Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Upcoming online classes: Math for Knitters

Next Thursday, May 19th, I'm doing the first of a two-part webseminar series on my favourite topic: Math for Knitters. This first one is all about project and pattern math: yarn substitutions, checking gauges, and tricky instructions in patterns like "increase evenly across" and "reversing shapings".

The second part is about garment alterations and adjustments - including what to do if you can't match gauge - and runs June 9th at 1pm.

Both webseminars are recorded, and if you can't attend live, you can watch/listen to the recorded version, at your leisure. For more info and to register visit this webpage.  It's $19.99 to attend live or on-demand, and if you enter the discount code MATH4KNITTERS you'll get a discount on the registration!

You don't have to be good at or love math to attend - precisely the opposite, in fact. My approach is to teach you where numbers can help, and some basic calculations, but just as much to tell you how to avoid doing it if you don't want to. I know not everyone loves spending time doing arithmetic, and even if you do love math, chances are you'd still probably prefer to be knitting than calculating...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Feel Good Sock Yarn summer sock club: 3 exclusive colourways and patterns

I designed a pair of socks for the summer issue of Knitty with Feel Good Silverspun sock yarn. This yarn was new to me, and I loved it. Normally, I’m all about wool-based sock yarns, but I know very well that there are those who can’t do wool, and those who seek a cooler solution for warmer climates. It’s cotton and elastic, with the addition of a little bit of sterling silver, which is antibacterial and therefore reduces the inevitable “whiffiness” of cotton socks worn in canvas sneakers. (It can’t just be me that suffers from smelly summer feet? Can it?)
I loved the yarn so much that I agreed to design three pairs for the Feel Good sock club.
Without spoilers, there are three summery designs - one quite ladylike, a pair of sneaker socks, and something a bit more fancy (but not fussy).
The yarn colours are terrific, too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Austin Texas Knitting & Crochet Guild Workshop Weekend: April 9 & 10

April 9 & 10 I'm in Austin Texas, teaching a weekend's worth of classes for the guild there. I'm very excited about this, not least of which because I've heard such wonderful things about Austin.

The organizers have let me know that they have some spaces left for non-members. The cost of the weekend is a very wallet-friendly $100 - it's generously subsidized by the guild.

There are two full days of classes, 9am to 4pm, and the fee includes lunches and drinks and snacks. Yes! I know!

Saturday April 9 classes:
Designing your own custom fit socks
Soxpertise - Everything you wanted to know about Socks but where afraid to ask

Sunday April 10 classes:
Fixing mistakes in lace
Fearless Finishing

Class will be held in the classroom at Me & Ewe, 4903 Woodrow Ave.

Even if you're only interested in one day's classes rather than both, I'd love to see you, and I'm sure the Guild would love to meet and host you.

For more info, please contact the Guild, or drop me a note through my website and I'll put you in touch.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Upcoming Teaching Engagements

In addition to regular slots at Yarns Untangled and The Purple Purl, these are my out of town gigs in the next little while.

Saturday January 30th: Linda’s Craftique, Port Credit, Ontario 
Top Down Socks 101 and Finishing
Weekend of Feb 13 & 14th: Shall We Knit, Waterloo 
Fearless Finishing, Continental Knitting, Sock Fit Master Class, Stranded Colourwork
Weekend of Feb 20 & 21st: A Yarn Story, Bath, U.K.
Custom Fit Socks, Math for Knitters, Pattern Writing

Sizing and Fit, Intro to Design

Friday March 4, Saturday March 5th: Purlesence, Newbury, Oxford, U.K.
Brioche, Fixing Mistakes, Sock Knitting Master Class

Saturday March 19: Linda’s Craftique in Port Credit, Ontario 
Classes TBA
Thurs March 31 - Sunday April 3: YarnFest in Loveland, CO
Friday April 15-Sunday April 17: Soxperience Retreat, Chincoteague Island, VA

Saturday April 30-Sunday May 1: Toronto Knitter's Guild Frolic
Yarn Shopping Bootcamp, Pattern Writing, Continental Knitting, Blocking and Fibre Care
Thurs May 5 - Sunday May 8: Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival
June 1-5: Squam Arts Retreat 
Sock Master Class
Cable Knitting Master Class
June 18-19: Shall We Knit, Waterloo 
Classes TBA
Sept 30-Oct 2: KnitCity, Vancouver 
Classes TBA

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Back to Bath! A Yarn Story, possible beer drinking

Very happy to say that as part of my UK trip in February, I'm going to be making a few shop visits...

The weekend of February 20 and 21st, I'm back at the lovely A Yarn Story in Bath, to visit Carmen and friends. I'm teaching Custom Fit Socks, Math for Knitters Part 2 (alterations and adjustments) and Pattern Writing.

More details, and registration here!

Although thinking of convening a impromptu knit-night at The Bell Inn, which has been recognized by CAMRA as one of the 2014 pubs of the year.

