Monthly Archives: February 2012

Tea and Knitting

It’s pouring buckets here today. I am taking this as a Sign From Above that this is what I am supposed to be doing today:

Still life of tea and knitting

Still life of tea and knitting

Thinking more about knitting philandering (knitting polygamy?)… Not only does it take longer to finish knitting a single project, there’s a serious risk that as newer and shinier projects come along, the project in question might find itself deeper and deeper in the work-in-progress basket, doomed to never be finished at all. So what’s a knitter to do? How do you stay motivated to actually finish that work-in-progress?

For me, the answer is usually to assign it a deadline. Like most aspects of my life, having a deadline forces me to resist the siren call of the next project and finish something by a certain date. For example, the Rhinebeck sweater. Yes, I wanted to wear it, but declaring it the sweater that I planned to wear at Rhinebeck meant that it had to be done by October 15th, come hell or high water. And so it was. In fact, that deadline worked so well that I’m thinking I need to make a Rhinebeck sweater every year. (And maybe a Maryland Sheep & Wool sweater as well!)

I’m using this approach right now on the Lanesplitter Skirt. I want to wear it to the Homespun Yarn Party at the end of the month, which gives me 25 days to knit 156 rows, or about 7 rows per day (to allow me enough time to knit the waistband and block the finished skirt). So far, so good.

I’m not a huge fan of knitting with Noro (I find it somewhat hard on my hands), but the colors are entrancing, so I want to keep going to see what the color morphs into next. This pattern is worked in a series of 4-rows (2 rows in one color, then two rows in the next), so getting to the end of the next 4-row repeat is a good milestone.

I also use my knitting as a reward. At the end of the day, when the kids are in bed, the dishes are done, and that last load of laundry is tumbling around in the dryer, I get to put my feet up and knit a few rows. To make it sweeter, I often have a DVD or a TV show on the DVR (like Downton Abbey; do I mention that often enough?) to look forward to while I knit.

Audiobooks are another great motivator for me. A single audiobook can provide ten or more hours of knitting time. And if it’s a well-paced book, I’m always eager to get back to it so I can find out what happens next.

What motivational tools do you use to help you finish big projects? Do you have special tips or tricks that I’ve missed?


Knitting Monogamy

We’re healthy again here. (Or at least, recovering.) So the knitting has resumed, albeit slowly.

I’ve been thinking about knitting monogamy. I used to be extremely monogamous with my knitting. I’d start a project and keep plugging away at it until it was done. I’d carry the same project everywhere with me, knitting on it in waiting rooms, in the carpool lane, at long red lights… pretty much anytime I had enough time to pull my project out of the bag.

And then something changed. For one thing, I became a better knitter. Instead of tackling that first pair of socks (just to see if I could do it) or that first hat, I’m an accomplished enough knitter now to know that I am more than able to finish the project. So perhaps I don’t have anything to prove now. And for another… like most knitters I know, I have a (cough, cough) rather long queue of projects I’d like to knit (and the ever-increasing yarn stash to accommodate those projects). So casting-on for one or two (or three or four…) projects makes me feel like I might actually get to them all. Or maybe I just (as the Yarn Harlot says) have a really bad case of start-itis. Whatever the cause, it’s become pretty clear that I’m about as monogamous about knitting as Tiger Woods is about women.

But it’s not entirely a bad thing. Some projects are more portable than others. It’s a lot easier to pull out a small sock when you’re sitting in a waiting room than a whole sweater. But a stockinette sweater knit in the round is a perfect television-watching project. You can knit and knit and knit, without ever taking your eyes off Downton Abbey.

And sometimes you’re just not up to a complex project. I love my beaded Haruni scarf, but I’m nearing the end, so I have well over 200 stitches per row. Knitting a single row (pausing every four or five stitches to place a bead with a tiny crochet hook) and purling back takes me almost an hour. And the yarn is dark, and the beads are slippery, so the only place I can work on it is sitting at my kitchen counter, with the lights turned up all the way. Not exactly a good project for the carpool lane!

And sometimes you just need to take a break. After an intricate row on the Haruni, the simplicity of my Lanesplitter (knit three rows, purl one) is a breath of fresh air. And when I get tired of picking vegetable matter out of the Noro Silk Garden, going back to the lovely, tight plies of Sundara’s Sock Yarn is an equally welcome change.

