Happy Stitches

Keep your stitches smiling!

Fiber Art – wood and wool together May 21, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — happystitches @ 08:40

For once I’m not talking about knitting and needles. This is something quite different.

Two of my favourite artists (who happen to live in Nova Scotia), Sanna Rahola and Douglas Drdul are featured in this short film from the NS craft council. Take a moment to watch this – it’s a delight.

Watch it and be amazed, inspired and relaxed.

The harmonious yet contrasting combination of both of their art forms is an inspiration.

Below is a small piece of their art that hangs on my wall.

 

The Fiesta Family – Flying Swallows Stitch May 7, 2015

Fiesta Vest  Photo by Pauline Rook

Fiesta Vest
Photo by Pauline Rook

I’m always interested to see which garments in my traveling trunk show catch people’s attention. This trip it was particularly the Fiesta Vest. I was teaching buttonholes and bands, thus had the vest with me. I ended up explaining this stitch many times!

So here it is for you too.

This was the stitch I developed first for my Fiesta Feet Socks (which are on sale this week).

As I enjoyed it so much, I then went on to use it in the Fiesta Mittens and Fiesta Stocking patterns.

Do take time to read the comments as various aspects of this stitch are discussed.

Do not attempt to work this stitch flat, unless you enjoy WS row decreases and cutting your yarn frequently!

Worked in the round with a steek, you’ll have much more fun.

 

A Little Excursion into Fox Paws April 26, 2015

Fox Paws designed by Xandy Peters

Fox Paws designed by Xandy Peters

Fox Paws is a crazily unique design by Xandy Peters. I’ve long regarded knitting a creation from another designer as an excursion into their brain. It’s often an interesting journey. In this case, it resembled an extremely enjoyable potholing or spelunking trip.

My first acquaintance with Fox Paws was whilst on my way to speak to the Snohomish Guild in Washington. My kindly and thoughtful drivers factored in time to stop at a beautiful yarn store, Serial Knitters, should the traffic gods be with us. They were. The Fox Paws wrap displayed in the window stopped my in my tracks before I even entered. It was the most striking, beautiful and un-knitting-like piece of knitting I have ever seen.

It was extraordinary. I began to hear a little of its story: about the store knitalong and the fact that the Yarn Harlot had knit one fairly recently.

After Madrona, I headed east for some housebound winter hibernation and resolved to give this design a whirl. I don’t usually have much time for recreational knitting, it takes away from my available time to work on the designs I have brewing. I purchased Xandy’s pattern on Ravelry anyway (I sometimes just buy a pattern as a vote of support for the designer despite knowing I may never knit it. I file it under Retirement Projects).  At this point, I had been happily chugging away at my Blossom blanket for the last six months, and the rounds were a merry 1400+ sts in Kauni. Although I love Kauni, it is not the most satin soft of yarns. My hands were craving a bit of variety, and some indulgence with Cat’s Pajamas was very alluring. Done deal. I was curious.

I paused to read Steph’s blog post.  Her  knitting adventures always make for great reading, and she had dropped a few cryptic remarks about vows of silence and the k5togs(among others!) when I saw her at Madrona . A long road trip loomed, the perfect time for some recreational knitting. I would leaven the Blossom with the Fox Paws. Yarns were packed, always a last minute grab and go for me. I leapt in blind.

The first mistake I made was that I changed colour straight after casting on (reading error on my part), but I actually like it and copied it for the bind off. At first, I kept losing my place in the row (this is not a design to allow your attention to even momentarily wander) and this work is not easy to unknit or count. I quickly learned not to embark on a row unless I could go the whole way. Fortunately, the Trans Canada Highway across New Brunswick is singularly unexciting.  I was fine unless my driver had the temerity to try to engage me in conversation. I did find it a bit tricky to read the multi-line rows, it took total concentration to keep track of where I was and how many times I had repeated an action. This would have been a great time to make an audio pattern. (Speak the row out at knitting speed and record it on your phone. Play it back through your ear bud as you knit: no need to take your eyes off the work).

Throughout the growth of the first repeat, I found myself marveling at Xandy’s creativity and cunning (also wondering what mind-altering concoction she must have been ingesting at the time). This is a superbly clever design. There is an excellent logic to the design: the vertical stacks of stitches that make the fingers and the stalks have a pleasing consistency along the same row. It really helps if you are familiar with the k1-O-k1 increase before you begin (one of my favourite increases). The clumps of extra stitches do feel a little awkward on the needle, and the frequent slipping of two stitches back to the left-hand takes a little practice (you will get plenty). The joining method, which is heralded by the k5tog, is dependable and easy to remember once you have done a couple. The pattern is made additionally challenging because the pattern action rows (believe me this is James Bond kind of knitting action) take place on WS rows. This makes it harder to keep your bearings.

This is NOT take it to the guild evening kind of knitting.

In fact, peaceful music without lyrics is about all I could handle.  I limited myself to one pattern row per knitting session, and there were times when that was enough! Fox Paws is quite challenging but might well change the way you think about knitting stitches. I can only imagine the considerable work it took to design and write this pattern, Xandy has done a great job, hats off to her!

