Strengthen Your Pattern: Schematics

Recently I received the newsletter of a knitting organization that focuses on knitting and crochet patterns (some rather pricey – up to US $12).   I skimmed the patterns but only two caught my attention.  I gave them a closer look.  The first pattern was for a cardigan, and the second was for socks.  Both of these had, from a pattern writing perspective, severe limitations.  In this post I revisit the importance of providing schematics.

Knitting_schematicA schematic is a structural drawing, as illustrated on the right.  Unlike a drawing that provides readers a descriptive illustration of your project, a schematic is detailed and contains key measurements (e.g., lengths, widths, sizes, etc.).

Why provide a schematic?

  1. A schematic serves a good road map so knitters/crocheters can self-check and self-correct their progress.
  2. The visual learners can easily “see” where the pattern is going and how.
  3. Schematics are critical for knitters/crocheters who want to ensure good fit.
  4. Schematics are critical for knitters/crocheters who may want to alter the pattern.

I cannot overemphasize #3 and #4. For instance, if the pattern shapes the body of a sweater (e.g., it narrows at the waist), a discerning knitter/crocheter needs the distance between the hem and/or the shoulder and the waist. Why? Because a very tall or a very short person (unless the height is disproportionately from leg length), will need to adjust the waist placement.  There are many other reasons a knitter/crocheter might need to adjust a pattern from its called for measurements:  a wider waist? narrower waist?  larger bust? larger hips? smaller hips? longer arms? smaller shoulders? et cetera.

Of course, a skilled knitter/crocheter could pull out a calculator and, working from the written instructions, do the calculation herself – but why would she?  Why take the time to go through that sort of design technicalities for someone else’s pattern – someone who charged you for the pattern?

An alternative is to simply knit or crochet as the pattern instructs and, from time to time take fittings, and then rip out rows and re-knit/crochet multiple times in multiple places throughout the design until the pattern fits.  Not too many folks would enjoy doing that.

My daughter knit a pattern that I would not have chosen for her (or anyone, for that matter).  First, it is poorly written; it is in a long, rambling narrative style that jumps around.  (Ugh!)  My daughter found the pattern quite frustrating.  If I hadn’t 50 years of knitting experience I’m not sure I could have made sense of the instructions.  I translated the pattern into what I call my Neo-Norsk method (click here  and here to read my posts where I explain that style), which my daughter finds much easier to follow.

Second, the pattern she chose included no schematic (or drawing) though there were several (far too many!) photographs of the author modeling the sweater.  (For some reason known only to the woman, her son/daughter are in some of the photographs.)  My daughter frequently had to rip out whole sections and reknit.  Why?  She doesn’t fall into the “average” woman category.  My daughter is tall with long arms and legs and a low waist.  Further, though a marathon runner and quite slim, she has disproportionately wide shoulders due to many years of competitive swimming in her youth.  Ahhh, yes, alterations galore.

I never buy a sweater pattern that does not include a schematic.  I like my sweaters to fit well.

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Norwegian Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged | 5 Comments

Quilt-Inspired Knitting

As the granny square blanket I crocheted for Granddaughter F caused havoc in my right wrist, I waffled between weaving or knitting an afghan for Grandson O.  I settled on knitting and started looking for ideas.  I found them in Coburg, Oregon!

Yesterday my friend Joni (a quilter), invited me along to attend the annual Coburg Quilt Show.  The quilts were gorgeous and inspiring to Quilt3a  knitter looking for afghan ideas!  Take a peek at some of the beauties (in no particular order) on display!

Quilt12Quilt4Quilt2Quilt1     Quilt6  Quilt8 Quilt5    Quilt9

Knitters and crocheters can be inspired by the art of quilters.

miteredsquarepatternQuilt10This lovely mitered square blanket on the left was knit by Sue Anne Kendall.  (For those new to making mitered squares, check out her blog, Suna Knits, where she shares her method.)  Given a border, it would resemble this quilt Joni and I saw at the quilt show, pictured at the right.

logcabinpatternlog-cabin-knit-blanket1 (2)Quilters have long used the log cabin design in many delightful ways, utilizing from two to eight colors. Here’s the schematic shared by Staci Perry on Ravelry; it’s free.  (Source).  Just Trusting Myself used several  colors in this large version on the right.  Purl Bee logcabinpattern2made log cabin washcloths.   PDXKnitterati knit a three-colored baby blanket from this quilt pattern.

