5 Weird Lessons my Stash Taught Me

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I’ve had a stash for as long as I can remember. In my first apartment I kept yarn in my kitchen cabinets instead of pots and pans. My stash has been a source of great comfort and creativity – or so I thought.

On my journey to curate my life, I’ve given a lot of thought to what I keep, what’s meaningful or useful to me and what is just taking up space (physical, mental and emotional). It’s only natural that eventually I’d get to my stash. I’ve culled it several times over my lifetime and each time is different because I’ve grown and with that growth has come change. And one of the biggest changes the older I get, is letting go. Maybe it’s because I no longer feel young, carefree and immortal. Time is precious and finite so I want to focus whatever I have left on what excites and energizes me.

Here are five things I’ve learned from this round of destashing.

#1 Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should or even want to

I’ve justified hanging on to things because I want to be sustainable and I can always make something with it. But I’ve never given any consideration if that “something” is something I want to and would enjoy making. Better to let it go for someone else to use. I got brutal and if the project I was saving it for wasn’t enticing, then it went into the “go” pile.

#2 Some items are just wishful thinking.

I love day planners. I’ve bought many and spent a lot of money on them only to use them for about a week and then give up. As much as I love planners, I don’t have a “planner” personality. My temperment is better suited to using the calendar on my phone to remind me of anything I need to remember or do.

I also love art journals. How I wish I had pages filled with beautiful collages and drawings. I’ve given it a try – several times. I’ve bought the supplies but they often go untouched. While I like the idea of art journals, turns out I’m not particularly fond of the process. I don’t find it satisfying and learned that when it comes to making things, I prefer them to have a functional purpose, like clothing or quilts

#3 Match the tool to its purpose.

As I’ve said, I have an affinity for journals in just about any shape or form. My favorite are the handbound ones from with leather covers. But the truth is, I find them too precious and they inhibit my creativity because I don’t want to ruin them. While I can appreciate a beautiful journal, in my case, they just aren’t worth it. I journal to work out problems and once I’ve gotten it onto the page, I never go back to it. Rather than spend good money and waste paper it makes sense to go digital. The other reason I use a journal is to plan out designs or work out ideas. And for me, a cheap sketchbook is best. I’m not afraid of ruining it with an errant mark, getting it dirty or bending a page. It’s a working notebook and treated as such.

#4 Saving things for possible future use takes up space in the present.

I have about 30 skeins of miscellaneous cotton yarns I’ve been saving for dishcloths. The thing is I already have a dozen made and given that they last a couple of years, I won’t be needing a dishcloth for a couple of decades. There’s no reason to hang onto them. Hanging onto something because I might have a need for it in the future pulls me out of the present, where I should be.

#5 My stash is counterintuitive to my design process.

Trying to design something from materials I don’t love – they are the wrong color, don’t feel good in my hands or are difficult to work with is torture. While I can design from materials that inspire me, the truth is I would much rather come up with an idea and then figure out the materials to use. My stash was doing me no favors in this regard. I can’t tell you how many times I beat myself up because I tried to do something with stuff I wasn’t excited about using. Instead of blaming the materials, I blamed myself. I’ve spend most of my life blaming myself for all sorts of stuff that wasn’t my fault and I won’t allow it anymore.

Moving forward I will be intentional about what I bring in. I don’t imagine eliminating my stash but I’ll make sure the yarns and fabrics I buy:

  • Align with my values (eco-friendly, support small, preferably local businesses)
  • Are in colors/patterns that I love and suit me or the project I want to make
  • Are suitable for projects I enjoy making (no more art journaling supplies) and
  • Are a joy to work with (natural fibers).

When I first start building my stash, cost was the main factor but moving forward, price will be low on my priority list. Supplies may cost more but in the long run I’ll probably spend less because I won’t be buying stuff just because it’s a good deal. These weird little lessons and curating my stash has opened up space, energy and creativity for projects I am really excited about.

5 Tips for Perfect Knits

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Have you ever followed a commercial pattern only to find your garment doesn’t look as nice as the one in the picture? The problem with a lot of commercial patterns (sewing, knitting and crochet) is they assume a certain amount of knowledge and because print space is limited, will often leave out vital information for beginner (and even seasoned) knitters. In all fairness, it’s been a long time since I’ve purchased a pattern so I hope the advent of digital patterns, where space isn’t an issue, designers are getting more specific with their instructions.

My suggestion is when you start a new pattern to read through the instructions to become familiar with what you have to do and then think about how you’ll do it. Here is a list of what to look for:

1. Get the Fit Right

You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Check your gauge! Yes it’s tedious and no one likes to do it but if your gauge is off and you don’t adjust it, the fit will be wrong. And nothing is worse than putting in all that time and effort to have an ill-fitting garment.

