Friday, December 3, 2010

Third time lucky

I've been having a bear of a time with a particular purple shawl. The first time (reported here) I cast on, oh, two hundred too many stitches for a bottom-up triangle, and had to unravel it. The second time (undocumented) I had made too wide a rectangle, and it would've ended up too short to be useful. So I unravelled it too.

But now at long last I am on to something.

Half of a thing

This is half of a thing; it has a little scalloped edge and then a polka-dots-in-a-diamond-grid pattern that becomes just polka dots toward the centre. Each dot has a nupp in its centre, so it is like dots nestled comfortably inside bigger dots, and I am altogether pretty pleased. I am coming to like lace knitting that's not particularly lacy.

I think that when I block it for real (rather than haphazardly on the couch just to see what it looks like, as pictured above), I'll do it gently; it's okay for the fabric to have some stretch and give and squish left in it. It's easier to get the straight edges straight when you're not blocking an item to within an inch of its life, too.

Juliet is some of the most well-behaved yarn I have ever had the pleasure of knitting. Looking at it, you'd have no idea that I had been knitting and unravelling and reknitting and unravelling; it looks just the same as the first time I knitted it up, with no undue fuzziness or pilling. The stockinette-based pattern is edged with only three stitches in garter on either edge, but in the few days of being shoved in my purse since I blocked it, the fabric has lain as obediently flat as it was immediately after unpinning.

It's a somewhat hefty fingering-weight yarn knitted at a moderately tight gauge, so the shawl will have a satisfying and comfortable weight to it. I think it would make the best sweater in the world, or the coziest, sturdiest socks.


So! I am pretty pumped up about this little project:

Back of hand

I wanted to knit a stranded colourwork something that was more relaxing than the monstrously fiddly things I had been knitting, and starry Norwegian-inspired mittens fit the bill nicely. This project was like a palate-cleanser; now I can return to other knitting without trying to make it more difficult than it is.

Mittens with diamonds and squares and stars and fleurs-de-lis! And patterned thumb gussets that give way to thumbs in the same pattern as the palms, and invisible wide folded hems for embroidering secret messages onto. (I am actually pretty terrible at embroidering on knitting—cross stitch is more my speed—so I declined to add a message to my mittens, but you need not decline.)


These were interesting to knit because they didn't feel repetitive; there's a lot of mirror-imaging going on, but the motif is long and wide enough that I usually forgot what was supposed to happen next. The palm, though, has a tiny repeating pattern (a field of fleurs-de-lis or stars?), which offers a small break from chart-reading every round.

Having recently discovered this awesome old space news item, I had to name the triple-star mittens after a triple-star system. Polaris it is!

To knit them, you'll need two 50g skeins of Knit Picks Palette or some other sticky fingering-weight wool yarn, in two contrasting colours (shown in Jay and Cream). I used a set of 5 US #1/2.25mm double-pointed needles to achieve a gauge of 38 sts and 44 rounds = 4" in the stranded pattern; choose whatever needle size gets you gauge. The finished mittens measure 7.5" around above the thumb, and 11" from the edge of the cuff to the pointed tip.

As the pattern is written, the hand measures 4.5" from where the thumb splits off from the hand to the tip of the hand. The thumb can be moved up or down by beginning it a few rounds earlier or later than is marked on the charts; this lengthens the hand and shortens the cuff, or vice versa. More dramatic resizing is best accomplished by going up or down a needle size (for bigger or smaller mittens, respectively).


My favourite part is the sort of abstracted snowflake motif on the cuff. (And the hem! I like wide folded hems instead of ribbing; you get all the cozy fit of a ribbed cuff with none of the pulling in, and then there's this excellent extra space where you can put more patterns.) There hasn't been an actual proper snowfall where I live yet, and even though it's December it doesn't feel like winter. Snow already!

Get the pattern for $5.50 CAD by clicking this link, or from the pattern page on Ravelry here.

(The mittens I've actually been wearing out and about, though? Maplewood mittens. They are so cutely rustic, and their yarn is so assertively wooly, that I just can't not take them with me everywhere. I am a huge sucker for wooliness.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I knew that if I waited long enough, it would be mitten season again.

Maplewood Mittens

These mittens are the first cousins of these ones; I even used the same yarn, Cotswold wool from Lange's Rock Farm in Nova Scotia. Their namesake is the community where the quarry is.

They have wide and cozy garter stitch cuffs and a chevron pattern over the back of the hand, with a single garter stitch at each side. The palms and thumbs are kept in stockinette for fast and easy knitting. For best effect, choose a crisp worsted-weight wool yarn.

Maplewood Cuffs

I think the exaggerated picots that edge the cuff give these mittens a very faintly feminine air. (I also think that using "delicate" techniques with hearty, sturdy yarn is hilarious, like an elephant in a tutu. Anyway.) They could just as easily be omitted; if you don't want picot edging, just CO 40 sts using whatever method you prefer.


20 stitches and 30 rounds = 4" in stockinette

Finished size

8" in diameter, and 11" from cuff to tip

Skills required
  • casting on with the cable and backwards loop methods
  • knitting and purling
  • increasing with m1
  • decreasing with k2tog, ssk, and sk2p
  • knitting in the round
  • picking up and knitting stitches
  • binding off

Yarn and notions
  • Lange's Rock Farm Cotswold Wool (100% Cotswold wool; 200m per 4oz skein); 1 skein in cream
  • set of 5 US #6/4mm double-pointed needles
  • scrap of yarn or stitch holder
  • stitch markers
  • tapestry needle

Charts and written directions

A key to the charts:

Cotswold Key


Cotswold Hand

Round 1: P1, k3, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1.
Round 2: K3, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k5, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k3.
Round 3: P1, k1, p1, k5, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k5, p1, k1, p1.
Round 4: K1, p1, k3, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k3, p1, k1.
Repeat rounds 1-4 for patt.


