Technique: Let’s Talk Lace

For many novice knitters, the thought of knitting lace can be daunting. Intricate lace patterns create images of mandalas, flower petals, paisley or leaves simply by combining basic stitches in clever ways. It can look like magic! But take heart, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you too can learn to knit lace. Here’s an overview to take a little bit of the mystery out of it all. If you can knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can learn to knit lace.

There are a few things that you do need to understand about knitting lace.

Working off a chart:

You will definitely be working from a chart to knit lace.

And trust me, you want to be working from a chart. A chart is a graph of what stitches make up the pattern. It’s a visual representation of what you will be knitting. As much as it can be nice to have written instructions, (and many patterns will have both) once you get accustomed to following a chart, you will likely come to prefer it over written out instructions. A chart allows you to see what went before and what is to come in the pattern, all in a glance. It removes the step of translating words into instructions and then into an image in your mind.

As you work your way through the chart it is imperative that you mark, in some way, to show where you are.

I use a pattern holder for my charts. These come in a couple sizes. They are usually a folder of sorts with a metal sheet inside so a magnet will grab onto it. This allows you to use a long skinny magnet to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I prefer to place the magnet directly above the row that I am working on. This way I can see the stitches I have already done below the current row I am working. What I see on the chart matches what I see when I look at my knitting. I also use a pencil to place a tally or a check mark beside each row as I complete it.

Working flat versus working in the round will impact how you read the chart.

Charts usually show you how the right side of the fabric is going to look. Therefore, if you are knitting flat and turning your work; alternating right side and wrong side, the wrong side rows will be read as such. Usually the legend will say what a symbol represents on the right side and what that same symbol represents on the wrong side. Generally with lace, any increasing, decreasing or other fancy work is usually done on the right side of the fabric with the wrong side simply knits and purls. I have knitted patterns in which the wrong side is always simply purled. On those charts they only showed the right side rows of the pattern on the chart because once you know to just purl the wrong side, you don’t need a chart to tell you that. If you are knitting in the round, each symbol on the chart will only have one meaning as you will only be working the right side of the fabric.

Feeling a little confused? That’s okay.

Like with most things, you really have to try it out to be able to wrap your brain around it. Hang in there. This info will settle into the back of your mind, and when you do try out some lace knitting, it will come back to you.

Lace is made up of repeating patterns.

We refer to these as, you guessed it, “pattern repeats”. When you are first learning to knit lace, I recommend that you start with a very simple pattern. I also recommend that you place a very thin stitch marker at the end of each pattern repeat in your knitting. Knitting lace does require focus, but as you work through the pattern repeats, you will start to get a sense of what needs to happen in what order. The more repeats you complete, the more you’ll begin to anticipate what comes next. By having strategically placed stitch markers, if you miss a stitch or do a wrong stitch in one section, it’s easier to figure out what you did wrong and fix it.

It is very important to take your time and double check your work as you go.

Minimize distractions as much as possible and when you start to tire mentally, set it aside and give yourself a break. When you take a break, mark your pattern clearly and carefully to indicate where you left off.

Tinking (undoing stitches one at a time to back track and fix a mistake) can be tricky when you work with lace, especially when there are a lot of yarn-overs in the pattern. Depending on what happens, it is possible to end up with an unrecoverable mistake. For instance, if you drop a stitch and it runs down through a section that was built on a stack of decreases you can end up with a big mess that you simply won’t know what to do with. Therefore, it’s a really good idea to run regular “lifelines” as you go. Using a darning needle, you run some smooth heavy thread or light yarn through your stitches and tie it off so that it can’t fall out. Do this at regular intervals so that if you make a mistake or drop a stitch you will minimize any potential trauma. If you do drop stitches, they can only go back as far as your lifeline. Make a note on your chart to indicate where that lifeline sits. Then, if you do need to go back, you will know where to start knitting. I encourage you to always place your lifelines in the same pattern row.

I’ll be offering in-house beginner lace workshops this fall. Let me know if you are interested in participating and I’ll put you on the list!

Happy Knitting!

