Countdown to Holidays!

The summer of 1976 was a big deal. That summer my aunt and uncle brought their son to Canada to stay with my family, and I got to go to Germany with them. I stayed with them for a year of school, exploration and language immersion. It changed my life.

At eleven, I was the perfect age to be immersed in a different culture and language.

Having been primed in my early formative years by hearing nothing but German at home, within 6 weeks of attending school in the small Bavarian town I was already speaking fluently and cracking “Häschen Witze” (bunny jokes). They were the big thing that year. I was reading and writing and excited to be given such an amazing privilege. My aunt and uncle made sure that they took me to see examples of all the important forms of architecture: cathedrals, castles, fortresses, city halls… breathtaking examples of the advancement of engineering and design through the ages. Frescos ranging from early Medieval to Rococo. They took me to museums and galleries and beautiful areas where nature still shines bright in all its glory. They spent time helping me to understand the nuts and bolts of the language and enrolled me in the children’s choir to sing my heart out.

Some of the places we went to were so memorable that I shared my stories about them over and over with my own children years later. One of my daughters took German in high school. We always talked about going there together. When she was studying art history, I was studying music history. We were studying the corresponding eras at the same time and would spend hours at night comparing notes — sharing the scandalous stories that made those long ago composers, painters and sculptors come alive as real people.

It reinforced our desire to go to Germany together.

Well, summer is officially here! WOOHOO! Canada Day weekend is upon us; kids are out of school until fall; and for many, t’is the season for vacations. For the first time in a very long time, I’m taking time away. I’m heading to Germany for three weeks with my daughter and I’m closing the store while we’re gone. As you can imagine, I’m getting pretty excited.

Before I leave, I’m increasing the opening hours of the store to give people a better chance to pick up their completed sewing jobs and to stock up on supplies they may need for July projects.

Under normal circumstances the store is closed on the Saturday of long weekends as well as Sundays through Tuesdays. But for the Canada Day weekend, the store will be open Saturday 10am to 4pm and on the Tuesday after the long weekend from 1pm to 4pm. The rest of the first week of July will be regular hours. So it looks like this:

Saturday June 29: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Sunday June 30 – Monday July 1: Closed
Tuesday July 2: 1:00pm to 4:00 pm
Wednesday July 3 to Friday July 5: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday July 6: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (a little later than usual)
Sunday July 7 through Tuesday July 30: Closed
Wednesday July 31 to Friday August 2: regular hours
Tuesday August 6: 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm

From Wednesday August 7th on we are back to regular hours

I’m looking forward to taking a break from being in the store every day. I have good intentions to do some blogging while I’m away. I won’t promise a lot of posts, but I do hope to minimally keep up with my weekly blog.

I plan to check out yarn shops along the way to see what they are doing differently over there and to seek out some inspiration for my store. I look forward to meeting with the folks at Rohrspatz & Wollmeise in Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria.

With less than two weeks until I head out, the time will fly and next thing I know, I’ll be flying too! My lists are slowly getting checked off, including the contents list of my abbreviated knitting bag. I want to have something to work on during the flight and train rides between cities. No point taking too much, mind you. Since I’ll be visiting as many yarn shops as possible, I anticipate purchasing some treasures. Between my Ravelry library and my Knit Companion app, I should be able to come up with something to make those treasures into as well. For now, it’s back to work though.

And in the meantime I wish you: Happy Crafting!

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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

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!

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!