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My Designing Journey (Part 2)

So there I was, having designed a few patterns for doll clothes and selling them on my Ravelry shop. Then I branched out a bit and wrote patterns for a scarf and a shawl. It was fun to see people posting photos of projects they had made from my patterns. I began to think that I really enjoyed this, and that someday when life slowed down a bit, I might like to start designing full time.

But in the meantime, I was very busy homeschooling my daughter and working at my business designing data collection forms for the pharmaceutical industry. When I started that business 23 years ago, the forms were printed onto 3-part NCR paper and filled out by hand. Over the last 15 years, the industry has been moving towards electronic forms that are completed online. So I knew that it was only a matter of time before my services would become obsolete. With that in mind, I kept writing patterns and began to prepare for a career change.

Last year I started working on the Master Hand Knitting Program© from The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) to become certified as a Master Knitter. I am currently working on the third (and final) level. My goal is to finish in March 2015, which would make it exactly 2 years since I started. I will be posting my progress through this final level on this blog, so now that this has been publicly stated, I had better get it done!

Last fall things changed for all of us in our household when my daughter started to attend high school, and for the first time I am not her teacher. It has been an adjustment for all of us, but she has transitioned very well. And throughout this past year, I have seen quite a drop in business, so it seems that “someday” has arrived a bit earlier than I had hoped it would, and now is the time to really get serious about starting a new design business.

Whenever I have been faced with making a life-altering decision (such as starting my first business, getting married, buying a house, having a child, etc.) I have always felt like I was preparing myself to jump off of a cliff. I do everything I can to gather information, make decisions and set things up for success beforehand, but it always comes down to that last moment when I know I’ve done everything I can to make myself ready, and the only thing that’s left to do is to gather my courage, take a deep breath, and jump off that cliff. It is a leap of faith that I will glide my way to a soft landing. I’ve done it successfully several times now, and it does seem to get a bit easier each time. But it’s never easy. Or fearless.

So here we are–it’s mid-2014 and, with the enthusiastic support of my family providing additional lift, I’m jumping off the cliff again. Wish me well on a soft landing.

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On the Importance of Blocking

Wait! Don’t run away! Yes, I’m going to talk about blocking, but I promise it will be painless.

If you know what blocking is but have never actually tried it, please stay with me.

If you have no idea what blocking is, this is for you: Blocking is the application of some form of water (with or without heat) to a knitted fabric in order to get it to behave properly.

Here, let me show you. I am working up some ideas for a bottom-up shawl pattern, and have made a couple of swatches using leftover yarns of different weights from my stash. Here’s how they look straight off the needles:

 

Unblocked swatches straight off the needles
Unblocked swatches straight off the needles. Blech!

If this were your first experience with knitting, you would probably look at this mess, think you had done something wrong, throw it away, and vow never to try this horrible pattern again! And this is heartbreaking because you have done nothing wrong! This is how it is supposed to look. Really, it is. The problem is not that you have done it wrong; the problem is that you are simply not finished yet.

Through the application of a little water, some pins, and time, you will end up with this:

Lovely blocked swatches
Lovely blocked swatches. See how flat they lay?

Isn’t that worth a little time and effort? And, if you’re using a natural fiber with memory, such as wool, these results are semi-permanent, at least until you wash it again. It’s kind of like setting your hair with a blow dryer or curling iron.

There are three types of blocking: wet, steam and spray/spritz. The method you use depends on the fiber(s), the item you are blocking, and your personal preference. These swatches were wet blocked, which is my preferred method. Generally, the item should be blocked in the same way that it will be cleaned. Be sure to consult the ball band for your yarn to see the manufacturer cleaning instructions. Natural fibers respond very well, although it should be noted that some become more fragile when wet, so they must always be supported and not allowed to dangle to avoid permanent stretching or breakage (I’m looking at you, silk). Be especially careful not to apply steam or high heat to acrylics (they melt!); know that some novelty yarns don’t take kindly to water.

There are many excellent blocking tutorials on the web that will tell you exactly what to do. Here are two from an ancient blog by Eunny Jang that I think are especially helpful:

See here for an overview of blocking.

See here for a post about blocking lace.

 

What is your favorite blocking method?

 

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My Designing Journey (Part 1)

For many years, I knit strictly from patterns. Most of the time I used exactly the yarn the pattern called for, too. I had neither the interest in designing my own, nor the first idea how to start, even if I had. This all worked out well enough until my friend, Patrice, cajoled me into learning how to spin.

Patrice had learned how to spin many years before, but had moved on to other hobbies by the time I met her. One day, to Patrice’s delight, a friend gave her a spinning wheel that she no longer had a use for. I watched with some curiosity as Patrice struggled a bit to re-acquire the muscle memory needed to spin. It all came back to her, and pretty soon she had joined a spinning guild (yes, despite the medieval sound of the name, such things still do exist) and was happily making yarn. I continued to watch warily—it looked hard to do.

The next time my birthday came around, she gave me a beautiful Bosworth hand spindle and a big bag of roving. I thanked her for it, but wondered what in the heck I was going to do with this thing. I would be lying if I said that all went well. It took several tries before I was able to make a pleasing yarn, but by then I was hooked on yet another fibery obsession. Several months later, I bought a spinning wheel and started making lots of yarn of my own.

And therein lay the problem.

I was making all of this beautiful yarn that I wanted to knit with. However, none of the patterns I could find seemed to be just right. Since this yarn was so precious to me, I did not want to knit just anything with it. So I started modifying the not-quite-right patterns, and from there it was a short leap to designing my own simple patterns from scratch. At first, I wrote them just for myself. They consisted of a few scribbled notes on the back of an envelope, or whatever scratch paper was handy. I was lucky if I could decipher it well enough to make a second hat, scarf, or doll just like the first. It takes a lot longer to make yarn than it does to knit with it, so pretty soon I had run through my stash of handspun and was back to using commercial yarns.

