Archives for category: patterns

Hey everyone,

Breaking my radio silence at last… with wedding planning I was going a little nuts (more on that later; I sewed my dress, my bridesmaids’ dresses, and knit a shawl! But it all came out fine and we got married and it was great!) Post-wedding, there were all the thank-you notes to write, and I got done with all that, but still felt like hiding my head in the sand for a while. But I thought I’d reemerge and share a semi-recent FO (ha, semi-recent = knit just before Thanksgiving) with the world, and work my way up to posting about the various things I made for the wedding.

I published the Bel Canto Cowl (rav link) in Knitcircus a couple of years ago, but due to their changes, it was no longer available for purchase from their site. Someone on Ravelry requested it, which was the impetus to reknit, rephotograph, and reformat the pattern for sale on my own site, since I couldn’t use the KC photos/pattern layout. So it’s up for sale on Ravelry, in case anyone was looking for it, and here are some pics:

Pattern: Bel Canto Cowl
Yarn Used: Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 37 Lettuce, 1 skein.
Needles used: US 8 (5.0 mm) 16-inch circulars
Date started: November 21, 2012
Date completed: November 23, 2012
Mods/Notes:
The first version of this cowl was knit in Malabrigo Rios, which is superwash, plied, and slightly thinner than the singles/non-superwash Merino Worsted. I like the extra body and cushier fabric of the Merino Worsted version. Also, I think the lighter color shows off cables better, although there’s no denying that rich cobalt blue from the original version is TO DIE FOR.

(Side note: I haven’t cut my hair for probably a year, and it’s longer than it’s been anytime since grade school, so I’ve been having fun with hairdos–although this may look vaguely pixieish, it’s actually precariously pinned Heidi braids that came apart immediately after the photoshoot.)

Closeup:

I got kind of annoyed with the Freakonomics guys when Superfreakonomics came out, but nevertheless, their New York Times blog usually makes for a pretty interesting read. Yesterday more than ever: they posted a letter from a young Ravelry user named Sarah Johnson about the difficulty ratings on Ravelry and whether there is “an elitist oligarchy in the underworld of knitters.”

Johnson took a look at some data from the site and asked the questions:

  • Why, on a site that contains 205,069 patterns, are less than 100 patterns user-rated as “difficult?”
  • Why are 90.3 percent of the patterns rated for quality on Ravelry considered by users to be very good or excellent?
  • Possible answer #1: Most patterns on Rav are, in fact, good and easy
  • Possible answer #2: Rav data is largely made up of input from “master craftsmen,” and their subjective considerations of relative ease and difficulty are artificially skewing the ratings on Ravelry to make patterns that are objectively more difficult appear much less so.

This in itself was sort of an interesting question, but to me, it’s more about flaws or inherent biases in the data based on the ratings collection system. Some good points brought up in the article’s comments, where the issue was discussed in much greater detail:

  • People who don’t make a pattern (by adding it to their notebook as a project) cannot rate it.
  • Most people won’t choose to even attempt to make a pattern they perceive to be out of their skill level. (When I first started knitting, I remember obsessively perusing the Knitty archives for anything rated “mellow” or “tangy,” as I perceived “piquant” to be something far above and beyond my abilities.) Due to this self-selection, anything with a rating has already been pre-filtered as apparently appropriate for the knitter’s skill level.
  • People usually don’t rate patterns until they’ve finished their project, so if something is too hard and gets abandoned, usually it won’t get a rating at all. If you’ve managed to finish a project, then most people would think to themselves that by definition, it couldn’t have been that hard.
  • There’s no lower limit on the number of reviewers needed for something to show up in the difficulty rankings, so the majority of projects rated “10″ in difficulty have been rated that way by a single person.

If you’re really interested in finding the truly difficult patterns on Ravelry, it’s probably more productive to look at this discussion about the “brain surgery” of knitting.

I was more interested in trying to tease out what it actually means for a knitting (or crochet) pattern to be “difficult.”

As Stephanie Pearl-McPhee says in Knitting Rules, in response to those who say, “I couldn’t knit, I’m not smart enough”: “Knitting, all knitting–every single item–is made up of two stitches, knit and purl.” In the end, this is essentially a question of following directions someone has written down for you, using well-documented, physically undemanding techniques that are easily broken down to their atomic level–knits and purls. (I’m not thinking about designing and writing knitting patterns, which involve a different skillset and a different set of difficulties.)

I took a quick look on Wikipedia, and while I’m sure there’s a lot more relevant stuff out there that I just didn’t manage to find, what I did find was this breakdown of “characteristics of difficult problems,” which doesn’t seem to apply to what we call “a difficult pattern”: it applies to problems, and the solutions thereto, which is not exactly what we’re dealing with when looking at knitting patterns. Nothing really needs to be “solved,” unless a pattern is particularly poorly written, or you’re actually designing it. Patterns are essentially instructional texts: the ideal, if you’re a designer (and not Elizabeth Zimmermann), is for someone to be able to just pick up your pattern and knit it all the way through without running into any doubts or confusion, in “blind follower” mode.

