Thursday, September 4, 2014

New Release: Herriot Hat

I am sure that I am not the only one who can't walk by a silky skein of alpaca yarn without giving it a little stroke.  The fiber is so tempting - a bit of sheen, smooth fibers, silky and warm...  So when I was given a skein of a new alpaca yarn from Juniper Moon Farm and asked to write a pattern for it, how could I say anything but, "Absolutely!"?

Here's the part that had me stumped for a little while: Herriot Great yarn is bulky weight (which is not my usual "thing"), and one skein is 131 yds.  It's enough for a hat or a pair of mittens, but probably not enough for a good-sized cowl.  And due to the fact that alpaca yarn is not a good fit for a project that needs some stretch - like a hat or mittens - it took me a while to figure out what to do with this single skein!

But in the end, the answer was in the stitch.  I wanted to make a hat.  The yarn would make a fantastic hat for shoveling snow, taking walks in cold weather, or giving to my son to use this winter when he has to walk 4 blocks home from the bus stop on windy, cold days.  The thick yarn paired with the warm fiber gives you yarn that will keep your head warm even when the temperature dips below freezing.  To make up for the lack of stretch in the yarn, I picked the stretchiest stitch I knew for the brim - a smocked stitch that begins as a 2 x 2 rib and alternates pulling different groups of stitches together with a bar knitted across the ribbed stitches.  Instructions for the smocking stitch are written in the pattern, and there is a video at the top of the video page of this blog (click the "videos" tab above) titled "Charlotte Dress Smocking Stitch" that will demonstrate exactly how this stitch is done.

The result is a hat that is warm, with a snug fit, and is fun to make.  And did I mention that the 20" size (smaller adult size) only took me about 3 hours to make?  This would make an easy weekend project, and it's something you could whip up as a gift if you only have a couple days' notice.

Give it a try - I'm offering the pattern for free, and the recommended yarn can be purchased here or you can substitute your favorite bulky-weight fiber!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Oatmeal Dress

Back when I was planning out my projects for the Ravellenic Games, I wanted a project that would be relatively instant-gratification.  I already had a man-sized sweater I was working on, and a pair of bright self-striping socks to combat the mile of worsted weight brown yarn I'd be knitting for the sweater.  But I wanted an in-between project as well.  Something that would be portable, knit on smaller needles, and easy to finish in a week or so.  I looked at my list of design ideas and found a sketch for the little dress you see here.  
I wanted it to be an "every-day" dress as opposed to something you'd save for a special occasion.  I already had a couple dressier dresses in my pattern portfolio, so this pattern would fill a different niche.  After all, we put so much of our time into our knitting projects...sometimes it's nice that something will get worn more than a hand-full of times!                 
I see this dress worn with a long or short-sleeved t-shirt underneath and maybe some thick tights or leggings in the fall or winter months.  

Beaverslide Dry Goods yarn has also been on my "check it out" list for a while.  Amy Beth, host of The Fat Squirrel Speaks, has made a number of projects using their yarn, is always complementary about it, and has said that it's very reasonably priced.  I ordered it for the big brown sweater I was making my husband during The Games, and while I was on their website, I came across some 2-ply sock weight yarn in the natural buff shade of the sheep it came from, and it caught my eye.  The yarn gave the "Oatmeal Dress" its name - not only because of the color, but because I intended this dress to be a "staple" item for baby/toddler's wardrobe, just like oatmeal might be in their diets.  

This dress starts from the hem - an easy 3-row sequence gives the hem a scalloped shape, then it continues on in garter stitch with decreases at regular intervals to create the A-line shape.  Little pockets are knit separately then sewn on, and the neckline and arm holes are trimmed with an applied i-cord.  The back is fastened with a zipper - I used an "invisible" style on the sample so it is completely covered up by the knit fabric.  
Despite using a few "intermediate techniques", this is a very do-able pattern for anyone willing to learn.  I provide a number of links to photo and video tutorials as well as an attached i-cord supplement to help you through the trickier parts.  Anyone with an internet connection and a little determination can learn everything needed to be successful with this pattern.

