my beloved Orlane’s Textured Shawl.) Or what it would feel like to wear such a thing. But for the pattern collection that launched Kestrel, Alicia Plummer designed a cowl called Hudson — just a simple little spring/summer neck accessory — and that’s pretty clever, given the nature of the yarn. It also looks like fun: There’s a little mosaic panel that — as I understand it — is knitted flat and then joined into a tube, and from there you pick up stitches along each side to extend the short tube into a longer one. Quick, seasonal and gratifying, plus I know exactly who might like to have it.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Pam Allen’s linen tanks


New Favorites: Helga does it again

New Favorites: Helga does it again

My lack of Pinterest time is showing. How else to explain that Helga Isager released a new collection of knitting patterns in December and I’m just now seeing it? The Map Collection doesn’t quite leave me feeling faint like some of her previous designs have, but it’s great stuff nonetheless. It’s very ’80s — some of it maybe a little too ’80s for my comfort — but I am in want with these four pieces.

Top to bottom: The Normandy Sweater, Shetland Cowl, Siberia Anorak (love those pockets, not sure about the funnel neck), and Himalaya Sweater.

You can browse through the whole collection on her site. Doesn’t look like it’s been printed in English yet, but there’s cause for hope.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: A bit of mesh

New Favorites: Colorwork without the work

New Favorites: Uncommon colorwork

There’s a way to do colorwork that doesn’t involve stranded knitting (i.e., alternating between different yarns within the same row/round) or intarsia (changing colors mid row and then changing back again later). It’s basically just stripes — anyone can knit stripes, right? — except you jumble them up by knitting into the row below here and there instead of knitting straight across. So it’s colorwork without the work! I’ve long been intrigued by it but have never done it, and in the past couple of weeks, two tempting patterns have hit the airwaves.

The one above is the Midwinter scarf by Wendy Baker and Belinda Boaden of True Brit Knits (for the Quince and Co. Scarves 2014 collection) and looks almost like crochet! It’s a stitch pattern that is apparently called English Rose Tweed, which I only know because it’s also one of three stitch patterns artfully combined in The Purl Bee’s Stitch Block Cowl (free pattern). Worked at a slightly smaller gauge than Midwinter, it looks a little more like weaving. Even more so for the Checked Rose Fabric stitch pattern it’s paired with. (My favorite might be the one-color part of the Purl Bee pattern, the Rambler stitch.) But it’s fun to see what a difference the change of scale makes, and makes me want to play with this stitch pattern at an even wider range of gauges.

New Favorites: Uncommon colorwork

IMPORTANT SHOP NOTE: I’m in a van today on the way to Seattle for this weekend’s Vogue Knitting Live event, and will be gone through next Monday. (Don’t worry, I have blog posts lined up!) But the very capable Anie is here to take care of your orders*, and I’ll still be checking email as much as possible while at the show. I have several things with me that are new, and I’m excited to announce them after I’m back! Meanwhile, there are a few more Bento Bags on the webshop shelves (more, including more XL’s, coming soon — I promise) AND there’s a new size of the beloved Doane Utility Notebooks. It’s 5×7 and feels so right and great in the hand, I’m completely in love with it. Check it out!

*With the exception of international orders — those will ship next week when I’m back.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Rosa Pomar’s blanket hat

Colorwork patterns for first-timers

Colorwork knitting patterns for first-timers

OK! Picking back up with the Beginning to Knit series, let’s talk about colorwork — specifically, stranded or “fair isle” knitting. (I’m not going into intarsia in this post.) Just like cables, stranded knitting is a great thing to try when you’re still fairly new to knitting. But even or especially if you’ve been knitting a long time and have never done it, it’s time! Both seem really difficult and amazing and impressive but are actually insanely simple. In the case of stranded knitting, it’s just stockinette and it’s almost always done in the round, so you’re only ever working from the right side of the fabric. You can handle knitting in the round, right? There are only two tricks to knitting multi- rather than single-color stockinette:

1) Holding the yarn.
If a pattern row has you knit two white stitches, then two black stitches and repeat that to the end of the row, you could literally knit the two white stitches, drop the yarn, pick up the black yarn and knit two stitches, drop it, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but it would slow you down a bit. Depending on how ambidextrous you are and which hand your normally hold your working yarn in, you could hold both yarns in your left hand, both in your right, or one in each hand. (That’s my preference.) There are copious videos on the web demonstrating all the options.

