Thursday, December 6, 2012

Norden revisited

For a while now I've been itching to cast on for a longer version of the Norden Cowl. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was looking for a good travel project, and thought of Norden. It's a simple lace motif that fit the bill perfectly for not-fully-mindful knitting.

For this longer, lacier version I used fingering-weight Spirit Trail Fiberworks Sunna in Kismet. I doubled the number of repeats around the circumference, and worked one vertical repeat less. The finished cowl is about 46" around, and 5" tall. It used less than 200 yards of the lovely Sunna.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The small mountain town I live in came to life during the building of the transcontinental railroad. As the work crews advanced, the 'Hell on wheels' that supplied entertainment to the workers advanced too.

Blasting train tunnels through hard Sierra granite took time, and some of the denizens of 'Hell' put down roots. When the railroad work eventually moved on, it left behind a rough-and-tumble community with more than its fair share of saloons, gambling dens, and brothels. When I imagine those folks, I somehow always picture them wearing fingerless mitts – so much easier for counting out those ill-gotten gains.

The town has changed a lot in the intervening years, and only a few ramshackle old buildings still remain as a testament to those days – but a pair of fingerless mitts can still come in pretty handy.

In celebration of brisk temperatures and shorter days, the Brickletown Mitts pattern is available for 20% off through the end of November.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Green delirium

I've been able to indulge in a little knitting for myself lately, in between other projects. Here's one sweater recently finished: Meris, knit in Quince and Co.'s Finch in the Snap Pea color.

This green just fills me with joy. When I saw it on the shade card, I worried that it might be too intense. As a check, I ordered two skeins of Snap Pea, plus two skeins each of two ‘safer’ colors. (With that yardage I can always make a scarf or shawlette with the extra yarn.) Then I wore them around my neck and solicited opinions. Snap Pea was the clear winner.

In a yarn shop I often find myself drawn to semi-solid and tonally dyed yarns. In the skein, solid colors often don't look quite as enticing. But when knit up into a garment there is something so pleasing about a pure swath of solid, gorgeous color – and there's nothing like it for showing off your stitches.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tenaya: It's the details

Photo: ©2012 Carrie Bostick Hoge

I admit it: I'm a geek. While most knitters look upon swatching as a dreaded ordeal, I can't wait to dive in. I love swatching up a new stitch I've found in a stitch dictionary, imagining how it can be made to work in some garment or other I'm thinking of. Even better is working out my own unique lace or cable pattern. But best of all is when I have to engineer or re-engineer some detail, figuring out how to get the fabric to do what I want it to do.

With Tenaya, the top-down set-in sleeve cardigan I designed for Twist Collective's Fall 2012 issue, I had an awfully good time. The cable pattern is one that I'd been fooling around with for a while. It's an asymmetrical three-stranded open braid that is mirrored on the fronts and back of the cardigan. Nothing complicated, but the asymmetry keeps it entertaining.

The seed stitch that adds such a rich texture to the button bands and neckband provided me with some fun engineering opportunities as well. I find that the edges of most buttonholes, especially the one-row type, can look rather sloppy. They look even worse when worked on a seed stitch ground. For Tenaya, I tinkered with the two-row style of buttonhole, finessing the methods of binding off and casting on stitches until I found a way to produce crisp, clean, square edges.

The main challenge with the neckband was how to decrease the circumference without interrupting the seed stitch pattern. The faux I-cord that begins the band and the real I-cord that binds it off gave me some places to stash decreases invisibly. And I love the way that those edges echo the slipped-stitch ribs that separate the cable and eyelet panels on the fronts and back.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hail Storm

Living in California's Sierra Nevada, most summers we don't see any precipitation from mid-May until late September. We'll get the occasional gully-washer, but the norm is four months of bone dry weather and clear blue skies.

This past Wednesday the first fat drops started plopping down at about 4:00. Since summer rain is such a rarity, it's usually kind of a treat when it does come, and it was nice to settle in at home and pick up the knitting needles. By 4:30 it started thundering and the first small hailstones fell. Soon the sound of hail was a deafening roar on the roof and decks. The storm raged on for nearly an hour, pounding our neighborhood with hail and torrential rain. When it was over there was 3 to 4 inches of hail accumulated on the ground, and piles more than 3 feet high where it poured of roofs.

Water flowed as it never has before, cutting gullies and ripping through earthen berms like they just weren't there. Our neighbor had streams flowing across his yard. Trees and other plants were laid waste. Leaves and needles were stripped from the upper portions of trees. The native bitterbrush that grows in the greenbelt behind our house is completely defoliated. And my beloved vegetable garden has been pummeled to mush.

Batman's commentary: a firm shake of the paw.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Knit, knit, rip

All photos ©2012 Blue Bee Studio

There's nothing wrong with a little fudging. If you're knitting a garment for yourself, less-than-perfect can be perfectly okay. But when you're designing a garment for others to knit, the details have to be right. Swatching is a great help, but sometimes you simply have to see the whole thing knit up to know that it's not quite working yet. Ripping back is just an inevitable part of the design process, and I guess I'm pretty efficient at it.