But fit doesn’t end at getting the gauge right. Know your measurements and proportions and adjust accordingly. Look at the schematic and compare it to your measurements. With older patterns I often have to adjust for my small bust and make the sleeves longer.

Proportions matter also. I’m short waisted so if I’m knitting a top to wear with a skirt (all my skirts sit at my waist) then I don’t need a lot of length. If I want to wear it with jeans (which sit below my waist) I want a longer sweater to cover my belly.

2. Use the right technique

Often patterns give general instructions such as “cast on X number of sts” or “decrease one stitch every other row X times”. But which cast on or decrease is best? There is usually more than one way to do something so learn about them and which is best for each scenario. The Knitting Principles by June Hemmons Hiatt is a good reference manual for all things knitted. There are 40 pages just on different cast ons and cast offs!

Let’s look at decreases as an example – a knit 2 together (K2tog) decrease slants right and a slip 1, knit 1, passover (S1K1psso) slants left so if you are working in stockinette and decreasing for the armhole (and the decreases are done on right side rows) then you’ll want to do your S1K1psso first because your decreasing to the left and do your K2tog at the end of the row because your decreasing to the right.

3. Pick the right yarn

Not only do you want to pick the right yarn for the project, pick a yarn you’ll be comfortable wearing. Acrylic doesn’t breathe so if you are hot natured it might not be your best choice. It also doesn’t hold up well after a lot of washing/drying. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff is indestructable but it looks terrible. It also tends to pill. I like natural fibers because they are compostable, stand up better to wear and tear and breathe. I live in Texas so I prefer cotton, linen, silk and the occassional wool for winter. But it has to be a good quality wool that doesn’t itch.

The yarn should be a good match for the stitch pattern being used. Fairisle done in cotton is not going to look as nice as when done in wool. It just doesn’t have the loft needed. I have a raw silk yarn and I tried to do a lace pattern in it and it was horrible. Despite being silk, the yarn is a bit on the stiff side and the lace pattern got lost.

4. Pay attention when shaping stitch patterns

If the design is using a decorative stitch pattern (cables, lace etc.) pay attention to how those patterns will look when shaping. The cardian below is a case in point. Notice how the pattern along the neck edge is not symmetrical. Because these pieces were knitted separately, I didn’t notice this until I finished putting it together. Needless to say, I ended up unraveling it.

Not only is the pattern not symmetrical at the neckline but it would have looked better at the button band if I had mirrored the two sides. These are things the pattern designer should have thought out and noted. But most of the time these types of details are brought up.

5. Think about how you’ll sew it up

Before you cast on you should be thinking about how you are going to sew your pieces together. I prefer to use the mattress stitch. The easiest way to do it is to have knit stitches as the end stitch. Yes, I’m sure you can do mattress stitch with garter or other stitches but I always make sure the end stitch is in stockinette stitch, to make seaming my garment easier. This may mean I have to add two stitches to my cast on if there is a pattern repeat.

When I learned how to knit I trusted the knitting pattern and got burned quite a few times. Hopefully these knitting tips will help you think through a garment and avoid the frustration of having to rip out hours of work.

Thrift Flip – Altering a Skirt

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I found one of those cotton skirts made in India. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before I started ripping it apart, hopefully you can reconstruct it from the pieces. We’ve all seen this type of skirt – one-size-fits-all with an elastic waist. I had three such skirts in my cart and ended up with this one because it has the jewel-tone colors that look best on me. Plus I love all the different patterns. Technically this isn’t a refashion or a thrift flip because I am preserving the basic design of the skirt, just altering it to fit me better.

Step 1 – Take it Apart

I removed the bottom band that formed the hem and the waistband. I had to unpick three rows of seams to release the fabric from the elastic. There was also a string tie that I saved it to use for something else. Once apart, I gave everything a good iron.

Step 2 – French Seams

These “one-size-fits-all” garments don’t really do anyone’s figure any justice. I’m small so there was a LOT of extra fabric at the waist. To get rid of that bulk, I replaced the elastic waistband with a fitted one. In order to do that I had to cut one of the seams so I could insert a zipper. But the way the skirt was constructed, with the overlock seams showing on the right side, made this tricky as there was no way I could replicate those seams. I decided to turn those into French seams. It means I would lose that decorative feature but that’s the just way it goes sometimes.

Why a French seam? French seams enclose the raw edge so you always start by sewing wrong sides together, trim the seam to about an 1/8″, iron and then fold right sides together and stitch about 1/4″ from the first seam. Because of the overlock stitch on the right side, half the work was already done. Also, the fabric is pretty thin so the added strength of a French seam seemed like a good idea.

