Archives for posts with tag: knitting

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:

WOW. I found this Ravelry thread linked from a post by the Magpie Knitter (via a Facebook post by Knitting Kninja)–the original post was 4 hours ago, and there are already about 750 posts/30 pages in the thread. 

The General Counsel of the United States Olympic Committee sent a cease and desist to Ravelry about the use of the word “Ravelympics,” and also this: “The patterns and projects featuring the Olympic Symbol on Ravelry.com’s website are not licensed and therefore unauthorized.  The USOC respectfully asks that all such patterns and projects be removed from your site.” (The Ravelympics is an annual event that’s been going on since 2008, in which knitters watch the Olympics while working on particularly challenging projects.)

It includes this passage:

“The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.  For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career.  Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes.  The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

Unbelievably humorless. Also incredibly insulting to knitters. And what about that whole “culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony” thing? If they want to go after each of the individuals who have put up unlicensed Olympics-themed patterns for sale because of trademark infringement, that’s one thing, but it just seems ridiculous and mean-spirited to go after the “Ravelympics” phrase with justification about how the individual knitters/crocheters’ goals and personal achievements are so laughable and paltry that just associating them with the Olympics is a grave insult, the equivalent of spitting in the face of an Olympic athlete. 

As an aside, while anybody can knit and not anybody can be an Olympic athlete, I am pretty sure some of the knitters participating have spent more time knitting than any of the Olympians have training for the Olympics. 

I picked up Teva Durham’s Loop-d-Loop Lace at the library the other day and I’ve been drooling over it. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Loop-d-Loop series has the greatest reputation for being well-edited, there haven’t been that many guinea pigs on Ravelry yet for most of the patterns, and I don’t feel like risking casting on for a large project only to find some major error or to discover it’s insane-looking or unflattering in a real-world setting. Just look at these, though:

Bell Sleeve Blouse
bell sleeve blouse (gorgeous, but knit on size 3 needles; I don’t have the patience!)

Rose Trellis Blouse
rose trellis blouse
Knit on a size 2 needle. Even worse!

Thistle Bodice
thistle bodice
This one may be knit on size 2s, but it’s at least tons of open lace and sleeveless, and seems interesting to knit. A gorgeous doily adaptation! And there are a few FOs on Ravelry that look good, but unfortunately, they all have comments about the confusing or incorrect directions, e.g. “I’ve ripped this 3 times and reknit all the way to the Arrowhead chart where, once again, the confusing directions stymied me. This is going into Time Out until the goobledy gook directions get sorted out. As many times as I’ve knit and reknit, I could have had another camisole knit by now.”

Butterfly Lace Tunic Dress

I have the feeling this probably works best if you have the same figure as the model in the book, but there are no FOs on Ravelry, so it’s hard to tell.

The one pattern I’m most likely to make is the Lace Leaf Cravat, which is small and bulky-weight (a quick knit) and has been available for ages as a single pattern, so probably any editing issues have been worked out by now. But I’ve made so many of those little ascot things and I almost never wear them, which perhaps is a message from the universe that I should stop knitting them? I dunno.

Anyway, if you haven’t looked through this book, check it out–it’s awesome knitting eye candy. Beautifully styled and photographed, and the patterns are inventive and gorgeous.

Back in January, there was a guest post on Flintknits about fabric designer Heather Ross and race and ethnicity in her fabric designs. I’ve been following the discussion with some interest, but was too busy during January to write anything about it, and by the time my schedule freed up a bit, I felt like I had kind of missed the boat on a timely response.

Pamela Wynne just posted a followup to that earlier post and I figured I would take the opportunity to bring these posts to your attention, because I find them really interesting. Even more than the posts, the comments! Go check them out. We’ve got the crazy racists, the indignant Heather, the “me toos” and oh, also the engaged and insightful dialogue about the issue.

You know, I feel kind of bad about posting this, for a couple of reasons: first of all, I respect Pam and enjoy reading her blog, and used to enjoy reading Ashley’s blog when it was still around, and I feel like this was all done with the best of intentions but that I’m about to say some bad stuff about their actions; and secondly, as a good Berkeley-raised-and-educated liberal person of color (and, incidentally, daughter of an ethnic studies professor), it’s clear to me how I think I’m supposed to feel about the issue. But I really don’t feel that way. At the risk of being the next hapless victim of the PC crafting police, here’s my take on it.

