Colorwork leaving you stranded?

Stranded colorwork was one of the first knitting classes I taught, and to this day, it remains one of the most requested at the shop.  I suspect the reason for this popularity is that colorwork intimidates a lot of knitters: getting gauge, maintaining even tension, not dropping (or accidentally creating) stitches — these are complicated enough with one strand of yarn! 

The good news is, there are a ton of resources for knitters looking to dive into the addicting world that is stranded colorwork. Because I am so often recommending these resources by scribbling them on pieces of paper at the shop, or around town, or on an airplane, I thought I would compile some of my favorites here.

my favorite colorwork resources:

1. Color Theory with Jared Flood (part I and part II)
This is a two-part series from Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed that I think is essential reading for the colorwork curious. The NUMBER ONE problem I see with colorwork is poor color choice, which is such a shame because it is such an easy fix! 

2. Color Dominance with Ysolda
I am a big fan of this post in part because the visuals are great — Ysolda explains color dominance beautifully and then demonstrates it through two versions of the same striking swatch.

3. Fair Isle/stranded colorwork with Julie Williams
I confess: my first ever colorwork was on a bunny dress in a Julie Williams design — and I never turned back! The first half of this post includes another good explanation of color dominance, but I think the real value is in the second half of the post, where she shows you, step-by-step, how to catch up floats on the back of your work.

some tips for getting started:

1. Place the two balls of yarn on opposite sides of your knitting.

Color dominance (see links above) is critical for achieving clean, even motifs in stranded colorwork. Placing your balls of yarn on the opposite sides of your knitting (usually dominant color on the left, non-dominant on the right) will help you notice more quickly when you accidentally switch your dominant and non-dominant yarns, because you will see the yarns twist around each other. I usually tell students that the twist is not a problem if it happens every so often — just untwist the strands manually by moving the balls of yarn. But if it is happening regularly, it's likely that you are not maintaining consistent color dominance, and it's probably a good idea to revisit the resources listed above (or sign up for class!).

The underlying point here is: when colorwork is done right, the strands coming from the two balls of yarn should NEVER twist.

As a side note: there are some awesome knitting accessories available to help you in the endeavor to keep your yarns separated. I love a good yarn bowl — I would love a matching set even more! And recently I've heard great things about yarn holder lazy susans. For travel, something like the Walker yarn caddies are awesome, although I've had just as much luck by putting my two balls of yarn in separate plastic baggies and drawing the yarn through a tiny hole cut in the corner of each bag.

2. Pretend you are learning to knit for the first time all over again.

I suspect one of the main reasons experienced knitters become frustrated with stranded colorwork is because it makes knitting awkward at first — just like adding any new technique — and experienced knitters probably figured they were done feeling awkward. I usually encourage students to practice techniques that do not include dropping the yarn they are not using, because I think dropping the second yarn is a crutch that allows the experienced knitter to create a colorwork object while continuing to knit in the same manner as they do when using only one yarn. But it is slow — constantly dropping and picking up yarns — and in my experience, it is more likely to result in poor tension, with floats inconsistently tight and loose. It also makes it MUCH more likely that you will twist your yarns.

The better technique is one in which the knitter never drops the second color, although there are a number of different ways to do this. Susan, one of the owners at Magpie Knits, swears by two-handed colorwork (meaning she knits one color continental style, the other English), while Blair, the other owner, prefers the same method as I do, which is holding both colors together in the left hand (continental style for the #win).

The main point is: have patience and experiment! I have more colorwork students return to the shop to report they are now addicted to this style of knitting than in any of the other classes I teach. It's fun, satisfying, and truly no more difficult than single-yarn knitting once you get the hang of it.

Mesa: Colorwork inspired by home

I'm excited to introduce my first for-sale pattern this week! Mesa is a cowl inspired by the hues and shapes that compose the landscape of the American Southwest. Featuring sharp, geometric motifs against a background of subtle, variegated color, this cowl is a great beginning colorwork project, as the simple construction and repeating pattern will allow you to focus on refining your Fair Isle technique. The finished piece is double-sided and snuggly, making it especially warm and easy to wear — particularly if you splurge on a scrumptious yarn like Road to China Light for the inside color!

This cowl features two yarns that are long-time loves for me: Spincycle's Dyed in the Wool and The Fibre Company's Road to China Light. Both of these yarns achieve brilliance through synthesis — Dyed in the Wool with color mixing, Road to China Light with fiber mixing. To get you started, I've put together some kits at the Needle Lady in Charlottesville, Virginia — if you want to get your yarn from them, they will provide free shipping for orders in the US. Call the shop at 434-296-4625 and let them know you're interested in the Mesa cowl kits.

Dyed in the Wool in Huldra, Road to China Light in Topaz & Riverstone

Dyed in the Wool in Nostalgia, Road to China Light in Grey Pearl & Lapis

Dyed in the Wool in Payback, Road to China Light in Cobalt & Riverstone

Dyed in the Wool in Mississippi Masala, Road to China Light in Ruby & Riverstone

As for the pattern, it is available as a downloadable PDF through Ravelry for $6. Click here to check it out!