By this time, I had discovered Ravelry and noticed that many people were trying their hand at writing knitting patterns. I realized that I already had most of the skills and all of the equipment needed to produce professional patterns from my real job as a consultant designing data collection forms for the pharmaceutical industry. So I started small and opened my Ravelry shop with a couple of patterns for doll clothes. They met with modest success, and I have been slowly adding to them ever since.

Next post: Things get serious…

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Why do I knit?

Or sew? Or spin? After centuries of having to obtain their clothing the hard way, people figured out how to get machines to do the tedious work for them so that now, in 2014, they can live perfectly well without ever having to pick up so much as a piece of thread. Growing fiber, processing it into yarn, and then knitting or weaving it into fabric used to take up a lot of almost everyone’s time and attention, so when they didn’t have to do it anymore, most people were happy to stop. But a few of us knit on, to the amazement of those who do not. They wonder why we waste all that time and money on knitting when you can just go down to one of those ubiquitous big stores and buy a sweater made in a factory and imported from Somewhere Else for $19.99 (or $16.42 with a coupon)?

I was lucky to have a mother who enjoyed knitting. She grew up in a little town on the Canadian prairie during the Depression, when knitting and sewing were still considered essential skills to have. After she grew up, she moved to Los Angeles to get away from the endless Canadian winters. Though many aspects of my childhood in sunny California were very different than hers had been, she taught me to knit when I was about eight years old. Oh, how I remember that meandering swatch of chocolate brown yarn on those shiny red metal needles! Every row had a different number of stitches, and sometimes they would get so tight, I couldn’t budge them with my sticky little hands. I would give the whole mess to my mother, who would sigh and then patiently sort it out for me so that I could keep going. Somehow I persevered long enough to learn the basics, but I didn’t get bitten by the knitting bug until high school.

Unfortunately, this was the late 70s, when polyester and acrylic were king. It’s hard to believe now how difficult it was to find a natural fiber anywhere. But we knit on through the 80s and 90s. We would often go to our local yarn shop, pick out a pattern that we both liked, then each pick a different color of the same yarn to make it. We spent many a happy evening knitting together.

I stopped knitting for several years while I was launching my career designing data collection forms for the pharmaceutical industry and while my daughter was very young, but I returned to it when she was a toddler and haven’t stopped knitting since. When she was about eight years old, I taught her to knit. I’m proud to say that she, too, has been infected by the fiber bug. My mom is no longer with us, but as my daughter and I shop for yarn and knit together, we still feel her presence in the magic circle of yarn that binds us together.

So why do you knit?

 

Patrice Wrap

This pdf pattern can be purchased through Ravelry (you don’t have to be a member to purchase)

Combining a modern linear “striping” sequence with a traditional Shetland lace edging, the Patrice Wrap is a gossamer rectangular stole, perfect for dressing up a party frock for a summer wedding or any festive occasion.

Started with a provisional cast on, the wrap is knit using a simple elongated garter stitch pattern, then bound off by working the Cat’s Paw edging. Finally, the cast on stitches are bound off in the same way. The reversible and easily memorized garter stitch lace patterns are written out, as well as charted. Instructions include an option to add beads to the edging for a bit of extra sparkle.

Patrice-08

 

Patrice-07

Yarn: 880 yd [804 m] of lace/2 ply yarn.
Shown in Knit Picks Alpaca Cloud™ (100% Baby Alpaca), 1.76 oz/50 g, 440 yds/402 m: 2 skeins #26765 Beth.

Gauge (blocked): In Elongated Garter pattern stitch, 18 sts = 4“/10 cm and 20 row pattern repeat = 3.25“/8 cm

Needles: Size 8 [5 mm] or size needed to obtain correct gauge.

Notions:

  • Spare circular needle cord or waste yarn for provisional cast on
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch markers (2)
  • Row counter and locking stitch marker (optional)
  • US Size 11 [1.1 mm] steel crochet hook or dental floss threader for placing beads (optional)

Finished Size (blocked): 66” wide x 18” high [168 x 46 cm]

Patrice-01

Techniques Used:

  •  Knitted Cast-on and Provisional Cast-on over spare circular needle or waste yarn
  • Decreases: k2tog, ssk, k3tog tbl
  • Increase: M1(make 1), yo
  • Knit, double-wrap knit (elongated stitch)
  • Slip 1 with yarn in front
  • Place bead on a stitch using crochet hook, dental floss threader or other tool then knit the st (optional)
  • Elastic Bind-off

 

This pdf pattern can be purchased through Ravelry (you don’t have to be a member to purchase)

Also available through Knit Picks and LoveKnitting.com

Report from the TNNA 2016 Winter Trade Show

In January I attended the TNNA 2016 Winter Trade Show in San Diego. TNNA stands for The National Needlearts Association, which is a trade group that encompasses all of the fiber-related businesses. Membership is open to professionals only. I had joined a few weeks earlier, so this was my first time attending the show. It was a busy and exciting three days.

On Friday I drove down from L.A. in time to help Jill Wolcott of Jill Wolcott Knits check in the garments for that evening’s fashion show. I had never met her before, but a few days before the show she had put out a call asking for help. She was delightful, and we had fun while we received and organized the garments. It was great to get a sneak peek and see them up close, although it got very busy, so I didn’t have time to stand there and admire them. The items were new designs, often in new yarns, that the yarn companies wanted to spotlight. After the show, they were usually featured prominently in each company’s booth on the show floor, so there was an opportunity to see them later.

In the afternoon there was a new member meeting, where we got some nifty swag and a lovely welcome, immediately followed by Sample IT!, which was a small pre-show in a very crowded room, where we had the chance to buy sample kits and products in small quantities at special show prices. I showed enormous restraint and only picked up 3 skeins of Baah Manhattan in Burmese Ruby and 1 skein of Ancient Arts Reinvent in Kismet. I have some special plans for all of this, but won’t say anything more about it just yet.

Photo of San Diego Convention Center
The San Diego Convention Center, where the TNNA 2016 Winter Show was held.