A close up of the overlocked seams which were used as a design element, so they were on the right side. Rather than cut them apart, I just did a French seam.

I still had the open seam where I was putting the zipper. Because the fabric is thin, I reinfoced the edge where the zipper would be with some lightweight interfacing. Then I serged the raw edges.

Step 3 – Install the Zipper

After the tedious task of sewing about 20 French seams, it was time to tackle the lapped zipper. I make the seam allowance a little wider (3/4-1″) for a lapped zipper and sewed the seam, basting it where the zipper was going. Then I ironed it and took out the basting. I pinned the zipper in and starting at the bottom. sewed the folded edge close to the zipper teeth using a zipper foot. Then I zip it up and placed the other side over the zipper, covering it (lapping it) and from the right side, starting at the bottom, sew it in. As I’m sewing, I feel along the edge so I am near the zipper teeth.

Step 4 – Adding the Waistband

With the zipper in I could now add the waistband. I took about 12″ off the original waistband, cutting it down to about 29″. The original skirt had 64″ of fabric gathered into the waistband but adding the French seams brought it down to about 52″. Since I was still planning on gathering the skirt into the waistband, 52″ was perfect (double my waist size). I ran a gathering stitch on the skirt, marked the sides on both the skirt and waistband and pinned it in. After sewing in the waistband I added a hook and eye.

Step 5 – Hem

The hem of this skirt, as you can see in the photo where I took it apart, is one band of fabric. Right sides together, I stitched one side of the band to the hem. Then I ironed down 1/2″ seam allowance on the other edge and with wrong sides together, pinned the folded seam to the seam I just made. Then I topstitched it and all the raw edges were encased inside the band. Again, I gave it another good iron.

To be honest, it would have taken me less time to make this skirt from scratch than it did to take it apart, rework the seams and sew it back up. But I only paid $6 for it, it was a pleasant use of my time and got to hone my skills. Not to mention, I love how it turned out.

The finished skirt with a smooth, fitted waistband for a fit that flatters.

Designing and Sewing a Sundress

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Summer in Austin is HOT. Particularly this year as we’ve had weeks of triple digit temperatures since May (I think). We hopped from winter straight into “you’ve reached your destination – Hell”. I like warm weather but it’s a bit much, even for me.

When I think about my ideal summer wardrobe, I think dresses. How many summer dresses do I actually own?

One.

I was inspired by this dress by Jess Dang, a Vietnamese YouTuber who makes the sweetest dresses. I drafted my own pattern by combining my front and back sloper (master pattern) that I created in this post. It still needs adjustments but that’s for another day.

The pink is my master pattern and you can see how it evolved into the bodice for this sundress

Mockup #1

I traced out the front and back sloper, connecting them at the side seam to make one piece. I used the lowest point on the neckline and drew a line straight across and just extended it onto the back bodice. I also dropped the armhole about half and inch because I know the armhole is too high on the sloper. The fit was wrong. On to…

Mockup #2

The neckline was too wide, it needed to come in about 1.5″. To do this I made a dart at the neckline and then shifted the extra width to the waist dart. This made the waist dart huge, so I figured I’d do two smaller waist darts instead of one huge one. I also dropped the armhole another half inch which dropped the whole side a half inch. I didn’t even make a complete this bodice, I knew I would be better off making it a princess seam instead of darts.

Mockup #3

I redrew everything because my pattern was getting ratty, making sure to include the neckline dart. It was definitely better but the bust area was ridiculous. I have small boobs and way too much room. I flattened out the princess seams and lowered the neckline an inch. Also, there was still bunching under the armhole so I dropped it another half inch. I also played around with the back dart, bringing it in a bit to give me some extra width to put in a zipper

Mockup #4

Close but no cigar. The princess seam still needed some refinement. Also, I added some width onto the back as I still didn’t think I’d have enough put in a zipper and be able to close it.

Mockup #5

Houston, we have lift off! I finally had something I was happy with.

FIVE mockups to get the bodice right!

The skirt is made up of two rectangles – 27″ x 28″. I cut one in half for the back so I can put the zipper in.

I picked a red, lightweight, cotton calico that has been in my collection for eons. I had just enough to cut out the bodice, lining, straps and skirt. The skirt is gathered so I wanted a lighter fabric to reduce bulk.

Sewing this dress was straightforward. I already had tons of practice given I made FIVE mockups. Because the bodice has a lining, I didn’t have to do any seam finishes there, only on the skirt. I wish I had a red zipper, I only had black and white so I used a white one. You can see it but this is a dress I’m going to wear mostly around the house so I won’t see it. I also need more practice inserting zippers. But I also plan on eliminating the need for one on future dresses.

I am proud of this dress. I learned a lot by drafting my own pattern and once I got that all figured out, it was a quick sew. I’ve already got a couple of ideas on how I can modify it.

