A Winding Road to a Versatilde Headband

 

versatilde headband on 1

  

Hello! Life has just been a flood, a river of things lately, but this space has still been on my mind, and now seems like as good a time as any to share a somewhat long-lost project.

I took a workshop on Versatildes with Cat Bordhi in July of 2015. As you know if you’ve been reading here for a while, Cat is my knitting heroine—and Cat if you’re reading this I’d like to include a sincere and hearty thank you for all your warmth, humor, and love of knitting and of the world in general that shines through in your classes and projects!

I wanted to make something that I knew I would wear using the Versatilde ideas, and as usual I wanted to experiment, so I sketched this headband and started working on it during the workshop. It didn’t actually take that long to finish knitting it, and it was a fun journey. I’m usually a note-taking, think-it-through kind of person (as you might have noticed), but I really enjoyed Cat’s way of making these, which is much more about enjoying the process and not over-thinking decisions. There isn’t a chart, instead you decide things like when to make cable crossings and increase/decrease at the sides as you go, following a few suggestions to make it flow organically.

  

versatilde headband flat

  

I’m not sure if I over-thought it at the end. My original plan was to close it with buttons, but I couldn’t find any that went with the wool and the pattern without distracting from it, so eventually I just sewed it closed. Somehow, it took me the rest of the time until now to get photos of the finished thing and type this up … these things happen.

  

versatilde headband sewn 2

 

versatilde headband sewn 1

 

This yarn is semi-worsted spun Romney from Solitude Wool. I got it because I’m interested in single-breed wools, and I wanted to try some samples for another project, so it was already in my stash. I was also curious how I would feel about Romney next to my face, since it’s more of a “medium” wool, rather than a super fine one like Merino. It turns out it’s totally OK (at least for me, these things are individual of course). At first I could feel a little bit of a prickle, but certainly not enough to keep me from wearing it—if it’s cold I want my ears covered! And I was surprised to find that it softened more in the first wash, so that the prickle was less noticeable. I really like this yarn; it’s wooly, sturdy, and a little bit smooth/slick, and the finished fabric has both some drape and some spring. Also, whatever processing they use, it smells the best—sheepy and soft and clean. I wouldn’t choose this yarn for underwear, but other than it that it would be good for all kinds of things.

  

versatilde headband on 2

  

My plan worked; I’ve worn this headband quite a bit. It’s especially good for cross-country skiing and hiking when the weather’s cold, since it allows some heat to escape out of the top of my head while protecting my ears from the wind, which can be vicious around here. It stays on well too. And, you know, that art-deco-meets-rustic look is really big in the woods this year, right? But seriously, I’m really pleased with how this came out, and glad I’ll have it in my wardrobe for more cold seasons to come!

 

The Star Blossom Hat, A Pattern for Solstice

A free pattern to knit and embroider.

 

embroidered-hat-1

 

I designed this hat for myself, and decided to share the pattern after a friend declared it her favorite thing I’ve ever made. It feels like a really good time to put a little bit of beauty out into the world right now. I’ve been collecting the pieces of this pattern—the photos, the drawings, the yarn specs—in spare slices of time over the past weeks, and now it’s ready to go!

The Star Blossom Hat is mainly seed stitch ribbing, shaped with short rows for a longer back to cover your ears, and designed to be long enough to turn up all around. It has a stockinette stitch top to serve as a background for some sweet and simple embroidery, reminiscent of a cherry blossom or a starburst.

Yarn

Lucky me, I had a big skein of my friend Lauren’s handspun just sitting in my stash. All I remember her telling me about it is, “It’s alpaca.” It was just waiting for this hat I think. Assuming that Lauren didn’t go into production on this and start selling it around the country without telling me, here are the characteristics you want to match in your yarn to get a similar look and feel:

•It’s worsted weight, about 9 WPI.
•It has bounce. 4” of yarn will stretch another ½”, and then easily spring back. It needs a little elasticity so the ribbing pulls in just enough to keep its shape on your head. My yarn has some drape too, like most all alpaca, which is not a drawback here, but also not necessary for this shape to work.
•It’s not too fuzzy. An alpaca yarn with a lot of “halo” effect would obscure the textured stitches and the embroidery, so opt for something fairly smooth.
•It’s a 2-ply yarn, and each ply is a slightly different (natural alpaca) color. It’s also a little bit thick-and-thin, being handspun. Neither of these characteristics is essential to the hat, but both give the texture of the stitches a little more dimension.
•It’s soft enough to comfortably touch my face.

