Monday, May 30, 2011

Busy; Technical Editing

I've been quiet here of late... been very busy with some technical editing. I am regularly blogging at the Knittyblog, as I hope you're aware?

The thing I've been most excited about from my discoveries for the Knittyblog is the Winchester School of Art Knitting Reference Library at the University of Southampton. (Go read the Knittyblog post for the background on this! It's very cool!) A selection of 19th century knitting manuals has been made available in PDF format for download - all fully legal.

I downloaded several - at first for sheer amusement value - I mean, honestly, how could I resist a booklet called "Ladies Work for Sailors". My perhaps slightly overactive imagination had fun trying to parse all the possible options.... were sailors expected to be doing work for ladies? Or the work of ladies? Or ladies doing work for sailors...

But once the amusement value wears off, these booklets are absolutely amazing treasure troves. They span 100 years of knitting history - from early 1800s to the early 1900s (whence my Sailor's work booklet came). There are stitch patterns galore, and instructions for all sorts of garments, fancy, fanciful and practical.

What's most interesting to me, as a technical editor, is the way the patterns are written. Some of them are more detailed, more precise, more easily followed than others... and it's interesting to see how standards of pattern writing shift over time.

The preface to the very first one reads... "Many practical patterns remain unused for the want of a few clear directions for working them."

Amen to that.

I spend a fair bit of my time working as a technical editor. I love this work, and it seems that it's just about the perfect occupation for me: I get to exercise my university degree in mathematics, I get to indulge my attention to detail, and I get to feed my need for consistency and style.

And really - that's what it's all about - making sure the directions are clear.

I'm a member of the technical editing team for Knitty, and have worked on a number of projects for Cooperative Press, including Silk Road Socks. My editorial role at A Needle Pulling Thread also includes technical editing responsibilities, and I've worked with several designers, too.

I've been asked more than once what a technical editor does, and why we're needed.

In short, technical editors make sure that a pattern works.

The first thing we do is to make sure the pattern is complete. Is there complete information on required materials - yarn, needles, notions, etc.? I just edited a pattern for a pillow cover, and in the materials list, it just said "pillow form" - but I know that pillow forms come in various sizes, so to help out the knitter I added information about the size required. Is there gauge info? Are there instructions for all pieces? (E.g. If it's a cardigan, are the instructions for all the pieces there?) Are the finishing instructions complete... ? And so forth.

And then we check the numbers. We check the stitch counts - making sure that math works.

And it's not just about confirming that the increase and decrease numbers are correct. We also check to make sure that the stitches given produce a piece of the expected size... and for a garment or item that comes in multiple sizes, we check the sizing. I ran into a sock pattern recently that proposed a foot circumference of 9 inches for a women's medium foot. The pattern was correct, but that isn't a reasonable size for a medium - that's a large or extra large, no question.

But I actually spend the most time thinking about readability.

I believe my experience in the IT industry,specifically as a technical writer, has provided invaluable perspective for this.

I tweeted a couple of weeks ago... "no matter how easy something is to knit, if the pattern isn't written to be beginner-friendly, then it doesn't qualify for "easy" rating". The instructions have to be clear, and they have to make sense, and they have to explain things at an appropriate level.

I have been known to get pretty worked up about this sort of thing...

For example, if your pattern says "Cast on 30 sts, work 12 rows in k2, p2 ribbing increasing 1 st in the middle of the last row", then that qualifies it as more difficult. It's easy to knit, yup, but that assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the knitter.

It assumes you know how to work (k2, p2) ribbing; it assumes you are comfortable keeping track of rows, it assumes that you know how and where to increase. All well and good for a more experienced knitter, but not so good for beginners. And that "increasing 1 st at middle of last row" - well, that's not just about assumed knowledge, but it also supposes that the knitter will read ahead.

For it to be beginner friendly, it needs to say:
Row 1 (RS): *K2, p2; rep from * to last 2 sts, k2.
Row 2 (WS): *P2, k2; rep from * to last 2 sts, p2.
Repeat rows 1 & 2 four more times, and work row 1 once more.
Row 12 (WS): *P2, k2; rep from * 7 times, p1, m1, p1, *k2, p2; rep from * to end. 31 sts.

This is one of the reasons I love teaching - I am reminded every week about what beginners find easy to understand, and what's challenging for them!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Creative Knitting Magazine July Issue: Slipper Suite

I'm very happy to announce that I have a design in the just-published July issue of Creative Knitting Magazine.

These slippers are an evolution of my Open House sock, with improved fit and different finishes. They are worked with fingering weight sock yarn, from the toe-up, using the very clever Judy's Magic Cast on, although they are mostly worked flat.

There are three different styles of edgings, and they are sized for women and girls.

An excellent solution for using up leftover sock yarn, and a very quick gift, too!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mothra Attacks!

A word to strike fear in the heart of any knitter: moths.

In short, if you see this guy, panic.

Since the spring weather has finally arrived, I decided to dig around in the bottom of my closet to get out some of my summer shirts, and put away some of our heavier sweaters.

I was moving things around, and spotted a little flying thing. A little flying thing that looked suspiciously like the one above...

And then one of its friends appeared.

