Thursday, October 16, 2014

be fancy :: eyelet stitches

Welcome back to FancyStitchLandia! Our last stop was Block Stitch & Friends, where we learned that the most basic combinations of knit and purl can yield beautifully-textured results.

You can knit and purl, so I know you’ve got those patterns down. Now… can you increase and decrease? Some yarn-overs and K2togs are all you need to get yourself started with sweet little eyelet patterns that can make your knitting look way fancier, way more feminine, and/or just way more interesting, depending on how you work them. [Don’t know how to work a yarn-over (YO) yet? Check out this simple how-to and then come right back!]

There are more eyelet patterns than you could possibly imagine. Adding just a few eyelets to a project can provide really useful features besides visual interest. You can use eyelets to make buttonholes, vents, or a track for a belt or ribbon. Eyelets are the foundation upon which the timeless dishcloth pattern is built, though I cannot endorse frittering one’s knitting time away on a project that encourages housework. Lace (also known as openwork) is just a pattern that features lots and lots of eyelets. Here are some eyelet patterns to get you started:

simple eyelet pattern (multiple of 8 sts)

simple eyelet pattern
The most basic eyelet is formed by using a repeating pattern of YO, K2tog. Here’s a lovely simple version, courtesy of Barbara Walker's first Treasury of Knitting Patterns:

R1 (RS): Knit
R2 and all WS rows: Purl
R3: *K6, YO, K2tog. Repeat from * to end.
R5: Knit
R7: K2, *YO, K2tog, K6. Repeat from * to end.
R8: Purl.
Repeat rows 1-8.

cloverleaf eyelet pattern (multiple of 8 sts + 7)

Lucky Clover Lace Wrap / Melissa Wehrle
I love this pretty stitch pattern on ladies tops and dresses. It’s featured in the popular Lucky Clover Lace Wrap from Stitch & Bitch Nation:  

R1 and all other WS rows: Purl
R2 (RS): Knit
R4: K2, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. *K5, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. Repeat from * to end. K2.
R6: K3, YO, SSK. *K6, YO, SSK. Repeat from * to end. K2.
R8: Knit
R10: K1. *K5, YO, Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO, YO. Repeat from * to end. K6.
R12: K7. *K6, YO, SSK. Repeat from * to end.
Repeat rows 1-12.

wildflower purl
wildflower purl
This wonderful pattern is just a little bit trickier, relying on a P3tog to create the cute little wildflowers. I love how this stitch pops on variegated yarn! Instructions for working this stitch pattern in the round are included in my Wildflower Socks pattern.

quatrefoil / sundrop hat
The quatrefoil makes a sunburst or flower design that looks great on garments and accessories alike. I used it to create both visual interest, and cooling vents, on this summer hat for babies and toddlers. Instructions for working this stitch pattern in the round are included in the Sundrop hat pattern.

Just these three variations on the simple eyelet open up a huge amount of possibility for your knitting. Even a single row of eyelet stitches at the lower hem or cuffs of a sweater add so much visual interest to a simple garment.

Check out how other designers are using eyelets in a few of these hot projects on Ravelry right now. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

clockwise from left: miette by andi satterlund | star anise by svetlana volkova | caramel frappe by monika sirna | dotted rays by stephen west

Monday, October 13, 2014

costumes by hand

My mom & her handiwork: The broccoli costume, circa 2010
Halloween is just over two weeks away, which means that every day my five year-old daughter runs down a new list of costume ideas.

Monarch butterfly! Goldilocks! Mouse! Mouse and cheese! Anna! Elsa! The mama cat from Aristocats! Scarlet macaw! Lemur! Firefighter! Each one with as much passion and enthusiasm as the last.

Every year I eventually just stop her in the middle of a list and say "That's it! You've decide to be a _____ and I'll get to work on your costume right away!" As the days tick down to Halloween, she keeps listing ideas and I pretend to listen while mentally figuring out how to make a scarlet macaw costume.

I don't believe in store-bought costumes. I know, I know, they're so much easier... but please. I was put on this earth to try to do too much, and making Halloween costumes is just one of the many tasks I gleefully burden myself with out of a vague commingling of duty, pride and guilt that I inherited from my own mother. She worked more than full-time, but would sooner clean the grout with a toothbrush than let us go out in store-bought Halloween costumes.

And so the tradition continues. Though I don't really clean the grout at all, let alone with a toothbrush.