Gravel Hat & Convertible Mitts

This pattern started with a pompom. Several months ago, when we got these bright orange Furtalk poms in the shop, I think I said something along the lines of, “What the hell was Blair smoking when she ordered these?” (Yes, I do still have my job. #forgiveness)

Anyway, fast forward to January: while unpacking a large order of Madelinetosh, I found it — the orange pom's yarn soulmate. Tosh Pashmina in Firewood is an earthy aubergine with olive and auburn speckles, hues which complement and slightly mute the bright orange pom.

  

   

So the search began: I needed a simple sport weight hat pattern that would look like it was meant for a pommed hat, ideally one with some texture to bring out the speckles and offset any color pooling. The options were slim, as worsted weight or heavier seems to be the most popular choice for a pommed hat, perhaps because it provides the structure that keeps the pom on the top of your head. 

How to design a sport weight hat sturdy enough to support a pom — especially one as big and glorious as the orange monstrosity that was at the heart of my hat-obsession? I settled on an oversized folded rib, which effectively doubles the yarn in the lower part of the hat while leaving the upper part of the hat light enough for a bit of a slouch. I added some texture with columns of garter between the rib, which is reversible (important for the folded brim) and more interesting than plain ribbing (important to make the most of the speckled yarn).

If you have followed my blog at all, you might have learned last month about my obsession with matching knitted sets. It's a compulsion: when I knit a hat, my fingers begin itching for matching mitts, and vice versa. While the Gravel hat was born from an inspired — one might say magical — pompom, the Gravel mitts came from a different place: my longtime desire to have a pair of non-gimmicky convertible mitts.

Charlottesville does not get very cold (especially this year — 70 degrees in February, seriously?), so fingerless mitts are usually sufficient for short walks around town. But occasionally — walking to the car late at night, or taking the puppy out early in the morning — I want something more. I have always loved the idea of convertible mitts, but they seem so fussy in practice, adorned with buttons or ties to secure a piece that seems like an afterthought in the mitt construction.

By comparison, these Gravel Mitts are the epitome of simplicity — a little extra length on the hand allows you to fold the edges according to your needs on a day-to-day basis or roll the mitts all the way out when you need the extra coverage on un-anticipated chilly evenings or mornings. Granted, they will remain open at the end — so I wouldn't get into a snowball fight with them — but for those of us who never seem to judge the weather accurately enough to know which days warrant full versus fingerless mitts, this pattern might just be a dream come true.

A big thanks to my sister, Linda, for modeling the hat and mitts. She thought fair payment for her services would be possession of the modeled objects; we agreed to disagree. But in an exciting turn of events, she is finally learning to knit herself, so here's hoping she can make her own Gravel set soon! 

Final thoughts about the pompom that started it all:
While I am head-over-heels in love with my orange Furtalk pompom (available at the Needle Lady in Charlottesville, Virginia: (434) 296-4625), I know that real fur poms are not the go-to embellishment for many people. However, there are some gorgeous PETA-friendly options out there right now, such as these luxury vegan pompoms or any one of these listings on Etsy. And of course, sometimes a yarn pom is just the ticket — I keep going back to this excellent tutorial from Ysolda's blog for DIY giant poms. Personally, I am partial to any pom that adds a pop of color, even if the effect is subtle, as in the pompom for this Skiff Hat, which I made by combining scraps of a variegated yarn with the yarn I used for the body of the hat.

GRAVEL HAT PATTERN

   

   


Gauge: 26 stitches = 4" in stockinette on larger needles
                 28 stitches = 4" in textured rib on smaller needles
Yarn: Madelinetosh Pashmina, slightly less than 1 skein
Needles: US 2 and US 4 16" circular needle, and US 4 DPNs
Sizes: small, medium, large (to fit head circumference 21", 22", 23")*
* size shown in pictures is large

See pattern on Ravelry here.


This is a very simple hat with extra long ribbing to fold over itself. Small details, like the stretchy cast-on, textured rib, and striking pompom, make this pattern a modern take on a classic design.

ribbing

With smaller needles, cast on 120 (126, 132) stitches using Jeny's Stretchy Slipknot Cast-on (or any stretchy cast-on you prefer). Join to work in the round, being careful not to twist stitches, and place marker for BOR.
Round 1: (K1, P1) around.
Round 2: (K3, P3) around.
Repeat rounds 1 & 2 until ribbing measures 6.5" from cast-on edge.

crown

Switch to larger needles and work in stockinette stitch until hat measures 10.5" from cast-on edge (4" of stockinette).

DECREASES

Switch to DPNs when necessary while decreasing.
Round 1: (K4, K2tog) around. 100 (105, 110) stitches remain.
Rounds 2-4: Knit all stitches. (3 rounds)
Round 5: (K3, K2tog) around. 80 (84, 88) stitches remain.
Rounds 6-8: Knit all stitches. (3 rounds)
Round 9: (K2, K2tog) around. 60 (63, 66) stitches remain.
Rounds 10-11: Knit all stitches. (2 rounds)
Round: 12: (K1, K2tog) around. 40 (42, 44) stitches remain.
Rounds 13-14: Knit all stitches. (2 rounds)
Round 15: K2tog around. 20 (21, 22) stitches remain.
Round 16: Knit all stitches. (1 round)
Cut working yarn from ball and use a darning needle to draw the tail through remaining stitches twice for extra strength. Tie ends inside hat and weave them in.

