When I was going through all of my favorited shawl patterns in putting together the most recent New Favorites installment, I ran across Julie Hoover’s Walsh (top), which I had saved as a shawl pattern because it’s literally a little triangle that would also look great scaled up to shawl proportions, and even at pattern scale might double as a neck kerchief like the one I made my mom long ago and still want for myself. But when I saw it again that day, my reaction was “a head kerchief is such a good idea.” And a matter of days later, along came Denise Bayon’s Hatdana (bottom)! Now I find myself wanting to knit one of each — and why not, when they’re perfect little portable warm-weather projects.
I first metDenise Bayron on Instagram about a year ago when she had just learned to sew and was wowing everyone with her skills. No doubt her experience in knitting and the fashion industry were factors, but it was mind-blowing how quickly she was drafting her own inventive jumpsuit, for instance. And have you seen her knitting patterns? Last year’s chic Cardizen has just been joined by a clever cross between a head kerchief and a bandana cowl, the Hatdana. (Straight into my queue!) With more in the pipeline.
On top of her immeasurable talents, Denise might actually be the friendliest person I’ve ever met. I’ve loved getting to know her better in recent months and am excited to be able to share more of her story through this q&a. To keep up with Denise, follow @bayronhandmade.
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I knit, crochet and sew. I learned to crochet from a neighbor when I was 4 years old. I practiced frequently and enjoyed doing it immensely but lost the habit as I grew into my teens. I’ve picked it up again in recent years.
As a young woman living in New York, I worked in the fashion industry as the VP of a public relations agency for many years. The corporate hustle didn’t allow for much making. Even worse, I absorbed the conflicting message that quality clothing is both expensive and disposable after a season. Fast fashion diminished my self-worth because of unattainable expectations. So I quit my job to pursue more meaningful work in the personal wellness industry. Ironically, leaving the fashion industry opened me up to making clothes by hand.
A few years later, I moved from New York to Madison, Wisconsin. I was in a new city, and I had no friends. Within days of moving, I attended a fair-trade festival. The first person I met was a woman who was a knitter and the manager of a local fair-trade organization. I asked her if I could volunteer at her company. I also asked her if she would be my friend. I’m surprised she didn’t run in the opposite direction! I worked part-time for that organization for about 5 years. I was surrounded by items that were made by artisans and farmers from around the world. I grew to appreciate the beauty of handmade things, their longevity, their intrinsic and sentimental value, and the cultural lessons that can be passed down through craft.
Through my volunteer work, I was granted a visa to work with an artisan partner in Thailand. The partner ran a cooperative business comprised of women from the northern Thai hill tribes. My assignment was to teach the women English and marketing strategies so that they could compete in a global economy. These women made magic with their hands. I had much to learn from them too! After our classes, I stayed on to watch them sew, knit and embroider beautiful things. I continued traveling through eight countries and had similar exchanges in Myanmar and Indonesia too. The time I spent learning handicrafts from experienced artisans changed my life and point of view.
When I returned to the US, I continued to develop my knitting skills. Sewing, however, was still on the back burner. This all changed when I moved to California four years ago. I found myself in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a rich and diverse maker community. I searched for a local yarn shop and found the most charming shop — A Verb For Keeping Warm! It was within walking distance from my home. OMG, two steps away from heaven, right??!! The shop hosts a monthly maker meetup called Seam Allowance. The meetup is a sew-and-tell of sorts where participants pledge to make 25% of their wardrobe by hand. I was floored by the quality of the projects shared in the group, and I was incredibly inspired. I was determined to try my hand at sewing. I walked out of the shop with a pattern by Sonya Philip, the designer of 100 Acts of Sewing. Sonya’s clear pattern instructions and tutorial videos helped me complete my first sewing project — a pair of pants! That success gave me the courage to keep sewing and later try my hand at drafting.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
In a dream world, I am a monogamous knitter with one set of wooden needles and only enough yarn to knit the project that I am currently working on. In the real world, I do, in fact, have only one set of interchangeable needles. However, I need more cables to hold multiple WIPs.