Quilt11Then there’s the rail fence pattern, as beautifully captured in this quilt pictured at the right.  It was another lovely piece that Joni and I saw at the Coburg Quilt Show.  Red Heart yarns has a free rail fence crochet pattern as does Ravelry by C.L. Halvorson.

courtyardstepsAnother basic but beautiful geometric design quilt pattern is courthouse steps.  Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne wrote courthousestepsa blanket pattern for in  Mason-Dixon Knitting.  Here’s my quick sketch of a courthouse step quilt pattern with 13 modular pieces (1 square and 12 rectangles).   Knitters and crocheters can borrow from quilters and, with their imagination let loose, create some amazing designs based on the courthouse step pattern.  (See here for more details.)

Looking lisquaredealke quilt influenced is Square Deal from Wooly Thoughts.  Wooly Thoughts has some amazing afghans to knit and crochet, and provide several patterns free that can be put together to emulate quilting patterns!

Quilt_WeddingRingOf course, not all quilt patterns rely on 90 degree angles.  Yet the adventurous knitters can again borrow from their quilting siblings.  Compare the double wedding ring pattern idoubleweddingringquilt (2)n the quilt pictured to the right (on display  at the Coburg Quilt Show) to the picture at the left  from Interweave Knits Summer 2002.  (I saved that pattern for years thinking I’d knit it for my daughter and her husband.  I never have.)  It’s also available at Interweave Knits.

woollythoughtsturn (2)For knitting and crocheting that create the illusion of curves long used by quilters, take a peek at the modular designs – both knit and crochet – of Wooly Thoughts.  (See also its Ravelry page.)  About Turn (left) consists of squares, each of which is divided into two different colored triangles.  The shaping in Curve of Pursuit (right) is done by short rows.  Each uses only garter stitch.

logcabinMoreWith a pencil, ruler and eraser, you can sketch out your own modular design.  Colored pencils are always nice to see how you quiltafghan (2)might order your color scheme.  Look how Christiane Burkhard arranged simple rectangles of varying sizes and a beautiful array of colors – a great way to use up yarn left from other projects!

Have you translated quilting designs into your knit or crochet work?

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Smarter Socks

When Thor and I left San Francisco, we settled in an area where the winter climes were much colder.  We needed wool socks!

From time to time in the SF Bay Area I wore wool socks, but not often.  Thus, when the first winter arrived (yes, with snow and ice), Thor and I each bought several pairs of SmartWool© socks.  By the end of the first winter, socks that we had worn no more than four times a month were showing worn out heels and toes.

SmartWool© will replace any defective socks, and I took advantage of that policy, but not for long.  We paid for the return shipping and were given another pair of socks in exchange, but the new socks wore out just as quickly.

Clearly it was time to revisit sock knitting.  Of course I knew how to knit socks; in fact, while in my “sock phase,” I regularly gifted socks to family and friends.  But then I moved onto other  “phases.”  Until now.  Moved by the sock enthusiasm and encouragement of Wei S. Leong, I picked up needles for sock knitting this (hot!) summer.

SockButtonI took measurements of my feet, knit up a gauge swatch from John Q Earth Wear (a blend of recycled possum/merino and nylon, 100g=361m sent me by Kiwiyarns Knits– – I got the subtle hint: “knit some socks!”), and jotted down a basic pattern.  Remembering that I had never managed to make myself a pair of socks out of a single skein (yes, I have large feet), I used a provisional cast one and knit a sock with a short leg.  After weighing the sock, I realized I had enough yarn to lengthen the leg, remove the provisional cast ons and add a ruffle, and make a matching sock!

What fun!

While attending the Black Sheep Gathering this past June, I bought several cakes of sock yarn (3.5oz/400y) from Las Flores del Altiplano Alpacas of Yacoult, Washington.  The alpaca was blended with merino (40%) and nylon (10%), both of which adds to the sock yarn’s overall strength and durability.