 The Oatmeal Dress is available now on Ravelry.  It is written for sizes 3 mo - 24 mo, and uses between 315 - 560 yds of heavy fingering weight or light sport weight yarn.  The Beaverslide Dry Goods yarn I used in the sample is listed as a sport-weight, but with a garter-stitch gauge of 23 sts and 38 rows per 4", I think a heavier fingering weight such as madelinetosh sock would be a close substitute that many people would be familiar with.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Good Yarn

I have been terrible about blogging this summer, but only because I've had non-stop projects!  Like anything, the more I do, the less time I have to talk about it.  But I've taken tons of pictures and have plenty of stories for the day! :)

My family kicked off summer by taking off to Siesta Key, Fl at the beginning of June.  Like all vacations, we made sure to stop at a yarn shop or two while we were on our travels.  I think my husband actually likes going with me, and while my kids may not technically "like" it, they are patient and well-behaved and find someplace to sit and hang out with Dad while Mom pets the yarn.  

The first shop we went to was a bust.  It would have been lovely if I was into spinning art yarn, because it was really more of a spinning studio than a retail shop with lots of yarn for sale.  But it wasn't my cup of tea, so after a quick lap around the tiny studio, we left.  Luckily, our second try more than made up for the first place!  

A Good Yarn is a yarn shop located just across the bridge from Siesta Key, in Sarasota, Fl.  It might have the most impressive inventory of any shop I've been in.  It's nice-sized and very well organized, by weight.  It's big enough to have a lot of inventory, but small enough that you can easily look around and feel like you've seen everything they have to offer in an hour or less.  The thing that floored me was how many yarn lines they have that I've heard of and thought, "I'd love to see that yarn in person and maybe give it a try".  They were ALL there!  They even had a wall of Quince & Co. Linen, which I've often wanted to try, but didn't want to pay shipping for a single "experiemental skein", and I didn't want to order a project's worth without knowing what to expect.  (Side note: Sparrow is FANTASTIC.  The best linen I've come across so far.)  I probably spent an hour and a half looking around and trying to narrow down my purchases, and even then, I only got it down to a little over $300 worth!  (But I didn't feel bad about that since it was my first big yarn purchase all year, and I got 17 skeins for that price.  My only trouble was wondering if I'd have room in our suitcases for it on the plane trip home!)  My purchases included 6 skeins of Quince sparrow, 2 skeins of Madelinetosh pashmina in a tropical colorway dyed just for this shop, 5 skeins of Anzula - 4 worsted in a tonal beige colorway and 1 sport-weight in a slightly off-white,and 4 skeins of Sirdar Snuggly bamboo yarn.  And even after all those purchases, I still had to make a note on my phone about 4 or 5 other yarns and colors that I had seen there that I wanted to later order on-line.  I could have easily spent $1000 there if I didn't have money & suitcase space restraints!

In addition to the terrific inventory, the owner came right up to me as soon as we walked in, introduced herself and proceeded to show me around.  When I showed interest in something, she would show me a few other things she thought I might like, too.  She and the other woman who were working while I was there were both super-friendly, helpful, and not at all of the "snooty yarn shop" persuasion.  (If you've been in a handfull of shops, I'm sure you've come across one or two that seem to be staffed by the snooty salesclerk in the iconic "Big mistake!" scene from "Pretty Woman".  These ladies were exactly the opposite of that!) 

I didn't even start a project with my new yarn while I was on vacation though, because I had two substantial projects that I packed to work on over our 12-day trip.

The first was a beach dress.  Yes, I might have planned ahead and finished this before I hit the beach, but it didn't occur to me that I might want a beach cover-up until exactly 3 days before departure.  By the time I got on the plan, I was done with the bodice, so I just had an endless stockinette skirt with a little made-up lace along the bottom, plus i-cord straps to finish the project.  It was all done on the pattern.  Just kept trying it on until it seemed right.

 I think I had it finished by Friday, so it took just under a week to complete.  Probably seems fast for a dress, but it was dk-weight yarn (Cascade Ultra Pima), and I had a lot of waiting in the airport time, plane ride time, and knitting on the beach time in there.

