Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Free Pattern: The Sick Day Shawl

It's that time of year: colds and flu bugs are starting to go around. The air is full of sneezing and sniffling and coughing.

I caught an early cold last week, and spent a day as the doctor ordered: on the sofa, with several pots of tea and a big box of Kleenex. I planned to luxuriate in some relaxing knitting and TV.

The TV decision was easy: I'm partway through watching MI-5 (a.k.a. Spooks) on Netflix. This is a 10-season English program feature attractive spies and ridiculous international adventures. Perfect.

The bigger question was what knitting? I've been working on a bunch of design projects of late, and I knew I wasn't in the mood to for anything complicated. But equally, with a full day stretching out ahead of me, I also knew I'd have time to really dig into a project. Plain socks seemed too dull.

Ever since I completed Rosetta Tharpe, I've been noodling on the idea of a Half-Pi shawl - a semi-circular shawl using the same basic construction. I'd got the math partially worked out, and so before the decongestant properly kicked in, I did a bit of number crunching and planning. And then I went diving in the stash.

(Because going yarn shopping while contagious with a cold seems impolite.)

I found a couple of skeins of Briggs and Little Regal. This is a great Canadian yarn, a classic heavy worsted, with a decent yardage (250yds per skein) and a nice crisp, wooly hand.

And so the Sick Day Shawl was born. By the end of the first day, I had a full skein knitted up. (Seriously, I did nothing else that day. We had leftovers for dinner, and I didn't have any urgent work obligations.)

Even with just that single skein, I got a good sized shawl...

Over the next couple of days, I spent a bit more time, and dug into the second skein.

And by Friday night, I had converted about 450yds of an abandoned heavy worsted from the bottom of my stash into the Sick Day Shawl.

Ideal for that day at home in front of the TV. Ideal for knitting when you're not up for much of a challenge, but not totally discombobulated with medication. No special yarn requirements: use whatever you've got in the stash. 450yds of anything in the worsted-y aran-y sort of category (a 4 or a 5, if you go that way). Two skeins of Cascade 220. (Who doesn't have 2 skeins of Cascade 220 kicking around?) A skein of Cascade Eco would be great. Double-strand some sock yarn! Do you have a bunch of handspun that needs using up? Use whatever needles you have on hand.

The design is entirely forgiving of messed-up stitch counts. Got the wrong number? Fix it on the following row. And it's flexible, too, for how far you go. Got more time and yarn? Just keep working to make it bigger. Feeling better? Stop sooner.

It's good for you, too: the knitting is interesting enough that you'll stay put on the sofa, resting as you're supposed to.

And next time you're feeling under the weather, you've got something warm and comfy to snuggle with.

Free pattern on Ravelry here. Thanks to Gillian Martin for the outstanding photos.

Pattern will be free until the end of September, but after that I'll be charging for it - I've got to replenish my Kleenex supplies.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Teaching Season Begins

I'm a year-round knitter, but it's true that the majority of events and teaching take place in the fall and winter.

And boy, I'm going to be busy. Can't wait.

Maybe I'm going to be teaching at an event near you? Take a look at my schedule - just to your left!

And remember, if you can't come and take one of my classes in person, I have online classes, too:
Learn to Knit
Magic Socks
Fixing Mistakes
Gapless Gussets
Sizing and Fit

Look a little further down on the left for links.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On Holding of Hands and Not

This question on Twitter raised my blood pressure a bit today. Mostly in the good way... ;-).

This "debate" comes up reasonably often. The crux of it is this: Older patterns used to be more terse (concise?), and newer ones give more detail. Are we enabling knitters to be lazy/not encouraging thinking for themselves/hampering learning/etc. by giving that extra detail?

For example, you might see in an older pattern an instruction like:
Decrease 1 st each end of every foll alt row 10 times, then every 4th row 12 times.
There's nothing wrong with the first formulation, but it requires a fair bit of knowledge on the pattern of the knitter. What decrease to use, where to place them, and to be comfortable keeping track of the various rows, including knowing what we mean by "foll alt row".

A more "modern" pattern would be more likely to spell it out, e.g.
Next row, decrease (RS): K1, ssk, k to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1. 2 sts decreased.
Follow row (WS): Purl.
Repeat the last 2 rows 9 more times.
Work a decrease row followed by three even rows.
Repeat the last four rows 11 more times.
Both are equally correct, but they are very different.

I tend to tell designers that if they aren't certain a knitter will do it the way they want, or if it matters what decrease is used and where it's placed, then it's better to spell it out.

In my experience, it's mostly designers asking the question. I can see where they are coming from: it's much easier to write a pattern in that concise/terse way, absolutely. And as a designer, you've likely got the skill level to be comfortable with the concise version so you might not understand the need for the more explicit version.

But we're not all designers. We're not all experienced knitters. And we don't all innately know how to read and follow patterns. The traditional, concise pattern format isn't very friendly to newer knitters. Why not give knitters a bit of a helping hand?

I liked this answer to the question:
My answer to Rohn was in two tweets, since I had so much to say:
I've discussed this with Donna Druchunas on a couple of occasions, and she's very much a fan of the more concise style. Her position is that hand-holding can get ridiculous... that it shouldn't get to the point where every pattern is its own tutorial, and every pattern has to explain everything right from casting on. I agree with her on that point! But I do feel that there's room to help - to provide a helping hand for those who are just getting started, or who want it.

