Tag Archives: yarn

My Journey to Designing Knits

Standard

I learned to knit when I was around 10 or 11 years old. Both my grandmothers knew how to crochet so I was already fascinated with the idea of taking a ball of yarn and making it into something. My mother wanted to learn how to knit and of course, I went along for the ride.

I remember going to the yarn store in Deerbrook Mall. It was actually outside the mall but it was a shop filled with basic wool and acrylic yarns for knitting, crochet and needlepoint. Back then there were no indie hand-dyers or spinners. Variety only pertained to fiber, color and thickness of yarn. I remember the first sweater my mother made – a peachy, sleeveless top with a ribbed type stitch. I came across it decades later on one of my Half Price Books visits and it gave me a little smile.

My first sweater, however, was a white worsted weight acrylic top with a shawl-like collar that I used a green ombre yarn for contrast (also on the cuffs too). I’m sure it took me forever and I’m not even sure how long I had been knitting before I tackled such a huge project. I think I got the yarn from my grandmother (who mostly crocheted afghans) and it was probably from K-mart. Directions were concise in those days, they told you what to do but not how to do it. There were some basic guides but for the most part, they assumed you knew how to do it or would go to your local yarn store to learn. This was before Ravelry or Youtube. There were barely even any books on the subject, I would have bought them if there were. I’m sure my finishing skills were lacking, piecing things together based on my sewing skills.

I didn’t understand gauge at the time and that sweater was actually too small for me. I gave it to my neighbor whose kids I babysat for, thinking it would fit one of the girls.

Let me tell you something about myself before I go on. I’m a rule follower. Oh how I wish I was a rebel but that is just not me. I like order, I like rules. But, I’ve also learned that just because I like rules, doesn’t mean I can’t be the person who makes up the rules! That was a HUGE game changer for me, but I’m getting off track. That can be a story for another day.

I mention this because I saw a knitting pattern as The Rules I’m Supposed to Follow. A pattern was a mysterious thing to me and though I would have loved to design my own stuff I didn’t think I was capable of it. I collected a lot of patterns (and yarn) but my output was scarce.

I don’t remember the chronological order but there were a couple of things that started my shift away from relying on patterns to making my own designs. One defining moment was a weekend trip I took to Pennsylvania for The Knitting Guild of America’s knitting conference. I signed up for a class on making mood boards taught by Susan Lazear. It was the first time I even heard of such a thing and I was enamoured with the idea. Of course, anything related to the creative process fascinates me. But it was actually the bus ride to the airport that got me thinking. I was talking to another participant and she showed me a kit she bought. She talked about how she was drawn to the colors but the pattern wasn’t exactly to her liking and she was going to change it. In my mind that wasn’t ever a possibility until the moment she said it. So a pattern isn’t written in stone. Huh.

Knitting was becoming a bigger business and more books were being published. There was the grand-daddy (or should I say grand-mammy?) of them all – June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting – which is still in print. This encyclopedic volume tells you just about everything you want to know about knitting technique. But it isn’t the book that had the most impact on me. Carmen Michelson and Mary-Ann Davis’ book The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design holds that spot. I still refer to it today. It breaks down the process in such easy to understand terms, basically demystifying the process. I saw how it really is just a case of basic math with some geometry thrown in (if I had known you could chart a sleeve with the pythagorean theorem, I would have been way more interested in the subject).

The best money I’ve ever spend on a knitting book.

Another milestone in my development was getting into knitting machines. At one point I owned three. A Passap, which was an older model I bought off of a widower. HIs wife took great care of it but I never really warmed up to it. I also had a Brother with a ribber and a Big Phil, which you could use hand knitting yarns on. I sold all of them a long time ago as I prefer to hand knit.

Knitting machines have their own language and since most of the patterns (at least then) came from Japan, charts were always included (even if you didn’t understand Japanese, you could always knit one of their designs by following the chart). Pictures were part of the missing link to my design education. As a visual person, schematics opened the door to design. Even though they are standard for patterns today, look at any of the older knitting magazines and there are none. Words couldn’t bring a pattern to life, but a simple line drawing leapt off the page and into my imagination. It is also from knitting machine patterns that I developed my shorthand for writing a knitting pattern.

Having knitting machines also got me a job for a machine knitting magazine. I was the technical editor in charge of articles so I worked with a lot of talent. It was an amazing education on so many levels. It helped me leaps and bounds in my own design work. And while I did have some of my designs published in the magazine, the one that I am most proud of is a handknit design I submitted to Knitting Digest (now defunct, see picture above). I did it on a whim and it ended up on the cover. I also have a design in Not Your Mama’s Knitting by Heather Dixon.

