Knitting With Large Needles

Because of damage I sustained to my hands many years ago, I do not knit with wool heavier than worsted.  The weight of heavy wool on top of the strength needed to manipulate large needles aggravate the damage.

BurlySpunPicI recently made an exception.  For the first time in at least a decade I am knitting with a bulky weight wool.  Actually it’s more than bulky weight; it’s extra bulky:  Brown Sheep Company’s Burly Spun (8oz/22g, 132y/121m).  I love this colorway:  Tormented Teal.

Of course, that weight wool requires a large needle.  I had no needles large enough for this weight wool; I gave them to my daughter some time ago.  Eschewing my favorite (Addi), I purchased a couple of different kinds of US#13 to test that would be lighter and easier for my hands:

  • Brittany’s 7.5″ double points (made in California from sustainably harvested birch);
  • Bryspun’s Pearls circular (plastic, made in Oregon);
  • Bryspun’s Bry-Flex circular (plastic, made in Oregon); and
  • Clover’s Takumi circular (bamboo, made in Japan).

Bryspun’s needles are working best for me.  They are lightweight and allow give, and their cords are thicker than Clover’s and rarely kink (which is quite nice).  The tips also have an unusual concave shape making it easy to pick up the bulky single ply wool.  (Please note that I have needles that are decades old.  Though my favorite needles are by Addi, I have a some non-Addis needles.  The Brittany’s birch needles have worn better over the decades than Clover’s bamboo.  I have one pair of Bryspun plastic double points that are about 15 years old that have worn well.)

No matter the needle, however, to safeguard my hands while I knit a poncho out of Burly Spun, I pace myself.

Have you knit or crocheted with extra bulky yarn?  If so, what needles or hooks do you find work best for you?

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Mitered Square Afghan

F_blanketSome months ago I wrote a post on the inspiration knitters and crocheters can get from quilting patterns.   It came on the heels of crocheting an granny square afghan for granddaughter F where I discovered I can no longer crochet.  (Crocheting aggravated the damage in my right wrist so badly that I couldn’t knit for quite a while.)  But of course I couldn’t give my granddaughter a hand made afghan without making another one for my grandson.

I decided to knit mitered squares and piece them together for a quilt-inspired afghan for grandson O.  This was an easy project – all garter stitch (great for beginner knitters).  Further, combined with the very manageable size of the squares, it was a great project for the “mindless” knitting good for traveling.  While easy, nonetheless it took some forethought and planning.  Size mitered square:  12″ square.  Multiple sized squares:  Maybe.  Solid colors or stripes:  Stripes.

Miter_notes1I put various colored skeins next to each other to see what worked best.  As you can see from the picture of my note book, I sketched out some Miter_notes2ideas using colored pencils.  (There were several other sketches, but not all made it into my notebook.)  I created little miter cutouts to move around while I decided on color and layout.

Using worsted weight yarn and a US #7 needle, I cast on 48+1 (for the mitered corner)+48 stitches, and then started knitting.  (I wanted to knit the first square in a multiple of 4 [not including the corner stitch] so that I would have the flexibility if I decided to mix it up and knit smaller squares that I could piece into the pattern, e.g., 4 +1+4, 8+1+8, 12+1+ 12, 16+1+16, 20+1+20, etc.).  After quickly knitting the first 12″ mitered square, I decided to stick with simple and fast (no multiple sizes!).

O_Mitered2This is what it looks like.

O_Mitered1I couldn’t make up my mind about the border.  I threw the finished afghan over a couch to stare at for a few days – hoping that some interesting idea for a border would come to me.  I finally decided on knitting a striped border with miniature mitered square corners.

Knitters and crocheters who want an easy project – one that can make much more complicated if you choose – give a mitered square afghan a try.  If you want to really go wild with mitered squares – knit or crocheted – check out Wooly Thoughts.  (See also its Ravelry page.)

What have you done with mitered squares?

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Three Examples of Excellent Narrative Pattern Writing

I love the reductionist-style knitting patterns from Continental Europe.  Drawing from the Norwegian knitting patterns of my youth and the reductionist-style German knitting patterns, I created my Neo-Norsk pattern construction method.  (See my blog posts The Reductionist Pattern, A Very Reductionist Pattern, Deconstructing the Very Reductionist Pattern, and The Neo-Norsk Pattern Construction Method.)  But many (many) knitters are more comfortable with the narrative form.  Well-written narrative-style pattern also takes skill; just because one is able to write in English doesn’t mean s/he can write a good pattern.