This hat took just about exactly 130 yards of yarn. 150 yards would give you plenty for swatching and margin of error.

Spinning geek details on the original yarn for those interested:

•Angle of twist 27°
•3.5 – 5 twist bumps per inch in plied yarn
•587 yards/pound

Yarn scraps for embroidery:

These are also something I’m lucky enough to have; little bits and pieces from my grandmother’s stash which I’m pretty sure were dyed with natural materials by her or her fiber friends. You can use any scraps you have in colors you like! Or even ask your knitting friends to share and swap scraps. Embroidery is my ultimate use for tiny bits of yarn too beautiful to get rid of. These are singles (one ply) yarns, which gives the stitches a soft fuzzy look.

 

embroidered-hat-2

 

Gauge

Before blocking I got 5.5 to 6 sts/inch in seed stitch ribbing, and 5 sts/inch in stockinette.
After blocking I got 5 to 5.5 sts/inch in the ribbing (stretched slightly during blocking) and the same 5 sts/inch in stockinette.

Needles:

I think I used US size 4. I knit pretty loosely. Size 5 would probably be a more common recommendation … the point is it doesn’t matter, use the size you need to get the gauge you want!

Sizing

I have a fairly big head, and I hate hats that squish my hair (or worse, my head!). Straight around my forehead, with the measuring tape snug but not tight, measures 22.5 inches, and that’s the size I made the hat (using 5 sts/inch for math). This gives me my personal hat fit of dreams: snug enough to stay on my head, but never tight or uncomfortable. I highly recommend that you measure the hat recipient’s head and take her/his preferences into account. You may have to modify the decreases for the top a bit, but that’s a small price to pay for a hat that really fits!

Seed Stitch Ribbing

This is just so nubbly, I’ve been knitting it into everything lately. I wanted a combination of stitches that would look good on the right or wrong side, so the brim of the hat could be turned up, and this is what I came up with. The columns of ribbing are always purl knit purl, with two stitches of seed in between.

It does look a little confusing at first, so put as many markers as you need, until you can see where the ribbing columns are and which are the seed stitches that should always alternate.

embroidered-hat-seed-rib-chart

Pattern

Cast on 115 stitches (or the number you determined from your head size). You’ll need a multiple of 5 stitches for the seed stitch ribbing pattern. I used this cast on.

Bring the beginning and end of your cast on stitches together, and knit in the round, in the seed stitch ribbing pattern, until the hat measures 6 1/2 inches tall. (If you have extra yarn, you can knit further at this stage, which mean you can make a deeper turn-up in the brim of the hat when it’s done).

Short rows:

Reserve 40 stitches (or about 1/3 of your total stitches if different) which will be the center front of your hat, by placing a marker on both sides of them. Keep knitting around until you are 4 stitches away from reaching the first marker again, and then turn and knit back until you are 4 sts away from the second marker. (Remember to match the patterns to what you see on the wrong side as you work back.)
Continue to work back and forth, each time stopping 4 sts away from the last turning, until there are 5 groups of short rows or 6 “steps” on either side of center front, and about 40 sts in the middle that will be the center back. The back of the hat should measure 8 to 8 1/4 inches tall.
Work around on the right side, integrating the turning stitches. My favorite is Cat Bordhi’s “Thanks-Ma” method, which uses a clever pick up to make the “steps” basically disappear. Cat’s video explains it specifically for her sock heel, but I’ve used it on all kinds of things since learning it. Still, if you have another favorite short row method feel free to use that instead.
Then knit one more round on the right side, maintaining the patterns, to smooth everything out.

You shouldn’t need to change the numbers in this section, unless your stitch count is very different from mine. If short rows freak you out, you can also skip them altogether, and just keep knitting in the seed stitch ribbing pattern until the hat is 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches tall, depending on how much you want to turn up the brim.