Seeing my name in print and having one of my sweaters on a cover is intoxicating but being a commercial designer is not the path for me. Coming up with my own patterns is fun, but having to grade it for different sizes, find pattern checkers, write it up, etc, isn’t. I’d rather just stick to doing it for myself and writing about it.

I believe everyone should learn how to design their own patterns because of the freedom it gives you. Most commercial patterns are written by yarn companies for their yarn. My stash, however, is full of discontinued brands that I bought years (decades!?) ago, thrifted or were given to me. Also, I like to use repurposed yarn (from unravelled thrift store sweaters). Trying to find patterns for these yarns is hard if not impossible. It’s just easier to make up my own.

Another advantage to designing your own sweaters is you will get the fit you want (as long as you got the gauge right). I still use commercial patterns as last year’s knitting can attest to, but almost every single one of them I made some sort of adjustment to achieve the fit most flattering for my body. (There are no wrong bodies, only wrong clothes).

I’ve significantly culled my collection of reference materials over the years. I’ve let go of most of my pattern books. At this point I can pretty much make any sweater I want just by looking at a picture. I’m more interesed in books that talk about technique, knitting traditions and the design process. Lately I’ve been thinking it’s time to quit buying books and write one instead. Just goes to show the journey never ends, it just evolves.

A Million Loose Ends

Standard

I spent today finishing up this sweater and weaving in the loose ends. A lot of them although a million might be a slight exaggeration.

It’s a basic top down v-neck I started to use up some odds and ends I had on hand. No particular design in mind, I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out a color scheme, I just made a swatch and started knitting.

On the one hand, it’s a satisfying sweater in that it took very little brain power yet kept my hands busy. On the other, I can’t say it’s one of my favorites. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either.

My creative dry spell has lasted longer than normal. Usually I need some time to recharge but this has been going on for quite awhile now. Working through my stash the past year has given me a challenge to fill my extra time but now I just feel lost, drifting along in life. Purposeless. Maybe it’s just too hot to knit. Or maybe I need to do more to reboot my creativity than sitting around waiting for inspiration.

I need to act and the first step was to journal.

I know there are “experts” that stand by a daily journaling practice but that doesn’t work for me. I see journaling as a problem-solving tool. When I’m on a roll and productive I have no need for it. But when the shit hits the fan, I find writing about it helps me move through it.

I’ve filled a lot of journals over my life but I don’t keep them. Once I’ve figured out my mood, solved the problem or untangled my emotional baggage, I’ve let it go. I don’t need to revisit it. So old journals get thrown away/recycled. Which is probably why I all of my nice blank books are still blank and I use cheap spiral notebooks instead. My preferred method now is digital since it’s cheaper and less wasteful. And I can delete it all with just a touch of a button. But I do keep a spiral notebook around for those time when I don’t have access to my laptop.

This little epiphany of why I love journals but don’t use them made me see a pattern. There are things I love the idea of but in reality just don’t work with my nature. For instance, I love the idea of a day planner but the reality is I don’t use them. I’ve taken workshops that have you block out your calendar for specific tasks. Nope, doesn’t work for me. You know what does work for me? My Google calendar. I use it mainly for appointments but I also put in reminders. What I don’t do is block out my time. Yet I still managed to maintain my weekly blog posting schedule.

This made me wonder what else am I hanging onto because I love the idea of it yet doesn’t align with my natural tendencies? Are there things in my life that are just wishful thinking? And of these wishful thinking items, are they a hindrence? I have many books but some of them I rarely ever crack the spine. Are they really inspiration or do they keep me from trusting myself, tying me to “expert” opinions instead of figuring out what comes naturally?

These questions intrigue me and I admit figuring it out has piqued my interest. I’m excited about something for the first time in a long time. My life has been moderately successful in that I’ve always had a roof over my head and have never really lacked the necessities but as far as career success goes, I’m nowhere near some of my contemporaries. Is it because I’m not aligned with “what makes me tick”, letting myself be swayed by experts and what other people do instead of trusting my gut? Is that why I feel like a train off its track? What would happen if I actually got on track?

Time to cut off those loose ends and see what I end up with.

Re-Integrating into Society is Hard, Y’all

Standard

I have a sewing project (patchwork quilt), knitting project (lace cardigan) and crochet project (filet tablecloth) and I’m not motivated to work on any of them.

These are weird times and I’m going to chalk up my lack of enthusiasm to the fact that I now have to wake up early to get my run in, drive in traffic, go into an office and interact with people in person! It’s exhausting and I only have to do it three days a week. Remember when we had to do this shit FIVE days a week? Madness.

