Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Something springy and nice and girly and FUN.

The weather might not be cooperating, but your feet can still feel springy.

The first time I clapped eyes on Rain City Knit's Confetti colourway of sock yarn, I knew I needed to make something with it. I knew it was going to be a design challenge... the yarn has fantastic colours, but very busy variegation.

After much swatching (MUCH) I landed on a very simple lace rib pattern. (Actually, if truth be told, the stitch pattern was a total accident. I had charted up a pattern but messed up the numbers in my swatch, and what resulted wasn't at all what I had in mind... but you know, I liked it so much I based the entire sock on it.) It's lacy, but not fussy. Girly but not too much. Neon but not too crazy. It's exactly what I was aiming for, exactly what I'm craving: fun.

Because the Polar Vortex is never going away, I wore them today over a pair of black tights, and I love them that way. One day, I hope to be able to wear them on their own.

Top down, in multiple sizes (women's finished foot circumferences 7 (7.5, 8, 8.5) inches); pattern is written for DPNs/Magic Loop/2 Circulars. Suitable for knitters with a little sock experience, but no lace experience required. As long as you yo and k2tog, you're good.

On Ravelry and Patternfish $5. If you're looking for the yarn, Lettuce Knit has a good stock.

"Shooting myself in the foot"

Shamelessly stealing the joke from Franklin, I admit.

In my Craft University Sock knitting class, I am sharing pictures of the socks I'm wearing.

Monday I was wearing my very warm Waikiwi merino/possum/alpaca blend socks. Love this yarn. Gorgeous colours, fantastically soft, and beautifully, wonderfully warm.

Which we need. Look at it out there.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Two Upcoming Events

Very excited to announce two events I'm teaching at this spring.

(Ok, it's true, I may also just be excited about the concept of spring.)

These events are two major highlights of my knitting year: The Toronto Downtown Knit Collective Knitter's Frolic, held at the always lovely Japanese Cultural Centre in Toronto, April 26 & 27th.


Interweave's Knitting Lab being held in Manchester, New Hampshire May 13-18th.

Both of these events bring together my favourite things: yarn shopping and smart and enthusiastic knitting students. Seriously, the quality of the shopping, the classes and the students is always fantastic.

At the Frolic, I'm teaching
  • Pattern Writing
  • Kitchener Confidence
  • Working in the Round: DPNs, Magic Loop, 2 Circulars
  • And a full-day Introduction to Fair Isle workshop - Design Your Own Fair Isle Fingerless mitts. This workshop in particular is ideal for knitters who are new(ish) to working with multiple colours, and are looking for a fun way to build their skills and dip their toes into designing.

More Frolic workshop details here.

At Knitting Lab, I'm teaching
  • The Perfect Fit: How to read & understand garment sizing info, how to choose the right size to knit, and simpler alterations to improve the fit of any garment
  • Fixing Mistakes
  • Two Socks in One: The War & Peace Method
  • Pattern Writing
  • Custom Fit Socks

More Knitting Lab workshop details here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Free Knitting Videos. You know, on that free video website. The one whose name begins with 'You' and end with 'Tube'

Although I teach a lot of classes for more experienced knitters, at least once a month I find myself in front of a room full of newer knitters. I love these classes - I adore seeing newer (or indeed, lapsed) knitters taking on a new challenge, expanding their skills, seeking out new types of projects. It's immensely gratifying to instill confidence and excitement in newer knitters.

Invariably, at some point in these classes, the topic of YouTube comes up. Newer knitters (most especially the younger ones, not to demographically profile) report going to YouTube to learn to knit. Experienced knitters of all ages go to YouTube to review a stitch or technique they're unfamiliar with.

And invariably, I stop the discussion.

I am in the habit of warning knitters away from YouTube for knitting skills. Do not go to YouTube for knitting videos, I say. I often have to say it twice. (Fully acknowledging it makes me sounds like a total crank.)

My rationale? YouTube is the wild west. Everybody and their dog can put a video up on YouTube. And I don't know about your dog, but Dexter is really not very good at telling ssk and k2tog apart...

There's no moderator. There's no-one checking the videos to make sure they're right. But more insidiously, perhaps, there's no one checking the videos to make sure that they are good. You know, actually helpful. (Because knowing how to do something doesn't mean you know how to teach it.)

I've had knitters led horribly astray with YouTube videos that are outright wrong. I've also had knitters led just as wrong by videos that aren't helpful.

If you do a search a phrase like "how to knit", you get "About 615,000 results". Yes. Really. How on earth are you supposed to know what the best one is going to be? If something is new to you, how on earth are you supposed to know what's a good and helpful video? It's asking too much of newer knitters to be able to evaluate videos.

As with free patterns, I encourage knitters to seek out a "reliable" source. Someone they can trust to know what the heck they are talking about and - more to the point - know how to explain it well.