Following up on my dissection last week of Bay Bay Poncho, this post compares the commonalities of three patterns written in narrative format by skilled knitwear designers – ones who also write excellent pattern instructions:  Linda Marveng (Norway), Wei Siew Leong of Kiwiyarns (New Zealand), and Kate Davies of Kate Davies Designs (Scotland).

SprigFintryAs pattern writing skills can (and should) evolve and improve over time, in this post I focus on three of the designers’ newer patterns:  Kiwiyarn’s sock pattern Sprig (available in Ravelry); Kate Davies’s cardigan Fintry (from her book Yokes); and Linda Marveng’s Yellow Gold Pullover (in Interweave Knits, Fall YellowGoldPullover2015).

(Note:  Currently I am knitting Sprig [for myself], and the Yellow Gold Pullover [with modifications for Thor].  I have my eyes on Fintry!)

The Focus is the Project:  None of these authors drowns readers in stories; the instructions focus on knitting their designs.  There is no intertwined rambling narrative stories about their lives, and no bombardment by pictures of favorite pets or adorable children.

Written Form:  The authors use standard English (NZ, UK or US) writing rules and expectations.  (No tortured English here.)  While spelling and punctuation norms may vary slightly, the reader will not be confused by misspelled words, misplaced punctuation marks, missing or inconsistent capitalization, et cetera. 

If you remember your English writing classes, the rule is only one main idea per paragraph.  Davies_SpacingThat applies in crafting knitting instructions as well.   As you can see from the pictures, Leong (left) and LeongWrittenDavies (right) provide adequate spacing between paragraphs, making it easier for knitters to follow the instructions and keep their place.   To further knitters’ ease, Davies also has put alternate numbers (for sizes) in bold. This decreases the chance the knitter will select the wrong number for her/his size. 

Marveng_textDue to length limitations imposed by Interweave Press, however, Marveng couldn’t space out her instructions as she would normally.  Instead, as shown by the picture on the right, in InteMarveng_text2rweave Knits Marveng’s paragraphs are (by necessity), delineated by the use of bold italics.  With the her own published patterns available on Ravelry or the patterns in her book, To rett en vrang), Marveng spaces her instructions nicely, as noted by the picture on the left.

Sizing:  Leong lists three adult sizes:  S, M and L and provides the finished measurements for foot circumference in both centimeters and inches.  While it is easy to adjust sock lengths, circumference measurement is critical for people with very wide or narrow feet or  high arches.

Davies provides instructions for 10 sizes (in both centimeters and inches) and offers size recommendations for positive or relaxed fits.

Marveng also provides instructions for multiple sizes.  In the case of her Yellow Gold Pullover, knitters can select from sizes ranging from 34.5″ to 52.”  Though the patterns Marveng releases and/or publishes on her own contain both metric and Imperial measurements, as Interweave Press is in the U.S., it (sadly) offers sizes only in inches.

Graphs:  Both Leong and Marveng provide pattern graphs:  Leong for the lace patterning and Marveng for the two cables.   The Yellow Gold Pullover also includes an welt pattern;   I graphed that out to put along side the cable graph as I’m very visual.  Fintry doesn’t need a graph, but Davies includes graphs with her cable and color work patterns in the book.

Schematic: Unless a sock pattern is one that is teaching sock construction, sock patterns generally eschew schematics.  Marveng, as expected (and is usual for her) provides an excellent schematic.  I was disappointed to see that no pattern in Yokes contains a schematic, though Davies includes pretty sketches.  It is needed for Fintry; the black and white sketch reveals both waist and bust shaping.  This, for many knitters (at least those who prefer to make modifications in advance so as to avoid the anguish of ripping out rows of knitting and reknitting), necessitates modifications to ensure a good fit.  I like Fintry, however, and Davies’s instructions are always so clear, so I’ll draw my own schematic and adjust for my height and arm length.

Gauge & Yarn Requirements:  All three patterns include gauge.  All three authors provide the name, fiber content, weight and length (in both metric and Imperial) of the yarns used.  This is critical for knitters who want to substitute yarn.

Pictures:  The patterns of Leong, Marveng and Davies include very nice photographs of the finished garments from different angles.

Blogs:  All three of these designers have excellent blogs worth following.

Leong’s blog has introduced me to many beautiful flowers and birds of New Zealand, not to mention yarns.  (I’ve come to love knitting with possum!)  While many of Marveng’s designs are photographed and modeled by professionals, if you follow her blog, from time to time you’ll see pictures of her modeling a design (photographed by her husband).  Marveng also writes about her travels to various knitting, design, or fiber events.  Further, offers excellent video tutorials on knitting backwards and knitting hems and tucks.  (While admittedly you might find them more useful if you understand Norwegian, the actual knitting, I believe, transcends language.)