I wish I was joking but after sheltering in place for over a year, it is tiring for this introver to get “back into the swing of things” and it’s affecting my productivity. I imagine it’s what hibernating is like, slowly lumbering out of a cave, blinking as you try to adjust to the sun.

Sometimes when I take a nap (Why are naps wasted on the young? How I live for a job that has a nap room), I wake up disoriented, not sure what time or day it was. That kind of feeling.

While none of my current projects grabbed my attention, I still wanted to do something. Otherwise I found myself thinking about going to bed at 7 pm.

I had a bag of yarn which had a bunch of leftover skeins. Same brand, different colors. I don’t do a lot of color work but figured a top down striped sweater would be the perfect way to use it up. I did a quick swatch and set to work.

I still have the sleeves to go and am pretty sure I won’t have enough to match the stripes on the body. I’m not even sure the sleeves will be identical so that’s fun. And nothing beats a top down sweater for mindless knitting, because that’s all I can handle right now.

Only a week and a half till my next vacation.

Organizing my Stash…Again

Standard

My knitting has been on the back burner these days. Mainly because I started the Lace Cardigan from The Art of Seamless Knitting by Simona Merchant-Dest and Faina Goberstein. It’s a top down cardigan and a bit fiddly as it requires a lot of concentration. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be gorgeous when it’s done but I was about 45 rows into the pattern when I realized my gauge was wrong and it wasn’t going to fit (even though I had done a gauge swatch). I ripped it out and started over but it’s been slow. I still haven’t made it back up to row 45. Between having to get up early to run (to beat the heat) and going back into an office again, my brain has been kind of fried and doesn’t want to deal with all the yarn overs, SSK, etc. I mean, I’ve been under lock down for over a year and realized my social skills are a bit rusty. It’s been taxing.

I want a no-brainer knitting project. So naturally I decided to pull out all of my yarn and organize it. Totally reasonable response, right?

This is not the first time I’ve done this. However, it is the first time I decided to put it ALL down on paper (well, in a Google spreadsheet, so technically not paper…). I have managed to use up some of my stash the past year and it’s been shifted around where most of it now fits in my linen cabinet. The problem is it’s not easy to see all of it – out of sight, out of mind. Here’s where the beauty of the spreadsheet comes in.

The columns in the spreadsheet are labeled: Brand of Yarn, Color, Fiber Content, Amount (# of skeins as well as the grams or yardage of each skein), Recommended Needle Size and Project Ideas (as vague as “hat” or actual links to patterns). And the first column has an actual picture of the yarn. Not all my yarn has labels but I fill in what I can.

The spreadsheet is a good idea for several reasons:

  • I can see what I have without dragging everything out of the closet.
  • I can add in ideas for different yarns as I find them. Having brand names on hand also allows me to go into Ravelry and look for projects made with that specific yarn, even if the yarn is no longer being manufactured.
  • I can look for yarns to pair up. This is especially useful since I have so many odds and ends.
  • It got me thinking about what to do with all my odds and ends. Given that I already have 50 yarns listed and I’m not done, not everything I knit needs to be for me. I thought it would be nice to use some of my yarn for gifts and charity. I’d like to have a stock of handknits around to surprise friends and family with. I’m thinking of “one-size-fits-all” kind of projects – hats, scarves, socks, mittens – that sort of thing. These are also perfect “no-brainer” projects.
  • It’s a reminder of how blessed I am. It may sound corny but what made the last year so bearable was my knitting and sewing. And how wonderful was it that all I had to do was open a drawer or a cabinet to find a bounty of materials to pick from.
  • It gives me one place to capture all of my ideas.
  • Creativity has a stereotype of being messy and chaotic but it needs constraints. Organizing my stash into a document and being able to see everything all at once activates “what if” thinking. What if I combined different weight yarns? What if I tied all the small leftovers together to create a Frankenball? What if I combine different textures? How would that effect the stitch pattern? What if I combined knitting with crochet? Crochet with sewing? What if I worked in patchwork? What if I added leather? These questions get my juices flowing and are the basis for some really unique and interesting design.

It may not seem like I got a lot accomplished this week but I laid the foundation and set myself up for success with future projects. Whether I need to take on a more challenging project or just need something keep my hands busy, my spreadsheet will be there with all of its possibiities.

Patchwork Jacket with Knitted Sleeves

Standard
One of my favorite makes ever.

When I was living in the Dallas suburbs, I belong to a vibrant and active chapter of the American Sewing Guild. The ladies in it were so talented and inspiring and it was just the thing to keep my creative juices flowing. One month we had a presentation on creating a jacket from a sweatshirt.