 

embroidered-hat-6

 

Crown:

Switch to stockinette stitch and knit one round plain (knit every stitch). Place a marker at the beginning of your round.
Round 2: Work a K2tog (decrease 1) at every column of knit stitches from the ribbing pattern (23 times around). Or you can think of it as k2tog, knit 3, repeat around. I just think it looks nice to line up the decreases at the knit columns.
Round 3: Same as round 2 (decrease 23 sts again in the same places, or k2tog, knit 2, repeat).
Rounds 4-8: Knit these 5 rounds plain.
Round 9: Decrease at every column again (k2tog, knit 1, repeat).
Rounds 10-14: Knit these 4 rounds plain.
Round 15: knit every two stitches together all the way around (k2tog, repeat).
Rounds 16-18: Knit these 3 rounds plain.
Round 19 to finish: Continue k2tog until there are only 6 stitches left.
Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and thread the tail on a blunt needle, and through the remaining stitches, continuing in the order you would knit them. Thread the tail through the top of the hat to the inside, and pull the last stitches snugly together. Secure the yarn on the wrong side of the hat.

If your stitch count is different, I suggest trying the same number of decreases in each decrease round as you have knit columns from the ribbing, and using my spacing of plain rounds between. If that doesn’t work or you have questions feel free to get in touch, I’d be happy to help you figure it out! I unraveled my crown twice to come up with this formula. It should have a little curve (like your head), but not be too loose or floppy, to show off the embroidery.

Embroidery

I used just two stitches; the simplest running/satin stitches (in two different groupings), and Colonial knots, both which I explain in this post.

I used pins to visually mark the placement of the five knots nearest the center, and then based the other motifs on those, moving outward.

embroidered-hat-drawing-1

Tips for embroidery on knits:

Whatever stitching you add will also add some bulk and stiffness to the knitted fabric. You can minimize this by:
•Taking the shortest path on the wrong side between the end of one stitch and the beginning of the next.

embroidered-hat-drawing-2

•Stretching the fabric gently after every few stitches (minimizes puckering).
•For longer stitches between motifs on the wrong side, catching a little bit of the yarns in the fabric as you go along, so you don’t have long floats that can catch on things (I show this for yarn ends in this post).

 

embroidered-hat-5

 

That’s all, folks! I really hope you all enjoy this pattern, and if you decide to make it of course I’d love to see! It’s now up on Ravelry as well.
Take care everyone and enjoy your winter!

 

A Failed Attempt

 

It’s so tempting for our online lives to show only the bright side; just our beautiful finished projects (neatly ironed), our best ideas translated fluidly into tangible objects. I’ve definitely swept my share of failed makes under the rug, never to see the digital light of day. And actually I think that’s fine too—some things we learn from, and some we just don’t want to talk about. I’m going to talk a little bit about this one though, and see how it goes.

 

failed refashioned sweater 2

 

I had so many reasons to love this sweater and try to save it. My mom knit it for my grandma, and after my grandma passed on I took it, thinking I could turn it into something I would wear. It started out as your classic grandma Aran cardigan; white and long and covered in cables and textures, slightly too big for me, with a high neckline and little pearly buttons. Although I’m sure it could have fit right into some people’s wardrobes with minor adjustments, it made me look ridiculous. Maybe I should have stopped right there, but I have a lot of faith that things can be refashioned to work in a new wardrobe (built on a solid foundation of makes that have worked out).

My first attempt to refashion the sweater was a few years ago, and included: shrinking/felting it slightly, dyeing it with tea, widening the neckline, and knitting new bands for the bottom and cuffs. It was a fair amount of effort, and I still didn’t wear it much. It felt strange, and the strain on the neckline proved too much, the yarn started to pop in several places. Not sure what to do next, I put it in a plastic bin in the garage, and there it sat, occasionally nagging at the back of my mind.

I got it out again last fall at the start of Slow Fashion October. What could be a more appropriate project? And I had a plan, in several steps, thought out beforehand, which looked good in my head. I trust those plans and my ability to envision how they will come out.

