A little surreal

By JC | March 24, 2015

You know how I’ve said that I drew stitch maps by hand, long before developing Stitch-Maps.com? Well, I found a little proof today. And it was a little surreal.

While cleaning out some dusty corners of my laptop’s hard drive (because, you know, I was stalling on more important tasks), I came across some notes I wrote to myself in 2005, after attempting to draw a stitch map for Oak Leaves and Acorns. It’s a gloriously intricate stitch pattern whose dense written instructions take up an entire page in Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips, but for which I’d never seen a chart of any sort. And I wanted to see a chart.

I wish I could show you the stitch map I drew then. No doubt that scrap of paper has long since been lost in my… ah, how shall we phrase it?… idiosyncratic filing system. But I do have those notes. And, almost ten years on, they’re kind of spooky in their predictions. Here they are, lightly paraphrased:

Notes to self, July 11, 2005

Tidbits learned while creating free-form charts for Oak Leaves and Acorns:

  • Drawing is a pain. On the first go, you have to guess at the spacing for the stitches. And you have to count and re-count stitches to make sure you’re on track.
  • Re-drawing is a pain: tedious, error-prone, still requires a fair amount of counting and futzing. But it leaves a better-looking chart. And it really helps you understand the pattern.
  • Following is a pain, if you want to count stitches (say, on WS rows) to verify that you’re on track. But if you want to use landmarks, free-form charts are the best.
  • Regardless, free-form charts are still the greatest thing since sliced bread for charts where the stitch count varies: you can see what bulges and where. They’re also great for patterns where the yarn overs and decreases aren’t adjacent: you can see what leans left and what leans right.
  • For patterns like Oak Leaves and Acorns, where the various chunks flow into one another (for example, the acorns don’t line up vertically; instead, the acorns and leaves flow into the central stem), regular gridded charts are a serious problem. You can show the central stem, and you can show each individual chunk, but you can’t show the flow from the chunks into the central stem.
  • Though you’d want the rows of a free-form chart to bend as the knitted rows would bend, this makes it difficult to follow the chart by covering the as-yet-unknit rows.

How do these observations impact plans for free-form charting software?

  • Software that does the drawing/re-drawing, positioning, and some of the counting would make the job way faster and easier. (Would it lessen one’s ability to “learn” a pattern via charting? Maybe, maybe not: maybe, by making it easier to “play” and ask “what if?” questions, the software would increase one’s ability to get familiar with a pattern and its variations.)
  • It may not always be possible to create a good gridded chart from a free-form chart, even with user assistance.
  • It might be interesting to develop software with the ability to draw completely free-form charts (that is, charts whose rows bend and sway) or semi-constrained charts (whose rows only run in straight horizontal lines).

Bizarre, huh?

Of course, in keeping with the ought-to-be-doing-something-else theme, I had to map Oak Leaves and Acorns today.

Oak Leaves and Acorns stitch map

Is that not the coolest thing? And while the long-lost, ugly, hand-drawn stitch map probably took hours to complete, this one only took minutes. Yay for technology!

Knitting Fresh Brioche

By JC | March 5, 2015

Check out the latest addition to my knitting bookshelves:

Knitting Fresh Brioche

with “gotta swatch now!” pages already marked

It’s Knitting Fresh Brioche by Nancy Marchant, and it’s fabulous.

The book is all about two-color brioche rib. You’d think that kind of narrow focus would be dull – after all, Nancy’s previous book, Knitting Brioche, covered all kinds of brioche fabrics – but no, Nancy makes it clear there’s plenty to explore: oodles of amazing stitch patterns, all formed of increases and decreases on a backdrop of two-color brioche rib, and a dozen stunning patterns for scarves and wraps.

Of course, the book also contains all the technical how-to info you’d need, from casting on and fixing goofs to binding off. My favorite tips are those for creating neat, tidy selvedges – something that I’ve always found tricky with two-color brioche worked flat. Nancy’s approach is to work the selvedge stitches in stockinette when working light color (LC) rows, and to slip them with yarn held to the dark side (DS) when working dark color (DC) rows. Doing so means that the DC yarn gets caught by the LC selvedge stitches… perfect!

That said… I’ve never been one for following instructions exactly. With a little swatching, I discovered I could work chain selvedges on the LC rows, while still slipping those stitches on DC rows. It’s a little fiddly, since the selvedge stitches are essentially only being worked once every four rows. But it’s giving me selvedges that I like, which is what counts, right?

scarf, light side

scarf-in-progress, light side

scarf, dark side

scarf-in-progress, dark side

Filling in the blanks

By JC | February 26, 2015

Let’s say you want to design a shawl composed of lace wedges. You have a lace pattern in mind, and you want each wedge to grow by two stitches on each right-side row. How do you get that lace pattern to fit into that wedge shape?

two stitch maps

square peg, triangular hole

In Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls, Martha Waterman suggests making the wedge bigger until you have enough stitches available to work another repeat of the pattern.

stitch map for Vine Lace wedge

with full repeats of the pattern fitted in when possible

But doing so leaves blank areas that I find… unsatisfying.

swatch for Vine Lace wedge, really ugly version


Another option is adding in yo/dec pairs – rather than full pattern repeats – when enough stitches become available. You hear this advice frequently because, frankly, it’s relatively easy to do. But for some stitch patterns, that doesn’t make much of a difference.