So, rather than spending a lot of time researching existing literature about this topic, I thought about things–not just from the knitting realm, but throughout my life–that I’ve found difficult recently, and tried to figure out what I could take away from them that would apply:

  • I checked out a book of John Ashbery poems from the library and tried to understand it. I’m finding this pretty tough going. This might be a problem of not having the proper background or training to understand what techniques he’s using, what he’s alluding to, and what he’s trying to achieve; or maybe an issue of short attention span.
  • In rock climbing, short routes that you boulder (climb without ropes) are usually referred to “problems” and they are indeed often difficult for me to complete, but usually for purely physical reasons: the limitations of my own body–flexibility, strength, balance, fear, stamina.
  • In my non-knitting life, I’m a project manager, and certain projects I work on seem more difficult than others. The projects that seem most difficult to me involve either a great deal of complexity–many details, resources, files, and requirements that need to be managed simultaneously–or, more often, projects that involve a custom process, where I don’t have a good mental map of the road I’ll need to follow to complete the job, or the issues that are likely to come up and how to solve them.
  • I cannot, for the life of me, play the drums in Rock Band. I nearly always get booed offstage by those cruel, cruel virtual fans. This is a difficulty of physical coordination (if the damn drum pedal wasn’t involved, I’d do better, I think, but two hands and one foot is more than I can handle at once) and also mentally processing a lot of information at high speed, in a time-dependent environment.
  • I’m taking an Italian conversation class right now, and my instructor keeps telling me I need to jump in there more, interrupt people, talk over other people when I have a point to make, i.e. act more Italian (i.e., rude). Even though I’m pretty sure nobody would take this personally, I find it very difficult, from my social conditioning, to just jump in and keep talking over someone else until they shut up.
  • I make pie crust from scratch pretty often. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t. I think a large part of the difficulty in making a good crust is that there are variations in the ingredients (how much the flour is packed down, the amount of water added, how cold the butter is), the measurements, the oven temperature, how much the dough is handled, how well the butter is distributed, how thin the crust is rolled out… a lot of factors and variations, many of which are impossible for me to measure accurately in the moment as I’m making the pie. And what do I do if I accidentally add too much water? I can’t really un-add it after the fact.

So, all that in mind, I played around with bubbl.us (which is a really fun site, by the way) to make a mind map of how I think difficulty breaks down. You’ll see a few entries that aren’t knitting-related, so I haven’t gone into them in detail, but I wanted to at least mention them since they cover some of the difficult areas I listed above. Click to enlarge to a readable size, and start at the yellow “What is DIFFICULTY?” in the middle.

Disclaimer: there’s probably going to be a fair amount of overlap in these categories, and I’ve put this all together in one big verbal diarrhea marathon session, having read the article and 2 pages of comments, but none of the discussions on Ravelry about it yet, so maybe I haven’t thought through everything super carefully, but hey, this is a hobby, not a term paper:

WHAT IS DIFFICULTY?

Knitting difficulty mind map

The high-level categories I broke this down into are:

1) Difficulty in understanding instructions–essentially, user error or designer error (or maybe not “error,” but the inherent difficulty of describing certain techniques or presenting certain types of information without taking up 20 pages). Many of the patterns rated “10″ for difficulty were rated by 1 person, and this undoubtedly reflects a lack of experience, or understanding of the rating system, more than anything terribly difficult about, say, this felted purse or this cabled hat. (Maybe that’s just me being a presumptuous elitist oligarch?)

2) Difficulty in achieving desired results–Let’s put it this way. I think there’s nothing inherently difficult about knitting a top-down raglan sweater. Knit knit knit, follow directions–increase a bit, put some stitches on waste yarn, knit knit knit. Eventually, if you can follow directions, you have a sweater. However, there are plenty of difficult things about knitting a top-down raglan sweater that actually fits you, whether it’s making the sweater too loose or too tight, the sleeves too long or short or different lengths, the neck too tight or way too huge, or some unholy combination of the above. This is mostly unrelated to knitting patterns, but I do think it’s something that often leads to people saying a project was hard. I’ve broken this down into:

  • Fit–Fit and Gauge both overlap the category I’ve labeled Mental Difficulty, as the issue of “difficulty” here is that for a sweater to fit right and look flattering, you need to customize the instructions to suit your own specific requirements, which forces you to enter the realm of design–measuring yourself, measuring your work, doing a lot of math.
  • Gauge
  • Irrevocability of actions–sorry for the unwieldy title, I couldn’t think of anything better. Basically, how hard is it to go back and fix something if it’s wrong? This is the cause of a lot of difficulty in non-knitting fields (and in fact I should have broken out “time constraints” separately), but one of the things that I like about knitting is that this factor often doesn’t enter into the craft at all. In my examples above, think of playing drums in Rock Band: once I’ve hit the wrong drum, I can’t go back and fix it, and it matters a lot if I play the drums super slow when I’m not supposed to. Unlike knitting, where I can knit as fast or as slow as I want, and if I do something wrong, I can usually tink back and fix it. There are, however, a few areas where this plays a role in knitting. Steeking is the most obvious: if you take the scissors to your colorwork sweater and then find out you screwed up, there’s no going back. Felting is another one (though it usually covers a multitude of sins)–you can’t take the extra water out of your pie crust, you can’t unfelt your felted purse. And I’ve also listed “difficulty of correcting previous errors” here: if you get to the end and see that you accidentally purled where you should have knit ten rows below, in a plain stockinette sweater, you can drop that stitch and fix it with a crochet hook, but only the insane will attempt this in their Niebling lace. Even Nancy Marchant finds it hard to correct errors in brioche stitch.
  • Unsuitable materials (also listed under Physical Difficulty)–If you use sari silk, don’t be surprised if it’s nearly impossible to make, say, a ribbed hat that will stay on your head.

3) Social difficulty–while this is a cause of so, so many difficulties in life, maybe the vast majority of them, for the most part, it’s not relevant to knitting pattern difficulty (or only tangentially so, e.g., anxiety about asking for help when you don’t understand) so I haven’t gone into any kind of detail about this. Perhaps one issue to note here is the phenomenon in rock climbing of “sandbagging” when rating the difficulty of climbing routes: giving a climb an easier score than it deserves. I think of knitting as being a non-competitive activity, but at least one commenter on the article mentioned the possible shame factor of rating something “easy” as difficult for them–”nobody likes to be thought a fool”–leading to lots of patterns being rated easier than they should be.

4) Physical difficulty–again, in life in general, issues related to physical limitations are far more common than in the world of knitting (in my list above: rock climbing, playing drums, making pie crust), but this is definitely one of the important factors in determining knitting pattern difficulty.