Also, I'm kinda a fast knitter.

Once that was finished, I started in on my Francis top, which was made from a pattern.  I used the recommended yarn, Shibui Heichi, which was a very nice, rustic silk.  I had a love-hate relationship with this project.  Some parts of it were a pleasure to knit, but I found other parts unnecessarily complicated.  It's a simple shape and really doesn't need to have such a complicated construction.  While I'm all for learning new things, I'm also a big fan of patterns that are easy to alter to suit your taste, and the absence of a schematic with detailed measurements makes it next to impossible to alter this top.  The pattern will work if you just trust it as you go (except I did have issued with the short rows at the end of each back section...the numbers just didn't work for me, but I was able to fudge it and make it work).  Just don't go into it thinking you're going to make it wider/shorter/longer/alter the sleeves/neckline/etc.  It is what it is, and until you've knit it at least once, you're not going to know which end is up until you're well into the pattern. I finished this project right after we got home.  It would have been done on the plane ride home, except it ends with grafting in garter stitch, and I needed to refresh my memory on that before I attempted it.  If I ever knit this again, I will make one side wider and the other narrower so the seam is at one side of the garter stitch panel.  My stockinette Kitchener Stitch is pretty polished, but I don't graft in garter often enough that my stitches look very consistent.  

Overall, I'm happy with this top (after I sewed the back down...I didn't like the feeling of being half-naked on the one day I attempted to wear it with the back open as it was designed), and I do wear it pretty often.  The silk yarn is beautiful and nice against my skin, I would definitely use it again.

It was a lovely family vacation full of fun yarn-y stops and projects.  Can't wait to see where we decide to go on our next trip!

Friday, August 1, 2014


 At the end of the school year, I had this plan: take a couple months off from writing, start up again toward the end of July so I could have a couple things ready to publish in the fall once the weather starts to cool and seasonal knitters pick their projects back up.  But the wonderful owners of my local yarn shop (happily) foiled my plan.

They had been given 2 skeins of soon-to-be-released yarn by one of their yarn reps.  He had told them that if someone wanted to write a pattern using either of these yarns, he'd be happy to show off the sample as he travels to different yarn shops.

How could I pass up that kind of opportunity?  My master plan was a bust, but the chance to have yarn shop owners see a sample of one of my designs was way too good to pass up.  So I took both skeins of yarn home and stared at them for a few weeks.  I knew right away that the Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal yarn was going to be a lace scarf or cowl.  It has a thick-thin texture that makes it fun for accessories, but a little tricky for garments that you don't want to have any thin patches.  The little nubby bits called for a simple texture so it wouldn't compete with the texture the yarn has on its own.

I swatched a few stitch patterns from my stitch dictionaries, and ended up modifying one of them to come up with this little eyelet pattern.  The 6-hole repeat reminded me of little flowers, so I named the pattern after the flower I thought looked most similar to the lace, Hepatica (also known as Liverwort).

This is a quick and straight-forward pattern.  The pattern is written, but the lace portion is charted.  One of my testers was a complete beginner with charted lace (she had only previously attempted one lace chart and ended up frogging her project after multiple tries), and she declared this pattern simple and easy to follow.

If you can Knit, Purl, SSK, K2tog, YO and pick up stitches, you are ready for this pattern.  Additional skills that you will learn (through video demonstration links) are how to graft using Kitchener Stitch and how to provisionally cast on using a crochet hook.  (The cast-on is optional...this project could also be left un-seamed to be worn as a flat scarf if you didn't want to tackle the provisional cast-on.)

I had to mail the blue sample off to the yarn rep, but I liked it so much that I made a second sample for myself to keep out of Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the Springtime colorway.  It's a great light-weight accessory to give you a pop of color at any time of the year!

Available now on Ravelry.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Beekeeper's Tank

Today I get to release my last "deep summer" knit for 2014.  I started work on this one a number of months back.  I had this top sketched out, but didn't have the perfect yarn in mind for it yet.  As luck would have it, I arrived at Knit Night to find a friend working on a Snowy hat in two beautiful colors, a tonal gray and a tonal red.  After noting the tonal variation in the skeins and feeling the softness of her yarn I said, "Are these madelinetosh dk?"  She told me that no, they were the work of an indie dyer she found on Etsy called January Yarns, and I made a mental note to check out her shop when I got home.