As kids, my sister and I usually went in thematically-grouped costumes. One year we were the aforementioned Mouse and Cheese. I don't remember which of us was the mouse, but the other went as a big cardboard wedge of cheese. One year we were hockey players, complete with blacked-out teeth. One year my sister wanted to be a Care Bear, and my mom sewed an incredible big pink fuzzy bear suit for her. I remember a lion costume with a big yarn mane, and an adorable sunflower costume. Thank goodness I have my mom to help with our family's costumes - she is an amazing seamstress, and sadly I did not inherit her sewing skills at all.

This year I'm trying to force a group costume on my family. HWWLLB (my man) is not big into costumes, so he will be a gardener, something he's typically dressed for anyway when not at work. Little Bee is recycling a costume we made out of 100+ pompoms a few years ago, and will go as broccoli. I'll be a packet of broccoli seeds, and Little Pea will be a caterpillar, though she's been lobbying for home-made wings, so in the end she may wind up as a butterfly. Not as thematically rigorous, but still cute and somewhat cohesive.

I've been collecting kids' costume ideas on Pinterest, and hunting for ingenious ways to make caterpillar legs. Mostly I'm finding people's various takes on the Very Hungry Caterpillar, which (while very cute) is apparently the only caterpillar most people are familiar with. Tragic, because there are so many cool real caterpillars out there to honor via costumage. Monarchs and Black Swallowtails and Wooly Bears are so wonderful, and I've always thought a parasitized Tomato Hornworm would make an amazing Halloween costume (cool nature + vampire all in one!). But I digress.

So I need to get to work on the caterpillar costume. Are you making your own costume this year, or some costumes for kids? What are you going to be for Halloween??

Friday, October 10, 2014

what to read this weekend

Hi everybody! Happy Friday!

I'm looking forward to a beautiful sunny weekend and lots of time scampering through colorful leaves with the little ones. And finally, time to exhale and curl up in my nest with a good book.

What are you reading right now?

Every fall I recharge my reading list with the Man Booker Prize nominees. The 'short list' is usually revealed in early September, and I try to read as many of the books on it as I can before the prize is awarded a month later. Not an easy feat, since I have other things to do besides devour novels, but there are few things as satisfying as a great book, so I make a valiant effort. After the prize is awarded I usually keep on working my way through the list til it's done, which makes for a delicious fall.

Right now I'm about halfway through David Mitchell's new book (you know him. The Cloud Atlas. He wrote that incredible mind-bending novel). Anyway I'm reading his new novel The Bone Clocks, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize but didn't make the short list (a decision I've decided to agree with). It's a fun read, and as I've said I'm only about halfway through, but I don't find it nearly as uncanny or revolutionary as Cloud Atlas, or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet. But it's fun and wild, and I hate to leave a book unfinished, so I'll definitely spend some quality time snuggled up with it this weekend.

Next I'm hoping to read Joshua Ferris' To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, which I've been waiting patiently to receive from the library for quite some time now... I just know somebody has an overdue copy malingering under their couch. Wish I could go to their house and get it!

I really want to read How to Be Both by Ali Smith, but the darn book won't even be released in the US until early December. I think the publisher just likes to annoy American readers. Any rate, like David Mitchell - or maybe very unlike him? - Ali Smith messes with the conventions of novels, storytelling, chronology and grammar, and lately I've learned about myself that I really enjoy that.

My prediction for who will take the winner's podium on October 14: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler (you already know her too. She wrote The Jane Austen Book Club). We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a gem: Powerful, clear prose that anybody can read and enjoy, moving characters and a cracking good story. If the conceit of the book hasn't been spoiled for you yet on Goodreads, please please take my advice and don't read any spoilers. Just go ahead and read this fabulous, surprising novel that will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about what it means to be human.

I'm about to start the weekend off right by cleaning out the chicken coop. But I'll be puzzling over plot twists in The Bone Clocks while I do it. Hopefully the chickens don't mind.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

fall yarns to make you salivate

I've been fighting a yucky cold the last few weeks, which has made my brain dull. All my best ideas revolve around drinking tea and crawling into my nest on the couch. Not really worth writing about.

But I have been spending some QT at the LYS, and I just can't help noticing all the pretty, pretty new fall yarns coming in. Do you have your eye on anything special? Here's what's been piquing my curiosity (and making my wallet vibrate in anticipation):

Colinette Jitterbug / Mint Julep colorway
Colinette Jitterbug. There's no end to how much sock yarn I could buy, and new colors from this wonderful, bouncy favorite have me itching to make up some socks. Come to think of it, the Little Pea could use some warm winter socks... would she let me pick a color for her?? I know she'd pick Earth, Rose Garden or Peaches & Cream, but I adore Turquoise and Mint Julep (shown in the picture).