  • Unsuitable materials, again: Typical conversation with beginning knitter: “This is so hard, this hurts my hands!” “What yarn are you using?” “Lion Brand Homespun.” Well, of course it hurts your hands. I found my You Bastard Scarf very, very difficult–not because of the scarf itself, which was mistake rib (just knits and purls) but because of the Camissimo yarn, which was basically a dressed-up version of inflexible, snaggy Homespun for yarn snobs.
  • Difficulty of execution–Some stitches are just physically harder than others to execute, no ifs, ands, or buts. Anything involving purling 5 stitches together through the back loop, or cabling 12 over 12 stitches, for instance. Seafoam stitch is one of the easiest lacy-looking stitches there is (being just fancied-up garter stitch) but I actually find it kind of hard to work for purely physical reasons, because the extra wraps always get stuck on my needles and wind up being hard to push along.
  • Being “fiddly”–I guess this overlaps a bit with “difficulty of execution” but doesn’t necessarily have to do with just the execution of the stitch pattern–the notes I made on this item were: “limited space, opposing forces (small-scale knitting in the round, picking up stitches, twined knitting constantly twisting, intarsia with a million bobbins)”

5) Mental difficulty–this one’s the biggie when it comes to this craft, and I would argue that the biggest item under “mental difficulty” is actually:

  • Novelty. Pretty much everything is hard when you’re doing it for the first time. This relates to my example about difficult, custom-process work projects above–when you lack a mental toolkit to draw from, when you haven’t practiced something and have no muscle memory, internalized background information or recognition of common patterns, every single step becomes a struggle or a source of doubt; there’s none of the mental coasting you can do when you’re doing a familiar and well-understood task.
    • When you’ve knit 10,000 plain stockinette stitches, you don’t have to think about them anymore. I’m sure the same is true of making 10,000 entrelac squares. I find entrelac a somewhat difficult technique, but not because any of its component parts are actually difficult for me. I just haven’t done it often enough to immediately understand, when I’m looking at my work, “oh, here’s where I pick up X stitches along the edge of Y rectangle”–so I need to refer back to the pattern often, or stop and think about what I’m doing, it’s not TV knitting for me. But there’s nothing hard about knitting, purling, picking up stitches, or decreasing, just about understanding what’s going on without consciously having to think about it at every stage.
    • I get emails every so often from people who have bought Prickle and are freaking out about the moebius cast-on or the sideways knit edging. These things can be very difficult the first time you do them, when you’re still trying to figure out what exactly is going on, but once you get used to them, there’s nothing especially difficult involved.
    • I read stories sometimes of people who say “I’ve been knitting for 25 years but all I can do is knit,” and they mean it–no purling, garter stitch only. This is a little blasphemous, sorry, but to quote Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” We almost all put down periods in all kinds of areas of our lives where there should be commas, including deciding that everything you’ve learned to date (knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing…) is OK, but drawing an arbitrary dividing line of difficulty when it comes to steeking Fair Isle, moebius knitting, charted lace, or two-color brioche, or what have you. I firmly believe nothing in following knitting patterns is that hard in the end, it just requires you to build up your mental toolkit to handle it without so much conscious effort.
  • Calculations/customization–again, this typically falls outside the scope of a knitting pattern itself, except for some that are built like worksheets rather than for “blind followers,” but there is certainly far more mental effort involved and far more risk of error once you stray from following a pattern and into designer territory
  • Creative leaps–see the entry above. You shouldn’t have to do this unless you’re working from a spectacularly poorly written pattern, or making a lot of modifications. I did make an arrow to “background knowledge”–as a broad base of background knowledge is often a required input for successful creative leaps or lateral thinking, and feats of recall are often what makes work in other arenas “hard”. Based purely on watching a bunch of House M.D., I imagine that this is part of what makes a doctor’s job difficult, drawing on a large amount of observation and stored background information to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. In a similar, if less important, vein, I spent a bit of time yesterday for work troubleshooting a corrupted file and trying to figure out how to repair it with the tools we had on hand, under certain time/budget constraints. Or see my John Ashbery problem from my examples above. A lot of “difficult problems” we need to solve in everyday life fall into this category, but not, typically, in knitting.
  • Ambiguity of next required step–Part of the mental toolkit you build up when something goes from being novel to being well-known and understood is the ability to figure out the next step. This (like many of these entries) should probably go back to poor pattern writing as well. The other thing is that, when you get into instructions like “knit into the back of the stitch 2 rows below,” it can be really hard to figure out where, exactly, that is instruction is referring to: alles klar with the stitches on the needle, but there’s a lot of confusion with terminology when it comes to the rest of the knitted fabric. Crocheters will probably disagree with me here, but one thing I find difficult about crochet as compared to knitting is that you can’t just look at the next loop queued up on your needle: you need to figure out where in the existing fabric to stick your hook and which parts of the stitch to put the hook into, and (being an inexperienced crocheter) I usually get that wrong. Commas and periods.
  • Attention required–along with novelty, this is a huge factor in difficulty ratings. Like with Physical Difficulty, there are certain patterns where you just have to pay a lot of attention, no way around it. There are different types of attention, though:
    • Difficulty in reading your knitting: (and in catching mistakes quickly, as they happen, and reassuring yourself that you’re on the right track without having to backtrack and count…) I remember remarking at TBKGE after knitting my Hemlock Ring that I was having some issues with keeping track of my work. Kalani said something to the effect of “I’ve never heard anyone call Feather and Fan ‘hard’ before” and–well, it’s an extraordinarily easy pattern to memorize and to physically execute, and it only requires thought in one out of every 4 rounds or so, but the issue I was having with it was that it was hard to read, and I was constantly paranoid that I’d let my mind wander and gotten the whole pattern shifted off kilter by a few stitches over hundreds of stitches. This is the same thing that makes people eschew colorwork worked flat: it’s hard to see what’s going on from the back of the work, and floats get in the way.
    • Complexity: Even if there are thousands of stitches on your needles, you only knit one stitch at a time: how complex can it be? The issue with complexity in knitting, I think, is when there are multiple simultaneous instructions or requirements to keep track of: the infamous “at the same time…” that has sent so many knitters into the depths of despair is one of them; how about “decrease while maintaining st pattern” (also requiring on-the-fly calculations), or Bohus knitting, requiring you to work with more than two colors and a mixture of knits and purls? Part of this is an issue of pattern writing and the constraints of space and readability in knitting patterns: you’ll often see people solving the complexity problem by rewriting or re-charting their size of a sweater to spell out all the instructions line by line, so they don’t have to remember to do something every four rows at the same time as they’re doing something else every fifteen rows. If a sweater pattern has eight sizes, it’s not feasible for the designer to write everything out line by line in this fashion for every size, but the knitter can do it as an aide-memoire for their one size to reduce complexity. There are patterns that require a lot of modular pieces to be assembled and I suppose that might fall into this category as well.
    • Size/scope: patterns for large items with thousands of stitches or patterns that may be smaller but very dense or non-repetitive both require a great deal of attention: stamina, in either a lengthy, sustained concentration, or an intensely focused concentration that does not allow for breaks in attention. For example, there’s this distinction between “lacy knitting” and “knitted lace”–the former employing plain rows every other row or round, where the work is only knitted, without any patterning stitches in play, and hence offering the knitter a chance to rest and recharge without constant concentration. I haven’t tried a Niebling yet, or pictorial lace like the Heere be Dragone shawl, but my guess is that it’s this question of scope that makes them difficult. I can read a chart, I can knit lace, but can I do it for hundreds of rows and thousands of stitches without losing my place or messing up? An analogy that came to mind for me was proofreading a language you speak, like English, versus a language you don’t, like, for me, Hindi (at work it comes up occasionally that I’ll need to verify if text has been pasted in accurately or if it’s been misplaced, characters dropped, etc.). In English or another Latin-alphabet language, my eye can scan over the page at the word level with a reasonable level of accuracy, whereas in an unfamiliar language like Hindi I have to go character-by-character, with a much greater visual focus and heightened attention.