Lay hat flat to block. Once blocked, attach desired magical pompom.

GRAVEL MITTS PATTERN

   

   


Gauge: 28 stitches = 4" in textured rib
Yarn: Madelinetosh Pashmina, slightly less than 1 skein
Needles: US 2 DPNs
Size: One size only: 12" long (with unfolded top edge), 6" circumference

See pattern on Ravelry here.


These mitts are knit entirely in the same textured ribbing as the hat. They are designed to be extra long, so the ribbing can be folded down for classic fingerless mitts or pulled straight to completely cover the fingertips. There is no difference between the left and right mitt — simply work the pattern twice.

wrist

Cast on 48 stitches using Jeny's Stretchy Slipknot Cast-on (or any stretchy cast-on you prefer). Divide stitches over 3 DPNs and join to work in the round, being careful not to twist stitches. Place marker for BOR.
Round 1: (K1, P1) around.
Round 2: (K3, P3) around.
Repeat rounds 1 & 2 until ribbing measures approximately 4.5" from cast-on edge (feel free to make this shorter or longer, according to your preference).

THUMB INCREASES

Round 1 (setup for increases): Slip marker for BOR, K1, P1, K1, place marker, (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1. (When this round is completed, you should have the first 3 stitches of the round between markers. For the rest of the thumb increases, the stitches between the markers will be designated with asterisks.)
Round 2 (increase round): *M1R, K3, M1L* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3. (5 stitches between markers.)
Round 3: *K2, P1, K2* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 4: *K5* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.
Round 5 (increase round): *K1, M1R, K1, P1, K1, M1L, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1. (7 stitches between markers.)
Round 6: *K7* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.
Round 7: *K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 8 (increase round): *K2, M1R, K3, M1L, K2* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3. (9 stitches between markers.)
Round 9: *(K1, P1) until 1 stitch remains before marker, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 10: *K9* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3. 
Round 11 (increase round): *K1, P1, K1, M1R, P1, K1, P1, M1L, K1, P1, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1. (11 stitches between markers.)
Round 12: *K3, P1, K3, P1, K3* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.
Round 13: *(K1, P1) until 1 stitch remains before marker, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 14 (increase round): *K3, P1, M1R, K3, M1L, P1, K3* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3. (13 stitches between markers.)
Round 15: (K1, P1) until 1 stitch remains before marker, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 16: *K3, P2, K3, P2, K3* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.
Round 17 (increase round): *K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, M1R, K1, P1, K1, M1L, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1. (15 stitches between markers.)
Round 18: *K3, P3, K3, P3, K3* (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.
Round 19: (K1, P1) until 1 stitch remains before marker, K1* (P1, K1) until 1 stitch remains, P1.
Round 20 (separate thumb gusset): Put first 15 stitches on a stitch holder or scrap yarn. Cast-on 3 stitches over thumb hole using cable cast-on and continue with (P3, K3) until 3 stitches remain, P3.

HAND

Round 1: (K1, P1) around.
Round 2: (K3, P3) around.
Repeat rounds 1 & 2 until hand measures approximately 11.5" from cast-on edge, or 5.5" from last row of thumb gusset (feel free to make this shorter or longer, according to your preference).
Bind off in (K1, P1) rib using Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off.

THUMB

Transfer 15 held stitches to needles and pick up the 3 cast-on stitches in crevice of gusset. Place marker for BOR and work 18 thumb stitches as follows:
Round 1: (K3, P3) around.
Round 2: (K1, P1) around.
Repeat rounds 1 & 2 until thumb measures approximately 1" from point where thumb joins hand in the crevice of the gusset (feel free to make this shorter or longer, according to your preference).
Repeat round 1 once more.
Bind off in (K1, P1) rib using Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off.

Weave in ends and lay mitts flat with top edge completely unfolded to block.

Nordic Pup

If you know me at all, you know that knitting for my sweet puppy is probably my favorite thing in the world. I particularly like themed knits — like her Thanksgiving bandana, or Halloween bee costume — but I am also hyper aware that the line between cute and tacky is easily blurred when it comes to dog wearables. 

This year was Raii's first Christmas in Colorado, and while I wanted to make her a holiday sweater, I didn't want it to be so *obviously* Christmas themed that she would only be able to wear it once (like this elf-dog costume from Petsmart — although can I admit I would go nuts if I saw a pooch in this thing?). Lately, I have been obsessed with Spincycle's Dyed in the Wool, and their Tell-Tale Heart colorway happens to be rather Christmasy, if you find the right skein (or part of a skein). This yarn is amazing — subtle, slow, variable color changes that can give you the best Fair Isle of your life with minimal effort. 

The basic idea behind this sweater is the same as my Harness-Friendly Dog Sweater — I've just added a Fair Isle pattern to the cowl, changed the increases slightly, and modified the numbers for a smaller gauge. I also added some Fair Isle to the edge of the body.

