By JC | June 1, 2015
Ask anyone who’s been teaching knitting at the “big” events for a couple years (or anyone who’s done a fair bit of designing, I suppose), and they’ll tell you they regularly get questions via email. I thought it might be fun to share with you a few of my recent q&a sessions.
. . . . . . . . . .
I had such a great time in Lace Basics at Stitches South. Hope to see you next year. I need a recommendation for high quality blocking wires. There are many choices but seems there are comments in each that make me question the purchase. Price is not really a consideration as I believe you buy the best, once!
Hey, D. I don’t know if my opinion will be of much help, since I’ve only ever owned one set of blocking wires. You might have more luck asking in a lace group on Ravelry.
But I can tell you this: Look for a set that includes both wires that won’t bend for blocking straight edges and thinner, more flexible wires for blocking curves. Look also for wires with smooth, slightly tapered tips that’ll make it easier to insert the wires into your selvedges. Bonus points, of course, for larger sets with more wires.
. . . . . . . . . .
Yardage amounts can vary widely. A couple skeins of fingering-weight yarn ought to give you a medium-size shawl. But if you want to make a better estimate, check out the shawl patterns on Ravelry. For shawls of the type and size you hope to make, how much yarn do they use?
. . . . . . . . . .
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but a friend and I plan to sign up for your Slick Set-in Sleeves class at Stitches Texas and have a question about materials. Since the sample sweater will be for a child, is it okay to use an acrylic yarn, such as Red Heart Classic or Wintuk? I have some in my stash that’s of worsted weight, and this would be a good way to put it to use.
T, I don’t mind if you and your friend use acrylic yarn, provided you actually like knitting with that yarn. Stated another way: I would prefer that you came to class with yarn that you liked rather than with yarn that you’d fight with throughout class. All too often, I see students struggling with old stash yarn they don’t care for, but feel the need to use up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a good learning environment. Does that make sense?
By JC | April 19, 2015
One of the things I’ve always wanted Stitch-Maps.com to be able to do is highlight the spaces between stitch columns.
Or, to put it another way, to break a stitch pattern into its constituent parts.
Having Stitch-Maps.com create these visualizations automagically would be awesome fun, not to mention super useful.
You could see where to place stitch markers that would never get caught in decreases, cable crosses, clusters, or gathers.
You could find the stitch pattern’s “true” repeat – especially handy when converting flat instructions for use in the round.
You could create new stitch patterns, by duplicating, removing, or replacing parts of an existing stitch pattern.
But as much as I want this to happen, I’m not exactly sure how it should work. It kind of depends on the stitch pattern in question, and what you’re trying to do with it.
Take Fleurette, for example. Highlighting all the between-stitch-column spaces gives a jumbled mess.
Sure, these lines show where you could put stitch markers. But it’d probably be more useful to highlight the pattern repeat.
Or is this the repeat?
(Actually, Fleurette’s repeat could be defined four different ways. All are equally valid.)
Another example: Trellis Lace. There’s only one spot you could put a marker that would never get caught in a decrease.
But you’d probably want to know that you could put markers in these spots. They’d gradually move to the left, such that every 12 rows you’d have to add a marker at the right edge, and remove one from the left edge.
More to the point: if you wanted to work Trellis Lace in the round, this would be the easiest way of doing it. Yes, the patterning would spiral, but note the repeat is only 6 rounds, not 12.
So what options should Stitch-Maps.com offer? What sort of visualizations should it make possible? I’m going to keep cogitating on the matter. Of course, if you have any comments to share, I’d love to hear them!
By JC | March 24, 2015
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).
Of course, in keeping with the ought-to-be-doing-something-else theme, I had to map Oak Leaves and Acorns today.
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!
By JC | March 5, 2015
Check out the latest addition to my knitting bookshelves:
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?
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?
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.
But doing so leaves blank areas that I find… unsatisfying.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!)
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:
From the front, it looks more like a ruana:
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.