Real ales, real yarn, real friends. What's not to love?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

New Sock Design: Sidekick Boot Socks & KAL

New sock pattern in the Winter Knitty: Sidekick boot socks.
They’re a pretty standard toe-up sock to start, in a lovely fingering weight yarn from SpaceCadetCreates, Ester but things get interesting around the heel…
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of sock yarn. And as you may not, I have rather a weakness for ridiculous variegated yarns. This design helps me with that particular “issue”, in that a double-stranded heel and leg use up some of that sock yarn! (In addition, the double-stranded heel wears better.) And the double-stranding of a sensible yarn with a ridiculous yarn tames the colour changes down, and makes the whole thing nicely marled and interesting. 
image title
The reversible mistake stitch rib pattern on the leg was inspired by Sequence Knitting, an absolutely fantastic book. If you’re at all interested in stitch patterns or design or textured fabrics, you need to look at this book. The stitch pattern I chose is stretchy and squishy and warm and nice, and being cleverly reversible, makes an excellent cuff folded over the top of your boots. Make them long enough for whatever boot length you wear... Because the ribbing pattern is very stretchy, you can make longer-than-usual legs without any faffing about with calf shaping. (Not that I'm against calf shaping, but sometimes you don't want to do the math.)
The good news about this design, too, is that the socks go faster than conventional socks, with a smaller stitch count and a larger gauge on the leg.

Full credit for the double-stranded heel and leg idea goes to friend-of-the-show Lynne Sosnowski, who helped me out of a sticky design dilemma with her brilliant simple and simply brilliant suggestion.
Naturally, they come in multiple sizes, and the pattern is written to be worked on your choice of DPNs, magic loop or two circulars.
And the lovely people of SpaceCadet are running a KAL in their Ravelry group, starting on Boxing Day. More details here!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Lithuanian Knitting", the book

As I wrote in May, I worked with Donna Druchunas and her writing pattern June Hall, on their book "Lithuanian Knitting".

My copy arrived this week.

Although I'd seen the book in digital form, I was bowled over by the printed copy... It's not just a book of knitting patterns - although the patterns and projects for socks and mittens and gloves and wristwarmers are all gorgeous. The book weaves together (pun very much intended) the history of a country and personal histories of its two authors and and an exploration of a fascinating set of regional knitting techniques. Need a gift for an armchair-traveller? This is it.

And the details are wonderful:

I adore the end-papers (click to enlarge to see it in its full glory)

and the little sketches at the foot of the pages.

There's lots of gorgeous photography of Donna and June's travels around Lithuania, and knitting projects old and new.

Learn more about the book (and order your own copy) here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Design: The Dunrossness Hat

UPDATE: Kit available for purchase!

I've been working on a book of mitten designs, and part of that process is spending hours combing through stitch dictionaries looking for inspiration and design ideas.

In one of my favourite colourwork books, I kept coming back to this terrifically elegant and classic Shetland pattern. I knew it wasn't going to work for the mitten I had in mind, but I loved it so.

When a package of grey and white yarn arrived at my front door, it seemed like divine intervention: a two classic colours, one skein of each... just enough for a hat, and two lovely contrasting colours.

And here is the hat that resulted: Dunrossness. Named for a town in Shetland, it's classic in every way, right down to the pompom on top. Why mess with the perfection of a colourwork hat with a generous pom-pom on top?

A kit is available for purchase here, and you can enter here to win a free kit.  Contest closes midnight tonight, November 16th, and is open to everyone - if you're a Craftsy member already, use your login credentials. If you're not a member, you can still enter (just don't forget to uncheck the box if you don't want to be added to the mailing list).

(Although, a word to the wise: late-night pom-pom making is not something I'd recommend. Ask me how I know.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the "Normal" Heel Turn

I gave a presentation at the Toronto Knitter's Guild last night, and I talked about (amongst other things!) sock heel.

A woman came to me after the presentation and asked me why I didn't do a "normal" sock heel. I laughed a little - I knew what she meant. There are lots of heel turns, some newer and some traditional.

The heel turn I use is known variously as a German, Dutch, band or square heel. 'Band' or 'square' are good names for it, as it creates a square under your heel. The thing is, it's not the most common - perhaps not the "normal" one this knitter was used to seeing.

Band heel - in miniature

I choose this one for two reasons: it's easy to work, AND it's easy to resize. It's easy to work, in that you're always working the same number of stitches back and forth in the middle, and always placing the decrease in the same place each time. I find that helps me keep track of where I am, and reduces the need to count.

There is another popular heel turn, called the "Half Handkerchief" - chances are you've encountered this one before. It creates a little triangle shape under the back of the heel. It's easily identified by the fact that on each heel turn row, you work one more stitch each time after the decrease. It's always "knit a few stitches, ssk, k1" on the right side, and "purl a few stitches, p2tog, p1" on the wrong side. (There's also a variation called a Round Heel that works the same way - the difference between the two is just how many stitches are in the center at the back, and therefore the shape the results - is it pointier like a folded handkerchief shape, or is it more round.)

Half handkerchief

Round heel
These both fit nicely, too.