Phew! (Speaking of sustained attention, I hope you’re still with me…) With all that in mind, let’s look at a few examples of “difficult” patterns:

  • Morrigan, by Jenna Wilson: a fine-gauge twisted stitch pullover. In theory, if you’re following the directions, there’s nothing hugely different about this than this same designer’s chemo cap Shedir (warning, PDF link): the differences are chiefly in scope and the problems of achieving proper gauge and fit in a form-fitting sweater versus a hat.
  • Katherine Howard, by Jade Starmore: scope and fit are obviously issues again here, but in addition we run into novelty and complexity. It looks like there are 3 or 4 colors used per row in some rows (can’t tell if those little bobble things are knit in or embroidered afterwards), and… I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with the colorwork and texture, but I think it’s maybe intarsia with cables and short rows? A lot of crap going on simultaneously that you don’t see every day, in any case. I don’t find the end product an especially attractive sweater, I’m sorry to say, but it is certainly extremely technically impressive.
  • Drifting Pleats, by Lynne Barr: this is just a scarf on a stockinette ribbed base [corrected 2011-03-03], so issues of gauge, fit, complexity, and scope don’t really enter into it: I think the issues here are with novelty and possibly also physical difficulty (keeping the needles holding the pleat stitches organized and out of your way). I don’t know of any other patterns that use this pleating technique, so it’s going to be a completely new experience for most people trying it, leading to missteps and confusion about what is being explained–but looking at the notes in Ravelry, most people said that it wasn’t hard after it “clicked,” and the scarf’s overall difficulty rating is not as high as you might otherwise expect.
  • Forest Path Stole, by Faina M. Letoutchaia: entrelac plus multiple different lace patterns (many with shifting stitch counts)–to me, I’d have issues with the novelty of this combination of pattern techniques and tracking my progress: until I got used to the pattern I’d be afraid of picking up the wrong stitches since this can (to me) be confusing and ambiguous in entrelac, and it would be hard to tell until the next long row if you’d screwed it up. Not to mention that lace can be confusing in and of itself, and it’s easy to accidentally drop or add stitches. You are, however, working the same little lace squares over and over again rather than one long row of repeats of the lace pattern, so I’d think it would be easier to at least check at the end of each square if you’d done it right. But if you mess up the entrelac, it’s also very hard to go back and fix problems in a pattern like this.
  • Geometric Star, by Kaffe Fassett. From Kaffe’s “Glorious Acid Freakout” collection. This is a problem of complexity all the way–I have no idea how many colors are being used per row but I’m sure it’s more than one and fairly sure it’s less than fifty. Since it’s a sweater, I’d normally say there’s a gauge/fit issue here as well, but frankly, if you’re wearing a one-size-fits-all, chunky-weight, tragic-kaleidoscope-accident colorwork sweater I don’t think you care all that much about how good it looks on you in the end.

OK. Phew. 4500 words later, I think I’m going to call it good and go 1) read what everyone else in the Ravoblogotwittersphere is saying about this topic and 2) maybe do a little bit of actual knitting instead of just blabbing about it. What are your thoughts on all this? Have I overlooked something massive, or am I ignorant of some huge body of literature already existing on this topic? What makes a pattern difficult for you?  What do you think about the NYT blog post and Ms. Johnson’s interpretations of that data?

(Oh and one last thing: I ran across this gorgeous peacock feather scarf, Fremont Street, when I was doing pattern research for this post–sadly, it seems to be rated difficult because there are a lot of errors in the pattern, so I probably won’t bother knitting it until they release corrections, but I think it is beautiful. I didn’t want to discuss it as a “difficult pattern,” but thought I’d point it out in case anyone else wants to give it a go despite the reported pattern issues.)