I highly recommend There's tons and tons of videos, and they're all right and good and well explained and helpful. In addition, I love that on the increases and decrease pages, there are photos of each of the stitches so you can see the results and compare. She has both Continental and English style videos for many stitches. Fab!

Knitty has recently added a video techniques column, "The Neurotic Knitter". Kristen is building a great library of all sorts of techiques.

There are some teachers doing excellent work on YouTube. I love Lucy Neatby's no-nonsense approach. Very Pink Knits has a lot of great videos covering the fundamentals, and Cat Bordhi does excellent tutorials for many 'more advanced' techniques.

So yes, it's not that all free online videos are bad. Far from it. And goodness knows there are thousands and thousands more - and better - knitters because of these videos. But I just want to make sure that these knitters are learning right.

Now, this isn't to ignore my own "Learn to Knit" video class. But that's sort of a different beast: it's a full, paid, multi-hour class that takes you through a series of lessons and projects. Here, I'm talking about quickie, one-technique, short-form free videos.

So, readers: are there any sites or videos or teachers you'd particularly recommend? Anyone missing from my list?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New Pattern: The Gina Lollobrigida Cowl

A couple of years ago, the lovely Kim of indigodragonfly asked me to design for her club. I had a skein of laceweight, and a million ideas.

The main club pattern was something else - more on which, later - but a by-product of that design was a lovely little laceweight cowl. I've been wearing it a lot of late (sometimes in the house, damn you Polar Vortex), but also as a dash of lovely and sophisticated color to brighten up my otherwise drab winter get-ups.

The design was named after bombshell Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida... the stitch pattern used is called Italian Chain Ribbing, and it reminded me of a the sort of lace that you might see featured out in one those classic 1960s pin-up shots.  Who says we can't be sexy in the middle of the worst winter we've had in years?

Admit it - it’s the middle of February, it’s still snowing and miserably cold, and you’re tired of all your scarves and cowls. Use a bit of laceweight to create something new and luxurious and lovely. It will take you through those chilly days of spring very nicely.

Who doesn't have a couple of hundred yards of laceweight kicking around? Leftovers? A sample skein? If you've got more yarn, you can make it deeper; if you've got less, make it a bit shallower. Heck, it would look great in a light sock yarn, too...

This pattern is suitable for knitters with a little lace knitting experience, and a little crochet experience.

Available on Ravelry and Patternfish. $5.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learn to Knit Socks, Interweave Craft University

Late last year, I had the very wonderful experience of trying out a new online teaching platform, in conjunction with Interweave.

Their "Craft University" platform is quite unlike the other ways of delivering online courses. It uses an environment inspired by distance learning tools that universities and colleges use. I loved it.

Although video is an important piece of it, it's not just about the video.

It is a combination of video and downloadable patterns and 'lectures' and group discussions and interactivity. Feb 24th, we're starting another session of my Learn to Knit Socks class.

There are five lessons, and you can work through at your own pace. We set a time limit of a month for the class, to encourage engagement and progress. Although sometimes it can be fun to sign up for a class with no limit, this is a topic that benefits from focus and practice, and putting some gentle deadlines on the class definitely helps with that.

(No-one is going tell you off if you don't get the class finished, of course, and all class notes and patterns and downloadable resources are yours to keep forever.)

But the real value comes with the interaction - with me, and with your fellow students. Over the month of the class., I logged in two and sometimes three times to a day to answer questions from students, to join in discussions, and to post new material.

I worked a sock as we worked through the class material, and was able to create real-time content updates to answer questions and expand on discussion points. I loved that I was able to add to the class material to delve into topics students wanted me to; I posted extra pictures and video to explain a point that was challenging.... 
When a student asked how I count my heel rows...
And students were able to post pictures and questions for me and their fellow students.  There are two types of interaction - one-on-one between me and a particular student, and also an open thread that all students could read. Most discussion was in the open forums, and I very much appreciated people's willingness to ask questions in a "public" way. I'm a great believer that you learn more from mistakes than from getting something right the first time, and so I definitely encouraged sharing of "learning experiences" as well as the perfect results. I shared some of my own mistakes and learning experiences! And so many times, when a student posted a question, others would chime in with their own related question - or an answer, even. So much generosity and sharing and cheering each other on! I loved that we were all learning from each other, and chatting.

The feedback from students was great. Although the class might not have been in a format they were used to, many commented that this was a really great way to handle material that needs more than just demos. In some ways it was better than an in-store class, as we had a month to work together, and so students could take their time and really practice their new skills.

So yes, if you're interested in tackling sock knitting, and can't attend one of my classes in person, try Interweave's Craft University.

For more info, and to sign up.... 

Monday, February 10, 2014

On the Long Tail Cast On; Staying Loose, and Busting a Myth

Although I'm quite relaxed about a number of things, I'm particular about cast ons. I'm a big fan of the Long Tail Cast On. It's quick, it's attractive, and it creates a very easy-to-work-from edge. When done correctly, it's also stretchy and flexible.

