March 29, 2014

22 Using Dropped Stitches to Make Lace -- Catskills Cardi

I have recently been fascinated by knits that use "dropped" stitches to make all sorts of motifs.  Dropped stitches are interesting little creatures.  You knit like normal but right at the very end you drop the stitch off the needle and let it run like a bad pantyhose down to the bottom.

The most famous use of drop stitiches is in Kate Gilbert's Clapotis, which has to date 21,251 projects on Ravelry alone.

See WiscJennAnn's version here

Here are some other patterns that have caught my eye:

See ModernKnittress's version of the Drop Stitch Scarf here

See Huwerknits' version of Forest Weave here

Buy the pattern SC.1 from Shibui Knits here
No pattern (Anthropologie), can someone make one, pretty please?

I was delighted when Sheila Toy Stromberg put her Catskills Cardi up in the test knitting group I mod on Rav... look at those drops!

This is not a full cardigan, the fronts are vestigial really, and meant to hang just below the underarms.  In my mind's eye, it was going to be the perfect cover up for a little black dress.  Agreed?

For size small I used 484 yds of sport weight yarn.  I love patterns with this intermediate yardage requirement!  This is that part of the stash that you never know what to do with... it's too big for an accessory, too small for a full-size top.  I decided to use Filatura di Crosa's Gioiello from some major loot that my wonderful mother-in-law brought me from Switzerland.  (Merci, Yvette!)

The yarn is gorgeous and filled with the kind of gold bling I need in my life.  BUT IT CONTAINS MOHAIR.  If you choose mohair content in your yarn for any drop stitch motif, you will spend many hours getting those stitches to drop down.  They will stick and need to be torn, pulled or at last resort, snipped.

Because the drop stitches aren't created until the very end and add a lot of ease once dropped, the pattern will make you a miniature sweater.  There is no way that the size you choose will fit until you start dropping those stitches, so don't despair when it looks too small!  It is helpful to use blocking wires to really stretch it out.  See my blog post on blocking this cardi.

Left: Undropped                                                                                                      Right: Dropped

I lengthened my cardi by 5 body repeats for a further length of 2.5 inches.  The good news is that the drop stitch motif uses very little yarn, so extending the body only took 30 yards.  It's the beautiful twisted cable edging that will surely eat up your yarn:

I changed this cabled motif from the original pattern.  You are supposed to repeat the motif the stated number of times, but I thought it would be nice to close the cable to a point.  If you would like instructions on how to do this, just message me.

This pattern has a lot of nice little finishing details for the ribbed edge of the sleeve and neckline, which are knitted into the motif so that there is *virtually no sewing needed*.  The only time you sew is a 6-st kitchener and a little bit of tacking down.  Great!

However, this is definitely an advanced intermediate pattern, and I recommend that you read her "timeline schematic" to understand how the piece is constructed before you begin.

No, I didn't shoot some of these photos on a vacation to some fabulous Mediterranean oasis.  Sadly, these shots were in the dead of a winter, in a ski town no less!  We spent a weekend in Sutton, Quebec and stayed in a mansion that has an indoor pool in a room that is always heated to 30 degrees C: Le Domain Tomali-Maniatyn.  Along with some cross-country skiing, we also visited one of my *new* favorite LYS's for the first time, Mont Tricot!  What a great name for a yarn store in a ski town, right?  The owner Lucinda is a blast, and she carries fabulous yarns.

Here is her display of the new Rowan Truesilk (100% mulberry silk), spilling luxuriously out of a jewelry box.

I couldn't resist posing in front of her rows of Pure Wool Worsted either.

Want to read about the sweater I am wearing?  Click here.

If you are ever nearby (she is close to the US border, too!), do visit.  In honor of our wonderful visit to Sutton and it being closer than the Catskills of my home state New York, I've re-named my cardigan to the mountain range nearby!

