Category Archives: knitting

A Very Special Shawl

As part of some work I was commissioned by my mom for Christmas gifts, I was asked to do some socks for a particular friend of the family.  This was one of the family friends that I have very fond memories of growing up, so I knew I wanted to not just do socks, but special socks.  After presenting some options to my mom, she picked out a pattern and the yarns, and I sat down to work.

Only, it didn’t.  There was an issue with the pattern that I had problems resolving.  So I adapted it, but there were additional issues with the yarn.  Though the same brand and type of sock yarn, one of the yarns was just enough thinner to create a problem in the color work.  So I adapted again and started over.  Again.  And again.  It just didn’t seem to work.  Rather, it worked, but I wasn’t happy with it for some reason.  Usually I’ll get to a point when starting socks where I say “yup, this is right”.  It didn’t happen.  I kept having doubts, including about the fit.  The whole project just didn’t feel right.  I pondered it and consulted with my mom, and we agreed to change the product to a shawl, design to be my choosing.

A shawl or capelet would need less shaping, and be free of some of the other problems I became concerned with about the socks.  So I started looking through my stitch books, and quickly made some decisions on how to start.  I knew I wanted top down, and I knew I wanted circle, like the mandalas she was so fond of, but open in the front for ease of wear.

I decided I wanted to start with the blue I had.  And turtles.



The lighting where this picture was taken makes this appear more purple than it is.  I had to do some adapting because I wanted the turtles facing up, and I was knitting top down.  So I had to start knitting from the head, rather than the tail like the stitch pattern I had.  I also knew that I wanted to do most of my increases by the end of this section.

I also had a red, and had seen a green I thought would go with them nicely.  I knew that just the blue and red would not be enough if I was doing a solid pattern, rather than lace.  I wanted hearts, and I wanted trees.  I decided to do the hearts first.  Some pointing up, some pointing down.





As I was finishing this up, I realized I was running out of yarn, but I also liked the idea of the hearts going into the green, and the trees, which I knew this friend loved.




apple tree

apple tree


The green panel I knew I wanted to be mirrored more or less from one side to the other, so I reversed the order of the trees.  This gave me an additional problem of a set of stitches in the center back, and what to do with them.  I combined a couple of stitch patterns and came up with this.

center panel

center panel


As I was knitting the tree panel, I realized it wasn’t going to be quite as long as I thought it should be, so I went in search of another yarn, thinking that purple would be a good thing to go it.  I did not find a solid at my local yarn shop, but I did find a variegated that tied the other colors together.  I decided that I wanted a slightly lacy pattern for the bottom panel, but then realized that I wanted the trees to have roots, so I threw some of those in.






I liked a “flame” lace pattern, that could also be reversed for a different look, and that’s what I finished with.




All together:




One of the things that happens when knitting for other people is sometimes you’re never really sure what the person thinks about it.  I thought that this friend would like the creation, and my mother also thought she would really like it.  A couple of days ago I got a really lovely letter saying that she’s worn it almost constantly since she got it, and how much she really loves it.  One thing that I did not know, was how much she loves turtles, it simply seemed right when I made that first decision.  I hadn’t been thinking about her home town Sacred Heart when I decided on the hearts either.

It came together in what seemed a haphazard way, but ended up being just ideal!



Ravellenic Games challenge – Two At A Time socks!

Well, the Games are over, both the Olympic and the Ravellenic, so I’m no longer knitting like a maniac.  I decided to challenge myself, do two pairs of socks during, and try two-at-a-time socks for the first time.

I normally knit my socks on two circular needles, and while you can do two at a time on one circular, I decided against that.  They can also be done on double-pointed needles, and as I understand it, every other stitch is a separate sock; so stitch one is sock one, stitch two is sock two, stitch three is sock one again and so on.  When you’re done, you merely pull one finished sock out of the other!  Of course if you mess up *one* stitch, you have two socks bound together.  I had also heard it said that it is helpful to do socks of different colors, so there’s additional visual cues.  This is a challenge I *might* try someday.

For the way I was doing my socks, you can separate the yarn into two separate balls, or you can knit from both the outside and the inside strand of a center pull ball/cake.  I chose to do the inside/outside method, though there’s more to pay attention to in yarn tangling.  It’s easier to use the same amount of yarn and just keep knitting than trying to get equal amounts of yarn into two balls, which is totally possible, it’s just different areas of “fiddly”.

So, my start:

my start of two at a time socks


It’s a little washed out, but it’s a beautiful color called “Velvet Port”, the yarn is Dream in Color, their Smooshy yarn.  The pattern is a smocked ribbing pattern called Victorian Birdcage by Cat Bordhi in her Sweet Tomato Heel e-book collection (it appears to be for sale individually on Ravelry too).