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Review: Katia Fair Cotton

After a significant time drooling over this yarn, (trying to decide what I wanted to make out of it) I finally started a project. This gorgeous cotton yarn comes from Katia Yarns of Spain. It is organic, fair trade cotton. It is very soft and comes in 200g balls with a self striping section and a solid neutral section. The mileage is fantastic at 620m! The colours are summer-yummy.

One ball goes a very long way. The sample Katia sent with my yarn order is a long sleeved child’s sweater. I would say it should fit a 10 year old. That only took one ball. Katia has other patterns on their website for this yarn as well. One is a child’s dress (also 1 ball) and a ladies’ dress (2 balls).

I decided I wanted to make a tank top out of it. Now, there isn’t a tank top pattern specifically designed for this yarn so I knew I would have to wing it. After some trial and error I settled on a 165 stitch cast on. I knitted the hem in garter stitch for 8 rows flat and then joined it in the round. (In hindsight, I would have been better to just do a couple rows; just enough that it was easy to avoid having a twist when joining it.)

I started with the striping section of the yarn at the hem and I’m working my way up from there. Although the label suggests using a 3.5mm needle, I wanted something just a little looser so it would be a bit breezy without being holey. I am using a 4.5mm needle and I’m very happy with the result. The gauge is working up much like a DK for me with these needles.

I divided it to knit between the armholes at the back and actually completed the back, but I was not happy with my division of stitches. I had overestimated how many I needed for the front. Also, it wasn’t as long as I like it. I weighed the yarn I used for that section after I frogged it and it was about 17g. So I figured I’d keep knitting until the ball weighs 45g and then work the sections between the armholes. But that would have made it longer than I want. I kept checking the weight and thinking, “wow, this ball goes on forever!” Amazing yield!

I kept this project really simple so that I could fly through it. Also the yarn is so pretty and the stitch definition is so nice, I figured I would just let the yarn do the talking. Anyone who knits a lot of cotton knows that just like with Bamboo, it can have a tendency to split as you knit with it. That is just the nature of the fibre. It’s better than some of the cottons I’ve worked with in that regard. It’s knitting up very fast and evenly.

I was hoping to have the top finished for this week’s blog but I’m not quite there yet. I will try and add photos to this post as soon as the top is done.

Katia Fair Cotton is a lovely summer yarn. If you are thinking about making yourself a little top or a wrap I would encourage you to. You won’t be disappointed.

Happy Knitting

Technique: Knitting Decreases

Knitting is such an amazing process. Learning new techniques can feel like learning to do magic. There are so many individual techniques that knitters may never encounter unless they challenge themselves to tackle advanced patterns. I love watching knitter’s expressions when they learn a new technique! Last week I discussed the variety of methods for creating increase stitches in knitting. This week, it’s all about decreasing. So here goes!

K2Tog / P2Tog

The most basic way to decrease is to simply knit two stitches together as if they are one stitch. (K2Tog) You can also purl two stitches together. (P2Tog) When you knit two together the resulting stitch will lean toward the right. This may also show up in a pattern with the specification that you are to knit them through the back loop. That would be K2TogTBL or something similar.

SSK

Knowing that K2Tog is a decrease that leans right, clearly, we must have a decrease that leans left. That is what you will see in patterns as SSK, or “slip, slip, knit”. SSK requires that you slip two stitches as if you were going to knit them. Once you have slipped them, slip them back onto the left needle and knit them both together through the back loop.

PSSO

Another common form of decrease is the PSSO and its variants. PSSO stands for “pass slipped stitch over”. I have also seen this abbreviated as PSO on occasion. This can be used to decrease one or more stitches within one “stitch”. It can also be used to create a decorative effect as you decrease. Start by slipping a stitch purlwise onto the right needle. Then you will knit the next stitch(es), or knit two together as indicated in the pattern. You then use the left needle to pass the slipped stitch over what you just knitted. Most commonly, you would slip one, knit one and then pass the slip stitch over that one knitted stitch. However, it is not uncommon to slip one, K2Tog then pass the slipped stitch over. It is also possible to slip one and knit multiple stitches before passing the slipped stitch over those multiple stitches. If you are passing it over more than two stitches it can get a little tight, though. This results in a left leaning decrease.

