Hot tips and tricks from the Steekalong (and beyond)

Hot tips and tricks from the Steekalong (and beyond)

The speed at which Sólbein Cardigans are flying off the knitting needles in the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed is truly jaw-dropping. For those who are half done (or already on a second one!), these tips and tricks may come too late! But for anyone who (like me) has yet to cast on, I hope they’ll prove helpful. And they apply to more than just Sólbein:

1. Floats out. Marlene @mnberghout posted about her floats being too tight and how she intended to solve it on a second go, which is one of my favorite tricks I’ve never tried! Let’s see if I can describe this any better than I drew it: Hold your knitting exactly the opposite of how you usually hold in-the-round work. So with it wrong side (float side) out instead of right side out. And with the needle tips away from you instead of toward you, so you’re looking at the right side of the work but in the rear inside of the tube of knitting. Does that make sense? Held that way, your floats have to reach around the longer outer curve of the work, rather than across the shorter inside stretch. And if you still prefer to work with it held the regular way, right side out, try keeping your stitches spread to their natural width on the right needle, which makes it much harder to create a too-short float in the first place.

2. Block that yoke. Several people have expressed concern about their gauge while knitting their yoke, and/or opted not to do a gauge swatch and just cast on. In either case (or if you just want to make sure your colorwork tension is good before proceeding), why not stop and block your yoke? Just put the stitches on waste yarn and block the work like you would a finished object. Once it’s dry, you can measure your real-time stitch and row count and make sure you’re on track for your intended size.

3. Steek first, sleeve later. Every time I see a pic of a finished body, pre-sleeves, I have an overwhelming urge to cut that steek! If you feel the same way, there’s no reason not to go ahead and do that first. Although if you’re one who doesn’t love sleeves, the anticipation or prize of getting to cut the steek when you’ve done them might help?

I also have one gentle reminder or request to make, and this is truly universal. It’s natural to want to slide your pattern into your knitting photos, and a common practice. Please remember that publishing a photo with visible instructions or charts is the equivalent of giving away the designer’s work, and be cognizant of that when taking photos.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the feed and the incredible array of cardigans coming together on the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed, you really should go look.

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PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: Meet Steekalong insta-panelist No.1: Kristine Vejar

Meet Steekalong insta-panelist No.1: Kristine Vejar

Meet Steekalong insta-panelist No.1: Kristine Vejar

Holy moly, you guys, the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed is a sight to behold! It is, as Mary Berry would say, “cram jam full” of stunning Sólbein cardigans in progress along with a handful of other steekables, and surprisingly few people taking many liberties with patterns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I think on this one so many of us are just concentrating on getting the color choices right, gathering steam for our first steek — and there are actually quite a lot of people knitting their first sweater ever! All of which I applaud applaud applaud! I couldn’t be more thrilled. And cannot believe how fast some of you can knit! There are already sweaters at or nearing completion, while I haven’t even cast on yet. If you’re still on the fence, please understand you can jump in anytime!

Meanwhile, here’s the first of the standout projects that I want to feature here on the blog, so this is our first addition to the on-the-fly panel for the KAL, and it happens to be the endlessly inspiring Kristine Vejar from Verb. She’s taking quite a few liberties, and wow I cannot wait to watch this unfold!

. . .

KRISTINE VEJAR owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm (Instagram: @avfkw)

Yarn: A Verb for Keeping Warm Dawn. I chose this yarn because I love the fabric it makes, and also because I live in a more mild climate, which means I will get to use this sweater more than if it were knit out of Lopi.

Palette: Indigo Blue! I am inspired by this coat by Kapital. In the AVFKW dye studio, we indigo-dyed a range of shades. I will try to incorporate as many of them as possible into the sweater. I have drawn a few ideas for how to incorporate the different skeins of indigo-dyed yarn into Solbein. All of this said, I am prepared to knit and rip, knit and rip, until I get the color combination just right.  

Master plan: Taking some large leaps here as I dive into the Fringe and Friends Solbein Steekalong! When interviewing yarns for this project, at the top of my list were Lettlopi and Stone Wool Corriedale. However, when I came across Dawn, I thought Ooooo, this could be really interesting. I have a zip-up hoodie I purchased in Iceland a couple years back, and I wear it on our coldest Bay Area days from about November to January. But, due to Dawn’s cotton content, I could wear Dawn year-round. That being said, there are a couple concerns at hand using Dawn. It is lighter-weight, which means a smaller gauge. And, how would it steek? 