At this point I met up with Arenda Holladay, Executive Director of TKGA and Celia Cahill, a fellow TKGA Master Hand Knitting Committee member. We went on to the fashion show, and then to dinner, where we were joined by Committee member Christina Hanger. I had met them last July at the TKGA convention, and it was fun catching up with everyone.

The show floor opened on Saturday morning, and our little TKGA group fanned out and looked through the booths for new items to be featured in a video that we shot for Cast On magazine in the afternoon. In the past, these items were highlighted in the magazine, but due to the publication schedule, they didn’t appear until the Fall issue, by which time of course, they were no longer new! Arenda, Celia and Christina did a wonderful job interviewing the vendors about their new products. The video isn’t up yet, but will be soon.

Photo of entrance to the TNNA show floor
We entered the show floor through these doors.
Photo of large display of the design process.
This was a large display showing the design process from call for designs through publication.
Photo of yarn display
This display shows the colors of the year and the yarns that use them.

That evening there was a meeting for members of the Business & Creative Services Group. These are all of the people like me, who provide services to the industry, but who are not retailers or wholesalers. I have come into this organization in a time when there has been a changing of the guard on many levels of TNNA, so many things are changing. The leaders of this group laid out the plans for the next year or so along with their hopes for the future to build the community of artists and create opportunities for interaction and education. I’m looking forward to seeing how things grow.

On Sunday I spent the day talking with vendors and participating in a scavenger hunt put on by the Yarn Group. This was great fun. The idea was to visit all of the booths on the list and get them to initial their spot on the form. They often had a prize for participating, which ranged from something as small as a packet of stitch markers all the way up to a full skein of yarn. It was a wonderful icebreaker because it gave me an excuse to approach each vendor and have a little conversation about the hunt. At the end of the day there was a Yarn Group meeting, in which we learned about new ideas for the Yarn Group.

In all, it was a very worthwhile event. I met a lot of interesting people and returned home with several skeins of lovely yarn that will become future designs. I’ve already worked a couple of them up. But I can’t show them to you yet. Sorry for the dim, after-hours photos. I was so busy during the days that I forgot to take more interesting shots!

From Inspiration to Pattern: The Forest of Stars Wrap

Sometimes people ask me where I get ideas for my designs. The rather unenlightening but true answer is, “It varies.” Much depends on what I call the “entry point” (meaning the initial seed that gets things rolling).

It may be that I find myself drawn to the color and/or texture of a particular yarn. Sometimes I see a stitch pattern that is so compelling that I must find something to do with it. Other times, I have an idea for a garment and then have to figure out the yarn and stitch pattern that will make it come alive. Yet other times, I may be responding to a submission call from a magazine or yarn vendor who may be asking for designs with specifications for any or all of these design components. Today I am going to talk about the extremely rare case where a design was directly inspired by a single image.

Submission calls often include a “mood board,” which is a device editors use to convey to the designer what they are looking for. Also used in interior design work, it can be literally a board with actual things like tile samples, paint chips, photos, fabric scraps, sketches, knitted swatches, yarn samples, etc., actually glued, taped or pinned onto it, although these days they are more often than not virtual Pinterest boards.

Last year I saw a submission call for an online magazine. I was very taken with one of the images they had pinned to their mood board. I repinned it to my board so I could study it. It’s the one of the circle of trees and a star-filled sky. If you click on the image below, you can get a better look at it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Just beware the Pinterest vortex or you may get sucked in and never find your way back!

Follow Carla Pera Designs’s board Forest of Stars on Pinterest.

Glad to see you found your way back and are still with me!

I had decided that I wanted to design some sort of shawl or wrap. The thing I had in mind would best be made with a light-weight yarn. I didn’t want to go too fine, so settled on a fingering/sock weight. I found some promising stitch patterns and had some yarn of the right weight, so I started swatching with that.

Yes, I hear the groans. Everyone (but designers) hates swatching! That’s because swatching means something slightly different to designers than it does to knitters. We don’t see it as a tedious chore that should be done before embarking on that exciting new project because the swatch is how we embark on that project. We use it to test out the yarn’s qualities and how it interacts with stitch patterns, decide which needle size to use, determine how the color sequence is going to work, and evaluate potential cast ons, bind offs, border, and edge treatments. We even wash and block the swatches to see how they will look when the piece is finished. In short, we make a mini version of the final project so that we can evaluate the drape and hand of the fabric and decide if it is going to have all of the qualities that we are seeking in order to realize the project we have in our heads.

One of the swatch colors was completely wrong, so I knew that this wasn’t going to be the actual yarn I would use, but the weight was close enough that I was able to try out some stitch pattern combinations. I found one that was very tree-like for the lower portion, and a lacy one for the sky. On a whim, I added some beads from my stash to evoke the stars. After studying the large swatch I had made, I decided that I wanted to keep the garment shape a very simple long rectangle, which would make it more of a stole than a shawl. The stitch patterns lent themselves to this shape very well, so I made the decision that it would be knit from the bottom up, along the long edge, rather than the more common side to side construction. This would make the rows much longer than usual, but there would also need to be fewer of them, which is a plus in my book.

So far I was very happy with how things were going. The next step was to find the right colors. I searched through the panopoly of yarn suppliers, and discovered just the perfect colors in a merino and silk blend yarn at Knit Picks. You can see the skeins if you dare to venture back to the Pinterest board.

When the yarn arrived, I made a quick swatch to confirm that the yarn was going to behave as expected. It did. I forged ahead with the remainder of the process for getting the pattern ready for sale. I won’t go into that because it’s not very interesting to read about.

It turned out exactly as I had hoped. The tree pattern creates a lovely scalloped edge along the bottom; knitting it in long rows makes the fabric drapey, and the length makes it stay on your shoulders and arms. The I-cord bind off is stretchy, yet substantial so the wrap keeps its shape, and the little beads add a touch of sparkle without also adding too much weight. It’s long, swingy and fun to wear!

When it was finished I thought that Knit Picks might like it enough to accept the pattern for their Independent Designer Partnership. They did, which means that if you would like a one-stop shop for this exact yarn and the pattern, you can find it at Knit Picks.