I frankly think the first post was a shameful and shallow dogpile. Heather Ross was arbitrarily picked out as a figure to crucify in the name of racial inclusiveness. Her designs clearly weren’t created with the intention of being hateful or exclusive, and come on, it’s not like she was drawing kids doing Confederate Civil War reenactments or something, they’re just some little girls playing with horses, and they just happen to all be white and blonde. Someone essentially swooped in out of nowhere, told her she should put more non-white kids in her designs, and then, when she declined, because she doesn’t need to do every single thing that consumers ask her to do, declared her to have “fucked up, in kind of epic ways,” posted her response, and tore her a new one.

Yes, maybe she was being a little stubborn in not wanting to take the various requests for diversity to heart. However, Heather Ross has a perfect right to draw anything she wants to. There’s no rule or law that says she has to be inclusive and racially diverse in her designs. If she had responded to the emails/comments with “oh sure, that’s a great idea, maybe I’ll put some black kids in my next design, it just never occurred to me and I think it would be fun” or something, bully for her. But that’s not what she wanted to do, so if she just stuck some ethnic children in her next fabric design purely to cave in to pressure, we’d just have some whimsical and adorable tokenism going on, some diversity-as-economic-commodity. (Maybe she could use the magic of Photoshop!) That’s not right.

What’s more, I think this is a crazy tempest in a teapot. Her fabric represents just a tiny corner of the fabric world, which represents just a tiny corner of the world of commercially available representational art. I’m sure there are plenty of racially inclusive quilting fabrics out there, if not via your local Jo-Ann fabrics, then through the Magic of teh Internets, and if not, with the rise of Spoonflower and other print-on-demand fabric outfits, it’s easier than ever to make whatever fabrics you want. (No longer am I beholden to the clumsy medium of potato stamps to depict my idyllic Asian-American childhood activities: Kumon math sets, Chinese summer camp, and making won ton! Rejoice, rejoice.) Complainers, you are artsy, crafty people. I know this because you are focused on buying fabric yardage. Go make some fabrics that look like what you want and maybe make a bunch of money doing it.

Plus, there are more important venues where these efforts can be focused. I know crafting is all near and dear to the heart, but these are quilting fabrics probably intended for mentally and emotionally robust grown-ups to purchase and use; perhaps it would be more constructive to focus on the dolls and items intended directly for impressionable children. Or at least to aim all this guilty rage towards a larger corporate target with a more diffuse market rather than one independent fabric designer. This is not to say it’s not an important topic, but I just think this whole Heather Ross-specific anger is kind of misguided and misdirected.

Kristen wrote a poignant response where she discusses her children’s excitement at finding dolls that looked like them. I grew up with these same feelings of underrepresentation (probably this has changed a bit with the rise of anime and manga?) I probably never thought about quilting fabrics or even pajamas or t-shirts or whatever, but one thing I remember always feeling sad about was the Pleasant Company’s American Girl dolls. Oh man, did I ever want one of these. They are such a crazy expensive scam (at the time, back in the late 80s/early 90s, it was, I think, $80 for a vinyl doll plus one outfit?), but they construct such appealing narratives around them, and all the paraphrenalia and stories made me insane with covetousness. But they never had any dolls that looked like me, and I always wished they did. I’ve written them letters over the years asking them to include an Asian doll, always with some polite response about my request being taken into account, but being subject to long market research and development timelines.

When I was a kid, the Pleasant Company’s approach to diversity was “we have a blonde white doll, a brunette white doll, and a brunette white doll with glasses”: they slowly started expanding their repertoire with a redheaded white doll, and then, slowly slowly (and I don’t remember the order in which these came, but I know they were all before the Asian-American doll), a black doll, a Mexican-American doll, a Native American doll, along with various other white dolls. Finally, although she’s just a sidekick, they introduced Ivy (from the 70s? It’s nearly time for my childhood’s decade to become “history”–good God!). Finally. I guess my point is that toys like this might be a better place to focus your requests and petitions. Heather Ross’s products are all essentially based around the brand of her individuality and personal style. Crap like the American Girl dolls is designed by committee and based on market demand, and I think has a greater impact on children’s psyches.

Don’t think I don’t notice all-white media or consumer product representations, I live in Wisconsin, for Christ’s sake, it happens all the time. For instance, check out the selection of neighborhood regulars at the Midtown Pub in nearby Middleton! Yeah, it’s pretty important, and it enters my mind all the time, and it kind of sucks that in those “what celebrity do you look like” games there are really not a whole lot of Asian females to choose from. But it’s just not the be-all and end-all, and I am not a helpless, spineless, media-absorbing jellyfish unable to stop my mind from absorbing all non-inclusive imagery and waving my sad tentacles going “noooo, it huuuuurts.” I looked at the cover of the menu and noticed this and found it a little funny and maybe a little sad, and then I opened the menu and ordered a hamburger and a beer and did not feel bad about myself or my place in the world. I could get upset, but I think the menu probably accurately reflects the reality around them–like Heather Ross’s point that her fabric was autobiographical and an accurate representation of a few faces she saw in her childhood–and I’d rather save the lion’s share of my emotional engagement for overt racism.