And these turns are utterly interchangeable. I like mine for the two reasons that I mentioned above, but if you prefer another, you can certainly use that in my patterns.

And indeed, that's what I said to this knitter: if you like a particular heel turn, then it's easily substituted. That's one of the great things about sock knitting: you can combine elements from other patterns.

(There are some limitations, in that both of these heels are flap-and-gusset-heels; if you want to substitute for a short-row or flapless heel, a little bit more work is required, but not a lot.)

And hey, if you like my favourite heel, you can use that in other patterns, too.

Update: Christine asks a sensible question, below...
I've found that they have slightly different shapes. With you saying that they're utterly interchangeable, I assume it's just placebo effect that makes us think that one fits better than the other? 
Yup, they are different shapes, as per the pictures above. And yup, they do fit a little differently, it's true. But the fit difference - for most people, for most feet - isn't all that noticeable. When I said "interchangeable", I meant that in the patterns you could chose to work one in place of the other, with no larger effect on the pattern. The point is that you can find one you like best - in terms of working and wearing and fit - and use that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The "Better Elsewhere" Collection

If you’re a sock knitter, you like to buy sock yarn. But sometimes the “sock” yarn isn’t right for socks: sometimes the yardage is too short, sometimes the colours don’t work out, sometimes it’s just too pretty (or too much fun) to hide.

I offer a solution: three not-too-challenging garter-based wrap patterns, designed specifically for showing off socks yarns that might be better used elsewhere. These aren’t delicate precious lace pieces, they’re intended to be worn casually, every day.

Somewhere Wrap: Instead of mis-matched socks, show off the entire colour progression in a full skein of gradient yarn in this sideways shawl. Simple lace and easy short rows, explained thoroughly – suitable even for beginner lace knitters.

There There Shawl: Why waste those colours you fell in love with on the insides of your shoes? Tame that wild variegation in a triangle shawl with a little-known garter stitch variation and enjoy all that colour as a frame for your face, or a way to brighten up your dark winter coat.

Nowhere Cowl: Yardage too short for adult socks (Noro Silk Garden Sock I'm looking at you) is perfect for cosy and stylish neckwear. The lace pattern is easy to work and memorize, and the pretty results can be worn as a traditional scarf or seamed into a cowl.

They're all easy knits, suitable for working on during stress-full baseball games, or election night TV. And I bet you've already got some suitable yarn in your stash...

The collection of three patterns is available for $7.50 on Ravelry, (and soon on Patternfish and Craftsy).

Many thanks to Meredith Sexton and Anne Blayney for their help with the photos. Meredith for her wizardry behind the camera, and Anne for her willingness to dress like me for a day...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Book Review: Short Row Knits

Being a knitter of a technical bent, I rather like a good short-row. Short rows are useful for turning corners, for shaping shawls, and for adding bust shaping. (And if you've ever taken a garment sizing or alterations class with me, you'll know that I am very pro-bust shaping.)

I was very happy to get my hands on a copy of Carol Feller's new book, Short Row Knits.

It's a great combination of technique and pattern book. If you're looking for a guide to short rows, how to work them, and what to do with them, look no further. If you're looking for a nice combination of accessories and garments that are shaped in interesting and intelligent ways, this is an excellent choice.

I use short rows in a number of my own patterns, and I teach the technique in a few classes, and over the years it's become pretty clear that short rows often inspire confusion and fear. But as with many techniques, the problem is mostly because of how patterns are written. Not because the designers and pattern writers are doing a bad job, but they're surprisingly hard to describe and explain. Once you know how to do them, they're easy, but they can be tricky to learn. There's an added complication because there are so many different ways to do them: wrap & turn, Japanese short rows (turn and pin), German short rows (yo and turn), and even for these different techniques there are variations. (I had have some very lively discussions about the order of the steps in wrap and turn: move the stitch or the yarn first?)

I think they're also extra confusing because the purpose of the short-rows (and how they work to do what they do) isn't addressed or explained.

Carol's instructions are clear, precise, easy to follow - and entirely straightforward. She cuts through a lot of of the clutter and confusion, explaining not only how to work short rows, but why, and how they work. She explains the theory and the practice, in a way that is entirely accessible.  She explains the different methods, and how to work them, how they work, and how to change between them in a project. She addresses using short rows to create interesting shawl shapes, and to add bust and ship and hem shaping to garments.

And to make it very practical - because not everyone enjoys learning knitting
techniques for purely academic purposes! ;-) - she includes a variety of projects that use the techniques, for different effects. There's shaped shawls and a sideways hat and flattering garments worked in different ways, all with smart shaping.

I'm particularly fond of the Riyito sweater, pictured at right. A lovely shaped hem and a really nice shoulder line. Enlarge the picture by clicking on it, to see the details.

She also includes two sock patterns, using a a short-row heel. Now, I'm not normally a fan of this method because in their standard form they lack a gusset and don't fit very well, but Carol understands fit, and has created two very nice gusset options for better fit.

Carol's book is an excellent addition to the technically minded knitter's library - and to the library of any knitter who enjoys a nice collection of patterns.