–corrected 2011-03-03: Lynne Barr wrote to me that Drifting Pleats is on a ribbed base, not stockinette. Oops, sorry, Lynne!

It’s been months since I posted (things have been hectic in my non-knitting life!) and I’m almost a month late with posting about this… but better late than never, right?

I’m pleased to announce that I have a pattern published in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of Knitcircus, a Madison-based online knitting magazine. (My pattern is on page 84, but take the time to flip through the whole issue–there are some really great patterns. The layout may look similar to Twist Collective, but unlike Twist, you can purchase the entire pattern collection at once and get ALL the patterns for $8, instead of $8 apiece… my favorites this time are probably Beckett, Treccia, and Sweet Georgia.)

My pattern is called Bel Canto–the design reminded me of a hair-braiding scene in Ann Patchett’s book of the same name. It’s a simple design, all stockinette, flared at the base of the cowl to fit the body where neck meets shoulders, with simple rolled edges at the cast-on and bind-off–the one focal point of the design is a dramatic three-strand plaited cable framed with lace eyelets and sweeping diagonally across the cowl.

The sample was worked in Rios, the new plied, worsted-weight, superwash merino yarn from Malabrigo. I was afraid the color (Azul Profundo) might be too dark to photograph well, but it came out fine. It’s a lovely yarn, a bit thinner, shinier, and more slippery than the normal worsted weight singles yarn. I think you could substitute normal Malabrigo Worsted Merino in this pattern pretty easily, but I might go up a needle size for improved drape.

This was my first magazine publication, and it was exciting seeing my design professionally modeled and photographed! How cute is this photo?


This would make a nice quick Christmas present if you are so inclined–it uses less than one skein (210 yards) of Rios. In fact, the original prototype for this cowl was knit in just a few hours, and used only 98 yards of yarn (the La Lana Phat Silk Phat I picked up in Taos last summer)–it didn’t have the flared shaping at the base, though, so I don’t think you could pull off that low yardage with the current version of the pattern.

Anyway, if you’re interested, I have one copy of the Knitcircus Winter 2010-2011 Pattern Collection to give away! Leave a comment by midnight on Saturday December 4 telling me what yarn you’d use to make this, and I’ll do a random drawing on Sunday. I’m on the East Coast (Boston and NY) for the whole month of December, so I’m hoping that since I won’t have my normal life and domestic responsibilities to distract me, I’ll get a little more time to catch up on updating my blog. And finish my Christmas knitting and shopping in the next two weeks. It might be too ambitious a plan, but hope springs eternal.

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here…
sun_hat_outside 055
(check out my fabulous peacock tights!)
Here comes the sun
sun_hat_outside 067
Here comes the sun
sun_hat_outside 047
And I say
sun_hat_outside 002
It’s alright
sun_hat_outside 041

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo (is that the right number of “doo”s?)

To celebrate the arrival of spring and the melting of the icebound lakes in Madison, here is my newest pattern, Here Comes the Sun (link: buy now or go to the hat or scarf Ravelry pages.)

Like Latitude and Longitude, it’s an accessory set, so although I’ve listed the pieces separately in Ravelry, the pattern includes instructions for both the hat and the scarf. The slouchy ribbed beret is knit with one skein of Malabrigo Twist, the reversible wavy scarf with two (both shown in the gorgeous sunny golden semi-solid Sunset). Just the thing to cheer you up on a gray day, or add a pop of color to a drab outfit.

I picked up a skein of Twist a while back from The Knitting Tree after admiring my friend Liz’s slouchy green beret, and resolved to make one of my own. A bit of experimentation and I came up with the hat; after wearing it for a bit and knitting a second one in blue to work out the pattern, I made the matching scarf with yarn I picked up at Stitches West.

With the help of speedy tech editor Dawn Catanzaro, I released the pattern for the Malabrigo March design contest being held on the Malabrigo Junkies forum on Ravelry. The contest is closed for judging now and we should all hear back in a couple of weeks–there were some great contenders, so I doubt I’ll win, but it was a great kick in the ass to have the deadline to work towards for finalizing the pattern, and nice to participate in the community event–I tend to mostly lurk on the boards and seldom participate in actual knitalongs (I’d kind of wanted to do the Bodhi Mittens KAL for MM, but couldn’t commit the time and psychic energy… anyway, it’s in my queue, and looks like a pretty quick knit, so I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.)

Go check out the other MM design contest patterns if you have a Rav account–my favorites are the Wild Growth mitts and the versatile whatchamacallit accessory called Verse.

OK, folks, ready for some magic?

Abra…
hatlat

Cadabra!
hatlong

Presto…
cowllong

Change-o!
cowllat

OK, it ain’t David Copperfield, but it’s still pretty cool, right?

My latest pattern release, Latitude and Longitude (Rav link for purchase: buy now), is a set of three accessories, meant to be knit up in two complementary colors of Noro Kureyon, Silk Garden, or another self-striping yarn: the PDF includes instructions for a scarf, cowl, and hat. All three are fully reversible and, as you saw, have vertical stripes on one side and horizontal stripes on the other. You only use one color per row, and there’s no real fancy business going on, stitch-wise–the basic pattern is just knits, purls, and slipped stitches. There are a few fancier things happening in the hat to keep the decreases as balanced and invisible as possible, but follow the written directions or chart and you’ll be fine.

I probably shouldn’t gush too much about the awesomeness of my own work, but seriously, I love these. (Sadly, one hat and the scarf have gone missing already. I seem to always lose my absolute favorite knitwear. At least I still know where two rainbowy cowls and a hat are.)
set

I first came across the stitch pattern a couple of years ago, in Jane Neighbors’s out of print Reversible Two-Color Knitting, which I found in the Cleveland Public Library system (one of Cleveland’s only redeeming points, in my humble opinion). It took a while, but one day I realized its full potential as I was contemplating another Noro striped scarf–previously my favorite renditions were the vertically striped two-color brioche rib or the horizontally striped mistake rib scarf. I realized that with this pattern, at last, there was no need to choose between the two.