And I knew. We had moths. Oddly, for a wool-obsessed knitter, they're not in my stash, but in our bedroom closet. We pulled everything out of the closet, took two giant armfuls to the dry cleaners, and threw everything else in the laundry.

While this was going on, I did a bit of research, thanks to Wikipedia and University of Kentucky Entomology department. Moths are scary for a number of reasons: they eat your clothes and particularly your wool, but they can also be quite difficult to get rid of without nasty chemicals. (If it was still winter, I could have just left everything outside - freezing works well.) We vacuumed the entire closet, all surfaces, and we did use an insecticide spray.

This would have been easier if it had hit my stash, since it's easier to package things up for freezing - or indeed cooking, as 45 mins at 120 degrees F also works - but it's a little harder with actual clothes.

We've got cedar strips in the closet now, will put in traps and will continue to monitor closely.

Now I'm just looking for someone with an ironing fetish to help me with the 50+ items waiting to go back into the closet...

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Reader Mail: 2.5mm needles - Which US Size?

A reader who purchased the Herringbone scarf pattern asked a question in the comments about needle size.

The pattern for the scarf suggests 2.5mm needles with the Noro Sekku.

The question:
I've got the pattern and I have the yarn! But... I need to purchase the needles and am confused. You have 2.5 mm listed. I get this warning when trying to order (Watch those US sizes! Addi calls their 2.5mm needle a US#1, but Inox calls their 2.5mm needle a US#2.) So which did YOU use.. US#1 or US#2

Also, which US# for the casting off 3.5 mm needle?
I'm going to sound insane when I say this, but I used 2.5mm needles. Really. You're right, the problem is that there isn't an agreed-upon conversion for the 2.5mm size. At Knitty, we tend to refer to it as US Size #1.5. Most needle size conversion tables (a handy one can be found at US #1 as 2.25mm metric, and US #2 as 2.75mm metric, and then you get all sorts of nonsense going on for 2.5mm. Some brands and companies stick to the US sizing, which means that a 2.5mm can't be had.

Now, both Addi and Inox needles are manufactured in metric sizes, being European brands, so it this case, it actually doesn't matter what they say the US size is, just make sure you buy on that's labelled at 2.5mm.

And because this is a scarf and gauge doesn't matter all that much, if you really can't find an actual 2.5mm needle, go with a US #2/2.75. The fabric will be a bit looser and drapier, but that's not a bad thing.

As for casting off, I tend to use a larger needle for casting off to ensure a flexible edge. I've recommended at 3.5mm, which is listed without much disagreement as a US #4. Hope this helps! If you can't find one of those, a 3.75mm/US 5 will work just as well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

New Design: Wings of the Pigeon? Beginner-friendly Lace Scarf and Shawl

Earlier this year I published a design for a Noro scarf that uses a very simple lace pattern stitch to great effect. (So simple, in fact, that there's a only a single, easily memorized pattern row!)
The pattern stitch causes the rows to curve, creating really great scalloped edges, and a rather wonderful zig-zag effect in the stripes. It looks great with the Noro yarns because the stripes are thick.

I'd bought some Zauberball Sock yarn - at the last Sock Summit, actually! - and it sat for a while in my stash before I figured out what to do with it. I love the yarn, but it's too nice (and perhaps a little too fragile) for socks.

I knew I wanted to do something interesting with the stripes. Inspired by both this rectangular scarf and some pictures of triangular shawls, I did the math for a semi-circle, using the same basic lace pattern.

And this is what resulted!

It's been fondly known around here as "Wings of the Pigeon". (I'd been trying to think of a name for the shawl, and I asked Norman what bird the colours suggested to him... )

I'm very pleased with this design - it's a great combination of stitch pattern and yarn, and it's garnered a lot of compliments from both knitters and non-knitters.

The pattern write-up includes both the rectangular and semi-circular versions, and it's written specifically to be accessible to even non lace knitters. The rectangle is a great place to start if you've never tackled lace, and the semi-circle is a little bit more challenging, but it's still entirely friendly and makes great travel knitting.

Both designs use a single ball of yarn, making them reasonably quick and inexpensive projects. They look best in yarns that have long stretches of colors, to create nice thick stripes. I recommend Zauberball sock, Noro Silk Garden or Taiyo Sock yarns, Mary Maxim Step It Up, or similar.

With 460yds of sock yarn and 3.5mm needles, you get a semi-circular shawl 127 cm/50 inches wide x 55 cm/22 inches long.

460yds of Noro Sekku laceweight and 2.5mm needles gives a rectangular scarf 28 cm/11 inches wide x 127 cm/50 inches long. Fingering weight sock yarns work brilliantly for this design, also, and give a larger finished product. If you do want to work the rectangular scarf with a thicker yarn, use larger needles. The pattern has notes on yarn substitution and needle size.

I've also provided instructions for blocking, helpful for the new lace knitter.

Pattern is available for purchase on Ravelry and Patternfish.

Frolic: Holy Cow

I had such a great time at the Frolic on Saturday - I taught three classes, and met many new friends.

The problem was that this great time teaching was so busy that I didn't get a minute to do any shopping.

I rushed past the booths of some friends, and was able to wave, but my wallet and shopping bag remained sadly closed. If you saw me, and I didn't say hello - please accept my apologies.

I've been told it was a good show, though. Did you have fun?