I dyed more yarn and ribbon in tea. I stitched the ribbon in to reinforce the neckline. I shorted the body and used the extra to add a collar onto the (ridiculously wide) neck. I figured out what stitch pattern I had used before, and knit another piece for the collar, and then another one because the first one didn’t work (actually I think there were three attempts at the collar). I wasn’t convinced it was great, but I also wasn’t able to take a step back from all I had invested, and I went ahead and overdyed the whole thing  with madder, hoping for some kind of warm soft brown. It came out, well, salmon, and that’s when I was forced to take a step back.

It wasn’t just the color, it was the spottiness of the color that really got me down. I knew this could be an issue dyeing garments (even though I haven’t had many problems using tea) and I had tried to strategize against splotches, but evidently not well enough. On top of all that, it was inescapably not my style—particularly that blasted collar.

 

failed refashioned sweater 3

 

I put it down, knowing it was no good, but not emotionally ready to let it go. It’s been a while since I had a downright project failure, particularly of something that I put this much effort and planning into. I still have plenty of “um, well, I won’t do that again,” learning moments, but at this point in my creating life, the results are usually fixable, or cause just a minor inconvenience in the finished garment. I had kind of forgotten what it feels like to have to give up completely on something that I’d worked so hard on, and how it takes the wind out of your making sails for a while. I definitely felt a little intimidated to start another project after this one.

The best silver lining I can come up with so far is this: that remembering this feeling is good for me as a teacher, in the same way that remembering what it’s like to be a beginner is good for me. There’s one big difference though: being a beginner is super fun if you have confidence you’ll get there in the end, but making a failed project is still no fun at all. I do know that my present confidence and skill is built on a whole bunch of projects that didn’t go very well (to one degree or another). And I’ve reminded myself that no time is ever wasted, as long as you’re making and learning, and enjoying the process. I just finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and one of my favorite things about that book is how much she is reassuringly down-to-earth about stuff like this: everyone fails, everyone has droughts of creativity, and crises of confidence (even highly successful authors). What makes the difference is whether we can use the good parts of a bad experience to move forward, or we get so bogged down in the bad parts that we give up on this path entirely and look for another one.

Needless to say, one crummy sweater will not derail me from the path of any of the fiber arts I love. Thinking about this one still stings a bit, mostly because I can still see the potential in some parts of it … but I’ve accepted that I cannot make it into what I want, and I’m ready to put it in the charity pile, and let it go to meet its future, which whatever that may be, is not my responsibility any more. It took a couple months of the sweater sitting in the corner in our bedroom for me to get to this point. To tell the truth I think, with the benefit of a little hindsight, that the whole second attempt was doomed, because the neckline from the first attempt was beyond saving.

But now, I’m ready to take what I learned, leave the sweater behind, and move on. I still trust my instincts, and my ability to plan a project in my head before I start. These skills are built on years of experience, and usually the plan works. Even when it doesn’t, it’s another step moving me forward on a path which I believe in with my whole heart.

 

Knitting 102 Cowl – Free Pattern

 

T with simple knit cowlWhen my cousin was about 12 years old, she knit me a scarf. I’m touched by this gesture every time I think about it. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into an object for someone else when you’re that young. The scarf (at left) is great, made from a colorful thick-and-thin yarn, but it’s kind of short. Then one day a couple of years ago I realized that if I added buttons and buttonholes to the ends, it could be a stylish cowl, and I’d probably wear it a lot more. Which I do.

Then I realized that a cowl like this, just a knitted rectangle with buttons added, would be a perfect second or third knitting project for my students. For when you can knit and purl, but maybe you’d like to make something besides a washcloth using your current skills, before moving on to knitting in the round and all that.

I made a sample one with some seed stitch columns added, and left it at the yarn store where I teach. One day not long ago I was over there, and the owner and one of the employees were telling me about how people ask for the pattern a lot. I was quite surprised. I agreed to write it out. Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to give this pattern to whoever comes into the shop, I’d like to give it to you guys too. So here you go:

 

Knitting 102 Cowl Pattern

 

102 cowl 1

 

To make this cowl, you’ll knit a long rectangle, and then use a simple crochet stitch to make buttonholes on one end. Sew buttons on to the other end, and it’s ready to wear!

This concept is very adaptable. It’s easy to vary the yarn, stitch choices, and size to suit your own taste and knitting level.