Tip (fixed)

Round 1: P1, ssk, k1, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, p1.
Round 2: K2, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k5, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2.
Round 3: P1, ssk, k4, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k4, k2tog, p1.
Round 4: K3, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k3.
Round 5: P1, ssk, k1, p1, k3, p1, k3, p1, k1, k2tog, p1.
Round 6: K2, p1, k1, p1, k5, p1, k1, p1, k2.
Round 7: P1, ssk, k2, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2, k2tog, p1.
Round 8: K5, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k1.
Round 9: P1, ssk, k3, p1, k3, k2tog, p1.
Round 10: K2, p1, k5, p1, k2.
Round 11: P1, ssk, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1.
Round 12: K3, p1, k1, p1, k3.
Round 13: P1, ssk, k1, p1, k1, k2tog, p1.
Round 14: K7.
Round 15: P1, ssk, p1, k2tog, p1.
Round 16: K5.
Round 17: P1, sk2p, p1.

Right mitten


(CO 5 sts using the cable cast-on method, BO 2 sts, transfer stitch on right needle back to left needle) 13 times, CO 1 st. 40 sts cast on.
Turn work so that wrong side of CO is facing—this will become the right side of the work. Divide sts between needles for working in the round, and join. Mark or note beginning of round.
Next round: K.
Next round: P.
Repeat previous two rounds 12 more times, then knit one additional round.
Next round: Work Hand patt over first 21 sts of round; k remaining 19 sts.
Continue as established until one 4-round repeat of Hand patt has been worked.

Thumb Gusset

Next round: Work across back of hand in established patt, k1, place marker, m1, k1, m1, place marker, k to end of round.
Next round: Work across back of hand in patt, k to end of round.
Next round: Work across back of hand in patt, k to end of round.
Next round: Work across back of hand in patt, k1, slip marker, m1, k to next marker, m1, slip marker, k to end of round. 2 sts increased.

Repeat previous 3 rounds until there are 13 sts between the gusset markers. Work two more rounds even, without increases.
Next round: Work across first 21 sts in patt, k1, remove marker, slip next 13 sts to a holder or scrap of yarn, remove second marker, CO 1 st using the backwards loop method, k to end of round.


Next round: Work across first 21 sts in established patt, k to end of round.
Continue as established until the mitten is just long enough to cover the tip of the recipient's little finger. End on round 4 of patt.
Next round: Work Tip patt over the back of the hand; ssk, k to last 2 sts of round, k2tog.
Next round: Work Tip patt over the back of the hand; k to end of round.
Repeat the previous 2 rounds until every round but the last of Tip patt are completed, and 8 sts remain.
Next round: Work round 17 of Tip patt, sk2p. 4 sts remain.
Break yarn, thread it through the remaining sts, pull it tight, and fasten off.


Transfer held thumb sts to needles. Attach yarn and k across these 13 sts, then pick up and k 3 sts across the edge of the hand—16 sts.
Next round: K to last 3 sts, sk2p. 14 sts remain.
K every round until the thumb is the desired finished length.
Next round: (K1, k2tog) to last 2 sts, k2.
Next round: K2tog around.
Break yarn, thread it through the remaining sts, pull it tight, and fasten off.

Left mitten

Work Cuff section as for right mitten.

Thumb Gusset

Next round: Work across first 21 sts in established patt, k to last 2 sts of round, place marker, m1, k1, m1, place marker, k1.
Next round: Work across first 21 sts in patt, k to end of round.
Next round: Work across first 21 sts in patt, k to end of round.
Work across first 21 sts in patt, k to first marker, slip marker, m1, k to next marker, m1, slip marker, k1. 2 sts increased.

Repeat previous three rounds until there are 13 sts between the gusset markers. Work two more rounds even, without increases.
Next round: Work across first 21 sts in patt, k to first gusset marker, remove marker, slip next 13 sts to a holder or scrap of yarn, remove second marker, CO 1 st using the backwards loop method, k1.

Complete as for right mitten.


Weave in all ends, but don't cut them off yet. Use the end at the base of each thumb to mend any holes in this area if necessary. Block mittens by soaking them in lukewarm water, squeezing out excess water in a towel, and laying flat to dry. When mittens are completely dry, cut off the woven-in ends.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


A new pattern:

Yellow isn't my colour. Or wasn't. The swirly greeny gold yarn that Sharon from Three Irish Girls sent me for knitting a sample was a revelation and a game-changer; it makes me think of old jewellery or battered ornaments inside weathered churches. I want to knit everything out of it.

(And I just might: wouldn't it be awesome to have, like, elbow-length gloves in that colour, knitted at a tight gauge, with travelling twisted stitches and cables? Like embossed patterns decorating something golden? I suppose not everyone wants to look like they're made of metal, but I have a thing for robots. Gold robots.)

The result was this scarf, which you can get exclusively from Three Irish Girls. It's a $3.95 download.

The yarn, McClellan Fingering, is a soft and silky merino/nylon/bamboo rayon blend that drapes and drapes. When I was knitting the scarf I kicked myself a lot for having come up with a little project idea, instead of one that involved oceans of that fabric to drape around my body, like a swingy wrap cardigan or a giant shawl, i.e. excuse to knit a sheet of lace. I also didn't like rayon much until laying hands on this yarn, so thanks, Sharon, for broadening my interests. Now there's even more yarn out in the world that I Must Have.

I also recommend that you look through the entire catalogue, because there are some delectable colours in there. They did a great job of purples in particular.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Small treasures

Thanks for your kind words; internet; the funeral was very sad but it was good to see my far-flung family gathered together in one place again, and it was nice to remember all the excellent things about my late grandfather.

While I was home I stayed at my grandmother's house, which is full of interesting old treasures. My aunt sent me home with these:

treasure trove

It is three and a half pairs of white stockings from 1873 or thereabouts. They all bear the names or initials of their owners at the top of the calf immediately underneath the lace or cabled cuff. Some are elaborately beaded words:


While others are garter-stitched initials that all but disappear against their stockinette background:

garter initials

I'm certain that some of them were knitted by machine, but these ones, at least, appear to have been reknitted by hand from the ankle at some point in their lives:


And this pair, marked 1873, bears the telltale minor unevenness of having been handknitted with a mixed bag of needles in different sizes:


The garter-initialled one, a single sock, is worked at a much looser gauge than the others, so I suspect that it was also knitted by hand.