At first, my plan was to purchase some of the same dk yarn my friend had with the intention of making a sweater from it.  (And that is definitely on my "to do" list next time I take some time for a "fun knit"!)  But as I let that idea simmer, I came across the drawing of this top and knew I wanted a tonal color way, preferably in a soft wool that I could wear next to my skin that would also show off the texture nicely.  I decided that January Yarn's fingering weight yarn would be a perfect fit, so I wrote up a little proposal and contacted Sarah, the human behind January Yarns, and asked if she'd be up for a collaboration.  She not only gave me yarn support, she jumped in on the test knit and made herself a Beekeeper's Tank while helping me make sure that her size was free of errors!

If you order from January Yarns, don't be alarmed that most of her listings are for one skein.  She offers custom dying, and she'd be happy to dye you as many matching skeins as you would need for your project.

They even come wrapped in tissue paper with an adorable printed label.  Send some directly from her as a gift - the presentation is already lovely!

Anyway, I found the "Staple Sock" yarn a pleasure to work with.  It showed off the texture of the honeycomb yoke beautifully.  And far from being too warm, the merino fiber is comfortably adaptable and allows heat to escape in warm weather, allowing the wearer to stay cool.  It really was a perfect match for this pattern.

Knit from the bottom up, this tank begins with a garter stitch hem, and is then joined in the round for a stockinette marathon with no shaping in the body.  Some might think this would make for a dull project, but I am always wanting a "mindless knit" to take with me on a car trip, to my kids' sports events, or to knit night, where I can easily mess up a pattern when my attention turns to socializing instead of paying attention to what I'm doing.  The bulk of this project is the perfect mindless knit - you literally do nothing except knit stitches in the round!

And the grand finale is the fun part - a few inches of honeycomb follows by some shoulder straps and trimmed out with applied i-cords.  New to i-cord finishing?  You'll love the video demonstration links included in the pattern as well as the written-out i-cord supplement that is included as a separate document with the pattern download.

Testers rated this as an "advanced beginner" to "intermediate" project.  There's lots of links and explanation for all the techniques that might be new to you - Kitchener Stitch, simple cables, applied i-cord.  The only knowledge you really need to come into the project with is how to knit in the round, how to pick up stitches, and how to decrease.

The Beekeeper's Tank is available now in my Ravelry shop!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Sweetest Thing

This design started a few months ago.  I was stuck on a name for a design I was going to publish soon.  I don't even remember which pattern it was...maybe the Cobblestone Hat & Cowl?  Anyway, I was lamenting to my husband that I had hit a creative block and was having trouble coming up with a name.

When the two of us are in need of a little uninterrupted time for conversation, we like to head to a little coffee shop near our house.  We like it because it's an easy date and it includes coffee and chocolate muffins (ok, they're just cupcakes without the frosting!).  The kids like it because they can play computer games and eat junk food without their pesky parents trying to harsh their mellow.  It's win-win.

Once at the coffee shop, we staked out claim on the big couch in front of the little fireplace.  As I often do, I tried turning to music for inspiration for naming the pattern I was stuck on.  My husband was throwing out gobs of names that night, and though none of them were right for the pattern du jour, many of them were great names and conjured up images of future patterns.  Today's release was one of them: The Sweetest Thing, inspired by the U2 song of the same name, was an easy pattern to imagine.  What are the sweetest details I could imagine for a baby dress?  Well, it would have to start out a simple shape - nothing fussy.  So I went with the classic "empire-waist bodice with a full skirt" outline.  OF COURSE it would have to have tiny puffed sleeves.  And after browsing a number of stitch pattern books, I knew this hem of lacy scallops would be just the right detail to really set it off - still simple to do and not fussy-looking, but striking.

