Oct 4, 2015

Afghans in TV Land

Have you noticed how many TV programs incorporate afghans as part of the set decor?  If you pay attention to the details, they provide interesting clues to the characters.

In Scandal, for example, Olivia has an exquisite afghan featuring classic, controlled cables worked in fine, white yarn. Without even touching it you know it's cashmere and absolutely as soft and enticing as it looks. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it draped casually over the back of the couch, while at others it's folded into a large triangular shape and positioned with care. Like Liv herself, it's precise, pristine and elegant, and quite clearly a subtle "white hat" symbol. (If you watch the show, you know what that means.)

The afghans that appear in the Big Bang Theory tell a different story. Amy's couch sports a throw made with small, colorful granny squares with a delightful retro feel. The riot of colors picks up elements from around the room in a non-matchy-matchy way. The overall effect is charming, and to my eye, the granny-ghan is the perfect choice for such an endearing character (perhaps because bright colors and faux-block construction have been on my mind lately.)

In the short-lived program, Growing Up Fisher, the story line centered around the amazing capabilities of the writer's father who was blind. When the parents separated, the father moved into an apartment in a renovated old bakery. Much like him, the apartment decor was streamlined, modern and efficient, but subtle touches like a muted tone-on-tone neutral throw added depth and texture to the room and hinted at the softer side of the father's strong, self-sufficient personality.

For many of us, knitting and TV go hand in hand, and every onscreen sighting of handcrafted items enhances this symbiotic relationship. My knitting time is limited which means my TV time is too, so when I'm watching, I'm torn between following the action and scanning the screen for the next fleeting glimpse of unexpected yarny goodness.

What can I say? I may miss pivotal plot points, but I try not miss hand knits. With the new fall season underway, I confess I'm looking forward to a fresh crop of onscreen sightings of afghans in TV land.

If you're like me and relish these brief but recurring handcrafted appearances, you might enjoy these posts: Hand Knits in TV Land (Halifax)Hand Knits from TV Land and Alien Parasite Hypothesis.

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Sep 27, 2015

Pattern | Flashpoint Afghan

Longing for an easy, breezy knit for family, friends and gift-giving? 

Flashpoint might well be the solution. It combines triangular modules and simple techniques to create a striking afghan with zigzag lines flashing across the surface. 

The clean unisex design lets your yarn and color selections shine: Make yours bold in brights, dramatic in darks, handsome in handpaints, sophisticated in subtle neutrals, terrific in team colors or vibrant in variegated yarn. Or make each module a different color for a rainbow effect that appeals to the young and young at heart.

The design features a crossed stockinette stitch on the front and plush texture on the back, so both sides are attractive. Modules knit quickly, stay compact, and are joined with crisp seams that highlight the construction, form the lightning flash and make seaming a cinch.

Flashpoint is a speedy, satisfying knit. The:

  • Crossed stockinette stitch is easy to execute and produces a subtle texture on the front and a plush texture on the back.
  • Colorwork is a snap. Solid and striped versions are equally easy, since only one color is worked on a row.
  • Modular strategy keeps your project compact and portable. You can work a few quick rows on the go, and knit afghans anytime and anywhere without the weight of a blanket in your lap or on the needles. 
  • Seaming method uses a fresh variation on a three-needle bind off, so assembly goes quickly and smoothly.
  • Pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. Concise but complete, it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes.
  • Yarn is bulky weight or its multi-strand equivalent, so your project grows quickly whether you use fresh fiber, yarn from stash or a blend of both.
  • Unisex design suits males and females of every age group young and old, so have fun and experiment with different color combinations, yarn textures and module arrangements. 

Work the pattern as written, or tailor it to your tastes using the tips, tricks and ideas for easy modifications included in the pattern, it's your choice. The handy Quick Reference guide provides detailed yardage estimates so customization is easy.

Picture the possibilities: Just change the colors, yarn and mix of solid and striped modules, and you can quickly create a stream of blankets suitable for everyone on your knitting list from brand new babies to beloved grandparents.

Flashpoint | Fast & Easy Afghan
Yarn: Bulky or multi-strand equivalent
Shown: Korall (Laines du Nord), Torino Bulky (Tahki), Silk Blend Sport (Blackberry Ridge)
Needles: US 11 (8 mm)
Sizes: SML (baby-lapghan-throw)
Yardage (approx.): 750 (S), 1375 (M), 1850 (L)

Eager to cast on? Click here to purchase the pattern and read the Ravelry description. Whether you're trying to 
get a jumpstart on upcoming gifts or you're simply in the mood for cool weather knitting, Flashpoint is a fun, fast and easy afghan to make.

Shopping at your favorite yarn store? All patterns are activated for LYS in-store sales.

Want to know more? See FO | Flashpoint Bright & Bold and FO | Flashpoint Blue.

Making Flashpoint for your favorite fella? Check out these guy-worthy color combos.

Considering a multi-strand strategy? See this helpful conversion chart.

Sep 20, 2015

The Maker's Gift

Last week, I was buzzing down the aisle at the grocery store when I spotted an incredibly cute baby, sitting patiently in the grocery cart sucking a pacifier for all he was worth. I smiled at the baby, smiled at the mom and prepared to move on. 

Then I spied the corner of a bright blue blanket. 

"Adorable baby," I said. "Did you make his blanket?"

      Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

Her face lit up. "No, can you believe it, I got it at a garage sale. Look!" She unfolded the crocheted blanket, stroked it lovingly and began pointing out her favorite details.

      Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

The blue background was decorated with cars worked in primary colors and zipping down curving gray roadways. Because the cars were appliques, they had a wonderful dimensional quality that clearly delighted her. 

      Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

She asked me if I thought it was hand made and wondered aloud how someone could make something so charming and clever.

      Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

Yes, I assured her, it absolutely was hand made and clearly the maker was someone quite talented. The baby followed our exchange, keeping his thoughts to himself and waiting good-naturedly while we admired the afghan and chatted a bit before we went our separate ways.

      Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

The encounter was brief but heart-warming.

     Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

If you've ever wondered what happens to your handcrafted gifts as time goes by, you now have the answer.

They're passed down in families, given to friends, donated to charities or sold at garage sales. As a result, they go on to have a second (or third or fourth) life in the hands of someone new who marvels at your skill, treasures the piece you made and uses it each day with joy.

     Copyright Patricia-R-S; used with permission 

Somewhere at this very moment perhaps a passerby is saying, "Terrific hat!" or "Great scarf!" or "Love your sweater, did you make it?" And just like that, your lovely handiwork has prompted two strangers to make a fleeting personal connection that transforms their day. 

It's just one of many gifts associated with being a maker, and it's a special thing indeed.

Photos: Courtesy of Patricia-R-S. She didn't make the blanket I saw, but she graciously allowed me to use her photos to illustrate this post. Thank you!

Crochet blanket pattern: Cars (by Mary Maxim)

Sep 13, 2015

I Do It I Self

From the moment she was born, my friend's daughter had a very independent spirit. Once she learned to talk, this was even more evident, since "I do it I self" was her favorite and most frequently repeated phrase.

I can relate and some of you can, too.

For many of us, "I do it I self" goes a long way toward explaining why we knit. Whether we're making an afghan, shawl or sweater, it's often the only way to get the precise combination of color, fiber, stitch and style we desire.

In extreme cases, "I do it I self" begins to prompt us to do wacky things such as designing from scratch specific items we want to knit.

Which brings me to this recent endeavor. I'm working on a stealth-mode Christmas knit and I decided it needed a little accent piece.

Nothing fancy, just a simple hand knit bow.

While I'm sure I could find a pattern out there that would more or less fit the bill, for all the quirky reasons that make us who we are as knitters ...

I do it I self. Over and over and over again.

Sep 6, 2015

10 Simple Knitting Tips & Tricks

Every pattern I publish includes a handful of tips and tricks. The purpose, of course, is to try to ensure your project goes as smoothly as possible and help you dodge some of the bumps in the road we all encounter on occasion. 

Not long ago, I shared one of these tips on Ravelry and got a reply from a very experienced knitter who'd never heard of it, which prompted this post. While the suggestions offered in patterns are often project specific, some suit almost any knitting endeavor. Here are a few you might find handy.

10 Simple Tips & Tricks

1. Front/Back v. Top/Bottom. For any pieced or modular project, place a distinctive marker in the front lower border to make it easy to distinguish front from back and top from bottom. At some point almost all of us have inserted the wrong sleeve into an armhole or joined a piece upside down or wrong-side out. Markers make assembly easier and almost foolproof.

2. Increases & Decreases. Use clips to mark increase/decrease rows to make it easier to track the changes, count rows/repeats and match increases/decreases in complementary pieces (shawl shapingsleeves, sweater panels, etc.).

3. Live Stitches. For any modular project, knit each piece to the target length and place live stitches on a holder. Once all the pieces are worked, confirm stitch counts, row counts and length, then bind off.

     Swatching for Dojeling

4. Mitered Shapes. To produce a crisper point in any reverse mitered shape, use slightly smaller needles for the CO and first row or two.

5. Practice. Swatching is about more than getting gauge or testing color combinations. Learn new stitches. Practice different seaming methods by joining two project swatchesTest any planned edging technique by adding the trim to your project swatch.

6. Pooling. To prevent pooling with variegated and printed yarns, pair the yarn with a solid and work a series of alternating two-row stripes.

     Twegen with solid and variegated yarns

7. Row Counts. Place markers every few rows or every repeat to make it easy to track progress and avoid recounting. With afghan strips, for example, place markers every 5 or 10 repeats as you work and then as the strip grows, mark a key benchmark (25, 50, 100 repeats, etc.), remove the interim markers and start the process over. The markers make it easy to quickly confirm length.

8. Seaming. Lightly steam or wet block modules or project components before seaming to minimize any curling and make assembly easier.

9. Swatches. Knit and block an over-sized swatch. Measure it precisely then suspend it from its top edge.  (Some knitters like to weight the bottom edge.) Wait at least 24 hours and see how much it grows. Blocking and gravity can cause many yarns to stretch, which radically affects fit and appearance. This is especially important for garments, wall hangings and items where size matters. 

10. Three-Needle Bind-Off. The three-needle bind-off is a wonderful seaming method. To prevent puckers and preserve drape, try using a larger needle in your RH. Do a bit of experimentation, because you may need to move up two to three needle sizes based on the yarn and your tension.

     Three-needle bind-off for Drumlin

Experienced knitters are likely to find most of these tips obvious and old-hat, but hopefully they'll be helpful to new or occasional ones. When I first started knitting, for example, I knew very few knitters, so most were learned the hard way while others were gleaned through extensive reading.

Whether you've been practicing this craft for decades or days, it's likely you've discovered your own simple tricks that help reduce frustration, prevent rework, improve results and save your sanity.

Feel free to share: What's your all-time favorite knitting tip?

For more tips, tricks and tools, go here.
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Aug 30, 2015

Pattern | Dojeling Shawl

Dojeling is a fast, easy mitered shawl, and the name says it all: Tibetan for “diamond island,” it truly captures the essence of this design.
             OYSTER BAY: Striped diamond with solid wings

The shawl is constructed around a central diamond-shaped panel worked in a mitered seed stitch, a technique that's easy to master and quick to knit. Created in defined but seamless sections, your project stays contained and manageable throughout.


Dojeling is reversible, the wings form defined points that resist curling and colorwork is a breeze. The design is quite versatile, so you can make it cozy in cashmere, handsome in handspun, sleek in silky blends or warm in wool. Choose the fiber and color combination that appeals to you, then relax and let the yarn shine. 

             WINEBERRY: All-over stripes (solid & variegated yarn)

Written for the sock/fingering weight yarn of your choice, the pattern readily adjusts to different weights and multi-stranding. It includes directions for three sizes (SML) along with tips, tricks, ideas for modifications and a handy Quick Reference guide to make customization easy.


The clean lines and reversible design mean it's as easy to wear as it is to make: Just grab it, wrap it and go. Dojeling features a seed stitch fabric that's lighter, less bulky and more refined than garter stitch, so it's ideal for a crisp fall day, a nursing mother, or a friend in need of comfort or encouragement. 

Let's look at some highlights. Briefly, the:

  • Mitered seed stitch is easy to execute and produces a drapey, reversible fabric on the diamond panel and wings.
  • Colorwork is a snap. Only one color is worked on a row, so you can create a solid, striped or color-block shawl with equal ease.
  • Components are worked in sections, so your project remains compact for knitting on the go. Finishing is minimal: There's no seaming involved, just weave a few ends and you're done.
  • Pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. Concise but comprehensive, it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes (SML).
  • Quick Reference guide and useful tips and tricks make modifications easy.
  • Yarn choice is yours. Those shown are fingering/sock weight wool blendsbut both the pattern and stitch accommodate almost any fiber blend or weight you might choose. 
  • Design is highly adaptable and offers unlimited possibilities. Opt for bright or muted colors, adopt a tone-on-tone strategy, mix a solid with a variegated yarn, or add sparkle with a metallic blend.