My answer is that we should be using some sort of skill level/techniques required/experience level required indicator in the pattern, and use that as a guide to how we write our patterns. If you want to write in the concise way, just tell people up front that you're expecting pattern reading experience! And if you to target your pattern to less experienced knitters, write in a more explicit manner, and then market it as such. Knitters will thank you.

After all, we all need a helping hand at first - let's offer that help to those who want it.

UPDATE: Angela (of the tweet above) has written a terrific blog post on this topic, from the end-user's perspective. Read it.


I wonder if this question wasn't prompted by this tweet of mine, from a little earlier...
This was in response to a great conversation I was having with a designer about how to represent some instructions in her patterns... I asked a question about why she chose to give gauge information over 1 inch, rather than four. Her reply was, in essence, "well, I assume most knitters know you have to check it over more than just one inch".

For her patterns, which are mostly aimed at more experienced knitters, this is probably ok. But my reply to her was simple: consider the experience level of your target knitter. (Although there's a separate discussion here to be had about going with commonly-used form. My biggest issue with specifying gauge over anything other than 4 inches, which is what most patterns and yarns do, is that it can be misread or confuse. If there's a commonly-used form, I like to use it. Makes it easier on everyone, IMHO.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

By Popular Request: Heirloom Baby Bonnet in Multiple Sizes

Back in 2010, I received a rather charming design commission: to create a pattern from a well-loved baby bonnet.

I did it, sized to match the original bonnet, which was about a 3-month size.

Since then, I've received many requests to grade the pattern to multiple sizes... and this summer, I've finally had a chance to do it. It now has five sizes: 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year and 2 years. If you've already purchased the pattern through Ravelry or Patternfish, you'll receive the new version automatically.

If you bought a physical copy, email me at kate at wisehildaknits dot com.

And if you had been holding off buying it because it didn't have the size you need: now's the time! Ravelry & Patternfish.

I've got a baby shower to attend next weekend: I think I know what I'll be making...

(Thanks to Keri W. for the pictures of her lovely J, who is now somewhat more grown-up, but remains just as cute.)

Perhaps the next chance I get I'll grade this up to adult sizes... I've heard they are forecasting a bad winter... this might be just the thing I need.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Teaching Schedule for Fall/Winter

Most Tuesdays and Thursdays you can find me at Lettuce Knit.
Most Wednesdays and Saturdays (and the odd Sunday) you can find me at The Purple Purl.

September 18-21, Bayview Wildwood Resort, Ontario

October 4-5, Vancouver B.C.
Knit City 2014
Classes are Custom Fit Socks, Pattern Writing, Finishing and the Pi Shawl.

October 18th, Burlington Ontario
Spun Fibre Arts: classes TBA.

November 15 & 16, Waterloo Ontario

December 13, Port Credit, Ontario
Linda's Craftique: classes TBA.

January 16-18, New York, NY
Vogue Knitting Live: classes TBA.

April 16-19, 2015: Loveland, CO
Interweave Yarn Fest: classes TBA.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Introducing: Rosetta Tharpe

I'd like to introduce to you to Rosetta Tharpe.

Ms. Tharpe is not well known, but those who do know her call her the Godmother of Rock & Roll. Born in 1915, she was a gospel performer of great sophistication and skill, but also had rather a way with a guitar.

You can read more about her here.

This shawl is like Ms. Tharpe – classic in origin and inspiration, drawing on simple elements, but coming together in way that’s both elegant and bad-ass at the same time.

It’s based on the Pi shaping: starts at the center with nine stitches, with an increase round to double the stitch count every so often. The edging stitch pattern is flexible: work until you’ve run out of yarn, or the shawl is the size you want, or you just can’t take it anymore and want to wear the thing.

The project requires only basic lace knitting skills, and being worked in the round, there’s none (well, ok, very little) of that pesky purling. The only tricky bit is the start: you begin with a small round, but that’s over quickly.

I used indigodragonfly's amazing Uber MerGoat Sport merino/cashmere/nylon blend for any easy-care, weighty piece that knits up faster (and more spectacularly) than laceweight; and the weight of the yarn gives wonderful drape to the piece. The colorway is "Cumberbacchanal. Of course.

The pattern is available on Ravelry now, and as of Saturday, Kim will be making kits available starting 11am, Saturday August 16th. Order here! There will be two choices of yarn - the Uber MerGoat Sport, if you've got a bit of money saved up, and a more budget-friendly option, SuperBaa DK.

We'll also be hosting a Knit-Along in Kim's Ravelry group.

Never made a Pi shawl? This pattern is a great place to start.

Wear Ms. Tharpe folded over your shoulders like a triangle,

...or fully open for more drama and coverage. The fabric is weighty enough and the piece big enough that it stays very nicely in place.

A million thanks to Gillian Martin for her amazing photography.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Fair Isle Workshop at WEBS

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip on a tiny plane (seriously tiny... 18 seats)...

Tiny plane is tiny.
to Northhampton Massachusetts, to WEBS.

WEBS is a crafter's mecca. It's a giant warehouse-sized yarn shop. They cater to knitters and crocheters and weavers and spinners and they have everything. They cater to projects - and pocketbooks - large and small.

It's about 2 1/2 hours west of Boston, about three hours north of NYC, and absolutely a destination.

And I nearly fell off my chair when they emailed me out of the blue to ask me to go and teach. It turns out that they like my first book - a lot! they recommend it in many of their classes! -  and they wanted to meet me in person.

Of course I went.

Readers, I was so overwhelmed that I utterly failed you on the photos front. I took precisely one photo of the shop, and it's terrible.