In a past interview I vocalized my dislike for the clicking of metal needles. Never say never, because I’ve had to eat crow after working on a recent lace project. I found myself searching online for Addi Turbo Rockets. I didn’t buy them, but my little heart wants them so badly.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I try to keep my tools to a minimum and buy the best quality and most beautiful tools I can afford. As far as organizing, I keep my yarn stash in two baskets on my sewing table. I also have one bookshelf where I store my fabric and hand knit projects. Next to that bookshelf I keep a couple of bolts of fabric standing upright on the floor. A local friend and shop owner offered to sell me 120 yards of tencel for $100! This offer was a no-brainer, so I immediately broke my own minimalism rules and rushed to her home to pick them up. She also gave me some garment-quality cotton, linen and wool as a gift. It was a total score!
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I live in a tiny apartment in Oakland. I don’t have a dedicated studio for my work. My bed is two feet away from my workspace. I’ve placed two long Ikea desks side-by-side to make one long surface along the wall. That’s where I cut fabric, sew, knit, work on my laptop and drink hot coffee. Multi-tasking sometimes means that there is fabric on the dining table, yarn in baskets under my favorite armchair, and scrap paper on the bed. It’s not always pretty, but stuff gets done. I have to thank my partner who is the most organized person I know. He does the cleaning and sorting while I cuss at the dropped stitches on my needles and grade my patterns.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
The tools I use the most are my Lykke interchangeable needles, Gingher shears, and Merchant and Mills snips. I love the Cocoknits stitch stoppers. I also use the black Magpie stitch markers that look like big safety pins as progress keepers. This year I also invested in a new knitting bag. It is the Twig and Horn crossbody project tote. I have the Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag in a matching toffee color and the Fringe leather tool pouch. Now everything is matchy-matchy and beautiful.
Having said that, I used to keep my projects in a Ziploc bag inside of a ratty Fjallraven backpack. Although I love a pretty bag, and sharp shears are essential for cutting fabric, I want to avoid repeating the negative messages I received from the fast fashion industry. More isn’t always better.
Do you lend your tools?
Not really. Not because I’m cheap, but because it has never come up. My maker friends all have beautiful tools of their own!
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
I do most of my making at home. My home is tiny but cozy. It’s clean, quiet and smells nice. My new favorite candle is Teakwood by Wax and Wool. I’ve tried knitting in cafés and in the park, but really, my home is my haven.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I knit year-round. Some knitters complain about working with wool in the summer, but I live in California. We get chilly coastal winds at night which is the perfect climate for knitting. I tend to sew mostly in the spring and summer. This year I want to try my hand at sewing a swimsuit. I have my eye on the Sophie Swimsuit by Closet Case Patterns.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
No dark secrets. Quirks? Loads of them! I love neutral colors and work with them almost exclusively. If there is a pop of color in my stash, it is probably for a gift. I also look for yarns and fabrics that don’t shed much. I am careful to avoid lint because my hair is styled in locs. As a result, I stay away from mohair and alpaca. I realize I’m missing out because the “halo” is beautiful, but I don’t want fibers to get stuck in my hair!
What are you working on right now?
At this very moment, I am editing how-to videos for a new knitting pattern called the #hatdana. The Hatdana is unique and versatile accessory that is both practical and beautiful. It works as a bandana to hold your hair away from your face, but it is slipped on like a hat. It can also be worn as a cowl with the bandana in the front like a kerchief. I’ve been sharing sneak peeks on Instagram every day this week in anticipation of the release. I am so grateful for the positive reception it has gotten so far.
I’ve just wrapped up testing for another pattern, and I have several other designs in the queue. My proverbial plate is full, and my heart is happy. Thank you for allowing me to share my ideas with you.
Knitting a swatch is considered sacrosanct to some; a waste of time to others; and still others just can’t get their heads around how or why to do it. I’ve addressed the most basic aspects of how to knit a swatch before, but today I want to talk about why. Because there are more reasons for taking the time than you may have considered.