And I don’t deny that DIY culture and the online crafting blogosphere slant very heavily white. This commenter does a great job of articulating many of the things I see as problems with the racial issues in this subculture, so I’ll just point you over to him. (“The Feudal White Craftopia” is such a great description.) By being out here and saying my stuff and taking pictures of little yellow old me, I guess I’m probably doing my small part in helping diversify knitting blogs, but only racially: I mean, socioeconomically, I still come from a position of computer-literate, college-educated, middle-class privilege, like, I think, most of the craft bloggers out there. There’s diversity and there’s diversity.

P.S. Fun fact, did you know I started the pinny porn discussion that eventually led to the creation of BID on Ravelry? Ha ha!

P.P.S. Jesus, it’s 3:30 AM? Spring Forward, I hate you.

Edited to add: I did a bit more research and found a couple of other response posts I’d missed earlier:

Marirob

Cauchy

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!

Check it out, I finished something. It only took me 2 months to knit 150 yards. SO PROUD OF MYSELF.

Pattern: Anthro-Inspired Scarflet by Kim Seio (link to my project on Ravelry)
Yarn used: School Products Multi Strand Cashmere in taupe, unsure of how much but I’d estimate about 150 yards–left over from my Eastlake sweater
Needles used: US 8 (5.0 mm)
Date started: December 19, 2010
Date completed: February 19, 2011
Mods/Notes:
This little keyhole ascot is a knockoff of Anthropologie’s Toasty Rose scarf (pics may not work on that link, but there are more here.) Under 200 yards, simple knit/purl/increase/decrease, it should have been a quick little knit. So why did it take me two months? I have no good answer for that. I knit about the first third of the scarf in a couple of hours, then apparently knit about 3 stitches a day for the remaining 1 month and 29 days.

It’s worked in a tidy broken rib (“Sand Stitch”) that looks very nice but is still mostly stockinette, so has a tendency to curl a bit. It’s pretty cute, but note that the weight of the flower pulls it strongly to the front of the neck so it’s hard to keep it to the side or off-center, if that is how you want to wear it.

The pattern doesn’t come with a pattern for the flower. Here’s what I did:

  • CO 116 sts with tubular cast-on (this forms the visible edge of the flower petals, so it looks nicest with this CO)
  • Work in 1×1 rib for about 1 1/2 inches
  • K2tog across
  • Bind off, leaving a long tail
  • Using the long tail, sew a running stitch through the lower half of the strip of ribbing (ie parallel and close to the edge closer to the bound off edge), going in and out about every 1/2 inch, for 2 rows spaced about 1/4 inch apart, and pull tight to gather.
  • Roll up the strip of ribbing, folding/crumpling the flower until you like the way it looks, then sew down to the outer keyhole portion of the scarf.

I had meant to just roll this up like in the original Anthropologie scarf, but the flower looked bizarre and enormous, like a cinnamon roll or something, so I preferred the more gathered look in the end.

As an aside, it is astonishing how many photos you need to take to get even a few decent ones out of the batch. Kristen wisely demonstrated this FOR SCIENCE!… but still, it always amazes me; this time I probably had 50 shots that I thought looked great in the viewfinder, but when I got a good look at them on the computer, I realized I actually looked blurry, crazy-haired, fat, generally derpy, or whatever. This all with my best attempts at makeup, soft natural light, trying not to look like a total cross-eyed idiot, etc. and not even counting the dozens I knew were hideous right away and deleted without downloading.

I wore this white eyelet dress when I was a bridesmaid a few years ago. (How great is it that I have a bridesmaid dress that I got to pick–only the “white eyelet cotton” part was specified–and that I’d actually wear again?) My earrings aren’t really visible but they are these ginormous antiqued bronze flowers with pearls in them from Modcloth and I love them.


I’m going to pretend you can’t see those mop handles in the background. Or maybe you can imagine them as all part of an grand, artistic, high-concept fashion photoshoot. Also I just realized my bra straps are showing in several of these photos, whoops. Please imagine it is a $300, hand-stitched tussah silk bra from Anthropologie and this is all part of the grand styling plan, because I don’t want to go to the trouble of Photoshopping these, or, God forbid, taking more photos of this scarf.