Find it at your favourite LYS, or order it from one of the usual online sources.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New Pattern, Old Design: Spider Hat v2.0

The funny thing about this hat is that I really am NOT a fan of spiders. There was one on the bathroom floor the other morning and it very nearly put me off having my shower. I often have to get Norman to deal with the spiders.

But I do enjoy an interesting cable pattern, and it turns out that this interesting cable pattern happens to make a spider...

Way back in the dark ages of 2008 or 2009, I designed a hat that used the Spider motif from Barbara Walker's treasury of charted knitting patterns. (The yellow one.)

It was one of my earlier pattern efforts, so the pattern itself wasn't great, the photos were awful, and I never properly launched it.

After a few nudges from persistent knitters, I thought it was time to relaunch. I updated the chart so it was a bit easier to read, I improved the fit and the decrease, and with the help of some excellent people, got much better photos. And taking my own advice - with the help of my Twitter friends - I've given it a better name... "Genus Araneus".

The two-colour cuff is a nice touch, but entirely optional. Uses less than 200 yds of a DK weight, with a few yards of a CC if you want. Suitable for knitters with experience working in the round, and working cables from charts. The chart is a little bit challenging, but not terrifying.

$5USD download, available from Ravelry, Patternfish, LoveKnitting and Craftsy.

Thanks much to E. and R. and a certain handsome young man for help with the photos.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sock Knitting for Beginners Online Class

UPDATE: We've shifted the start date to accommodate my travel and some other administrative things. Will now be starting October 14th.

If you haven't knit socks before, or are a newer sock knitter looking to build your skills, you might be interested in my upcoming online Sock Knitting for Beginners class, coming in the second week of September.

The class is a sort of modern correspondence course, run using Interweave's Craft University platform. It is a slightly different animal than many online classes. It's not a video class, it's not a lecture class - it's like an old-school distance learning class. There are lessons in the form of text, video and pictures, of course. And there are patterns and handouts and lots of reference material included. The platform's main feature focuses around discussion forums. And the class is all about that: discussions for learning. It's the next best thing to an in-person class. Through the discussion forums you can ask me lots of questions, and I can provide detailed real-time answers. When we've run this before, it's been an excellent way for me to give real-time feedback on your questions: students can ask text questions, but also upload pictures of their work, and I can provide detailed answers - in text, in pictures, in video format.

You can get more info and sign up here.

If I may be so bold, students get the most out of the class if they work along with the material, and engage in the discussions. If you're just looking for a tutorial or lesson you can read through at your own pace, I can recommend a book.... :-) When we've run this class before, I've had feedback that it's been particularly helpful for students who have perhaps tried socks and have had technical issues, or are uncertain about whether their skills are up to scratch, or are just looking for help problem-solving, and a bit of hand-holding.

If that's you, this class is for you! It starts October 14th  September 8th, and runs for a month.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Custom Socks: And it's out!

Thursday August 13th was the official release date for my Custom Socks book. The response has been terrific already - I'm grateful for enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, and on external websites.

I love Rohn Strong's perspective, as a crochet designer.

Felicia of Sweet Georgia has lovely things to say.

And the Knitmore Girls confess to being a little worried about the math, but generally are into it.

In one of those lovely coincidences, yesterday I also received a Ravelry message about my Socks 101 article on Knitty. Published ten years ago, in the Spring 2005 issue, this is what kicked this whole thing off for me. Although a little cruder - and with my trademark truly awful photography - the message is the same: sock knitting is fun, and socks should fit well. Even then, I was using the same basic recipe, although I was firmly on the side of Top Down at the time.

My perspective is a little broader these days: I go both ways, and I'm absolutely over my fear of stranded colourwork (I didn't mention that, did I?).

Thanks to everyone for supporting me, and buying the book! If I can dispell one knitter's fears about sock knitting, if I can make one knitter more confident about sock knitting, if I can make one pair of feet happier in their handknit socks, I figure I've achieved my goal.

By the way, I've started a Ravelry group. Come and join me! It will be a good place to ask questions, chat with me, learn more about what I'm up to. I thinking of doing a KAL for one of the book socks: what do you think?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Custom Fit Socks Launch Events & Webseminar

So much sock stuff going on at the moment... it's all very exciting.

If you're in Ontario, there are two launch events coming up you might be interested in: the evening of Thursday August 20th at The Purple Purl, we've having a bit of a party and class. And then Saturday August 22nd we're having a whole day of classes, activities and shenanigans, with special guests including the madpeople of Indigodragonfly.  The Shall We Knit team is VERY good at Shenanigans.

If you're not in Ontario, don't feel left out!

Wednesday August 19th, 1pm Eastern Time, I'm doing a webseminar on the topic of Custom Fit Socks. A nice adjunct to the book, I'll be talking through my custom-fit sock pattern formulas, and easy ways to customize them for particular fit needs.

As with my other webseminars, you can listen live or wait and listen to the recording at your leisure. The great thing about attending live is that there's always time for a Q&A at the end. If you've got questions about the book, or about my sock formulas, this is a good opportunity to chat with me.