CDD

This next one is very cool. It allows you to decrease by two stitches, without any lean. It’s called a Central Double Decrease (CDD); I have also seen it refered to as a Centred Double Decrease. You begin by slipping two stitches together knitwise onto the right needle. Knit one stitch, and then pass both slipped stitches over the knitted stitch.

SCD

The last one I want to show you is an advanced decrease technique. It is a Single Central Decrease (SCD). It requires you to decrease using a SSK, then do a temporary increase and follow it with a K2Tog. This would be used at the top of gusset, for instance. This next video demonstrates this technique very clearly. It starts with the DCC first and you will find the SCD at 3:52.

One of the reasons I like to participate in events like Tour de Sock, and this year as a cheerleader in Sock Madness, is that it pushes me to stretch my knitting skill set. There is always some new technique or some interesting way of combining techniques that allows me to grow as a knitter. In the process, I find approaches that I really like as well as ones that I don’t care for. Of course, I wouldn’t have known either without stepping outside my comfort zone to try something new.

I hope you find this information helpful. This information will be covered in my Technique Building Series of workshops this fall. As always, I encourage you to check out the YouTube channels of the folks that I have linked to in this blog. My hat goes off to them for the work they do. We are so fortunate to have this amazing tool at our fingertips.

Happy Knitting!

Technique: Knitting Increases

Recently I have had a number of novice knitters come in for help on their projects. Each of them were working on a pattern that was stretching their skill levels. I thought it may be helpful to do a few posts with specific information regarding knitting technique. Today, I’ll focus increases.

Increases are used in most shaped knitted items: tops, hats, socks, mittens, pretty much anything that is more than just a rectangle. Yet, there are several methods of increasing. For anyone who is new to “more than just a rectangle” knitting, it can be confusing to be faced with a pattern that assumes you know what to do and how to do it. I hope to take the mystery out of it for you today.

The first thing to mention is that not all knitting terminology is fully standardized. Although it is mostly standardized, you will still see variations within patterns. This often comes down to the country where the pattern originates and/or whether the pattern has been translated from another language. Sometimes, a self-taught knitter/designer will use the terms differently than expected as well. You will always be wise to check the legend and any overview the pattern designer has given to see whether they specify how they interpret the specific terms.

Make One Increases

The “make one” increase is typically abbreviated M1, M1L or M1R. This is a very common form of increase. You will make a stitch out of the horizontal yarn between two stitches from the previous row or round (the running yarn).

If you were to simply reach your needle below that running yarn and pick up your working yarn to make a stitch, you would end up with a hole in your knitting. We generally don’t want holes in our knitting unless we are making lace. Typically, if they simply ask for an M1 stitch, they actually want an M1L stitch.

In order to make one stitch without creating a hole, essentially you want to twist that running yarn and pull your working yarn through the resulting loop. You lift the running yarn onto the left needle first. Whether you are doing an M1L or an M1R is determined by whether you pick up that running yarn with the left needle from the front or the back. One will lean toward the left and the other will lean toward the right. Thus: M1L and M1R.

To complete an M1L: direct the tip of the left needle under the running yarn from the front to the back. Knit through the resulting back loop. This will result in a left leaning bar at the base of the stitch.

To complete an M1R: direct the tip of the left needle under the running yarn from the back to the front. Knit through the front loop, as you normally would. It’s a bit awkward. It results in a right leaning bar at the base of the stitch.

Yarn Over or Yarn in Front

This increase is intended to create a hole in the work and is typically used in lace. This requires you to grab the working yarn with the right needle as if you were going to pull it through a knit stitch. It is unstable until you complete the stitch next to it.

Lifted Increases

Abbreviated as LLI and RLI, These work an additional loop into an existing stitch on the left or right side of the stitch respectively. One leans left, the other leans right.

To make an RLI, (right lifted increase) using the right needle, pick up the right leg of the stitch immediately below the stitch on the left needle. Place that leg onto the left needle, without changing its orientation. Knit it and then knit through the original stitch separately.

To make an LLI, (left lifted increase) you will be increasing into the stitch on the right needle, adding a loop to it. Knit the stitch you will be increasing into as normal. Using the left needle, pick up the left leg of the stitch a row below that last stitch on the right needle. Using the right needle, knit through the back loop of the stitch you just picked up. Make sure that you are picking up from a full row below or you will end up with a yarn over instead of a proper increase.