Dream in Color Smooshy / Deep Regret colorway
Dream in Color Smooshy - Don't touch it! If you do you'll have to buy it, and then you'll have to tuck it under your pillow and stroke it lovingly every night before you go to sleep. Even your cat will think you're weird. OMG Smooshy. I love the new colorways for this fall, though the emotional rollercoaster represented by the colorways' names give me pause (my favorite new colors are Vague Unease and Deep Regret). PS Cashmere!!!!!

Rowan Felted Tweed / Hedgerow colorway
Rowan Felted Tweed - If there's a more classic, British-Islesey fall comfort yarn out there, please show it to me. If you ask someone to close her/his eyes and imagine a beautiful fisherman's sweater, they're going to imagine something knit from Felted Tweed. Rowan has 4 new colors out for the season, and I love Jaffa (I have a thing about rusty reds...). I just want to knit myself a winter cocoon from it to just live in until spring comes.

Knit Picks Diadem / all colorways
KnitPicks Diadem - What an interesting new yarn. In theory I love it, this ultra-luxe alpaca/silk blend that comes in fingering and DK weights. The colors are solids, and a somewhat limited palette (maybe because it's new?). KP has a call out now for free pattern designs, and I'm scratching my head a little over what I'd want to do with this silky, silky yarn were I to get my hands on some. Any ideas? Is this one on your list?

So what are you yearning to add to your stash right now? I'm sniffling away but enjoying my fantasies of just wrapping myself in silky wooly goodness til I get better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

be fancy :: block stitch

Earlier this week I promised a series of posts on my favorite stitch patterns to help get you started on your journey to FancyStitchLandia. Here's the first one! Block Stitch.

Block Stitch / Blocks are 4 stitches wide by 4 stitches high
Block Stitch goes by other names, including Dice Stitch, Checkerboard and Basketweave (not to be confused with many other basketey stitches, like Basket Stitch, Basket Rib or Basket Welt). It's an incredibly simple stitch with many possible variations. Just a simple pattern that alternates blocks of knit stitches (stockinette stitch) with blocks of purl stitches (reverse stockinette). I love it because it's reversible (looks the same on both sides), and after blocking lays flat with no curling up at the ends or edges. So it's great for a scarf, and unlike many of the coolest stitch patterns, it's a bit on the manly side. 

Block Stitch is a great choice for a man's scarf, a men's or boys' pullover, or to add geometry and structure to a shawl, sweater or scarf for any gender. It also makes a great-looking bag!

Here's how to make it (directions are given for knitting flat, i.e. not in the round):

Multiple of 8 stitches / Worked over 8 rows.

R 1, 3 (RS): * K4, P4. Repeat from * to end.
R 2, 4 (WS): * P4, K4. Repeat from * to end.
R 5, 7 (RS): * P4, K4. Repeat from * to end.
R 6, 8 (WS): * K4, P4. Repeat from * to end.

The resulting fiber is a bit scrunchy (from the almost-ribbing), but just block it and press it, and it will flatten right out (unless you want the scrunchiness!). 

There are endless ways to vary this simple combination of alternating knit and purl stitches. You can make the blocks wider (such as K5, P5 or K10, P10...). You can make them taller by working the pattern over a larger number of rows. You can alternate the stockinette stitch blocks with seed stitch blocks or garter stitch blocks. Check out a few of the variations below.


Seed Block Stitch alternates stockinette stitch blocks with blocks of seed stitch. You could work blocks of any size, as long as they are at least 5 stitches wide. The pattern is shown here over blocks  5 stitches wide by 5 stitches high. Unfortunately this variation is not reversible, but it is really beautiful.
Seed Block Stitch / Blocks are 5 stitches wide by 5 stitches high
Multiple of 10 stitches + 5 / Worked over 10 rows 

R 1, 3 and 5 (WS): P5 *(K1, P1) twice, K1, P5. Repeat from * to end.
R 2 and 4 (RS): K5, * (K1, P1) twice, K6. Repeat from * to end.
R 6, 8 and 10 (WS): (P1, K1) twice, P1. *K5, (P1, K1) twice, P 1. Repeat from * to end.
R 7 and 9 (RS): (P1, K1) twice, P1. * P5, (P1, K1) twice, P 1. Repeat from * to end.  