See my Monts Sutton Cardi on Ravelry

FOR ALL OF YOU STILL READING: Do you remember my post about Planned Pooling?  It was quite popular and guess what?  Rowan has given me loads of Rowan Fine Art Aran to give away!  I will be posting about it very soon, so if you don't want to miss it, be sure to follow my blog or Facebook page:

March 19, 2014

20 I Take It All Back -- I Love Blocking Wires!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my favorite ways to block knits (defined: stretching your knitting out flat to make pieces look really nice).  In that post, I inserted a snide little comment about how I really didn't like blocking wires... well, guess what came in the mail for review a week later?  A sweetly packaged set of super-flexible blocking wires from Lazadas knitting accessories!  Dayana likes when she must eat her words.  :)

Now, I was skeptical as my last experience with blocking wires was not fun.  I had bought (from Knitpicks) a pack of long, straight, firm wires and had tried them out on a rectangular shawl.  The point of blocking wires is to get a really nice flat edge, something you might want for shawls like this:

See Muchacha0Knits' lovely version of the Alpine Knit Scarf by Jane Sowerby, here.

You see, if you use pins for a straight edge like that, you really have to pin every few millimeters to keep it so stick straight (which Muchacha0Knits managed beautifully actually, she didn't use wires).  Usually what happens with conventional blocking is that you get a little scalloped edge where each pin pulls a little bit at the stretched knitting.  You can't just stretch it less to avoid that either, because stretching lace out is absolutely essential to show off its beauty.

Another use for straight blocking wires is if you want border points of a shawl to be aligned perfectly, like seen here:

See Alianne's gorgeous version of Stripes and Torchon Lace by Jane Sowerby, here.

So why didn't I like using the firm blocking wires?  Well, I was under the impression that blocking wires saved you time.  That is absolutely not true.  Blocking wires need to be threaded carefully through the knitting so as not to damage the fabric.  Also, the threading must be very consistent, especially for the long straight edges, or else you get scalloping as well.  After all that careful threading, don't forget you STILL need to pin down the wires, just like a conventional block!

But I'm not one to give up on something.  I'm hearing more and more great things from people who use blocking wires... especially the flexible kind.  Yes, the new sets are completely flexible, and importantly don't snap, break or bend.  Additionally, they can be used for both straight and very curved blocking shapes.  After almost killing myself blocking my crescent shawl Sequin Stellaria... I was ready to try!

I can't believe I had enough pins to do this!  And look at that sloppy crescent!  Ugh.

The pack from Lazadas came in a strong re-useable bag with snaps for storage.  There were (4) 35 inch / 90 cm wires, (3) 70 inch / 180 cm wires, and a bag of T-pins.

I have two very important tips for you about these wires.

First, be careful when you open them.  They're not going to whip out like a cobra snake, but they are definitely going to snap straight when you let go.  Just unravel one "loop" at a time and you'll be fine.

Second, keep those wire twist-ties!  You can definitely store these wires without them, but I can't guarantee that they won't come undone and either become a crazy mess in the bag or frighten the hell out of you when your pack becomes a Jack-In-The-Box.

I began by testing them for a straight edge project.  Luckily, I had just finished a cute little test knit that used lace and drop stitches and needed some Very Serious Stretching.

Let me tell you right now: FLEXIBLE WIRES ARE SO MUCH EASIER TO THREAD!  First, you can just bend the long wire towards you as you thread on your couch, in your bed, in the bath, whatever crazy thing you like to do!  With straight ones you need to be in a special position, and you need to have that length of space around you.  Second, it's much easier to loop wire through (either as a twirly whip stitch move or like a basting stitch, your choice) if you can bend it in your hand.  Very satisfied with this step.

The points are VERY sharp.  I was worried about this, but it turned out perfect for the mohair blend I was using.  I could easily stab through without having to really think much about where the stitches were.  However, if you are using a silk blend, please be very careful as you thread, as you will likely split stitches with the points.  Sanding down the points is an option (much like a yarn needle has a blunt point).