Terrible photo is terrible.
However, it should give you a sense of the size of the place. That's just ONE CORNER of the main shop. There's an even larger warehousey area in the back, with sale yarns and all sorts of goodies.

I taught three classes - including my favourite Finishing - and had a fantastic time. The students were smart and fun and engaged and wonderful people.

But I think I had the most fun in the Fair Isle workshop... a full day, all about Fair Isle design and technique, which provides students the tools, skills and techniques to design their own Fair Isle sampler mitts.

I give a little bit of history.

We practice techniques.

And then we play with patterns.

Student Eileen F. designed and finished this one, in record time:

I also had a lovely time in Northampton. I made some new friends, and enjoyed all sorts of foodie fun in a pretty New England college town.

These guys know their stuff.

Delicious, although sadly the promised "Kate the Great" Russian Imperial Stout was unavailable.

And it's close enough to NYC to be able to find these... 
Thanks to Amy & the rest of the WEBS team for taking such good care of me!

I'm looking forward to a possible return visit, next year... Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Special Summer Treat! Discounts on two of my online classes

You may (or may not) be aware that I have three online knitting classes available through Annie's...

One is a quickie skill-builder Cast Ons and Bind Offs lesson.

There are two longer classes:

Learn to Knit
Intended for absolute beginners, this class begins with the very basics, such as how to hold the knitting needles and yarn, and progresses you through all the basic stitches, casting on, binding off and easy increasing and decreasing. Step-by-step, you'll build skill upon skill to learn how to confidently knit any beginner-level pattern. The class includes 8 fun and easy starter projects.

Know anyone who wants to learn to knit? This is for them? It's also a great refresher, and with this special time-limited $5 off discount code EZHLKNT, the class is less than $20. How can you go wrong?

Magic 2-in-1 Socks

Double knitting is an important skill for the enthusiastic knitter to add to her skill set. In this class I explain and demonstrate this amazing technique step-by-step in which you knit two socks at the same time on the same set of needles, one inside the other. The best part of this class is that sock knitters will never suffer that dreaded "Second Sock Syndrome" again! Suitable for sock knitters with experience, this is a simplified version of the legendary War & Peace method.

With the discount code EZHMS, it's less than $20. Go on, you know you want to...

Note: The discount codes are valid from today until August 10th.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How the Sausage Gets Made: Behind the Scenes at a Sock Photoshoot

Big thanks to Gillian who stopped off on her trip to the airport Monday morning to drink coffee with me, and take some photos.

We had two items to photograph - the Rosetta Tharpe shawl (to be published soon! stay tuned!), and a pair of socks. Because this neighbourhood has a lot of varied architecture and some pretty great graffiti, we were having fun taking photos outside.

But midway through the shawl shoot, it started raining, so we dashed over to Cafe Unwind, our favourite local coffee shop, for refreshments. The observant Gillian noticed that the light in a corner of the shop was good, and there was a nice little stool that we could use as a prop.

So we got clever.

I perched on a bar stool, by the window (coffee in hand, naturally),

Gillian stuffed herself under the bar,

and Dexter just stood there.

Anna, the coffee shop owner, watched in amusement and amazement.

Can't wait to see the finished shots! Knowing Gillian, they'll be amazing, and you wouldn't have even know we were hiding from the rain in a coffee shop if I hadn't told you...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

By Special Request: The Worsted/DK version of the Baby Socks

Free pattern! Baby socks! At 22 sts/4 inches, on 4mm needles or so.

Same deal - newborn/6 month/9-12 month sizes. (The last size is a range because there can be big variation already in foot size, even at that age.)

Easy-peasy! I promise! The pattern is written to be worked on DPNs, magic loop or two circulars, as you prefer, and it's entirely sock-beginner friendly.

Plus adorable.

Seriously. Could they get much cuter? This is the middle size on a 7 month old.

Photo courtesy Jesie Ostermiller.

Photo courtesy test-knitter SJP Jayne.

Thanks much to my test knitters/photographers Sarah Fay, Cheryl M., Jessie O. and SJPKnits Jayne. Very grateful to all test knitters, every one of them, for every project. Next time I see you in person, I will cheerfully buy you a coffee and a cookie.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pattern Loves/Hates: On Blocking & Washing & All That Jazz

A million thanks to all commenters who have provided responses to my what do/don't you love in knitting pattern question?  Some excellent, excellent points, and I'll be discussing them - and likely quoting them -- liberally in the upcoming book.

Over the next little while, I might be writing about some of the points raised in the comments. One came in last night that I really wanted to talk about.

In particular...
Finally, large, rectangular things (afghans, blankets, scarves, stoles, table runners, etc.) should NOT need to be blocked! (They also should not recommend a yarn that needs to be hand-washed and/or laid flat to dry!)
This comment is useful and interesting for a couple of reasons. Designers tend to have easy access to lots of beautiful, luxurious yarns. And - being completely honest here - we're often not paying full retail price for those yarns. So we choose wonderful, wonderful yarns.

And these yarns are often delicate. Requiring handwash.

But it's good to be reminded that not everyone can - or wants - to buy these yarns. For a lot of knitters, easy-care is paramount. For a lot of knitters, yarns should be machine-washable and dryable.

But on the point about blocking... this is a common misconception that's worth dispelling. Unless you're talking about a lace fabric, a wash is sufficient to block your pieces.

Yes, a wash.

Indeed, I never declare a project finished until it’s been washed and dried. It’s essential if you’re going to be doing any seaming. If pieces are going to stretch or shrink that needs to happen before you sew up so the seams don’t pucker.