Broken Block is my favorite variation on the Block Stitch. It takes the flat checkerboard and makes a wavy rib that adds depth and motion. It can be blocked and pressed to remove the ribbiness. It can be worked with just about any size blocks you like - here it is over 6-stitch blocks.

Multiple of 6 stitches / Worked over 8 rows

R1 and R3: *(K4, P2), Rep from * to end.
R5 and R7: *(P2, K4), Rep from * to end.
All even rows: Knit the K's and Purl the P's.

Broken Block Stitch as featured in the Cowgirl Butterfly Astronaut Vest
There are probably hundreds more variations on Block Stitch. Spend a little time fiddling around with your yarn, and you could probably invent some new ones! Have a great one to share? Please post in the comments section!

Want to learn more block stitches, not to mention thousands of other gorgeous stitch patterns? Find yourself a copy of Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Schoolhouse Press, 1968). There are four volumes of these indispensable reference books. The Second Treasury is my absolute favorite, but I don't think I could be a knitter without any of them!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

getting started with fancy stitch patterns

Waffle stitch in two colors (yarn: Blue Sky Alpacas Skinny Dyed cotton)
So you've made a few scarves, a great hat and even a baby sweater or two. You've got the stockinette stitch and the garter stitch down pat. Itching to try something a little more exciting?

Knitters have always used simple combinations of knit and purl stitches to add texture, beauty, and provenance to their work. Add in a yarn-over or a slipped stitch, increases and decreases, and a truly spectacular library of fascinating stitch patterns become possible.

Want to try your hand at a fancy stitch pattern? Now's the time! I'm going to lay out a few basics here, and then over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favorite stitch patterns with you, with lots of photo's and step-by-step how-to's.

First, a little myth-busting:

Myth: Fancy stitch patterns are hard to knit.

Fact: You already know everything you need to! You know how to make a knit stitch, right? You can make a purl stitch? Okay, you're all set! There are literally thousands of stitch patterns based on combinations of just these two stitches.

Myth: Knitting fancy stitch patterns requires too much concentration. I won't be able to binge-watch Orange is the New Black while working on my project.

Fact: Nobody wants to interfere with your You Time, so please, don't try complicated lacework when your brain is elsewhere. But many many stitch patterns are actually quite simple. Once you've repeated K3 P1 five times, it's stuck in your brain forever, and you're free to get sucked into the viewing experience of your choice.

Myth: You can't use fancy stitch patterns for knitting top-down sweaters, and that's my favorite kind.

Fact: Uh-huh! Just about any stitch pattern can be easily adapted to the top-down technique. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about that once with step-by-step instructions. Check it out!

If there are still any doubts in your mind about trying out some stitch patterns, please share them in the comments section so that I may obliterate them! Cast your inhibitions aside and get going. Here are a few tips:

  • Work loose stitches. I know this is easier said than done, especially for newer knitters who tend to knit more tightly. But stitch patterns often rely on twisting, slipping and otherwise manipulating your stitches after you've made them. Leave room for the fun by relaxing and knitting looser stitches.
  • Practice the stitch pattern before you start the project. The best time to do this is when you're gauge-swatching. (YOU ARE GAUGE-SWATCHING. NO ARGUMENTS!). Work a few extra rows so that you start to get it memorized. When you start your project, you'll have it right from the start.
  • Check your work against a photo. If your pattern doesn't have a clear photo of the stitch pattern, do a Google Image search to see how it's supposed to look. Sometimes the instructions aren't incredibly clear, and comparing what you've done to a good photo can help you get it right.

Ready to get started? A little added texture is a great way to show off the depth of colors in hand-dyed yarns, or to make a plain pullover suddenly elegant and far more fun to knit. Challenge yourself just a little - you'll be amazed at how much more sophisticated your knitting can become.

Friday, September 19, 2014

tutorial :: never weave in ends again!

Once the knitting is over, the party is over too, as far as I'm concerned.

Photo: mamichan via Flickr
I detest finishing projects: Sewing up seams, sewing on buttons, weaving in ends, neatening things up. Yuck. I've left absolutely wonderful projects lying around for months at a time just because there was still blocking to be done and a few buttons to sew - pathetic! This is why I knit top-down - no dreaded seam-sewing at the end.

Fortunately, weaving in ends is a finishing step you can dispense with, without waiting around for finishing time. You can weave the ends in as you go, while you're knitting the project. You don't even need a darning needle. Here's how.