Hey, did you know? I've just launched another new online class: this one specifically about casting on and binding off! It's ideal for newer knitters who are looking to build their skills.

(I don't like the knit cast on at all - it has very little to recommend it. The edge it makes is a frustrating combination of both too tight, and too loose. It lacks stretch, but yet it still flares out, and I don't like the look of the open loops at the edge.)

I do like the Cable Cast on, for many purposes. The only place it doesn't work well, I find, is when you want stretch - like for a top-down sock.

For that, I prescribe the Long Tail method. Nope, who I am kidding? I insist on the Long Tail Method for top-down socks.

If you don't know it, and haven't watched my class, the inimitable Lucy Neatby's video is very good.

There are two main questions that knitters have about this cast on....

1. How much tail do you need?
There are accurate ways of estimating - Lucy mentions one - and then there's mine... For sock yarn, I leave half an inch (one cm) per stitch. For anything else, about an inch. I have never run short.

Yes, there's always too much - but that's not actually a bad thing. I am totally shameless about using my cast on tails to seam up, so having extra yarn is a good idea. And anyway, I'd rather not having to stress about being too close. (And really, if that extra yard is the difference between running out of yarn and not, you've got other problems... ) You use the two strands up at different rates - using up more of the one over your finger - and if you use a very accurate method and then mix up the two strands, you risk running out. (Ask me how I know... )

2. How to keep it loose. Knitters often tell me that they work this cast on too tightly. There are actually two different issues... are the stitches too tight, or is the edge too tight?

These are quite different problems, and the answers are quite different.

If the stitches are too tight, you'll find you might have difficulty knitting into them on your first row/round. If the edge is too tight, then your sock might not go on.

Knitters are often told that they should cast on over two needles held together, or even over a larger needle.

AHA! I often proclaim! No! This is a total red herring! I do my standard demo to prove this doesn't help.
If I cast on with two different color yarns, one for the finger, one for the thumb, you can see why....

the stretchiness of the edge is controlled by the yarn that lies in the foundation edge, along the needle, below the stitches. In this photo, that's the yellow yarn.
To make the edge stretchier, what you need to do is space the stitches out as you make them - leave some breathing room between the stitches. That is, you're making sure that there's lots of yarn in the foundation edge - lots of yellow. I like to leave at least a stitch's worth of space between the stitches, as you can see in the image above. (A knitter I spoke to last week said that her rule of thumb is to leave a needle's width between the stitches. I like that even more!)
Casting on over a larger needle doesn't change the amount of the foundation yarn (the yellow in this picture). All you're doing is making the stitches (the green loops) larger than they should be. If you knit these stitches normally, you're affecting the look of the first row, but not the stretchiness.
casting on over two needles held together...

with second needle removed.. the sts are larger, but the edge isn't any looser
So this isn't a good solution for making the edge stretchier.

HOWEVER. However! A conversation with Donna Druchunas that helped me realize that this two-needles trick still has value. Donna often casts on over two needles, even going so far as to specify it in her patterns. When editing a pattern of hers, I asked why, and was prepared to be all smug with my "superior knowledge".  Her simple reply turned my world upside down... "Yes, I know the stitches are too big. I want them to be bigger."

So yes, IF you find it difficult to knit into the stitches in your first row/round, then yes, cast on over two needles held together, remove the second needle, and then working your first row/round.  Donna also uses this as a substitute for a provisional cast-on... making the stitches too big provides enough room to knit into them from the other direction.

But if you can't get your sock on, then you need to space your stitches out more.

And then there's another point of debate... to start with a slip knot or not?

I always start with a slip knot, as I like how it looks -- that slip not looks like a stitch, and behaves more like a stitch. And when working in the round, I find it helps line up the join a little better. But it's not mandatory. When I'm teaching, I always start with a slip knot, as it tends to stay in place better - but once you've got the hang of the process, it's entirely personal choice.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

An Interview with Me; E-book Giveaway

Student Cindy Brumpton, a member of the Kawartha Lakes Knitting Guild, interviewed me for her newsletter last month.

I had a great conversation with Cindi about my knitting history, reminiscing about some of my early experiments in knitting... including that not-entirely-foot-shaped first sock.

Readers can enter to win a digital copy of one of my books.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Ahoy There!

Just got home from the Cooperative Press Knitting Cruise. I had a fantastic time. I made many new knitting friends, and I got a chance to thaw out a little bit. I would have enjoyed it anyway, but given the recording-breakingly awful weather we've been having, the warmth was very much appreciated.

Not my usual view when tech editing...

San Juan, Puerto Rico. A lovely spot for a round or two.

Knitting socks, but definitely not wearing them.

All a girl needs.

Life is good...