Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not Just Another Weather Story

When I first met my husband, Chris, I was working as a journalist at a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania. Hired as the paper's "Cops Reporter" (a job I adored), I also spent many long, crime-less nights writing obits, police briefs, and weather stories.

Now, the obits I didn't mind. I saw each one as an opportunity to honor the life of a person who had died and, in most cases, wouldn't appear in the paper again. Yes, that sounds Pollyanna-ish, but honestly, if you don't find a way to care about the obits, you'll go crazy typing them up -- name, date, cause of death, job, survived by...etc. -- every single night.

The police briefs? Well, those were always amusing, particularly when the guys in city hall got to know me and began saving me the good ones (don't ask). And, needless to say, I was ecstatic when I got to sink my teeth into the meat and potatoes of my job -- murder and mayhem and such.

But those weather stories...Ugh! They were endless and painful. I mean, really. How many damn "Blizzard of 200#" stories can you write??? And each occasion was the MOST, the WORST...Get the idea? Never just a plain old 8-inch snowfall; never just a four-inch story about one of the region's myriad stormettes.

Well, in honor of what feels like, in retrospect, a gazillion weather stories, I am NOT going to talk about the weather. Per se.

What I will say is this: Chris still works at a newspaper (in Washington, DC) and was kind enough to go into the office with plans to stay overnight as needed so his staff wouldn't have to brave the roads. And stay he did -- two nights in a downtown hotel.

Did I miss him? Of course! The nights WERE silent around here...and I was snowed in, to boot. But I was glad that he and his colleagues/friends had each other for company. Sounds like they managed to squeeze in some fun, too.

Sunday night, 12/20, Metro finally started running again, and I was able to drive to an outlying stop and bring him home for some R&R. Better yet, we didn't have any more snow (or ice, or rain...), so we could spend Christmas together (a peaceful, quiet one).

One of my all-time favorite quotations comes from Julian of Norwich: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Stay safe and enjoy the holidays.

I'll be back soon.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tea, anyone?

Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy on 8-cup teapot

Oh, teapot cozies, how I love them! Quick to knit as a hat, but with ample opportunities for delightful camp- and quirkiness.

This is my favorite yet: The Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy (Ravelry link). Plump little cherries burst forth against their background of robin's egg blue, edged with chocolate brown. And the grassy green of the leaves is echoed by the vine-like, I-cord, drawstring closure. What fun!

I was inspired to design this little cozy almost two years ago, when we moved into our current home -- a little cottage in Western Maryland. The three big windows in the kitchen let in the afternoon sun, and provide excellent squirrel watching opportunities for the kitties (see top photo).

The pale aqua on the walls just cried out for bright red (my favorite kitchen color). And I've always loved cherry motifs. It was only a matter of time before these ideas took physical form -- and a matter of, well, more time before I charted and test knit the pattern.

The Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy is a quick knit -- you don't have to work the chart on the back. In fact, you could skip the intarsia altogether, and embroider the cherries, stems, and leaves in duplicate stitch. How you approach the colorwork is up to you. Remember, knitting is fun, right?

Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy on 4-cup teapot

I'll be finalizing this pattern over the weekend, and will post it for sale on Ravelry in the next few days. You can purchase it directly from me (

Just in time for that piping-hot, freshly brewed cup of relaxation we often crave during the holiday season. Or perhaps for gift-giving, for a very special person -- the kind you'd drink tea with while chatting about this and that.

Meanwhile, happy knitting and baking and shopping and merry-making and, well, you know...


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy (a new pattern & preliminary photos)

Finally! A tea cozy cute enough to display on your tea pot year-round...

Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy, drying after a very light fulling

My favorite kitchen designs come from Scandinavia, which often feature ruby red, snowy white, and robin's egg blue. I also happen to like cherries -- always have.

So when we moved into our cottage with its pale aqua-blue walls, there was only one thing to do: Hunt down yards of retro cherry fabric, a perfect-red throw rug, a bunch of yarn (of course!) and get creative.

The result (well, one of them), you see before you... A lovely tea cozy with a draw-string top, juicy intarsia cherries, and chocolate-brown trim. Makes me hungry just thinking about it!