I've come to realize though that not everyone does as much ripping as I do, and even experienced knitters can be unsure of the best way to pull back their work. Here are some tips to make the job easier.

Don't use a scalpel when a chain saw will do

Unknitting stitch by stitch (aka 'tinking') is laborious. To rip efficiently, you need to do as little tinking as possible. To drop back several rows (or several inches), I put the work on a flat surface and pull the needles completely out. If the knitting is simple and the yarn fairly cohesive, I just rip back as far as I need to and pick up the loose stitches. If the knitting is more complicated – say a lace shawl – or the yarn a little less inclined to stay put, I rip back to the row before the one with the error.

Next comes the tinking. There are different ways of doing this, but here's my method: I hold the knitting in my left hand, with the opposite side of the work facing me (wrong side if it’s a right side row I’m going to take out, and right side if a wrong side row). With my right hand, I insert the tip of the needle purlwise into the first stitch that the working yarn is going through, and gently pull the working yarn out. Holding the work in my left hand allows me to control the working yarn very precisely, and I tension it gently over my left index finger. It’s kind of like backwards continental knitting. I can work very quickly this way.

To minimize tugging on the stitches as I recapture them, I use a much smaller needle than the one I'm actually working with. If there are complicated decreases that require untwisting stitches, a tiny dpn can be useful, too.

If the yarn is something slippery like silk or linen and I'm afraid that I’ll lose control of the stitches once they're free, I steam the work while it's still on the needles to set the stitches. I use a handheld steamer for this, but a steam iron held above the fabric will work, too. Once the stitches are set, I rip back as needed, but leave the work on the flat surface while tinking that final row. This helps to keep from tugging the yarn out of the stitches before I'm ready to pick them up.

Unkinking the ramen

Once all the stitches have been picked up, the next step is to get the recovered yarn back into usable condition. Working with kinked and curly yarn is a recipe for wonky stitches. It's nearly impossible to have an even tension with seriously wavy yarn. To quickly get it back in shape, I wind the yarn into a small hank, then pin it out on a blocking board. I steam the yarn until the kinks relax, let it cool, then wind it back into a ball and get back to work.

My favorite knitting tool

If you haven't already guessed, I love my handheld steamer. It's possibly the best $15 I've ever spent. In addition to the above-mentioned uses, it's brilliant for finishing knits. And unlike a steam iron, there's no heated sole plate, so you can touch it directly to the fabric. One caveat though – keep it well away from acrylic yarns, as high heat can damage them.

Friday, June 29, 2012


©2012 Blue Bee Studio

When I discovered the peacock lace pattern that became the starting point for Coleridge, I was instantly smitten. The wonderful combination of knits and purls in the lace, plus tiny bobbles, adds up to a gorgeous fabric with a lot of dimension. But the symmetry of the motif has a certain formality to it, and I generally prefer patterns that have more movement and flow.

At first I tried to fight it. I worked out a couple versions of a crescent-shaped shawl using the peacock feather motif as an edging. But glomming it on to a curved shape seemed to undermine the strength of the pattern. Eventually I just gave in and and let the design be the rectangular shape it always wanted to be. Once I embraced the symmetry, I saw that by taking the original motif through several iterations, simplifying it until all that remains is a chevron-shaped pattern of eyelets traveling up wide ribs, a different type of rhythm and flow came about.

Coleridge is knit in two pieces, worked from each end and joined in the center. Instructions are given for two sizes – a single-skein scarf and a wider rectangular shawl. The pattern is written for fingering-weight yarn, but would work well with lace-weight, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Photos: ©2012 Carrie Bostick Hoge

I love top-down sweater construction. It’s the best way to ensure that the garment you are putting so much work into is really going to fit. Most top-down sweaters are made using either the raglan method or the circular yoke. Both of these are easy and intuitive construction styles: You cast on the number of stitches you want for the neck, then increase quickly until the work is large enough to fit around your shoulders, and carry on from there. The drawback to these methods is that their shaping does not flatter all body types.

Because its increases happen at just 4 points, raglan shaping creates diagonal style lines that run from underarm to neckline. If you happen to have wide shoulders (like me), these diagonals can really enhance the linebacker look.

In a circular yoke design, the increases are worked evenly across the round or row. This creates something of a conical shape that can make the shoulders appear rounded. And, unless short rows are worked to raise the back of the neck (not always possible in a patterned design), a yoked sweater tends to slip backwards on the body.

For overall looks and wearability, I prefer the styling of a classic, bottom-up, set-in sleeve design. This type of sweater looks great on most people because it emphasizes the lines of the wearer’s body, rather than creating style lines that run counter to the human form. But getting the right fit when working from the bottom up is not always easy.

In designing Meris, I’ve used classic set-in sleeve styling — but turned it on it’s head — creating a seamless cardigan with a clean, tailored look that can be customized as you knit. And by first fitting the sweater to the frame of your shoulders you can see immediately where adjustments need to be made for your own shape.