So I worked up the scarf, then put the pattern into the round for the cowl, and last but not least, figured out some nice-looking decreases for the hat–I think it looks pretty good from both sides:
hattop
hattop2

The opposite directional striping shows up when you fold up the brim of the hat:
hat

Or when you fold down the edge of the cowl:
me6

Or when your scarf twists or folds, as scarves are prone to do:
IMG_1517
IMG_1462
IMG_1482

The hat and cowl each take two skeins of Noro–the scarf, a more budget-busting four skeins. The cowl, like most cowls, is pretty much just a big tube, but it is a nice portable piece of knitwear to tote around in your purse (or murse, or pocket, as the case may be) in case your neck gets cold.
me2

One of the hardest things about knitting these two-color Noro pieces is picking out colors that will work together.

Contrasting dark and light, warm and cool, dull and bright colors seems to work well. But there are always those surprising lengths of weird colors like neon yellow or muddy olive that aren’t visible from the outside of the skein, then show up with a vengeance when you’re halfway through. Liz and Other Liz, friends from my Wednesday night knitting group, were kind enough to test knit for me; Liz (or Other Liz?) had to frog a bunch of her hat because two nearly identical shades of green showed up in both skeins at the same time. I try to avoid these situations by keeping both the centerpull and outside end of each skein accessible, and switching them out as needed. But sometimes just cutting out a length of a nasty color is unavoidable.
IMG_1480

A perfect example of careful color selection: the hat I lost was knit in an ivory colorway of Silk Garden contrasted with purple shades, which seemed to go together really well when I held up the skeins next to each other, but the contrast all washed out when it was knit up. It was attractive and subtle, but didn’t photograph well–so it was a good opportunity to choose the two most garish colors of Kureyon in my stash and knit up hat #2.
me5

The two-sided stripes help camouflage everyone’s other least favorite thing about Noro (well, aside from twigs, breaking, uneven spin, and all the other things I see people complaining about on the Ravelry Yarn forum every few weeks like clockwork)–knots, with completely different colors tied together at the join.
IMG_1466

So there you go. Latitude and Longitude. Please consider them for your future Noro striped accessory needs! More info, including a chart of possible yarn substitutions and links to tubular cast-on and bind-off tutorials, can be found on my main pattern page.
me9

I have a new hat pattern up! I present: Lumi.

red lumi hat, modeled

This one has been in the works for a while. I knit the first version a bit more than a year ago. In the last year, I submitted it to Knitty, got rejected, had it test knit by the ever-helpful test knitter extraordinaire Deb, reknit it myself, pondered what to do with it for a while… and, because the timing and my plans for it worked out, finally decided to submit it to the new Knit Picks Independent Designer Partnership.

It’s an interesting program, mutually beneficial to smaller-scale independent designers and Knit Picks. All patterns are sold for $1.99, which is a low price, but the designer gets 100% of the proceeds, presumably higher volume via the exposure from KP, an advance on pattern sales, and is free to sell the pattern on their own site as well. The only caveat is that the pattern must be knit up in a Knit Picks yarn. So I thought I would give it a try and see how it goes.

(report on its success to date: the pattern, an instant download in both places, has been up on KP and in Ravelry for a day and so far, I’ve sold a few copies via Ravelry, none via KP… I noticed the patterns are added to the IDP section with the best-sellers on the front page by default, which biases browsing pattern-buyers towards the patterns that are already established and popular, so I guess it will take a bit of time for anything to start coming through.)

Anyway, they liked the pattern, and so I had to reknit it in a Knit Picks yarn. They gave me a choice of yarns and colors, and I hemmed and hawed between Gloss Heavy Worsted (wool-silk) and Andean Silk (alpaca-silk-wool), and finally decided to go with the latter, in a nice bright red color, Cranberry. It’s soft, and has a beautiful sheen from the silk. I knit it on size 6 needles, which keeps the fabric fairly tight and helps give the scallops better stitch definition.

The pattern includes charts and written directions for 3 sizes: Child’s (20″ circumference), Women’s Small (21″, which I’m modeling), and Women’s Large (24″). It’s easy, and a quick knit–you’ll need to know how to knit, purl, YO, k2tog, ssk, and knit through the back loop.

As for the name: as the pattern blurb mentions, “I knit up the first version of this hat in the dead of winter, while making my way through Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series, which follows the adventures of various characters from fairy tales and folklore living in exile in the middle of New York City. Since the Snowdrift stitch pattern at the lower edge of the hat was adapted from the traditional Frost Flowers lace pattern, I decided to name the hat Lumi, after Willingham’s Snow Queen character, whose given name is the Finnish word for snow.”

The red Andean Silk hat is beautiful, but I admit that in the end, my favorite photos of the hat were the ones I had taken of the previous version, knit up in white:

I also liked this picture a lot. It was a good concept, but it’s a terrible picture for showing off the hat details. Just pretend you’re looking at a Rowan magazine or Scarf Style or something. Details? Who needs details when you’ve got art?

So there you go. Lumi! If you decide to knit one up, you can get the pattern via Knit Picks or buy now from Ravelry. If you head over to Knit Picks to browse the IDP patterns, make sure to check out Through the Loops‘s gorgeous Andrea’s Shawl, and Stephannie Tallent’s various sock patterns hilariously co-modeled by a blue-eyed Siamese cat embracing the bestockinged foot and gazing up at the camera.

As knottygnome points out, if you want to help, the best thing you can do with your money is donate it directly to a charity, in the spirit of the Harlot’s Knitters Without Borders project.