Register at the link above.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fall KnitScene: Featuring me. Twice.

I know, I know: this probably reads like humble-bragging, but I promise it's not. It's amazement and gratitude and maybe a teeny-tiny bit of what feels like unseemly pride.

Any knitter who reads the magazines knows the thrill of perusing the latest issue of a knitting magazine. And there's something special about the fall magazines. Fall is the knitter's favourite season: the promise of cooler weather and being able to reintroduce our favourite pieces into our wardrobes. (Although my commiserations for my friends in the UK who have been wearing sweaters a fair bit this summer.)

And so my copy of the Fall 2015 Knitscene arrived, and I did what I always did: eagerly flipped through it, for ideas and inspiration and to learn about new designers and new products and oogle the eye candy.

And oh yeah, and then bam: there's my name. TWICE.

As is always the case when you write a book - well, particularly when wordy-ol'-me writes a book, you write too much, and stuff needs to be cut. In this case, we had to cut two designs - the Prewitt slipped-stitch colourwork sock, and another one about which more news later.

I was a little sad to see these designs go, as I'd worked hard on them, and was proud of both of them.  But the lovely Amy Palmer came to my rescue: she likes a good sock design, and was happy to take one of the orphans on and publish it in her magazine, KnitScene.

The no-longer orphaned Prewitt Sock.
And so there it is, in the pages of KnitScene. Not lost at all! I love this sock, as it's a great way to introduce a bit of interesting colourwork into your knitting, without driving yourself insane. In my classes, I like to call slip-stitch colour knitting 'the cheater's Fair Isle', as you get the same effect, but with much less stress. You work with multiple colours, but only one at a time. Love it. And this pattern stitch is one of the easiest you can do. I like the faux-plaid effect. File under that rare but important category of "manly-but-not-boring".

But wait there's more!

This issue of KnitScene introduces a new column: Pattern Play. And guess who's writing it?!

As a teacher, I know that one of the biggest challenges knitters have with patterns is in reading them. Knitting patterns are written in their own (sometimes arcane and mysterious) language, using strange notations and abbreviations. Learning to knit is one thing - a thing for which there are classes and books and all sorts of online resources. But reading patterns is an entirely different skill. And it's a skill for which there are relatively few resources. This column aims to rectify that. In the first one, I talk about how to read the yarn information in pattern to make sure you're buying the right type and quantity of yarn for your project. In future issues I'll explain what the fuss is about gauge and what it actually means; I'll explain common pattern writing conventions, how to read schematics and charts and all sorts of goodness. I hope that knitters find it helpful!

If there's a topic you'd like me to cover, let me know!

Print edition; digital edition.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Custom Socks: The Actual Socks

I spent a lovely time this week setting up the sock projects from the book on Ravelry. It was nice to be able to see them all again, and to be able to make them 'official', y'know?

There's a mix of easy-going and spicy, there's some lace and cables and colourwork. Some are top down, some are toe-up, and some go both ways. I'm open-minded. Knit socks however you want.

The 2015 version of my Basic Ribbed Sock. The pattern offers both top down and toe up versions.
Carpita. Very easy colourwork, I promise!
Harcourt - the pattern offers both top down and toe up versions.
Lindisfarne. Toe up. Yeah, I know, you don't like doing colourwork. I don't care. This one is totally worth it.
Man of Aran. Both top down and toe-up. Go whichever way you want!
Marpleridge. Simple but not boring. A good texture sock; both top down and toe up versions.
Oh, Valencia! Top down, Estonian Lace.
Secrets & Lies. Cables & Lace.  Merino & Cashmere.
Wellesley. Top down and toe up. Cable left and cable right. Go your own way.
Wellington Road. Top down, left and right cables. 
Jarvis. Toe up. Clever lace. 
Fitzcarraldo Knee Sock. Toe up. Maybe a little crazy-making, but very show-offable.

But note that the book isn't just about the patterns. The patterns are only half of it. The rest of the book is about sock fit. More on that in the next blog post...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Vintage Shetland Project; On Cutting a Set-in Sleeve Cap

I've been a fan of Susan Crawford's work for many years. After reading about it, I tracked down an early edition of her legendary first book, A Stitch In Time, and devoured every page, reading it like a novel. Susan isn't just a designer: she's a knitting historian and anthropologist. Her specialty is updating, modernizing, translating, adapting vintage designs for modern knitters.

There are two volumes in the Stitch in Time series, and they are both absolutely wonderful. If you're interested in the history of fashion and knitting, then they are must-haves. Susan takes original vintage designs and creates modern patterns for them, with updated yarn and patterns, while still utterly honouring the original concepts and designs. The first volume covers 1920-1949, and the second book has designs from 1930 to 1959.

But Susan's latest project is even more exciting. The Vintage Shetland project isn't just about patterns: it's about knitted pieces. With the help and support of Carol Christiansen, textile curator at the Shetland Museum, Susan has researched 25 hand-knitted garments and accessories from the 20th Century which are held in the Museum's archives. Susan has studied the pieces in detail, recording their construction stitch for stitch then creating patterns from them. The patterns are all fully modernized, with multiple sizes, detailed  instructions and technical advice and illustrated with beautiful colour photography shot in Shetland.

