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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knitting Outside the Lines

My last post was a little silly, but it's time to get down to brass tacks and talk about designing knitwear. I work for a fantastic yarn shop where I write, teach and in my spare(?) time, knit! 
This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter.
Titan's Stole

I began designing my own knitwear for one reason only: control. Despite the availability of remarkable patterns, I am incapable of following instructions to the letter. Or maybe I'm just a control freak. But whether you are creating something from scratch or altering an existing pattern, here’s why I think you should get your creative juices flowing too... 

The first reason is obvious. We are all shaped differently. Sometimes it’s necessary (albeit kinda scary) to alter a pattern to fit your specific form. Long arms? Big bust? Slender shoulders? Most patterns can easily be adapted to accommodate every figure. Consider how much time, energy and money is being invested in that garment - it is usually worth it to take a bit of risk in order to get a better fit in the end. And most mistakes are re-doable (the beauty of knitting and crocheting).  
The second reason is also a no-brainer. By altering a pattern or creating your own, you will get the FO that you want. How many times have you looked at a design and thought, “It would be perfect if it weren’t for that hideous _______ .” One of my favourite things about designing is seeing how people change my patterns to suit their own needs and tastes.

The third reason to relax your grip on those instructions is to give yourself confidence as a knitter. You will have an immense sense of pride and satisfaction when you complete an object that you created yourself from start to finish. 

Titan's Stole

Some things to consider before casting on:

1. Choose your item. First, decide what you want to make. Sometimes you will have a clear vision of what you want or sometimes a yarn or a pattern stitch will inspire something inventive. For my “Titan’s Stole” (see photos) I was inspired by the wrap worn by Io in the “Clash of the Titan’s” movie. For "Oceana Toque" (also crocheted, see photo below) I was asked by a friend to replicate a favourite hat that he had lost. (See links to patterns below.)
Vascular Cardigan

2. Choose your yarn. 
Make sure you have enough supplies for what you want to make. Match your yarn to your project. For example, baby items should be made with yarn that is washable and soft. Also, you don’t want to match a variegated yarn with complicated cables or lace or you will lose the effect of both. For my "Vascular Cardigan", I chose "Smooshy" by Dream in Color because the subtle variations in colour don't overpower the lacey pattern. (Pattern in progress.)

3. Choose your pattern stitch.  
This process is all about experimentation. You might decide that a stitch you saw on a scarf would make a pretty cardigan, or maybe something in a stitch dictionary or calendar caught your eye. For me, I almost always have something in mind and try to figure it out from scratch. Again, there are many considerations when choosing a pattern stitch. Most stitches take on a whole new life depending on the needles and yarn you are using. 

4. Choose your tension. 
Consider what is going to happen to the finished fabric. This is the part where you make a gauge swatch (no excuses!). Just remember, the bigger the swatch, the more accurate it is. Also, try to use the same needles that you will be using for your project. There may be variance between bamboo, birch and steel needles, and also between straights and circulars, even if they are the same size. 

All ball bands should provide an average sized needle or crochet hook to suit that specific yarn. My general (very general) rule is that you should use a slightly larger needle for scarves and shawls (not including lace shawls) to provide a nice drape. For hats and mittens/gloves, I usually go down a size from the recommendation because those are items that you want to be extra warm. (Note: I mean, up/down a size from what your yarn label recommends, not what the pattern suggests.) 

5. Choose your size. 
How wide do you want your scarf? What is the circumference of your head? Measure your gauge swatch and figure out how many stitches you have per four inches. Now you just have to do some simple math to figure out how many cast on stitches you will need. Remember that knitting is not an exact science. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and see what you get.

Oceana Toque (with or without brim)

It’s true that there is more work involved in creating a pattern from scratch, but here are some tips to help you out:
  • Check out similar patterns for inspiration (not to be confused with plagiarism).
  • Always write down your process and keep an eraser, calculator and measuring tape nearby.
  • Check and double check your math and stitch counts.
  • Go with your gut - if it looks wrong or feels wrong, then it probably is.
  • Get comfortable with frogging. I have reached the point where I can zen-frog. Just keep reminding yourself that it's all part of the process.  

 Final advice:
  • Be patient - anything worth doing well takes time and practice.
  • Give yourself credit – designing isn’t easy!

As a post script to the article I would like to add that making up a pattern exactly like the original (as many of us are wont to do as perfection is sometimes hard to improve upon) can be very difficult even if you use the same yarn and needles. Individual gauge, style, and dyelots etc. accounts for a lot of that. Any time you actually alter a pattern you are taking a risk. I am happy to help with any advice you need regarding one of my designs.  