The pattern is also available from my Ravelry shop. Note: you do not have to be a Ravelry member to buy the pattern.

Don’t feel obligated to use these colors! While they are my literal interpretation of the original image, there is no reason why you can’t use others; it’s also lovely in a single color. The beads offer other possibilities for making this your own. You can choose bead and yarn colors that blend for a subtle look or that contrast to make a bold statement. If beads aren’t your thing, you can leave them out entirely.

So that’s the story of the Forest of Stars Wrap. If you make one and post a photo somewhere, let me know. I’d love to see your interpretation.

Luxury Spinning

Frequent readers of this blog will know that a few weeks ago I attended the Knit and Crochet Show in San Diego.

You may recall this photo of the loot I acquired while there. If you look closely, at the head of the bed you can see a rather mysterious bundle of fiber braids. I bought these from Carolyn Greenwood of Greenwood Fiberworks. She had a lovely little space set up at the far end of the marketplace.

Whenever I attend such an event, I always make a circuit (or two or three) of the entire floor to survey the riches laid out for me. As a designer, I appreciate that these small business owners have made a great deal of effort to travel to the show with all of their wares, and that they are away from hearth, home and business while they are there. These are people who I want to support, and I wish that I had unlimited funds available to buy something from all of them. But, since I don’t have such funds, I must choose my purchases carefully. So, having trawled through the hall a couple or three times, I see what has caught my eye. If I keep going back to something, then it means that’s what I’m going to buy.

Photo of roving bundle
Greenwood Fiberworks Hand-Dyed Roving Bundle, 50% yak and 50% silk in the Twilight colorway.

Carolyn had yarn and spinning fibers in unbelievably beautiful hand-dyed colorways. I looked at the yarn, but kept finding myself drifting to the wall of spinning fiber. In particular, there were five braids of different colors bundled together. The fiber blend was 50% yak and 50% silk. It looked and felt divine. I immediately fell in love with the Twilight colorway.

Now, it had been about a year and half since the last time I had spun anything, and I already have a rather large stash of unspun fiber. I certainly didn’t need to get any more. Well, let’s face it, I have the same situation with yarn, and that has never stopped me from buying more, so why start now?

Anyway, I noticed that she had a lace stole hanging on the wall that she had knit from this fiber using a different colorway. What really appealed to me were the delicate transitions between the colors. I asked her how she did it. She explained that she had stripped each color in half lengthwise, then spun two singles yarns using the same color sequence for each. When the singles were plied together to make a two-ply yarn, she made sure the colors didn’t exactly line up, and the parts where each ply was a different color created the beautiful blended transition zones.

As soon as she said this, I had to buy it and try for myself. Shortly after returning home, I set up my wheel and got to work.

Bobbins of singles yarn
The singles yarns waiting to be plied.

I had about 5 ounces to work with and wanted to spin a fine laceweight yarn, so I knew that I would have a lot of yardage to contend with. I decided to make two smaller skeins instead of one large one. This proved to be a good decision because very large skeins become unwieldy during the various stages of yarn preparation. The fiber was delightful to spin, although probably wouldn’t be good for a beginner. The silk fibers are long and lustrous, and the yak fibers are little clumps of soft black that underlie and deepen the vivid colors of the silk.

Photo of two skeins spun from a silk/yak blend
The finished skeins. Clearly there is more yarn in the teal skein than the magenta.
Photo of two skeins of handspun yarn
My yarn, ready for its close-up.

It took several days to spin and a couple of days to ply, but here’s what I have now. I’m not sure what I will do with it.

Originally I had planned to follow Carolyn’s lead and make a simple rectangular stole in a quiet stitch pattern that would make the colors shine, but I ran into a small problem. You know how, as knitters, we are advised to periodically check our gauge as we are working on a large project? And how most of us don’t do it? Well, there’s a similar thing that goes on with spinning because there are all sorts of things that affect the grist of your yarn (the ratio of length to weight, usually expressed as yards per pound). When you are spinning, the thickness of the final yarn depends on how many fibers you are twisting together at a given time–if you twist a lot together, you will get a thick yarn; if you twist a few together, you will get a fine one. So, just as with knitting gauge, grist is affected by how much tension you are feeling, how rested you are, how much you are paying attention, the air temperature and humidity, the stickiness of your hands, the color of the dye, how much yarn is on the bobbin, etc. Every time you sit down to spin, and even over a long spinning session, these conditions can change. So, if you are a spinner who is interested in making a consistent yarn, you are supposed to periodically stop and compare your yarn to a reference sample that you make at the beginning of the project. If the new yarn is different, you need to adjust your wheel and/or your technique to compensate.

Did I do this? Yesssss, at first. In fact, I did that throughout the teal bobbin and when I got started on the magenta one, but then I got a bit casual about the whole thing and stopped checking. The result is that the teal skein is finer than the magenta skein (240 yds vs. 158 yds, with both skeins weighing 73 g). I suspected this might have been happening at the time, but I just kept spinning.

They are not so dissimilar that it will be very apparent once they are knit up. The only reason this is a problem is that the rectangular shawl I had in mind would look best with approximately symmetrical amounts of each color throughout the piece. Because there is much more teal yarn than magenta, I think my sense of symmetry would be offended if I tried this plan. So I will have to design another shape where that yardage imbalance won’t be a problem. Stay tuned. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

I had another chance to feel oh, so au courant when I opened up the Fall 2015 issue of Spin•Off magazine and found this exact same fiber being featured on their “Get This!” page. For those of you who might like to spin this for yourselves or to check out her hand-dyed yarn, contact Carolyn Greenwood. The Greenwood Fiberworks shop can be found here.

Memories of The Knit and Crochet Show San Diego—Part Two

As I mentioned in this post, I attended The Knit and Crochet Show in San Diego last month. Here is the view from my hotel room. Not bad!