Another view of Cheery Cherry Tea Cozy, sans tripod

Cheery Cherry comes in two sizes to fit classic tea pots. The sample above was made with Ella Rae Classic Wool in light blue and dark brown, a few yards of red and green from my stash, and US#7/4.5 mm circular needles.

The intarsia pattern is straightforward, and you have the choice of knitting cherries on both sides, or only on the front. You could also work the cherry chart on one side and a stranded or embroidered pattern on the other. The options are limited only by your imagination.

Want some Cheery Cherries of your own? The pattern will be available for purchase and immediate download on Ravelry no later than Wednesday, 2 December.

Just in time for last-minute holiday gift knitting (yes, it's that quick and easy).

Meanwhile, to my US (and expat) readers, and to everyone else who celebrates tomorrow's holiday: I wish you and yours a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day. May it include some quiet time for relaxing with your knitting, crochet, or other artistic endeavor. Enjoy!

(BTW: Sorry for the poor photo quality...I can't find my tripod, and my camera is having issues dealing with reds. I'll post some better photos when the cozy is dry and I can put it on my tea pot.)


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knitting is Fun...Right?

I meet many knitters--usually, though not limited to, advanced beginners--who become frantic about real or imagined mistakes. They rush up, breathless and anxious, saying they "don't know how to fix it," they "don't know how to 'go back'," or even that they "think it's ruined" ("it" being their projects).

More often than not, the real problem knitters face is their agitation, which prevents them from really seeing what's going on and how best to address it. Honestly. Once a knitter progresses past the ultra-beginner stage, he or she possesses the power to diagnose and fix 90 percent (or more) of mistakes.

Prescriptions for fixing an error include:

  • Un-knitting one stitch at a time (AKA: "tinking"--tink is knit spelled backwards)
  • Ripping back many rows (AKA: "frogging"--because "rip it" sounds like a frog: ribbit, ribbit...), then putting the stitches back on the needles without twisting them
  • Looking for suggestions and knit-fixes on the Internet
  • Finishing the project and then go back with yarn and tapestry needle to close a hole or gap
  • Learning to "be Zen" about mistakes, to renounce perfectionism and live with small errors
My very first--and imperfect--wheel-spun skein (circa 2006-07)

Whatever the fix, it's important to slow down. Take a deep breath. And another and another, until you calm down. Maybe put your project down for a day or two and come back to it.

Do what you need to do to alleviate anxiety. For only then will you be able to: (a) really see the alleged "problem" and (b) identify how you want to fix it (or not).

And that's my tip -- one of the best I have to offer: Relax. Breathe. Knitting is fun!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Toesicles: A new (unisex) sock pattern!

Luxurious. Toasty. Sexy. Well, that last one depends on your point of view.

But, hey! These socks are perfect for holiday gifts... They knit up quickly, look impressive, and fit frosty feet of the female and male varieties!

And I'll bet, if you ask my husband, he'll say warm toes are sexy any day of the year. (Since the alternative tends to be my warming them on him.)

The pattern is new -- I just posted it on Ravelry today, so pop on over and pick up a PDF of your very own. You know you want to...

Not a Ravelry member? That's OK -- you can use PayPal. Drop me a line at, send your $5, and I'll gladly send you a PDF.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Lace Knitting Tutorial

Kristi (from Shalimar Yarns) and I put together a lace tutorial for her blog this week. She snapped some awesome pictures, and I helped craft some clear (we hope!) instructions for basic lace knitting.

Here's a sample (using Zoe Sock in Blue Raspberry):

K2tog tbl (an alternative to SSK): This is a left-leaning decrease. Insert your right needle tip into the first two stitches on the left needle from right to left (back to front)...

... and knit them together.

To read the rest of the Lace Tutorial, just head on over to Shalimar Yarns' blog. Enjoy!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kamille Socks: New pattern, new photos

Photo courtesy of Shalimar Yarns

Here's a photo of Kamille, which debuted at Sock Summit. This sock was knitted up in Shalimar's Zoe Sock, in the Damson colorway. Another, in Saffron, is being knit even as I type, so I'll have a new picture for you soon.

By the way, Kamille is spelled with a K because it's a Norwegian word, meaning Chamomile.

I also have some lovely new photos of my Villette socks:

Kristi from Shalimar Yarns modeled the sock, while I snapped pix using her wonderful camera (it makes every picture look good).