Here I used 4 of the shorter wires:  2 for the side seams for maximum stretch, and two for the cardigan fronts in parallel.  You can see I used conventional pins for the body and sleeve hems, as I didn't need them to be particularly straight for any reason, and honestly, that is way too much work.  Even MY anal-retentiveness stops there.

After blocking, I found that I had really over-pleated the seams by the stretching, almost like I had ironed them down.  I could see spaced of unevenly stretched parts where I had been lazy/sloppy with my threading.  So people, if you want it to be perfect, take your time.

Stay tuned on my blog for my finished Catskill Cardi!

The next trial was the dreaded crescent shawl.  I spent hours and hours pinning this baby out, it nearly killed me.  Even worse, I used a yarn that had quite a bit of synthetics, and so the shawl lost all of its definition pretty fast, negating all of my work.  Basically, it desperately needed a re-block, and this was going to be the day.

Torture By Pins

I found that the longest wire sufficed for the interior curve, that was nice.  But I had to use 2 wires to deal with the outer curve with all the lace points.  I threaded it through 7 points in each flower motif... what a job!  Once again, the curved wire made all the difference in making this part of the process more enjoyable.

After much trial and error, I learned the order you should do a shawl like this:

1. Pin out your inner crescent.  That shouldn't take many pins, and you should let the wire do the work holding the perfect mathematical crescent shape.  Man, that was a real beauty, something I could never do with pins.

2. Start by pinning out the center point of the center flower, then work radially left and right.  I made the mistake of starting on the corner, and was way off in spacing by the time I was at the second half.

3. Finish by 'bending' each flower motif by pinning in between.  It's really cool how the wire will bend the same way around every flower.

Voilà!  She's back, and she looks mighty fine!  If I had to do this again, it would be pretty fast, and I'd have more symmetrical flowers every time.  Not bad... in fact, awesome!  These flexible blocking wires are my new favorite toys!

TIP FOR PUTTING AWAY YOUR WIRES:  Look carefully at the wires when you receive them.  Do you see how the ends are twisted around the loop?  It's very easy to do, and that is how you should store these.  Twist each end around and you will see that it will remain closed without the twist-tie.  But as I said before, add that twist-tie in at the end, just to make sure you're SAFE FROM HARM (lol, it's not that bad).

I would like to thank Astrid from Lazadas for taking the gamble of sending Dayana the Blocking Grouch these wires.  I haven't tried other flexible sets, but this one was a pleasure to use.  Visit the Lazadas webpage to buy a set!  There are different choices, and you can even contact her for a custom length.  Even better, shipping is $5 world-wide.

If you try flexible blocking wires out sometime, I'd love to know what you think!  Here's an easy link to comment.

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March 13, 2014

13 My Favorite Knitting App and A Trick For Picking Up Stitches Evenly

There are quite a few knitting apps out there, but the specialized one I use most is Knit Evenly.  Have you heard of it?  I find a lot of people haven't!

You know when a pattern tells you to "decrease/increase 10 sts evenly across row"?  Obviously, if you decreased all the stitches at the beginning of a row it would look puckered on one side.  For many years I used this great online calculator from TheDietDiary blog.  However, the app ($1.99), gives a little bit extra and doesn't require online access.  Unfortunately, it is only available for Apple products, and because it is an iPhone app, you might not find it in the iPad search.  So, here is a convenient link that should get you there:

Shall we see how it works?

First choose whether your piece is knitted flat or in the round (this will affect the calculation).  The "round" calculation will make sure there is an even number of stitches surrounding the false seams.  Then, key in the number of stitches you have and how many you need to add or remove.

Press that Calculate button!  

You'll see 2 options, Memorizable or Anal-Retentive.  Ha!  That one is for me.  :)  But don't be scared of the second option because of the great 'extra' in this app... The Guide Me button.

If you push it, it will break up the instructions into parts so that you can follow it step-by-step.  Just click the button after every section to move on.  It couldn't be easier.