But even if it’s not going to be seamed, washing a piece makes it look so much better. The stitches even out and the surface gets smoother. The yarns bloom - a silk-based yarn gets shinier and prettier. A wool yarn softens and fluff up. A linen yarn loses the 'crunch'. Your cables will tidy up and pop, your ribbing become more even, your stockinette get smoother.

And chances are, the yarn you worked with is pretty dirty – as it moves from the mill to packaging to shipping and to the yarn shop, yarns gathers machine oils from the spinning, dust from the mill air, other fibre strands and fluff from the yarn shop, and lint from whatever else it’s been stored with.

And of course, as you knit it, it might gather coffee stains, pet hair, cookie crumbs. In short, after a good wash, you knitting just looks better. Try it next time you knit two of something – socks, mitts, sleeves. Wash one and compare it against the other. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

In fact, this is what blocking is. For most things, when a pattern says to block, all that needs to happen is to wash it. The only type of knitting that needs special blocking treatment is lace; lace requires stretching to open up the stitchwork and make it look its best. (This is when you might need to worry about mats and wires and pins and all that jazz. Otherwise, nope.)

Washing is absolutely the best way to block. Neither pressing nor steam blocking can be fully guaranteed to take care of whatever stretching or shrinking is going to happen; and pressing can flatten out your knitting – for example, pressing an aran sweater squishes up all that lovely cabling.

Wash it according to the washing instructions on the ball band for the yarn – handwash or machine wash. I tend to air dry most things, even if they are dryer-safe – it saves energy and wear-and-tear on the garment. If you’re air-drying, find somewhere you can lay the items flat, if possible. For small items, drape them over a towel rail. Or over a laundry rack.

But, equally, if the yarn you're using is machine dryable, go for it.

No matter how you do it, the important thing is that you do do it.

Just wash it.

Want to know more? Try my Craftsy class!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Patterns: What Do You Love? What Don't You Love?

I'm a glutton for punishment. Or it could just be that I have a lot to say.

I teach a lot of classes, and two of my favourite are Pattern Reading and Pattern Writing. Clarity of knitting patterns is very important to me. I have lots to say about it.

A knitter's experience working with patterns can be make-or-break: a badly written pattern can put a knitter off a particular type of project - that's a loss for the knitter. A badly written pattern can put a knitter off the work of a given designer - that's a loss for the designer. And a really badly written pattern can put a someone off knitting entirely - that's a loss for us all.

I don't want to lose any knitters. Knitters buy yarns and books and patterns and classes, and keep the industry going. We want as many of them as we can get.

I don't want knitters to stop knitting socks, and speaking more selfishly, I don't want knitters to stop buying my patterns and books.

It is important to me that patterns are good and clear and helpful and well-written and easy to work from.

So I'm writing a book for knit designers, providing guidance on how to write patterns.

I want to make sure that I'm speaking for the knitters. Tell me what you want to tell designers about how to write patterns.

What do you love to see in patterns? What's important to you? What do you look for when choosing a pattern?

And what drives you insane? What do you find difficult or unfriendly or unpleasant? (Don't worry - I've already written about how much you all dislike "reversing shapings".)

Talk to me! You can comment here, or email me at kate at wisehildaknits dot com. I'm all ears! 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Baby Sock Pattern: Free!

A couple of weeks ago, a knitter from Australia emailed asking for help with a baby sock pattern. It wasn't my pattern, but she'd knitted my training sock, and she thought I might be able to help.

I took a look at the  pattern she'd been trying to use, and let's just say that the instructions left a little to be desired. They're the sort of instructions that would work well if you were an experienced sock knitter, but the knitter in question wasn't.

So to help her out, I decided to write my own baby sock pattern. Several friends are expecting late this summer/early this fall (yes, that is a good way to keep warm during an ice storm...), and I was planning to make gifts anyway. I rummaged in the stash for something fun and non-gender specific, and found a fun green Koigu. And churned out some socks in record time. Baby socks are fast knitting!

In my usual way, I've written the pattern to be friendly to newer sock knitters, and I've also written it so that you can work on DPNs, magic loop or two circulars. There are three sizes: itty-bitty newborn, a 6 month size, and a 9-12 month-ish size.

Although I don't have a baby handy to model them, I can confidently say that the 6 month size is a little small on the dog...

Download the pattern for free, from Ravelry.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New blocking tool: Signature Blocking Cloth

My friends at Signature have recently released a new product: a blocking cloth. It's got grid-lines woven in, at one inch intervals.

I love this thing. I don't know about you, but I struggle with straight lines. Especially when pinning out pieces for blocking.

This week, I blocked a tank top for a friend of mine. It has a lovely lace edge, and I offered to block it so that the points of the scallops were nicely shaped. (She doesn't have the pins and mats that I do.)

I carefully pinned it out by hand, eyeing the edge to make it straight.

I unpinned it, and got an edge that I thought looked pretty good, until I laid it on the blocking cloth. Holy curvy edge, Batman!

So I repinned it, using the 1 inch gridlines as a guide.

Look, Ma! A straight edge. In addition, the grid provided me a very easy way to make sure I had pinned the piece out to the right width, too.


The cloth is colorfast and washable, and sits nicely on top of your blocking mats (or floor, or bed, or whatever you're using for a blocking surface).

My blocking surface?

Yup, that's the dog's crate.