Here's a close-up of the heel flap detail.

Both patterns are available from Shalimar. For more information or to order, just e-mail

Happy knitting!


Friday, September 04, 2009

On my way home...

Hello, friends,

I've been away for a while, visiting family on the other side of the continent. Time goes so quickly when you spend it with those you love. It will be hard to say goodbye.


I also have the most wonderful husband in the Universe, and cannot wait to be back in his arms, to give him a big hug and kiss. Smooch.

So hold tight and be patient. I promise I'll return to my blogging soon -- and even have some brand new patterns to show you! (There's nothing like travel to clear your creative channels.)

Meanwhile: Happy knitting!

BTW: I was just reminded of this story -- about rescued chickens needing, and getting, sweaters -- please check it out. It's a beautiful thing.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coco, Carinish, and Charley

There are people who have money and people who are rich.
– Coco Chanel

(Watch for Carinish, available from Three Irish Girls this fall!)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's your pleasure? - Studying the Top 10 knitting patterns

Classic Elite Yarns Alpaca Sox

Mulling over new design ideas, I've lately found myself thinking about existing knitting patterns: Socks, mittens & gloves, scarves & shawls, sweaters, hats... I'm also wondering what knitters (and crocheters) want more of, and what gives them that "been there, done that" feeling.

These days, one can hardly think about knitting patterns without heading straight for Ravelry. After all, it's ubiquitous, a gathering place for patterns new and old. And its pattern database is so wonderfully "searchable".

So I searched.
Harrisville Designs' New England Shetland

I searched all knitting patterns in Ravelry's database (Aug. 20, 2009), filtering out those rated less than four stars (out of five). The results? Telling, though not surprising. The following patterns comprise the Top 10:
  1. Fetching (fingerless gloves by Cheryl Niamath)
  2. Monkey (socks by Cookie A.)
  3. Baby Surprise Jacket (by Elizabeth Zimmermann, available from Schoolhouse Press)
  4. Calorimetry (headband/ear warmer by Kathryn Schoendorf)
  5. Clapotis (shawl/scarf by Kate Gilbert)
  6. February Lady Sweater (by Pamela Wynne, based on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s classic “Baby Sweater on Two Needles,” from Knitter’s Almanac)
  7. Saartje's Bootees (baby bootees by Saartje de Bruijn)
  8. Noro Striped Scarf (not designed by Jared Flood; he claims only to have written up how he made his lovely 1 x 1 ribbed scarf)
  9. Ballband Dishcloth (from ball bands on Pigsah Yarn & Dyeing Co.'s "Peaches & Creme" yarn)
  10. Swallowtail Shawl (links to page with PDF download of this beautiful design by Evelyn Clark)
Surprised? I'll admit I was, a bit...

Zephyr Laceweight Wool-Silk

I guess I was expecting a more homogenous result, one showing mostly socks and fingerless gloves, for example. Perhaps with a few lacy knits and sweaters mixed in. Mais, non! What a lovely surprise!

For the Top 10 list includes an intriguing blend of patterns for adults and babies, laces and solids, new and old designs. Most are relatively simple, straightforward knits, proving that a design doesn't have to be complicated to be chic.

And I'm thrilled to see that these are primarily classic designs -- devoid of tricks and fads -- that will last a lifetime (with good care and a wise yarn choice, of course). By classic, I don't mean to exclude the newer designs, like Clapotis, Monkey, or Fetching. Rather, these are new interpretations of generations-old patterns, garments worn by our ancestors to stay warm in cold, drafty houses.

These new interpretations, though, were created with a nod to history -- useful, yet romantic, fingerless gloves, and a scarf inspired by those famously flaunted by Parisian women, for example.

Peach Blossom Scarf ... on a non-Parisian woman.

Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury. -- Coco Chanel

Where is all of this leading? Well, I'm not entirely sure. For me, it's reassuring to see proof that classic designs are ever in vogue, as they're what I enjoy wearing and designing. How this information will affect my upcoming creations, well, we'll have to see...

But I want to know: How about you?
What do you enjoy knitting, wearing, giving, and receiving as gifts?
What turns your head when you see someone wearing a hand-knit on the street?
What would you like more of in knitting patterns?
What designs/techniques are you tired of?