This post will describe the classes I took, which were all first rate. Warning: while they were intensely interesting to take, they didn’t produce much that was interesting to look at. Still in full-on Master Knitter mode, I signed up for a lot of technique classes that required smooth, light-colored, worsted weight yarn (in short, exactly the same yarn that is used for most of the program). However, I will show you what I learned:

The mini sleeve from Margaret Fisher's set-in sleeve class.
The mini sleeve from Margaret Fisher’s set-in sleeve class.

I took 2 excellent classes with Margaret Fisher. For “Demystifying Set-in Sleeves,” we pre-knit two finished pieces that simulated mini front and back pieces that formed an armhole when sewed together, and a partial sleeve. You can see in the photo the line formed when I blocked the sleeve while on a stitch holder. During class we used two methods to calculate the height of the sleeve and that rate of decreases that would be required to fit into the little armhole. One of the methods used the Pythagorean Theorem. Huzzah! A practical use for geometry! I had heard of this method before, and was relieved to find that it made sense to me. The other method, which used a ruler, was preferred by others in the class.

Photo of inside of mini sleeve
The inside of the mini-sleeve. We used a contrasting thread to sew the seams.

Once we had calculated the needed rows and rate of decrease, we knit the sleeve head and then sewed it into the armhole. We used a contrasting thread to do the seaming. As you can see, one of Margaret’s tips is to sew each side with a different piece of yarn, working from the underarm up to the shoulder seam. If you need to make adjustments, they are easier to make and less visible. I am happy to report that my sleeve fit perfectly and no adjustments were needed. Yay!

Photo of zipper application.
Front of zipper. We only had time to sew in one side during class.
Photo of back of zipper application
The back side of the zipper. My stitching could be a bit neater!

The other class I took from Margaret was called “Zip, Button, Tie: Creative Closures.” Again, a great class. We brought two swatches that simulated the two fronts of a cardigan, and sewed in a very short zipper. In order to save class time, we only sewed one side, which is helpful because we can see how the pinning is done on the side that wasn’t sewn. I probably could have done a bit neater job of sewing if I had had a little more time, but I was pretty happy with the result. We also knitted various types of buttons and tie closures. Some people had brought crazy yarns that made really interesting stuff. Sadly, I only brought my white wool so my photos aren’t that interesting.

Photos of knitted buttons.
Buttons formed by working over a ring and a wooden bead.

I took two classes with Gwen Bortner, but there was no knitting produced because one was about the business side of the knitting industry and the other was a collection of what Gwen calls “knitting hacks,” which are tips and tricks to help improve, speed up or simplify knitting. The class included a full color booklet full of photos and clear descriptions, which will be handy for future reference.

Photo of yarn bits
Not much to show from Patty’s class.

The class I took with Patty Lyons was called “Improve Your Knitting Technique.” I hesitated to sign up for this because it was labeled as a beginner class, but then my brain said, “Hey! It’s Patty Lyons!”

What sets her classes apart is that she has a deep understanding of all knitting methods and styles that she has obtained from years of careful observation. She explains not only how to create a stitch, but also why creating it that way may get a better result for you, depending on your knitting style. Plus she has such a wealth of funny stories about teaching people to knit that I could listen to her all day. In fact, I mostly listened and didn’t really knit anything. The photo shows what I had done by the the end of class.

Photo of short row sampler swatch
Right side of the short row sampler from Suzanne’s class. I haven’t blocked this, so it looks a bit rough.

My very last class was called “The Long Version of Short Rows” with Suzanne Bryan. What an amazing class! We covered so much in such a short time that my head was buzzing a bit by the end. During class we knit this lovely sampler where we made short rows using the turn only, wrap and turn, wrap and turn with concealed wrap, turn and yarnover, Japanese turn (with pin), and German turn methods in stockinette, reverse stockinette and garter stitch fabrics. Whew!

Photo of wrong side of short row sampler swatch
Wrong side of short row sampler. Notice the pin used to create the Japanese short row is still attached.

If you are ever lucky enough to get the chance to take classes from any of these excellent teachers, be sure to do it! You won’t be sorry.

Memories of The Knit and Crochet Show San Diego—Part One

This time last month I had just returned from San Diego, where I had attended the Knit and Crochet Show, an annual convention put on jointly by The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) and the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA). It was the first time that I had gone to this show, and it was a wondrous experience. Also a bit strange because I had been asked to join the Master Hand Knitting Committee a few weeks before the conference, so I found myself in the position of being a newbie with backstage access. Several times I answered the call to help the event staff prepare for one of the events, having no idea what to expect since I had never seen it before. It turned out to be a great way to get to know my fellow committee members.

So what, exactly, happened at this knitting convention? The first day was devoted to the Master Hand Knitting Program. There were different tracks for different audiences, ranging from people who are thinking about entering to people who are working on one of the three levels to graduates. Committee members made presentations on subjects ranging from the basic (gauge, yarn selection, blocking, cast ons and bind offs) to the advanced (using spreadsheets to size patterns and getting designs published). People who are working in the program were encouraged to bring their swatches for informal evaluations from committee members. I spent most of my time that day watching this, which was great training for my upcoming committee work.

The next three days were filled with classes, shopping in the marketplace, fashion shows, and meeting new friends.

On Friday morning, I received my Master Knitter pin, along with most of the people who had achieved this status since the convention last year (sadly, a few of the graduates couldn’t make it). The day ended with a yarn tasting event. The theme was Fiber Fiesta, and amid the piñatas, maracas, nachos, and sombreros, each person collected 40 tiny balls of yarn that had been hand wound by dedicated committee members. While we sampled the yarns, we watched a fashion show featuring many of them. The evening ended with each person receiving a bag of several full skeins from the very generous sponsors.

I came home with all of this good stuff! Note all of the tiny balls of yarn from the Yarn Tasting event.
I came home with all of this good stuff! Notice the tiny hand-wound balls.

Here’s a photo of all the loot I came home with. Some of it came from the yarn tasting and some of it was acquired from the delightful vendors in the marketplace. My only regret was that I didn’t have enough money to buy things from all of them.

I will write about the classes I took in my next post.

