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?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

cuddling season

It's cool and crisp outside this morning, and all I can think about are big, tweedy sweaters! I'm so happy that wool season is back. Summer in North Carolina is fun and all, but the steamy sticky months last way too long for me. Right now about half my friends are cussing the snap in the air and bemoaning the end of day trips to the beach, but I'm just making some more tea and getting drooly over new fall knitting patterns.

Check this sexy mess out!

Ondawa / Michelle Wang  |  Crosby / Julie Hoover
First of all, I can't stop looking at the new fall collection from Brooklyn Tweed. Anything in tweedy wool that says "mariner" is going to be a hit with me. The wide, highly-textured scarves in this collection are so dreamy, I want to make them all right now and wear them tomorrow. At a moment when the kids on the street are wearing neon one-shoulder crop tops and high-heeled sneakers, this new collection is a balm to my soul.

Rhiannon / Sue Lazenby
New in the Ravelry store this month is a wonderful traditional Celtic shawl by Sue Lazenby called Rhiannon. I don't wear shawls as well as some people, but they're so much fun to knit, and I can definitely see myself wrapped elegantly in this one. Sue Lazenby's work is new to me, and Rhiannon led me to check out her other designs... I love her old-world Celtic designs and Arianrhod is another shawl I'd just love to curl up with. I'm not sure if it's all the ugly 80's throwbacks or what, but I'm really digging the classics right now.

The big question is, where to start?? I want to make all this stuff!

Opus the Octopus / Cate Carter-Evans
And okay, this is not a garment but can we just stop for a minute and ogle Opus the Octopus? This is wonderful work from Cate Carter-Evans (Infinite Twist), and I'm so excited that she made this pattern free via Knitty. Opus is definitely the superstar of Knitty's Deep Fall issue this year IMHO.

I can't wait to dive into something warm and snuggly. Maybe this is the year I'll finally make myself a big cozy EZ Aran Coat - a project I've been sort-of planning for years. Is this cool fall air inspiring you, too? What are you excited about making?

Friday, September 12, 2014

top 5 ways to de-stash like a champ!

What to do with it all? Photo by The Bees via Flickr
You know who you are. You have a whole closet full of UFO's, impulse yarn buys and random leftovers that you can't even look at anymore.

Once upon a time you made an impressive effort to organize it all. You've tried big plastic bins, country-cute labeled baskets, one of those over-the-door shoe storage thingies, and a complicated system of shelving, ropes and pulleys you saw once in Real Simple magazine. But somewhere along the way, despite your best intentions, the system was overwhelmed. Now that once-gleaming organization system is nothing more than a wooly-ass pile of fiber clutter you shudder to contemplate.

So you want to regain your status as a responsible member of your household again. Some de-stashing is in order.  But where to start?? As an on-again off-again re-organizer, I say with all sincerity that I feel your pain. As a gesture of solidarity, please accept these 5 handy tips to help you down-size the yarn population of your dwelling:

1. Make a pledge to use what you have before you buy more. 

As someone who has gone through the belt-tightening purchasing restrictions of home-buying and multiple child-bearing in quick succession in recent years, I can attest to the character-building necessity of this pledge. You might need to join a support group. You might need a motivating factor, such as "no new yarn purchases until I pay off all credit card debt" or some other fiscal landmark worth striving for. Creating specific exemptions - I can only buy certified organic yarn, only on Tuesdays, only if I run 5 miles this week - might help you survive if it's a long-term commitment.

2. Make friends with the Ravelry Pattern Browser

Still don't know what to do with those 3 skeins of luscious yarn you bought on vacation five years ago? It's time to decide. Choose the filters that match your yarn purchase and see what you get! Be sure to tick a few important boxes to help you narrow your search:
  • 4 stars / 5 stars ratings only
  • Free patterns (or not!)
  • Has photo
  • Knitting OR Crochet project
  • Yarn weight, yardage and fiber
  • Level of difficulty
Then try something new! Let the pattern browser suggest some truly wonderful projects that you'd never have gone looking for yourself. It's a great way to not only use up stash yarn, but stretch your knitting wings a little, too.

3. Use up those yarn ends!

Why do we save those little balls of almost-finished yarn? Half-a-skein this and two-thirds-a-skein that. Because we don't want good yarn to go to waste. So what is it doing sitting there in your closet going to waste? Here are a few of my favorite patterns that use up those twiddly bits (they make such great gifts!):

Accessorize! Pretty Twisted by Cat Wong is my favorite for sock yarn leftovers. I've made oodles of these funky cuffs as gifts - and they're a great way to show off your vintage button collection.

Make yourself some hair accessories! Knit up an It's a Cinch headband (Elisa McLaughlin) or a versatile Wishbraid headband/bracelet/baby topper (Erika Neitzke) to wrap your crowning glory in the remainder of the most gorgeous yarn you've got in your stash.