10 YouTube Channels to Check out

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I don’t own a T.V. so I turn to the internet – Netflix and YouTube – to be entertained and inspired. I am constantly refining my choices. I keep going back to some creators because I either learn something new or they are extremely entertaining. Others fall by the wayside. Here are an assortment of videos on a wide range of topics that I’m currently watching.

DIY HandyMum Lin TV

First of all, she makes the most incredible things from fabric scraps, a woman after my own heart. Second, there is no talking, just beautiful video and soothing music. True inspiration.

Perspective (with Waldemar Januszczak)  

This channel is dedicated to the all sorts of art forms but my favorite presenter is art critic Waldemar Januszczak (he’s Polish so that alone endears him to me). I wish I had discovered him before I went to the Louvre. When we visited the Seattle Museum of Pop Culture, my son and I were disappointed in how the exhibits were displayed. Sure, they gave you information about what they were or who made them, but there was very little, if any, storytelling. What makes art come alive is the context in which it is presented – the backstory, the symbolism, the socioeconomic period, the drama and scandal of the artist’s life. Waldemar’s love of art is infectious as he weaves a wonderful tale around art.

Jess Dang

I am so inspired by young creators who just throw caution to the wind and figure things out on their own. It’s taken me a long time to convince myself I was capable of designing my own knits and creating my own sewing patterns. Jess’s channel is devoted to sewing and she makes her own simple patterns and her designs are right up my alley. I love a boho hippie vibe for summer. Her videos have inspired a recent project, which I will be sharing in an upcoming post.

Parkrose Permaculture

Lawns are such a waste of resources. I love how Angela has turned her little suburban plot of land in Oregon into a permaculture paradise. The permaculture philosophy aligns with my own as we should be stewards of this planet and the people we share it with instead of sucking all the resources out of it as if there is an endless supply. We act as if we own nature when in fact we are part of an intricate and sensitive ecosystem and we are pretty crappy roommates. I also love how she advocates that homemaking is a valid and noble occupation and people should quit looking down their nose on it because homemakers don’t earn a salary. They make important contributions to a family and should be recognized.

Struthless

I love hearing about other people’s creative journeys. Part art instruction, part motivational, part self-improvement, this channel covers a variety of topics around creativity from technique to mindset.

Philosophy Tube

The “About” section of this channel says “I’m giving away a philosophy degree for free!” As an actor, Abigail brings philosophical questions to life and you can’t help but walk away, if not with a different perspective, at least a broader one. Everything about this channel is well done.

Not Just Bikes

While I like the idea of having a homestead, I think I’m a city girl at heart (not that you can’t have a homestead in the city or suburbs). Not Just Bikes is “Stories of great urban planning and urban experiences from Amsterdam and the Netherlands” This YouTuber is a Canadian currently living in the Nederlands and does a wonderful job of contrasting good city planning (the Nederlands) with bad city planning (almost any city in North America). We got urban planning so wrong in the States and it is really a shame.

The Financial Diet

I’m not really all that interested in finance. At least I didn’t think I was until I found this channel. Chelsea does a wonderful job of showing how financial, social, political and environmental issues are intertwined. Most shows about finance are dry as bones but The Financial Diet is incredibly relatable, informative and relevant. There are a couple of different formats from interviews with subject matter experts (everything from fashion to home buying), the essay style Financial Confessions and Q&A’s.

Cinema Therapy

A therapist and filmaker analyze films so we are getting a look into the psychological factors as well as how music, camera angles and other cinematography choices tell a story. My favorite one is 7 Tips from the Addams Family to Keep your Marriage Alive. Gomez and Morticia are true relationship goals.

Pro Home Cooks

I love cooking and this channel has some reallly good, healthy, easy recipes.

Design a Sweater Part 3 – Set-in Sleeves

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If you haven’t been following along, here is Part 1 and Part 2.

First, let’s talk about the 3 main types of sleeves – drop shoulder, raglan and set in. There are others but most are variations on one of these.

A drop shoulder sleeve is probably the easiest to construct but it’s the least flattering type of sleeve. The lack of shaping means extra fabric at the armhole, giving it a boxy fit.

Drop shoulder sleeve

A raglan sleeve, most often used in top down sweater construction, angles from the underarm to the neck. It is important to make sure the angles on the body and sleeve match.

Raglan sleeve

The set-in sleeve offers the best fit because you are taking away unnecessary fabric at the armhole on the body of the sweater as well as extra width at the sleeve cap, which is the portion of the sleeve that is sewn into the armhole.