 

102 cowl 4

 

Materials

Yarn: the sample is made in Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky, a very soft yarn with a lot of drape and not much bounce. One skein is enough for a small cowl like this. The finished fabric hangs in liquid folds. If you’d like a cowl that will stand up more, choose a yarn with more body and spring.

Gauge: the finished sample has 4 stitches per inch in both stockinette and seed stitch. It’s OK if your gauge comes out a little bit differently, since exact size isn’t super important for this project. It’s still a good idea to make a swatch with your yarn and see if you like how the fabric is coming out, and measure your gauge to get an idea of how big your finished cowl will be.

Needles and Hook: try US size 8 (5mm) knitting needles, but keep in mind that you may need a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge you want (especially if you use a different yarn). You’ll also need a crochet hook in a similar size for the buttonhole loops. In my experience the hook size doesn’t need to be exactly the same for such a small section.

Finished size: the sample cowl is 8 ½“ wide and 22 ½” long. It fits fairly close around my neck, but is big enough to get over my head without undoing the buttons. You can compare the dimensions to any cowl you like to see if this seems like a good size for you.

 

Directions

Cast on 35 sts (or your stitches per inch x desired size in inches).

Other options: If you’re not quite ready for keeping track of the seed stitch columns, you can also make a perfectly good cowl using garter stitch (knit every stitch, every row) or using seed stitch across the whole piece. (A cowl made with all stockinette stitch—knit one whole row, purl one whole row—will curl up at the edges.)

For the seed stitch pattern, you’ll need an odd number of columns of stitches. In the sample cowl, there are 7 columns of 5 stitches each. You can also vary the number of stitches in each column if that works better with your stitch count.

First row (right side): work in seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then knit 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: You may want to put a stitch marker around the needle between the sections to help remember when to switch patterns.

Second row (wrong side): work seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then purl 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: this seed stitch in this pattern alternates every stitch between knit and purl, both horizontally and vertically. After set up in the first row, work a knit stitch on top of each purl stitch you see in the seed stitch sections, and vice versa.

Repeat these two rows until you reach your desired length for the cowl.

Bind off—not too tightly or the edge will pucker. Leave a long tail (a couple of feet long) and you can use it to make the buttonhole edge as well.

 

102 cowl 5

 

Crochet buttonhole edge
Go into the first stitch of your bind-off with a crochet hook. Pull a small loop of yarn through with the hook. Go into the next bind-off stitch the same way, pull another loop through, and then pull the second loop through the first loop so that you have only one left on the hook.

(I drew these illustrations for my students, who would also have me standing next to them to show them how to do it.  If this whole concept of crochet edges is new to you, check out this explanation from Knitty, which covers crocheting on to a knitted edge, as  well as the difference between a crochet slip stitch and single crochet stitch.)

 

crochet edge

 

Continue in the same way, going into each stitch as you come to it, pulling a loop though it and then through the loop you already have on the needle. This is called a “slip stitch” in American crochet terms.

You’re making a line of crochet stitches, which should look like another bind off row on top of the first one.

When you get to the place where you want to make a buttonhole, chain (pull loops through your working loop one at a time, without connecting to anything else) until you have enough stitches to just fit around your button.

You can make the buttonholes flat to the edge or more of a loop—your choice, depending on where you attach them—but either way they should be just big enough to push the buttons through, otherwise they may come loose while you wear it.

Reattach the chain to the edge by going into the bind-off stitch you choose, and making a slip stitch as you did before.

 

crochet buttonhole v2

 

The sample cowl has three large buttons and buttonholes, which line up with the three stockinette stitch columns.

 

102 cowl 2

 

Sew on your buttons to line up with the buttonholes.  I use the same method as I do with sewing thread, except the yarn only goes once each way through the buttons since it’s so thick.

 

102 cowl 3

 

Enjoy!  If you make one, I’d love to see it.

 

Blocking Knitting Without Special Equipment

When I mention blocking your knitting, I get a lot of blank looks from my students, and concern about how to do it and what they need to make it happen. Although it can be a magical transformation, it doesn’t need to be mysterious. And although there are a bunch of gadgets (special mats and pins, forms, blocking wires etc.) sold specifically for blocking, you don’t need to use any of those to get good results.  Some pins and a place to hold them will do, and sometimes you don’t even need that.

 
lupine cowl blocking

 

What does blocking mean anyway?