1. Meet the fabric To me, this is even more important than the standard reason cited for swatching (which I’ve thus demoted to No. 2). Casting on without swatching is like getting married at first sight. Think of the swatching process as you and the fabric getting to know each other first. If you’re using the yarn specified in a pattern, you might find out you don’t really like it, or would prefer it knitted at a denser or looser gauge. If you’re substituting yarn, a swatch will help you know if you’ve chosen well. What about your color choice — will the pattern (and the fabric) look good in that color, or will the yarn and stitch pattern drown each other out?
The purple swatch above was for a potential Bellows Cardigan. I loved the sweater pattern and the color of the yarn, but as soon as I knitted the swatch in that color, I knew that was not a garment I would wear, so I changed course before ordering a sweater’s worth of it.
You want to know that you’ll want to wear this fabric, so knit a big swatch, and block it. Wrap it around your forearm like a sleeve. Tuck it in the back of your shirt collar and wear it around for awhile. Or if it’s for a hat, tuck it inside another hat, pressed against your forehead, and see how it feels. (And don’t forget to abuse your swatch to see how it holds up.)
You also want to know that you’ll enjoy knitting it. The swatch in the upper left is Mungo, and the one next to it is a strand of Mungo held together with a strand of Pebble, which I thought I might like even better. I did like it better, but not so much that the added expense of the second strand was justifiable, plus I discovered that it would have been maddening to knit, as those two yarns are super clingy with each other. So the second swatch convinced me to stick with the first.
2. Check your gauge (or “tension”) The only way to know what the finished dimensions of your knitted object will be is to know how big your stitches are. If you’re knitting from a pattern, and it states finished measurements, yours will only match those measurements if your stitches are the same size as those of the person who wrote the pattern.
Stitches are the building blocks of knitted fabric.
Imagine I’m hanging out with Monique and Tessa and I build a little castle wall out of blocks. The girls want to copy it, so I tell them how many blocks wide each of my rows is, and how many rows tall, so they can replicate it. If Monique is using the same blocks as me, her wall will match. If Tessa’s blocks are smaller, she will quickly realize that if she follows my directions, her wall will be smaller. If her blocks are bigger, her wall will be bigger. Same with knitting.
Knitting patterns include gauge so you can make sure you’re building with the right size blocks. If you don’t care how big your “wall” turns out — if you’re knitting a scarf or a shawl; or if the hat, socks or sweater you’re planning to knit can turn out any old size and you’ll find someone who fits them — then maybe don’t worry about it. But if fit matters, knit a swatch, block it and measure your gauge.
3. Try out the stitch pattern(s) Becoming a more advanced knitter means continually tackling new challenges and developing new skills. Lace, cables, short rows, different increases and decreases. These things can look a little messy on first try, or maybe you just want to see if you can do it before casting on a large project’s worth. Try it on a swatch! The swatch in the center right above is my first swatch for my Amanda cardigan, and in addition to establishing my gauge, it gave me a chance to get comfortable with some cable motifs I hadn’t done before at that point — the diamond, the braid and the honeycomb stitch.
This is also a chance to discover things you might want to know before you officially get started. That swatch was on gauge but I didn’t like how the honeycomb looked a bit cracked, so I wound up going down a needle size and liking it better. On my second swatch for it, at center left, I also decided to test whether cabling without a cable needle would impact my gauge — and boy did it! If you look closely at that center left swatch, you can see that the bottom half of the honeycomb is sort of squashed, compacted. That’s the part I knitted without a cable needle. For the upper part, I did use a cable needle and it gave the honeycomb a more natural look. So even though that’s a ton of cabling, I had to make the commitment to do the entire cardigan with a cable needle — and I’m glad I knew that beforehand.
Likewise, if you’re doing colorwork you may simply want to practice first — but you might also find your colorwork gauge is different from your single-yarn gauge. So if you’re knitting, say, a sweater with a colorwork yoke and a solid-color body, you may need to use two different needle sizes to get the same gauge across those two different fabrics. (Many knitters need to go up one needle size for colorwork.)