PATTERN


Gauge: 26 stitches and 38 rounds = 4 inches
Yarn: Main Color (MC): about 140 yards of a sport weight yarn; Contrast Color (CC): about 70 yards of sport weight yarn — I highly recommend Spincycle's gorgeous Dyed in the Wool, and I estimate one skein would be exactly enough for 3 dog sweaters, or one dog sweater and a matching pair of mitts for dog mom.
Needles: US 4 DPNS and 16" circular needle
Sizes: One size only* — fits dogs with a girth of 15-17" 

*For now, I have only written the pattern as I knit it, for a dog the same size as my Raii. If there is a great deal of interest, I may write it up for sale in other sizes.

See pattern on Ravelry here.


This sweater is knit in the round from the neck down. The neck and shoulders piece is knit seperately first from the colorwork chart. The body is picked up and knit in the round from the cast-off edge of the neck and shoulders piece.

NECK AND SHOULDERS

With US 4 DPNs, Cast on 76 stitches in MC. Place marker for BOR.
Round 1: Purl all stitches.
Round 2: Knit all stitches.
Round 3: Purl all stitches.
Round 4-41: Join CC and knit according to colorwork chart for 38 rounds. Switch to 16" circular whenever number of stitches seems sufficient. You should have 110 stitches around when you finish the chart.

Using only MC, work 3 rounds in garter stitch, beginning with a purl round. Bind off knitwise.

See pattern on Stitch Fiddle here. Download the PDF here.

BODY

On the inside of the shoulder piece, find the third round of purl bumps from the bind-off edge. It should be the round right after the second knit round from your garter stitch edging.

Pick up and knit 20 purl bumps, cast on 13 stitches using cable cast-on, skip 15 purl bumps, pick up and knit 25 purl bumps, cast on 8 stitches using cable cast-on, skip 10 purl bumps, pick up and knit 25 purl bumps, cast on 13 stitches using cable cast-on, skip 15 purl bumps. Place marker for BOR. You should have 104 total stitches around.

Work in stockinette stitch, slipping BOR marker, until piece measures 2” (or until it is the length you want it for your dog*).

*Note about sizing: You should feel free to adjust the pattern for the length you want for your dog. Try it on your dog as you go, and stop knitting or keep knitting according to what you think is a good length for your dog (rather than whatever I say in the pattern). Keep in mind that the decreases and edging will add about 3".

The following rows are worked as short rows to increase the top of the body:
Row 1 (RS): 100, W&T
Row 2 (WS): 74, W&T
Row 3: K to one stitch before wrapped stitch, W&T
Row 4: P to one stitch before wrapped stitch, W&T
Repeat rows 3 and 4 until 44 stitches remain unwrapped. Ending on a RS row, knit to marker, knitting each wrap with the stitch as you come to it.

Continue working in the round once again:
Round 1: Rejoin CC and knit all stitches, knitting each wrap with the stitch as you come to it.
Round 2: Knit all stitches in CC.
Round 3: Knit all stitches in MC.
Round 4: Knit all stitches in CC.
Round 5: Knit all stitches in MC.
Round 6: Knit all stitches in CC.
Round: 7: *K1 CC, K1 MC* Repeat around.
Round 8: *K1 MC, K1 CC* Repeat around.
Round 9: *K1 CC, K1 MC* Repeat around.
Round 10-14: Work as for Rounds 2-6.
Round 15: Knit all stitches in CC.

Using only MC, work 3 rounds in garter stitch, beginning with a purl round. Bind off knitwise.


Tips on technique:

  1. A knitter's colorwork gauge is almost always tighter than her single-color knitting gauge. Be aware of this tendency when working this pattern, and go down a smaller needle size on the body if necessary.
  2. There are a few rows in the middle of the chart (on the top and bottom edges of the snowflake pattern) that require you to carry the MC yarn over many stitches. I highly recommend picking up your floats when you have to carry the yarn over 6 or more stitches — see Julie Williams's incredibly helpful blog entry for this technique here.

Take Heart and make matching mitts

Knitwise, January might be my favorite month of the year. Coming as it does right after the holidays, the first month of the year gives license to knitters to knit for themselves (assuming they managed to finish their holiday gifts before New Years, which I admit is not always a safe assumption). Anyway, since I did finish my holiday gifts before the holidays on which they were distributed this year (#knitwin), when January rolled around, I resolved that I would spend the month knitting for myself — no shop samples, no gifts, no objects for friends, no dog items.

Enter: Fiona Alice's Queensland Beach headband from the masterful Take Heart collection. I adore this pattern — it is uses big, bulky cables to scrunch a lot of yarn into an elegant braid, which is pretty ingenious if you want to have a super warm winter headband. I have been craving a knit object in Shibui Drift since I made a Christmas hat for a friend out of this super squishy cashmere-merino worsted weight in November. With great stitch definition and a good amount of spring, it was truly the perfect yarn for this project.

I sometimes think the accessories I knit  must have codependency issues — I can't seem to make a hat, pair of mitts, or cowl/scarf without at least one other matching piece. All 3 would be too much (like this Cable & Rib Set — here is where I draw my line in the sand), but when I simply knit ONE object, I always wonder: what if some other part of me is cold, and I have to don mismatched accessories? What if my hat clashes with my mitts AND my cowl/scarf? The horror.