There's really very little to reverse-engineer here. All of the patterns are very straightforward. The stockings are more or less identical to one another except for their band at the top; they all have one stitch kept in garter at the back of the leg around which the decreases are oriented; they all have spiralling decreases for the toe. They also all have a tiny ribbon stitched into the inside, so that the pairs can be tied up together and no stocking gets separated from its mate, except for the poor garter-initialled singleton.

My favourite thing about them is that they all fit me, which came as a bit of a surprise; the cotton fabric is not stretchy and they look very narrow when they're laid out flat. But they fit me like I had knitted them for myself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I am finally victorious over all of my gloves.


Guardian Gloves

Guardian Gloves have an elaborate stranded colourwork pattern that is a bit fiddly to work—three colours at once, you know. The remaining two colours are added with duplicate stitch after the knitting is finished. These take a long time to knit, as gloves go, but I think you'll find them worthwhile as soon as you put them on. I was moved to cackle madly with glee. It's great to have brightly-coloured hands!

The pattern is available on ravelry for $5.50 CAD, and eventually will be available from Knit Picks, where you could get it together with its yarn. I used Palette in five colours: Jay, Safflower, Sweet Potato, Pimento, and Clover. Most of a skein of Jay, about half a skein of Sweet Potato, a third of a skein of Safflower, and only oddments of the last two.



Lily is a more subdued glove for occasions where bright colours would be out of place, perhaps. I think they look like something out of the 1920s, long and lean. The cuffs are worked side-to-side in garter stitch, though, so there's a lot of stretch concealed in there—this is the glove analogue of the automatic calf shaping I was so excited about in the Solstice Stockings.

Any light fingering-weight yarn will work, I think, but I used laceweight held double to make a thinner fabric. Two skeins of Alpaca Cloud will do it, or around 800m/100g of something else. This pattern is also $5.50 CAD on ravelry and also is eventually bound for Knit Picks.

I've had a pretty sad week; my grandfather had a stroke and passed away a couple of days later, which was yesterday morning, and so I've been planning a visit home for the funeral. Too scatterbrained to knit anything complicated or thoughtful, too tired to sit upright and spin, too bleary-eyed to squint at a pattern.

So I started a pair of plain toe-up socks for the trip. I have two skeins of Louet sportweight superwash merino in a sort of blueish red, and am going to knit them until I run out of yarn (this is the "mindless" part of my scheme), which means probably knee socks or taller. Endless stockinette has near-magical soothing powers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A love letter to Palette

These gloves are the anti-Ringwoods. They are neither easy nor fast. (The ring/middle/index fingers are twenty-six stitches around. Those suckers are time-consuming!) But I'm madly in love with how they're turning out:

Glove in progress

(Don't mind the unevenness; this is a pre-blocking picture!)

That's not to say that I didn't have to deviate a lot from my original idea! Three main changes:

  1. I decided that corrugated ribbing actually interfered with the pattern a little; the flow of the transition section between cuff and hand was thrown off by adding purl columns. So instead the cuff is just pinstriped, and I am much happier.

  2. The pattern is written for five colours. I'd originally planned to knit four of them and add the last one in duplicate stitch after the knitting was done. It turns out that it's a huge hassle to strand four colours at the same time, especially when two of the colours have long floats. So now the whole thing is worked with three colours (blue, yellow, orange), and the last two (green and red) are duplicate-stitched on. You can see the embroidery in progress in the unglamorous picture above. This is much faster and pleasanter in the scheme of things!

  3. Another deviation I made from the original plan was to scrap the peasant thumb, and make a gored thumb instead. The extra stranding going on makes the fabric awfully inflexible, and the peasant thumb ended up being uncomfortable for that reason. I was also worried about the distortion in the corners where the thumb emerged from the palm, and what that would do to the gloves' durability. (Yes, I knitted most of a glove, sighed heavily at the result, and then ripped it out!)

I reiterate that it's a pain to strand three colours at once, but the thick cushiness of the resulting fabric is really, really worth the trouble. These aren't gloves you'll be able to wear in the late fall but have to switch out for something warmer in December; they're dead-of-winter gloves that will keep you (and me!) toasty warm.

I adore this unassuming yarn. There's nothing fancy or ostentatious about Knit Picks Palette; it just comes in a lot of marvellous colours and does exactly what you tell it to do. It's a little grabby but not toothy; it is soft around the edges. Look at this face; what's not to love?

A bonus outstanding thing I discovered is that SpillyJane the Bold has already designed a pair of mittens inspired by the very same building in Detroit! You can buy the pattern on ravelry right here, or admire them in her blog post here. She borrowed a tile and ironwork pattern from the building's exterior. How awesome is that!

Monday, October 18, 2010


I signed up for an international shawl swap on a whim at the very last minute. The arrangement is not complicated: each participant filled out a survey about their favourite things to knit and favourite things to wear, and the swap coordinators matched each knitter with a recipient according to those preferences. The pace is relaxed—finished shawls get sent out in January, so everyone gets a nice little pick-me-up in the mail right when it seems like winter has gone on for too long. February is grey and interminable here, and thinking about getting an awesome present—and getting to prepare an awesome present for someone else—is already making me excited.

It's taken a couple of weeks of thinking, swatching, and thinking some more, but I think I've finally got the right idea. Here's the first stage:

Rosa border

I was inspired by Jared Flood's beautiful Terra shawl. The main area inside the lace border he used is quite plain, but it's very elegant because of the yarn he chose and the slightly loose gauge it's knitted at. I'll use a different edging pattern than Jared did, and my shawl will be a rectangle rather than a triangle, but I want it to have the same vibe—the centre of this shawl will also involve stripes of garter stitch. I love plain knits that are elevated by the yarn they're made from.

The plan is to knit one border-and-centre unit and another border piece, and then graft them together. I value symmetry and can't stand it when edges are differently scalloped, so I am not allowed to complain about having to graft a hundred stitches. To use up as much yarn as possible, I'll knit the border by itself first, followed by the border and centre together; then I'll only need to reserve a few feet of yarn to graft with.