The biggest downside to this arrangement is that it makes for rather slow progress on the individual projects. I’d love to post more pictures of my works-in-progress, but honestly, they look pretty much the same. A few more rows, a few more beads, neither still bearing much resemblance to the finished items they’ll become. So I suppose knitting philandering requires a bit more patience on the part of the knitter (and also the recipients of the knitted items, if they’re destined for others!).

How about you? Are you a monogamous knitter?

E-cards for knitters - ...and that's why you always knit and wash your gauge swatch. I hope you've learned your lesson! - But all those colors looked so pretty on the skein... - My husband will never find the yarn I've stashed in here...

More love for the scale

How timely! Here’s a wonderful post from Clara Parkes at Knitter’s Review about the value of the kitchen scale. She gives great step-by-step instructions on how to weigh your yarn and how to use your scale to help you solve all sorts of fiber issues.

See? I’m not the only knitter who loves her scale!

More on swatching…

We’re still recovering from illness around here, so no sadly, new knitting to report here. But I just read a great post by Kate Atherley (Wise Hilda Knits) on the difference that a even a quarter of a stitch can can make in your gauge.

So now I’m wondering if those tiny fraction-of-a-stitch-off measuring errors (even over a 4-inch swatch that you’ve oh-so-carefully measured) might contribute to the perceived inaccuracies of swatches. What do you think?

Tuesday is Tools-Day: I love my scale

Yarn ScaleThis scale, that is. (I’ve never owned a bathroom scale, and after having two kids, I’m not planning to buy one anytime soon!)

I’ve been dwelling on tools a lot lately, and one tool that I use quite frequently is one that I don’t carry around in my knitting bag. My yarn scale (which is actually a small digital kitchen scale) hangs out near my yarn winder. It comes in handy for splitting skeins of sock yarn in half to ensure I have two equally-sized socks. (And for making sure my son’s Pinewood Derby car is under 5 ounces.) But I use it for a lot more than just that.

Last year, I was on a shawl/triangular scarf kick. I’ve made a Traveling Woman (that’s the red shawl in my avatar), an Ishbel, a Clothilde, and a Multnomah. They’re all lovely, and I knit them all in sumptuous yarns (Madelinetosh Pashmina and Sanguine Gryphon Bugga! yarn). Because the yarns were so nice, I wanted to make each scarf as large as possible, without running out of yarn at the end. This is quite the knitting feat!

Enter the yarn scale. And my other favorite-tool-that-doesn’t-fit-in-my-knitting-bag, Microsoft Excel. For each of these top-down scarves, I cast-on and knit a few rows. Then I stopped and weighed my yarn. Made a note what row I was on, then continued on for a dozen more rows and weighed the yarn again. Then I went into Excel and plugged in the number of stitches I had on the needles when I first weighed the pattern. Then I calculated how many stitches I was adding each row, and added up the number of rows I’d worked to get to the second time I weighed the yarn. From this, I calculated how much yarn (approximately) I was using per stitch, which gave me a ballpark estimate of how many stitches (at that gauge) I could get out of the yarn I had left. Then I could look at the pattern again and adjust it to use more or less yardage. I knit the Ishbel as written. I started the lace portions of both the Traveling Woman and Clothilde a little sooner, so I could get in an extra repeat of the lace pattern at the bottom. In all cases, I made the shawls as large as I could with the yarn I had to work with, while still leaving enough yarn to bind off comfortably.

For the Haruni shawl that I’m working on now, I changed the body of the shawl to be plain. I calculated that if I followed the rest of the pattern as written, I would still have more yarn left over than I wanted. So I modified the ends of the shawl to add an additional cluster of petals, thus using up as much of the yarn as possible. (And since I was already calculating in Excel, I was able to calculate how many beads I needed for the spaces where I planned to place them, so I was able to buy the right amount.)

This approach is useful for sweaters, too. I used my scale while knitting my Rhinebeck sweater. I knit the sweater top-down, and I wanted to make it as long as I could, while still having enough to do the cable detailing at the hem and bind off. I measured how many grams of yarn one row took, and then I calculated how many rows I could knit with the yarn I had remaining. Worked like a charm!

So I’m curious. Surely I can’t be the only knitting nerd who loves the scale??

Sick and tired of being sick and tired

Haruni Shawlette - In Progress

Lace looks like yarn vomit while it's still all mushed-up on the needles, doesn't it?

Sigh. I’m sick. Again. For variety, this time it’s a stomach bug instead of a head cold. I’m not any more thrilled about it.