For almost any leftover yarn, make some Anything Animals by Rachel Borello Carroll. They're adorable in color-coordinated groups.

Little Birds by Katie Startzman use a tiny amount of worsted-weight yarn, and make a lovely bit of new decor for your mantel or bookshelf.

4. Doll clothes

If there's a little one in your life, you could hardly do better than to make up a few sweaters, hats and booties for her/his favorite dolls. Teddy bears, Barbies, even action figures get chilly in cool weather and need a wooly new garment once in a while. Here's my doll dress pattern, but you can find many more by choosing the "doll" filter (find under Age/Size) in that handy-dandy Ravelry Pattern Browser.

5. Do-Gooder Knitting

Your local animal shelter would love a Jingle Mouse (Dooley and Spud) or Felted Kitty Bed (Wendy D. Johnson) for those sweet homeless loveys. And you know your closest hospital could always use more hand-made Preemie Hats (Carissa Browning) and Baby's First Blankets (by Lyn). Even injured baby birds and bunnies love hand knits. Check out Bev's Wildlife Rescue Nests project for some very snuggly sweet inspiration.

Ready to start the de-stashing? Don't forget to take a picture of the carnage first - and do share!

Monday, September 08, 2014

fresh for fall

What are you working on this fall?

I've got another of these adorable felted lunch bags in the works - sized down to snack-bag size for my daughter's daily preschool snack.

This pattern (Brown Bag by Frances Swiecki on Knitty) is so simple, versatile and functional. I've made several Brown Bags, adding embellishments and handles and resizing to suit. Felted wool is such a wonderful material. I love how its natural insulation keeps a snack cool for a few hours without a cold pack. My older daughter (the Little Pea) was very particular about the color of her snack bag. Little Bee (the younger one) will probably be too focused on the toys in the kids' corner at our LYS to pick out hers.

But before I can get started on this snack bag, I have a big huge *top secret* project that I must wrap. I have a design project due very soon. It's fun and hilarious and also involves lots of felting. I can't wait to be able to share it with you!

Progress is slower than it used to be, what with the arthritis. I have to pace myself, eat right and most importantly practice lots of yoga, but I haven't had to give up knitting entirely as I once feared. In fact, I'm doing more design work, and hoping to blog regularly again, too! (If you've known me for a while, you may have noticed that I freshened things up around the place - this blog was looking awfully dilapidated). Who knows, I might even tweet... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Spring is supposed to be the season of new beginnings, but I've always liked fall better anyway. The colors really suit me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

new free pattern!

Hi everyone!

Photo by
It's been much too long, but I am excited to share that I have a new free pattern out this week! Instead of being featured on my blog, this one is over at KnitPicks. I am really excited to have this little girls' jumper featured among their new collection of free patterns.

I've made three of these for adorable toddlers in my life, and can attest that it's a quick, fun knit in the round, with just enough sweet details to be interesting. The pattern calls for Comfy Worsted - a tough-wearing easy-care yarn that comes in a huge color range. But there's plenty in your stash already that might work, too!

This was a fun project, and I'm excited about working with KnitPicks on some more projects to come. Let me know if you try this free pattern & how you like it!

Monday, April 28, 2014

hello there!

This is the sadly-neglected blog of a busy working mama, environmentalist, avid knitter and wannabe gardener in North Carolina, USA.

If you're here for knitting patterns, hooray! Here's a quick link to all my free patterns on this site.

If you're looking for witty banter, well I'm afraid you'll probably have to show up on my porch with a six-pack. The regular chatter mostly dried up around here with the birth of the second child (who is lovely, by the way). I keep hoping that more space for writing will open up in my life... and perhaps some time it will. For now, knit on and please be in touch with any questions or feedback about my designs, via email or on Ravelry.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

sizing up - you can do it!

How to get the size you want for a sweater knit in the round, a.k.a. pattern schmattern! Updated 9/25/13 with an important math correction!

I get lots of emails and comments from knitters asking me to please add size X to a particular pattern so that they can knit one to fit their grandson / neighbor's child / oversized dog / My Buddy doll. I may or may not agree that the design in question will work well for the size requested, but here's the thing... you don't have to listen to me! And also, who wants to wait around on a free pattern designer with a day job and little kids to get around to it anyway? You can do it yourself!

Learning how to size a pattern to fit the intended wearer is a really important skill for any knitter. You may be someone who falls somewhere in between the American Craft Yarn Council's idea of what a Medium and a Large are, but you still want your sweater to fit like it was made for you! You may have a baby who wears a size 4T. You may have a middle-schooler who's still in toddler sizes. That doesn't mean that they can't have garments that fit well.