Speaking of the yarn, dear swap partner, I think you'll really like it! It's 80% ultrafine alpaca, 20% silk, from a farm that was local to me until recently. It's cashmere-soft—when I touched it in the store I had a hard time believing it wasn't cashmere. It has a slight halo and a very subtle sheen from the silk content, and it drapes like you wouldn't believe.

I'm going to block it lightly—I want the garter stripes in the border to really pop, and the lace portion to recede behind them a little. The lace is really there to shape the fabric into scallops, not to be delicate in its own right.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Heart of a blossom (a tiny tutorial)

So I've been instructing that glove fingers and mitten tips be finished by decreasing to a small number of stitches, breaking the yarn, threading it through the stitches, and fastening off the end. I wanted to show you a tidy way to do this that allows you to tighten each stitch around the yarn as you thread it through. Threading through and fastening off is how I've been finishing glove fingers since I read Nancy Bush's Folk Knitting in Estonia and learned her name for the technique—"heart of a blossom". I figured out this painless way to tighten the stitches up after a lot of hours spent laboriously pulling on each stitch with a darning needle, trying to make them smaller.

A bonus feature of the tighten-as-you-go approach is that it doesn't require that you unearth a darning needle to thread the yarn through the stitches. You'll still need one to weave in the ends, but if you're like me, you leave all the ends hanging to weave in at the very end of the project anyway. Gloves generate a lot of ends to weave in.

This is the thumb from that cream alpaca glove I showed you at the end of last week. Here I've decreased down to 5 stitches, which was the final decrease round before the break yarn etc. step.

step 1

Break the yarn, then arrange the needles as if you were going to keep knitting. Knit the first stitch of the round with the dangling end of yarn, pull the end all the way through the knitted stitch, and drop it off the needle. It won't unravel because it will be caught by the yarn now threaded through.

step 2

Knit the next stitch, again pulling the yarn all the way through. Before you drop this stitch, tug on it a little. The previous stitch, already dropped, will tighten up around the yarn threaded through it. The stitch you are currently working on will get bigger. But don't worry about it, because….

step 3

… now it's time to drop it, and knit the next stitch. Pull the yarn all the way through it, tug on it to tighten up the previous stitch, and let it go.

Carry on until all the stitches have been knitted, threaded through, and dropped. You'll have no live stitches remaining, a number of very neat tightened stitches, and one enormous ugly loop….

step 4

… which vanishes when you tug gently on the tail.

step 5

Take a moment to sing a triumphant song to yourself, then move on to the next finger.

I meant to post this on Monday, and then I meant to post it on Tuesday, but it's a rainy week here and there hasn't been enough light to take adequate pictures. (Or really even to knit by!) I hope you can tell what's going on in the ones above!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

May you never run out of buttons

I think this is a good all-purpose blessing for knitters. (Another might be, "May you never be too bleary-eyed with a cold to count to three." That was my fate last week.)

This etsy seller has various quantities of mother of pearl buttons for sale. Since mother of pearl buttons are my very favourite, and since I don't foresee myself ever running out of things to knit that require buttons… I bought some.


Maybe a few too many: I have half a pound of these cream-coloured ones, plus 100 little grey ones with shanks. Here's to not needing buttons for a while!

Another thing is that the excellent Dale of Light Brown Hare got a new base yarn recently, a soft and luscious laceweight wool/mohair blend. I couldn't stand how lovely it was and snapped up the first skein, and here it is:

Light Brown Hare Lace + buttons

I'm chronicling these two news items in the same post, buttons and yarn, because look how well they go together!

I'm not sure what kind of soft and wispy thing needs buttons on it, but I'll come up with something, because this is too beautiful a coincidence to ignore. A wide scarf with closures like this one, a floaty cardigan, a shrug perhaps with buttoned cuffs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glove Fever

I have a pattern in the Deep Fall 2010 issue of Knitty, right over here. It's for a pair of gloves that resemble the Ringwood gloves that Nancy Bush based her Ringwood Half-Hose on, and that Richard Rutt describes in his monstrosity of a book. Instead of a ribbed cuff, though, there's a tidy seed-stitch cuff that buttons closed. The pattern is for worsted yarn on 4mm needles and it is basically the fastest thing to knit; I think they'd be great emergency last-minute presents.

Relatedly, you know you have picked a good romantic partner when you say something like "Hey, do you want to come outside into the alley with me and take a few dozen pictures of my hands"; and they reply, "Sure, let's go!"

The Thing of last week is currently on hiatus, its calculations finished and its yarn neatly wound, while I work through two new things that came in the mail on Friday. These are more pattern ideas for Knit Picks, both gloves worked at relatively small gauges, and I want to get them out the door as quick as I can, so that the patterns are ready for high glove season.

Thing One is gloves with wide lace cuffs, knitted sideways. The yarn is Alpaca Cloud worked double-stranded. I chose a lace yarn instead of a fingering-weight offering for a couple of reasons. First is that the fabric double-stranding lightweight yarn makes is different from the fabric that a single strand of a heavier yarn makes, even where the gauge is identical. The double-stranded one will be a little thinner and a little drapier, which I think is ideal for something intended to be soft and pretty. Since the yarn is alpaca, they'll be warm as anything in spite of their relative thinness.

This is the cuff so far:

ugly alpaca cuff

Ugh, right? This was my swatch, in a different yarn of around the same weight as the double-stranded Alpaca Cloud:

Less-ugly cuff

I think it blocks out pretty nicely! The swatch yarn is something of a novelty: Winter's Tale from Taiga Yarns, previously known as Unusual #15. I knitted a Faux Russian Stole out of it a couple of years ago and it turned out to be too warm for even an Edmonton winter. It's 100% goat down plus many coarse and wiry guard hairs, some of which fall out during the knitting while the rest stay put. The down beneath is very soft and vaguely silky-feeling, with some subtle glossiness. I might turn the swatch into its own pair of gloves, because I have a feeling that they would be great for October weather.