Something to think about... Feel free to PM me on Ravelry or just leave a comment here with your answers. Because while I know how I feel -- I'd love to know more about you!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

In the "dog" days of summer...

Some of us sack out on the nearest horizontal space...

Often while trying to catch a little breeze.

Others, meanwhile...

...must venture forth into the heat to satisfy a little mouse craving -- you know how it goes, right? Just like running out to 7-11 at 10 p.m. when you just have to have ice cream ;-)

(BTW: I stepped out the door with a basket of laundry -- our machines are in an attached shed -- and found myself face to face with Blackie [the aptly-named Black Rat Snake]... So, like any normal person, I apologized for scaring her/him, went back inside, and snapped this picture. I love rural living!)

And me -- on the sultriest of days, I like to...

Well, what did you expect?


Monday, July 27, 2009

Villette Fingerless Gloves: A new pattern (Also: A Noro Vienna Shrug)

My newest pattern--well, actually, a couple of new patterns--will debut at Sock Summit, at the Shalimar Yarns booth: The Villette Fingerless Gloves are today's pattern-of-the-day...

Sweet and just a bit nostalgic, these little gloves are just the right weight for autumn and spring. They're also the perfect size to wear in a chilly office (I've worked in places where the A/C was so cold I couldn't even type!) or in a drafty, older home. The Villette Fingerless Gloves were a natural extension of my Villette Socks pattern (which will also be available at Sock Summit).

The gloves begin with a knotted picot cast on, which incorporates a "nupp-like" stitch, then flow into the simple-yet-effortlessly-lovely Villette Lace. Yarn-over increases shape the thumb gusset, mirroring the openwork pattern. The result is a delicate floral scallop at the wrist, and a stretchy lace fabric that moves with your hand.

Charley says: These Villette Fingerless Gloves are the cat's meow!

Certainly, you could do a picot bind off, too, but I chose instead to use a pretty twisted rib, which won't get in the way of busy fingers. You can customize the Villette Fingerless Gloves so easily: make the arms longer, incorporate beads into the cast on edge...these possibilities are just part of the pattern's charm.

To see the Villette gloves--as well as my other sock-yarn-based patterns--head on over to the Shalimar Yarns booth at Sock Summit.

A Silk Garden shrug, Vienna-style
You remember Vienna, right? Here's a little reminder, modeled by the lovely Kristi...

On the past two Sundays, I've led a workshop (one of Eleganza Yarns' Sunday Sojourns) based on my Vienna Shrug pattern. Kristi loves this lacy little piece of knitting (which I made sure to offer in a wide range of sizes!), and writes on her blog:
This is possibly the most perfect shrug...Totally customizable for any season, the Vienna Shrug is a great entrée into lace knitting, picking up stitches, provisional cast on, and seaming. Besides being lovely, the Vienna Shrug doesn't use much yarn...

Customize the Vienna Shrug by increasing the ribbing to cover more ribcage and produce a lovely foldover collar. Currently a three-season shrug, the ribbing on the three-quarter length sleeves can be extended to the wrist, making a wonderfully cozy garment for chilly midwinter days.

Having already knit a sample in the luscious Damson color (above), I decided to see what magic would result from combining Noro Silk Garden with this simple side-to-side garment. Here's a peek at my project, which I hope to finish in time for my trip to Sacramento later this month:

I do think it's going to be a very pretty little sweater. Not that I'll need one in the 100+ degree weather with which Sac is blessed this time of year. But airplanes and restaurants are always chilly, so I think I'll be glad of a silky little shoulder warmer.

Coming up, I have a new sock pattern to show you, named Kamille (Norwegian for Chamomile). It's chock-a-block with twisted stitches that loop their way from tip to toe. And it's ready just in time for Sock Summit!

I'll also have a bit of yarn porn for you. We all love looking at other people's stashes, right? So c'mon back and check it out later this week. Till then: Happy knitting!

Do plan to spend some time at the Shalimar booth if you're heading to the big gathering in Portland, Oreg. Kristi and Paul will have a slew of gorgeous yarn, some sock-needle-sized "Needle Bangles" (stitch markers, mady by moi, for this special occasion), and other great items.

Not going to Sock Summit? (Neither am I, sadly...) That's OK! You can also purchase my patterns directly from Shalimar Yarns at:


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Exciting news & a free beaded knitting tutorial

Clover Honey Shawlette (Photo: Kristi Johnson)

I've got two surprises today...