Davies wonderfully models her designs; she appears relaxed and almost mischievous in the photographs.  (I admire/envy that; I have the “Resting Bitch Face.”)  Davies also brings the beautify of the Scottish Highlands to the reader; clearly her designs are influenced by it.  Davies also provides video tutorials.

In Conclusion:  Based on the above discussion and comparison, in rating the pattern writing skills of these designers on a Likert scale (1 being the lowest, 10 the highest), I give Wei Siew Leong of Kiwiyarns a 10.

The squished nature of Yellow Gold Pullover’s run-on written instructions are problematic and even difficult to follow.  (Before starting that pattern, I rewrote them into my Neo-Norsk format.)  But Marveng did not have control over how Interweave Press would rewrite her instructions.  Certainly the single patterns that she sells (e.g., through Ravelry), are well-spaced.  Thus I give Linda Marveng a 10 as well.

Assigning a number to Fintry gave me pause.  In both Issues 1 and 2 (July 2011 and August 2011, respectively), of Davies’s well-written Textiles, she includes a schematic for each of the patterns:  Warriston and the Betty Mouat Sweater.  Only because of the lack of schematic for Fintry as well as for any other pattern in Yokes, I give the ever so talented Kate Davies of Kate Davies Designs an 8.5.  (This was a hard call.  I love her designs and blog!  Why did Davies drop schematics in her most recent book?!)

Posted in Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Poncho Pattern Problems

Subject: Students of Woodside High wearing hippy fashion like ponchos, boots, and sandals. California October 1969 photographer- Arthur Schatz Time Inc Owned Merlin- 1201958

Subject: Students of Woodside High wearing hippy fashion like ponchos, boots, and sandals. California October 1969
photographer- Arthur Schatz
Time Inc Owned
Merlin- 1201958

Thinking of the ponchos so in vogue in the late ’60s and early ’70s (what my parents called “hippie garb”), I wasn’t particularly excited to learn that ponchos were again “in.”  (This picture [source] may bring back memories for some of you; it certainly did for me!)

Knit and crochet patterns for shawlettes and ponchos kept appearing, and I see ponchos in clothing stores all the time.  So, succumbing to peer pressure, I thought maybe I would knit one.

BackBayPoncho1 (2)This pattern – the Back Bay Poncho by Leslie Scanlon – caught my attention.   I have no intention of wearing it as a fashionable or trendy piece of clothing.  Between my age, my long white hair and my penchant for wearing Birkenstocks through three seasons, I’d completely miss looking fashionable in any and every sense!

However, I thought, if I knit it densely, it would be the perfect cold weather clothing item to pull over my head as I wheel my bike out to go riding.  I paid for and downloaded the pattern.

The pattern calls for extra bulky wool.  I immediately thought of Bulky Lopi (I love Lopi), but in addition to the fact that I already have a Bulky Lopi pullover I knit 20 years aBurlySpunTormentedTealgo, I decided instead to go with a U.S. grown and spun wool:  Burly Spun (226g/8oz, 132y/121m), by Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska.  I chose the colorway “Tormented Teal.”

The pattern as written, leaves a lot to be desired.  I immediate emailed the authors of the pattern.  I also scanned through comments on Ravelry.  Other knitters have some of the same – dare I say it?! – gripes as I.  Now, a couple of weeks later, I have yet to hear from the pattern’s authors, I will discuss the problems (some of which were noted by Ravelry folks a couple of years ago), with this pattern and offer suggestions on how to address the problems.

First:  The instructions are printed in all capital letters.  When writing pattern instructions, always use standard English writing forms:  Capitalize the first letter of each sentence and each proper noun.

Why?  Writing in all caps makes it difficult for readers who are (a) forced to search for periods or semicolons marking the end of sentences or phrases, and (b) pained (or pissed) because there is no shape contrast between words.  (Click here to read more about this problem.)

Resolution:  Pulling up Excel, I quickly rewrote the pattern into my Neo-Norsk style.  (Click here for explanation of rewriting narrative instructions into this format.)  If you prefer narrative form of instructions, retype the instructions using standard English writing rules.   (Next week’s post will look at narrative form pattern instructions.)

Second:  Many Ravelry knitters noted that following the instructions as written left them with a poncho that was too short, no matter size (given in XS-L).   Knitters could have known this in advance if there had been a schematic on the pattern.