Set-in sleeve

We’ll be working from the diagram below. The red lines represent the parts that will be sewn together. This means that they need to be the same length (the armhole length shown on the body would be doubled, front and back). There is some leeway and if the sleeve cap is a little bit longer, it can be eased into the armhole without affecting the look or fit.

The green part of the graph is the bind off stitches that mark the beginning of the armhole shaping. This should be the same number of stitches on the body and the sleeve. In Part 2, charting the body, there were 6 stitches bound off so the sleeve cap will begin by also binding off 6 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows.

Using the same gauge as for the body, we have 6 stitches and 7 rows = 1 inch. The measurements for my sleeves are as follows (I took measurements from a garment that I liked the fit of):

  • Wrist measurement = 9 inches (wrist circumferance plus ease) X stitch gauge =54 sts.
  • Bicep measurement = 12 inches (bicep circumferance plus ease) X stitch gauge = 72sts
  • Cap = 3 inches. I use this as the standard length for all my sleeves. 3 X stitch gauge = 18 sts
  • Length from wrist to underarm = I have long arms and I want the total length (shoulder to wrist) to be about 23-24 inches. So subtracting the sleeve cap length, which is usually 6-6.5 inches, from the total length is 17 inches. Subtract 2 inches for the rib band so 15″ X row gauge = 105 rows

So with these measurements we can begin to chart our sleeve. I want a K2P2 rib for two inches so I’ll cast on 54 stitches. The band will end with K2, which makes an even rib all around after I sew it up and leave knit stitches at each end to make seaming easier. I’ll work the wristband in a needle two sizes smaller than for the main body.

I need to increase 18 stitches (54 to 72 stitches) to accomodate my bicep, the largest part of my arm. There will be two increases per row so I’ll need to increase 9 times. I want them evenly spaced – divide 105 rows by 9 = 11.67. I could use the taper formula but I’ll make it easy on myself and increase 1 stitch on each end every 11 rows, 9 times and then work even until I get to the desired length to underarm.

To shape the sleeve cap I’ll bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows, leaving 60 stitches. Now we need to decrease down to 18 stitches for the cap. This means decreasing 42 stitches.These will also be double decreases, one on each end so there needs to be 21 decrease rows.

Remember, it’s important to make sure the total sleeve cap is long enough (the red lines) to fit into the armhole. If the decreases are too quick (like every row) your sleeve cap won’t be long enough to fit. Space the decreases out too much and your sleeve will be too big for the armhole. This might not be a problem if you want a gathered puff sleeve but that’s not what we’re after here. In order to get the perfect fit, we turn to geometry and the Pythagoreon Theorem – a²+ b² = c²

Looking at the chart above, we have side a – the finished height of the cap. Side b is the width over which the cap will be decreased at each tapered edge. Side c is the length of the tapered edge. We can figure out b and c and using the equation, we can find a. (A more detailed explaination can be found in The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design by Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis)

Side b is 21 stitches (60 stitches – 18 stitches = 42/2) or 3.5″ (21/stitch gauge)

Side c = curve measurement (measure the armhole (red line) on the body – 1/2 of the cap width (3/2=1.5″). On my sweater this is 8.5″ – 1.5″ so 7″.

b² = 12.25

c² = 49

c² – b² = a²

49-12.25 = 36.75. The square root of 36.75 is 6.1. Multiply this by the row gauge and you have 42.7 rows. This is how many rows needed in the sleeve cap to make sure it fits into armhole. To figure out how often to make your decreases divide 42 by 21 which is 2. The decreases will take place every other row, 21 times.

This is how the pattern would read:

With size 3 needles, cast on 54 stitches.

Row 1 – Right side – *K2, p2; repeat from *, end k2.

Row 2 – *P2, k2; repeat from * end p2. Repeat these 2 rows for 2 inches. End with a wrong side row.

Change to size 5 needles and work in stockinette stitch. Increase 1 stitch each end every 11 rows, 9 times, 72 stitches. Work even until sleeve measures 15 inches.

Shape sleeve cap – bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows, 60 stitches.

Decrease 1 stitch every other row 21, times, 18 stitches. Bind off.

We’ll talk about finishing up our sweater in Part 4.

Finished – Striped Sweater

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Another project has been put to bed. I wanted some variety so I made a striped sweater this time. It’s perfect. The sleeves are a little longer than needed but that’s okay. It will help keep me warm. I’m quite proud of how I got the stripes to line up on between the sleeves and the body. I didn’t plan that so it’s nice that it worked out that way.
The temperatures are already in the triple digits so this will be tucked away until winter. The yarn for this sweater comes from two thrifted Old Navy men’s sweaters and I have more than enough leftover to make one if not two more garments. Because it is cotton, I think I’ll make two sleeveless tops. I need some more warm weather options.