             BLACKBERRY: Striped diamond with solid wings (solid & variegated yarn)

Dojeling | Fast, Easy & Reversible
Yarn: Fingering / sock weight
Shown: Charlemont (Valley Yarns), Happy Feet (Plymouth) Tajmahal (Lane Cervinia, GGH), Tern (Quince & Co.)
Needles: US 8 (5 mm)
Sizes: SML
Yardage (approx.): S / 260 yards, M / 440 yards, L / 620 yards

Go ahead, make one for yourself and another as a gift for someone special. Either way, Dojeling is a satisfying, speedy knit worked on slightly larger than typical needles to help your project quickly grow.

Eager to get started? Click here to purchase the pattern and read the Ravelry description. (And remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

Then search your stash, find fresh fiber at your favorite yarn store or do both. The pattern provides detailed breakouts to make it easy to determine yardage for striped and solid versions in each size.

The shawls shown here have been lightly blocked for a blend of drape and coverage, but it's easy to increase the size and open the fabric by blocking more aggressively with pins and/or wires.

Dojeling is the design that launched my addiction to hand knit shawls, and I'm looking forward to seeing the creative combinations you use to make it uniquely your own.

Own an LYS? All patterns are activated for in-store sales.

To read more about Dojeling, see FO | Blackberry, FO | Oyster Bay and FO | Wineberry

Aug 23, 2015

FO | Flashpoint Blue

There was a time when my entire stash and all my knitting needles and tools fit into one small drawer. There's no mystery behind that miracle: At the time I was a highly monogamous knitter, so I picked a pattern, chose the yarn and focused exclusively on that project until it was finished.

Those days are long gone.

It's difficult to define a specific turning point, but like so many other slippery slopes the shift was gradual. Suffice it to say, the evolution from one WIP to several on the needles or in the planning pipeline meant more patterns, more yarn and more needles. Perhaps some of you can relate.

And that, my friends, is how this yarn joined the stash.

The original intent was to use it for cowls, mitts and similar accessories, but as lovely as the yarn was, it simply wasn't soft enough for the projects I had in mind. In the end, multiple FOs and WIPs were frogged, and the yarn was rewound and returned to the stash where it languished for several years.

Then inspiration struck. I was working on the bright and bold version of Flashpoint when it occurred to me the same modular construction might work for this yarn if I adopted a multi-strand approach

Once the idea surfaced, I couldn't wait. I swatched, cast on and knit happily as the pile of modules grew.

The entire project moved at a rewarding pace: It took two weeks start to finish and came together so rapidly, only a few pictures were grabbed on the fly. 

I'll try to get better photos soon, but in the meantime I'm relishing the results.

I took a deep breath and slowed down long enough to weave ends with care so both sides are attractive.

Flashpoint | Blue & Cream 
Weight: Multi-stranded to approximate chunky/bulky
Yardage: 1125 yards
Needles: US 11 (8 mm)
Size: Square (approx. 32 x 32 ins)
Related post: Here

This stubborn stash yarn finally found its destiny. The slightly crisp fiber works beautifully in this simple design, giving the fabric a subtle handspun texture that's quite appealing. The turquoise is pretty on its own, but the cream takes it to a new level. As an added bonus, the wool-silk blend lends a subtle sheen and produces a fabric light enough to use year round.

As wonderful as these qualities are, one crucial fact needs to be mentioned: Flashpoint used nearly every last yard, so for all practical purposes this yarn is gone.

And that takes us back to the starting point. My stash no longer fits into one small drawer, but after years of dedicated stashbusting it once again lives comfortably in its designated cupboards. 

Afghans can claim much of the credit: They eat yarn. They're fast, fun and easy. They're a soothing knit at the end of a harried day. They're more than mildly addictive. And for me at least, they're clearly the ideal way to transform tenacious stash into something terrific and useful.

Color me blue, which in this instance is a very happy color indeed.


Aug 16, 2015

9 Color Combos for Guys

The search for non-fussy designs and interesting color combos for guys can be frustrating.

Because we all share a passion for fiber, it's easy to forget many highly skilled knitters and crocheters don't trust their color choices or claim they have no color sense. Others make the mistake of using trendy shades for men who are super traditional or vice versa.

There's no one-combo-fits-all solution, but through the years, I've found a handful of colors consistently appeal to most guys young and old. Whether you're gearing up for fall or knitting for upcoming birthdays and holidays, the following options aren't groundbreaking, but they'll work for virtually any item you might choose to make ranging from afghans and gloves to hats, scarves, socks, sweaters and vests.