I also knew just what yarn I wanted to use.  A couple summers ago I was in a yarn shop near my sister's house in Wisconsin and I bought two skeins of Manos del Uruguay "Serena" yarn.  It's a baby alpaca/cotton blend.  It's so soft to the touch, with a mild the photos it looks just as soft as it is in real life.  My only frustration with this yarn is that it's labeled as "sport", but when I knit it on side 3 and 4 needles, the fabric was really thin and full of holes.  It was only when I went down to a US 2 1/2 (and I'm a pretty "average" knitter in terms of stitch tightness) that I got a fabric I was happy with - and it was 28 stitches to 4".  To me, that's a lighter fingering weight yarn, not a sport.  So don't be confused when you look at the yarn recommendation - I labeled it as a lighter fingering weight because that's how this yarn acts, in my opinion, regardless of what it says on the label.

The little wooden buttons I used were from a shop we visited during our trip to Ontario last summer.  Knitca is located in Mississauga, right outside Toronto.  They are an on-line retailer as well, and man, do they have buttons!

So with my dress plan all written up, I needed to find a baby who could model it for me.  Fortunately, I belong to a little "mom's club" where I am one of the few "old ladies" of the group.  Where my kids are junior-high aged, the vast majority of the moms in this group have kids who are still in grade school or younger.  And a few of them are still in their baby-having years!  One mom was blessed with twins last fall, and was willing to let her baby girl be my little model for this dress.  And the timing worked out well - we got our photo shoot in just before Easter, so this little pixie got a special handmade Easter dress!

So between the cuteness of this baby and the sweetness of the dress, I've been very excited to share with you my new pattern: The Sweetest Thing.  It's written for babies & toddlers sized 3 mo - 24 mo.  I'm on my second one now, this time done in Lorna's Laces "Solemate".  Plenty of stockinette if you like "tv knitting", with just enough details to make you feel like you've really made something special.  Keep it in mind next time you need a first birthday dress, something for baby to wear to church or a summer wedding, or, with a little extra length added in the skirt, I can see this as a gorgeous baptism gown!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Roxborough Dolman

There's been a whole lot of knitting and not a lot of posting going on around here.  This winter has been chock full of projects...most of them samples for new patterns, but I did squeeze in a couple "fun knits".  This one was a quickie - it might have taken me a week.  It's a dolman-sleeve sweater made out of Three Irish Girls Adorn Sock yarn.  I happened to be loitering at my local yarn shop on a day they received a bit Three Irish Girls shipment.  I fell in love with the bright pink and bright turquoise yarns that I saw. They had a very 80's vibe to them.  I took a few days to make sure I knew what I wanted to do before I made my purchase, and when I saw this 80's-inspired sweater, I knew it would be a good match.  I couldn't bring myself to go full-on 80's pink & turquoise stripes though, so I just went with one of those colors and mixed it with a nice gray from the TIG collection.

This is a super, super simple design.  The sleeves are not knit separately - the sweater is basically a rectangle that gets wider toward the top, and the sleeves just grow out of the extra ease built in from all the side increases.  

I believe my stripes were 6 rows each, which makes them a little less than an inch wide.  This sweater is great for wearing over a long-sleeve t-shirt in cold weather (it was my favorite "running errands" outfit in the dead of winter because I was warm, but this wasn't bulky under my coat like a bigger sweater would have been.  It's also great for wearing over a tank top in warmer weather.  The fingering-weight yarn makes it quite a versatile piece.

I did a minor modification to the neckline.  Rather than picking stitches up in a circle around the neck, I worked a flat ribbed strip along the front neckline and another along the back neckline, then stitched the down, overlapping at the sides of the neck.  For me, this helped close up the neckline just enough that I can usually keep this sweater up on my shoulders.  The neckline width is easy enough to adjust though - you'd just need to bind off more or less stitches for the neckline, making sure it's evenly centered across the bind-off row.  If I made this top again, I would knit a few extra rows after the neckline bind-off just to drop the neck down an inch or two because right now it does sit a little higher on my chest than I really like.

Pattern is Roxborough Dolman, yarn is Three Irish Girls Adorn Sock in "jellybean" and "little black raincloud".