Using yarn courtesy of Lacey I knit Seadragonus.



I then knit Anemone out of yarn made from Daphne’s fur!

I was on a roll!

After browsing through a few books for ideas, I sketched out two more sock patterns.  One will incorporate an Old Shale pattern (not the same as the Feather & Fan stitch – thank you, Northern Lace, for explaining and illustrating the difference!), and the other using some sort of twisted stitch, maybe a type of traveling clock stitch.





The yarn?  Courtesy of these two pretty ladies here!

I doubt I will knit enough socks this year to rival the impressive number and variety of socks made in 2014 by Ms. Leong.  That said, I should probably knit Thor a pair or two of warm socks.  I see a drive north to Yacoult!

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Yarn Recalls

Not infrequently we are advised of recalls of pharmaceuticals, meats, eggs, processed foods and even raw vegetables.  But yarn?

(c) lotusyarns

(c) lotusyarns

Many of you probably heard that early this month, Trendsetter announced its recall of  Lotus Yarns Mimi.  Trendsetter imported Mimi from Lotus Yarns, a company based in the Hebei Province, South of Beijing, in China.  Recently Trendsetter tested its Lotus yarns and learned that Mimi, rather than being 100% mink as labeled, was actually a blend of 40% angora, 13% wool, 30% rayon, and 17% nylon.  (Contact the yarn store where you purchased the yarn for information about returning it.)

There have been other yarn recalls, some by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

On March 19, 2015 the CPSC announced the recall of Bernat Tizzy yarn.  Tizzy, a super bulky weight 100% polyester BernatTizzyYarnyarn, was manufactured in China, imported by Spinrite Yarns LP, of Washington, N.C., and sold at Jo-Ann Stores, Michaels, and  The Canadian company recalled 840,000 packages of Tizzy saying it can unravel or snag and form loops in finished products, endangering young children.  No injuries had been reported, but the company had received two reports of children getting entangled in unraveling or snagging yarn blankets.

BernatFurOut (2)Ten years earlier (to the month!), the CPSC announced the recall of “Fur Out,” another Bernat yarn.  Again the importer was Spinrite Yarns, and this yarn was manufactured in Turkey.   According to the CPSC, “Garments constructed of “Fur Out” yarn are dangerously flammable when exposed to a flame, posing a burn risk to consumers.”  Bernat received two reports of garments made of the recalled yarn burning, with one person receiving singed eyebrows; 730,000 packages were recalled.

SidarFizzIn 2005, Sidar, a British company, recalled its yarn Fizz because of fire hazard concerns.  This is a picture of recalled Fizz I found on Ravelry.  According to Ravelry, in December 2005 Sidar released a “New Fizz” – presumably less flammable  (I found no Fizz yarns on Sidar’s website.)

There seem to be many concerns from customers about a yarn’s actual content and its labeled content.  See this interesting discussion at the Knitter’s Review Forum.  In 2006, january one blogged that her local yarn store recalled several yarns because of concerns of fiber content.

LaceyFor the last several days I have been knitting with a wonderful yarn that comes from Lacey (that’s a picture of her!), raised by Marit Federcell and Patrick Borunda of Las Flores del Altiplano Alpacas.   The yarn was also spun and dyed locally.  I met Marit at last month’s Black Sheep Festival and have already contacted her for more of Lacey’s yarn.  I was going to order a yarn from Ireland and, though I’m sure it’s fine yarn, will use Lacey’s yarn instead.

Reading about yarn recalls – the same day I enjoyed a morning of knitting socks with yarn from Lacey (pic to the left) slipping through my fingers – captures why many fiber artists are committed to purchasing from locally sourced yarn, spinning and dyeing.

I know I am fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. – an area filled with sheep, llama and alpaca farms/ranches.  Yet not every fiber artist lives in a place like that, though many take the opportunity to attend fiber-centric events, wool gatherings and the like, where they can buy locally sourced products.

Have you ever had the opportunity to meet the actual animals who give you yarns?  (It’s always such a thrill for me!)