4. Do your own math If, like in the cable example in No. 3, you consciously decide to knit at a gauge different than pattern gauge, then knowing your gauge (the size of your stitches) in comparison to the pattern gauge is the way to control the outcome. Going back to those building blocks, once Tessa realizes her blocks are smaller than mine, she can choose to stick with my numbers and let the wall be smaller. If she wants to know how much smaller before committing, knowing the size of her blocks and mine will allow her to calculate that. If her blocks are half the size of mine, her wall will be half the size. If, on the other hand, she likes the look of her smaller blocks but wants to use them to make a wall the same size as mine, again, knowing the size (the gauge) of her blocks is the key. If her blocks are half the size, she’ll need twice as many. Or she might decide to build a wall like mine but to her own preferred measurements, which she can easily calculate if she has simply measured her blocks. If each block is 4″ wide and she wants to build a 20″ wall, she’ll need 5 blocks per row. Just like stitches! (Of course, if there’s a stitch pattern involved, you always need to keep its multiple in mind. E.g., a 6-st cable that repeats across the fabric would require a stitch count that’s a multiple of six.)
5. Buy enough yarn There’s also the matter of yarn math. Pretty much every swatch I’ve ever knitted for someone else’s pattern has come in at tighter row gauge than theirs. If my building blocks are shallower than theirs, it will take more of them to reach the same height, right? If it takes me more rows to fill in a sweater than it did for the pattern creator, I’ll also require more yarn than they used. So again, you want to know a thing like that before you get started.
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These 5 cases are largely focused on situations where you’re knitting from a pattern, but of course if you want to knit from an idea in your head, a swatch is the starting point. Swatching is a way to figure out what sort of fabric a given yarn might want or be willing to be. (“What happens if you hold two strands of Pebble together and try to cable with it?” See second-from-bottom swatch above.) And once you’ve knitted your yarn into a fabric that feels right for it, what sort of object does that little square of fabric want to become?
Since I first published images of this hat back in June 2017 — the Debutant Hat, originally designed for use in my classes — I’ve gotten regular requests to release it for the rest of the knitting world to enjoy. I’m happy to have finally had the time to put it into pattern format and publish it through Ravelry, where it’s now available for download!
Debutant was inspired by a couple of mid-century hat patterns I love but was, as noted, explicitly designed as an introduction to cable knitting and chart reading. So it’s a great first pattern if you’re new to either, and a quick, pleasant knit for anyone already versed in those skills. (If you’re new to cables, I strongly suggest sticking with the recommended yarn, Osprey by Quince and Co., which will net reliable results.) Because it’s meant to get you comfortable with charts, it is charted only, but I assure you you can do it! And you will be glad you did. The pattern includes guidance on how the chart works.
It’s been four years since I swore off knitting shawls but, ahem, I’ve been thinking about that grand tradition of a shawl that can double as a baby blanket. So I’ve gone back through all the shawl patterns I’ve ever favorited to see if anything might tempt me into it. I’m not making any commitments, just saying these are a few that call to me, either newly or still, that seem suitable for this particular purpose—
TOP: Tensdale by Patricia Shapiro — probably my all-time favorite shawl pattern, baby friendly (nothing to poke or snag), and would look just as good in a bright color
MIDDLE LEFT: Dionne Shawl by Jeanette Sloan — on the one hand, I’m super curious to see what would happen if this motif were knitted at worsted gauge; on the other, lace plus baby fingers makes me a little nervous
MIDDLE RIGHT: Euclid by Isabell Kraemer — that is some serious cabling, especially at shawl dimensions, but looks like it’s all 1-over-1 crosses and easily memorizable, and it’s really lovely
BOTTOM LEFT: Ashby by Leila Raabe — another longtime favorite that has stuck with me, would be fun to knit but still baby-friendly fabric (See also Gansey Shawl, same thoughts)
BOTTOM RIGHT: Cloud Half Pi Shawl by Beatrice Perron Dahlen — a nice mindless pick-it-up-put-it-down project that would also let the color and yarn shine