This is the sort of thing you do when you live in an apartment. (And yes, we do move the mat when the dog is actually in the crate.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Not socks: the return of the Pi shawl

I've just wrapped up a pretty major project: a book about Custom Fit socks. I've shipped off the box of samples for photography, and mailed the manuscript to the editor, and so now it's time to work on something else for a while. (The publication date is the middle of next year, so I'll thank you in advance for your patience...) Between my book and some other design projects, I've knitted nothing but socks since November, and I was desperate to cast on something that wasn't socks.

So, firmly not socks... a Pi shawl design.

I've designed a couple of circular Pi shawls over the years... one using Shetland stitch patterns, and the epic Snowflower project, published in the now-defunct Yarn Forward Magazine in 2010 or so. Both samples have been lost, sadly. (The Snowflower was cashmere, too, damn it.)

I learned some important lessons with those two designs. I learned that the piece needs to be pretty big. Although Shetland Skies is pretty, it's a bit too small to be easily worn.

And I learned that if you're going to knit a big piece, if you use a laceweight yarn, you'll be at it for a while... the Snowflower sample took about three weeks of very dedicated knitting, and about 1200 yds of yarn.

But I also learned that I love the concept.

It's all based on the mathematical relationship between the radius and the circumference of the circle... hence "Pi".

Now, as Ms. Zimmermann says, you barely need a pattern for this thing... you start at the centre with 9 stitches, and there are only six shaping rounds. Every so often, you simple double the stitch count, with a round of (yo, k1). You can make a plain one, or a very simply patterned one. Or you can go to town, as I have done, and apply your own patterns.

This new version is an update... rethinking... extension... expansion... of the Snowflower concept. Although in a heavier yarn this time - indigodragonfly's earth-shatteringly delicious UberMerGoat merino cashmere DK weight, in Cumberbacchanal -- so hopefully it won't take quite as long.

Very happy with it so far.

As soon as the pattern is ready, I'll let you know.

And if you're interested in designing your own, I'm teaching a class on this at KnitCity in Vancouver this October.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Camping. My Way.

I am not a fan of camping. Intellectually, I get the appeal of "the great outdoors", but I just can't do it. No running water? Sleeping on rocks? Bears?

And so when Julie of the Needle Emporium asked me to go to Camp with her, I was a bit worried. I have a terrible poker face, and I might have spluttered a little bit.

"But Julie knows me well", I thought. "She knows me well enough to have bought a kettle especially for me when I'm teaching at her shop. Why on earth would she be asking me to go somewhere where there wasn't a kettle?...."

Before I could start coming up with excuses, Julie explained.

Needle Emporium Knitting Camp ain't camp Camp. There are no tents. There's proper beds and plumbing and drinks of both the hot and cold variety. And she explicitly promised no bears.

Knitting Camp sounds actually rather fantastic: a weekend of knitting and workshops and eating and drinking and games and silliness and fun. It's at the Bayview Wildwood resort, a little north of Toronto, which is entirely civilized.

I was already in, and then Julie told me that Sally Melville would be there, too. I can't wait to meet her.

Come and join us, September 18-21st. It's a fun weekend away from home - there's a view of the lake, and the food is great, and apparently they don't make you make your bed. Add knitting, and it makes it absolutely perfect.

I'll be teaching a variety of classes and workshops: Toe Up Socks, Sizing and Fit, Fixing Mistakes, and my Expert Tips workshop. Sally is teaching some fantastic classes, too. More info here. Come and play!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

WWKIP: Shenanigans in Waterloo, June 7th

I love the ladies of Shall We Knit (and not just because they feel the way I do about chocolate ice cream). They know how to throw a party.

The last few years Kim and Ron of indigodragonfly and I have been joining them for World Wide Knit in Public Day, in early June. We wear silly costumes, we knit, we raise funds, and generally amuse ourselves our our visitors.

This year's theme is Superheroes.

There will be yarn! There will be vendors with other goodies, including the Body Blessed's lovely skin care products, Erin of Robot A Day, and more indigodragonfly yarns you can shake a stick at, and Marit's rather clever hand-dyed gradient 'Gobstopper' yarns.

There will be a photo booth - superhero-themed, naturally. There will be games. Prizes. And assorted other shenanigans.

As last year, indigodragonfly is auctioning off naming and design rights for a custom colorway. Details here.

And I'll be available for rent. That is, I'll be providing knitting help and consultations for a small fee. (If the past years are anything to go by, I'll likely be wearing a silly outfit.)

Funds raised will go to the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund, a group doing important work. Their mission is to support women (and the families of those women) who are going through breast cancer treatment.They provide short-term financial support to help with daily expenses - mortgage, rent, food, utilities, transport, etc. - during treatment and recovery. They also provide educational workshops that promote breast health and raise awareness about the impact of the environmental factors affecting breast cancer.

More details in the Shall We Knit newsletter.

And on the Sunday, I'm teaching a class: Knitter's Toolkit.
This three-hour workshop focuses on  the key skills to take your knitting to the next level. You know how to knit and purl and increase and decrease and even read a pattern - but to really make your knitting great, we talk about all the other skills you need. I'll show you how to confidently diagnose and fix mistakes. I'll actually explain in a helpful way what the big fuss is about gauge. I'll talk about how to join a new ball of yarn; and how to weave in ends. I'll explain the key finishing skills - and why they are so important. I'll demystify blocking. Along the way I'll share some of my favourite tips, tricks and techniques for casting on, for binding off, for increasing and decreasing. Bring your questions!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Blocking Socks & Sock Blockers

Great question from a knitter on Twitter last night:

I get asked this fairly regularly.