I pulled out a long-languishing project from my WIP basket the other day, a beaded Haruni Shawlette. I am, of course, modifying the pattern all over the place (adding beads, using a plain Ishbel-esque body, and re-working the petals at the end to make the most of the limited yarn I have to work with, some yummy Sundara Sock Yarn in the limited-edition Lunar Landing colorway). But it’s gotten to the tricky bits near the end, and once again, I am just feeling too stupid to tackle them right now.

Haruni in progress (beads)

Look! Yarn vomit with beads!

I tried to take some pictures of the beads, but it’s pretty hard to get them to show up. And the colors look rather horrid, despite my best efforts to futz with my camera settings. Believe it or not, this is the same yarn you see in the blog header.

Fortunately, the Lanesplitter skirt is much simpler, so I am going to keep going with that for now. It looks pretty much the same as last time, so I didn’t try to photograph it again. And I’m still plugging away at the linen stitch scarf. The ball of yarn doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller. I think it’s taunting me!

Hopefully next time, I’ll have more progress to show.


Too funny! I’ve probably said half of these (at the very least). 

And yes, I have tried to take pictures of a hat that I’m wearing. What’s the funniest thing you’ve done with your knitting?? 🙂

Sometimes swatches lie

Swatching seems to be a popular topic right now! After I wrote my last post on swatching, I saw this post on the WEBS blog. They suggest putting eyelets in your swatch to indicate the size needle that you used in the swatch, in case you forget by the time you’re ready to actually start the project. This is a great idea, especially if you have another large project that you need to get out of the way before you can start the new project. (I usually use purl bumps to do this, as they don’t seem to distort my gauge as much as the eyelets do.)

So once you’ve done your swatch, figured out what needle gives you the fabric you like best and cast on the project, you’re good to go, right? Well, not always. You see, sometimes swatches lie. They don’t really mean to, they just can’t help it!

Now, I’m assuming that you made and measured your swatch correctly:

  • You used the same needles that you’re going to use for the project. Not the same size needles, the same exact needles. I get very different gauges between the same size wood and metal needles, and I have even noticed differences in gauge between aluminum and nickel-plated metal needles.
  • You made your swatch in the same way that you plan to knit the finished item (i.e., if you’re knitting your sweater in the round, you knit your swatch in the round as well). TECHknitting has an excellent post on circular swatching.
  • You used the same stitch pattern that you will use for the actual pattern. If you’re making a heavily cabled sweater but worked your gauge swatch in stockinette, your finished sweater may fit your cat. 🙂 Usually the pattern will state the gauge and say “in stockinette stitch” or “in pattern stitch,” so you can calculate your gauge accordingly.
  • You made your swatch large enough. Ideally you want your swatch to measure at least 6″ square. This gives you at least a one-inch margin around your 4″ measurements.
  • You measured your swatch correctly. You want to measure the number of rows or stitches over 4″, not over 1 or 2″. Something that looks like 5 stitches per inch could be actually 19 or 21 stitches over 4″, which may not seem like a big difference but could translate to a 4″ (or more!) difference in the size of your sweater!!
  • You measured away from the edges of your swatch. Cast on and bound off edges often have a different tension than the rest of your stitches. If you used a different stitch pattern along the edges to keep your swatch from curling, this will likely alter your gauge near those edges.
  • You washed your swatch. Some yarns— like superwash wools or yarns with silk in them— will grow when washed. A lot. Wouldn’t you rather know that now, before you knit the whole sweater, bound off, knit the button bands and sewed on the buttons?

But what if you did all that, and still realize that your gauge is off once you start knitting? How could that happen? Well, it might be you. If you’ve been knitting socks at a tight gauge and then start a sweater in chunky wool, you might unconsciously strive for a tighter gauge. Maybe you knit your swatch while relaxing in front of the tv, but now you’re knitting on your lunch break, in the middle of a stressful project at work.

Or maybe— and I think this is what happened with my Lanesplitter— you get a different gauge when knitting a small swatch than you do when you’re knitting a project that involves scooting a lot of stitches around your needles. The gauge on my swatch was 20 stitches per 4 inches but once I cast on my 130 stitches and started knitting, I found my gauge was 19.5 stitches over 4″. And this new gauge is for unwashed fabric. I expect my gauge to be slightly looser after the finished skirt is washed and blocked, so the final gauge will probably be something like 19 stitches per inch.