These types of projects are just up my alley. I don’t know why, but I love repurposing things. I see thrift stores as one big treasure chest of possibilities – diamonds in the rough just waiting to be polished to show their beauty. By comparison, craft stores feel cold and sterile to me. I prefer worn in things. Mass produced products these days just don’t have the quality, history or character of older items. Also, I seem to have this weird aversion for new things. I find their pristine condition a bit intimidating. I don’t want to ruin them so when I buy something, particularly clothes, I avoid wearing them, which is ridiculous and something I’m working on. Why I make things more precious than they are is beyond me. But then again, why fight my preferences and just accept that shabby is part of my aesthetic.

After that meeting I went straight to my favorite thrift store and found a couple of men’s sweatshirts and set to work on my jacket. Let’s be honest, this was the late 90’s, not a decade known for its style and the trend of creating a cardigan out of a sweatshirt turned up some questionable designs, most a bit “old lady”.

A typical sweatshirt-turned-jacket pattern. This one is on on FreePatterns.com

I am not here to judge anyone’s choices, this just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my style (I respect and applaud you to do you, with no apologies.) The idea though set my creative gears in motion and I made my version of the sweatshirt jacket. And by the time I was done, there was no evidence that it was ever a sweatshirt.

In the workshop, the presenter took a sweatshirt and used it as a base, covering it with strips of quilting cotton. I used a roll of batiks I had in my stash and sewed them on. Instead of sewing the strips right sides together to hide the raw edges, I just overlapped them using a zig-zag stitch. Then I did some freeform topstitching to give it a quilted look. That’s about all I took from the workshop because I decided to actually make a fitted jacket using a commercial pattern I had as a starting point (sorry, I don’t remember what pattern it was but any jacket pattern would do). Before I sewed on my strips, I removed the collar, cuffs and waistband, cutting the shirt up into raw yardage. I ended up using two sweatshirts.

I only needed enough fabric to do the front, back and the collar. After I had sewn on my batik strips, I cut out the jacket pattern pieces and sewed the fronts and backs together, serging the seams. I did need to adjust the darts to get a better fit but that wasn’t a big deal.

The collar was a bit of an afterthought and as the jacket progressed I thought a shawl collar would be a nice touch. The pattern only had a notched collar so I had to draft my own. I did this by putting the shell of the jacket on my dress form and draped muslin over it, drawing out the shape I wanted.

I used bias binding to finish off the edges that showed – the hem, front and collar.

I took a different approach on the sleeves. I’d been combining thrift store denim vests with hand knitted sleeves for awhile- directions here – so knitting sleeves for this project wasn’t anything new for me. I had a sport weight brown yarn that matched perfectly and decided to use the sleeves from the Double Leaves & Twist Duster in Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop. I did find a flaw with the sleeve pattern. If I recall correctly, you need to make a mirror image of them as the design is not symmetrical but the pattern does not mention it (at least not in my version).

Also, as I was knitting along I came across this:

Mistakes happen

I’m sure you’ve never made such a silly mistake but it is so frustrating to be well into a garment and notice that you miscounted and now have a little jog where there should just be straight lines of rib. And once I see it, I can’t unsee it so I had to rip it back and fix it. But the pattern is gorgeous so it was worth doing right. When I finished the sleeves I just sewed them into the armhole and amazingly they fit without needing any adjustments (yay for stretchy knit fabric!)

A close up of the sleeve pattern

At the next meeting I presented my jacket in show-and-tell and it was a hit. While I love the process of creating, I think my favorite part is showing it off. It’s kind of embarrassing but when I finish a project, I’ll put it on my dress form and admire it. I don’t drink or do drugs – my buzz comes from the sense of accomplishment when a project (done right) is completed. Funny thing is, I think I wore this jacket once. It came with me to all of my craft shows as a display and always got lots of attention. One year I finally sold it and I can only hope it was loved and appreciated as much as I loved making it. I’ve been thinking about doing another version of this, making it into a trench coat. I’ll let that idea percolate for awhile.

Crochet Sweaters CAN be Pretty

Standard
I love it when an idea comes out even better than you imagined it.

I’ve had a prejudice against crochet sweaters for a long time. To be fair, I grew up in the 70’s and the ones I saw in the needlecraft magazines were made from worsted weight yarn and didn’t even flatter the model. The designs of my youth were stiff and bulky and I didn’t want to look like the Michelin Man, so I reserved crochet for things like blankets or scarves But after I crocheted a top down cardigan last year (here) with a smaller hook and drapey yarn, I had to rethink my position.

This idea’s been floating around in my head for awhile now – a sweater of floral motifs. I packed up some repurposed yarn (previously a man’s cotton sweater), a size E crochet hook and a couple of stitch dictionaries to play around with my idea while dog sitting for friends.