To sum up the experience, I will say that, thanks to the hard work of the committee members and event staff, it was a great success. I made many new friends, learned much and had lots of fun. It was actually a little hard to exit the knitting bubble and return to real life when it was all over.

Master Knitter at Last!

The very exciting news this week is that, as of June 25, 2015, I am officially a Master Knitter. It took 27 months to the day for me to accomplish this goal.

In looking back over the journey, I feel very proud of my efforts. Before I started the program, I had been knitting for about 35 years, or so (why yes, as a matter of fact, I was a young child when I learned to knit, thank you) and I was a good knitter. I thought I was a great knitter, but now I know that I was not. I knew what I knew, but there were vast holes in my knitting knowledge and technical abilities.

I remember picking up my needles for the the very first swatch I worked for Level 1 and thinking it was going to be a piece of cake. It was a very simple stockinette stitch square with one ribbed edge made of plain white worsted weight yarn–something I could do in my sleep. With my eyes closed. My plan was to quickly knit up this boring swatch and move on to more interesting things.

Photo of Master Level 1, Swatch 2
The final version of the Level 1 swatch, in all it’s glory.

In fact, I think I ended up knitting this one swatch at least 5 times. Wait, what? Five times for that simple thing? Why was it suddenly so difficult? Because, maybe for the first time ever, I was taking a very close look at what I was doing. In that plain vanilla yarn, there was no place for the tension problems to hide. Because this is a self-study program, I had to do research to find out what was causing my problems and how to fix them. I cannot imagine doing this program in the pre-internet age. Of course, the classic books are still very useful, but it is so much easier to see someone demonstrating a technique on video than it is to read a series of illustrated steps.

Photo of rejected swatches
I had to knit almost all of the swatches for Level 1 at least 3 or 4 times before I got one that I considered worthy of submitting. Here is the pile of those bad swatches. It’s pretty big. Notice that I rejected the first project mitten, too.

It would prove to be the first of many Level 1 swatches that had to be knit several times before I got one that I considered acceptable for submission.

Anyway, flash forward to today. I have learned so much from this program, and probably the biggest lesson I have learned is that there is always more to learn. I now consider myself a very good knitter, but there is always room for improvement.

As always, I did not pass on the first try. I was expecting this because I knew from the first two levels that the committee will notice when you don’t quite have the technique down, and they will guide you to that last little thing that makes all the difference. I have learned the most from working on the resubmits for all three levels.

I was very relieved to see that all of the larger works (reviews, reports, hat and sweater) had passed. I needed to rework 4 swatches and several questions and tweak a couple of patterns. I was able to turn it all around within one week.

One of the four swatches that didn’t pass was the doily that I wrote about in this earlier post. The committee felt that the knitting was too loose for the yarn weight, which caused the lace pattern towards the outer edge to be indistinct.

Photo of rejected Swatch 19
Rejected Swatch 19. Notice the various colored threads marking incorrect stitches.

During the review, the various members mark incorrect stitches with threads. As you can see from the photo, there were several. Finally, the committee recommended a more aggressive blocking to bring out the pattern.

So I made a third doily, using smaller needles. As I was blocking it, I realized that I had made a very obvious mistake in several places of one row. One of the challenges of this pattern is that, because it is knit on a set of three double-pointed needles, you can’t stretch the piece out, which means that you really can’t see what you’ve knit until you have bound off at least half of the stitches.

There was nothing else to do but start over. I am happy to say that, in this case, four times was the charm because it passed without any threads and the single comment, “Beautiful.”

Photo of Final Swatch 19
The fourth and finally accepted Swatch 19. Notice how much more crisp the stitch patterns are due to the smaller gauge and more aggressive blocking.
Photo of Swatch 18a
Curse you, duplicate stitch! This was the last piece to be accepted.

Everything in that resubmit package passed except for the cursed duplicate stitch swatch. I had missed a critical aspect of the technique, so I had to submit another swatch, which finally did pass. Now I know how to do duplicate stitch correctly, and I will not forget!

So what else do I get for all of this work? A pin and a certificate to show the world that I am a Master Knitter. But, most excitingly, these are given in a ceremony as part of TKGA’s annual knitting convention. This year it happens to be in San Diego, which is about a 2-hour car ride away. I will be attending my first TKGA convention to receive my pin in person. I am looking forward to meeting many of the committee members and other Ravelry friends who have helped me get to this point.

And the final thing that I have received is an invitation to sit on the committee, which I have accepted. So my Master Knitter journey will continue, but now from the other side of the binder!

TKGA Report: Level 3 Sweater Finished!

After weeks of researching, swatching and designing, I was finally ready to start knitting.

The sweater was begun by knitting a bit of the band that would go across the back, then a bit of the band that would go across the front, and then joining these pieces together to form the saddle. When this piece was half as long as the back width, all of those stitches were put on holders. The other saddle was constructed in the same way, except that, because the bands were started with provisional cast ons, those live stitches were used to knit the bands in the opposite direction. Confused yet? Normally each band would have been knit in one continuous piece, but the bobbled stitch pattern had a very obvious directionality to it, and I felt it would be more interesting to have the flower bouquets mirrored across the center line. Here’s how the entire yoke looked when completed:

A photo of the sweater yoke.
Here is the completed yoke. Notice how the stitch pattern on the bands is mirrored across the center.

At this point, body stitches were picked up along each lower edge of the yoke and worked to the length of the armhole. All of these stitches were placed on yet more holders.

A side note about stitch holders: this pattern uses a lot of them. At this point, there were 4, and they were holding a lot of stitches. I used long cables from my interchangeable needle set instead of waste yarn or the safety pin type holders. I prefer this method because, when the time comes to start working with those stitches again, I can just attach the appropriate sized tips and start knitting without the need to perform tedious transfers of stitches back to the working needle. I often use this trick when doing a provisional cast on (i.e., I cast on over a spare circular cable rather than over a piece of waste yarn) for the same reason. But I digress.