My Ravelry is a testament to this insanity, as I often post objects and then a few weeks later, sheepishly add another coordinating piece. Hands down, my favorite set is Kate DaviesFugue Tam & Mittens, which I loved so much, I decided to make a coordinating headband as well. Two sets out of three objects? Match efficiency for the #win.

Headband inspired by Kate Davies' Fugue Tam & Mitts set.

Headband inspired by Kate Davies' Fugue Tam & Mitts set.

So back to the Queensland Beach headband: yes, I made matching mitts. It was a bit of a challenge, because the cable pattern on the headband purposely scrunches a lot of yarn into a number of stitches that, if knit straight, would be much wider. So I had to modify the cable pattern significantly to work with the straight cuffs of the mitts, but I was pleased with the results.

I will say — I have never done worsted weight mitts before, and they are quite heavy! But for early morning walks — when I need my fingers free to give Raii treats and manipulate the poop-bag dispenser but it's too cold to take my gloves off — heavy, fingerless mitts into which I can curl my hands make all the difference in the world!

  

I am teaching a cabling class in February that will feature the Queensland Beach headband. Call the shop at 434-296-4625 to sign up!

Talking pussyhats

I regularly get emails from friends and colleagues about viral knitting phenomena. Non-knitting friends see knitting-related news and pass it along with glee: "Hey, you knit — look at this knitting thing!" I am not always thrilled with these phenomena, which often use knitting as a vehicle to represent something that isn't necessarily part of the craft for most knitters (i.e. Vaginal Knitting — not only would I be horrified to get blood (or any substance) on the yarn I lovingly select, but something about sitting alone, becoming a spectacle, and creating a non-functional object does not resonate at all with the knitting I know and love, which is about community, subtly artistry, and creating keepsakes to live in/with).

This thinking is perhaps why I am so late to jump on the pussyhat bandwagon. Knitting as performance or protest can be about anything — and particularly when it is more left-leaning or creatively thought-provoking, I'm often happy to rally behind it. But to actually participate myself? It would have to celebrate, front and center, the things I already love about the craft: community, creativity, women learning from and teaching each other, creating functional art.

Enter: The Pussyhat Project. I will admit to some initial skepticism, but after this last Saturday at the shop, when I helped at least 5 people select pink yarn and cast-on their projects, I finally became a pussyhat believer. People (of all genders) around the country are taking up knitting needles in moments of solidarity, reflection, and learning. It is nearly impossible to teach a friend to make a pussyhat without talking about the important issues the Women's March on Washington means to address, just as it is nearly impossible to learn to knit without getting some help from a friend.

I decided I wanted my pussyhat to say something, so I charted out "Nasty Woman." In case anyone else would like to make a "talking pussyhat," I charted out a couple other slogans and have posted the charts here. If you want a chart for a slogan that is not included here, just leave a comment and I will do my best to post it quickly!

In solidarity, your #nastyknittingwoman.

TALKING PUSSYHATS

NOTE: The numbers are upside down so you can follow it more easily to knit on the back on your pussyhat. See chart on Stitch Fiddle.

Family Christmas Hats

When my mom came to visit Charlottesville in the fall, she planned her trip so she could join a Thursday "knit night" at the shop and still have time for a return visit if necessary over the weekend (it was necessary). A retired materials scientist, my mom splits her time between Albuquerque, NM, and Crested Butte, Colorado — both places that lack high quality local yarn shops at a convenient driving distance from her house. Thus, she gets her yarn fix most frequently through the Needle Lady in C'Ville, and somewhat jokingly, she often refers to me as her "personal yarn shopper."

This visit, my mom knew she wanted hat yarn. Specifically, she wanted yarn to make the hat I had knit as a sample for the shop when we first started carrying the unbelievably scrumptious merino-that-feels-like-cashmere WoolfolkBough by Leila Raabe is not an easy knit, but is well worth the hassle, especially in this yarn (Woolfok's worsted weight, Får). Because I wanted to knit one for myself too, we picked colors and fur pompoms for matching hats — we both wanted almost-white, and luckily, in the subtle color variations of the Woolfolk line, we were able to find two slightly different colors that went with our styles: grayish, pearly off-white (color 0) with a black pompom for my mom, and soft, cozy ivory (color 1) with a natural pompom for me. As we were setting our carefully selected sets on the counter, Susan (Needle Lady owner) paused from sorting skeins behind the counter and looked at us very seriously.

"You know girls," she said, "If you're going to have matching hats, I have to tell you: your sister needs one too."

She was right, of course. So back we went to the Woolfolk shelves. We picked a deep grey (color 5) with a natural pompom for my sister, thinking it would go nicely with her professional wardrobe (she works as an auditor for the Department of the Treasury in San Francisco — where the weather actually permits her to make use of knitted objects year-round — one of the many reasons SF is my dream city #yarnlifegoals). I agreed to knit the hat for my sister, which caused my mom point out that the 3 hats might not match perfectly if they were knit by different people. So I agreed to knit my mom's hat too. 

And then, just as we were taking our third set of yarn+pompom to the counter, another point occurred to my mom: if the 3 of us were going to get new hats, obviously my dad should have one too. For his hat, we picked an earthy bronze (color 8) that would match the greens, grays, and olives in his Colorado fishing/hunting gear. 