Cat's Pajamas Solids

The  Cat’s Pajamas colours that I used were: Lime, Hot Pink, Mango, Turquoise and Damson

If I were to make another Fox Paws, I would:

#1 Use wood or bamboo needles with lace tips: Addi lace or Hiya Hiya sharps.

#2 Once I have chosen the colours and designated them A – E, I would take the time to colour code the table of colours to save confusion.

#3 Practice the k1-O-k1 increase and the k5tog decrease. This decrease isn’t too bad if you slide all 5 stitches onto the taper of the left needle before attempting to stuff the second needle into them. Lace needles would help a lot.

#4 Develop a personal shorthand diagram for each pattern row.  I’d reduce the stacks of stitches to an annotation of stack 3 or stack 2 and reduce the joining method to  dec+2 or dec+3. This is not something the designer could or should do for you. It’s about how you picture it. In my mind this would be a combination of diagram and text.

#5  Read the knitting. Pay attention to the stacking of the double decreases (at the junction between repeats), if they don’t line up vertically every alternate row, something has gone wrong.  The k1-O-k1 increase at the top of the fingers should be  over the central stitch. It’s hard to fudge the numbers if they are off and this pattern is NOT easy to un-knit.

#6 Keep the stitches nearer the tips of the needles than usual.

#7 And lastly, I would NOT rely on stitch counting – it’s very hard to do and there are an awful lot of them on some rows!

All in all, this design is well worth the effort, and the results are just fabulous!

Happy Stitches!

Air Conditioned Mittens from A Little Book of BIG Holes for Hand-knitters!

Air Conditioned Mittens from A Little Book of BIG Holes for Hand-knitters!

As a side note: our Flash Sale on Bundles has been extended until Thursday!  Bundles are collections of patterns and other digital products which will be stored in your Notebook upon purchase.  Take a look, you might find something to inspire you!

 

Seamless Knitting – the fly in the ointment (and how to swat it). April 16, 2015

Pinstripe Mitten

Pinstripe Mitten

Very few knitters love finishing and assembling garments – I admit, it’s not my favourite stage either, but the satisfaction of a beautiful seam can go a long way to compensating.

Even if you are studiously avoiding finishing, and decide to knit the top of a raglan sweater all in one, there is still the under-arm seam that  needs to be joined. The underarm is a perfect place to get-away-with-it. This is a great place to have a cobbled together seam, very few people will check it. However, deep down, you will probably feel that you are letting down your otherwise impeccable knitting.

Fear not: here’s a method using waste yarn flaps that will help you to join and finish the underarm beautifully!

And now, how to gather and neaten the holes on either side of the grafted join.

The idea of using a waste yarn flap in place of cast on stitches can be used in a number of different situations such as mitten thumbs. A double waste yarn flap method was used for making the double thumb on the Pinstripe Mittens.

Let me of any other applications you come up with!

BTW Our half-price pattern of the week is the Cloud Scarf and Stole. This is an easy to finish design with integral side edgings.

Cloud Stole in Mango Celestial Merino knit by Susan Hannah

Cloud Stole in Mango Celestial Merino knit by Susan Hannah

 

Born to be knit! (Tips for seaming up with knitting yarn.) April 2, 2015

Grafting stitches head to head

Grafting stitches head to head

Knitting yarn has very limited outlook on life.  There are certain high points in its existence: the first of which is to bewitch a passing knitter with its qualities of colour, luster and feel. It will cleverly seduce you, persuading you that life apart from this particular skein of yarn would be an unbearably bleak existence.  So you make the acquisition and take the treasured skein home. This is, indeed, a great day.

Take ME home....

Take ME home….

Once home, the skein settles in, possibly with a few soft companions. Life is good.

Now the waiting game begins: restiveness amongst the yarn buddies begins to occur. Whose turn will it be next? A certain amount of surreptitious fiber shuffling may occur under the cover of darkness to facilitate optimal positioning to the top of the stash pile. Ah, patience is required.

The great day dawns, the skein of yarn is lifted from the pack and taken to the swift for winding into a center-pull ball. Hallelujah!!! All’s well with the world. Or, less fortunately, the skein is wound into a cannonball style presentation. The yarn feels a painfully stressed by this turn of events, but consoles itself that it will be knit soon.

Knitting proceeds, and the yarn perceives itself more on an individual stitch by stitch basis rather than collectively as a skein. The mid-row stitches are ecstatic! The end of row stitches rather less so, but it’s better than being stuck in a cupboard. As the project progresses, the remaining yarn begins to worry: is it not going to be required? Will it end up with a life sentence in a drawer, with slim parole options? Or, horror of horrors, will it be the bit that is used for sewing up?

No wonder it is anxious! Sewing with yarn spun for knitting can be painful for both the sewer and the yarn. Most knitting yarn is woolen spun (as opposed to worsted spun), which, for the sake of brevity, means it is much less suited to being dragged in and out of a hole. It has more little fiber ends near the surface of the yarn and so can become draggly and weaken quite quickly. Then there is the knitter’s tendency to use huge, long lengths of yarn to sew with (in order to avoid a couple of additional yarn tails).  Sadly, the longer the yarn, the more times it has to be hauled through the fabric before it is used and the more the plies tend to untwist. From the knitter’s perspective, too, it takes just as long to haul through yards of yarn, to periodically re-twist the decomposing yarn, and every so often undo a tangle or knot in the sewing yarn as it takes to use two shorter (happier) lengths of yarn.