Getting back to the sweater, it was now time to address the sleeves. I had decided to knit them in the round, and to place the decreases on either side of the center panel that continued down from the saddle. Janet Szabo discussed this in Aran Sweater Design. Placing the decreases here, rather than along the “seamline” gives the sleeve a better fit. In the end, I was happy with this decision, but I think this turned out to be the most difficult part of the knitting because the filler stitch pattern has to be adjusted each time there is a decrease. Even though it is a simple stitch pattern chosen because it is small (a multiple of 2 + 1 stitches over 4 rows), I kept messing it up and having to rip it back! The problem was that when I got off pattern, the shift in the pattern did not become evident until after a few more rows were knit. Then it became blindingly obvious. Blindingly. So out would come the needle, then rip, rip, rip. Eventually I learned to spot the errors sooner, which reduced the ripping. Somehow I made it down to the cuff of the first sleeve and breathed a huge sigh of relief because it looked nice and had worked out to the length that I wanted, which meant that I had correctly calculated the decrease rate. Yay!

The second sleeve went much faster, thank goodness, because I was really tired of working on sleeves. Here’s how it looked at this point:

Photo of completed upper body of the sweater.
The upper body and sleeves are complete, and now it’s time to start knitting the body in the round down to the hem. Notice the square armhole of the peasant sleeve, which fits better than a true drop shoulder, but not as well as a set-in sleeve.

From there, I started working the front, back and armhole stitches in the round, down to the hem. Because I was already familiar with the stitch patterns from working on them prior to the sleeves, this part went relatively quickly and without incident, even though this was the biggest swath of fabric.

Since this was a seamless construction, the only finishing work was to weave in the ends, pick up stitches along the neck edge and hem with a contrasting color and then bind off with the I-cord bind off. I really liked the way that the I-cord neatened the edges without resorting to the traditional ribbing that would normally go there and provided a little pop of color to make things more interesting. I had briefly considered using this treatment on the sleeve cuffs, but decided that the ribbing really was a more practical choice.

Photo of the finished sweater.
The finished sweater.
Photo of yoke detail.
In this closeup you can see how the stitch patterns work together.

It was not enough to simply design and knit the sweater. The program also required a written pattern, so the next thing was to finish putting that together. I had been trying to keep the writing more or less current with the knitting, but there was still a lot of cleanup work to get to the final pattern. I prefer to work from charts, but I know that other people prefer to work from written instructions, so I always include both (unless it’s colorwork, such as Fair Isle or intarsia, where written instructions don’t really work). I found that I had used 10 different stitch patterns, all of which had to be proofread and cross-checked between the written and charted instructions. Tedious work, but done at last. Hopefully the committee will agree that it was done correctly, and it will pass.

The final step was to name it. Normally, a name comes to mind while I’m in the early stages of designing, but this one was just “The Sweater” while I was making it. I finally decided to name it Noltland, after a castle that stands on the island of Westray in the Orkney Islands. It had been built by a notorious ancestor (on my mother’s side) during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. I remembered visiting the now roofless ruin during a trip to see the old country with my parents, brothers and aunt many years ago. Good times.

Report from Vogue Knitting LIVE! in Pasadena

The weekend befpre last I attended two classes and two lectures at Vogue Knitting LIVE! in Pasadena.

I had discovered several months ago that it was going to return to the Los Angeles area, but I was disappointed because I didn’t think that I would be able to go due to prior commitments. Not really knowing why, I made a note in my weekly planner anyway, then forgot all about it.

Flash forward to two weeks ago when I turned the page on my planner and saw the note. Imagine my joy when I realized that the things I had planned to do on Friday and Sunday had fallen through and I was now free to go! I immediately went to the website and signed up.

On Friday I attended a lecture on “Knit to Flatter” by Amy Herzog. Wow! Even though I have to confess that I have already taken her Craftsy class and own her book on this very subject, she is such an enthusiastic and engaging speaker that the hour flew by and left me wishing for more.

Photo of front of vertically stranded cable swatch
Front of vertically stranded cable swatch. This is a one-stitch cable pattern.
Photo of the back of the vertically stranded cable swatch
Back of vertically stranded cable. Notice the absence of horizontal floats.
Photo of front of vertically stranded cable swatch
Another cable pattern with vertical stranding.
Photo of the back of the vertically stranded cable swatch
Back of another cable pattern. No horizontal floats!

On Sunday morning I took a class on vertically stranded colorwork cables with Lorilee Beltman. She adapted this unusual technique for adding color several years ago after trying to knit a Rovaniemi mitten pattern from Piecework magazine that used a traditional Finnish technique. She found it kind of awkward and fiddly, so she came up with her own variation on the technique. It’s a bit like a one- or two-stitch wide intarsia, except the twisting rules are different. What you end up with is a hit of color without the restrictive floats of Fair Isle or the bobbins of intarsia.

Here are the swatches we did in class. They give you a clue about how this is done, but essentially you are carrying a single strand of yarn up and working it into the stitch pattern as you go. As you can see from the first swatch, variegated yarns yield very interesting effects. Please overlook the wonky tension on the swatches–this is definitely a technique that improves with practice. Devotees of the Master Hand Knitting program may recognize the yarn I brought to class. It was leftover from my Level 3 work. It filled the criteria of being smooth, light colored, worsted weight yarn, so I thought it would be perfect. And it was. However, as I was binding off the second swatch, it suddenly occurred to me that I have not officially passed that level yet, and therefore should not be assuming that this yarn is leftover! I felt like Linus in the pumpkin patch when he was caught saying “if the Great Pumpkin arrives.” Note to any committee members who may be currently reviewing my Level 3 binder: I solemnly swear that I am not assuming I will not need to re-knit swatches with this yarn. Should I need to re-knit any swatches, there is still plenty left. (Whew!).

I plan to explore this technique in my own work very soon. If you are interested in learning about it, Lorilee has more information on her website.

After class I had a very few minutes to dash across the convention center and peep into the marketplace. They were having a fascinating panel discussion with some well-known designers who were talking about their design inspirations, but I couldn’t linger because I was off to my next lecture. It was called “10 Mistakes Designers Make—And How to Avoid Them!” by Trisha Malcom, Vice President and Editorial Director of Vogue Knitting magazine. Talk about getting it straight from the horse’s mouth! It was an enlightening hour hearing about the design submission process from the other side of the inbox.