(I'm not allowed to make doubles of things before I even finish the first sample, though!)

Thing Two is a pair of elaborate stranded colourwork gloves that are not for the faint-hearted. Most rounds require stranding three colours at once, some rounds require four. I'll add a fifth colour with duplicate stitches after the knitting is finished.

And let me tell you: stranding three colours is a pain. The knitting doesn't have much of a rhythm; I keep dropping a strand of yarn off the tip of my right index finger and having to fish around for it behind the work. When I try to knit while something is happening on TV or I'm listening to music that is distracting or unfamiliar, I lose my place.

But the results are enormously rewarding.

guardian cuff

I hesitate to praise this snippet of knitting—it's destined to be unknit and reworked on needles a size smaller (2mm, not 2.25mm). The fabric is a strange combination of too stretchy because of the loose gauge, and rigid and unyielding because of the extra stranding going on behind the scenes. But I think adding a third colour to the mix after the corrugated ribbed cuff makes the work look elegant in a way that leaving it at two colours would not have been. And it's surprisingly thick, and will be a useful warm thing in a couple of months. (And I need to psych myself up for knitting it again.)

I'm trying to evoke this mosaic ceiling, which is in the lobby of a magnificent art deco office building in Detroit. My knitted rendition is substantially simplified (for example, it's missing the little green diamonds between the blue diamonds that divide the columns of yellow and orange!), but it's fun to look at, too. It had better be fun to look at because I'll be knitting it for a while!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Horror vacui

Or, now for something completely different

This is a post about bending your knitting to your will using the power of mathematics.

So. If you're like me, you like to knit rectangular shawls in one piece from end to end, with scalloped edging all around that's knitted more or less simultaneously with the body of the shawl. This means starting with a provisional cast-on and a strip of edging, turning the corner somehow, picking up stitches from the straight edge of the strip and from the cast-on, and knitting perpendicular to the original direction for the length of the piece. The live stitches are dealt with by knitting on edging at the end, growing out of the edging from one long side and ending by grafting it to the remaining edging stitches. (This construction method might sound familiar—it's the one that Galina Khmeleva describes in Gossamer Webs.)

The problem with this method is that there's not a whole lot of room for fudging if the total edging row count and the total row count of whatever central pattern you've chosen don't have a common denominator. It's obvious (and unattractive!) to have corners that don't match because you were on a different edging row when you turned the second pair than when you turned the first. And it's not necessarily going to be clear how or if things will match up at the end, when you're just starting the project. When you're knitting on an edging after the centre is finished, you can count rows and ease in the corners by knitting the last edging stitch together with two live shawl stitches, say, or by working some returning rows without attaching them.

My preference is to calculate how everything will fit together before beginning the project. I don't like to have much space between the edge of the edging and the beginning of whatever pattern is in the centre—this is a personal preference (i.e. a personal problem) and you can add "frame" stitches to your calculations without much trouble if you wish.

When I was knitting a stole a while ago that I managed to give away before documenting, I wanted to use a border pattern that had a 17-row repeat, and a central pattern with a 12-row repeat. There was a 16-row buffer section between the border and centre on each side, and there should be one extra plain row at each end of the stole. The edging I wanted to use had a 20-row repeat, and I wanted it to fit perfectly with no easing at the corners.

You can make an equation out of those requirements.

17x + 12y + 16 + 16 + 2 = 20z
17x + 12y + 34 = 20z

There's more than one solution here, actually an infinite number, but most will not be realistic for knitting—they might require you to knit thousands of rows, for example, and while I think that a hundred-foot-long stole would be totally cool it's really not for me and my 1200m skein of yarn right now.

If you're a math person: come up with an integer solution! If you're not a math person: go to Wolfram Alpha and plug in your equation, and copy down the integer solution it gives you.

x = 2(2a + 1)
y = a + 5b + 1
z = 4a + 3b + 4

Now each variable is neatly isolated—number of repeats in the border, number of repeats of the centre, and number of edging repeats along the length of the stole—and you can start plugging in integers for a and b until you come up with a reasonable-sounding answer. Seriously just pick your favourite integers.

When a = 6 and b = 4,

x = 50
y = 27
z = 40

Since x is both of the border sections put together, that number of repeats will eventually be divided in half: 25 17-row repeats on each side of the centre, which has 27 12-row repeats, and there are 40 edging scallops along the length. That's a total of 800 rows. If the gauge is around 32 rows = 4" after blocking, not an implausible gauge, that's a stole 100" long.

No, thanks.

When a = 5 and b = 1:

x = 22
y = 11
z = 27

That's a lot more realistic; 540 total rows at my gauge is 67.5". There will be edging on the short ends of the stole, too, which will add about four inches to that number—two inches at each end—for a grand total of just a hair under six feet. Now you can knit in peace, knowing that the pattern will fit perfectly and that you are not in for any nasty surprises.

Obviously you need to calculate for width, too, but that's much less fussy. My pattern repeats were all a multiple of 16 sts + 1 wide. With a stitch gauge of 24 sts = 4", and a desire for a stole 24" wide including the edging… 24" - 4" for edging width = 20", or somewhere in the neighbourhood of 120 stitches. 7 repeats would require 113 stitches, close enough to 120.

It is easy to fudge the number of stitches picked up from a strip of edging, and in fact I prefer to. 9 edging repeats yielded a straight edge from which I could pick up 90 stitches, and increase to 113 on the following row. (That's one of the +2 that figured into the row calculations; the other is decreasing those extra stitches away before knitting on the final edging.)

I'm codifying this here now because I am working on a thing! More later, when it's more than a crumpled strip of edging.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Do you guys remember the Queen Susan? I don't think I've mentioned it here before, but it was an outstanding reverse-engineering project that some amazing knitters took on. The original shawl is a piece in a museum that has some interesting features to it—in particular, there were very elegant, curvaceous garlands on the border. It was interesting enough that some members of the Heirloom Knitting group on ravelry charted each section from photographs, swatched the pieces and tweaked the charts until they were right, and then assembled them into an entire pattern. It's a 73-page .pdf and represents hundreds of hours of effort. Links to download it are here.