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A New Kind of Silk in the Works

On June 12, 2015, needle & spindle shared an excellent post exploring the question of what is a “local” yarn.  Extremely thought provoking, it paints in clear relief the impact of globalization on local fiber economies.  It also, I think, will pain fiber artists and crafters dedicated to using locally-produced products.

Immediately after I read the post, I read an article in Bloomberg Business Week (6/6-14/15), “A Bay Area Startup Spins Lab-Grown Silk” (pp. 42-43) about The efforts of a startup – Bolt Threads, based in Emeryville, California (across the bay east from San Francisco) – to create a synthetic alternative to silk.  It is “genetically modifying yeast, yeastcellsingle-cell organisms that convert simple carbohydrates to proteins through fermentation, and getting them to excrete silk-like proteins.”  Bolt’s “founders realized they could pitch their synthetic silk as an alternative to petroleum-based textiles such as polyester or cheap but non-eco-friendly staples like cotton.”

Would silk yarn produced in this method be a “natural” fiber?  No.  Granted, the goal is to replicate silk from a different natural source (in this case, yeast), but the resultant fiber doesn’t appear naturally in our environment.  Like rayon, its makings start out as something that appears in nature but is transformed by a lengthy chemical processing into something else.

MapEmeryvilleLansingIt also fails the test as a local yarn – even for people living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The lab is currently in Emeryville, California (across the Bay from SF).  Bolt is working with the Michigan Biotechnology Institute (in Lansing, Michigan, 2,334 miles away) MapEmeryvilleGreensboroto handle large-scale fermentation, and a Greensboro, North Carolina (2,799 miles away), yarn manufacturer to spin the synthetic silk fibers into yarn and textiles.

Curiosity would definitely allow me to buy a skein, though … just to give it a try.

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The Pisher Paradox

I always enjoy fiber art related gatherings, yet I also get annoyed.  I came up with a name for that which has long annoyed me:  The Pisher Paradox.

The Yiddish word “pisher” (פּישער) has several meanings.  I am using the “young, inexperienced person” definition from Leo Rosten (The Joys of Yiddish, 1968, p. 293).  Some examples:

  • An experienced physician might call an overconfident first year medical student a “pisher;”
  • a skilled tailor might call the person who learned to sew last month and now calls him/herself a designer a “pisher;”
  • farm-raised folk will think “pisher” when they hear a chef boast about her/his ability to make butter (a child can make butter with only whole cream and a jar); or
  • an accomplished musician with 20 years experience on the stage might call the boastful student who is still learning to read a score a “pisher.”

You probably get the gist.

So what drove me to coin this term?  The same thing that happens at every wool gathering or fiber festival I attend:  The enthusiastic (dare I say, obnoxious), newbie who seems to think her/his recent foray into a fiber-related art (e.g., dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, etc.), makes her/him a “master” and speaks to potential customers as though we have the IQs of a skein of yarn.

DyeingPictureThe case that comes to mind was when I chatted with a young woman who had recently entered the world of artisan dyeing.  I complimented her work and, as she was not a weaver-spinner-crocheter-knitter, asked what prompted her into the world of fiber dye.

“Oh,” she said loftily, “I have a chemistry background.”

As an ex-college professor with colleagues in chemistry departments who were also dyers, I was instantly interested.  (Maybe I knew her professors or advisors.)

“Where did you get your degree?” I asked curiously.  “Undergrad or grad work?”

“Ummm, well, umm, I never actually finished college,” she admitted rather reluctantly, “but I took a chemistry class.”  (She seemed to have difficulty meeting my eyes.)

Hmmm.  I – as well as most of my friends – have taken at least one chemistry class, so her chemistry “background” wasn’t impressive. But, as she was young and new to the world of fiber art and I had no wish to embarrass her, I switched my line of questioning.  Picking up a skein, I asked why she chose to work with that specific fiber blend.  Her response was complete rubbish (aka BS), so I had no wish to waste my time chatting with a pisher or buy a skein of yarn (delighfully colored though the skeins were).

