Knitting Machine Shenanigans (or: Being a Newbie Can Kinda Suck)

In my last blog I talked about some of my first (fumbling) experiences with my antique knitting machine. Since then, I made a baby sweater on it. Today, I want to talk about what I learned in making that baby sweater.

Even more, I want to talk about how hard it can be to be an adult Newbie.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you’ll have a pretty good idea that I was raised in a household that valued productivity and efficiency above all else. I live with the pros and cons of that childhood environment for good or bad or both. Typically, I like to see results, yesterday!

Starting any new hobby (or skill, really), you do actually have to give yourself permission to be a beginner. Well, that is, if you don’t want to feel like an abject failure before you even know what you’re doing. It requires an appropriate mindset. I have to deliberately remind myself that I don’t know WTF I’m doing yet… and that it’s okay.

I run a small business so, I have plenty to do. And any sort of hobby I spend time on tends to be a bit sporadic since I don’t always have the mental energy to focus on something new in the evenings. I’m pretty stoked to become proficient using my knitting machine, but yeah. There’s only so much energy to go around. I’m determined to be gentler with myself. There are days when my inner newbie wants to forge ahead but my “it’s been a long day” self says, “uh, yeah, not right now”. I take a lot of long deep breaths to exorcise that productivity gnome that natters on, in the back of my mind. Mostly it’s shaming me for not feeling up to doing this new thing in that moment. (I imagine I’m not the only person that experiences this.)

That’s been the biggest battle in all of this, to be honest.

The way I’m trying to approach this (and maybe set up a new habit in regard to learning new things), is to be really deliberate about my mindset. I take a few deep breaths just to settle myself in. I close my eyes and I focus on the feeling of “child-like wonder”. I sit with that feeling and I name it for what it is. When I am filled up with that sense of wonder and any remnants of hurry, impatience or mind chatter have been set to the side, I begin. Over the course of the project, I’ll notice those things creeping back in. When they do, I close my eyes and bring my focus back to that sense of wonder and curiosity. It’s really helping to make the learning process a zillion times more fun and relaxing.

As for the baby sweater. I took a basic cardigan pattern in the smallest size and adapted it as I went along. This was an exercise in how to think about existing hand-knitting patterns and transferring them to be used on the machine.

Here’s what I learned

DK yarn needs more room than sock yarn. You only cast on every other needle. The tension has to be set softer. On this machine that means a higher number on the dial. When it knits, the cross threads spanning the knit stitches make it look weird. After you finish knitting, you pull it and stretch it and all those cross threads become incorporated into the stitches and disappear. The knitting looks normal.

The needles on a knitting machine are actually latch hooks. If you’ve never seen a knitting machine up close, it really is pretty cool. Once set up, the existing stitches sit just behind the latch of the open hook. You lay the yarn across the open hooks and draw the cam across the hooks. The cam’s job is to move those hooks so that the latch closes over the new yarn, pulls it through the existing stitch and places it back in the ready position with the stitch behind the open latch. If you feel resistance in the cam, you need to check the needles. Make sure that all those stitches are behind the latches and that none have dropped. The end stitches on the right and left are more likely to have issues than any of the others. If you’re doing a pattern, then anywhere the pattern transitions should be checked on each row.

You can knit multiple pieces at the same time. I did the fronts and the sleeves together respectively. What I learned here is that the tension dial on the cam isn’t the only thing that determines the actual tension of the stitches. When you draw the cam across the needles, you are holding the working yarn in the other hand. It takes a bit of practice to get a feel for how firmly to hold the yarn. Even though you are knitting two pieces (using two yarn sources, obviously), the tension can end up different on each if you vary how you hold the yarn. Consistency is key.

I am still unhappy with my machine bind off. I took to simply removing the pieces and binding them off by hand to control how tight or loose that bind off is.

Last but not least, I think it’s time for me to concede that it’s better to finish knitted garments with yarn by hand. I would likely still seam mittens on the sewing machine. But this little sweater, as cute as it is, is pretty much unwearable because the seams are too rigid. It’s time for me to put some energy into becoming proficient at hand seaming my garments with yarn. Stay tuned for that!

I haven’t done the neck and button band on this little sweater yet. It’s just going to be a display piece for on the wall. Still, I’m happy with what this little sweater taught me about my knitting machine and more so, about myself.

Happy Crafting!

Knitting Machine: Baby Steps!

I grew up watching my mom knit on her collection of eight knitting machines. I often thought I would have liked to play with them and explore their possibilities. I never got that opportunity. A while back, a customer popped in the store, set an old knitting machine on my counter and said, “If you want this, it’s all yours. We’re downsizing.” I happily accepted and until about two weeks ago, it sat waiting for me to be ready to play.

When I resolved that it was time, I opened the case and carefully removed it. There were envelopes in the bottom of the case. The newsletters in them were dated 1958 from “Knit King”. I grabbed a coffee and curled up on the recliner and began to read. Each newsletter contained short info-bites about clubs that were popping up all over Canada for the knitting machine enthusiasts who wanted to share their excitement with others. I could feel the passion!