Thanks to some lovely knitters who attended a conference held in Shetland recently, there are new and detailed pictures of old lace objects, and the group is currently working on this piece from the Shetland Museum. I might write some more later about why I am so moved by these projects—not just the finished knitted objects, but the reverse-engineering efforts—I suppose it drives home how enormously complicated the designing and knitting was, and what a brilliant mind you'd need to be able to knit these things without the benefit of charting software and a dozen other knitters double-checking your math.

Clearly this means that it's the right time for me to become fascinated by a completely different reverse-engineering project.

The Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service has a website with dozens of pictures of ganseys on it. Some of the images are actual sweaters in the museum's collection, and others are scanned photographs and postcards. I think ganseys are great, as you know—I don't really care for all-over cabled designs but a little cable highlighting something else is fine, and brocade-like designs made of knits and purls knitted with sturdy yarn at a tight gauge? I love those. I think it's some desire to compensate for all the wispy impractical lace items I make.

The pictures of the fishermen are arresting.

(Black and white photographic postcard image printed in negative of Walter 'Primo' Allen at the wheel of the lifeboat.)

His sweater is just great—I love the horizontal ridges that set off the areas with different patterns, and I love the embossed look of those narrow zigzagging cables, and I love how it's plain past the elbows and at the bottom, where it would be prone to wearing out. Much easier to darn or reknit stockinette than a cable pattern. It's very handy that this practical feature also makes a handsome design element.

I'm playing with a sock pattern based on a different gansey from the collection, which belonged to a Henry Little.

(Henry Little's gansey; hand-knitted woollen blue pullover with typical Sheringham coil o' rope and bar pattern; worn very thin and repaired at the neck and cuff; probably knitted by Edie Middleton; two buttons at the collar.)

My modifications are to tighten up the cable a little by working fewer resting rows between patterned rows, and to add a couple extra purl stitches to the columns that separate the patterned sections. This is partly to add elasticity to the pattern and partly to facilitate hidden calf shaping (p2togs in that gutter are a very easy way to narrow the leg without interfering with the rest of the pattern at all). The foot will be plain, of course.

henry little progress

Here's my progress so far; it's most of one sock. I think gansey socks worked from old postcards and photographs would make a fun series of patterns or an interesting informal ebook project. I definitely need a new influx of wool socks, anyway.

Monday, September 6, 2010


  1. I am really terrible at counting! I don't use stitch markers to separate out repeating patterns in lace or cables or whatever, but I do need them when I'm working on a very long cast-on edge to mark every 50th or 100th stitch.

  2. I really hate casting on. Knitting very long rows isn't a problem—if I knit 800 rows of edging and pick up 400 stitches from the straight edge, I'm happy. But casting on 400 stitches seems like it takes too much time and causes me a lot of anxiety!

I have had ample opportunity to think about these two hang-ups over the weekend, during which I failed to cast on 513 stitches twice. It took two episodes of The X-Files and ten minutes of frenzied recounting to do it right, but now I've finally got it and am off to the races.

An auspicious beginning

This will be an enormous triangular shawl with a small repeating pattern that I'm quite proud of. The lovely yarn is Juliet from Yarn Love, in a pretty new fall semisolid colour called Frosted Mulberry. I had had a stole idea for this yarn, but then it came and I swatched and it begged to be something different, and so it shall be.

(What clinched it was the way it's dyed—it has very short runs of colours that are very subtly different from one another, which means that I can put it in a triangle and it will neither resolve into stripes nor pool into blotches. Amazing! Katie is amazing.)

Because I am not a very responsible knitter, I unravelled the swatch immediately after finishing it and deciding it was worth pursuing. (It is now part of that enormously long cast-on edge.) But it's an allover pattern, which means that as soon as the knitting isn't so squished on the needles, I can show you. It me think of an enormous raspberry—or, I suppose, a mulberry—all plump circles adjacent to one another. The yarn is very round and slightly springy, and that only makes it look juicier.

I also have an exciting news item to share: the pink and yellow things from a few weeks ago are now a pattern for sale at Knit Picks! I'm happy with how that pattern idea turned out. The patterns are the same, but are differently proportioned: the stole is divided roughly into thirds, while the scarf is mostly one pattern with just a few repeats of the second pattern at either end. The stole is remarkable because of its enormity, but the scarf ended up being my favourite.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A tiny present

I adore these booties! I made them very far in advance, anticipating an upcoming baby (not mine). But it is a special baby and I want him or her to have all the soft and warm knitted things that the world has to offer. It's a little early to start handing off baby presents to the parents-to-be, so I am going to set up a little stockpile over here over the next few months. Just a bit at a time.


Cute, eh?

The pattern is named Baby Booties to Match Berry Sweater (ravelry link), and I made the large size with smaller needles and yarn. The foot is about 3" long, which is, god, I don't know what size of baby. It will fit eventually.

The aforementioned different yarn was Jo Sharp Alpaca Kid Lustre (40% mohair, 30% merino, 30% alpaca) in a pretty light yellow-green called Elderberry. The yarn is 121 yards/111m per 50g ball and I used about half of one.

The large size had a couple of wrong numbers in the toe-shaping section. I also wanted the toe shaping to be a little sharper than in the booties pictured in the pattern, so I knitted it like this:

Rows 1-2: K.
Row 3: K13, kfb, k1, kfb, k13.
Row 4: K1, kfb, k to last 2 sts, kfb, k1.
Row 5: K14, kfb, k3, kfb, k14.
Row 6: K1, kfb, k to last 2 sts, kfb, k1.
Row 7: K15, kfb, k5, kfb, k15.
Row 8: K1, kfb, k to last 2 sts, kfb, k1.
Row 9: K16, kfb, k7, kfb, k to end.
Rows 10-16: K.

I followed the instep and lace top instructions as written, but left off the last purled row of the final repeat, and knitted three rows to make an anti-curling garter stitch edge that matched the garter stitch foot.