I’ve donated some money to the Red Cross via their Text to Help campaign, just because it was convenient (no digging around for my credit card!) although I’ve read that they don’t have the greatest CharityNavigator score, and other charities that have been long established in Haiti might be able to put the money to better use. But it was easy as pie–text “HAITI” to 90999, send back a response to the returning text to confirm your donation, one more response to say whether you want to be added to their mailing list thing (no thanks!) and done, the $10 donation will be added to my phone bill at the end of the month.

I also sent a larger donation to Partners In Health on my mom’s recommendation. This is the organization founded by Paul Farmer, who was profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

My stepmother recommended donating to the What If? Foundation, which has been active in Haiti since 2000: “This is a group I’ve contributed to for years and absolutely trust. It was started by a lone individual, a woman named Margaret Trost who lives around here, and she has done amazing work in getting people fed daily meals, using local people to help serve and prepare food. I like donating to organizations that are “on the ground” and this one definitely qualifies.”

As the Yarn Harlot notes, it’s helpful to these charities if you designate your donation as “undirected” rather than specifying that it must be used for Haitian earthquake relief: “Money given to a specific fund can only be used for that area and making sure your donation is undirected helps them a lot. It lets them keep serving other crises that continue to happen while the world watches Haiti, and more importantly, it allows them to be first responders.”

However, while sending money directly is all well and good, I do think a little carrot every now and then doesn’t go amiss. My (perhaps cynical or ungenerous?) feeling is that if you feel like you’re getting something for your money, you’ll probably be willing to give more, total, in the end.

So if you’re interested in a little something beyond sheer altruism, I thought I would mention a few crafty fundraising efforts I’ve noticed around and about:

Aside from those patterns from my queue, I also found a bunch of other lovely patterns I’m considering:

  • I also added my patterns Metheglin (two-color cowl with floating hexagons) and The Windflower Scarf (lengthwise, reversible anemone stitch scarf) to the Help for Haiti list, and will be donating 75% of January sales from these patterns to Doctors Without Borders. I won’t come anywhere near Ysolda’s total, but it’s a drop in the bucket, at least, in addition to the personal donations I have already made or was planning to make.
  • Check out this Etsy site called Craft Hope, where sellers have donated a variety of goods at a variety of price points–100% of sales going to Doctors Without Borders.
  • There are auctions going on on Ravelry’s Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group and spinoff CPaAG Swap group–KnittyK8 moderates the latter and says they’ve raised over $16,000 in the last week!
  • Knitting Fever is doing matching donations, up to $50,000, for every dollar raised for Doctors Without Borders through Wool and Company, with 15 downloadable patterns as thank-you gifts.
  • Have you seen any other noteworthy craft-for-good efforts around the blogosphere? Any other hidden treasures in the Help for Haiti patterns that deserve more attention? Thoughts on worthy and effective charities to support?

    *thanks to dclulu for pointing out that I had accidentally originally phrased this to imply that all those patterns were Ysolda’s. I have edited the post to fix this.

    There’s a new Knit on the Net up and I am really impressed by the modeling/styling/photography this time around. So beautiful! I especially like Quadrato, Joan Crawford, and Ava–that last one designed by Jennie Atkinson of the Rowan Butterfly dress fame.

    also, chemgrrl finished some brand new orata socks! How great is that? Pretty great, if I do say so myself. Go look at them–they’re pretty! ah, feather and fan goodness.

    Pattern: my own; I’m calling it Savile Row for the moment, for the obvious menswear inspiration in the herringbone pattern and vest shape
    Size made: me-sized
    Yarn used: Cascade Ecological Wool in 8020 Gunmetal, about 1.16 skeins (290 grams/555 yards)
    Needles used: US size 9/5.5 mm Knit Picks Options
    Date started: No idea, actually–sometime in early February, but I forgot to write down the day I actually cast on.
    Date completed: February 25, 2009
    Mods: You would think there wouldn’t be any “mods” in a self-designed pattern, but I accidentally messed up the math when I was doing the decrease rate for the v-neck. I started out with a certain number of stitches on each side and knew I had to get to a width of about 3 inches at the shoulder strap, and the math was all neatly worked out until I got to the desired number of stitches when I was still a few inches shy of my shoulder, and realized I’d forgotten to take the underarm bindoffs and decreases into account when I was calculating how many stitches to decrease. So I just worked straight from that point upwards and it’s not too noticeable.

    Notes: I cast on for this as part of the Vest-uary knitalong started by PrairiePoppins on Ravelry: knitting a vest during the month of February.  Also, Jenny and Nicole talked lots about vests in the See My Vest! episode of Stash and Burn, so I was inspired! Especially by the part where you don’t have to knit sleeves.

    It was a fun design challenge. I knew I wanted to use the beautiful herringbone stitch on the front of the vest for a few reasons–the look of it, of course, but also the dense, stiff, and sturdy texture, which makes it perfect for a tailored piece like this.

    However, the herringbone stitch was a little challenging. It has stitches slipped over multiple consecutive rows, and the direction of the zigzags reverses every 10 rows, which was a pain in the ass because 1) I kept getting confused and going the wrong way when I wasn’t paying enough attention (the pattern reverses on a WS row), and 2) it takes a LOT of rows of herringbone to equal a single row of stockinette, so the front of the vest felt interminable.

    I knit this in two pieces and seamed them, which meant I had to be pretty sure about my row gauge in order to match the shaping properly, since there was a large difference in the number of rows on the front and back. I did the waist shaping at the side seams, one stitch in from a garter st selvage, and seamed using mattress stitch. The shoulders are shaped using short rows, with the herringbone stitch maintained all the way up. This wasn’t the best idea–it was fine on the back, but got a little confusing in the front, with the combination of multiple slipped pattern stitches and wrapped stitches for the short rows.

    I tried to think of a way I could knit this in the round, but due to the differing row gauge, I couldn’t think of a feasible way to do it. The best idea I had was to keep swatching on different sized needles until the row gauge in stockinette matched the row gauge in herringbone, and knit it in the round on two circulars of different sizes… but then I would have twice as much to frog if I screwed up. At least by knitting flat and seaming, I would only have to frog one half of the sweater if I totally messed up.