Each newsletter contained a pattern. Very few had photographs or sketches. The instructions were precise as to what yarn to use, and economically written. I was fascinated. In the rare edition that had photos the styles were definitely of another era. One in particular was a matching vest for father and son, reminiscent of Bing Crosby’s wardrobe. The ladies’ tops were decidedly vintage. It was a fun glance into another time.

I came across one with “kids’ mittens” hand written across the front. I was baffled as to how you would even do that on a flat bed knitting machine.

I was game; but first, I had to get the basics down.

This particular machine can only work yarn up to DK weight. I pulled out the manual and carefully worked out how to cast on. I unsuccessfully experimented with some DK yarn and then switched to sock weight. That was better. After a number of false starts, I made a piece of fabric out of leftover sock yarn and decided that I could turn it into a little purse for one of the grand kids. I took it off the machine and bound the edge off. That was fun! And it went fast. So I thought I’d try out that mitten pattern next.

It required three colours. They suggested 3-ply yarn which is a little thinner than sock yarn but I figured it would give me an idea and I could adjust the pattern later if the size was off.

It was quite interesting. Moving needles in and out of holding positions as directed in the pattern, I had no idea what to expect.

I watched stitches collect on the holding needles. When the holding needles went back into action, the yarn was pulled through all that accumulated yarn and the pattern began to form. I felt a little bit like a kid opening gifts on Christmas morning. I ended up with some dropped stitches. Because I didn’t yet comprehend how the machine was actually making the pattern, I had no idea how to fix them yet. I hoped I could eventually anticipate what issues might happen so I could prevent or fix dropped stitches as I went along.

As the mitten started to take shape, I began to see how making everything flat requires a different mindset. What a paradigm shift for someone whose preference is to knit everything in one piece and avoid any seaming at all!

When I felt confident I chose some leftover yarns and cast on. That first “for real” mitten had a lot of starts and stops. I would notice a dropped stitch and realize that I had gone too far in the colour work to wrap my brain around how to fix it. I frogged it back and started over. In the process, I began to notice the nuances of what led to the issues. As I became better able to anticipate what might go wrong, I checked each row and sometimes manually worked the hooks to make sure all the stitches were right.

Then the pattern said, “turn as for heel”. Ummmm… thankfully there was another envelope with a set of tutorials. One of them was for sock knitting. I read that and quickly turned the top of the mitten. I was delighted to watch the little thumb appear as I faithfully followed the instructions. It would need to be seamed later, but with its own little “heel turn” at the top, it was a quick and slick way to get the job done.

This machine only does knit stitches.

The ribbing was made by leaving out every third hook and the cross threads spanning between the adjacent knit stitches gave the impression of ribbing. When it was all done, I really hated the way the ribbing looked. Especially once seamed. So, I frogged it off, picked up the stitches and knitted the cuff by hand.

Took some doing, but when the first mitten was done, man, I felt like I had learned a lot. The second mitten worked up more easily. I was able to prevent and repair the issues as they came up. I didn’t bother with the rib, just did that by hand afterward.

I stitched up the first one with yarn like a good girl. But remember, this is the president of the “I hate stitching my knitting together” club talking. I don’t like doing it, and so I never really put a lot of energy into getting good at it. I was unhappy with my results. After stitching one side of the second mitten in this way, I decided to sew the thumb and the other side on the sewing machine. Hey, if Arne and Carlos can sew their Norwegian sweaters together on sewing machines, I’m in good company here!

I’m very happy with the result and I’m feeling inspired to continue to play! Whatever your creative passion, I wish you joy in pursuing it!

Happy Crafting!

Summer Projects: Crochet Market Bags

I don’t know what the weather is like anywhere else, but here in Revelstoke, BC, it’s been a very wet season so far. After a record snowfall this winter, I suppose I can be thankful that you don’t have to shovel rain. Whether you are at the lake or in your living room, this is a great time of year to work on light and airy projects. How about some shopping bags, now that we are allowed to bring them to the store again.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that my first love is knitting. I’m very aware that there are a lot of folks for whom crochet takes that place of priority. So today’s blog is primarily for you beautiful crochet-lovers. 

I love that our little community cares deeply for this world and works hard to do all those little things that add up to make a difference. Having your own reusable shopping bags is just one way that we can do that.

I have two kits available in the store. The first is a Katia product from Spain. The beautiful Jasmine B of Ocean Peak Designs was kind enough to crochet up a sample of this kit for the store. It’s available in a number of colours and it comes complete with everything you need to make it, including the handles and the crochet hook!

The other kit uses jute. It’s a simple crocheted bag, no fancy stitches or designs, just straight to the point. I like that. Of course, jute is very durable so this bag will be very serviceable.

If you want to have the option of doing multiple styles, how about a book with multiple patterns to choose from? We have this fantastic book from Annie’s available. It has eight different crochet patterns for bags. From simple to stylish.

If you’re using a book or you already have a pattern, you’ll want some durable yarn for it. I have a few yarns to tell you about that would be excellent contenders for this type of project.

Ricco Creative Natur

This yarn is a 100% hemp, DK weight yarn. Although it has a limited colour palette hemp is a strong fibre that will give you a sturdy and beautiful bag.

Nako Fiore

This is a blend of Cotton, Linen and Bamboo. It is much softer than the hemp yarn and both the linen and the bamboo give it considerable strength. We have a pretty good colour selection and a decent amount of stock. Once this yarn is gone though, we won’t be able to bring any more in.

Kilim

This blend of Jute and Acrylic yarn is put up in 100g skeins with about 65m. This appears to be in the neighbourhood of chunky weight, so it will definitely work up quickly. This will definitely give you a sturdy bag that you can load up.

Cobasi Hikoo

This is a sock weight yarn that is a combination of Cotton, Bamboo and Silk. It has a little bit of nylon in it as well that gives it some bounce-back. Both bamboo and silk are strong fibres that will give the cotton that little extra boost. We have a huge colour selection of this one. They are put up in 50g skeins with typical sock weight yardage.

Wollmeise Twin

This super strong, super soft sock yarn is hand dyed using only plants and foods. The skeins are huge with about 150g in them so they go a long way. It washes up beautifully and it is exceptionally strong for a wool and polyamid blend. You don’t want to try and break this yarn with your hands, you’d likely damage your tendons!

Sudz Cotton

This worsted weight cotton yarn is our staple for making dishcloths. If you’re looking for a good quality, well priced cotton yarn, this is the one. We have a plethora of colours available and we keep this one stocked up all the time.

I’m waiting on a new product from Estelle Yarns that will fit the bill. Watch for Colourbraid soon. 😀

Whether you’re making bags for yourself or for a gift, or whether you are inclined to make other projects entirely, my wish is that you find joy in your creative expression through yarns and fibres.

Happy Crocheting!

Steeking: Bottoms Up!

A few blog posts ago I told you about my first encounter with steeking. That was a top down cardigan based on the recipes in Tin Can Knits’ Strange Brew book. In Strange Brew, they offer instructions for both top down and bottom up sweater knitting. Today I will tell you about the bottom up cardigan I made.

Gotta say, it feels a little weird writing this with everything that’s going on. I’m really trying to find ways to do things that feel “normal” in this very far from normal circumstance. I decided that this might be a good place to do that.

It was really fun to make the two little cardigans. When I started on the second sweater, things were just starting to get weird with the whole Covid-19 thing. As such, I didn’t take photos as I was knitting it. So unfortunately, I only have one lonely WIP photo to share. Sorry about that.

Bottoms up:

You start off knitting the sleeves up to the armpit. I knitted the sleeves on the short little circular needles that I usually use to knit socks. That worked really well although it was a little bit tight for the cast on and the first four or so rounds of ribbing. I just took my time and persevered and it was fine. The increases for the sleeve are done a little differently compared to the top down sweater. I assume that’s because if you choose to change the length of the sleeve overall, it would get too complicated to work around those changes. Simple is good. Because I was knitting for toddlers, I didn’t want to do any colourwork in the lower portion of the sleeves. It’s too easy for them to catch their little fingers in the floats when they put it on. That’s no fun for them. So I kept it really simple. Once the sleeves are knitted up to the armpit, you set them aside.

Next you start at the hem of the body of the sweater. I found that for some reason, the body ended up longer on the second sweater. Maybe the measurement is more accurate when you are knitting bottom up. Maybe I just measured wrong. There is definitely no doubt about where to start and stop your measurement when doing it from the bottom up. On the top down sweater, it can be tricky to determine where to measure from. I was sure that I measured the same amount for each. It’s possible that my tension was a little softer in the second one. That could account for it. I didn’t count rounds to determine how long to make the body; I used a tape measure.

Once the body is long enough, you join the sleeves to the body. You do a little shaping so that the back of the neck opening sits higher than the front. Next you begin the colour work and the decreases for the yoke. I took advantage of the orientation of the knit stitches to make a pattern with hearts in it on this one.

The yoke was straightforward until I got to the bind off.

I tried binding it off using three different methods. Because I make a lot of socks, it’s my default setting to do a stretchy bind-off. Don’t do that here. I ended up doing the least stretchy bind-off I know in order for the neckline to lay nicely.

I applied what I learned from the first project to doing the steek and it went very smoothly. The zipper went in easily and I’m very happy with the result.

The only thing I would do differently is to make the sleeves longer than suggested. The sweaters fit well. (The body lengths ended up being perfect for each grandchild respectively. YAY!) The sleeves could have been a little longer to allow for a some growth.

I had so much fun making these cardigans.

I’m glad that I started with small sizes. I still want to make one for myself out of sock weight yarn, eventually. I really want to be thoughtful about the colour choices and the pattern. I don’t want to rush into it. Especially if I’m going to use sock weight yarn for it! That’s a lot of knitting time to invest.