Why would someone want to do two socks at the same time?  It’s the same amount of knitting so you don’t really get things done faster in terms of numbers of hours knitting, it might even be a smidge slower with making sure the yarn doesn’t get tangled and moments of “where am I” while doing the work.  The two biggest reasons I can think of is that you get both socks done at the same time.  Sometimes when you finish one sock, there’s an “ugh, I have to do *another* one” feeling.  I don’t often get that feeling, but have.  Some folks get that feeling a lot.  It’s “done” so time to move on!  By doing two at once when you finish the first sock, you’re also finishing the second, so the pair feels more like one project than two.  The other big reason is yarn usage.  Most skeins of sock yarn today have plenty of yardage, no need to worry about running out doing a pair.  But if you’re doing long socks, or a pattern that takes up a lot of yarn, or are just “knitting until satisfied with length” there can be some anxiety about having enough yarn, or getting the sock legs the same length, that kind of thing.  By doing both at once, you’re on the same row on both socks at the same time.  So the length will be the same, the amount of yarn used will be the same (as long as you’re doing the same pattern on both socks), and you can use up the yarn without wondering how much you have to leave for the second sock.

I finished my first pair in a week.  It didn’t take me long to get the hang of what I was doing, or to start giving myself nerve damage in my left index finger.  A band-aid was sufficient padding that I could continue and not hurt myself (injuries while doing “sedate” crafts is a *whole* other subject!).

For my second pair I decided to just wing it (not the best idea it turned out) and try Cat’s padded Sweet Tomato Heel, which uses a slip every other stitch method to create a cushier heel.

The heel is started there, but you can’t see it very well, you can see the rope twist I was doing for the front decoration.  And yes, that’s a twist tie.  A trick if you find you get gaps is to place a stitch on a holder of some type (I used safety pins, couldn’t find a fourth for some reason so used the tie) and leave it until you’re done with the heel.  Then work it up and put in place on your needles to continue knitting.

These also took me a week, even though I had to rip out part of it and add more stitches.  I would have been better off picking a pattern and following it, but ultimately the socks were wearable, and so “count” for the challenge:

Both socks for the challenge


Photographing socks on your own feet is difficult, I’ve had some success using my tripod, but didn’t turn out this time.  I’m happy with them especially the smocked ribbing (smocking is the carrying yarn in front to make a pattern).

Since I completed the challenge I set for myself I got “medals”:

The winter Games are coming, I’ll be participating again I believe!


To Block or not Block…

Often a question knitters ask!  The finishing of a project – putting parts together, weaving in ends, and blocking the item into shape is something that many, though not all, people see as a chore.

What is blocking?  Basically it’s taking your item and wetting or merely dampening it, then placing it in shape to dry.  Washing your item after you get all the ends worked in and such is a good idea anyway, it’s probably not as clean as you might think, and doing the washing and shaping will make the item look nicer much of the time.  For sweaters (which I have yet to knit) with parts, blocking the parts before putting it together can help with that step, with everything in the shape and size it should be.  But what most people envision as “blocking” is taking an item and stretching it out and pinning it.  With lace… this is necessary to have a nice looking final product.

Lace is in many ways magical.  It does strange things while you’re knitting it, and most of the time it simply looks like a mess, or at the very least, unimpressive.  This is a small shawl I knit recently:

Quilla shawl unblocked

unblocked Quilla shawl

Okay, not the best picture but you can clearly see how the edges are curled up, and it doesn’t really look like much.

So I blocked it.  I had forgotten how much I really dislike blocking lace.  I don’t have a great place to do it, and it hurts my back (again probably because I don’t have a great place to do the deed), which is a fair part of the dislike.  I’m pondering changes so it’s not such problem for me.  Anyway, I pinned it outstretched, then dampened it and let it dry.  The result:

blocked quilla shawl

Closer view of Quilla

I was neglectful in that second one and some of the tips are folded under, but you can better see the lace definition.  These are actually fairly poor pictures of this pattern, which is Quilla by Susanna IC, available at Windy Valley Muskox.  There are much better pictures of the pattern there, I used a lighter yarn, and did not do the beading.  It’s a fun and easy little shawl to do!

So… to block or not block?  Most items (other than dishrags and such)? Block.  Non-lace items can merely be put into shape without pinning probably.  Lace of course needs the blocking to really show itself.  My biggest suggestion?  If you yourself don’t like blocking, ask at your local yarn shop (should you have one or more of those) if they offer that service.  Some do offer finishing services for a fee.  Or involve friends in your fibery endeavors and see if there’s someone who enjoys the process!



Cocoon to Scarf

Last year at the 2011 Shepherd’s Harvest Festival I picked up some silk cocoons to see how I felt about processing them.  I actually kind of enjoyed it, and mentioned what I was doing to a relative, who asked me to make a scarf, starting with the cocoons.  I did not document the entire process terribly well, but here is what I have!