First: My Clover Honey Shawlette pattern will appear in the next One Skein Wonders book from Storey Publishing. I love the One-Skein Wonders books (101 One-Skein Wonders, 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders, and Luxury Yarn One-Skein Wonders, all edited by Judith Durant). They're fun to browse, and the patterns are enticing.

The new book will focus on sock yarns. Mmm...I love knitting with fine yarn.

Photo: Kristi Johnson

Next up: A special beading tutorial. It's free, and available here.

This tutorial outlines, in detail, the beaded bind-off technique used in the Clover Honey Shawlette pattern. It's easy and you don't have to run out and buy special equipment -- you likely already have all you need. Just add yarn and beads and you're ready to go!

Adding beads to your knitting can spice it up and lend a lovely finishing touch your FOs. So give it a try and enjoy yourself -- whether you decide to be subtle or all-out-glamorous...

Happy knitting!

For more information about purchasing the Clover Honey Shawlette pattern, contact:


Monday, July 06, 2009

Knit It Together: A Book Review

I'd like to take a few moments to tell you about a lovely new book: Knit it Together: Patterns and Inspiration for Knitting Circles, by Suzyn Jackson.

This book could not have entered my life at a more opportune time. During the past several weeks, my life was more chaotic than usual -- not the typical crazy-day chaos, but that dire, nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing stuff. You probably know what I mean.

In the midst of this nonsense, however, a little whisper of sanity beckoned: "Pick up your needles and knit for a while...You'll feel better..." You know, when I finally sat down for a few hours with my EZ Pi Shawl, I did feel better; and that good, calm mood lasted the rest of the day.

Thus, I was reminded (again) how important my knitting is to me, what it brings to my life: the peacefulness, the self-expression, the community, the meditative, healing, joyous, artistic, blissful THING that is knitting (and crochet, and quilting, embroidery, or whatever floats your boat).

That feeling--and, specifically, sharing it with others--is what Knit It Together is about.

New Skills Blanket, the perfect group project, designed by Suzyn Jackson

The Concept

Knit It Together
, according to Jackson, is "an anthology of essays, stories, tips, and knitting patterns, celebrating the awesomeness of knitting in groups." Yet, when you just can't break away from home or work to hang out with your fiber-cronies, the companionship this lovely book offers can feel comforting as a knitting circle.

Jackson writes:
I set out to assemble this book using the widest possible definition of a knitting circle: more than one knitter, period. I also started with an idea for collaborative knitting projects, projects specifically designed to be knit by a group. Like any good knitting circle, I welcomed a wide range of people.

I like to think of the result as my knitting circle: a collection of writers and designers who have thought deeply about how a community of knitters can bridge divides, spread goodwill, and strengthen us all.
Created specially for knitters involved in (or who want to start) a knitting group, who enjoy knitting for charity, or who simply enjoy knitting straightforward patterns for themselves and others, Knit It Together, like a good restaurant menu, includes something for just about everyone.

The Projects

Want projects? You'll find some very cute ideas in Knit It Together. Here are some of my favorites...

Harlequin Purse, designed by Suzyn Jackson

Learning new skills is an integral part of
Knit It Together. Jackson begins with a fun little handbag (or knitting bag!) designed to offer a gentle challenge to those who haven't yet tried knitting Entrelac (an intriguing method of building an object by picking up stitches to work rows of little squares--or rectangles, or diamonds...).
What do you need to take on a challenge? Some people need a supportive environment with plenty of help along the way, while others thrive on competition. If several people take on this entrelac purse, you’ll get plenty of both types of encouragement. It’s a purse party!
Myself, I'm thinking of knitting this little bag out of Noro Kuryeon, reminiscent of the beloved Lady Eleanor Shawl from Scarf Style: Innovative to Traditional, 31 Inspirational Styles to Knit and Crochet (Style series). With a fun lining incorporating a few pockets, it would make a wonderful project bag. Or, if I added a stronger strap, it might even hold all the "stuff" I carry with me on an average day.
Double Knit Catnip Pillows, designed by Kristin Spurkland

Kristin Spurkland's pattern for these sweet little catnip sachets (AKA: objects that must be bitten, licked, and torn apart with tooth and claw) are lovely compensation for the feline muses who inspire so many knitters. In her introduction to the project, Jackson writes:
Double knitting looks like flat knitting and is just as easy, but when you remove the knitting needles from the work, the knitting magically opens into a little knitted bag! Fill with batting and some catnip (or potpourri if the pillow is for people), add a French knot, graft the pillow closed, and you’re done.
Couldn't be easier, right? And the results are charming. No kitty muse at your house? Why not make a few, fill them with lavender or dried roses, and wrap them up as bridal shower favors? Already, ideas are sparking and I'm feeling inspired to play with yarn.