Vine Lace wedge, slightly less ugly version

not much better

I like going a step further. I relish the challenge of filling in those blank areas as much as possible, while still maintaining the character of the stitch pattern.

Vine Lace wedge, pretty version

now that’s more like it

This was actually a big topic of discussion during the Wedge Shawl Design class that I taught at Stitches West last weekend. We worked through a few examples as a group, and everyone had a chance to play with the stitch pattern of their choice. Many lovely wedges were created. (Alas, I didn’t get photographic proof, as I never remember to bring a camera to class.)

Still, it bothers me that I can’t quite articulate exactly how to design lace wedges without blank areas. I haven’t figured out a foolproof method that works for all kinds of lace patterns, just tips and tricks that work for some patterns. But I’ll tell you what: I’ll keep fiddling around with lace wedges, and if I make any great discoveries, I’ll let you know. Okay?

I could not have said it better myself

By JC | February 1, 2015

Yesterday, while scoping out the knitting shelves at a local bookstore, I found a gently used copy of Martha Waterman’s Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls. Since I’m in the middle of updating my Wedge Shawl Design class, I had to get it.

Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls

The book has a lot going for it: history, design advice, a nice selection of stitch patterns, a section on caring for your shawls, and more. But right now, I’m smitten with this quote from the “Shaping Shawls” section:

In addition to triangular, shawls can be square, rectangular, circular, or half-circular. You can think of all these shapes as composed of triangles.

Why, yes. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve been having fun these last few days, imagining all the ways that triangles can be combined into other shapes (and how best to arrange a class on the subject!). And Waterman’s book has given me a couple more ideas.

Want to take the class? It’s already sold out at Stitches West, but there’s still space available at Stitches South. And I get to teach it again in August at Jackson Hole Knits, a new retreat in (where else?) Jackson Hole, WY. Whoo hoo! This ought to be fun; I’ve never been to Wyoming before.

And we have a winner!

By JC | January 19, 2015

And we have a winner in the Curls give-away! Jules O, I’ll contact you via email shortly. Everybody else: Thanks for playing! And thanks for the lovely comments on Hunter’s Curls and our collaboration!


By JC | January 15, 2015

So, as I was saying, I knit one of Hunter’s Curls a few weeks back. Now, one of the (many!) awesome things about Curls is that you can use just about any yarn, in any weight. The idea is that you choose your needle size to get a fabric whose drape you like, then you keep on knitting until the Curl is the size you want.

Assuming, of course, you have enough yarn.

I started out with a hankering for Pavonated, and two skeins of Malabrigo Finito. I love Pavonated’s stitch pattern – both sides of the fabric offer deep, inviting texture; each side is unique. Combined with the Finito on 3.5mm needles, the fabric was just luscious.

But two skeins of Finito only amount to 400 yards. When the yarn supply threatened to run out, I bound off… only to discover that my Curl wasn’t as generously-sized as I’d hoped for. And with its relatively modest size, I couldn’t quite figure out how I’d wear it. Nothing I tried seemed to click.

What to do? Getting another skein of yarn in the same dyelot wasn’t likely. Aggressive blocking would destroy the stitch pattern’s wonderful texture. My choices seemed to be (a) live with a smallish Curl, or (b) find another use for the Finito and re-start the Curl in another yarn.

Yeah. So I chose not to choose; I put the Curl into an extended time-out.

Until yesterday. I chose to accept the Curl’s small size, and set out to block it. And, ironically, it grew. Dramatically. The fabric simply relaxed far more than I expected, even with the gentlest possible blocking. (Serves me right for not test-blocking a swatch, I guess.) I’ve lost some of the deep texture, but my possibly-too-small Curl is now Just Right.

Pavonated, as scarf

casually draped with wide end at back and curly bit in front

Pavonated Curl, in half-hitch

probably my favorite wearing option: a secure half-hitch

Update: Hunter has graciously offered to give the winner of the Curls give-away a copy of the electronic version of the book. So you get the physical book, and the ebook with links to the patterns’ stitch maps. Win-win! But remember: you have to comment on yesterday’s post to be entered to win.


By JC | January 14, 2015

Guess what I have?

Curls book cover

It’s a copy of Curls: Versatile, Wearable Wraps to Knit at Any Gauge. Whee! So many pretty patterns.