I'd be keen to see this project published regardless, but I'm even more keen because I'm involved. Susan has enlisted me to be the technical editor on the project, and I'm honoured to be part of it.

I recently had a chance to chat with Susan about some of the technical aspects of this project.

KATE: Did you have patterns for any of the pieces, or were you working only from actual completed samples? Would the knitters have been working from patterns, or not, do you think?

SUSAN: I worked directly from the pieces themselves in all cases, reading each item stitch by stitch, row by row. It was a time consuming process but revealed a lot about each of the items as I studied them. Shetland knitters tended to work from their own hand drawn charts. Many knitters would have had the same charts as each other but as a rule each knitter created their own book of hand drawn motifs to work from. However as the items I have chosen reach the late 1950s/early 1960s I believe there are one or two of the pieces which may potentially have been adapted from commercial patterns.

Many of the garments are ‘variations' on standard stitch patterns. For example there is a beautiful sleeveless evening top in a laceweight wool with delicate beading around the neck which uses a slightly adapted version of the ‘Print of the Wave’ pattern. Another garment uses the ‘Fan and Feather’ stitch pattern as the basis for a very stylish and fashion conscious sweater.

KATE: Did you encounter any techniques or technical solutions that were puzzling? Did anything you find in the techniques or constructions surprise you?

SUSAN: Oh yes, several. From a beret made using a combination of vertical fair isle strips interlinked by horizontal shaped stocking sections to set-in sleeves with apparently no shaping, there were many technical puzzles that I found myself needing to unravel. The ingenuity and lack of conformity to the ‘standards’ we have retrospectively applied to Fair Isle techniques greatly surprised but also delighted me. It was very exciting to be allowed ‘behind the scenes’ of Fair Isle as it was developing and evolving. Many of the pieces used motifs that did not divide into the same number. For example one garment used a 34 stitch main motif, a 16 stitch peerie motif and a 7 stitch peerie motif. It was a real challenge to decide how best to approach this type of problem.

Susan at work; image copyright Susan Crawford.
KATE: What’s the process/what are the challenges in writing a pattern from a sample?

SUSAN: The process all took place at the Shetland Museum archive building a little way outside Lerwick (ed: the capital of Shetland). Gavin (ed: Susan's partner) and I would go and set up for the day with laptop, magnifier, shade cards, notepad, tape measure etc. I would make a brief sketch of the piece, a description and any particular design features, take its overall measurements, then note which colours had been used and cross reference the colours to our single digit alpha-numeric code. Gavin would set up a file on the computer and usually starting bottom right, away we would go... me reading out the code, Gavin recording it on the laptop: Motif A, Row 1: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, centre; Row 2: 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, centre. And so it would continue, slowly building a text version of each motif or pattern repeat of the piece, with each item usually taking several hours to complete. Away from the archive this code was then run through Gavin’s ‘Fair Isle Decoder’ programme. This incredible programme written by Gavin, converts our code directly into Fair Isle motifs. This of course is really just the start of the pattern writing process itself. I would now set about ‘rebuilding’ the garment from the measurements, recorded tension and the recreated motifs or stitch patterns. From this I would then set about ‘grading’ the pattern and creating a multi-sized version of each piece. The real challenges came from the non-standard nature of the original pieces. Highly unusual and inventive construction methods often paired with motifs that didn’t work together mathematically often didn’t lend themselves easily to multi-sizing but over a long period of time I gradually with the help of knowledgeable designer friends and amazing tech editors like Kate (ed: I'm blushing!), I began to produce well-crafted, coherent and intelligent patterns for knitters to use.

KATE: Are there any techniques/elements of the construction that you have chosen to update/”modernize”, or are you sticking pretty close to the samples?

SUSAN: My original plan and aim was to recreate the samples as closely to the originals from the museum as possible. It was very important to me that the recreations are as much like the pieces in the archive as they possible can be. ‘Modernizing’ in particular was not something I was looking to do. However, certain pieces had been knitted using very unique and non-transferable methods. What I mean by this is they used methods that didn’t lend themselves to being used in a pattern for other knitters to knit from. An example of this is a sweater from the 1940s which incorporated set-in sleeves and high set puffed sleeve heads. To achieve this, rather than work shaping at either side of the armhole steek, the knitter had knitted straight up to the shoulder line, joined the front and back shoulder stitches and then cut the shape of the set-in armhole that she required and then did the same with the sleeves. Imagine suggesting to anyone trying to knit this beautiful sweater from my book that they should simply cut the shape they think they are going to need out of the sides of their lovingly knitted sweater! (ed: indeed!!!!!!) So on occasions such as this, I have imposed standard construction methods to make the knitting process easier.

Susan has launched a PubSlush fundraiser for the project. Having recently self-published a book, I think something like this is a smart way to launch a book project: it's a way to fund the work and the printing, and gather preorders. This book has required a significant up front investment, too, in terms of travel and time.