2) Minding your floats.
Imagine what I described above: putting one yarn down and picking up the next one. On the wrong side of the work, that new yarn has to reach across the two (or however many) stitches you just worked in the other color, and that little bit of yarn carried behind the work is called a float. (You’ve seen floats on the back side of fair isle knitting before, no doubt, but here’s a pic for you.) The reason most people’s stranded work winds up being tighter than single-color work is that their floats are too short and it pulls on the back of the work. So for one thing, you have to be careful to keep your floats even — the same width as the stitches they float behind. And for another, when the floats get very long — longer than a inch or so — you need to “trap” them by simply twisting the two yarns in back.

Sample colorwork chart from Pine Bough Cowl by Dianna Potter WallaThe other key difference is that when you’re working stockinette in the round, the last thing in the world you need is a chart — you’re just knitting every stitch! But for colorwork, you pretty much always need a chart showing you which stitches are worked in which colors. As long as you’re knitting in the round, you read the chart exactly like you knit: from right to left, starting at the bottom and working your way up. If a chart seems daunting, keep in mind that you only knit one row at a time. Block out all but the first (bottom) row on this sample chart and you’ll see that all you need to do is knit 1 green, 1 blue, 1 green, 7 blue, then repeat that 10-stitch sequence to the end of the round. You can do that, right? Then take the next row as it comes. I borrowed this sample chart from Dianna Walla’s free Pine Bough Cowl pattern, which was a huge hit with you all in the big cowls roundup a few months ago — it would be a great introduction to both colorwork and charts for the moderately ambitious among you. (Note that in some cases on a colorwork chart you’ll see black dots in some of the squares. Those dots are just there to emphasize the motif that’s being created — chevrons or triangles or whatever it may be. It’s just a visual aid; you still just knit every stitch.) [See UPDATE below about Dianna and charts.]

So, in my mind, the ideal projects for first-timers are those that A) are knitted in the round, B) never use more than two colors within a single row and C) don’t involve any long floats. Some suggestions, pictured above:

left: Dessau Cowl by Carrie Bostick Hoge — super-simple triangles pattern, maybe slightly long floats (See also: Flying Geese Cowl, Tolt Hat and Mitts)
center: Netty Cowl by Ien Sie — polka dots worked in a tube and grafted into a loop (See also: Herrington and Empire State)
right: Amira pullover by Andrea Rangel — just a little colorwork around the circular yoke (See also: Willard, Stasis, slightly more intricate Skydottir, or the Altair hat)

left: Harpa scarf by Cirilia Rose — tube scarf with long ribbed ends
center: Muckle Mitts by Mary Jane Mucklestone — my first colorwork project, includes both 2- and 3- color versions (either way just two colors per round) (See also: the more ambitious Seasons hat)
right: Vega hat by Alexis Winslow

left: Gloaming Mittens by Leila Raabe — there’s a slight chance there may be some 3-color rounds in here but I don’t think so
center: Selbu Modern hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn — like delicate Art Nouveau wallpaper for your head (free pattern)
right: Funchal Moebius by Kate Davies — clever play with lights and darks in a tube that’s grafted into a moebius (or a loop if you like)


I personally put off trying colorwork for two years, and then decided to take Mary Jane Mucklestone’s beginner class to get me off my duff and so I’d be sure to learn good habits right from the start. If you’re at all nervous about trying stranded knitting, then by all means sign up for a class. As I always say, you never know what else you might learn.


UPDATE: Dianna Walla left a comment below about her chart. She just did a post on her blog about working from colorwork charts, which you should definitely take a look at. See also her recent post about color dominance.