So I wrote to expert Mary Jane Mucklestone! She just used Dawn in her Diamondback Hat pattern. She said she believes it will work and to steek using a sewing machine. Great! 

Now to tackle gauge. I went to my swatch library and pulled the swatch for Dawn. (I use YO to record my needle size into the swatch). The fabric I like best is 17 stitches and 23 rows over 4”. It has substance not too tight and not too loose. And I believe I can make the pattern work at this gauge. 

The pattern calls for 14 sts over 4″. The size I would knit if I were getting gauge would be 39 1/2” (though that is a touch too big). So to compensate for my tighter gauge, I am knitting size 46 1/2″. 

By my calculations, the resulting finished size will be approx: 
38″ chest circumference 
12″ sleeve circumference

I am planning to leave off the buttons / buttonholes, cuff and hem treatment. I would like to knit my “buttonband” running parallel to the sweater, rather than horizontal (which I need to research because I am not sure how to do this).

. . .

I feel like I might need to hire one of you to distract her when she’s finished, if you know what I mean! But I also feel that way about sooooo many of the other sweaters on the feed. I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist casting one on in my own size …

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PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: The Steekalong starts now!

Fringe and Friends Steekalong starts now!

Fringe and Friends Steekalong starts now!

FINALLY! I know it’s been hard for a lot of you to wait to start knitting (and some just couldn’t stand not to cast on), so I’m extra happy kickoff day for the Fringe and Friends Steekalong has finally arrived. There is no firm end date. The feed will have my focused attention through Feb 17th, but feel free to knit at your own pace. Ultimately, this is not about deadlines or prizes (although see below) — it’s about challenging yourself, having fun, and making a sweater!

QUICK RECAP:

The featured pattern for this year’s Fringe and Friends Knitalong is the Sólbein Cardigan by my dear friend Mary Jane Mucklestone.
– The introduction to the event, with more info, is here.
– This being the “Steekalong,” you may knit any steeked garment you like.
– Since the announcement, Mary Jane and I have discussed yarn considerations, possible color palettes, and alternative steeking methodologies, plus Mary Jane posted a whole tutorial on the slip-stitch crochet method of reinforcing a steek, so check those out if you haven’t seen them!
– Jump in anytime by posting in the comments here and/or using the hashtag #fringeandfriendssteekalong on Instagram to share and see what everyone else is up to.
(Remember posts only appear in hashtag feeds if posted from a public account. If you are private but want to participate, consider creating a separate account for this purpose.)

YOU COULD BE A PANELIST!

Normally, kickoff day is when I introduce you to the panel of knitters who’ll be featured here on the blog throughout the kal, but I’m doing things a little differently this year — or rather, taking a sort of hybrid approach from past FAFKALs. As of today, the “panel” consists of just me and Mary Jane, and I’ll be looking for standout contributors to the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed, assembling a sort of panel on the fly.

For the next three or four weeks, I’ll pick projects that are of particular interest, and post a q&a with one of them roughly once a week. (Maybe exactly once a week, maybe less — we’ll see how it takes shape!) And then for any of those panelists that finish in a timely fashion (i.e. by end of Feb or so), I’ll also do an FO interview here just like I’ve done with panelists in the past, so everyone can see how those projects turned out.

So if you’d like to see yourself and your project featured here, the way to do that is to post about your plans on the feed! Photo quality always counts, but so does having an interesting approach or story or plan of whatever sort. Are you making some clever mods to the pattern, inventing your own, doing something interesting with your yarn choice? Setting some other sort of goal or challenging yourself in an inspiring way? Tell us about it! And you could wind up on the panel of featured knitters, which will also come with a gift from Fringe Supply Co.

YOU COULD WIN PRIZES!

Apart from the chance to be added to the panel and featured here, there will be random prizes everyone has a shot at. On February 17th, I will draw 5 knitters from all of the qualifying posts on the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed and those 5 knitters will each win a Field Bag of their choice!

“Qualifying” means:
– You must be following @karentempler @mjmucklestone and @fringesupplyco
– You must have made at least 3 posts to your feed along the way (using the #fringeandfriendssteekalong hashtag obviously), showing your plans and your progress and sustained participation in the event.

Winners of the random drawing will be announced here on the blog on Feb 18th.

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MEET THE PANEL

So there’s still the matter of telling you what MJM and I each have planned! You ready?