Design a Sweater Part 2 – Charting the Front and Back

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I could kick myself for all the time I wasted thinking creating knitting patterns was some mystical process. I think it took me so long because when I first learned how to knit, there were no charts, just a sea of words. I’m a visual person and wading through all that text was excruciating. Getting the book The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design shed light on the process and getting a knitting machine sealed the deal. Machine knitters relied heavily on visuals, especially since a lot of the covetted pattern books were in Japanese. And the Japanese love their pictures and symbols.

My rather dragged out point is this – designing your own knitting patterns is just basic math and anyone can do it.

There are two things you’ll need before you create your pattern – your gauge (stitch and row) and your measurements. I suggest finding a sweater or top that has a fit you like and use its measurements to start with. Just lay the garment out on the floor as flat as possible and measure (measure straight up for armholes instead of following a curve, if any)

For your inaugural design, let’s keep it simple. This is for top down sweater that is sewn together.

The body of your sweater, front and back, is just a basic rectangle. A couple of measurements to know:

  • Chest width (1/2 of total desired chest measurement)
  • Body length up to armhole (if you are putting in a rib or some other border, make sure to take that into account)
  • Armhole length (armhole to shoulder)
  • Shoulder width
  • Neckline width (how wide do you want the neckline opening before putting in bands)

When you have your gauge and measurements, you can proceed to chart your garment. Here’s how I do it:

Stitch gauge X chest measurement = # of stitches to cast on. If you want a ribbing, cast on the same number of stitches but use a needle two sizes smaller. You could also cast on 10% less stitches for the rib and then add the rest back in on the last row if you want a snug rib. If you are using a stitch pattern other than stockinette or garter stitch, you may need to adjust your cast on stitches to accommodate any stitch repeats. I also usually add two extra edge stitches that I knit in stockinette stitch for any stitch pattern other than stockinette to make sewing up easier. I’ll place a marker to remind myself I have edge stitches and they are not part of the pattern repeat.

Body length X row gauge = # of rows to knit before you start your armhole shaping. If you don’t want any armhole shaping, then the body length would be from your ribbing to shoulder.

Shape armholes. If set in sleeves seem too daunting (they aren’t) you can skip this part and just knit straight up. You will have a boxier shape though) I use a general formula for set in sleeves. I bind off an inch of stitches from each side and then decrease another inch of stitches every other row. The directions would read like this: “Shape armhole: Bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of next two rows. Then decrease one stitch each edge every other row 6 times.” You will have decreased a total of 24 stitches in this example, 12 on each side. I make my decrease at least one stitch in. It’s just a finishing choice to make seaming in the sleeve easier.

Shoulder and neck widths. I make my shoulders about 3 inches and whatever stitches are leftover are for my neck (about 7-8 inches wide). I don’t like wide necklines but if you do, just make your shoulder width shorter. Remember to take into consideration if you are adding a neckband. If no neckband then make your neck width what you want your finished length to be.

Front Neckline shaping. This sweater has a v-neck but you can do a crew neck or boat neck just as easy. I just think a v-neck is more flattering so it’s my go-to neckline. I start my v-neck shaping at the armhole. This may seem deep but I’m going to be adding at least a one inch band, which will add two inches when it’s done (an inch on each side). You need to evenly decrease the neck stitches, at each edge, over the number of rows for your armhole length. This means when you make your calculations, you’ll half the number because you’ll be decreasing 2 stitches on those rows.

For instance, if your armhole is 8 inches and your row gauge is 7 rows per inch, you have 56 rows to decrease your stitches. If your neck has 48 stitches, divide it by 2 because you are decreasing 2 stitches, one at each edge. To find out how often to make your decreases, divide the rows (56) by the number of stitches (24) which is 2.33. There are a couple of ways you can do this. The first is decrease 1 stitch, each neck edge, every other row, 24 times, then just knit evenly till you get to 56 rows.

Or, since 24 doesn’t divide evenly into 56, you can use the taper formula found in The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design by Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis, which is a bit more precise. Since we got an even number and a fraction, write down the even number and next highest even number (if you got an odd number and a fraction, say 3.15, write down the even number lower, 2, and higher even number, 4), which in this case is 4. A = the number of rows (56), B = the number of stitches (24). The formula is:

[(B X higher even number) – A] /2 = number of rows to be work with the lower number.

It looks like this: (24X4)=96-56=40/2=20. This translates to decrease every other row 20 times. That means you’ll decrease every 4 rows, 4 times. If you want to check the math 2×20=40 and 4×4=16 giving you a total of 56 rows.