For months now, I’ve had sneak peeks of the book-in-progress as Hunter and I collaborated on stitch maps for the electronic version of the book. I’ve even been knitting my own Curl.

tip of a Curl

Truthfully? I finished the knitting weeks ago. (Ah, the advantages of early sneak peeks!) But it’s been languishing since then, unblocked and unworn. More on that story in another blog post.

Back to the book… even with all those sneak peeks, even with a Curl practically done, I’m still thrilled that Hunter chose to share a physical copy of the book with me. There’s just something special about sitting down with a paper book, slowing flipping the pages, savoring every photo. Don’t you agree?

Actually, Hunter gave me TWO copies of the book. Want one? Comment on this blog post, and I’ll choose a lucky winner at random next Monday, the 19th. Use your real email address when you comment so I can contact you, okay? (I won’t use the email addresses for any other purpose, I promise!)

FO report

By JC | January 12, 2015

Remember that swatching I did a few weeks back? For the stole with a bend in it? Well, over the weekend I finished the stole.

From the back, it looks like your typical triangle shawl:

back view of stole

with a single pattern repeat running nicely down the middle,
and new repeats radiating off on each side

From the front, it looks more like a ruana:

front view of stole

no shawl pin necessary!

As I’d hoped, the stole sits securely on the wearer’s shoulders, making it very easy to wear. Hmm. I may need to make more stoles in this shape, just for that reason.

Vital stats: Classic Elite Alpaca Sox, on 3.75 mm needles

Still learning

By JC | December 30, 2014

Yesterday, in the Stitch-Maps.com news article announcing the availability of symbols for Estonian gathers, I mentioned that stitch maps are awesome for seeing which stitches to knit loosely on the previous row, to make the gathers easier to work.

I fear that I may not have made that point strongly enough.

In knitting the sample for Quatrefoil, I completely screwed up the first row with gathers. You see, Quatrefoil has “7-to-5 gathers,” places where you knit 7 stitches together, yarn over, knit those same 7 stitches together again, yarn over, and – yup, you guessed it – knit those 7 stitches together yet again, for a total of 5 new stitches. When you get right down to it, it’s kind of a nutty thing to do. I mean, seriously? Have you ever tried k7tog in fine laceweight yarn? Despite using pointy needles with long tapers, I could barely get both needle tips through all 7 stitches. After much struggling and gnashing of teeth, I completed a couple gathers… only to discover that I’d dropped a couple stitches in the process, and they were busy unraveling. sigh

But I learned from my mistakes. You know how nupps are enjoyable only if you work the 5 (or more) stitches of the increase loosely enough so that you can purl all of them together easily on the following row? Yeah, gathers are like that too. But here’s the thing: which stitches do you need to work loosely? It’s pretty clear when you follow the stitch map:

Quatrefoil stitch map

click to embiggen

Here you can see which stitches of rows 6 and 20 need to be worked loosely: the ones that had been worked as “ssk, k2, yo, ssk, k1, k2tog” on the previous row, five stitches away from the nupps.

Once I clued in, working the gathers became tolerable, even – dare I say? – pleasant. But that should be obvious. Had the gathers remained a teeth-gnashing experience, I would’ve never bothered finishing the sample.

Quatrefoil swatch

More swatching

By JC | December 5, 2014

Yesterday I spent an obscene amount of time swatching, not to choose yarn, or needle size, or stitch pattern, but get this: to figure out how to shape some lace in the most attractive way possible.

Why? For some time now, I’ve wanted to knit up a couple more samples for my Wedge Shawl Design class. Sure, I have samples of lace “wedges” knit into triangular shawls, and even Faroese and circular shawls.

shape diagrams

possible wedge shawl shapes

But at the least I’d like a sample of a stole with a bend in it, a bit of shaping for visual interest and (hopefully!) to help the stole sit on the wearer’s shoulders.

stole diagram

a stole with a bend in it

Of course I started by drawing up a stitch map. Well, okay, a few stitch maps. When I thought I had something that would work, I started swatching.


a simple first attempt

Yeah, it worked. New repeats of the pattern appear along a center “spine,” creating a bend. But that plain k1 spine? Boring!

Back to drawing board – literally. After sketching out some new stitch maps in pencil, I swatched a variation without a center spine.


without a “spine”

Meh. Too… diffuse. Too many yarn overs creating too much mesh in the middle. Or something. Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

Ah, but what if we used a single repeat of the pattern as the spine?


now that’s different!

Bingo! I like this.

The key in all these experiments was defining the wedge, the tiny bit of lace that could grow from a single stitch into a new pattern repeat.

sample wedge stitch map

so tiny, yet so useful

Jeez, do I love playing with stitch maps.

Ooh, I just had an idea for a shawl with lace patterning like this and Hitchhiker-like shaping. Off to swatch some more…