    After seaming, I finished the neckline with applied i-cord, which took a really really long time. (I used the method with the extra YO as shown on the Purl Bee.) I went on and finished one armhole with applied i-cord. But then when I tried it on, I found that the applied i-cord around the armhole made it kind of flare out weirdly, like a retro-futuristic airship hostess uniform, so I ripped it out.

    This was easier said than done. Nobody ever told me that removing applied i-cord was such a pain in the ass. It seemed like it should have been easily froggable, but somehow the process of applying the i-cord (I guess passing the stitches over) kind of welds the i-cord into the body of the work, and it probably took me just as long (about 2 hours) to remove the i-cord, with Lizbert‘s patient help at knitting night, as it did to put it on in the first place.

    I replaced it with a crocheted slip-stitch edging, which was faster and seemed to work much better, and crocheted around the bottom edge as well.

    The yarn I used, Cascade Ecological Wool, is wonderful. Sturdy but fairly soft, with good stitch definition, and very economically priced at about $15 per skein… the skeins are 478 yards each, so this is a much better price than you might initially think.

    For this project, I accidentally cannibalized the yarn I had earmarked for finishing a jacket that’s been hibernating for about two years. I guess maybe it’s a sign that I should really either frog it or finish it. There’s still a bit of yarn left, so I might be able to finish the jacket with at least 3/4 sleeves…

    Or I could buy more. The thing about Cascade Eco Wool, I learned from a chatty Cascade rep when I was trying to get a dyelot match at Yarns Unlimited for the first skein of Eco Wool I’d bought, is that since it’s undyed, there aren’t really dye lots per se–according to her, the fiber is sorted into different color numbers based on its inherent natural color, if that makes sense. So rather than trying to recreate a certain color by dyeing the wool, they compare the wool they have (whatever color it is) to a color card and decide what existing Eco Wool shade it’s closest to, and throw it in that bin, so whenever you buy a skein of 8020 Gunmetal, it should always be pretty much the same shade (or as close as possible) as any other skein of 8020 Gunmetal. I have only tested this on two skeins (bought on opposite sides of the country), but they do look the same.

    The only gripe I have about this yarn is that the suggested gauge on the ball band seems pretty far off. They call it a chunky yarn, but it knits best at an aran or worsted gauge. On size 10s it looks very loose indeed.

    OK, ready for some pictures after all that talk? It was about 15 degrees out today so despite the sunshine, it was so cold it hurt to take off my jacket and scarf so the vest would be visible. The Selbuvotter mittens look a little ridiculous with the rest of the outfit but I couldn’t stand to take them off. Too cold! We snapped a few quick pictures in Vilas Park and then I bundled up again. The close-ups were taken inside (due, again, to the cold) so the light isn’t the greatest.

    Herringbone goodness:

    Thin ice and giant mitten hands!


    The back is plain stockinette and scoops down a little:


    A closer view of the front:

    and the back:

    Applied i-cord at the neck:

    Crocheted armhole edging:

    And more herringbone:

    Hello everyone! Happy new year! Happy inauguration!

    I got back from my vacation about two weeks ago, but was almost immediately felled by a horrible flu bug and have only just started to feel better. I was mildly sick (runny nose) during the last part of my vacation, but didn’t start to feel truly awful until we got back to Madison, so I’ve spent the last couple of weeks curled up feverish and coughing in bed, imagining all the awful things I might have picked up in Asia (SARS! Bird flu! Malaria! Strep throat! Dengue fever!) and wondering if I would ever get better. I’ve been sick for 2 1/2 weeks now and still not entirely well. Ugh. But as a public service announcement, I would just like to say that if you’re sick and congested, the Neilmed neti pot is pretty much the best thing ever invented. I laughed at Rahul when he first started using a neti pot, but now I’m a true believer. Blowing just doesn’t cut it, nasal lavage is where it’s at! (Probably TMI, but when you’re sick, it’s just great–it will flush what seems like gallons of yellow mucus out of your sinuses and leave you feeling fresh as a non-mucus-filled daisy.)

    Anyway, I had an awesome trip and will post pictures soonish. We went to Hong Kong, Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh),  and Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay/Baitulong Bay, and Sapa). We had so many great adventures, I don’t even know where to start. It was so worth the astronomical cost of the vacation and all the planning-related stress. Angkor Wat, which I expected would be amazing (and it was, actually!) was not even one of the particular highlights of the trip, if that tells you how great the rest of it was.

    One thing I did not do a lot of was knitting. I got a cowl done on the way there, but on the way back, because of the jet stream, the transpacific flight was several hours shorter (about 10 hours total). I slept most of the time, and by the time I had eaten my meal and gotten my in-flight on-demand movie set up and my needles out, we were in San Francisco already. And while we were traveling, I was too tired or busy most of the time to be able to work on anything besides writing in my travel journal.

    Anyway, I’m back, I’m feeling better, and working my way slowly through my various clogged inboxes, so if you’ve commented or emailed/messaged me in the past month, I will get back to you as soon as I can. I used to check email all the time on vacation, but not this time. This was very relaxing while I was away, but made the re-entry twice as daunting!

    One thing that was awaiting me in my inbox was a gentle Ravelry message kindly informing me that there was (as I had kind of expected) a mistake in the cast-on number for the Tyro Socks pattern. Oops! So there now is a corrected version (version 1.1) available for download. (If you’re in doubt, you should have 32 stitches while working the toe back and forth, 64 stitches once you start working in the round for the foot.)

    Anyway, I have plenty of pretty pictures for blog fodder once I have time to do some more detailed entries, and I’m looking forward to getting caught up with everything I missed in Ravelry and blogland! I hope the New Year is treating you well so far.

    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 199 other followers