For those of us who knit in the round, the oracle to consult is Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top (For garments knit flat, the lovely knitter's reference book Stitch & Bitch Nation by Debbie Stoller has a great guide to customizing patterns to fit you better). But here's a basic how-to guide that will help you size any of my top-down sweater patterns to fit your intended wearer.

Step One: Measure the Wearer

This is such a bummer, right?!? Because you wanted the sweater to be a surprise. You wanted it to be something they never expected. Well, you can't make it a surprise and make it fit well. You have to pick one. And they will be surprised by the finished product, anyway - they will never have expected something so awesome. So here are the three basic measurements you will need:

1. The chest circumference. This is the most important! Every sweater size is based on this measurement. Get the person's torso naked (or just lightly clothed) and take an accurate measurement around the widest part of the chest. How loose do you want the sweater to fit? Most sizing guides assume 2 inches of ease, but if you want the Marilyn Monroe look, by all means don't add any ease.

2. The sleeve length. Measure from the person's armpit to their wrist. Or if you want short sleeves or 3/4 sleeves, measure to the point where you want the sleeve to end.

3. The back length. Measure from the neckline to the point at which you want the sweater to end. Is this a cropped sweater that just makes it to the waist? A tunic that lands mid-thigh? Find out how long that really is on the person who's going to be wearing it.

Get super advanced pointers on how to measure accurately from the American Craft Yarn Council.

OK, so now you have your measurements!

Step Two: Adjust the sweater's circumference

Warning: This is the part with a lot of paying attention and math and stuff.

Okay now, before you even go knitting, for heaven's sake knit a swatch and make sure your gauge is correct. I can't say this emphatically enough: Get the right gauge. Get the right gauge. Get the right gauge. If you haven't learned this the hard way yet, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, please let me save you from such a hideous fate, and just knit a swatch to check your gauge.

So you've got gauge and you've cast on all the stitches starting at the neckline, and you're working your way down towards the chest, increasing on every other row as instructed. You're going to come to a really important point in the early development of this sweater, the point at which you divide for the sleeves. It looks like this:

Before you go separating out those sleeves, it's time for a little math. Very basic math, don't worry. But get a calculator out anyway.

Count up all the stitches in the front and back sections of the sweater (that's all the stitches on your needle, minus the two sleeve sections). Now you have a number of stitches. Let's just say it's 100. Now there are a few other stitches you need to think about.

  • How many stitches will be added on at each underarm when the sleeve sections are separated out? You need to add those in as well. Let's say there are 5 on each side. So now we have 110 stitches. 
  • And finally, will we be adding on any extra stitches in the front center? Say, for a button band? You may need to read to the end of the pattern to figure this one out. If so, add those in too. Important math note: If it's a button band, that probably means that you're going to be picking up selvedge stitches and knitting the band perpendicular to the direction of the sweater body stitches. If that's the case, don't add in the total number of button band rows. Add 3/4 of them. Let's say you'll be adding on a button band later, and that it's 8 rows wide. 3/4 of 8 is 6 stitches. So our grand total is 100 + 5 + 5 + 6 = 116.

Are you confused yet? This really is the hardest part, I promise.

Here's where your all-important gauge comes in. Just for the sake of this exercise, let's say we're knitting a sweater with a stitch gauge of 4 stitches to the inch. Divide your total 116 stitches by the gauge, 4 stitches/inch, and you get 29 inches. Is 29 inches the chest circumference you need? No?? Well, now here's where we do the adapting.

Let's say you need a chest circumference of 31 inches. That means you need to hit the pause button on dividing for those sleeves, and keep on knitting and increasing until you have enough stitches to get you to a 31-inch chest circumference. Just how many stitches is that? Well...

31 inches x 4 stitches to the inch = 124 stitches. From 124, subtract HALF of the underarm stitches, and then divide by two. 124 - 5 = 119 stitches. Now divide your answer by two = 59.5. SHAZAM! You will need 59.5 stitches in the back section. Well, okay let's call it 60. So keep on increasing until you have 60 stitches in the back section. Then divide for the sleeves as directed. Yawn, that wasn't so hard, was it?

WAIT A SECOND! What if I get an odd number, and I have an even number of stitches in the back section! What will I do????

Don't worry about it. Just increase to the next round number and call it close enough.

Step 3: Make the sweater body long enough for the wearer.

Nuf said.

Step 4: Make the sleeves long enough for the wearer.

Also self-explanatory.

This Lopi sweater fits me nicely thanks to my handy-dandy calculator!

So if I've posted a pattern and you don't see the size you want, you could wait around for me while I finish cleaning up from dinner, checking email and packing the kids' lunches for tomorrow, or you could just size it up yourself! Once you know how to do this, you'll be amazed at how you stop having to abide by the limits of the knitting patterns you like.