Featured Patterns:

Titan's Stole:

Oceana Toque:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stallone Unwinds

"Look, I don't know what you guys put into my cryo-sludge, but when I 
thawed out the first thing I wanted to do was knit!" 
(Oh, Stallone, I know the feeling.)

My boyfriend has a habit of bringing home fistfuls of DVDs. Usually I get all excited only to discover they are macho, Schwarzenegger-infused action films. Now don't get me wrong, I love a little Arnold now and then (child of the 80's, right here). But when I sat down to begrudgingly watch “Demolition Man” for the first time, I decided to knit my way through the grunting, kick-boxing and lame one-liners, and had no idea that Sylvester Stallone would be joining me on the needles.

To my shock and awe, partway through the futuristic film, Stallone - whose character is a tough cop put away in a cryogenic prison for 30 years for demolishing a public structure and accidentally killing 30 civilians - picks up a ball of yarn with two needles stuck through it, and with no explanation whatsoever, begins to calmly skein the ball around his bulging biceps (see first photo). I am fascinated. I am hooked. My needles are idle in my lap. My boyfriend is bored.
Cut to the next scene in which Stallone presents his love interest (Sandra Bullock) with a freshly made, bright red, cabled sweater. Cue swoon. (Don’t ask how he managed to make an entire sweater in one night with one ball of yarn or why he was skeining already balled yarn). She is thrilled with the gift, naturally, and explains that while in prison he was “programmed” to knit and sew as part of his behavioral engineering. The knowledge and desire to carry out a skill or trade is implanted while the prisoner is frozen in cryo-prison. The skill is chosen to fit the prisoner’s genetic disposition. Stallone’s trade? Seamstress. 

See how happy she is with her sweater?

Now, any knitter will tell you it’s virtually impossible to knit an entire sweater in one night - especially a cabled number. Consider, though, that Stallone’s character is not only shredded, he has basically been brainwashed. I think his combo of muscle power and brain power speaks for itself. The rest of you are just jealous that Sly can knit faster than you. And if you start to pick apart this movie, you will find it never-ending. Just take it for what it is: a movie about guys blowing shit up with a little knitting thrown in. I’ll take it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nirvana Eye Pillow

This is a seamless pillow designed to help you relax and revitalize. Take a few minutes each day to meditate with your lavender pillow and you will notice a major difference in your mental health. Knitting it up will also help you relax as it's all stockinette stitch, making it an ideal TV watching or a car riding project. It's also quick and easy, making it a great last minute gift.

Craft: knitting
Skill Level: Rookie-Apprentice-Virtuoso-Genius
Skills: knit, grafting, provisional cast on

Sizes: one size
Finished Measurements: approx. 4.75" wide and 9" long (when full) lying flat

Gauge: 24 sts and 28 rows = 4" in st st on 4 mm needles
Yarn: 50 g, 137 yds (125 m), DK weight yarn
Suggested Brand: 1 skein Noro Chirimen, 60% cotton, 24% silk, 16% wool, shown in colour 4

Needles: 4 mm dpns and medium size crochet hook (for provisional cast on)
Other Materials: tapestry needle or teeny crochet hook, scrap yarn (for provisional CO), fabric sack (best to sew it after your pouch is complete so you can match the size), 100 mL or grams lavender, 200 mL or grams buckwheat (recommended), wheat berries or beans


Note: If you don't want to do the grafting, CO with backwards loop method (or whatever method you prefer) and cast off as you normally would. Sew up each end (after putting the lavender sack in!).

With dpns and scrap yarn, CO 50 sts with provisional method and divide evenly on needles. Join in the rnd being careful not to twist sts. Pm for beg of rnd.

With MC, knit in the rnd in st st until piece measures 9" from CO (or desired length).

Divide your sts onto two needles and graft together (using the beg of the rnd as a starting point), leaving the CO edge open.

Make up your sack (sewn on three sides with one end open). The exact size isn't crucial, but it should be slightly smaller than your knitted pillow.

Mix up your buckwheat and lavender in a container and place into your sack. Leave the dust in the bottom, though, you probably don’t want it in your eyes. Sew up the other end.

Place inside your knitted pillow and graft the open end shut (using the beg of the rnd as a starting point).

Be sure to devote at least 10 minutes a day to your mental health. Meditate, do some yoga, read, go for a walk or just have some quiet time to yourself.

For help with provisional cast on: