May 26, 2015

Stitch Works

As knitters, we all have opinions regarding the type of stitches we prefer for different knitted item. 
I'm working on a fresh afghan design, which of course has me thinking about my favorite afghan stitches.

In general, they tend to be: 
Simple and easy – Perhaps I’m lazy, but the easier a stitch is the more likely I am to carry the project with me and knit a few quick rows on the run.
Reversible – The front and back don’t have to match, but I want both sides to be attractive in their own right.
Versatile – I’ve made a number of afghans using stitches that (to my eye) are most appealing worked in solid colors, but I have a true passion for those that also create a pleasing effect in two or more colors. These stitches offer more flexibility and encourage me to experiment with different combinations, which is especially helpful when I'm knitting from stash.
Solid rather than lacy – Don’t misunderstand me please: I love the look of light and lacy afghans and admire the exceptional skill it takes to make them. One of the most frequent complaints voiced by afghan recipients, however, is how much they hate having their toes poke through the fabric. For this reason, my favorite stitches produce a fluid material with an attractive texture but few if any holes. 
That sounds pretty straightforward, don't you think?

I've been rummaging through existing swatches, swatching new stitches and experimenting with new variations.

The search will continue until I find a stitch that works.

May 20, 2015

Colors of Summer

In the United States, red, white and blue are the unofficial colors of summer.

There are many patriotic holidays throughout the year, but three major ones define the season: Memorial Day signals the defacto start of summer, Independence Day marks the midpoint and Labor Day tags the transition to fall.

This confluence of celebrations (coupled with my own quirky nature) helps explain why I've worked for several years to slowly build a collection of coordinated RWB cloths, coasters and decorative items for summertime use.

The latest addition is this color-block heart. (Yes, it's from the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern.)
It helps round out this cluster:

It's a nice complement to these cloths (and the many others not shown, which we'll save for another day):
And it helps me believe (however delusionally) that no matter how small the item, if I continue to add to the RWB collection I might one day knit my way through this portion of the stash:

Summer has arrived in this corner of the world. How do we know? Once again, it's time to bring out the red, white and blue.

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

May 17, 2015

FO | Springtime Towel Set

The last time we talked about this project, there was snow on the ground, I was struggling with startitis syndrome and I was busily casting on all the things.

The snow has disappeared but the urge to start many new things remains. I've found the only way to combat that siren call (or at least wrestle it into the realm of reasonableness) is to simplify, streamline, focus and finish.

In other words, I'm striving to stick to my commitment, control the number of WIPs, and focus first on what's on the needles or already in the project pipeline.

This cloth and towel combo not only met that criteria, it turned out to be ideal. I could pick it up as time and inclination permitted, then set it aside to tackle other things. Each small finish brought a dual reward: The zing of satisfaction that comes with every FO no matter how little it might be, coupled with the opportunity to cast on for the next piece.

The set consists of one towel and four cloths and features the reversible fluted ridge stitch, one of my all-time go-to favorites. Its understated texture keeps the emphasis on the vibrant colors, which is just what I wanted. The yarns are cotton-rayon blends, so they have a subtle sheen that doesn't show up in these images. They aren't as soft as cotton or cotton-wool blends, but they should grow silkier with time and use.

Springtime Towel & Cloth Set
Pattern: My own
Yarn: DK cotton-rayon blends
          Turquoise: Brilla (Filatura di Crosa)
          Rose: Mystik (GGH)
          Variegated: Imagine (Classic Elite)
Needles: US 6 (4 mm); US 7 (4.5 mm)
Yardage: 260 yards (approx.)

Now that this set is complete, it's destined for the guest bath where it will add a bright splash of springtime color. With more of these yarns in the stash, however, I dare say none of us will be surprised if a few more pieces eventually find their way onto the needles.

Speaking of stash, I'm working on a new project specifically designed to use up those stubborn singleton and partial skeins that linger and hog space. I can't speak for you, but it's a perpetual problem in my world. I'm eager to see how this concept turns out, so I guess I should stop chatting and get back to my knitting.

Connecting with the linkups in the sidebar.

May 10, 2015

The Gift of Knitting

It's Mother's Day in the US, so it seems appropriate to revisit this little story.

My mother taught me to knit when I was very young, three or perhaps four years old.

I’m using the term “knit” quite loosely, of course, but I do remember the occasion. I was sick and miserable with the mumps or measles. I must have been feeling a bit fussy as well, because I – the kid who was willing and able to sleep any time, any day, any where – would not go down for a nap.

So she pulled out her knitting basket, handed me a blue steel DPN and some heavy gray wool, and showed me how to knit.

Well, actually, she taught me how to do an easy finger cast on, a technique I still use today when I’m in a hurry to test a new stitch or cast on something small.

I spent the rest of that day and many days after casting on as many stitches as the needle would hold. Then I’d pull them off, rewind the yarn and do it all over again. Cast on, pull off, rewind. Cast on, pull off, rewind.

I remember the experience so clearly, I can still feel that scratchy wool and see my little hands struggling to grip the needle, wrestle the yarn into position and get those stitches into place.

Eventually I would master the basic knit and purl stitches, but at that time and for several years to follow all I could do was cast on, pull off and rewind. In my mind, of course, I was convinced I was knitting.

Little did my mother know her efforts to distract a fussy, sick kid would launch a lifelong love affair with the mysteries and magic hidden inside each pair of needles and ball of yarn.

XO. Thanks, Mom, for giving me the priceless gift of knitting.

PS: Yes, those are the same blue steel DPNs that helped jumpstart my knitting journey so many years ago.

PPS: For those who are interested, the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern is now available. Click the link to purchase the pattern and view the Ravelry description. (Remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

May 3, 2015

Hearts in a Swirl

In knitting world, little things can make a big difference, which is just one of the many things that make it so interesting and engaging.

Take the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern, for instance. A few easy color changes transform the design from this ...

into this ...

or this ...

Recently, a friend asked how many hearts and spots I'd made. I started to answer then stammered to a halt. I have no clue. I've been making them for years, but most have quickly flown out the door as gifts or something personal and handmade for someone going through a tough time to let know I'm thinking about them.

There are other tasks I should be tackling: Patterns at various stages of development. Designs on the drawing board. The ever-present cluster of WIPs.

For the moment, however, I continue to be fascinated by hearts in a swirl.

To help you celebrate Mother’s Day in true knitterly style, the pattern will be available at a 30% discount until midnight May 10 EDT.

Click here to purchase the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern and view the Ravelry description. (Remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

Apr 25, 2015

Pattern | Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots

The good news? The Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern has been released.

The better news? Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots are super-simple to make, so there's plenty of time to whip up a few for Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, engagement parties or babies on the way.

Let’s hit the highlights. The pattern features:
  • Two fun shapes
  • Three versatile sizes
  • Four colorful designs
Plus, the pieces are:
  • Practical & decorative
  • Easy to customize
  • Perfect for partial skeins & scraps
Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots are ideal for gifts, special occasions or everyday use. Create matching pieces or mix things up with varied shapes, colors and combinations.
  • The design creates double-layered coasters, hotpads, mats, table toppers and decorative accents in multiple sizes.
  • The finished items are reversible.
  • The pieces remain compact and portable for knitting on the go.
  • The bias technique is easy to master and equally easy to memorize.
  • The directions detail four popular variations along with tips, tricks and easy modifications.
  • The color work is a snap: Only one color is worked on a row, there’s no stranding involved and there are no ends to weave.
  • The yarns shown are worsted weight cotton-wool blends, but the design adapts to different yarn weights and fiber types.
  • The pattern is simple enough for beginners with a little experience, plus it includes a handy Quick Reference guide to make customization easy.

Pattern | Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots
Yarn: Worsted Weight
Shown: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep), Four Seasons (Classic Elite), Sierra (Cascade)
Needles: US 9 (5.5 mm)
Sizes: S M L (4 ins to 8 ins)
Yardage: 20 to 65 yards each (approx.)

Can you think of a better way to show your mom how much you love her? To help you celebrate in true knitterly style, the pattern will be available at a 30% discount until midnight on Mother’s Day (May 10 EDT).

Click here to purchase the Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots pattern and view the Ravelry description. (Remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

Apr 19, 2015

Seam Me Up, Scotty

As much as I love knitting, there are more than a few aspects of the craft that always give me pause.
Take seaming for example. Because I’m not terribly adept at traditional methods, I tend to dislike it, and because I dislike it, I tend to avoid it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of things that require seams, but I freely admit I approach the task with trepidation and sometimes dread. In the past, these feelings were so strong, I developed elaborate workarounds just to reduce the amount of seaming required for any particular project.

Why then do all my afghan designs consist of strips or blocks that require seams? That’s a very good question. Let me take a moment to explain.

With modular construction I've found I can:
  • Work smaller pieces and see visible progress in a shorter timeframe, something important for all of us but especially so for slow knitters like me.
  • Slice large projects into manageable, motivating segments. As each component is completed, there's an interim reward and I know I'm that much closer to a finished piece.
  • Keep large projects compact and portable throughout.
  • Work a few quick rows on the go, because rows are shorter.
  • Knit afghans anytime and anywhere without the bulk of a blanket in my lap.
  • Experiment with different yarns and stitches.
  • Change my mind midstream without having to rip and reknit the entire project.
  • Modify any or all details (yarn, stitch, seams, edging) to personalize the design.
  • Turn singletons, partials, scraps and uglies into something useful and attractive.
  • Mix and match yarn to make the most of my stash.
  • Make fast and easy block afghans without the need to seam each block.
  • Watch TV or movies without losing track of what I'm doing.
  • Work on a project while I talk on the phone or visit with friends or family.
  • Use seams to help afghans retain their shape, wear better and last longer.

That's a pretty long list, and I'm sure I've missed a few. 