  • Tips for sewing-up with yarn: Use only modest lengths of yarn: up to 24 inches, or thereabouts. (As an experiment, next time cut your usual length of yarn and measure it!)
  • Leave yarn tails unfastened and dangling outside the work until you are happy with your seam. This way, if you don’t like a section, it may be pulled out easily.
  • If the yarn becomes un-plied as you sew, twist the needle periodically to retwist the plies.
  • Use the working yarn for grafting and visible seams, but consider using a finer, similarly coloured yarn for mattress stitch seams. I’d suggest using a similar fiber type as the original yarn. If you have any supplies of crewel wool (it’s worsted yarn spun in a million shades), they can be useful for sewing up wool garments.
  • Remember that the pinnacle of life experience for a piece of yarn is for a little loop to be gently drawn up through another welcoming loop of yarn. So knit on, my friends!Omo mix log gullsFor more advice on finishing (and rescues), from before you cast on to the last tail to be darned, read my book Cool Knitters Finish in Style. It’s still available in paper and also in digital format.
  • Cool Knitters Finish in Style cover

    Cool Knitters Finish in Style cover

 

Dare to compare: What technique is right for you? March 25, 2015

A pair of matching Paradoxical mittens.

A pair of matching Paradoxical mittens.

Here’s a Knitting Hint: Dare to compare! When you are debating with yourself about the very best way to hold your yarns or knit up stitches, the most suitable decrease or buttonhole, or any of the other myriad of choices we face as engaged knitters, take a little time to play. Try the various methods open to you. Practice them in close proximity so you can directly compare the results.

Private side comparison of Paradoxical mittens swatch

Private side comparison of two Paradoxical mittens.

Paradoxical Mittens: swatch

Public side comparison of the same two Paradoxical mittens: note the difference in colour dominance

Making a small swatch, looking at it, ripping it out and then redoing it another way won’t give you the necessary comparison. It is not a truly useful experiment.

The pictures above demonstrate an extreme example of colour or stitch dominance, shown using my Paradoxical Mittens pattern. The samples show identical mittens – but one was worked with the dark yarn as the contrast (held in left hand), while the other was worked with the yarns held the other way.  What incredibly different results!   Either one would look fine on its own, but they don’t work as a pair. As you see, the difference is not evident unless we compare them side by side. (By the way, there is no need to work a whole experimental mitten, a modest swatch will usually do nicely!)

I love it when at workshops the cry goes up: “My goodness, you are right!”  It’s not that I’m on a power trip, wanting everyone to do things my way, but I do like knitters to explore their options and come to their own conclusions.  If it happens to be the same one I reached, that’s cool, but it doesn’t have to be.  Different techniques work differently for different people.  Occasionally, there is no ‘right’ answer — only the one best suited to you, your yarn and your knitting circumstances.  Experimenting with the options available to you is fun and educational: that’s why I included the small “Challenge Swatches” at the end of each chapter in my Cool Knitters Finish in Style book, inviting you to try a variety of methods and draw your own conclusions. Be curious: play with your stitches, make them smile!

Paradoxical Mittens

Paradoxical Mittens: feeling right at home on Big Tancook Island!

The Paradoxical Mittens are on sale for half-price this week only!  Before you begin your project, try working with the dark yarn as the contrast in one swatch and the light yarn as contrast in another.  See the difference?

 

The Storm Mountain DK Hat March 19, 2015

Storm Mountain DK Hat

The Storm Mountain Hat features built-in insulating air spaces!

Nova Scotians are digging out after yet another massive storm, with some parts of the province having received upwards of 50cm of snow.  Add to that the 70km/hr winds, and most of us  are now tunneling through drifts much taller than ourselves!

Sometimes the best solution to life’s little problems is to sit back, pull out some yarn and needles, and start a new knitting project. With that in mind, and as a small consolation to our Nova Scotian friends, we’ve decided to offer the aptly named Storm Mountain DK Hat for only $3.50 (half-price) this week!

This warm double-layer hat has built-in insulating air spaces between the layers. The hat uses two yarns: the inner yarn is the only one that touches the head and occasionally appears on the public side of the hat. The exterior colour only ever appears on the outside of the hat. The air spaces are created by working more rounds on the exterior fabric than on the interior layer.
We added a bonus to the updated pattern a few months ago, which features an alternate top I like to call the Space Cadet option!

The Space Cadet Topper option will work for any size Storm Mountain Hat you choose to knit: here it is on a baby-siazed version, knit with my Cat's Pajamas Yarn

The Space Cadet Topper option will work for any size Storm Mountain Hat you choose to knit: here it is on a baby-siazed version, knit with my Cat’s Pajamas Yarn

Wishing you Happy Stormy Stitches!

 

 
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