KAREN TEMPLER (Instagram: @karentempler)

Master plan: As we’ve just gone through a December that hovered in the 50s, 60s, even some 70s, and I’m unable to wear all of the sweaters already in my closet, I had to face the fact that I would not be making this gorgeous sweater for myself — so for who then? Partly because of my color concept (below), I started thinking about all of my beautiful little nieces I’ve never knitted for, and realized if I were to knit this at worsted gauge, it would come out kid-sized, and they could pass it around depending who it winds up fitting. So that’s what I’m doing! (And I’ll also finally be taking this opportunity to cut open my purple lopi sweater.)

Yarn: Obviously when you’re knitting for kids, you think a little harder about the yarn. I want a nice wool that will cooperate with a steek (so nothing too gooey soft) but that will be acceptable to the littles (so not too woolly). So I think I’m going with Germantown. I know from swatching with it for the Anna Vest that it is quite flexible about gauge, and since I may be mixing yarns for the colorwork, in order to the get the tonal gradation I want, that feels important. I’ve ordered some at the last minute, and will swatch and see the moment it arrives!

Palette: I’ve mentioned that I’ve really been craving yellow lately, and ever since reading about Mary Jane’s initial inspiration for the yoke — the flickering of sunlight — I’ve been wanting to see this sweater in a nice bright yellow with paler yellow and off-white colorwork. The reason I say I may be mixing yarns is that Germantown offers what I think (from online photos) will be just the sort of saturated, cheerful yellow I want for the main color, and a natural for the lightest, but not a nice soft buttery yellow in between. The skein pictured above has been in my stash for several years — it’s an older offering from my friends Camellia Fiber Co. , an aran-weight Merino that was naturally dyed with marigold petals, by my friend Rebekka. I’ve been saving it, not knowing for what, and I know the girls would love this story — plus that will give a little extra softness to the neckband. So I’m going to see if I can make it work with the Germantown. If not, I may try my hand at dyeing my own middle contrast color! The girls might rather it were purple or pink, but I’m pretty committed to the yellow idea.

. . .

MARY JANE MUCKLESTONE (Instagram: @mjmucklestone)

Plan: I think I’m going to put a zipper in this one. Either that, or knit the button band before I cut the steek. Both are things I’ve seen in real Icelandic Lopapeysas. 

Yarn: I’m using Léttlopi because I have it and because I love it!

Palette: I think it will be 3 colors of red because I have enough of them in my stash. Two of the colors are really close … I’m going to swatch first. I have a favorite discontinued red I might use if I can find it, otherwise it’s going to be kind of a fade effect, which could be nice!

The colors kind of remind me of melted candle wax. Might not be a great visual for some but I find it kind of intriguing.

. . . . .

We can’t wait to see what YOU do! See you over at #fringeandfriendssteekalong

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PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: More than one way to knit a steek

Steekalong prep: More than one way to knit a steek

Steekalong prep: More than one way to knit a steek

Here’s the thing about knitting: A finished object is a destination, and a pattern for that object is a map describing one route for getting there. You always have the option of choosing your own route! In the case of the Sólbein Cardigan — the featured pattern for the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong — the route described in the pattern includes a sewing-machine reinforced steek with a full tutorial for how to do it (partially glimpsed above). There have been many people wondering if that method is a requirement, and it absolutely is not.

I’ve put the following few questions to Mary Jane Mucklestone about the Sólbein steek and what alternatives are available, so you A) are not scared off if you don’t have a sewing machine and B) can consider your options even if you do! We’ll dig a little deeper once the knitalong is in full swing, but I wanted you to have this information before you cast on—

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The Sólbein pattern includes instructions for the sewing machine method of reinforcing the steek before cutting. Is there any particular reason why you wrote it for that method — is it your personal favorite?

I chose the sewing machine method because it’s what you see most often in Iceland. A line or two of machine stitches nails down all the strands without creating any additional bulk, another reason I chose it. I actually love to reinforce with crochet, a slip stitch catching 1/2 of two adjacent stitches. It’s really pretty and it helps the cut ends fold under. It does cause additional bulk, so for Sólbein I might use a finer yarn, maybe fingering weight. I’d choose a color to blend with the selection you’ve made, anything super different could possibly show through to the front. Personally I’d use whatever I had lying around that matched, which would be Shetland wool or sock yarn.

For those who don’t have a sewing machine, what are some of the other steeking methods they might research? And is any/every method an option here, or is there anything about Sólbein that would rule any of them out?

You can do the crocheted steek like I mentioned above, or hand stitching with sewing thread is also an option, I find I have to be really careful to make it pretty, but it works. I know it’s hard fitting a sewing machine into your knitting bag!