Blocking is actually a simple concept.  It just means using water and/or steam to set the final shape of something after you knit it.  As you knit, you make a new structure—a fabric—with your yarn. When the fabric gets wet, the yarn has a chance to settle into its new shape.  Sometimes it can change quite a bit, expanding or relaxing in response to the tensions (or lack of) that are now on it.

In blocking we take advantage of the fact that the yarn can form new shapes, and influence those shapes in the direction we want.  This can be as simple as gently stretching and patting a sweater so that it looks good flat, and leaving it to dry.  Sometimes more dramatic blocking is part of what makes a pattern shine, like stretching lace as much as possible to make the most of the open areas in the pattern.

Essentially, blocking is getting your knitting wet, shaping it how you want it to be, and holding it in that shape until it dries.

 

Why wet?

Yarns, especially wool ones, can change shape much more easily when they’re wet.  This is because of the structure of the fibers themselves.  (If you’re curious about the science of wool and haven’t seen the wool article I wrote for this month’s Seamwork, check it out!)

You can also stretch/shape your object while it’s dry, and then steam it to set the shape.  In general, I prefer the wet method for a few reasons.  It’s gentler on the fibers, and gives them a chance to relax before being under tension. It also gives a good idea of what your finished project will be like when it’s washed later.  A damp yarn object is easier to shape.  And when you finish knitting something, it may have been dragged all over hither and yon and have oils from your hands (or sticky stuff from your toddler) on it, and washing it is probably not a bad idea anyway.  (Hey—my favorite method for hand-washing is in that wool article too—good timing!)  (And speaking of good timing, Karen posted an eloquent argument this morning about why you should wash/block a swatch before embarking on a big project.  This is especially important when you’re making something like a sweater, where the final size/fit/drape is crucial to success.)

 

Does everything need blocking?

Not really.  I do wash all my finished knitting projects, shape them gently with my hands, and then leave them to dry.  But not everything needs to be pinned out, or to dry in an exact shape.  Socks, for example, are meant to be a little smaller than my foot, and to take on the exact shape of my foot when I wear them, so I don’t see much point in carefully shaping them before wearing.

 

How do I block something without special gadgets?

Everyone should have sewing pins, they’re useful for all kinds of things.  I’m not counting them as special equipment, but, it’s worth getting some with large, easy-to-see heads if you don’t have them already.  I like plain flat-head pins for sewing, but they get lost in the structure of hand knits.

The only other thing you need is a surface where your knits can dry that you can pin into.  A lot of times I use the same folded piece of flannel that I iron on.  An ironing board or a couch cushion covered with a towel are good choices for small projects.  For big items I stretch an old sheet over my bed (see below).

 

blocking shawl 1I tuck a doubled-over old sheet in tight over the bed covers.  That provides enough tension to hold in place when I pin onto it.  Plus it protects the covers from pin marks or any dye transfer from the yarn.  (Forgive the weird indoor lighting.  I wanted to show how I actually do this, but our bedroom is not ideal for photos …)

 
When your finished project is clean and damp, it’s ready to block.  Stretch and shape it with your hands, patting wrinkled areas out, smoothing ridges parallel, etc.  Pin in place any pieces that try to shrink back, away from the shape you want.

 

blocking shawl 2For this shawl, I pinned it at regular intervals along the straight edge, and intermittently along the other two edges.  You may have to move the pins as you smooth out the whole project, and that’s fine.  (This is my Indigo Boomerang, made with handspun.  More details are on Ravelry, and pictures of it worn are also in this post on slowness.)

 
For the cowl at the top of the post, I wanted to stretch the lace sections, but not the plain knitting in between.  I could have blocked it flat, a couple of sections at a time, and that would probably have worked fine, especially if I steamed it.  Instead I decided to experiment with different sizes of rolled up towels, and found a combo which was the right size to block it around.  I opened up the lace with my fingers while it was damp, and pinned the two edges parallel.