My answer, in 140 characters or less:

In slightly more than 140 characters: Nope.

But, you ask, what about those sock blocker things they are always trying to sell me?

If so many companies make them, I must need them, right? And the knitters of the olden-times used them, so they must be IMPORTANT. You can find sock blockers at antique shops all the time. Witness this post on a blog about antiques. And a quick search on eBay provides a fair number of different versions, of different vintages.

Still nope.

Here's the thing: sock blockers date back to times when knitters weren't likely to be using superwash wool. That is, they were making socks from wools that would felt with wear and washing. And so blockers were used. They were, in the words of the antiques blogger whose post I linked to above
"the best way of keeping socks and stockings the right size and shape after laundering".
Yup. Size. Blockers were used to help keep the felting process at bay.

So, unless you're knitting socks out of non washable wool, it's a big old nope. Simply not necessary.

Now: if I'm photographing the socks, or sending them off to be photographed, or presenting them as a gift, I will wash them. But even then, I just hang them over a laundry rack or towel rail, once they've been wrung out.

The only time I'll actually stretch them out, on an actual blocker, is if they are made of lace. Lace looks best stretched, and so I like to stretch it before I wear it so they look nice when I put them on.

But honestly: the best sock blockers in the world? Look down. They're at the end of your legs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Go Your Own Way"

(You might have noticed that many things in my life are named after songs.)

The 2014 issue of Knitscene Accessories has just hit the newsstand, and I'm absolutely thrilled to announce I'm in it. Not only am I in it, but my article is mentioned on the cover, and in the editor's letter.
The article is about converting a sock pattern from one direction to the other. I teach a lot of sock knitting classes, and I edit a lot of sock patterns, and speak to a lot of sock knitters, and I've found that the vast majority of sock knitters have a preferred direction. Some like toe-up, some like top-down. That's all good by me. I don't mind which way you go, as long as you're knitting socks.

What I do hear from knitters is that if they encounter a pattern that is for the "wrong" direction, then they are often discouraged. My article aims to help knitters convert a sock pattern from one direction to another, opening up a whole new range of sock patterns.

I love enabling sock knitters!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Going for Roti, Saturday June 21; Oh yes, also teaching at Spun

I do love a good roti, and there's a terrific little roti shop in a strip-mall in Burlington, Ontario, just west of Toronto. Named D Hot Shoppe, it's unassuming but fantastic. I knew it was going to be good the first time I went, as the line up was both outrageously long, and outrageously diverse:  in that classic Canadian way, people of all cultural origins, suited types, half a soccer team, mums and kids, hard-hatted construction workers, locals and visitors, and yarn shop staff.

Oh yes, yarn shop. In the same strip mall at this roti shop is Spun Fibre Arts. The room is great, the staff is lovely, and the selection is wonderful. I love suburban shops - they have so much more space for yarn than my usual downtown haunts! (In addition, the unofficial mascot of Spun is miniature Dachshund, Shopsy, who is pure comedy on four short legs.)

It's not far west of Toronto, and I'm heading out there to teach Saturday June 21st. There's two classes scheduled, Pattern Reading and Soxpertise.

Pattern Reading
2 hours - 10am-noon
For knitters who are less confident with pattern instructions - learn how to read and fully understand patterns. We'll teach you how to understand garment sizing, and choose the right size to make. We will demystify the schematic, and commonly used abbreviations and conventions. We’ll also talk about how to choose and substitute yarns, and how to check gauge. And last but not least, we'll and address common problem areas like "reversing shapings" and "AT THE SAME TIME".

3 hours - 1-4 pm
For knitters with some sock experience, this interactive and lively workshop focuses on answering all of those frequently asked questions about sock knitting. We tackle topics such as: what’s the deal about toe-up vs. top down: how are they different? should you try both? is one better or easier than the other? Magic Loop/DPNs/2 Circulars: why and how? How to properly measure for, size and fit a sock – including tips on custom-fitting for ‘unusual’ feet – and review different types of heel shapings and how they affect fit and construction. We’ll address the tricky bits like how to avoid holes at the top of your heel, how to get a tidy gusset pick up, and special cast-ons and cast offs. I’ll talk about yarns and fibers and fabrics, and how to ensure that your hand-knit socks last as long as possible. I’ll provide facts and opinions on the surprisingly thorny topics of toe shapings and gussets. I’ll talk about the method and pros and cons of working two-at-once vs. one-at-a-time, and share tips for avoiding the dreaded second-sock syndrome. Bring your socks, your feet, your questions, concerns and issues.

To register, call the shop at 905-681-7786 or visit the Spun website here.

(If you're coming for the afternoon class, note that I will have breath mints with me. The curry is hot and strong.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

YES YOU CAN. On fixing a twist.

Technical note:  I understand the videos below don't work if you're using an iPad to view this page. You'll need to be on another type of computer. Limitation of Blogger and how it posts videos. Sorry!

I read a blog post this morning about working in the round. It was written to be an introduction to working on circular needles, and an encouragement for those who are struggling with it.

I love working in the round myself. Less purling! Faster! Hats! Socks! Cowls!

Although it's overall helpful, the writer says something that I fundamentally disagree with: that a twisted round is unfixable. This is a common belief: that if you join with a twist, it's a catastrophic, unfixable mistake.

Quite the opposite. It's entirely fixable. And so easy to fix that I've actually stopped checking for the twist before I join. Frankly, if I'm casting on many stitches onto a long circular, or coping with the porcupine that is a set of DPNs, I focus my energy on holding the needles in a way that's comfortable, and getting a good join.