This simultaneous tail-weaving technique is derived from stranded color knitting (sometimes called "fair isle"), and I have no idea where I picked it up. It's possible that I came up with this on my own at some point, but I'm sure that plenty of other knitters have been doing this for years too. Anyway, to make this easy to see, I'll show you with 2 different colors of yarn knit in stockinette stitch (all K stitches on the right side, all P on the wrong side).

[A note on the photos below: All the photos show the wrong side (WS) of the work, since that's where untidy yarn tails tend to hang out. The purple yarn is the main color (MC), and the yellow yarn is the contrast color (CC)].

1. Knit along in your main color (MC) until the place where you need to join a new yarn (we'll call this new yarn the 'contrast color' or CC for short). Join your CC, leaving a little tail of 6 inches or so. Finish knitting that row/round.

2. On your next row/round, you'll come back to where you left the little CC yarn tail before. Hello!

3. Instead of leaving the CC yarn tail to weave in later, grab it now! Lay the CC tail over your working yarn before working the next stitch. It becomes trapped behind the working yarn, on the wrong side of the work. Be sure to keep the tension even - you may need to give the yarn tail a very gentle tug to make sure that the first CC stitch doesn't get loose and floppy.

4. Repeat that step several more times. I like to trap the CC behind at least 5 stitches. That's it! You can trim your yarn tail now, or wait til finishing time.

Okay, now in the example I showed you above, there was just one yarn tail, because I was keeping the MC ball of yarn attached, perhaps for future rows. But what if that's the end of MC and you've got two yarn tails to deal with? You can do the same thing, but you do it both at the start of the join, and again when you run into the CC tail on the next round. Here's what that looks like:

1. Knit along in your main color (MC) until the place where you need to join a new yarn (we'll call it 'contrast color' or CC for short). Join your CC, leaving a little tail of 6 inches or so. Break the MC, leaving a tail of about 6 inches.

2. Keeping your tension even, twist the MC tail once around the CC and work one stitch. Again, be sure to keep the tension even - a very gentle tug on that MC yarn tail will keep your last MC stitch in shape.

3. Lay the MC tail over your working yarn before working the next stitch and trap it just as described before. Repeat a few more times. Finish knitting that row/round.

4. On your next row/round, you'll come back to the CC yarn tail. Now you'll trap the CC yarn tail behind your working yarn as you go, just as you did before with the MC yarn tail. About 5 stitches or so should do the trick!

So up til now, we've only been talking about how to use this technique for stockinette stitch, which is definitely the easiest stitch to use with this. But you certainly can use this trick to secure yarn ends in several kinds of stitch patterns. Here are some rules of thumb to help you:
  • Always keep the yarn tails on the wrong side (WS) of the work.
  • To work a purl (P) stitch when the right side (RS) of the work is facing you, lay the yarn tail over the working yarn before moving the yarn to the RS of your work. Don't bring the tail with you!
  • If you are going to work several P stitches on the RS, you can't trap the yarn tail on those. Forget about it. You're done. Just be happy with however much you were able to trap and move on.
Let's say you're going to work some K2 P2 ribbing. You can totally trap the yarn tail on those, you're just going to skip a stitch here and there. It will work out fine.

1. K2 P2 along in your main color (MC) until the place where you need to join a new yarn (we'll call it CC again). Join your CC, leaving a little tail of 6 inches or so. Finish working that row/round.

2. On your next row/round, you'll come back to where you left that little yarn tail before. Hi again!

3. Lay the CC tail over your working yarn before working the next stitch and trap it, keeping your tension even.

4. Repeat that step for the next stitch. Then lay the CC tail over the working yarn, move the working yarn to the RS, and work 2 stitches.

5. Bring the working yarn back to the WS and work 2 stitches, trapping the CC tail over the working yarn for those stitches as well. You can trap it again before working the next stitch, and there you are - a securely woven-in yarn tail in K2 P2 ribbing.

I love how tidy and secure this method is, and it eliminates the need to sit around with a darning needle hunting up yarn ends once your project is finished. While other knitters are polishing up their Chibis and fiddling with yarn tails, you can go block your sweater and plan the outfit you'll be wearing with it. It's particularly magical when knitting in the round. Try it and let me know what you think!

Do any of y'all already use this method, or some variation? Where did you learn it? And do you have other tricks for simultaneously weaving in ends when working longer stretches of purl stitches, or openwork?