Eventually, these advantages drove me to conquer my seaming demons and develop a simple adaptation of the three-needle bind off that makes the whole process fast, easy and very consistent. As an added bonus, the finished seams are durable and stand up to use, but they preserve drape and avoid the pitfalls other methods (in my hands) sometimes produced.

Because they no longer have the power to intimidate the way they once did, I have a fresh, new outlook: Seam me up, Scotty!

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.

Apr 12, 2015

Afghans | Color Counts

My modular afghan journey began by accident, but it continues because I discovered I love making them. 

They’re the ideal way to turn quantities of yarn into something attractive, practical and useful. They also came to my rescue when I finally stiffened my spine and began to deal with my stash of prodigious proportions.

Most of my afghans are multicolored, because this approach allows me to make the most of the yarn on hand. My stash harbors healthy assortments of singletons and small clusters of skeins that didn’t quite work for some intended project, along with others acquired simply because it was impossible to resist a particularly beautiful color.

In fact, color is so integral to my knitting and design processes, my stash is organized first by color then by fiber, weight or type. I almost always start my planning process by rummaging through the skeins, selecting colors I like and combining them in a way that’s pleasing to my eye.

Experimenting with different combinations is an effective way to quickly produce sufficient yarn to make a modular afghan and use up a lot of skeins in the process. The next time you’re raiding your stash, try thinking about color from a fresh perspective. Opt for a:
  • Monochromatic approach to eat up a quantity of matching skeins. Just use the same color for all the components (strips, seams and trim).
  • Two-toned approach to use up healthy but smaller quantities. Simply choose two contrasting, complementary or closely aligned colors.
  • Tonal approach created with closely related colors. Breidan Lake is a good example, it features a range of blues and blue-greens and used up an entire cluster of singletons.
  • Gradient approach to use varied shades of the same color. Assemble strips (or blocks) in sequence from dark to light or light to dark. Twegen Coffee illustrates this principle and used up a group of neutral skeins that had lurked in the stash for years.
  • Color wheel or rainbow approach to use yarn from different color families. The Swafghan began as just such an experiment, and Breidan Baby turned out to be the ideal way to use up a handful of singletons in muted rainbow shades.

With modular afghans, seams and trim offer yet another opportunity to leverage hue. A neutral like white makes other colors appear fresh and “true” (Drumlin Brights), black tends to intensify (Drumlin Gems), and gray tends to behave somewhere in between (Drumlin Neutral).

Color makes it possible to work a favorite pattern multiple times and achieve very different effects. The photos above, for instance, show three color strategies for the same afghan pattern, Breidan.

Color affects how we perceive a stitch when work is in progress and when it's completed. It attracts our attention, lifts or calms our mood, blends into or stands out from its immediate surroundings, and reveals hidden facets of our personalities. 

Color counts. It speaks to us in so many ways and on so many levels, it's easy to forget it's one of the most powerful tools in our knitting toolkit.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.

Apr 5, 2015

Afghans | Size Matters

In addition to the other projects in the pipeline, I'm working on another afghan design. It's still in the development stages so it's too early to discuss details, but as always the process has me thinking about the issue of dimensions.

Afghans are infinitely variable, but size matters at every stage from concept through completion. Size affects overall design composition and color distribution. It also affects all the practical elements from stitch combinations to yardage, weight, usability and long-term care.

Because I design afghans, people sometimes ask for advice on dimensions. This can be a tricky question to answer since every knitter has their preferences where size is concerned.

When I started writing patterns for release rather than just my own use, it seemed wise to establish some standard criteria and be consistent. The table below highlights the basic dimensions I use for the most common types of afghan and blankets.

(width x length)

Worsted *
Extra Small (XS)
Car Seat
18 x 28 ins

22 x 30 ins

Small (S)
28 x 36 ins

36 x 36 ins

36 ins diameter

Medium (M)
Lap Robe/Lapghan
35 x 45 ins

36 x 48 ins

Large (L)
42 x 60 ins

Extra Large (XL)
Twin Topper
38 x 75 ins

Full Topper
53 x 75 ins

Queen Topper
60 x 80 ins

King Topper
76 x 80 ins

* Yardage estimates are generous.

Every afghan pattern I've released includes directions for the three most popular sizes (SML), along with easy ways to adjust the sizes up or down. If you’re making an afghan for use on a bed, keep in mind the dimensions shown are for toppers that cover only the bed surface. Simply move up to the next largest size to create a blanket or throw with enough coverage to drape over the sides.

For very practical reasons, I tend to favor medium-sized afghans (lap robes/lapghans). They're a fast knit comparatively speaking, and the compact size allows me to make the most of yarn from stash. They're smaller and more portable as WIPs, and much easier to handle, wash, care for and store when they're finished. These factors are crucial to me, since lapghans get near-constant use on a year-round basis in my household.

SWAFGHAN (pattern coming soon) 

With spring on the horizon, many knitters will be turning to light, lacy projects, a few of which will undoubtedly find their way onto my needles, too.

If you're at all like me, however, you'll also have at least one afghan in the works, because in knitting world, afghan season lasts all year long.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.