The purple in this photo should be much more red-toned, but the scarf color is actually pretty accurate.

I need a haircut and this dress needs ironing.

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.

…for knitting big gray sweaters.

Here is the first one I have to show off:

Pattern: DROPS 103-1 Jacket in Eskimo or Silke-Alpaca with A-shape –the chunky-weight version.

Here’s what DROPS has to say about it: ” – Wind, rain and falling leaves… Leave dreary days behind and dress up super elegant and classy, and still high fashion this fall !”

Size made: Small (33″)

Yarn used: Rowan Yorkshire Tweed Chunky in 550 Damp, a dark gray with blue, green, and white tweed flecks. I used a little over 5 skeins (600 yards).

Needles used: US size 11/8.0 mm

Date started: January 5, 2010

Date completed: June 23, 2010

Mods/Notes:
I knit on this at a pretty good clip until I got to the sleeves and finishing–I think the sleeves took about a month each and the finishing took another two. (Real time = maybe 2 hours, but it sat in a basket waiting for buttons, blocking, and sewing for a loooong time.)

I decided to knit the sleeves from the top down, two at a time, magic loop, to make them the same length and avoid extra finishing work, but this backfired because I got really tired of dragging out this enormous pile of wool and turning it around and around in my lap every time I wanted to work on this sweater. It felt like it weighed about 10 pounds by that time and it just seemed like such an unpleasant task. In the end, if I had just knit the sleeves the normal way, I think it would have saved me a lot of time and trouble.

The other thing about doing the sleeves this way is that I suck at picking up stitches nicely, so I found after a few inches that there were big holes all around the armscye where I had picked up from the wrong part of the stitch or something. I had to go back and sew these shut at the end–so I didn’t even save myself the trouble of setting in sleeves! It was exactly the same amount of sewing as if I’d knit them separately and set them in afterwards.

If I find my more detailed notes, I will edit this later, but to the best of my recollection, this is what I did for the top-down sleeves: I sewed the shoulder seam and picked up 60 stitches at an even rate around the armhole, placed markers for the top 1/3 of the stitches on either shoulder, and short rowed back and forth, going past the wraps 2 stitches each time, until I had a sleeve cap. Went back to pick up all wraps and knit both sleeves in the round, two at a time, until a bit above elbow length. Decreased 2 stitches every 2″ (working the sleeve shaping backwards, in effect) until I had 50 stitches. Worked the sleeve edging in double moss stitch and bound off. You can see the sleeves are sort of saggy under the arms/balloony in shape, but it’s not too bad.

I bought some big green buttons at Jo-Ann Fabrics to match the green tweed flecks. I only put on two in the end–they looked a little crowded with the third one on there. I’m not terribly satisfied with the way the bottom of the left lapel kind of sags down in front–a product of the double-breastedness of this jacket, and no interior snap or button to hold that side up. It might be worth putting something in to keep it up. I noticed the same thing, though to a somewhat lesser extent, with the shrug I made for Casey from this same pattern (well, kinda sorta the same. Similar.).

The back looks really surprisingly nice, nicer than the front, actually, though now that I’m looking at it I wonder what I did with the “A-shape” of this sweater, as it just looks like it hugs my shape instead of flaring out properly:

Here is a slightly closer view where you can see the weird sleeve caps, saggy underarms, two buttons, and collar fold in all their glory:

When I was mournfully knitting those Sisyphean sleeves for months and months, I was thinking I wouldn’t be very happy with the end product and that I should just give it away at Christmas. Now that it’s done and blocked, though, I like it quite a bit more and might hold onto it. It has a bit more ease than many of my sweaters, so it’s surprisingly comfy, and less heavy than I thought it would be. However, I still don’t love it as much as the other ones I’ve seen that first inspired me to add this to my queue–e.g., the Flintknits olive green version–maybe I just need to try knitting yet another one? Or style it with dark skinny jeans instead of a summer sundress.

I knit the Latitude and Longitude samples for the pattern photos in the garishly bright colors Noro is famous for, because they’re lovely and eye-catching. However, the very first Latitude and Longitude hat I made was actually in much softer shades of Silk Garden–one shade, color 267, is all earthy browns and grays, and the other, 241, was the most beautiful blend of purples ranging from the blue to the red end of the spectrum, in saturations from pale lavender to deep Tyrian.