If you want to get your hands on a digital or physical copy of the book, or even just one or two of Susan's beautiful patterns, you can do that here.

For the list of stops on the blog tour, visit Susan's blog. She's spoken about many different aspects of the project on different blogs and podcasts. I've thoroughly enjoyed following along.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

First Look at the Sock Book, with Bonus Kittens

News is spreading of the first copies of my book arriving, to those who placed their preorders.

(We're still officially in the pre-order window, so don't forget to drop me a note by email for your pre-order bonus: it's firstname dot lastname at gmail.)

I'll confess to being nervous. I'm happy with it, and pleased to have been able to share my research and knowledge and opinions and ideas... but I don't yet know if what I'm saying makes sense to my readers. Is the information useful? Informative? Is it presented in such a way that it makes sense?

I was very pleased to see my first "review" yesterday, in the form of a "live-tweeting" of a reading of the book, from CountingKat.

In order, both the good and the bad.

I'm happy with this! (Plus bonus kitten pictures.) Thanks for the feedback, Kat. Genuinely appreciate hearing both the pros and the cons. I am not a font geek, that's very true. I clearly need to learn more about.

Somewhat related: have you filled in my hand size survey yet?


This may be considered a small hint about what I'm planning next...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Socks Ed (giggle)

I've got a book coming out. It's about Socks. You might have heard... (Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm at risk of boring you. I refuse to apologize. This is very exciting for me.)

My very good friends at Shall We Knit are throwing me a Launch Party, Saturday August 22nd, and I'm ridiculously excited about it.

Titled (of course) Socks Ed, it's a fully day of feet-related fun. (Oh, not in a Quentin Tarantino sort of way. Don't worry.)

There will be demos & free mini-classes on a wide range of sock and sock-related topics, from me, and the excellent teachers from the Shall We Knit team: Lynne, Jen, Beth...
-how to properly measure your feet
-how to choose a sock size
-tips for hole-free gussets
-Judy's magic cast on
-Hexipuffs (because sock yarn leftovers)
-i-cord and other decorative touches

There's going to be a sock yarn swap, for remnants and orphans.

There will be games and prizes and books to buy - which I will gratefully sign! - and the usual types of Shall We Knit shenanigans.

But wait! There's more! Indigodragonfly's Kim and Ron will be there, getting up to their usual flavour of colourful fun, this time involving mason jars.

I'll say this about Shall We Knit events: I'm never fully sure what to expect, but I know whatever it is, it's going to be an excellent time.

Details here. Join us. You know you want to.

I'm also teaching a couple of sock-related classes the following day: Two Socks Two Circulars. Because Second Sock Syndrome is a very real problem. And Sock Fit Master class: I'll show you how to take your measurements and tweak a sock pattern so it fits perfectly.

Kim and Ron will also be running a full dye workshop that day. So even if you're not a sock knitter (But really, why aren't you a sock knitter? Sock knitting is fun and cool.) there's fun to be had.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Over t'Pond: Bath September 3, London September 5 & 6, Manchester February 28 & 29

I've got a ton of great teaching engagements lined up for this coming knitting season... Needle Emporium's KnitCamp up on a lake north of Toronto, KnitCity 2015 in Vancouver, some local shop visits, a trip to a shop in Western Mass. whose name you might know, and some other stuff which is soon TBA... but there are two in particular I'm very excited about:

First up, the first weekend of September, is the Yarn in the City event, in London. It's part of a larger event, the third annual Yarn in the City London yarn shop crawl. This year in addition to that event, the organizers have added a pop-up marketplace with lots of wonderful vendors, an indie designer showcase, and classes. With me! I'm teaching two half-day sessions, Introduction to Design and Pattern Writing. You can take both, or just one, depending on your interests and level. The classes are selling fast.

The Thursday before that, September 3rd, I'm taking a trip down to Bath to teach at A Yarn Story. I'll be teaching my Math(s) for Knitters class. This class is aimed at knitters who are confident (or getting there) with their needles and yarn, but less confident about dealing with patterns and gauge and all the tricky numbers issues that come up when working on a project. More details and registration here.

The second is closer to home for me. Very close to home, in fact. 11 miles from where I was born.

February 28 and 29th 2016 in Manchester, UK, I'm at the inaugural "Joeli's Kitchen Retreat". I'm teaching Introduction to Design and my Sizing and Fit classes.

More info and registration here. Move fast, as of this morning there were only 8 places left.

I'm very happy to be travelling back to the UK for teaching gigs. After all, it's where I learned to knit, where my knitting history began. My beloved Grannie Hilda lived in the Manchester area her entire 91-year life, and my attachment to that region is strong. (The food and beer are part of it, I'll freely admit. Parkin and Robinson's, please.)

But all that aside, even if the events were in a part of the world I didn't know and love, I'd be just as thrilled to go. I'm going to get  chance to meet so many of my knitting friends and colleagues and family. Through my tech editing work at Knitty, through my Pattern Writing book, through other book and magazine work, I've got to know a lot of people virtually, and I'm hugely excited about meeting them in person.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Stash

Stash. Boat. Whatevs.