Photo of buttonhole swatch
Buttonhole practice! The lower two rows are one-row buttonhole variations. The third row is a three-row buttonhole and the top row is a four-row buttonhole. Notice the bigger they are, the messier they look.

Following the lecture, I had to rush off to my last class, which was called “Buttoning It Up” with Catherine Lowe. Yes, an entire class just about buttons and buttonholes! I know that probably sounds terribly dull, but I had studied buttonholes for Level 2 of the Master Hand Knitting program, and I had picked up her book, The Ravell’d Sleeve, during my studies. I knew from reading her book that she was a very exacting and technical knitter. Her aesthetic is summed up by her name for her business, which is Couture Knitting Workshop. Her work is elegant, refined, and so precise that she developed her own line of unique yarn that is custom made to the customer’s order.

Catherine began the class by telling us her thoughts on buttons and buttonholes. She told us how she hates traditional buttonholes because they are always ugly. She told us that she never makes them. She told us that she never sews buttons directly onto a knitted item. She told us that she makes two sets of tiny buttonholes on each edge of the garment, then sews her fashion button to a backer button using a thread shank so that they function similarly to a cufflink, with the backer button doing all of the work of being pushed through both layers from the outside in, while the fashion button just sits on the outside and looks pretty. No need to make huge, gaping, ugly buttonholes to fit buttons that are never going to pass through a hole.

All. Minds. Officially. Blown.

She then showed us how to make the most elegant buttonholes that are so small, you might have trouble finding them, but work just fine with a small backer button. The technique is not very difficult, and all along each table, as people finished their buttonholes, there were gasps and exclamations of “Love this!” and “Amazing!”

She imparted much more wisdom to us, but I will leave you with one other gem from Catherine: never use polyester thread because it will eventually cut through the yarn fibers. Always use cotton or silk to protect your projects.

I came home from the convention with my head full of new ideas. As I was glancing through my copies of the latest knitting magazines, I felt très au courant when I saw that there is an interview with Catherine Lowe and a pattern in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of knit.purl and a featured page and pattern from Lorilee Beltman in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Vogue Knitting. Not bad for a last minute sign-up!

TKGA Report: Level 3 Sweater Continued

Having chosen my yarn and my construction method, the next step was to sketch out the design. The wide saddle construction dictates that the sweater will be seamless and knit from the top down. It begins with the bands that go across the upper chest and back, which are then joined to form the saddle. The sleeves are formed and then the body is knit down to the hem. I wanted to have a bit of shaping through the midsection, but I wanted to accomplish that with ribbing, rather then with changing stitch counts. Here is what I had envisioned:

Pencil sketch of the sweater design concept
Concept sketch.

This gave me the general road map; now I needed to fill in the details. Armed with a list of the various stitch patterns that I would need, I pulled out all of my stitch dictionaries and went hunting. Much swatching ensued. Weeks of it. Eventually I settled on these patterns for the body:

Front of swatch
Front view of round swatch of various stitch patterns.

Back view of round swatch
Back view of round swatch

This turned out to be quite a large swatch. It consumed an entire ball of yarn and was knit in the round. I felt that it was important to see large areas of the stitch patterns and how they would work and flow together. I had ordered three colors of the same yarn, with the intention of picking the best two. I loved this green, but I knew immediately that it would be too dark for the committee, so I used it for my swatch. I also took the opportunity to try out the I-cord bind off in the contrasting yarn and was quite pleased with the effect.

On the back view, you can see me working out the filler stitch. The filler stitch is the one that goes on the body and sleeves outside of the cable sections. Its purpose is to simplify designing for multiple sizes because it is far easier to change stitch counts on these sections than on the cabled areas, where you can’t alter the stitch counts without messing up the pattern. This filler stitch is called the Offset Rice Stitch in one of my dictionaries. I selected it because it is very simple and small–a mutliple of 2+1 stitches over four rows, two of which are knit. When I was knitting the swatch, it was a little poufy for my taste, and I noticed that I liked the “wrong” side better. You can see at the lower edge I experimented with using that as the right side. I was certain that was what I wanted to do until I blocked the swatch. The poufiness melted away and left a very subtle texture that I now preferred to the obvious regularity of the other side. Which proves the point I made in an earlier post–always block your swatch!

You can also see that I was experimenting with using a phony seam of 2 stitches in reverse stockinette to break up the filler stitch. I had read that this technique was often used with ganseys, to keep the garment from developing a bias and twisting around the wearer. I also liked the look of it and decided that I would use this.

At the same time that I was working on this swatch, I was working on a separate one for the top bands. I had decided that this was where I wanted to place the bobble pattern. I will confess here that I am not a big fan of bobbles, and if it were up to me, I would have left them out. It isn’t so much that I don’t like making them. Because I had taught myself how to knit back backwards (which I had to do for the entrelac swatch) these are a lot easier to make than they used to be as I no longer have to turn the entire work several times in order to make each bobble. It is more that they are just too 3-D for my tastes. A few go a long way, but it is difficult to work them into a regular stitch pattern without ending up with way too many bobbles! Because the bands form a relatively small part of the sweater, it seemed a good place to corral those pesky things. Finally I settled on this combination:

Yoke detail
A detail from the sweater yoke

While I had been working all of this out, I had a feeling that I had seen some aspects of this design somewhere before. It finally came to me, and I dug out my ancient copy of Alice Starmore’s The Celtic Collection, which I hadn’t looked at in years. There I found her Kilronan. I sighed as I thought, not for the first time, about how there is nothing new under the sun. I decided that there are enough significant differences between the two that it is fair to say that the original inspired my design, but I did not copy it. I included the reference in my list of resources that is included in the pattern and decided to press on.

Using the swatches, I calculated the amount of yarn I would need and ordered my yarn. It was now time to begin the daunting tasks of writing the pattern and knitting the sweater.