I misplaced the finished hat (made in March 2009) for ages and thought it was lost for good, but recently, as we were cleaning around the house, I unearthed it again in a box under the bed. I thought I’d show it to you:

This seemed like a valuable lesson in color theory. I loved the two colors individually, or when I held them up against each other in skein form, but the purples and browns are too close in value and the stripes just kind of blend together in the finished hat. Not that I don’t like it, but it isn’t really the best pair of colors to show off a striped pattern.

Far more subtle–to the other version’s tropical macaw,

this might be more of a backyard bird–a purple martin or sparrow.

I also recently finished another Latitude and Longitude knit in calmer colors than the samples. This one a scarf, knit in Cascade Eco Duo.

Pattern: Latitude and Longitude scarf

Size made: Finished dimensions 5.5″ x 78″

Yarn used: Cascade Eco Duo, a kitteny-soft worsted weight singles blend of 70% alpaca and 30% merino. This is the softest, fuzziest yarn I’ve felt in a long time, and it comes in a bunch of naturally colored, subtly striping colorways: I chose 1705 and 1703, one colorway white and cream stripes and one colorway shades of gray, from palest smoke to darker slate. They were 40% off at an Easter sale at a local yarn shop, and each skein has 197 yards, so I only needed the two skeins instead of 4 like the Noro. I loved this yarn–I’m sure it will pill like crazy later on, but it is so, so, soft, it seems like a fair tradeoff.

Needles used: US 8 (5.0 mm) for the first few inches of the scarf, and US 9 (5.5 mm) for the rest. I cast on with the smaller needles since they were handy, but switched to the larger needles once I got a chance.

Date started: April 26, 2010

Date completed: May 30, 2010

Mods/Notes: Since my yardage was a little shorter with the 2 skeins of Cascade than with the 4 skeins of Noro, I decided to cast on 35 stitches to produce a longer/skinnier scarf. It came out to a very good scarf length, and I’m very happy with it, though I suspect there may be a lot of scarf stealing come winter–Rahul liked it a lot too, put it on as soon as I finished it, and asked (hint hint) who I had made it for.

Like the purple and brown Noro hat, it is in soft natural shades instead of vibrant dyed ones, but I think the colors contrast well enough in the scarf that the reversible vertical/horizontal stripe patterning stands out clearly.

Just look at how soft and fluffy this yarn is… does the fluff factor show up in this close-up?

I wanted to take some better pictures of the hat and scarf modeled, but since it’s high Midwest summer and about 90 degrees and humid both in and outside at all times, I instead opted for the ever-stylish “winter watchcap and alpaca scarf over cotton sundress” look. I had a black wool coat on over the dress for about 2 seconds before giving up and flinging it off.

And last but not least, because it fits into the color scheme, here is a picture of my current WIP–the Shalom Cardigan in Elann Peru Soft, color 801 (a bulky-weight but light and fluffy singles yarn–about half acrylic, half natural fibers–I resisted when it was first posted, but caved in and bought a bag when they had it on sale for 10 bulky-weight, 98-yard skeins for $18; decided to do penance by casting on right away instead of letting it marinate like all the other perfectly good yarn in my house).


The contrast between this and the last chunky weight gray yarn I used (Rowan Yorkshire Tweed Chunky) is striking. The Rowan feels very sturdy and rustic, heavy, rope-like–texture-wise, the Elann yarn is like an airy loaf of Wonder Bread, while the Rowan is like a tooth-breakingly dense loaf of whole grain, like black rye or Vital Vittles whole wheat. No wonder, as the Rowan weighs 1 gram per meter while the Elann weighs only 0.55g for the same yardage, though to be fair, the Rowan recommends only 12 sts/4″ and the Elann yarn a much lighter gauge of 15 sts/4″, so “bulky” doesn’t quite mean the same thing here.

Anyway, it’s nice, and I hope the cardigan fits in the end… this is a free pattern, and the sizing is a bit haphazard in the original pattern anyway (it only includes one size), so I took a seat-of-the-pants approach to gauge and sizing on my version. The stitch gauge turned out to match but not the row gauge, so I’m recalibrating as I go (and already had to frog and reknit an inch or two). I’m planning to add buttonholes all the way down, and add long sleeves.

I clicked on an ad in Ravelry the other day and found this page: Jenny’s Easy Graft. It’s an adaptation of Kitchener stitch worked with the right sides together and fewer individual needle motions (you sew through the front and back stitches at the same time, so there’s only one motion between dropping stitches off the needle). Looks intriguing–I have something on the needles now that requires a LOT of grafting, so I’m going to give it a shot soon. Has anyone tried this technique?