Moving forward, I have a couple of WIPs that I want to complete before I decide what large project I want to start next. I have a few ideas in mind. I have a couple more sweater technique books that I recently brought in to sell in the store and I might try one of those projects to see how I like those books. It’s always good for me to have a solid understanding of this type of book so I know whether they are worth the money and so I can offer support to customers who invest in them. They can be quite an investment. I ordered one that retails for around $100. I only brought in one to see whether it’s worth it. It’s a completely new all-in-one construction method that looks really exciting. The more carefully I read it, the more I think it will be worth every penny. I look forward to trying out one of the patterns to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note: Ricasso — our shop cat — says “helloooooowwwwww”. With the physical distancing rules in place, it’s kinda lonely for him. (I’m sure y’all can relate!) The other night, we had to actually get him from the store (he has a cat door between the store and home so he can come and go as he pleases) and bring him home after 10pm because he was patiently waiting for customers to come and cuddle him.

Ricasso will be fine. LOL We’ll all get through this together, at a distance.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and stay creative!

Happy Knitting!

Adventures in Steeking!

I have been looking forward to learning how to steek. Steeking is a knitting technique in which you knit a sweater in the round, and then turn it into a cardigan. Yes, you have to cut your knitting to do it; yes that sounds terrifying; yes it’s pretty cool! My first dabble in this new endeavour is well underway and I’m excited to share what I learned so far.

My interest in steeking led me to a book by Canadian design company, Tin Can Knits. They put together a “recipe book” that breaks down sizes for top down and bottom up seamless yoked sweaters. Their charts include sizes from new born up to big-man sizes. But that’s not all! They give you stitch counts for Sock weight, DK and Aran yarns. Talk about an incredible value. It’s a gorgeous book in full colour. I purchased the book to try it out and I have them in my store now.

I started with a child sized cardigan in Aran weight.

I reasoned that if I missed things or misread things or straight up just messed up, it wouldn’t be such a big deal to frog it back and fix it. I decided to do one from the top down and one from the bottom up. I am not all that far along on the bottom up one so I’ll leave that off for today’s blog and catch up with you next time around. The long term goal is to make myself a couple cardigans, first one in DK and then one in Sock weight once I feel really comfortable with the method.

Now, the book gives very clear instructions on how to knit the sweater. Of course in my enthusiasm, I didn’t read very carefully and missed a few things. I ended up knitting to the point of preparing for the sleeves when I realized that I was short a whole bunch of stitches; I had looked at a smaller size for one of the increase rounds by mistake. Instead of immediately frogging it back, I just increased at the point where you divide to add the sleeves… yeah, don’t do that. It’s really important that you increase exactly as they lay it out in the pattern. I almost finished the sweater and realized that because my increase was below shoulder level, the slope of the shoulder would not comfortably fit a human. (I was blissfully in denial up until then… sigh.) I did frog it right back to where I had made that initial mistake and reworked it.

I used a variety of needles in this endeavour.

I cast on the neck onto a 40cm fixed circular. (I used Knitter’s Pride Dreamz for the whole project.) I switched to an interchangeable with a 60cm cord when it started to feel really squishy on the 40cm. I started the sleeves on 40cm’s and then switched to 25cm fixed circulars once the decreases made it so the stitches were being stretched on the 40. This worked very well for me.

Strange Brew doesn’t give a lot of information on the specifics of steeking. They suggest some online videos as reference. They talk about holding stitches sacred at the centre front of the sweater as you knit, to preserve them for the steek. I had stitch markers on either side of those stitches. I did find that there were times when I struggled to wrap my head around how to do the increases and still keep those 5 stitches sacred between my markers. It was worth the time and effort to carefully plot out how to do that. Keeping those stitches isolated means a straightforward process once you actually do the steek. The benefit is that you can hide all sorts of things in that steek column. Starting a new ball of yarn? Add it in the middle of the steek. I started my new rounds in the middle of the steek to avoid having a jog in the colourwork.

Sadly, I was impatient. I had watched some steeking videos a couple years back and relied on my memory. Again, being impatient, I just flew at it. I stitched up on either side of the steeked stitches with my sewing machine… rather recklessly began cutting and then realized that I was cutting a stitch width too far to one side. Oops! I repaired that and did another row of machine stitching closer to the centre where I needed to cut. I cut it the rest of the way and that went well.

Then, I figured I’d use my serger to finish the edges. Bad idea. It stretched the edge so far out of shape that I had a whole new challenge to work with. I continued my “bull in a china shop” approach and threw a zipper in it, sat back and immediately felt disgusted with myself. After a few days of timeout, I picked it out and started over.

I cut 2 pieces of wide bias binding to about an inch longer than the finished size of my zipper. I stitched the ends inside out to create clean finished ends. I then carefully aligned it to the edge of the vertical column of stitches on either side of the opening (with the bias open; but stitching at the folded outer edge of it). Once that was done, I carefully contained the edge stitches inside the bias and pinned it on the inside of the cardigan. I stitched that with the sewing machine. Once I had the first side complete, I aligned the second piece of binding on the other front. Being careful to align the colourwork pattern to match the completed side, I pinned it and stitched it in place finishing it as I did on the first side.