Once I've worked my first round, I then check for a twist and fix it.

A round with a twist: no need for panic.
Yes, that's right. I fix the twist.

There is a 'but', and it's a reasonably big one: you can only fix the twist in the first round. After that, it's set. But that's ok - just get into the habit of checking for a twist after the first round is complete, and you're good.

Cast on, join your round as normal, and work all the way around.

Once you hit the start of the round, lie the work down and check for a twist.

If it isn't twisted, move on smugly.

If there is, just fix it! The video below shows you how.  In words: fix it by swinging the point of one of the needles through the middle of the round.


What you're actually doing is transferring the twist to the cast on edge. This is why you can't do it later on in your work, as the twist will be visible in the fabric. But a twist in the cast-on edge isn't visible.

Yes, this also works on a circular needle or magic loop. It's a slightly different way of looking at it, but what you're doing is just moving the twist along the needle until you hit the tip, and then "run" the twist off.


And then, either way, move on smugly.

You're welcome. ;-)

Working, working, working...

Too busy working to write much on the blog.

My writing time at the moment is being focused on a rather larger project: my next book!

Stay tuned for more details, but consider this the formal announcement that my Custom Fit Socks book is in the works.

Publication date of next summer - we will all have to be patient - but it's coming. And I think you'll like it!

My focus is on teaching you how to measure and assess your feet for proper sock fit, and then customizing a sock to fit exactly how you need it. There will be mathematical solutions and math-free solutions. There will be tables and formulas so you can design your own sock patterns - top-down and toe-up! - for any foot and any yarn, and I'll talk about how to customize my formulas and other patterns for special fit needs. There will also be some patterns.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On Learning and Beginner-Friendly Projects: A few thoughts

I taught a class this past weekend on Fixing Mistakes in Lace. It's a very rewarding class to teach, as I'm helping knitters build very useful skills.

And it's a class full of "aha" moments. The first big one is when the students realize that they don't have to rip back to put in a missed yarnover. And the next is the discovery of the lifeline and its value in saving lives.... Well, ok, saving hours of knitting and ripping time, at the very least.

Two students were attending the class because they were participating in an online knit-along for a first lace project. One of them brought her swatch to show me. Now, if you've ever met me, you'll likely know that I have a lousy poker face... I'm really not good at disguising my feelings about something.

I was shocked when I saw the swatch - and I expressed that shock.

The knitter in question, B., seemed initially surprised (and probably a bit upset) at my shock. I think she thought I was shocked at the quality of her work.

Precisely the opposite: her work was great... I was shocked at the project. It was a pretty complex lace pattern - looked like a 20+ stitch, 20+ row repeat, worked in slightly fuzzy, 2-ply laceweight. I asked a few questions. Yes, this was advertised as a "beginner" lace project. Yes, this was the yarn recommended.

In my mind, that ain't no "beginner" lace project. No matter how good the online support, that's a challenging project.

My first couple of lace projects were fairly disastrous. There was so much ripping and reworking and cursing and perhaps even a few tears. And I'm so glad about that! I'm glad about that because I believe that experience makes me a better teacher. I remember that working with a fine and delicate laceweight yarn was intimidating and difficult. I did much better when I changed to a sturdier and smoother sock yarn. I remember that I did a lot better at first with a smaller lace repeat. I remember that being taught about a lifeline was critical to my enjoyment and success with the project.

Now, I don't wish to impugn the designer who is leading the knit-along. This person has made the choices of yarn and pattern for specific reasons, I'm sure. But this raises an interesting question: how does an experienced knitter decide what's 'easy'? What makes a good beginner-friendly project?

As a life-long knitter, what I find easy isn't at all what a newer knitter finds easy. I strongly believe that the best teachers are the ones who stay in touch with the learning process - the ones who stay in touch with how students learn. I love teaching in-store classes, and I don't think I'll ever give this up. These classes keep me engaged with newer knitters and they challenges they experience. I learn so much from the questions I get asked.

As an experienced knitter, there are so many things I just don't think about, so many things I take for granted... for example, I never questioned what a pattern meant when it said to "work even". It never occurred to me that this needed explaining. But I get asked about it at least once a week - this is a good reminder! It's important to listen to knitters read through instructions and ask questions about them.

And taking an example from this weekend's class, I find it easy and obvious to pick up a missed yarnover - I've done it thousands of times. But it's important to watch a knitter do this for the first time, and struggle with figuring out which way round to work into the yarnover. Watching reminds me why it's not obvious and not easy this first few times.

I'm grateful for my own awful knitting experiences. I'm grateful for newer knitters. I'm grateful for the "silly" questions. They make me a better teacher.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More questions on sock fit

Loving the questions...

Through Twitter, a knitter asked about the number of gusset stitches:
How many should there be, how to pick them up, and how does this affect fit?
If you want to be scientific about it, it goes like this... figure out what circumference you need around the arch of your foot. Take the measurement, subtract off about 10-15% and then multiply that by your stitch gauge.
Let's use my numbers as an example. My foot is 8 inches around the ball of the foot, but 9 1/2 inches around the arch.  At 8 stitches an inch, I calculated the following stitch count for my sock: 8 inches - 10% is about 7 inches, and 7 x 8 = 56.

For my gusset circumference, 9 1/2 inches less about 10% is 8 1/2 inches. 8.5 x 8 = 68 stitches.

