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 often 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.

Mar 29, 2015

PIPs | Patterns in Progress

Some of you have inquired recently about specific designs and when the patterns might be released. Your interest and inquiries are always heartwarming and motivating, so I wanted to take a moment to respond.
Yes, there are several patterns in progress, or PIPs as they're sometimes labeled in my To Do list. Like all my patterns, they're fast and easy, and most are reversible, too. Briefly, here's the current lineup and the status of each:
Hearts & Spots – Undergoing tech editing and review.

Shawl – In the refinement stage.
Owl Family – In active development.
Cloth & Towel Set – In active development.
Swafghan – In active development.

You noticed of course I didn’t identify specific release dates for one simple reason: I’ve learned to be cautious, because as soon as one declares a definitive date, the cosmos feels compelled to step in and throw a spanner (or an entire box of them) into the works. 
I can't control cosmic forces, but with so many patterns in the pipeline, one thing is clear. I'd better quit chatting and get back to work.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.

Mar 22, 2015

(Un)Natural Affinities

Personally, I prefer natural fibers. This means I gravitate toward yarn made with cotton, wool, bamboo, silk and similar materials. 

The same is true for needles, an arena where I favor bamboo. I won’t presume to tell you what type of needle to use, but I will say this: Needle material can make a significant difference in your knitting, so it's well worth experimenting with different options.

Through the years, I’ve used almost every conceivable needle type, but when I switched to bamboo, it transformed my knitting experience and the finished result.

Bamboo needles are light and provide just the right mix of “slip and grip” for me. The surface allows stitches to slip off readily with little resistance, but it also grips stitches securely enough so they don’t leap into oblivion when I stop mid-row or lay my knitting down.

The key point is this: No matter what you’re knitting, choose the fiber, stitch and needle combination that works best for you. Just keep in mind that substituting yarn or switching from one needle type to another may affect stitch and row gauge, and it can alter overall appearance.

In my case, bamboo needles helped me achieve a more consistent tension and made it much easier to hit gauge on the first or second try.

Because someone will ask, all the photos show versions of the bamboo stitch, a favorite of mine for all the reasons you know so well: It’s fast, it’s easy and with the right adaptations, it’s reversible (attractive on both sides).

Also because someone will ask, the yarns shown are:
Turquoise: Brilla (Filatura di Crosa; 42% cotton, 58% rayon)
Pink: Royal Bamboo (Plymouth Yarn; 100% bamboo)

At one end of the spectrum we have bamboo yarn, needles and stitches, examples of the many natural affinities ruling my knitting life.

At the opposite end we have photography, one of many unnatural affinities offering significant (ahem) opportunity for improvement.

Connecting with the Linkup list in the sidebar.