Earth Tones
Browns, rust, orange (often with olive green)

Warm Neutrals
Brown, tan, sand

Cool Neutrals
Charcoal, grey, gravel

Navy, cobalt, true blue

Olive, sage, moss

With red or gold (and/or blue, white, cream)

In the US: red, white and blue (substitute your national colors)

If the guys you're knitting for are young (toddler to preteen), super-hero colors hold timeless appeal. Classic combos include:

Red, yellow, blue

Red, blue, white

If you're still struggling, try using crossover colors to enhance your main selection: Add a dash of yellow or gold to liven up red, white and blue. Mix muted greens with earth tones, rusty red with warm neutrals or burgundy red with cool grays. Or combine two palettes (earth tones and warm neutrals or cool neutrals and blues for example) to use in projects that require many colors.

If you're truly stumped, adopt this almost foolproof fallback strategy: team colors. Whatever sport and team your fella chooses to follow, set aside your own preferences and let his favorite team's colors be your guide.

The options above won't solve every guy-based knitting dilemma, but they'll serve as a starting point. If you're tackling a non-stealth project, sit down with the guy in question and scroll together through this post to narrow the list.

Eager to cast on but still undecided? Try my personal tried-and-true guy-knitting rule: When in doubt, make it blue.

For non-fussy, guy-worthy afghans, check out Color CheckDrumlin and Flashpoint.

For more tips, tricks and tools, click here.

Aug 9, 2015

Pattern | Color Check Afghan

Color Check is the project that launched my passion for hand knit afghans. 

It was designed to emulate the large calibration or “color check” charts that hang in print shops and design studios to make color confirmation a quick and easy process.

True to these roots, the Color Check afghan may look complicated but it's surprisingly quick and easy. In fact, if you love the look of block-based blankets but dread assembling all those bits and pieces, this design is for you.


How so?

Instead of individual squares, the faux blocks are worked in strips and the strips are joined to create the afghan. For instance, each version shown (size M) has twelve color blocks created by working four strips joined with just three seams.



Color Check offers a range of features. Briefly, the:

  • Slipped stitch knits quickly, is easy to execute and produces stockinette checks on the front and a striped reverse stockinette texture on the back.
  • Colorwork is a snap, since only one color is worked on a row.
  • Strip strategy keeps your project compact and portable. You can work a few quick rows on the go and knit afghans anytime and anywhere without the weight of a full blanket in your lap. 
  • Seaming method uses a modified three-needle bind off that's fast and reliable, so assembly goes quickly and smoothly.
  • Pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. Concise but comprehensive, it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes (S/baby, M/lapghan and L/throw).
  • Quick Reference guide and useful tips and tricks make modifications easy.
  • Yarn should reflect your tastes. The one shown is a mid-weight cotton-wool blend that produces afghans perfect for year-round use. Yarns with a bit of memory are ideal, but both the pattern and stitch accommodate almost any fiber blend or weight you might choose. 
  • The design is highly adaptable and offers infinite possibilities. Opt for bright or muted rainbow hues, adopt a tone-on-tone strategy, contrast solids with variegated yarns, use a range of sandy neutrals, or pair gray with turquoise or rose for a sophisticated baby blanket.

In combination, these factors make Color Check a satisfying, speedy knit that adapts to any occasion from holiday gift-giving to anniversaries, birthdays or new babies on the way.


Yarn: Worsted / light worsted
Yarns Shown: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep)
Needles: US 9 (5.5 mm) and US 10 (6 mm)
Sizes: SML (baby-lapghan-throw)

Yardage (approx.): 825 (S), 1100 (M), 1750 (L)

Creative juices flowing? 

Go ahead: Rummage through your stash, find fresh fiber at your favorite yarn store or do both. The pattern provides yardage estimates by block, strip and size (SML) to make customization easy. For quick calculations, remember each block requires about 75 yards total in worsted weight (30 MC/45 CC). 

Size S/baby consists of nine faux blocks, size M/lapghan has twelve and size L/throw has twenty. The pattern is infinitely scalable, just add or subtract blocks, strips or both to customize the size.


Eager to cast on?

Click here to purchase the pattern and read the Ravelry description. (Remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

In the years since I knit my first Color Check, I've made many afghans, but this one remains a favorite. Fast, fun and versatile, I can't wait to see the color and fiber combinations you use to make this design uniquely your own.


Featured on Facebook by the Brown Sheep Company!

Yardage estimates above are generous. See the pattern for detailed breakouts.

Own an LYS? All patterns are activated for in-store sales.

Color Check is sometimes affectionately called the Swafghan. Why? The original plan was to make a loose, unstructured sweater, but plans change, so it became a much-loved afghan instead!