When your blocked knitting is dry, take out the pins and check out the shape.  If there are any parts you’re not happy with, or little pulled areas from the pins, those are great places to steam.  Hold your iron over the part you want to adjust (don’t flatten it) and fill it with steam.  Then take the iron away and reshape it with your fingers.

 

Will I have to block my knitting every time I wash it?

Probably not.  The most dramatic change takes place the first time the yarn gets wet in its new knitted shape.  Unless something extreme happens to it, it will stay more or less how you blocked it, with the additional influence of how it’s worn.  Lace may need to be re-blocked to look its crispest, but it won’t go all the way back to how it looked before you blocked it the first time.  For most items, a quick smoothing/stretching with your hands, before letting them dry flat is enough.  I like to drape bigger things like the shawl over the top of a wooden drying rack, using lower bars of the rack to hold the ends so that no part gets too stretched by gravity, or too folded and wrinkly, while it’s drying.

If your project does dry with wrinkles, a little steam will fix that right up.

I hope this helps demystify blocking for you!  The more we can all understand what’s going on with our yarn at various stages and why, the more we can get the results we want.  Happy knitting!

 

Making Jeny’s Stretchy Slip Knot Cast On with Lumpy Yarns

Or, how to make it easier in any yarn.

I love this cast on*; how easily it stretches and bounces back right along with the knitting, how invisible it is (it’s like whatever pattern you’re knitting just appears fully formed, without a visually different edge), and the bonus that since it only uses one end, you don’t have to worry about starting with a long enough tail.

But it’s notoriously difficult to do with uneven or thick-and-thin yarns, since the yarn has to be able to slide easily past itself to make the required shape.  Or does it …  My knitting students were having a hard time with this cast-on, even in a relatively smooth yarn, which got me wondering if I could figure out a trick that would help keep the yarn moving.  I decided to try it with my first handspun project (a thick and thin yarn if there ever was one).  And I did figure it out!  It may have helped that I was stuck on an airplane at the time without too much else to do …  It turns out that there’s one place that the yarn gets hung up on itself, and if you can get past that, you can do this cast on in a lumpy yarn too!  I’ll show you how below.

First, a quick review of what makes a slip knot, since that’s the structure this whole cast on is based on—you’ll essentially make one slip knot after another.  First of all, you need a loop.

 

slipknot cast on 1I’m going to show you using a bit smoother yarn—otherwise it would be hard to see what’s going on.  This is “Sheridan” from Mountain Meadow Wool—yummy!

 

Next you need another loop, and to put that second loop through the first one.  Remember that the ends must cross each other for the loops to stay in place.  So, you can either make a second loop in the bottom strand of the first loop and bring it through the top, or make a loop in the top strand and push it up through the bottom, which is what I’ve done below.

 

slipknot cast on 2

 

Tighten it up by pulling the second loop through until the first loop closes around it.  If you’ve made a successful slip knot, it will go away if you pull on both ends of the yarn.

 

slipknot cast on 3

 

Put this first knot on a needle, and you’re ready for the cast on.  I like to put the working end of the yarn (not the short tail) around my thumb, and hold the end with the last two fingers of my hand, as shown below.  (There are other hand positions and motions that work perfectly well to make this cast on, these are the ones I use.)

 

slipknot cast on 4

 

To make the first loop, I use the needle to scoop up the strand nearest me around the thumb, moving from the bottom up.

 

slipknot cast on 5

 

Leaving this first loop on the thumb, I use the rest of my hand to bring a second strand of yarn over the needle, making the second loop.

I used to think that looping this strand one direction vs. the other over the needle might make it easier to pull the yarn through in the last step.  That might be true, but it also (of course, silly me) determines which way your first round of stitches sit on the needle.  Chances are you want them as shown below, so wrap the yarn starting at the front and moving to the back.  If you’re a “combination” knitter or you learned in a tradition that knits through the back of the stitch, you’ll find your stitches ready to go if you wrap the yarn the other way, starting at the back and moving to the front.

 

slipknot cast on 6

 

In either case, now we have two loops on the needle.  We want to move the first loop over the second one, so that it makes a collar around the base of the second loop, just like in the first slip knot we made without the needle.  To do this, I use my thumb to lift the first loop up and over the tip of needle, and then let it go.