As a side note, using repurposed cotton is not only more environmentally-friendly and sustainable (and not to mention, cheaper), yarn from unraveled garments has the added benefit of multiple washings which means it is soft and won’t shrink.

There is one thing about working with motifs, especially small ones, that I don’t like. I’m not fond of sewing them up. You can connect them as you go and work in some of the ends but there’s always going to be some you have to deal with. Mostly, I don’t like the idea of cutting the yarn. If an idea doesn’t work and I want to unravel it, I’d be stuck with a million little balls. My solution is to work a series of chains between each one.

The back of the sweater, note the row of chain stitches between each motif. If things didn’t work out, I could unravel it and still have one ball of yarn instead of a hundred little balls.

Obviously if you decide to work with more than one color, this technique might not be efficient but I wanted to do my sweater all in one color and as you can see, it worked out perfectly.

Based on the size of each motif, which is 2.5″, and working in rounds, each row up until the sleeve was either 11 or 12 motifs because it is an offset repeat. When I got to where I wanted the armhole, I added 6 more motifs on each side for the sleeves, basically creating a T shape.

The sweater in progress before I noticed I joined a motif wrong and had to rip it back to the beginning of the sleeves. Here’s where working with individual motifs would have been more efficient. You can see the T-shape emerging.

To shape the front neckline, I eliminated some motifs in the middle meaning I couldn’t work straight across the row like in the back. The first side wasn’t a problem. When I got to the other side of the neck and was on my last motif, I noticed something weird about the hem of the sleeve. It didn’t look right, the motifs weren’t lining up correctly. I had to join the upper part of the bodice/sleeve to the body and I don’t think I had them lined up correctly. I ended up ripping it back (again!) and pinning the sides together. (I need to get in the habit of taking pictures of my progress so you could see what I mean.)

For the hem of the sweater I did half motifs to get a straight edge and then cast on stitches to knit a K2P2 ribbing which was originally 3 inches.

As I got closer to the finish, my yarn was running low. I kept my fingers crossed that I’d have enough to finish. I cut it pretty close. I did have enough to finish all the motifs and to get a couple of rows of ribbing for the neckband (I originally planned on doing a cowl but obviously that wasn’t going to happen). I ended up taking some yarn from the hem (more ripping back), so the final width of the waistband is 2.25″. (If I had run out, I would’ve unraveled it back to where I started the sleeves and made them shorter. I would have done it because I was already in love with this sweater but I wouldn’t have been happy about it.)

This was all I had left from this project. Crochet definitely eats up more yarn than knitting and I’m sure the added chain to connect the motifs didn’t help.

The motif itself is only five rows and was easy to memorize. It worked up quickly and the whole project took me about 2 weeks. It would have been less if I didn’t have to rip it back so many times. I am SO happy with the way it turned out and it’s already one of my favorites. I chose this yarn because it matched my red poppy skirt (which you can see here) but it also looks wonderful with jeans. I love the uneven hem of the sleeves and the length. I’ve suffered all my life trying to find sleeves that fit my long arms but I think this length works perfectly with a wider sleeve. And flowers are my favorite inspiration so having a whole sweater made up of them just makes me happy!

This project is the epitome of my design aesthetic. I am drawn to simpler shapes preferring to highlight color, texture or pattern, through the use of stitch patterns or embellishments. Having successfully completed it, I’m thinking about other ways can I use motifs or combine knitting and crochet or even sewing for that matter. It’s wonderful how one idea will spark a million more.

Cable Rib Sweater is Finally Done!

Standard

After procrastinating on this for five months, I have finally finished the cable rib knit sweater. When I was drafting it, I wanted an easy to wear sweater with classic lines. I am enormously pleased with the way it turned out and how it fits. The neckline isn’t too wide, the length is just right and the sleeve length is sheer perfection.

The yarn is cotton and I got it by unravelling a man’s sweater I got from the thrift store. I prefer to use men’s sweaters because they are usually knit in natural fibers AND you get more yarn for your money. I decided to wet block it which was the right decision as it helped set and define the stitch pattern.

When everything was blocked, I sewed the body and sleeve side seams using a mattress stitch and then pinned the sleeve cap into the armhole and crocheted it in. I always try to leave an end stitch (a knit stitch on the right side) as it makes seaming so much easier and neater.

It’s nice to see another part of my stash come to life and I know I will wear this often because it’s so effortless. Probably not anytime soon though, as spring has sprung in Austin and temperatures are in the 70’s.

Link down below to learn more about the jeans.

As for the jeans, you can learn more about them here.