Why should there be a schematic?  Because not every knitter is the same height or width, nor are they proportioned the same (e.g., I am very tall with a very long torso, long arms and a very low waist).  Many knitters (such as I), will revise a pattern for a better fit.  It is far easier (and less frustrating) to make necessary pattern revisions before starting to knit.  (Several Ravelry folks noted they ripped out or added many inches to make the pattern fit better.)

Resolution:  I first sketched out a schematic based on the pattern instructions.  Using the author’s row gauge and as written for a size large, I then calculated the distance between where the collar meets the body to the end of the increase rounds (and thus the beginning of the shaping of the front and back parts).  It came to 11 inches – far too short for my arms and, given Ravelry comments, far too short for many other knitters’ arms.  I adjusted the increases and penciled notes onto my Neo-Norsk rewrite.

Third:  The pattern calls for short row shaping to give the poncho the curve so that the poncho is shorter over the arms and longer in the front and back.  I needed to ensure the front and backs would be long enough for me, but there there was no schematic.

Resolution:  Using the pattern’s stated row gauge, I calculated the lengths if instructions were followed.  As I suspected, it was too short for me.   So adjusted the spread of short rows and penciled notes onto my rewrite.

Fourth:  The short row shaping as instructed is sloppy.  Following the instructions as they are, you may find those dreaded short row holes.  (Given comments from Ravelry folks, many knitters had problems with the short rows.)

Resolution:  I suggest you try the German short row method.  Here’s a link to a video tutorial.  If you prefer written narrative and photographs, click here.

In conclusion: It is one thing to come up with a knit or crochet pattern and another to write it for purchase (!) by others.  Some advice:

  1. Firstly, don’t fall victim to hubris and assume you can do both.
  2. Second, when you learn about the shortcomings of your pattern instructions, respond, revise and update the pattern.
Posted in Brown Sheep Company, Bulky Lopi, Burly Spun, Crocheting, Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged , | 26 Comments

Thin-Skinned Knitters

No, no … the title does not refer to knitters who can’t handle criticism!  Rather:  How do knitters cope with thin skin on their fingers?

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Fragile or thin skin that tears easily is a common problem in older adults. Aging, sun exposure and genetics all play a role in thinning skin. Certain medications, such as long–term use of oral or topical corticosteroids, also can weaken skin and the blood vessels in the skin.

Over the last six months I’ve been dealing with a cutaneous drug reactions.  The skin on my fingers is easily lacerated, ripped or torn by so many things:  the corner of a magazine, a tine of a fork, pressing the gear shift on my bike, a hair clip, a flower stalk, the plastic lid on a container of butter, et cetera.  I couldn’t cook, bake bread or work with fibers.  Agony.

I waited for about two months for my skin to heal.  I then carefully put Band Aids on my fingers and made a salad.  It seemed to work until I pulled the Band Aids off; skin came off with it.

I waited another month of no cooking, baking or knitting before I tried again.  This time I wrapped my fingers in gauze and tapped the gauze down with “sensitive skin tape.”  The bandages slipped off as soon as I tried to slice a carrot, leaving exposed skin that would inflame and tear.  So I rebandaged and tried to knit: the tips of my needle kept getting caught in the gauze!

Another month later, after watching me trying various ways to bandage my fingers all the while gazing longingly at my brotforms and knitting, Thor brought home (from Costco) a large box of powder free, latex free, nitrile exam gloves.  After wrapping my fingers with gauze and sensitive skin tape, I slipped on a pair of nitrile exam gloves.  Eureka!  Not only could I slice fruits and vegetables, but I could open containers of butter and twist open the bottle of olive oil!  I made two loaves of sourdough Jewish rye and two loaves of sourdough raisin rye!

After waiting (impatiently) for another week, I tried to knit.  I left the gauze bandages on my fingers in their most sensitive spots and then slipped on a pair of the exam gloves.  My fingers felt so clumsy I couldn’t knit comfortably.

I waited another week.  My fingers seemed to have healed enough that I decided to try knitting without the bandages.  Instead, I slipped on fingers I had cut off a nitrile glove.  Eureka!  I could knit – granted, carefully – but I could knit!

CreamsI faithfully use with what have become my two favorite hand creams (Hawaiian Moon Aloe and O’Keefe’s Working Hands) as I wait for my skin to heal.

Unbandaged, while my fingers look scaly and peppered with healing sores, they’re healing!

Fully bandaged and ready to knit or cook, I look a bit like a proctologist ready for her patients.