Here is a video that demonstrates Purled Lifted Increases.

Knit Front and Back or Purl Front and Back

The names of these describe exactly what you do to make them. For a KFB, you knit into the front of the stitch, leave it on the left needle and then knit into the back loop of the stitch, thus increasing by one stitch.

To PFB or purl front and back, you purl as you normally would, but leave the stitch on the left needle. Then purl into the back loop as well to complete the stitch.

Finally, the backward loop is yet another form of increase. It’s very easy to do. Here’s a video to show this in both Continental and English methods.

These are the most commonly used increases. As you can see, each one has its own look and “personality”. Being able to identify them and comfortably knit them makes following advanced patterns much easier.

I hope this was helpful and that it will give you the courage to take on a pattern that you might otherwise have been intimidated by. I will be offering 2 hour evening workshops and 4 hour weekend workshops beginning this fall to provide in-person technique instruction. Increases will be one of the evening workshops. I hope to have a calendar mapped out by the third week of August, 2019.

Happy Knitting!

Tools I Can’t Live Without

Anyone familiar with my shop knows that I sew pretty much anything and everything for people. My rack currently contains formal wear, tents, boat covers, winter coats, ski pants, summer dresses, jeans, curtains, uniforms, a leather motorcycle vest, helicopter covers and a prototype in progress. I sew a lot. I sew a considerable variety of items every week. There are certain tools that I simply couldn’t live without.

My custom tool belt

When I was small, my dad was a framer and wore a tool belt pretty much all the time. As my business grew and I got tired of trying to remember where I set my tools down, I figured it was time to make one for myself. I spent a couple days developing it and building it and over the next week or so, I fine tuned it. I couldn’t function effectively without it.

Stitch Ripper

As someone who does a lot of repairs and alterations, many jobs begin with taking seams apart. I have two seam rippers. A large one that I use most of the time and a very fine one. My main one is a large sturdy and inexpensive tool. The second one is small and has a very fine blade, perfect for working with fine fabrics like silk, chiffon, crepe or satin.

Scissors and snips

I have several pairs of scissors. I have a couple scissors that I have had for 20 years. These lightweight 7″ shears have been relegated for the jobs that I don’t want my new shears used for. I have 3 pairs of Xsor scissors, 8″ and 9″ long that I use every day. I keep one pair in my tool belt and I have others hanging up at my two main work stations. These have plastic handles and are sturdy but light enough that my hands don’t tire out. I have a small pair of embroidery scissors as well, though I don’t use them very often for my sewing jobs. I have a pair of thread snips hanging in each work station.

Rotary cutter; cutting mat and grid rulers

I have two rotary cutters. One always has a fresher blade than the other. Whichever blade is fresher is used on fine fabrics, the less fresh one is used on the heavier fabrics like denim, canvas or Cordura. Cutting chiffon and similar requires a pristine, razor sharp blade!

Without my cutting mats, the cutter would be useless. I have a set of three mats that are designed to be aligned together on one table. The measurements reflect this. This is fantastic when I’m trimming curtains.

I have three different grid rulers that I couldn’t live without. One is 6″ x 24″; one is 3″ x 18″ and one is 4″ x 4″. Used in combination with the cutting mat, which has a grid printed on it and the rotary cutter, this allows me to align items and trim them with precision and ease. These tools were quite pricey to purchase initially, but they are worth every penny.

Leather coin thimble

My leather coin thimble has its own little pouch in my tool belt. I first began using this when I was in my hand quilting days, many years ago. I have been using the same thimble for around 25 years and it’s still in just as lovely condition as when I bought it. It’s the only thimble I ever use.

Long quilting pins and safety pins

I love my long pins with plastic heads. For most everything, these are my go-to. The bright yellow plastic heads are easy to spot. Because I work with a lot of very robust items and forms of gear, the pins need to be very long or I can’t hold the layers together effectively. For slippery fabrics or to mark where a hem needs to land I generally use safety pins. They are handy and they don’t fall out.

