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?

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.