Cruising through my stitch dictionaries a while back, I tripped over a rather lovely edging pattern, called Shark Tooth.

Never one to miss an opportunity for a ridiculous pop-culture reference, and as a nod to my husband's favourite film, I came up with a plan.

Mostly in jest, I asked Twitter if anyone could suggest yarn the colour and texture of a shark. Indigodragonfly Kim replied, in record time: not only did she have something, but apparently it's a standard part of their line: Sharktreuse.

I was hooked. (See what I did there?)

I had to design something Shark Themed.

Of course I did. A shark-coloured shawl, with the Shark Tooth edging. But that wasn't enough. Oh, no. It needed that certain something... a little extra design flourish. Something to take it beyond the usual. Beyond the normal... beyond, perhaps, the strictly sensible.

Yup. It's a shawl with a bite out of it.

Which resulted in this sort of thing going on chez nous...

Jagged Little Wedge. A Shark Tooth Shawl.

An excellent easy lace project – suitable for knitters with even the most rudimentary lace experience. Lace pattern stitch is both charted and written out, and it's very easily memorized. The optional simple crochet edging adds an extra something. If you want to be a bit more subtle – or aren’t skilled with a crochet hook – just skip it.

Or don't skip it, and wear the piece wrapped snuggly around your neck, tucked into your jacket collar: no-one needs to know it's there but you.

I used one skein of indigdragonfly's Octobaa DK weight - about 250m. The heaver-than-usual yarn means it's a fast project, and has a little more heft and drape than the usual shawlettes.  And a few grams of a blood red for the crochet edging.

And indigdragonfly are helpfully selling yarn and pattern kits, which include one skein of Sharktreuse, and a sufficient quantity of blood red for the edging.

Pattern available for $5 on Ravelry, Patternfish and LoveKnitting.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Come to Camp with Me & Indigodragonfly Kim

I went Camping last year, and I survived. In fact, I liked it so much I'm going to do it again this year.

It's not just any camp, though: it's Needle Emporium Knit Camp. Held this year September 17-20 at Bayview Wildwood resort, just north of Toronto, it's a most wonderful weekend away.

The surroundings are stunningly beautiful. The food and drink are outstanding. You're gathered together with lovely people - friends old and new - and there's games and merriment and a fashion show and fun. It's wonderful.

Oh yeah, and there's knitting. And yarn.

This year, I'm really excited that my partner in teaching will be Kim McBrien Evans of Indigodragonfly.

I'll be teaching Pi Shawl, and Continental Knitting and Yarn Knowledge. Kim is teaching Custom Fit Basics and her amazing Optical Delusion Scarf. And Julie is teaching linen stitch and a really cool class on IKat colour knitting.

There's also a small shopping event, in which you'll see some special Indigodragonfly colourways and kits. And my new sock book. I'll make sure that's there!

Join us!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

New Pattern: Lemon Difficult

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult.

Admit it. You’ve got one in your stash. That skein of one-of-a-kind limited-edition crazy-variegated sock yarn that you just couldn’t resist. The one with all the colours and the fast changes and the overall craziness. The one from the charming little indie dyer at the fiber festival. The one in the sale bin at the yarn shop with the hilarious name? The one you created by accident in a misguided home dyeing experiment?

Yeah, that one. This pattern is for that one.

In my case, it was this one: Western Sky Knits Aspen Sock in Rainbow Bright.

I adore these yarns, but they can be difficult to use. Very difficult. In socks, they create busy stripes that are messy and muddled. They resist lace patterns, and in garter they pool and create strange collisions.

Adding another, solid colour (in my case, black) calms things down a little, and using the crazy colour as the background to a two-colour brioche rib creates spectacular shadow and relief effects.

This pattern creates a slightly asymmetrical triangle shawl that’s smooshy and warm and easy to wear. Depending on how crazy that crazy skein of yarn is, you can create a true statement piece….

Or something that shows off a less bright but still busy colourway in a clever and subtle fashion. See the test knitters' projects on Ravelry to get a sense of how it looks in other combos.

Don’t be intimidated by the brioche: oddly, it’s easier to work in two colours than one, as it’s easier to see what you’re doing. These instructions are detailed enough that even if you’ve never tried it before, you will be able to manage it.  It does require a little attention, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not difficult. This isn’t necessarily TV knitting, but it definitely would go well with a good audiobook or podcast.

I've heard from test knitters that it's detailed enough that even total-brioche-novices can safely tackle it. (Heck, one of my testers informed me that until she started this pattern, she didn't even know how to increase.)

Click on this pic to enlarge and see the fabric up close. I think it's amazingly cool. 
The size is entirely flexible: you work until the piece is the size you want. I used 50gm each of two fingering weight yarns to get a piece 52 inches by about 22 inches, but you could go larger if you wish, with no pattern adjustments at all.

The pattern is available for download now, for $5, from Ravelry, Patternfish and LoveKnitting.