But I don’t care:  My fingers are finally healing, and I can cook, bake our favorite sourdough breads and knit again.  I am a happy woman.

Posted in Knitting | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Where Do Your WIPs Live?

KnittingBasketClothPerhaps because I routinely have multiple WIPs at any one time, KnittingBasketAfricanmy WIPs are scattered in an array of containers – a cloth basket hung on a wooden frame I bought 20 years ago (similar to the one on the right) and African market baskets (like those on the left).

But while my WIPs are safely stored, my related “equipment” gets scattered across end tables, under a chair, under couch cushions, on a bookshelf, etc.  By “equipment,” I mean my notebook (as I either knit my own designs or drastically revise existing designs), calculator, a pencil, a good eraser, tape measure, a few colored pencils, a needle gauge, and my hand cream.  The result has been I lose (translate that to “misplace”) the smaller items, buy replacements and eventually end up with multiples.

KnittingBasketBurlington2Seeking to avoid some awful mass-produced commodity from a foreign land, on my bike en route to a local farm to buy applies, I cycled by a local thrift store.  This basket caught my eye: a mid-century Hawkeye Knitting/Sewing Basket made by Burlington Basket Company of Burlington, Iowa.

BikeBasketFearing some other fiber-obsessed person would grab it before I returned with my car, I paid for it, balanced the basket in the wire basket in the front of my bike by putting two of the sewing basket’s legs through the wire basket, and cycled on to the farm where I loaded up my rear panniers with McIntosh apples.  Only then did I cycle home (carefully) with my treasure.  As you can imagine, I received some odd looks from drivers.

KnittingBasketBurlingtonOf course. after I turned the apples into sauce and pies, I had to find out about the manufacturer.

Established in 1888, Burlington Basket Company was once a premier producer of baskets, hampers, bassinets, picnic accoutrements, etc.  It even supplied Walmart, K-Mart and Target in the 1960s when these now-giant corporations were far smaller.  (See here for more details.)

Ultimately, however, like many American manufacturers, Burlington Basket Company was unable to compete with the low prices of goods manufactured in China (and other places) and declared bankruptcy in 2011.

I am happy I found such a useful item – and one that once had an important place in American manufacturing history.  In the process, I saved money (I paid $8.50 in USD), kept something out of a landfill and gave a new home to an item that, I like to think, was cherished by its previous owner for over 50 years.

So back to my original question, what do you use to store your WIPs along with the related, important items?!

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged | 34 Comments

Guerrillas or Rogues?

Recently two friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, neither of whom is a knitter or crocheter, emailed me news items about yarn bombers.  One article was recent and looked at yarn bombers in Scotland; the other article was a few years old about yarn bombers in Oakland, California.

The Huffington Post, calling her the “world’s oldest street artist,” focused on Scotland’s 104 year old Grace Brett who, as part of the Souter Stormers, yarn stormed (yarn bombed) in Selkirk, Ettrickbridge and Yarrow:

YarnbombedboothGrace Brett is part of a group of “yarn stormers” who are taking to the streets to showcase their craft. As part of a week-long arts festival in Scotland, Brett and the Souter Stormers knitted and crocheted dozens of pieces to display across three cities. Among the pieces were a bench covering, a cover for a classic British red phone booth and various other hanging ornaments — all of which spruced up the city with colorful yarn. 

The UK’s Daily Record called Mrs. Brett and the Souter Stormers “guerrilla knitters.”  Scotland’s The Press and Journal referred to Mrs. Brett as part of a secret band of guerrilla knitters.”  (Given the interview with Mrs. Brett and the very public nature of their group, I don’t think “secret” was the right word to use.)

Of the Oakland yarn bombers, the San Francisco Chronicle dramatically reported:

Rogue knitters encamped along the Berkeley-Oakland border with lawn chairs, tea cakes and knitting projects to protest the city of Berkeley’s order that they remove an 8-foot knitted tea cozy they sewed over the T in a public sculpture they believe insults Oakland.

RogueKnitter“Rogue?”  Did the author not have a dictionary?  In what dishonest or unprincipled behavior were the knitters engaging?!  Well, maybe the mask-wearing knitter inspired the author to use that particular term.   (A more educated and nuanced analysis would be to focus on the use of what has traditionally been in “women’s domain” in a political protest – as women have done many times in our history.)

I like the U.K. journalists’ terminology:  Guerrilla Knitters & Crocheters!  (Perhaps the Guerrilla Girls will consider granting Mrs. Brett honorary membership in their group.)

What do you think:  Guerrillas or rogues?!

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting | Tagged , | 13 Comments