Let's consider a top-down flapped heel first. Your instep is usually half the total number of stitches - for me, that's 28. Check the pattern to see how many stitches are leftover from the heel turn - for my favourite band heel turn, I have 12 left over. So I've got 40 stitches after the heel turn. And I need to make up the remaining 28 stitches with the gusset pickup - that's 14 each side.  (And when I'm working a top down sock on 56 stitches, I aim to pick up 14 or 15, so that's just about right!)

Now: for many sock patterns, the instructions are simply to pick up one stitch for every slipped stitch on the side of the heel flap - that is, one stitch for every two rows. I submit to you that that number is too few. No matter how many rows you work. I like to pick up one stitch for every slipped slipped stitch at the side of the heel flap, plus two more. Yes, really. Two.

Aha, you say! But if I pick up more stitches, I'm going to get holes. Nope! Done properly, picking up extra stitches actually eliminates the risk of holes.

Avoid that tempting strand that runs between the stitches. If you pick up there, you're absolutely 100% going to create a huge hole. It's going to be loose, as that strand tends to stretch out when you're working the heel flap. And if you pick that up, you're effectively creating a yarnover - think about it, you're picking up a strand between the stitches. And even if you're "clever" about it, and work that yarnover through the back loop to twist it, you're still going to get a gap as you're still working an increase, and therefore forcing apart the instep and the heel stitches, creating a bit of a separation.  The trick is to pick up those two extra stitches in the straight line, continuing up from the slipped stitches. You're very deliberately picking up a stitch or two above the separation point between heel flap and instep - this hides that stretched-out strand of yarn in the break between the flap and the instep. To pick up the last couple, you're no longer putting the needle under the edge stitch, but poking it through from the RS of the fabric to the inside of the sock. (BTW, you are putting the needle under both strands of the edge stitch to do the pickup, aren't you? You should be.) (More on this in this blog post.)

For a toe-up heel, if I'm working on 56, I need to work gusset increases until I get to 68 stitches - the different is 12, so that's 6 on each side. That having been said, for most toe-up flap-and-gusset constructions, the number of rows in the heel flap is set by the number of gusset stitches, so I tend to consider this as a minimum number of gusset stitches. A 12-row heel flap sits too low on the heel for my liking, so I usually use the following formula: gusset stitches per side should be about 20% of the total sock stitches, so for a 56-stitch sock, I'd do 11 or 12 gusset stitches per side. Some knitters use 25% as their usual number, but I personally find this too many - I get bagginess around the front of the heel.

And Jenn asked in a comment:
Any hints on compensating for high insteps?
My widest point comes when putting the sock on - getting it over my heel/instep. If I knit the 'right' width for my calf I need to stretch the sock to the point I'm afraid of snapping something to get it over my heel. I've played with a few things (different heel flaps/stitch counts etc) but it seems if I want to actually get them on, they are baggy on the legs
There's a few possible elements at play here. First of all, I'd always recommend a sock with a flap and gusset construction, as that allows you to add extra circumference around the arch/instep. If working top-down, work an extra long heel flap, and then pick up "enough" gusset stitches - as above.  As to how long the heel flap should be, measure the vertical distance from the top of your instep to the ground. Aim for that length.

For toe-up, you'll need to reverse engineer this a bit. Measure that length, and then calculate how many rows that is.  (Flap length x round gauge in inches.) If you're working a "typical" toe-up sock where the heel flap is created by decreasing away a gusset stitch every row, your total number of gusset stitches - both sides added together - needs to be the number of rows you need. So at 10 rows/rounds an inch. if you need a 3 inch heel flap, that's 30 rows. And so you need 15 gusset stitches per side.

I hope that helps my readers! Anything else?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sock Fit Part 3: Reader Questions

In a comment, May asks:
What would you suggest for someone who has "athletic" calves but skinny ankles?
Easy! Identify the size and stitch count you need for the foot/ankle, and also for the calf. (Use the negative ease rule in both cases - find the circumference that is about 10-15% smaller than your actual circumference.

At the simplest level, the process is this: If you're working top-down, cast on for larger size and work decreases as you work down the leg to ensure that you hit the smaller size by the time you're at the ankle. You can then finish the sock following the instructions for the smaller size. And if you're working toe-up, work the toe, foot and heel turn for the smaller size. Once you're back in the round and working the leg, work increases to get to the larger stitch count, and finish the leg.

How you actually do the shaping depends on your own leg. If the shape change is gradual from ankle to calf, change the stitch count over that distance. If your legs change shape quickly, change the stitch count quickly, too!

For example, let's say that your leg needs 72 stitches, and your foot needs 60 stitches. If working top-down, you will cast on 72, and need to have decreased to 60 by the ankle. If working toe-up, you will work the foot and heel on 60 stitches, and you'll need to increase to 72 for the leg.

That's 12 stitches of shaping.

If shaping gradually: Assuming your leg is at least 6 inches long, increase/decrease 2 stitches every inch or so on the leg. You can eyeball this, no need to be super-precise about it. After all, knitting stretches!

If shaping "quickly": work the shaping in one round in the bottom round of  the leg.

I'm doing a lot of writing on this topic right now - stay tuned for news about that being published...

Monday, April 07, 2014

More on sock fit - how about a class?!

Interested in exploring the topic of sock fit further? Questions about how to customize the fit of a sock to meet your particular foot shape?

Well, you're in luck! I'm teaching a class on Custom Fit Socks at the upcoming Interweave Knitting Lab in New Hampshire. I'm teaching a full slate of classes over the weekend, and the sock class runs Sunday May 18th, 9am to noon. There are a few spaces available!

More info here.