I aligned the zipper with the knitted stitches beside the bias binding and installed it using the sewing machine. I then hand stitched the binding to the inside of the cardigan. Although my colourwork didn’t line up exactly, it was close enough that I came away feeling proud of my first steeking attempt.

I encourage you to tackle a new technique that kinda scares you. It feels so good!

Happy knitting!

Two Knitting Reviews in One

This winter I brought in Estelle Superwash Merino DK; it’s here in all of the 25 currently available colours. My goal — when bringing in an entire line — is to make up a sample project so people can see how it works up. This time I made up a Sople cardigan and I’m excited to tell you all about both.

The yarn

Estelle Superwash Merino DK currently comes in 25 colours, in 50g balls with 125m. This very soft and smooth yarn is perfect to knit stranded colourwork sweaters. You don’t have to commit to 100g balls of each colour for just that bit you need along the yoke and cuffs. The suggested gauge is 22 stitches on 4mm needles over 10cm.

It was a joy to knit. I was able to see my stitches easily. The texture of the yarn looks a little cable-like as you are knitting it up. I found that was less noticeable once I washed it. As with most superwash yarn, I found that I had to be careful not to stretch it while blocking. It washed beautifully; came out soft and gorgeous. It did end up a wee bit bigger after it dried. (I plan to knit up a little swatch, measure it, run it through the laundry and see how it fares before I risk putting the sweater in the dryer.) There was almost no colour in the rinse water at all.

The pattern

I knitted up Sople by Justyna Lorkowska. I purchased and downloaded it from Ravelry. You may recall me writing about her pattern “Alicia Beth” about a year ago (that project is in time-out because I changed my mind about the colours and need to make a decision). This great little Sople sweater is fitted, with 3/4 sleeves and all-in-one, top-down construction. Although mostly stockinette, there is enough pattern to keep from getting bored. Since I don’t speak Polish, I had no sense of what might have inspired this design. It looked like calla lilies or maybe candles to me. Turns out Sople translates to “icicles”.

This may come across as a bit of a rant. Bear with me, please.

There are so many badly written patterns in this world. I see customers who get stuck because of either poorly written or poorly translated instructions. I spend a lot of time going over such patterns with them to help them to continue. It is exceedingly frustrating when patterns are difficult to follow, have poor (or worse, no) legend or glossary and are just confusing. I often wonder whether some designers are so highly skilled and capable that they forget that not everyone knows what they know, or can do what they do. Let’s face it. We knit (or crochet or sew or whatever) because it brings us pleasure. A poor pattern can take all the joy out of a project. Now, in all fairness, there is always a little bit of a process to familiarize yourself with a designer’s particular way of explaining things. But that aside, when you find a really good designer, it is such a wonderful thing.

Forgive me if I gush here. Justyna is an excellent designer and I don’t know whether she writes the patterns herself or has a team to help her. Whatever she’s doing though, she does it well. Obviously, I worked off the English pattern that was a translation… an excellent translation! My hat’s off to whoever made that happen. My only criticism was that because the PDF paper size was European and simply would not shrink to our North American letter size for me. I had to I open it in Adobe Acrobat Pro, resize and save it as a new PDF before I could print on letter sized paper. I like to have one copy on my tablet in Knit Companion, and a printed paper copy that I can scribble notes on. (I did message her and mention the page size issue). And hey, if that’s seriously the worst criticism, that is a fantastic pattern.

The sweater is constructed in one piece from the top down.

You start with a provisional cast on; knit the fronts first to the armpit, then the back down to the same point, put all the stitches from fronts and backs onto one long circular needle (don’t twist a front, like I did though) and complete the body. You pick up stitches for the sleeves as you go and knit them directly into the sleeve opening. It’s a pretty clever construction method. I love me a seamless sweater!

The front gets a button band; I chose to add 8 buttons on mine because I liked the look of it. The neck is finished with an I-band edge. There is a lovely pattern knitted into the fabric as I mentioned above. I did get a little complacent when I was knitting the second sleeve and I missed the point where you start the icicle above the cuff. I had to frog it back and rework it. That was on me though. I just got lazy and tried to go by my memory instead of checking the pattern. I used a stretchy bind off and I would use that again, except for the bases of the cables, those I would use a regular bind off to keep them from going twiddly.

Clearly the construction method is not typical.

I would encourage anyone working this pattern to take the time to read through the entire pattern a few times before starting. I think I read it three times. I generally find that I need to do that with this sort of unique pattern to wrap my brain around what to expect. That having been said, you may not immediately understand how it will all come together and you do (at some point) simply have to trust the pattern. You can trust this pattern though.

I adore the way this sweater fits me and before I completely forget what my notes mean, I plan to tidy up my pattern scribbles so that I could potentially use the pattern again, and perhaps do the whole thing in stockinette. I’m stoked with my new cardigan! I apologize that I don’t have any photos of me wearing it. No selfies here. I’m not photogenic and I’m quite self conscious about that. Maybe I’ll add some later when I have someone who can take a nice photo for me. 😀

Meanwhile… Happy Knitting!