There's no ribbon on them, but that isn't an artistic decision; it's because I don't have any good ribbons handy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


This was an experiment that I am especially happy with. Remember the teal thing from a while ago? This little triangular shawl is that pattern blown up with bigger yarn, bigger needles, and a plain purled row worked between the patterned rows. (Also directional decreases: I will admit to laziness and defaulting to only k2togs when knitting lace that's garter-stitch based and patterned on every row. Such laziness has consequences in a piece like this, though, so I made the extra effort.) With the plain rows included, it fit very neatly into a triangle.

What I like most is how the straight lines of decreases suggest curves when there are some rows between them:

When I was a kid I had a dress with ribbon roses on it, and wearing it was a joy because it had dozens of shapes to trace with my fingertips. Wearing this shawl is sort of like that! I think it probably looks weird, absentmindedly running my fingers down my arms, but who cares: there are curves.

It's mostly not very lacy at all, and I think it's quite striking! If you are interested in knitting it too, its name is Victoria (after the Queen, clearly!) and it's a $4 download on Ravelry. The pattern is only charted (and the charts are many, and sort of big), but it's very easy to follow. I used one skein of Abuelita Yarns Baby Merino Lace (420 yards/385m per 100g skein) in Jasper, which is the most excellent red. Knitted on US #4/3.5mm needles, it ended up being 46" across the hypotenuse and 23" down the centre.

I like the yarn. I'm not sure how well it would stand up to abrasion, as on elbows or underarms or between fingers on gloves, but it's great for a shawl or scarf. I've been stuffing it in my bag and taking it on field trips to heavily air-conditioned coffee places for about a month now, and it still looks fine.

Ever since I finished knitting it, though, I have wanted to knit a little shrug or cropped cardigan with the same set of patterns. From the top down, worked in one piece, with raglan sleeves so that the increases can be yarn overs, starting out with the less-dense pattern just like the shawl, and ending with the scallops. Garter stitch neckband and button bands, sleeves just to the elbows….

dreamy sigh

In other news, if you are in the market for a sleeve for your laptop and don't want one that looks like a windbreaker or nylon track suit, I direct you to Rib & Hull! The leather-and-felt sleeve I got is exactly right—just simple enough to be perfectly elegant.

laptop sleeve

More pea coat than windbreaker, right? And it feels nice, too. The felt is sturdy and a little coarse; the leather is supple and soft. It is a treat to carry around.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Throwing my hat in the ring

Here is a cool thing! The 4 oz challenge requires participants to spin 4oz of handpainted fibre, knit a sample, and publish a pattern, between now and the end of September. The fibre has to be from Southern Cross, Hello Yarn, or Spunky Eclectic (like I need an excuse to order from any of them!), and the idea is to produce a set of patterns intended for handspun that will take advantage of the interesting texture and colour properties available to spinners, and get specific about the yarn they're written for. There are not enough patterns that do this!

I ordered four ounces of BFL from Spunky Eclectic, in this colour. It showed up in the mail today. Behold:

venus BFL


My pattern idea involves spinning it into a smooth fingering- or sport-weight yarn and knitting it into gloves with dense lacy scallops—sort of like oyster mittens but finer and more detailed and with fingers. There will be spaces between the yarn overs and their decreases to make zigzags out of any variegation in the yarn, and some purled rounds interspersed to make the colours mingle a little more. I think this would work well for subdued variegation like my yarn will have, or for wilder stripes. It would also be perfectly lovely and not too boring in a solid or relatively solid colour. Or so I hope.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A thing I did not knit

I did something.

A few weeks ago, a ravelry user was selling a silver Orenburg shawl from her collection. I managed to pounce on it before anyone else, Paypalled some cash, and waited anxiously, refreshing the tracking number page every few hours and sweating through two weekends.

I got it today, and I just—


I can't even—

inner frame

I am very moved by its loveliness, that's all.

It is enormous and very fine. (I have no wedding ring nor indeed any ring to try it out, but the seller posted a picture of it being drawn through one of those.) The enormity hasn't really sunk in yet because I am too fascinated by the details. It is very soft and it weighs next to nothing. The yarn has bloomed a little and developed a floaty fuzzy halo that doesn't obscure the stitches at all and seems instead to highlight the lace.

The other effect of the halo is that the shawl seems not to touch the surface it's sitting on, like a hovercraft made of goat down. It is very shiny, too—the yarn looks like down very loosely plied with silk, and it glows a little in the light. I feel mysterious and invisible wearing it, like I am shrouded in fog.

In terms of stitches and rows per inch, it's about the same fineness as the things I have been knitting recently, so there is hope for me yet. This is not an impossible beauty. It's so enormous though!


It's really interesting to see how the patterns are put together. There are a lot of different things going on in this shawl, and it is all very carefully laid out and symmetrical. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me that you could arrange a whole bunch of different pattern elements and have it come out looking harmonious. I like the fill-in pattern that makes triangles around the central diamonds and I like the zigzags in the inner frame and I like the outer frame pattern most of all; it looks like something cascading, I like everything about it. I like everything about the entire thing.

outer frame

(I have been excitedly pointing out all of its excellent features to my long-suffering partner, who is listening patiently even though these details mean nothing to him. Ah, non-knitters.)

My excellent friend A. made gentle fun of me for buying a shawl that someone else knit, when I can knit perfectly adequate shawls myself. All of that is why: a treasure like this is an inspiration and a call to action. I have some Gossamer Web yarn neatly balled up and waiting to be knitted into something lovely; it might be time to break it out. I am so tempted to get some mohair yarn and knit a wispy nothing out of it instead, though.

In other, more inane news, I made a twitter account for knitting-related chatter. My name is rebeccabeast.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Today in statements of the obvious

Freshly-knitted unblocked lace looks like boiled ass.

And blocking will always reward you.

I don't want to say that blocking is magic because nothing in knitting is; but blocking as close as it gets.

This was another $5-on-sale skein of Exquisite, and another little Orenburg lace experiment. This time I was thinking about something I read in a book (The Art of Shetland Lace maybe) about triangular veils that could be folded up to fit inside matchboxes, so it turned into something like that. The central area has closely-spaced eyelets in clusters of four ("mouse prints"!) to make a more transparent fabric; it's bordered by pine cones? trees? flowers? in a field of garter stitch, and then outlined again by edging that echoes the centre.