Seam gauge and retractable measuring tape

I use the seam gauges so much that I wear all the printing off them! I keep one in my tool belt and one in my hemming area (with 3 designated machines: a coverstitch, a blind hemmer and a 3-thread rolled lingerie edger). The little slider means you have a way to indicate your measurement with less risk of error. When the measurements go into the 16ths of an inch it’s very easy to misread the ruler. And yes, for some things I do measure it in 16ths. I sewed a bridal hook onto my retractable measuring tape so I can keep it hooked on my belt. I prefer this over the old yellow tape measure because it is compact and doesn’t get in the way. I used to have a tape measure around my neck when I worked, but it would constantly slide off and fall on the floor. That irritated me. So this is better

Tweezers and serger threader

Between these two gadgets I can thread all my machines without any cursing required.

Pliers and Screwdrivers

When customizing zippers (brass, aluminum or plastic) pliers are indispensable! I use needle nosed, side cutters and electrician’s pliers. The screwdrivers allow me to change needles and feet on my machines.

Specialized Feet

On my straight stitch machine I have a few feet that I absolutely couldn’t live without. These include my basic 1/4″ foot; my rolled edge foot that results in a 1/8″ hem and my zipper feet. (The rolled edge foot took me years to master; I’m glad I persisted!)

Crochet hook

When I complete a serged seam, I like to use a fine crochet hook to pull the ends into the serged seam. It’s nice and tidy and it keeps the end from unraveling.

Stop watch

This allows me to accurately track the time I spend on sewing jobs.

Other specialized tools are nice to have for occasional use. The ones that stay on my tool belt are there for a reason. Each has its own spot. When I need them, I don’t have to look. I reach and there they are.

Happy Sewing!

Gratitude!

Life has a way of “taking over”. Responsibilities need to be carried, handled, addressed… whatever you want to call it. Days can be full to overflowing with tasks that need to be checked off the “to-do” list. It’s so easy to feel as if all of that swallows you up, leaving little time or energy for anything else. It’s easy to fall into a place of overwhelm. Yet it’s exactly those times when we most need to take a step back. Perspective is important. For me, a huge piece of perspective is grounded in gratitude.

Over the past week, I have found myself presented with many small occurrences that made me hesitate from my routine long enough to breathe, look around and feel grateful. It has been a week of reminders that I am very capable and very fortunate. The week before had me caught up in that frenzied sense of overwhelm that can really undermine, so this opportunity to shift my perspective was timely and ever so welcome.

In September Judy’s Designs will be five years old.

Wow! In a way, it feels like the business has been around forever, and yet it also feels like it couldn’t possibly have been almost five years yet. And it’s good. It feels wonderful to know that what I have to offer has been embraced by this amazing community that I now call home.

It definitely helps that it’s spring here. The snow in the valley is all gone now and early flowers are blooming, buds are emerging everywhere. The air smells divinely sweet the way it only does in early spring. You know: that pre-blossom sweetness? It’s like honey and I love it. There is a vibrancy to it that only lasts a few weeks; blink and you miss it.

Last fall I planted around 285 flower bulbs. The anticipation has been visceral! The crocuses and the snowdrops have had their moment of centre stage. Now, the daffodils are in full bloom and tulips are beginning their colourful display. The first few are open and the rest are about to follow suit. It’s exciting to see. Every day we are out there checking to see what the newest blossoms look like. The trees we planted in 2015 are well established now and the ornamental pears are loaded with flower buds too. Although it’s still quite chilly outside, and despite the rain, it is gorgeous.

Presented with beautiful flowers, lovely sweet smells, and the sense of renewal and “fresh start” that spring brings, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find things to feel deeply and sincerely grateful for.

It’s almost like the stress and overwhelm and all the negativity that surrounds it is a swirling dark storm cloud. When I’m in it, it just feels like that’s today’s weather. (It’s as if that storm cloud has a vested interest in keeping me stuck there. And it sucks. It sucks the energy right out of me.) Of course, it doesn’t have to be today’s weather. But it can be really tough to be conscious of that fact when I’m caught in it. When I am able to back away from the storm cloud enough, I can actually see it for what it is. Of course, it’s an ongoing task to remember. Staying out of it is a perpetual work in progress; at least it is for me. My strong desire to be responsible and accountable is usually what pulls me into that maelstrom. And I am realizing that naming that is valuable. It means that each time it pulls me in, it’s a little easier to identify what is happening. I can start to see it sooner each time. That awareness gives me the power to choose to stay in the storm, or back away and tell it to bugger off. That’s pretty darn cool.