Ten minutes later, standing at the counter with a large pile of yarn and pompoms (although no pom for my dad), I realized that 1 hat project had become 4 — but also that my Christmas shopping was done. 

Thank you so much to Jennifer of Use Real Butter for this gorgeous family photo!

Thank you so much to Jennifer of Use Real Butter for this gorgeous family photo!

One of the only perks of living so far apart is that matching holiday knits are cute when we are together for a few days and by the time they would have become tacky, we've left to wear them in the faraway places we all live/travel — me in Virginia, my sister in California, my parents in New Mexico/Colorado. And especially when you are apart, it is nice to know you're wearing the same hat, knit by the same hands, as your loved ones are wearing wherever they are.

Blank slate Christmas stocking

When I left for 16 months of fieldwork in Delhi, India for my PhD research in 2014, one of the two suitcases I checked was entirely full of yarn. Because I had to bring the yarn with me, I planned projects months ahead of time, including Christmas stockings for the family that had become like my own in Delhi. They had to be simple (I needed to make 4) and yarn-efficient (as I had to carry all the yarn with me), but like all Christmas stockings, they also needed to be durable and classic.

For yarn, I settled on Rowan Cocoon, a bulky merino with a touch of mohair that has a lovely sheen and comes in some classic but subdued Christmas colors. My goal was to get the biggest possible Christmas stocking out of one skein, so I decided to work the stockings like basic bottom-up socks and knit until I ran out of yarn.

For my sister's birthday this year, I made Christmas stockings for her and her boyfriend (and their pup), who just moved to San Francisco together. I used the same pattern and yarn as I did for the India Christmas stockings — it was such an easy, efficient project — so I figured it was time to write it all up!

The thing about this pattern: it's not just a knitting pattern. Yes, you knit the stocking — just a simple bottom-up sock — but the real details come from the lining and the embroidery. When I have taught the custom Christmas Stocking class at the Needle Lady, most knitters are not put-off by the actual knitting for this project — I get many more questions about the customizable finishing. So really, I think of this pattern as a blank slate, ideal for customization once it is bound off and blocked.

KNITTING PATTERN


Note about yarn, needles, and gauge: Christmas stockings need to be dense so the fabric doesn't stretch and show the lining (or if you don't have lining, the objects within!). Thus, you probably want to knit down with whatever yarn you choose. I made each stocking out of 1 skein of Rowan Cocoon (a bulky yarn that calls for a US10.5 needle) using DPNs US7 and US8. 

See pattern on Ravelry here.


TOE

With smaller needles, cast on 20 stitches (or more or less, depending on the size stocking you want — as long as the number is divisible by 4) using Judy’s Magic Cast-on. Divide stitches evenly over 4 needles (5 sts on each needle).
Round 1: Knit all stitches.
Round 2: K1, M1L, knit to last stitch on next needle, M1R, K1, K1, M1L, knit to last stitch on next needle, M1R, K1 (4 stitches increased).
Repeat rounds 1 and 2 until you have 48 stitches (or approximately 2.4 times as many stitches as you cast on).

FOOT

Switch to larger needles. Work in stockinette for 7” or approximately 24 rows (or however many rows look about right to you — more rows for a bigger stocking, obviously).

HEEL

Switch to smaller needles. Beginning at beginning of round, shape heel with short rows as follows:

Decrease short rows:
Row 1 (RS): K23, W&T next stitch (if you are working a different size, the short rows are worked over exactly half of your stitches — i.e., if you have 60 stitches, you would K29 on this row, and P28 on the next).
Row 2 (WS): P22, W&T next stitch.
Repeat rows 1 and 2, knitting or purling one stitch less each row, until you have 10 un-wrapped stitches remaining (or exactly half of the number of stitches you cast on originally).

Increase short rows:
Row 1 (RS): K10 (or exactly half of the number of stitches you cast on originally), knit next stitch together with wrap through the back loop, wrap and turn next stitch.
Row 2 (WS): P11, purl next stitch together with wrap through the back loop, wrap and turn next stitch.
Repeat rows 1 and 2, knitting or purling one stitch more each row and working stitches together with wraps until you have one wrapped stitch remaining on each end.
Next row (RS): K22 (or however many stitches you purled in row 2 of the decrease short rows), knit next stitch together with wrap through the back loop, turn WITHOUT wrapping.
Next row (WS): P23 (or however many stitches you knit in row 1 of the decrease short rows), purl next stitch together with wrap through the back loop, turn WITHOUT wrapping.

LEG

Switch to larger needles. Work in stockinette until you have at least 4 yards of yarn remaining.

Work a 4-stitch i-cord bind off (see tutorial here, but add one more stitch!), ending with approximately 3.5 inches of i-cord for the loop for hanging the stocking. Attach the loop to the end of the i-cord edge using horizontal mattress stitch.

Block your stocking before continuing.

LINING, ASSEMBLY, EMBROIDERY


MATERIALS

  • Fabric, approximately twice the size of your stocking
  • Thread to match your fabric, needle
  • DMC embroidery floss in colors of your choosing, darning needle
  • Optional: soft flex wire, crimping bead, crimping tool

LINING

There are several benefits to lining your stocking. First, woven fabric is much less stretchy than knitted fabric, so your stocking is much more likely to hold its shape when stuffed with heavy things. Second, it will prevent small objects, like knitting needles or candy canes, from poking out between the stitches.