I knitted the edging on afterward, which was cheating a little, but I didn't want to deal with it at the very outset of the project.

This thing I have been doing to the very edges of my edgings is not Russian; it's the "lacy edge stitch" that Sharon Miller talks about in Heirloom Knitting. On returning rows, you yo-k2tog at the beginning, and it makes a tiny prettiness. I like it because it makes the very edge look denser, like someone drew a line the shawl with a marker. It also makes the edges a tiny bit stretchier than they would otherwise have been, which is excellent when you are worried about easing in corners.

There is a new group on Ravelry about Orenburg down shawls, which I don't really post in but I read it a lot. They've been talking about knitting without charts, making up patterns as you go along but keeping them symmetrical and balanced. I tried out that approach for this piece -- a bottom-up triangular shawl is a good venue for making it up as you go along because you only have to worry about symmetry from side to side. I found it very peaceful not to be tied to a chart, although I admit to making one afterward so that I could duplicate my results if they were good.

The secret reason I am so, so, so pumped up about Orenburg shawls is that I bought one recently. It is in the mail! When it arrives, sweet internet, you'll be the first to know.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I am going to read every novel ever written that is now in the public domain

A huge pile of yarn is coming in the mail but hasn't arrived yet, so not too much knitting is going on around here—I don't want to get started on much of anything because soon I'll be swamped with secret projects.

However! There was some non-yarn exciting mail, too: a tiny new iPod. I knew these were cool, but didn't know. Guys, it is like an internet jukebox that fits in your pocket and you can put books on it.

I knitted a little case for it, my third act of iPod parenthood. (First was introducing it to my computer and assigning it an unwieldy name—C.G.B. Spender—and second was teaching it shortcuts to visit gmail and ravelry.)

This pattern makes a very thick fabric, which is optimal for gadget cases. I'm not going to experiment by hurling it down the stairs or anything, but it appears to be cushioned adequately in case I drop it. There is a tiny bit of shaping at the bottom to prevent dog-ear corners. The yarn I used was some leftover Belfast Mini-Mills merino, which is so squishy and soft I can't even tell you.


minimalist ipod case

Minimalist Gadget Cozy

  • some leftover worsted-weight yarn; you'll need very little of it, maybe 30m at most
  • a set of 5 US #6/4mm double-pointed needles
  • a darning needle
  • one button
  • 4mm crochet hook
  • a homeless gadget


27 sts = 4" in linen stitch. Row gauge is not terribly important.

Finished size

4.5" x 2.5", sized to fit a 3rd gen. iPod Touch. For bigger or smaller, cast on more or fewer stitches in multiples of 2, and amend the shaping instructions to suit the new stitch count.


CO 34 sts, divide as evenly as possible between 4 double-pointed needles, and join for knitting in the round, being careful not to twist. P 1 row.

Begin working in linen stitch as follows.

Round 1: K.
Round 2: (sl 1 purlwise with yarn in front, k1) around.
Round 3: K.
Round 4: (k1, sl 1 purlwise with yarn in front) around.

Repeat 10 more times or until the knitted piece just covers the gadget—slip it inside to check.

Next round: (ssk, k13, k2tog) twice. 30 sts remain.

Turn the piece inside out and arrange the stitches so that the first 15 in the round are on one double-pointed needle, and the remaining 15 are on another. Work a three-needle bind-off over these sts.


Weave in ends and block.

Sew on a button near the open end of the case, in the centre of one side. (Clearly I have not gotten to this part yet, because there is a button shortage in my house.) Crochet a short chain, slightly longer than necessary to fit over the button. Break yarn and sew the ends of the chain opposite the button to form a loop.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paired yarn overs and the double decreases that offset them: a love story

I wrote up another pattern, this time for a top-down triangular scarf that uses around 400m of fingering weight yarn. The yarn I used—Viola Fancy Sock—is exquisitely soft, and the finished fabric has a subtle downy halo. The three main pattern sections are related feathery motifs that use a number of knit stitches between the yarn overs and their accompanying decreases to shape the fabric into peaks and valleys, including the wide shallow scallops that edge the piece:

They look a little Art Deco, I think!

I decided to name the pattern Fledgling, for a few reasons:

I am a fledging designer of things-larger-than-mittens—I have to say that making charts for this pattern was daunting, because they're awfully big. It starts small, though, for confidence-boosting. The smallest patterned section involves a four-stitch, four-row repeat.

This is a pattern for fledgling lace knitters—every alternate row is purled, giving you time to breathe and collect your thoughts and count your stitches in peace. The patterns are both charted and written, in case you are a fledgling chart reader, too.

Finally I feel like a triangular scarf knitted from a pair of socks' worth of yarn isn't a fully-fledged shawl yet. But it has aspirations.

And I wasn't sure how I felt about it during the knitting, but now I really like the relative solidity of the border. It anchors the shawl a little -- you know that I am happy to knit outrageously lacy edges on things, but some weight there is nice too. It is particularly pleasing when worn:

wearing fledgling

This colour is called "Robin's Egg", and is a beautiful subtle semi-solid. It is worth getting, because it's exquisite yarn! But any drapey fingering-weight yarn would do just as well for this pattern. I think it would be beautiful in Schaefer Anne, for instance, or Abuelita Yarns Baby Merino Lace, or Knit Picks Gloss Lace, or....

It takes 400m of yarn, and this sample was knitted on 3.5mm needles. The gauge is 26 stitches and 40 rows in stockinette (after blocking), and the finished dimensions of the scarf are 48" wide and 24" deep. I find that this is an excellent width to pin closed at the front.

The pattern is $4 CDN and can be got from Ravelry, or by clicking this link.

The real reason for all of this shawl madness is that I am auditioning things to wear to a wedding. Too fickle to just pick one already without seeing all the options. All the options are in my head and they don't seem to be exhausted yet. I have six weeks to go before it actually must be time to decide.