So what do you do when your knitting gauge is different from your swatch gauge? Well, this is why you should check your actual gauge while you’re knitting. Ideally, you should do this several inches away from the row currently on the needles, for the same reasons that you should measure away from the edges. If you can’t do this, slip your stitches to some waste yarn and then measure. If gauge is really critical for this project, you can wash and block your work while the stitches are being held by the waste yarn (make sure the waste yarn is white or very light-colored, so there’s no chance of the dye transferring to your project) and then measure again.

In some cases (a hat band that’s too small to go around the recipient’s head), you’ll have to frog your work and start over. But you’ll have more experience with the yarn and can cast on with more confidence this time, knowing that you have a better chance of getting the right size! In other cases— especially if the gauge differences aren’t too great— you can adjust the pattern as needed. If you’re knitting a fitted pullover, for example, you could add extra increases or decreases to your waist shaping (and/or start the shaping a little sooner or later).

Lanesplitter-in-progressWhat did I decide to do about my Lanesplitter? Well, I cast on 130 stitches, so this means I expected the width to be 26″, but instead it’s 26.7″ and will likely grow to 27.4″ after blocking, so 1.4″ difference. I’m knitting this on the diagonal, so this indicates that my skirt is going to be approximately 1″ longer than I’d planned. But the width is determined by the number of rows that I knit, so I will still be able to achieve the fit that I want. For these reasons, I’m going to keep knitting. Once I have a few more inches knit, I’ll be able to hold it up to me and see where it’s going to fall, and then I’ll make a decision.

So tell me… are there any swatching secrets that I’ve missed? Have you found other reasons why your gauge might change between swatch and actual project?

To swatch or not to swatch?

Swatching is one of those things that knitters either love or hate. I think it depends on the kind of projects you knit, and how often you’ve been burned by bad gauge. If you knit scarves or things where gauge is largely irrelevant, then probably swatching isn’t a big part of your knitting life. But if you knit sweaters or things where fit is important, then it only takes one ill-fitting sweater (and all the days or months that went into knitting it) to make you see the value of swatching.

For my Lanesplitter skirt, gauge is important. I don’t want my skirt to fall down while I’m wearing it, and I’d prefer it to end just above my knee. I’d also like it to be long enough to be legal and to fit without looking like I’m wearing a striped sausage casing. Tall order, eh?

Lanesplitter SwatchHaving worked with Noro’s thick-and-thin yarns before, I know that I tend to prefer them knit up at a slightly tighter than normal gauge. I also don’t want this skirt to stretch all out of shape while I’m wearing it, so that’s another reason to work to a tighter gauge. The pattern calls for size 10 needles; I would ordinarily start with size 8 needles for this yarn. I started my swatch with size 7 needles. As expected, the fabric was drapey and had lots of stretch. Too much stretch, actually, which indicated I should go down a needle size. So I changed to a size 6 needle.

This time, I decided to experiment with reversing the angle of the stripe, by beginning the row with an increase and ending with a decrease. Another aspect of swatching that I didn’t really appreciate when I first started knitting was the opportunity to play with the pattern, to try out new-t0-me stitch patterns or techniques. Which increases would look best? Which type of buttonhole? How wide should the button band be? I can play with all of these in a small swatch, instead of getting 6″ knit of a sweater and then deciding that I don’t care for the hem treatment. (Okay, that still happens, but swatching helps minimize some of the ripping and frogging and cursing that often accompany my knitting!)

I liked the fabric from the size 6 needles, but I wasn’t as happy with the look of the increase/decrease edges. So I went back to the original pattern and down to size 5 needles. This fabric felt a bit stiffer than the size 6 swatch. If I had stopped here, I probably would have decided to go with the size 6 needles. But I’ve knit with Noro before, and I’ve found that yarns with silk in them tend to grow and relax once they’ve been washed and blocked. So into a Eucalan bath the swatch went. (I don’t cut my yarn before washing my swatches. I bind off the top section, pull the last loop out a few inches and pass the ball of yarn through, so the swatch won’t unravel. Then I pop the swatch in the water and set the ball of yarn beside it on the sink. This way, I can simply undo the bind off edge and pull my swatch apart when I’m done with it, and I don’t have a small bit of yarn– with extra ends to weave in– if I need the yarn to finish my project.)

As I expected, my resulting swatch was much softer and had more drape after a bath than it did when it first came off my needles. I’ve decided to go with the size 5 needles.

So tell me…

Next up: Winding my Noro and planning the stripe colors. And talking about why swatches sometimes lie! 🙂