Ooh! Christmas Ornaments to Knit!

Do you have a bunch of pretty leftover yarn that isn’t really enough to do much with? It’s just so nice you hate to get rid of it? Well, this very addictive little project will have you digging for all your leftovers and knitting up loads of Christmas tree ball ornaments. Once you start, it is really hard to stop!

Okay, so I’m all for full disclosure and so I want to give the back story to my newfound addiction. A few years ago, I started following Arne and Carlos’ YouTube channel. I love these guys. They are so creative and talented and skilled. If you aren’t following them and you love fibre arts, I encourage you to check them out.

They did a video on Christmas Balls back in 2015 and then again in 2017. They do the traditional stranded colourwork designs typical of Norway (that’s where they live). At the time I saw it, it was after Christmas and I just didn’t have the time or motivation to try them out. Since then, they have been hovering in the back of my mind, calling out,

“Knit me, Judy… you know you want to!” Yeah, since 2016 New Year’s!

So this year, I went hunting for the free pattern link so I could make some up out of my leftover yarn. The downloads are simply the colourwork charts and that’s it. I downloaded them and made a couple. As I was digging through my odds and ends I realized that I have a lot of bits of self patterning sock yarn leftover from socks I have knit. I thought, “why not just simplify and eliminate the colourwork and just let the yarn do the talking.

So I did.

After I made a bunch it occurred to me that this simplified version of balls is just too fun not to share with everyone out there. So I wrote up a really simple pattern for it. My understanding is that this pattern has been around since the dawn of time and isn’t anyone’s property. I am offering it as a free download (with no intention of every charging money for it).

Download the pattern

So let me give you a quick overview.

You have to do them on DPN’s (double point needles). You can use any weight of yarn, but you just adjust the size of the needles to accommodate it and realize they will be larger with larger yarn. I would encourage you to knit them a little on the dense side. So if you knit tight just do what you usually do; if not, go down a size with your needles from what the yarn suggests. I would stick to a finer yarn for making the little hanger thingie at the top though.

You’ll definitely want to use a set of five DPN’s as these are made up of 4 equal and repeating sections and that means you can have each section on its own DPN. I think dividing them onto three needles would take a lot of the ease and fun out of them… just saying.

I love the size you get from sock yarn. Also, the whole thing for me was to use the self striping yarn so it would give me an interesting result with little effort. I did one up in worsted weight. multi coloured, hand dyed yarn. It looks gorgeous. I’m not crazy about how large it is as I kinda just like my ornaments to be smaller. Arne and Carlos appeared to be using DK weight and I think I’d still be okay with that size. I personally wouldn’t want them any bigger, but if you like them bigger go for it!

A little tip. When you get about half way done, you might want to already take the time to close up the bottom opening with your cast on tail. It makes it really easy. Thread the tail onto your needle, pull it through each of the cast on stitches twice, put the needle through the centre hole. Turn the ball inside out and pull the needle through. Tighten it up really nice and fasten it off on the inside of the ball. You can just leave the tail there without trimming it. Or, you can do that at the end with the other finishing steps.

It takes very little yarn to make one of these. The ones I made using sock yarn weigh under 5 g before I start any of the finishing work.

A note about increases and decreases.

The charts that you can download from Arne and Carlos do not indicate any specifics regarding the type of increases or decreases to use. They do talk about it a little in their video. I played around with several different options on the first few balls I did. My pattern reflects the ones that gave the smoothest transitions and nicest overall look in my opinion. I found that using the exact same increase stitch all the way around (and the same decrease stitch all around respectively) actually gave a better appearance than doing opposite leaning ones on either side of a centre. So yes, this is on purpose. If you don’t usually knit projects with a bunch of shaping and that was confusing to you, just ignore it and trust the pattern. 🙂

Now, a note to locals in Revelstoke

As Social Saturday is up and running again, I invite you to gather up your leftover yarns, throw them and your DPN’s in your knitting bag, download this pattern and come on down to Judy’s Designs on Saturday, December 7th to make Christmas Tree Ball Ornaments with me. It takes me around an hour and a half to knit one (if I don’t get interrupted). Oh, and if you have the Knit Companion app, you might want to set the pattern up as a project. If you don’t have Knit Companion… why not? (No, I’m not a representative of them. I just love the App.) Feel free to print out the pattern. I include a grid that allows you to keep track of your rounds as you knit them and there is room to track 9 balls or something. 😀 You’re welcome! I hope to see you on Saturday.

Happy Knitting!

Tips for Tardy Gift Makers

Every year I have good intentions that I’ll start making gifts early in the year; you know, so that there isn’t a grand panic when fall shifts into winter. (Now what was it my dad always said about good intentions?) There have been one or two years when I managed it. Sadly this year isn’t one of them. Let me share with you some ways I have found to be more efficient at this gift making time of year.