 

slipknot cast on 7

 

In the instructions I’ve seen before, the next step is to hold the new loop against the top of the needle, and pull on the end of the yarn so the collar around it tightens up.  Sometimes this works great, but if your yarn has any resistance to sliding along itself, it will probably get caught up, stop short, and cause you to curse, tug on all the ends available, and try again.

The reason the yarn gets caught easily is that there’s one place in its path where it has to loop quickly around itself, making almost like a little knot (indicated by the arrow below).

 

slipknot cast on 8

 

What I found was that if I pull the yarn through this tight place first, I can then pull on the end and the stitch will tighten up smoothly, even in my lumpy handspun!

I take hold of the outside of that little loop-de-loop, and pull it out, so that the collar starts to form around the bottom of the new loop on the needle.

 

slipknot cast on 9

 

I’ve found that it works best if I get the new loop pretty snug, right up against the stitch before it on the needle, and the collar almost snug as well.  Then with it set up, I hold the new loop against the needle and pull on the yarn end to finish the new stitch.

 

slipknot cast on 10

 

Although this undoubtedly adds a step, to me it’s totally worth it, since I can now use a whole lot more yarns with one of my favorite cast ons.  And I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a slightly more complex but smooth process, rather than cursing and tugging on the yarn every few stitches because it keeps getting stuck.

 

slipknot cast on 11

 

*One of the many bonuses of going to a workshop with Cat Bordhi in person, is that she tells you all kinds of cool little tricks, and that’s where I first learned about this cast on.  The original post about it on Jeny’s blog is here, she links both to her own video of the steps, and to another one which uses different motions.  If you’d prefer not to hold the yarn around your thumb, there’s also a variation using two needles demonstrated by Tillybuddy on YouTube here.

 

Happy knitting!

Simple Textures

Here’s what I made with that first batch of my handspun yarn.  And how to make something similar yourself, if you’re interested!

 

first handspun cowl 2

 

I really wanted something simple, that would let the (ahem, very thick-and-than-thin) nature of the yarn shine through.  But, I’m not a knitter who’s happy with endless rounds of stockinette.  No offense to those that are, but I just need a little something pattern-wise to keep my brain engaged, and let me see that I’m making progress.

My gut-instinct guess was that I’d have enough yarn to make a small but substantial cowl.  Of course, there’s no label on my handspun to let me know the yardage, but I was able to estimate how much knitting I could get from the yarn pretty successfully.  I knit a swatch in my pattern, measured the dimensions, and weighed it, so I knew about how many square inches of knitting I could get from a certain amount of yarn by weight.  Then I weighed all the yarn I had, and used that number to figure out about how many square inches of total knitting I could make from it in this pattern.  I tried on a cowl I had, and estimated how big it would need to be to comfortably fit over one’s head, and how tall I would ideally want it, and arrived at a compromise number to cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 4

 

The finished cowl is 25″ around, and 7″ tall, which turned out to be plenty big!  At my gauge of 2.5 stitches/inch, I cast on 64 stitches.  I used Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast On.  (In this yarn—yes really!  More about that here.)  I did two rows (or maybe three? Forgot to write that down …) of plain knitting to make a little roll at the bottom, then switched to my pattern; alternating blocks of four knit and four purls stitches, and switching them after 4 rounds.

Of course you could use another simple pattern for the body of the cowl.  Just make sure that the total of your pattern repeat (in my case 8 stitches) divides evenly into the number of stitches you cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 3

 

When I was getting near my estimated total height, and at the end of a pattern repeat, I knit a couple more plain rows, and then bound off, using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off.  I ended up using almost every bit of the yarn, which was definitely my intent!

I almost never buy yarn this chunky, so it seemed like the whole thing took about 5 seconds to knit.  In reality, it took parts of two days of traveling, and it was done!  So far, it seems like spinning is actually speeding up my production of finished knitted items, if that’s possible.  I actually have another finished handspun thing that just needs photos … and this one is off to live with someone dear to me, hopefully it will keep her neck warm this winter!

 

first handspun cowl 1

 

In the meantime, I hope this is helpful if you’re looking for something to make with a special bit of
thicker yarn, whether made by you or not!