Stripes and Spots Toy, designed by Suzyn Jackson

Speaking of play, check out this absolutely adorable baby toy--I love it! But behind its oh-so-cute exterior lurks intelligence and childhood development research. According to Jackson...
Newborn babies can’t see very well. Not only do they need to learn to use the muscles that control their eye movements and focus, but they also have to build the connections in their brain that help them understand what they are seeing. Visual stimulation is crucial for this process, and high-contrast patterns provide the strongest stimulation. This is the idea behind this little toy. That, and the fact that I love a gender-neutral baby gift that isn’t green or yellow!...This toy has a different stimulating black-and-white pattern on each side.

But Wait--There's More (A Lot More!)
An experienced knitter and writer, Jackson peppered her ultra-readable book with first-person narratives about the experience of living, learning, and creating in the midst of other knitters. Additionally, Knit It Together features several projects that would make ideal donations to charitable organizations, and includes a list of charities that accept knitted items.

From the first chapter, which offers historical background on social knitting and knitting circles, to an essay about attending the Elizabeth Zimmermann/Meg Swansen Knitting Camp, this book gives us a glimpse into the lives and passions of devoted knitters.

If you're a bit of an activist, you'll appreciate the focus on groups that aim to fight poverty with art or to use knitting as a political statement. And, in my car-and-racing-loving family, the knitted Ferari was a big hit--even my husband and father-in-law got a kick out of that one...Now, I just have to figure out how to talk them out of asking me to make one for them!

Baby Uey Diaper [or knitting] Bag, designed by Vyvyan Neel

Wrapping everything up, the sixth and final chapter offers invaluable advice about finishing techniques like blocking and seaming. Jackson urges knitters to use this book to learn new techniques together, in a setting where group members can support each other, help each other, and cheer each other on. In fact, if your knitting group made every project in Knit It Together, you'd be expert knitters by the time you reached the end of the book.

For those of us who, when we aren't knitting, love reading about knitting, this book is a delight, offering many hours of happy page-flipping. And if you're searching for the perfect group project -- or something new to make on your own -- you'll probably find it here. In fact, this book may be the ultimate bedtime reading for yarn junkies, promising peaceful dreams of projects and possibilities.

Vital Stats
Knit it Together: Patterns and Inspiration for Knitting Circles
Suzyn Jackson, editor
Paperback: 144 pgs (10.9 x 8.4 x 0.5 ins; 1.3 lbs)
Publisher: Voyageur Press (June 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0760330735

Here's a link to Knit It Together on Ravelry, where you can peruse the patterns.

And here's a link to Knit it Together on Amazon, for those unable to get to an LYS to pick up their own copy of Suzyn Jackson's very-enjoyable book.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swatch Me!

Over the past few weeks I've encountered several knitters who expressed concern about a current project. "I can't use these needles...they aren't big enough," said one. "Why does mine look different from yours," asked another, while the third simply stated, "I don't like the fabric I'm getting."

My question, to each, upon hearing their plaintive cries for help: Did you knit a gauge swatch? And what do you think they answered? Right. Not one had worked a swatch, though like good knitters they had the decency to look sheepish (surprise pun!) about it.

Lest you think I'm a judgmental b**ch, let me tell you that: (a) I'm intending a teasing tone, not a stupid-people tone here, and (b) I myself have sung the no-gauge-swatch blues on several occasions.

For instance, my Shapely Tank, a free pattern from White Lies Designs, turned out to be neither shapely nor a tank. I substituted a Rowan cotton-and-silk yarn for the one called for in the pattern -- before I understood the characteristics of different fibers -- and ended up with a baggy tunic destined for unraveling.