The mark of a pisher is to take a narrow and generally nascent skill or ability and use that to make oneself appear superior to others.  A pisher shows little respect for the work and/or experience of people with larger and/or deeper skill sets.  Thus, in recreating the wheel, the pisher thinks everything s/he learns to do is unique, novel and/or startlingly innovative.

dyeing picture (2)The young artisan dyer mentioned above had a great (seriously great) eye for color, but her work (i.e., technique), was nothing novel, nor was her commercially-spun yarn.  People have been dyeing for millenia.

I come from the academic world and was in contact with many who believed their doctorate, post-doc work, publications, and research justified their elevated opinion of themselves.  In fact, one of my colleagues once told me, in all seriousness, that he’s academic attirethe smartest person he’s ever known.  (It was good to be told I was in the presence of greatness; I wouldn’t have realized it otherwise.)

Knowledge, experience, skill and art – like good wine, fragrant coffee, a loaf of bread or a wheel of cheese – are best when shared humbly and graciously with others.  Few people want to spend time with a pisher (unless they have no other choice).

As I near the 60 year mark, I am increasingly humbled by that which I do not know.  When I visit fiber-art related events, wool festivals, and the like, I always learn something new – generally by self-effacing people with years of experience in a fiber-related art or animal husbandry who are unfailingly more than happy to share tidbits of their knowledge and experience with me.  I know they’ve probably forgotten more than I can ever learn, and I am grateful for their time.

Tell me, have you witnessed the Pisher Paradox in the world of fiber?

Posted in Fibers, Miscellany | Tagged | 40 Comments

It Must Be June: Black Sheep Gathering

OnceBlackSheep2015-1 again, Eugene, Oregon welcomes the annual Black Sheep Gathering (June 19-21)!  This year it boasts:  a 3,000 square foot Spinner’s Circle, a wool & mohair show/sale, goats and goat show ring, alpacas and alpaca show ring, sheep show and show ring, sheep-to-shawl and demos, a huge fiber arts vendor display and a plethora of workshops.

BlackSheep2015-2I spent most of today (the opening today) wandering through the gathering.  Getting to see (and touch) the animals who give us such wonderful fibers is always fun.  It’s hard to resist petting these creatures.  Thankfully visitors can pet most of them.

BlackSheep2015-11I kept an eye open for sock yarn and, in so doing met Marit Federcell of Las Flores del Altiplano Alpacas.  I loved that her fleece and yarns bear the name of the alpacas from which they came!  This picture is of Spring Bouquet.  I bought sock yarn from Zinnia and Lacey.  :)  Lacey’s sock yarn is destined for Wei Siew Leong’s Seadragonus.  Zinnia’s sock yarn will be going into the post to a certain New Zealand knit designer.

BlackSheep2015-13In this picture on the right … from the bottom is yarn from Zinnia, then Lacey, on top of Lacey is a tuft of Zinnia fleece (undyed), and on top of that is a skein of undyed Lacey.  They all sit atop Dave Yocon’sSock Buddy.” After eying Dave’s amazing woodworking at last year’s Black Sheep Gathering, I told myself that if he were at this year’s – well, it would be a sign (yes, a sign!) that I needed one.  So how could I argue with fate?!

BlackSheep2015-9I also got the opportunity listen to the ever charming and talented Judith MacKenzie judge hand spinning.  If you ever take a class with Judith, you BlackSheep2015-6won’t be disappointed!

This gizmo to the right is an antique sock machine demonstrated by Angora Valley Fibers.  (For those of you with a hankering to learn more, AVF restores and sells antique sock machines.)

BlackSheep2015-8Of course, I had to take a picture of the what is probably the most macabre hand felting I’d ever seen.  Such creativity – by Simply Holly Needlefelting!

The Black Sheep Gathering is always a wonderful three days.  Today I ran into friends, lunched next to a lifelong professional weaver who shared warping tips with me, and on my way out bumped into Irina of Blizzard Yarn & Fiber, whom I met at last year’s gathering.

More signs to be seen at Black Sheep:  Marit and her husband raise their alpacas in an area North of Vancouver, Washington, and Blizzard Yarn is in Vancouver.   And it just so happens Thor and I are looking for a house to buy in Vancouver, Washington.  :)

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