  1. Fold your fabric in half and lay your blocked stocking on it. Draw generously around the edges of your stocking, giving approximately an extra .5" of material at the top. Cut fabric.
  2. Sew around edges of fabric, leaving an opening at the top.
  3. Iron top edge down about an inch and sew the edge down approximately .5" from ironed edge.

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Optional: Re-inforced hanging loop

optional: RE-INFORCED HANGING LOOP

This step is for the super-perfectionist, but I figured I would include it because I was so thrilled with the results when I did it. If you put heavy things in your stocking, there is a pretty good chance that the loop will stretch significantly over the years. To prevent this, I used soft flex wire and crimping beads (which you can find at any beading supply store) to reinforce the hanging loop. Simply draw the wire through your i-cord loop and secure it inside the stocking with a crimping bead (see picture). Then when you attach the lining, sew the edge through the wire loop you have created, so the stocking will hang from the things that won't stretch (wire and fabric lining) rather than the thing that will stretch (your knitted stocking).

ASSEMBLY

Attach the lining by sewing the very top edge of the lining to the knit stitches right below the bottom of the i-cord bind-off inside the stocking.

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EMBROIDERY

Embellish your stocking however you want! I find that initials are most beautiful in duplicate stitch, while full names work best using chain stitch. I also frequently use French knots for details like holly berries.

Harness-friendly dog sweater

Raii's growth can be documented in the array of sweaters I have knit for her since bringing her home just under a year ago. I first met her when she was a 6-week-old puppy, and since I couldn't take her home until she was 9 weeks old, I knit her a sweater in the meantime, sizing it based on my memory of holding her in my hands.

Raii's first sweater on top of the harness-friendly sweater — she has grown so much!

Raii's first sweater on top of the harness-friendly sweater — she has grown so much!

For a pattern, I used the Perfect Fit Dog Sweater, a brilliant, infinitely customizable pattern that I continued to used again and again as she grew, which also taught me how to think about the construction of a dog sweater. The one thing I don't like about this pattern — the same thing I've found I dislike about most dog sweater patterns, actually — is that it isn't really meant for a dog with a harness. Yes, you can put the harness over the sweater, or you can make a buttonhole in the back of the sweater (which the pattern does suggest), but I think this hole makes the sweater look sloppy, especially when the dog isn't wearing the harness or the leash isn't attached.

And so, before Raii and I went on a summer trip to visit my sister in San Francisco, I thought she needed a new sweater that would look sharp with or without her harness. I liked the look of the "Good Boy Gansey" sweater in the Woolly Woofers book (although overall I am not thrilled with the quality of the patterns in this book), and I thought I could modify it to put the harness hole right below the cabling on the neck and shoulders.

The trick to this sweater (and, in my opinion, the trick to achieving the perfect harness-friendly dog sweater) is this: You knit the neck and shoulders first and bind off, so you have a separate, fitted dog cowl. You pick up the purl bumps several rows in on the inside edge of this cowl to knit the body, leaving holes for the legs and harness. When completed, the bottom edge of the cowl will then hide the harness hole if the dog isn't wearing its harness. 

PATTERN


Gauge: 22 stitches and 36 rounds = 4 inches
Yarn: About 200 (250, 300, 350, 400) yards of a DK weight yarn. I used Claudia's Exuberance, which is washable, comes in gorgeous colors, gives great stitch definition, and wears beautifully.
Needles: US 4 16" circular needle (move to a 24" needle for larger sizes)
Sizes: To fit dogs with a girth of 15” (18” 22”, 26”, 30”)

See pattern on Ravelry here.


This sweater is knit in the round from the neck down. The neck and shoulders piece is knit seperately first with cabling detail on the top and bottom. The body is picked up and knit in the round from the cast-off edge of the neck and shoulders piece.

NECK AND SHOULDERS

Cast on 60 (74, 90, 104, 118) stitches. Place marker for BOR.
Round 1: Purl all stitches.
Round 2: Knit all stitches.
Round 3: Purl all stitches.
Work in K1P1 ribbing for 5 (6, 8, 10, 12) rounds.
Repeat rounds 1-3 once.

Round 1: (Setup round for cables and increases) Work first row of cable chart A over 16 (20, 24, 28, 32) stitches, P1, PM, K5 (7, 10, 12, 14), PM, P1, work first row of cable chart B over 30 (36, 42, 48, 54) stitches, P1, PM, K5 (7, 10, 12, 14), PM, P1
Round 2: Work second row of cable chart A over 16 (20, 24, 28, 32) stitches, P1, SM, M1L, knit to marker, SM, P1, work second row of cable chart B over 30 (36, 42, 48, 54) stitches, P1, SM, knit to marker, M1R, SM, P1

Continue in this manner, repeating the rows of the cable charts as needed, until you have 17 (22, 28, 33, 38) stitches in the stockinette blocks between markers. You should have 84 (104, 126, 146, 166) total stitches around.