But now I have an awesome tip for you.  You can use this same program to figure out how to pick up stitches along a knitted edge.  

We've all been there.  A pattern needs you to pick up 100 stitches along a button band, and since you're the adventurous sort you just dive in and start picking up in some vague "I'll make it!" manner.  Of course, when you get near the end you tear your hair out because you are either too far away from the end or way too close, and YOU DON'T WANT TO DO IT AGAIN, OMG.

Alternatively, you fold the edge in many halves and try to pick up a smaller number of stitches between each marked point.   But then somehow it's never evenly divisible and you start second-guessing yourself "wait, did I pick up 8 or 9 last time??"... and we're back to square one.

Well, no more of any of that!  With this method, you know exactly where to pick up at every moment.  Basically you are tricking the program into thinking that you are decreasing along an edge, simply because you almost always pick up less stitches than loops available.  For the trick to work, you simply re-interpret "k2tog" decreases as skipped stitches for your pick-ups.

Let me demonstrate.  First, count how many loops/stitches (whatever you like to pick up into) you have along the edge.  It's never a set number, and some may look odd around seams.  Just count the ones you would consider picking up in.

In the Knit Evenly app, press "DEC" (because you will be picking up less stitches) and either "Flat" or "Rnd" depending on your type of knitting.  In the "# of sts on the needle" box, type in the number of pick-up loops available.  In the "# of sts to inc/dec" box, type the difference from the number you need to pick-up.

(Android users, don't despair, you can do the same thing using the online calculator)

When you Calculate, it will actually be a formula for picking-up!  Every time it says "k2tog", just skip a loop along your edge.  You'll be thrilled when your last stitch is in exactly the right place, believe me.  :)

Skip a loop every time it says "k2tog"

I compile many tips on my About Me page on Ravelry, you should come check it out.  Cast-on tips, row-counting tips, converting to top-down knitting, needle storage... tons of stuff.  Actually, it's always worth checking out the About Me pages on Ravelry, you can learn the darnedest things!

Check out my Ravelry profile page here!

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March 6, 2014

15 On the Needles Tour -- Spring 2014

A lot of people ask me how many WIPs (Works in Progress) I have on the knitting needles at any given moment.  The answer used to be 3.

  1. A travel project (small)
  2. A movie/book project (doable with eyes closed)
  3. An insanely complicated project (for knitting-only time)
But this list has expanded over the years to include two more common items:
  1. A test knit (helping a designer out with a pattern before publication)
  2. A more complex project, but not in the "completely insane" category

Well, I have been a bit crazy with my cast-ons this Spring and have really not conformed to my norm.  I have 6 projects on the knitting needles:

  1. NO travel project, they are all ginormous and I'm like a knitting bag lady on the bus, FAIL.
  2. Movie/book project, CHECK.
  3. Insanely complicated: see this post for news on my 5-year old WIP, CHECK.
  4. Test knit, CHECK.
  5. More complex #1, CHECK.
  6. More complex #2, FAIL.
  7. More complex #3, FAIL.

Oops.   Now, too many WIPs won't kill you, but they will give you great heaps of guilt.  You know what I'm talking about, the dreaded Knitter's Guilt.  That nagging feeling that you've got more than you can handle?  That you've started a project you'll never finish?  That one or two of them will have more dust bunnies knitted up than wool?  I may be feeling it.  So, this post is really as much for me as for you, a bit of organization and forecasting to make sure these beauties get done!

Test knit -- Catskills Cardi -- 95% done

All that's left is the neckline and blocking

Sheila Toy Stromberg is testing her Catskills Cardi in the Free Pattern Testers group I help moderate on Ravelry.  Here is her prototype project, which uses a drop stitch pattern for a lacy effect.

I am using a beautiful sparkly mohair yarn, Filatura di Crosa's Gioiello, a generous gift from my mother-in-law from Geneva, Switzerland.  I hereby challenge you to find a yarn with more vowels in a row!