The cardigan begins with two separate shoulder pieces that are shaped with simple short rows, then joined to form the upper back. The fronts are picked up from the back’s cast-on edges and worked to the underarms. Fronts and back are then joined and worked in one piece to the hem. The sleeves are set in seamlessly from the top, their caps shaped with short rows for a great fit.

Meris is intended to have a close fit through the shoulders and bust and a bit of figure-skimming ease through the waist and hips, making for a streamlined, flattering shape. Simple, modern lace details add interest to the design, a fair bit of stretch to the fitted shape, and a lot of entertainment value for the knitter.

And then there’s the Finch.

This is the second design I’ve done using Quince & Co.’s yummy fingering weight yarn, and I’m just as enamored of it as I was the first time. Soft and smooth, Finch is a joy to knit with. It renders details crisply, and makes a lovely and even stockinette fabric.

Meris KAL

A knitalong for Meris will be starting July 9th in the Quince & Co. Ravelry group. Come join in!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Green Liesl

A few years ago, I discovered Ysolda Teague's Liesl pattern, and was immediately smitten. It's a genius design – a lacy, top-down cardigan that looks good on everyone, is easily adaptable to different yarn weights, and is simple enough that even a novice knitter can make a success of it.

Ysolda's design uses Feather and Fan lace throughout, creating a fabulously airy, rippled fabric. I made a couple of versions of the sweater. The first stayed pretty close to the original design, except that I suppressed the purl ridges in the body of the cardi, to keep a smoother line. The second Liesl that I made is featured today in the Modification Mondays section of designer Julie Crawford's blog.

The Green Liesl Pullover came about because I wanted a summery version of the sweater that retained the lacy details and the flow of the feather and fan, but that wouldn't need to be layered over another garment. To eliminate the peek-a-boo effect I changed the yarn-overs to backwards-loop m1s. This increase is nearly as fast to do as a yarn-over, and is a bit more open than some others, but it creates the opaque fabric I was looking for. Closing the holes also allowed for playing with stitch counts in the repeats to add bust and waist shaping.

I'm really pleased with the result. Casual and easy to throw on, the sweater still has the flair of the original design. And two years on, I'm still wearing it!

Friday, February 10, 2012


Featured in Quince and Co.'s new Scarves, etc. e-book, Millrace is a long, slightly crescent-shaped scarf that begins and ends with just 4 stitches. The undulating lace border is worked at the same time as the stockinette body of the scarf. A twisted rib provides a visual transition between the two parts, and also serves as an aid in keeping track of increases and decreases in the stockinette portion of the scarf.

Like the rushing water it is named for, Millrace's lace edging keeps things moving along, enticing you to knit "just one more" repeat. It's an intuitive and entertaining knit.

The lovely Finch

I got a bit of a sneak peek at this yarn last fall, and couldn't wait to get my mitts on it. The latest addtion to Quince and co.'s lineup, Finch is a very biddable little 4-ply that renders stitches with a crisp, sculptural quality. It was perfect for this design, combining next-to-skin softness with wonderful stitch definition.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seaweed and sand dollars

While I love knitting complicated lace, when it comes to wearing a lace shawl, sometimes simplicity wins out. Ebbtide is an elegantly simple shawl that dresses up or down equally well.

Worked from the top down, the pattern features waving bands of stockinette and feather and fan lace that show off tonal variations in semi-solid and tonally dyed yarns to great advantage.

Entertaining as the body of the shawl is to work, the real fun comes at the end – the feather and fan flows into a band of Sand Dollar lace, a gorgeous circular motif that gives Ebbtide a rather modern feel.

The Sand Dollar edging – a variation on Barbara Walker’s lovely Sunspots pattern – only looks complicated. It's surprisingly straightforward to work, and makes a stunning finish to the shawl.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Sometimes the yarn just tells you what it is going to be.

As soon as I saw the three colors of Quince and Co's Chickadee sitting together on my desk, the idea for this hat came to me – and I knew there had to be a bee in it somewhere.

The design features a rolled edge, corrugated ribbing, and stranded colorwork. On the top of the hat, a bee motif is worked over one segment of the crown. After blocking, the body and head of the bee are recolored using duplicate stitch.

The tam uses approximately half a skein of each of three colors of Quince and Co. Chickadee – Storm, Carrie's Yellow, and Egret – and is sized to fit an average woman's head.

The Bumble pattern is available for purchase in my Ravelry pattern store.

Blocking Bumble

Blocking tams has been a bit of a problem for me in the past. It's not always easy to find a dinner plate of the right shape and size – in fact, mine are square. I've pinned tams out to a blocking board, but I wasn't that happy with the results. No matter how many pins I place, I always seem to get points along the edge.

For Bumble, I thought I'd try making a custom blocking form instead. I took a piece of Gator Board – the tougher cousin of Foamcore – marked out a 10" circle with a compass, and cut it out with a matt knife. Gator board is not easily affected by water and since the core is expanded foam, it's pinnable.

I slipped the damp tam over the form, matched the fold line to the outer circumference of the disk, and pinned it along the edge. Then to keep from crushing the band and to allow for air circulation I set it on top of a small box that fit just inside the band. The tam dried quickly, and came out flat and round.