Work 3 rounds in garter stitch, beginning with a purl round. Bind off knitwise.

BODY

On the inside of the shoulder piece, find the third round of purl bumps from the bind-off edge. It should be the round right after the second knit round from your garter stitch edging.

Pick up and knit 16 (20, 24, 28, 32) purl bumps, cast on 10 (13, 15, 18, 20) stitches using cable cast-on, skip 11 (14, 16, 19, 21) purl bumps, pick up and knit 21 (25, 31, 35, 40) purl bumps, cast on 6 (8, 10, 12, 14) stitches using cable cast-on, skip 6 (8, 10, 12, 14) purl bumps, pick up and knit 21 (25, 31, 35, 40) purl bumps, cast on 10 (13, 15, 18, 20) stitches using cable cast-on, skip 11 (14, 16, 19, 21) purl bumps. Place marker for BOR. You should have 84 (104, 126, 146, 166) total stitches around.

Work in stockinette stitch, slipping BOR marker, until piece measures 4” (5”, 6”, 7”, 8”) from edge of shoulder piece (or until it is the length you want it for your dog*).

*Note about sizing: You should feel free to adjust the pattern for the length you want for your dog. Try it on your dog as you go, and stop knitting or keep knitting according to what you think is a good length for your dog (rather than whatever I say in the pattern).

The following rows are worked as short rows to increase the top of the body:
Row 1 (RS): K80 (100, 120, 140, 158), W&T
Row 2 (WS): P60 (74, 90, 104, 118), W&T
Row 3: K to one stitch before wrapped stitch, W&T
Row 4: P to one stitch before wrapped stitch, W&T
Repeat rows 3 and 4 until 36 (44, 54, 62, 72) stitches remain unwrapped. Ending on a RS row, knit to marker, knitting each wrap with the stitch as you come to it.

Continue working in the round once again:
Round 1: Purl all stitches, purling each wrap with the stitch as you come to it.
Round 2: Knit all stitches.
Round 3: Purl all stitches.
Bind off knitwise.

CABLE CHART A

Note: For each size up, you will need to add 2 stitches to each end of the basic 16-stitch chart, as shown here with the different colored lines. If the line splits a cable, just knit the stitch that would have been part of the cable as a knit stitch. See this chart online at Stitch Fiddle.

Note: For each size up, you will need to add 2 stitches to each end of the basic 16-stitch chart, as shown here with the different colored lines. If the line splits a cable, just knit the stitch that would have been part of the cable as a knit stitch.

See this chart online at Stitch Fiddle.

CABLE CHART B

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Drawstring Christmas gift bags

Last Christmas, I made felted slippers for my sister and her boyfriend, but before I made them, I asked what colors they would like. The boyfriend wasn't enthused — he said he didn't need a homemade gift. Reading between the lines, I suspect that what he really meant was that he didn't want a gift that looked homemade — a sentiment I fully understand.

Since I began knitting, I've often thought that the kind of knitter I aspire to be is one who makes handmade rather than homemade pieces. I think the trick is often in the details — finishing with an i-cord edge, taking the time to block diligently, understanding color dominance when doing fair isle, etc. But with gifts in particular, I also think about my knitted objects' durability — how they will wear two or three years after they have left my knitting bag.

Enter: the drawstring gift bag. For the last several years, I have made little drawstring bags (as in this Purl Soho tutorial) for my family's Christmas gifts, with the suggestion that they can use the bags to store the wool objects during the non-wool-friendly seasons. #savethewool #savethewrappingpaper

This year, I had a new idea for what I wanted for gift bags, and since I couldn't seem to find a tutorial online, I have written up what I did here. (Disclaimer: I am not nearly as comfortable with the sewing machine as I am with a pair of knitting needles, so read on at your own peril...)

PATTERN


Materials: 27" by 9" cut of fabric, thread, 22" of rope
Finished Dimensions: 8" by 8" bag + approximately 2" of fabric above drawstring


  1. Fold fabric in half lengthwise with wrong side of fabric facing out. On ONE side, mark the fabric to show where the opening for the rope will come at 4.75" and 5.5" from the top.
  2. Sew unmarked side of bag completely from bottom fold to top edge. 
  3. Sew marked side of bag: (1) from top edge to first mark (at 4.75") and (2) from second mark (at 5.5") to bottom fold. Basically, you should have about 3/4" of the seam that remains unsewn — this is where your rope will exit the bag. (See photo below.)
  4. Fold top of bag down 3" over itself, so front side of fabric is facing out. Iron in place. (See photo below.)
  5. Sew two seams around the top opening of the bag: (1) approximately 1/2" from bottom edge of folded down top and (2) approximately 1.5" from bottom edge of folded down top. These seams create the channel for your rope. (See photos below.)
  6. Turn bag inside out. The front side of the fabric should now be facing out.
  7. Use a safety pin to pull your rope through the channel you just created from the hole on the seam. This is a little tricky at the very end, because you have to push the safety pin through the folded edge of the fabric, but it is definitely possible! (See photos below.)

Step 3

Step 5 in progress

Step 7

Step 4

Step 5 completed

Step 7

Oh, and about last year's Christmas gift — those "homemade" felted slippers. My sister and her boyfriend wear them all the time:

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