As we sail along the rails of the Pinterest and Instagram inspiration rides, it’s important to be more than just a little ruthless in your search. Personally, I have found that sticking to Ravelry.com is more efficient. There will almost always be a pattern available for the search results. At this time of year, you really have to have a clear mission in mind.

First off, you have to know what your end-game is. How many gifts do you want/need to make. Being clear will save you resources on every level. As I search in Ravelry (using the advanced search function), I like to open each project that catches my eye in a new tab. I’ll systematically do this first, working through my search results. Then I’ll go through all those tabs and eliminate the ones that don’t live up to my current needs. I bookmark the ones I’m seriously considering by adding them to my favourites or immediately downloading the pattern.

Make notes and keep them in one place.

What is it, who is it for, what materials do you need, when does it have to be done, what’s the budget?

I see people getting lost in their phones trying to find the information they need so they can buy their supplies. Often, they are unable to find the pattern at all. I like to use a free app called Knit Companion to organize my patterns. Minimally, this allows you to have those patterns all in one place for easy access on your devices. Printing out the patterns can also be helpful.

Stash-bust before you go shopping.

Once you have that list, go through your stash to see what will work for those projects. Bundle the pattern and supplies together and label them so you don’t have to try and remember what you did. Check those off your list and make a note of what you decided to use. Spending a little time to organize this information will save you a lot of time, money, energy and frustration later.

Keep it simple.

As much as the intricate patterns with amazing detail are attractive and dazzling, be honest. You don’t have time for that! It’s the end of November. But, that doesn’t mean that your gifts have to be boring. For instance, let’s say you are making a scarf or a cowl. You can make a plain knitted or crocheted long rectangle, put a knot in it and then attach the ends together. Presto, you have a funky cowl and all you did was knit or crochet a rectangle. Use chunky yarn and it will work up quickly. Funky buttons, simple embroidered motifs, tassles, pom-poms, using a mini stuffed toy instead of a pom-pom, “hand-made” labels, adding a crocheted rosette or square in a complimentary yarn are all ways to take a simple design up a notch.

Sticking with the super simple theme, there are all kinds of self-patterning yarns available that come with instructions. The yarn does the work for you. For instance, Magic Diamonds from Katia will give you an argyle (diagonal plaid) design and with one ball (and a bit of a contrasting yarn for the border), you can make a cowl. Katia Big Paint is a self striping yarn that comes with a pattern to knit or crochet a hat or to make a scarf. One ball makes a hat with a pom, whether you knit or crochet it. The knit scarf takes 3 balls, but the yarn is thick and works up fast. How cool is that? Cascade Curiosity is typically used for shawls, but, you can get three toques (beanies for non-Canadians) out of one ball. The colours shift subtly and each hat is different. Throw a faux fur pom on there and you have a gorgeous gift that is easy to make while you’re watching television.

But, you don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself. If your recipient is crafty, why not consider giving them a kit? Got a friend that loves to knit? Pick out a knitting pattern and the yarn to go with it and bundle it up with a “some assembly required” note card. Has your sister been talking about how much she’d love to learn how to needle felt? Buy a kit that has everything that you need to make it. Got a crafty niece or nephew? How about a knitting loom and enough yarn to make a hat or a scarf? I brought in crochet kits that include the hook, yarn, instructions and finishing notions for making bags. We have rug kits from Spain that include all the self patterning yarn, the pattern and the crochet hook. There are lots of options. Ask for help from the staff in your local yarn and craft shop.

And then, you can also check out the craft sales. Take advantage of the many talented makers who have already created hand crafted items. The nice thing about this option is that the items are ready made; you know exactly what you have. Makers pour their heart and passion into each piece they sell; and you get to give a hand made item without having to make it.

Every year I think I’ll start earlier, but I don’t. And that’s okay. The main thing is to remember that the whole point of making gifts from scratch is to have fun and give gifts that come from the heart. So keep it simple and keep it fun. Put up your feet and enjoy every stitch and you can’t go wrong.

Happy Crafting!

Assessing the WIP Basket

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a bunch of work-in-progress projects that have piled up in a corner or a basket or maybe on the chair in the bedroom. I find that at this time of the year I start to feel those unfinished objects (UFO’s) calling out to me. Unfinished projects have a way of pulling at my energy. It may not be a very big pull, but whenever I walk by them I have that subtle sense of “oh yeah, I should finish that”. And that takes a little bit out of me, every time. Maybe it’s time to make a plan to tackle some of those.

Going into the fall and winter, I really want to be able to work on new and exciting things that will inspire me: new yarns, new patterns, new challenges. I want to knit up samples with the new products I’m bringing in. But I also know that I really need to minimally assess my pile of WIP’s and come up with a plan to make that pile smaller.

Over the next 4 weeks, I want to pick through those things and determine whether there are some things that I know I simply won’t finish. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple started pairs of socks that are most definitely too small. They were both really complicated patterns and I knitted a lot on them. I just couldn’t bring myself to frog them even though I knew I should. I think I need to sacrifice them. Time to sit down at the yarn winder and just wind them into a new ball with fresh potential. I won’t get back the time I knitted either way. So instead of feeling sad every time I see them, I can think about using that yarn for a new project. There, that wasn’t so bad. That’s two projects that can leave the basket and go back into the stash.