Back Neckline shaping. You don’t have to shape your back neckline, it just sits nicer if you do. I just do an inch of shaping about an inch before I hit my armhole length. To keep our numbers consistent, I have 48 stitches (6 sts per inch) for my neck and 56 rows for my armhole length. When I get to row 49, I would start decreasing for my back neck edge. I’d knit my shoulder width of stitches plus 3, put 42 stitches on a stitch holder or scrap of yarn, attach a new ball and knit the remaining stitches. Then I would decrease one stitch each neck edge every other row, 3 times (6 stitches total) and knit to row 56. I should only have my shoulder stitches left on each side.

Of course, when you do your decreases does make a difference. If you want a straighter edge, alternate your decreases between every other and every fourth row. If you want a convex line, first do the 4 row decreases and then every other row and if you want a convex line, flip it and do the every other row decreases first.

If all of this seems confusing, here is how it would be written out:

  • Chest width = 18″
  • Ribbing = 2″
  • Body length = 14″
  • Armhole length = 8″
  • Shoulder length = 3″
  • Neck width = 8″
  • Stitch gauge is 6 stitches = 1 inch over size 5 needles in stockinette stitch
  • Row gauge is 7 rows = 1 inch with size 5 needles in stockinette stitch

Back – With size 3 needles, cast on 110 stitches (I added 2 stitches so I’d end with K2 on right side rows). Starting with a right side row, work in K2, P2 rib, ending with K2 on right side (having knit stitches on the ends make it easier to seam, but also keeps the ribbing in K2, P2 when joined) for 2 inches.

Change to size 5 needles and work in stockinette stitch until it measures 14″.

Shape Armholes – Bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of next two rows, 98 sts. Decrease 1 stitch at each armhole edge every other row, 6 times, 86 stitches. Work even until armhole is 7″.

Shape Neck – knit 22 sts, put 42 stitches on holder. Add new ball and knit 22 stitches. Decrease 1 stitch each neck edge every other row 3 times. Knit even to row 56 or armhole measure 8 inches. Either bind off or put on spare yarn/stitch holder depending on what method you choose to connect shoulder seam. I use a 3 needle bind off so I put the stitches on a scrap of yarn or spare needles if I have them.

Front – Work the same as the back up to the armholes.

Shape Armholes and neckline: Starting with a wrong side row, bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of next two rows, 98 sts. Next row (wrong side)- Purl 49 stitches and attach another ball of yarn to divide for neckline, Purl next 49 stitches. Next row (right side – I find it easier to plan my decreases on right side rows): AT THE SAME TIME: Decrease 1 stitch at each armhole edge every other row, 6 times and decrease 1 stitch at each neck edge every other row and every 4 rows, 4 times. Continue decreasing 1 stitch every other row 16 times on neck edge. You should have 19 stitches left for each shoulder. Bind off or put on holder depending on how you seam your shoulders.

Let’s talk about decreases for a minute. There are two options that suit most circumstances – Knit 2 together (K2 tog) or slip 1, knit 1, passover (sl1, k1, psso). These decreases have a slant to them so use the one that follows along the curve you are creating. Looking at the chart you can see which way the stitch should slant. For decreases at the armhole edge, you would do a sl1, k1, psso decrease at the beginning of the row because it slants to the left and a K2 tog at the end because it slants right.

You might have noticed I haven’t followed all the math exactly. For instance, I had 86 stitches for my neckline and shoulder stitches. The math doesn’t come out exactly for a 3″ shoulder and 8″ neckwidth. I was 2 stitches off so I just divided it up and added it to the shoulder length. One stitch isn’t going to make much of a difference. Knitting is pretty flexible that way.

If the patterns are just for my use, I don’t write it. I just make a chart like the one above and plug in the numbers.

A page from my knitting journal. All the information needed to create this sweater is on these charts. I was originally going to make this a turtleneck but turned it into a v-neck instead which is why you see the dotted lines.

Once you’ve worked your way through one of your own designs, you’ll see how easy and how forgiving knitting really is.

The next step is the sleeve. If you’re really observant, you’ll see on my chart the key to figuring out the sleeve cap.

Making a Game of Creativity

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I have found myself stuck in a rut more times than I’d like to admit. I started another project and while my hands are happy to have something to keep them occupied, it’s not my most creative idea. In fact, a lot of my ideas have been pretty run of the mill, but you got to start somewhere.

The question now is: how do I level up?

The best way to get a good idea is to come up with a lot of ideas. And the best way to do that is to make it a habit. Prolific creators, no matter the medium, schedule time on a regular basis. But is that enough? Successful creators go a step further and are deliberate about it (akin to the idea of deliberate practice). I want a system that will consistently help me create great/interesting ideas. At the very least, I want to have fun. I mean, Hemmingway’s quote about writing – “All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” – doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

What if I made it a game? An actual game, with a game board, cards and dice? The idea intrigues me.