I got cocoons with the stifled “worm” inside, and just barely simmered in a solution of water, Orvus paste, and washing soda to remove the “gum”, or sericin, that holds it together.  Cocoons in the pot, you can see darker brown showing through, that’s the pupae inside:

Then I rinsed them.  You can see more “bug” now.

Doing it this way makes a bit more of a mess than taking each cocoon out of the pot and spreading open before rinsing, but this made it easier for me to handle.  In the picture above you can see cocoons in various states of falling apart (it’s also easier if you take the cocoons out before that point, but I’m early in the learning curve).  Pupa:

With spread cocoon:


It was interesting to see the different stages they were at, some were just “blobs” of various sizes others had little nubs left of (or developing into) legs.  To get really nice mawata, or hankies, a frame is used.  I just spread them out by hand, stacking one on top of another, then letting dry.

When ready to spin, I then pulled off a single cocoon and pulled it out further, then spun, mixing in shredded mylar film in silver for the accent to this yarn. Two bobbins of singles were spun, then they were plied together.

I then wound off the plies into a ball for knitting!

The above was a test knit, the finished scarf was somewhat narrower.  I did a second batch to get some more length, too.  The sparkly stuff gets everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  Not crazy about using it again!  The scarf needed to tie in with a silk coat, which had stripes of silver in it, and so doing this was easier than trying to dye the silk to match, especially match something I did not have in front of me.  I got better at the method of spreading them out as time went on and probably eventually I’ll get or make a frame.  I did have some pictures of the finished scarf, but I was even more unsatisfied with them than the above photo so I didn’t include one.   I’ll include one later!

Ready to be Warm All Winter!

Warning – the writing in this post may be sub-par.  Having a lot of difficulties with cognitive function today it seems, but I’ve put this off long enough.

Winter is on it’s way, though we’ve been giving a small reprieve for the last few days.  In between the things that have been commissioned I took a few days to do something for myself for cold weather.

Warm All Winter hooded cowl

This is Cat Bordhi’s Warm All Winter hooded cowl, made with Angel’s Kiss bulky yarn, 60% alpaca, 40% merino wool.  Angel’s Kiss is a Wisconsin company that uses 100% US Alpaca, spins the yarn in the US,  and only sells through stores. While I’m not at all against spending money on things non-local, even non-US, I like options that will support smaller scale producers in the area!  This yarn has a wonderful feel to it, and the hooded cowl was easy to work up.   When Yarnology in Winona, MN posted that it was going on sale I immediately thought that it might be perfect for this!  At the shop, once handled, it was going into my stash regardless.

The bottom part around the face can be pulled down and the hood pushed back.  While I managed to figure out the timer on my camera again, I was not particularly photogenic, so how it can be worn is best shown by going to see the pattern on Cat’s site!

I also used a cable needle-less cabling technique that I’ve seen a few places, but this last time sat down and worked with it using the tutorial from Grumperina.  Even though I’m still practicing, it’s certainly not any slower than moving stitches to a separate needle and moving them around.

The opening for the face is actually made by cutting and unravelling one partial row of yarn after the rest is done.  As you knit the rows where that happens, lifelines are put in, then when ready the needle(s) go back and *gasp* a small snip is made.  It was my first time doing this (I also have not done “regular” steeking) and so was a little traumatic, but worked out just like it was supposed to!  The ball of yarn is then reattached as normal and knitting proceeds!  The video tutorial (link included in the pattern) was a great help, and with a little more practice I will be able to cut my knitting – intentionally – with confidence.

Sweet Tomato and Minnesota Moonlight

I finished a new pair of socks for myself.  Cat Bordhi created a new way to do heels and published it in her e-book Sweet Tomato Heel Socks (patterns are also available individually).  I’ve been excited to try this method but had other things to do first.  I love this heel!  It’s easy and forgiving!  I knit toe up, but it can be done either direction.  There’s very little fussing with set up, and once you figure out what you’re doing, it’s so easy!  It’s best done when the foot the sock will be on is available however, so I will likely do other methods when knitting for other people whose feet I do not have in front of me.

I also learned a new bind off that I love.  It’s stretchy, but knitted, not sewn, called Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off.

I need better pictures.  But…

Minnesota Moonlight sock

The yarn used is Regia Blitz, which is designed to be self-striping in zigzags, provided the right conditions.  I got a little zig zagging, but like the broken up effect too.


One of the great things about the book, and Cat is there are a lot of links to helpful video tutorials.  It is fantastically inspiring!

I’ll need to get better pictures, but wanted to get something up.

Another thing I’m enjoying about the e-book is that she’s releasing it in installments, so it’s a purchase that not only keeps on giving, but getting something new periodically!