What drew me to this project:  This is almost a full cardi (no front) yet uses very little yarn!  Also, the drop stitches are really something to look forward to.  If you've made the famous Clapotis by Kate Gilbert, you know what I'm talking about.  Of course, using mohair has made these drop stitches a pain, I've definitely added a few hours to this project trying to rip them down.  

I fully recommend the pattern and will be posting details once it is released!

Complex project #1 -- The Queen of Pop -- 35% done

This pattern is Madonna by Marie Wallin from the newest Rowan Mag 55.  I've chosen some crazy colors as you can see, and have started to call it "Queen of Pop Madonna" to distinguish it from the virginal original:

What drew me to this project:  Stashbusting!  I have so many single skeins of Kidsilk Haze, I thought I could use them for this.  I'm also using twice-frogged bamboo to replace the Cotton Glace and a bit of the new Rowan yarn Truesilk. 

 I also fell for the oversized light-weightedness of the top and thought it could be a good beach cover-up for when the sun went down and things got chilly.  BUT IT LOOKS REALLY BIG.  We shall see!

Movie/book project -- Wharf -- 35% done

Before I go into the project, some of you might be saying, "book?!".  Yes, you can definitely read while you knit, it's no different from watching something!  I never used to read and knit because of two problems: 1) putting down knitting to turn the page is too difficult, 2) you need a good stand for all the different-sized books you will read.  I've solved this smashingly by using a Kindle Touch to read, held in a stand.  The great thing about the Touch is that you can still hold your knitting while you lightly brush the screen with your pinky to turn the page.  :)

All right, the Kindle is off and you would be going to the previous page, but.... because camera.

Wharf is one of the many striped patterns in Rowan Mag 55 (Spring/Summer 2014), by a newer designer on the Rowan team Gemma Atkinson.

What drew me to the project:  First, the shoulders.  I'm really into highlighted shoulders, as you can see with my recent finished project, Sunshine and Bobbles.  Second, stripes!  I've been having fun playing with color lately.  The original is in Rowan Wool Cotton 4-ply which is beautiful yarn, but I wasn't too keen on the color choices.  I wanted to use a yarn with an unlimited palette, and the obvious answer was Madelinetosh Merino Light.  

I am not quite sure how I came up with such, may I say, AWESOME color choices... this is going to be a lovely little sweater.

Complex Project #2 -- Balkan for Him -- 15% done

This was a totally unexpected project that jumped on the needles after a precipitous visit to a new local yarn shop.  B. wanted to take a walk, and I kept pushing the walk's trajectory towards La Maison Tricotée.  My "punishment" was B. falling in love with a rather lovable yarn, Shepherd's Wool.

Balkan is a free pattern available from Rowan by Brandon Mably that uses Rowan Colourspun.

Yes, I know some of you aren't looking at the sweater at all!

 B. wanted to use a big stash of Noro Silk Garden displayed in a living room bookshelf as a slow-striping contrast.  There is a great story behind this yarn, I can't wait to tell you more!

Stay tuned for an über-romantic story

Complex project #3 -- La Boheme, Blinged -- 5% done

We have finally reached the end of my pile of unfinished knitting!  The knitting magazines might all say "Spring" on the covers right now, but it won't be Spring anytime soon in Montréal.  This lovely pattern is La Boheme by Marie Wallin, from the Autumn/Winter Rowan Mag 54.  The pattern is sadly too low-contrast in the original example.

What drew me to this project:  The intricate tapestry-like colorwork pattern, of course!  This is one of those patterns that is so pretty it is just begging for me to show people what it really looks like.  :p  I've picked some major sparkly yarn, Rowan Kidsilk Eclipse, with some Madelinetosh Merino Light (yes, again and again and again).

What didn't draw me to this project:  The shape of the garment, yikes.  A boxy top with skinny sleeves is great for thin knits, but not for bulky stranding!  I've revamped this completely, so I'll have a lot to tell you when it's finished.  Stay tuned my friends!

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