Had I swatched AND washed AND blocked AND hung my swatch up overnight to test the effects of gravity on the fabric, I might still be wearing that top, my first-ever "sweater."

Now that I've been designing for a while, I know the importance -- the complete and total necessity -- of swatching. When I work up a design, I make a swatch, including washing and blocking it; then I base my final pattern numbers on the gauge measured from that little piece-o-knit. So I want knitters to swatch before making one of my designs, because if they don't, they're likely to be unhappy with the results.

My love of the swatch has carried over into my personal knitting life, as well. Recently, for example, I spent a goodly amount of money on some gorgeous Classic Elite "Soft Linen" and a Dolce Handknits pattern for a cute summer cardigan.

I know my gauge when working with DK-weight yarns, and wanted to jump right in and start knitting. But the yarn wasn't cheap (to me, anyway) and I knew I'd be sick if I did all that knitting and found the sweater didn't fit.

So I worked up a 6 x 6" gauge swatch, washed, and blocked it. Then I hung it from a curtain-top with a couple of clothespins to see if it stretched. After all that, when I cast on, I felt pretty sure that I'd end up with the perfect, crisp, summer sweater to chase the icy chill of even the frostiest air conditioning.

Now, I know there are many, many knitters who just can't be persuaded to knit gauge swatches. Maybe they're just too excited to spend the extra time, or (my favorite excuse) they'll say, "I always knit to gauge." But whose gauge do they knit to? The truth is: There is no set-in-stone, universal gauge. Honestly.

Every designer -- every single knitter -- knits to his or her own gauge, depending on yarn weight, fiber type, stitch pattern, needle size, needle material (bamboo, metal, cassein?), and even the enthusiasm with which they block their garments. Some people stretch the hell out of their sweaters and pin them, while others just pat them into shape.

So next time you consider casting on a new project -- unless you've knit it before with the same yarn OR you know from dozens of pairs of socks that 64 sts on a 1.5mm needle always fits you OR you're making a scarf or other non-size-dependent item -- please consider knitting and "dressing" a gauge swatch.

Make it fun. Have a little swatching party with some friends or just put your favorite movie on the telly and crack open your tastiest treats. Hold the booze, though, at least until you've finished knitting the swatch.

Because as lovely as it may be, a wine-induced glow is bound to increase your risk of knitting at an ultra-relaxed gauge. Once you've bound off, though, pop those corks. And while you're at it, raise a glass to the oft-maligned gauge swatch, won't you?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Feelin' a little snakey today...

Every morning I get up and, first thing, open all of the curtains and blinds. I love the outdoors, and we're fortunate to have a house with so many windows...Today, though, I was greeted by a little friend peeking out of the corner of our porch roof:

Hi, there! Thought I'd pop out for a visit.

Then he decided to come on out, probably looking for a patch of sunshine after all the gloomy, chilly rain we've had. I grabbed my Olympus and was soon frustrated with (a) my dirty windows, and (b) the camera's limitations and uncharged battery.

Still, it was fun to see how long he was when he stretched out:

See his body over on the right side, and his head just barely peeking out on the left?

My annoyance at said battery mounted when he decided to go for a stroll -- or, rather, a slither. Yep. The damn thing died. Right then and there. And I missed what may be the best snake shots I'll ever have the opportunity to nab. Still, I can try to describe in words the graceful beauty of this 5.5-foot Black Snake coiling down the hanging plant on the left.

First, he wrapped langourously around the hanger, before lowering himself to the porch railing. At that time, his tail was still up at the top of the planter, and his head was halfway down the railing. Amazingly athletic and balletic.

Slowly he swirled, round and round, curling himself down to the ground, then heading off through our various recycling/trash bins, in the direction of the little building we call "the shed," though it could make a very cute, very small cottage.

See y'all later!

Last year I pulled a big ole snake skin -- moulted -- out of the same area under the porch eaves. So I figure he must have his headquarters in our laundry room's eaves somewhere. Good thing I'm not scared of snakes, though my husband probably won't want to wash the clothes for a while...

Oh, well. Such is life in the country. And there is an upshot to all this: Between Blackie (as I christened him last year) and Charley, the great orange hunter, I doubt we'll have any mice in the house this summer!

PS. My Internet is still patchy at home, so please bear with me a little longer...