Let’s face it, life is challenging enough without putting roadblocks and obstacles in our own path.

I have this image in my mind of gratitude being like a bulldozer or front-end loader that allows me to clear away those psychological obstacles in my path. It’s tough to feel crappy and feel grateful at the same time. Of course, I still have to climb into the bulldozer to make that happen. But it’s one tool I can use. And I have to be honest, the image of me in a bulldozer, clearing my path is a powerful one to me. I like that.

Well, here in Revelstoke we are nine days away from Prom. What started out as a sense of dread has turned into a tremendous source of gratitude. You never know what you’re going to get. Some of the dresses can be a bit of a nightmare to alter while others are simple and straight forward. Anticipating what technical challenges I might be faced with can be a bit daunting. Yet, I always manage just fine. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of the excitement that these young women are experiencing as they prepare to celebrate the beginning of their brand new adult life. I’m really fortunate to be a part of that; to be able to witness that transition. When the alterations are done and they stand in front of the mirror, glowing from head to toe, I get to be there to see that. How cool is that?

And speaking of prom dresses, that’s my cue to get back to my sewing machine.

Thanks for reading my blog. 🙂

Macrame, Anyone?

If you feel like doing something knotty, you may just fall in love with Macrame. And how in the heck do you say that? MA-crah-may, where the MA is like you would say in mast or macaroni. This textile art can be traced back to the 13th century when Arab weavers are said to have used macrame knotting techniques to finish the edges of their textiles.

It was a big thing back in the 1970’s. Plant hangers, wall hangings, bracelets and many other items were constructed or adorned with these knotting techniques. It’s a fun and easy-to-learn activity. The aesthetic is returning, and interest in macrame is on the rise.

I recently brought in Katia “Scuby Cotton” yarn for the folks showing an interest in Macrame. I’m in the process of putting together a workshop to teach the basic knots used in Macrame and this yarn will be featured. I thought I’d offer up some links to videos that teach macrame knots to give you a taste of how it works. At first you might find it a little confusing. Like anything, watching someone do it and getting your hands on it are two different things.

There are really only a few basic knots to learn in macrame. They include the Lark’s Head; the square knot; the open square knot; the picot knot; the twisting or spiral knot; and the half hitch. That may seem like a lot, but they are all pretty simple once you’ve done them a few times. No tricky stuff here.

As with so many fibre arts, seeing how it is done on a video is truly helpful and offers the opportunity to rewatch segments repeatedly as needed. Sometimes, our perception of what we watch can turn a simple thing inside-out and no matter how many times we watch that video, we just don’t quite get what it is that we’re missing. That’s where it’s really helpful to take a workshop in person, or even book a one-on-one session with a teacher to work through those things that confuse you. A teacher can watch what you’re doing and spot that one thing that has you bumping into a wall of frustration.

We are so fortunate to live in this technological era. To have instructional videos available at our fingertips is something we have come to take for granted. When I started my search for videos regarding macrame, I was delighted to see how many there are. Here are a few links for you to check out.

This video is a demonstration of the basic macrame knots:

Here is a nice basic plant hanger tutorial:

I included this next link to show some nice variations in plant hangers:

Here’s a lovely example of a macrame wall hanging. (I love this girl! Chelsea is such a hoot to watch…)

There are so many different applications for these knotting techniques. I encourage you to dive down the YouTube “rabbit-hole” and check it out. Some folks are even making jewelry using macrame knots (wrapping semi-precious stones; making beaded bracelets).

In case you’re interested, here’s a link to a history of Macrame.

And there you have it, a little taste of what you can do with macrame. I’ll have a sign up sheet in the store for anyone interested in an introductory macrame workshop. I’m imagining something simple that can be done in a single evening. If you are interested in a full on “let’s make a plant hanger” workshop; it only takes one ball of Scuby Cotton yarn to make a simple plant hanger. I would be happy to do a Sunday afternoon class for locals.

Happy Crafting!