[ . . . TA DA! Mary Jane has even helpfully posted a tutorial for her preferred crochet steek method on her blog! . . . ]

Does Léttlopi really even need any reinforcement for the steek, or could a brave soul just go for it?

I think because we’re knitting at such a loose gauge it’s a good idea to reinforce the steek. If we used a tight gauge and more stitches for the steek, just leaving it and doing nothing could possibly be an option.

Having asked that, and having read the pattern, I will confess I’m actually slightly nervous (by which I mean excited!) about there not being more of a “bridge” of stitches to cut through. As written, one is literally cutting straight up the gutter between two columns of stitches. Would you counsel against anyone who might feel tempted to throw a couple of extra stitches in between?

Well in Iceland they’ll often just have a single purl stitch as a steek. So I was being cautious using two. I’ll admit it makes me a little nervous too, but like you, at the same time thrilled. It’s nice because there is really no bulk, just enough left to be a tidy little selvage. I wear my Sólbein a lot and nothing bad has happened to it. All those Icelandic knitters can’t be wrong! But that’s not to say you can’t add more stitches if it helps you feel safer and more comfortable.

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PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: Mary Jane on choosing yarn

Photos by Carrie Bostick Hoge, used with permission

Steekalong prep: Mary Jane on choosing yarn

I’m thrilled at all of the enthusiasm over the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong featuring Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Sólbein cardigan — kicking off January 1st. Several questions have been raised about color and yarn choices, which obviously need to be decided before casting on, so I’m doing a couple of advance Q&A’s with Mary Jane this month, starting today with those concerns. (We’ll talk about steek method alternatives next.)

To recap, Sólbein is designed for Léttlopi Icelandic wool yarn which is both unique and affordable — I’ve written about the yarn before here. In this case, it’s also knitted at a larger gauge (which works due to magic discussed below), the result being a sweater that knits up quickly, is somewhat less warm than if you knitted the same yarn at a more typical gauge, and is even less expensive, using less of an already affordable yarn. If you’re unsure about the lopi fabric, I highly recommend buying a few balls to swatch with, especially given the price point — knit a swatch, soak your swatch and get to know what the fabric is really like. If then it is not for you, we talk about the challenges and options for substituting yarns below. And you can use your leftover Léttlopi to make some Giving Mitts.

So with that, here’s Mary Jane — and if you have other yarn questions not answered here, please ask them below!

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First, let’s talk about picking colors for Sólbein. I did the big roundup of palette suggestions that were mostly based on your model of using light/medium/dark shades of a single color. Can you talk about the effect that has, and why you chose it over a more contrasty or colorful approach?

When I designed the sweater it was based on the prompt “lines.” I love a simple prompt. I started thinking about radiating lines and eventually about light streaming through my windows on a winter’s day, and sunbeams. I wanted an ethereal kind of shimmer. I design on the needle and knitted the light one first.  To get the effect I saw in my mind’s eye, I chose a group of three colors that were fairly close in value, with the white acting as a bold color … if that makes sense.

When thinking about a second colorway, charcoal seemed a great choice for the main body color, so different from the first version. Choosing such a dark dark allowed different spacing between the values, but still in the same sequence: darkest for the body, middle for the ribbing and lightest for sunbeams. The medium color also become beams, when they progress into the darkest color.

So that was just my personal thinking about a knitted way to describe lines and my interpretation of lines being light. I’ve seen some really cute bright versions of Sólbein though — some even in candy colors, still arranged in a value sequence — and they are super cute!

Léttlopi is not like any other yarn I’ve ever used, and I find it impossible to describe to anyone — it’s so incredibly light and has such a halo that the fabric is more like a puff of wool-infused air or something. You’ve compounded that by knitting on a larger-than-usual needle: It’s aran-gauge yarn (or heavy worsted) knitted here on chunky needles, but the resulting fabric is not loose stockinette because of the way the lopi fleece blooms to fill the would-be gaps. I’d never seen that done before your Stopover pattern (and I wound up trying it with my little black raglan sweater). Is that a trick you’d seen before with Léttlopi?

I love Léttlopi. I love the fuzz and the loft and the lightness of it. And the shine — it glimmers. We traveled to Iceland in the ’70s and my mom got a lopapeysa which I’ve always always loved. It was so thick, but still so light in weight, and that’s the thing for me — lopi produces a warm but lightweight garment. So the memory of the utility of that sweater has never left me.