Creativity is at the heart of great ideas. It’s about seeing things differently, not what is but what could be. It’s in the realm of possibility and imagination. It’s making weird connections and breaking out of formulaic thinking. It’s not about blood, sweat and tears, it’s play.

I’ve always been more interested in the color, pattern and texture of a garment than the shape. I have my standard, go-to silhouettes that flatter my figure. Basically I’m creating a fabric that would be shaped like a sweater. This makes sense as I was always more drawn to textile than fashion design. I’m not interested in exploring new shapes for garments. This is a good starting point. Constraints, contrary to popular belief, enable rather than hinder, creativity. Taking this into consideration, I knew my game needed to be focused on the fabric. Instead of thinking outside the box, I would be working inside the box, a sweater shaped box.

My next step was to just start Googling things related to design like design elements (parts that make up any design such as line and color) and principles (ways to arrange those parts). During this phase I’m not really looking for anything in particular, I’m just playing around with different words to see what resonates and looking for those weird connections.

Design has many variables, which is what makes it so exciting as well as challenging. The very idea of gamifying the process feels like trying to herd cats. Eventually I hit upon a way to organize my research into a series of steps designed to make me more sensitive to the nuances of a design as well as stimulate thinking beyond the mundane. A process that moves me from seeing what is to seeing what is possible, out of the ordinary into the truly original and extraordinary territory. The path is linear with a lot of flexibility for side trips when something interesting comes up.

I’m not sure you could classify what I have so far as a game. Even if it never happens, just trying has pushed my creativity to a whole new level. As I continue to explore and create my personal creativity game, it will evolve. It’s a journey and when done right, is one fun ride.

Design a Sweater: Part 1 – The Swatch

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This swatch is a wealth of information from the needle size I should use, stitch pattern, color sequence and gauge (number of stitches and rows per inch).

I used to think there was something magical about designing a knitting pattern. I was a slave to other people’s designs for a lot of my knitting life. Until I found a book and decided to try my hand at creating my own designs. Once I realized how easy it was, I never looked back.

Being able to chart your own designs is freedom. You’ll be able to adapt a commercial pattern for any yarn or gauge you want as well as adjust for fit. And even better, you won’t need to rely on commercial patterns at all as you can design your own. It’s particularly useful when the yarn you have has been unravelled from thrift store sweaters.

The starting point of a design is different from project to project. Sometimes I have a sweater in mind and have to find the right yarn. Sometimes I start with a yarn and have to figure out what kind of sweater to make. No matter how I start, a swatch is always involved.

Knitters (and crocheters) have a love/hate relationship with swatching. We want to dig right in and get started on the project and a swatch just feels like work. For a designer though, a swatch is not only a chance to play, but provides a wealth of information. It is time well-spent in ensuring the success of a project.

Whether it’s knit or crochet, with either method you are creating fabric. In addition to getting your stitch and row gauge so you can chart your sweater, swatching also helps you figure out:

  • The appropriate size hook or needle to use with the yarn. Commercial yarns usually have a recommended needle size but you can play around with it to see which fabric you like best. Going up a size or two will create looser stitches and a drapier fabric.
  • The appropriate size hook or needle for a stitch pattern. How do cables look if you go up or down a needle size? What about lace? With crochet, you often need a much larger hook size to get a drapier fabric, especially if you are working with dense stitch patterns like shells.
  • The appropriate stitch pattern to use with a yarn. I knit a cable and lace swatch with some raw silk yarn and was disappointed with the results. Cables need a loftier fiber to really pop and this silk had little spring to it. It’s best suited to knit and purl designs or lace.
  • How to combine stitch patterns. Stitch dictionaries are a good starting point for different patterns but to make them really interesting, play around with different combinations. Can you make stripes from different horizontal patterns?
  • Color combinations. Play around with the order and proportions of your colors. Which one is most pleasing?
  • How to combine different yarns. Novelty yarns aren’t a thing anymore but if you’ve been knitting as long as I have or just have a bunch of odd balls left over from other projects, see how you can combine them. A boucle can add a touch of interest to shinier fibers like rayon.
  • Shaping. Swatching lets you figure out the best way to do shaping such as whether to do a decorative decrease or a hidden decrease. It can also help you figure out how to shape a stitch pattern so you maintain the integrity of the design while shaping a neckline or armhole.
  • Finishing elements. There are many ways to finish a garment. Do you want exposed seams? What kind of button band looks better – horizontal or vertical ribbing? What if you added duplicate stitch or embroidery within a pattern stitch?

If you’re one of those knitters who cringes at the thought of making a swatch, I invite you to reframe it. It isn’t the boring part before you can begin, it is a chance to play and experiment.

Part 2 will cover the next step – charting your design – where I’ll share my shorthand method.