I have at least one project that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to change colours part way through, or if I should order more yarn and just finish it in the colour I started with (before the yarn isn’t available any more!) I guess the fact that it has been sitting for a whole year is a good sign that I’m not going to change colours. Best get that yarn on order. Maybe that will motivate me to get back at it and finish it. 🙂 That’s one more that can move forward!

Then there are the ones where I lost the pattern, or the pattern had mistakes and continuing on will be more headache than fun. That should eliminate two or three from the pile in the corner of the living room… More frogging ahead!

I know there are a couple that really won’t take that long to finish if I just got back at them. I just kind of got tired of looking at the yarn; or the yarn wasn’t as nice to work with as I’d hoped and I lost interest. I’ll have to make a decision about those. It’s only a few, I can decide on those.

Funny, just thinking it through, I feel a little lighter. I feel like maybe thinning out the WIPs won’t have to be as hard as I was thinking it would be. I’m already feeling more motivated to take action and get some things done. Isn’t it amazing what a plan can do?

With all the new yarns coming in, it will feel good to clear the slate and make room to knit up some samples. I think I can maybe alternate between finishing an old project and making a sample out of something brand new. Little by little I’ll get that pile under control.

How about you? Are you ready to tackle your pile of UFO’s?

Happy Knitting!

Keeping out the Evening Chill

Heading to the lake? Evening barbecue in the backyard? Camping for the weekend?

It may be hot during the day, but when it cools off in the evening (if you’re anything like me) you’ll be reaching for something to throw over your shoulders to keep the chill away. Summer wraps are the perfect thing! With all the gorgeous patterns available to hit every skill level and every taste, add in all the lovely yarns… and the possibilities are endless.

I love shawls, wraps and ponchos. They fill that gap when you need a little something to throw on, but a sweater or a jacket are just a little too much. They are practical, cozy and can be as casual or as fashionable as you want. With the help of a shawl pin, you can clasp it to keep it right where you want it. No fuss or bother required.

Depending on the design you choose, you can challenge yourself, you can “Zen out” with something “brainless”… or you can hit the scale somewhere in between the two. As much as there are some highly complex lace shawl patterns out there, there are just as many easy ones that allow you to sit back and relax as your hands auto-pilot you to a lovely summer wrap.

Some of the designs that are referred to as cowls nowadays are really more like mini-ponchos, or capelets. These are really cute and don’t need any fasteners. If you’re going for an evening walk, they are just enough to keep you from getting goose bumps from that chilly breeze. Ponchos are a great and easy cover-up option too. Look for a pattern that starts at the neckline so you can simply keep on knitting or crocheting until it is as long as you want it to be.

Triangular shawls can be made in any weight of yarn and usually, you can simply keep on adding to them to make them as large as you would like them to be. You can tie them or use a shawl pin to fasten them where you like them. You can wear them in a few different ways so that they cover more or less of you.

Rectangular wraps are essentially just a really wide and long scarf. Using bamboo or cotton and a very simple stitch pattern can turn something we normally associate with winter into our “go-to” cover up through the summer months and during the “shoulder” seasons (pun definitely intended).

There are some lovely summery yarns available that can give you the perfect texture and weight for your shawl or poncho. Whether you prefer cotton, viscose, bamboo or linen blends, or you are a die-hard Merino lover, we are fortunate to have access to many options in a vast array of colourways. If you work up something in a worsted weight, it comes together quicker than you might think. I have a lovely gradient cotton/wool blend in DK weight (Rainbow Autumn) from Estelle Yarns that makes a gorgeous cover up that would be perfect for summer evenings at the campsite or beach. Looking for something with a bit of shine? Cotton/Viscose blends are what you are looking for. Bamboo is very strong and durable. CoBaSi gives a gorgeous summer fabric comprised of Cotton, Bamboo and Silk. The possibilities are endless!

I adore Knox Mountain Knit Co’s patterns; that’s why I sell them in hard-copy in my store. Her patterns are gorgeous and easy to follow. Once I start one, I can’t put it down. If you’re local, pop in and check out my binder full of Knox Mountain shawl patterns. If not, here’s the search result for her shawl patterns on Ravelry.

Here are a few pretty crochet designs I found on Ravelry:

Secret Paths by Johanna Lindhal (© Johanna Lindahl)

Shawl for Rachel by Hilda Steyn (© Hilda Steyn 2015)

Maple Leaf Shawl by Kirsten Ballering (© Kirsten Ballering)

Klaziena Shawl by Kirsten Bishop (by mola1971)

Striped Poncho by Crochet – Atalier (© Luba Davies Atelier)

These cover-ups make great projects to knit or crochet at your campsite. After all, that is what camping is for, right?

Happy Knitting and Crocheting!


Cobasi

Rainbow Autumn

Summertime

Tropicali

Mulberry

Nako Fiore

Baby Bamboo