I came to knit Léttlopi at a loose gauge because I was in a hurry. I always wore my favorite storebought lopapeysa I got a few years ago, and a friend pointed out that I had it on in every picture and I needed to be wearing my own designs. Realizing that I had a week before my next trip, I consulted my stash and thought … why not? I didn’t have regular lopi, only had Léttlopi, and I figured I could use a bigger needle for a faster knit. I also wanted a warm sweater that wouldn’t weigh a lot because of airline weight restrictions, and that could take a beating being squished and compacted in a suitcase. I did a little swatching and I kept pushing the needle size, seeing how big I could get away with. Léttlopi is magical; once washed, the loft of it fills in the gaps of the loose gauge. 

All of those lopi traits and gauge trickery are what makes it difficult to suggest yarn substitutions. A typical aran-weight yarn would not do well being knitted at such a large gauge, and especially with colorwork involved. Substituting here would require using a chunky yarn, which would result in a heavier, denser sweater. It might be more or less warm than the lopi, depending, but it would not be the same light-as-air sweater. On top of which, not all yarns are suited to either colorwork or steeking. It needs to be a woolly wool with some grip. (Nothing super smooth, slippery or superwash.) Which doesn’t leave a lot of options! Do you think it would work with any of the lighter, more roving-y wools like Turbine and Puffin and Quarry? What’s your best suggestion?

Hmmm … yes. You can substitute, but I can’t think of any yarn that will produce a sweater that is as light in weight as Léttlopi. But not everyone needs a sweater to cram in a suitcase, or that weighs next to nothing. So swatch! Swatching is fun. It’s like an experiment — like you are a knitting scientist or a knitting explorer charting new territory!  Test out a potential yarn and decide if you like the knitted result. Wash the swatch to see what happens. See how much larger you can make it with blocking. Léttlopi has a lot of leeway — when it’s wet you can make it grow if you want it to grow, or just pat it into place if you don’t want it to. 

But you want answers! I’ve used Puffin when I’m swatching for design and I want a yarn where I can rip things out without much harm… so I know the gauge will work and it will be pretty. But it will be different, it will be more solid and weigh more. Quarry is kind of like roving, so it will probably work, and be fairly light. It won’t have the glossy sparkle that Lettlopi has, but it could be nice. So yeah. Everything will be a trade off, but that’s fine, and can be an adventure of discovery!

Among those not averse to using lopi wool, several people have also asked whether the unspun Plötulopi would work? And I’m wondering the opposite — any reason someone couldn’t use the bulky-gauge Alafoss Lopi? In which case you’d be knitting it at standard gauge, for a more typical Icelandic outerwear sort of garment, am I right? 

I think Plötulopi stranded double will work, in fact I’ve seen it done on Instagram. I wouldn’t use a single strand because I don’t believe the edge will be strong enough to support a button band. Standard Lopi will be fine, and it will make a more traditional lopapeysa. It will be heavier and warmer and can function as a jacket. It could be fantastic now that I think about it. Not for my international flights maybe, but as outwear it would be great.

Obviously, whatever one is considering potentially substituting, as you’ve noted, it would be exceptionally important to knit a big swatch, make sure it’s suitable for the colorwork and gauge, and also potentially cut the swatch to confirm the steek will hold. How do you advise swatching for this sweater, in any case?

Well, ideally, you swatch the way your garment will be knit, so in the round, with the needles you’ll be using … so a hat-sized swatch. I’d practice both plain stockinette and do some of the colorwork lines. Really get a feel for the fabric you are making. I hear some groans … . If you really really don’t want to do that, you could also knit flat, utilizing a Shetland technique called “brak an eek”, or break and join. On a circular needle you knit flat, joining yarn on the right edge, and breaking it on the left edge, sliding the stitches back to the right, and repeating. You knot the broken yarns after a couple of rows. Keep in mind if you’re new to this, it might take a bit of practice, and you also won’t be able to reuse the yarn. In either case it’s a bonus if you want to try out your steeking method on the swatch, great preparation!

Interesting — I just leave a long loop across the back of the swatch for each row, and cut the loops at the end.

The other option for anyone wanting to substitute yarn but not wanting to go the bulky route would be to knit aran-weight yarn at aran gauge and to do their own gauge math. Any caveats for anyone thinking of going that route? (Other than “don’t ask Mary Jane to do your math!”)

I say go for it if you want to. Since it’s knitted top-down, you can easily knit it to the length you want. A friend of mine has had great success knitting Sólbein at a 4.5 stitch gauge. She’s had to fiddle with things and ripped a bunch out but her finished sweater is divine

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PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: Sólbein palette ideas