Thursday, March 9, 2017

How to block textured knits

Here's the situation: you've just finished knitting something with fantastic texture, either in cables or knits-and-purls, and now you need to block it. Wet-blocking, where you soak the project before laying/pinning it out to dry, can really flatten out texture, especially if you've used a yarn that doesn't 'bounce back' much once it's dry (like an alpaca or silk blend).

I had just this dilemma when I finished my Beeswax Scarf! I had wet-blocked my swatch and been disappointed by how flattened-out it was:

Scarf above; swatch below

Scarf on the left; swatch on the right

Obviously, I was keen to try a different blocking method that would preserve more of the lovely texture!

I settled on a method similar to wet-blocking, but with the order of the steps switched up: first you pin out your project, then you wet it. I used pins to stretch the scarf slightly and open up the eyelet-holes, and then I sprayed it liberally with a spray-bottle full of water. And I made a stop-motion video showing exactly what I did:


This method also has the advantage of taking less time to dry, because the yarn isn't fully soaked through. :)

I really want to try it next time I knit a cabled hat, because putting the hat over a balloon and spraying it has got to be easier than prodding a floppy, wet hat into shape.

Do you have a favourite blocking method I need to try?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New pattern: Beeswax Scarf

I've combined my love of bees and textured knits once again, and the result is the Beeswax Scarf! Its large-scale honeycomb pattern echoes the cables on my Beeswax Hat, but this is much easier to knit - and most importantly for a scarf, it's easy to knit flat. No cables here, just simple lace and garter stitch. It's so incredibly cosy, I can't wait for winter... ;)


The stitch pattern really is simple to knit, and watching the honeycomb grow is quite addictive. The only skills you'll need are working basic lace stitches (knit, purl, yarn-over, k2tog, and ssk), slipped stitches at the edges, and the Long Tail Cast On (which is optional). Charts are included as well as full written instructions.



Bohemia Worsted by Outlaw Yarn is a snuggly, luxurious blend of polwarth wool, alpaca, and possum fibre. This amazing rich golden colour is called 'Troy', and I used three balls for my scarf with plenty left over for swatching.

The Beeswax Scarf pattern includes three size options - a standard scarf (which is the one I knit), a wider scarf, and a wrap. All are a generous length for maximum cosiness.



Features:
  • an all-over textured honeycomb pattern
  • knit flat from end to end
  • three width options (scarf, wide scarf, and wrap)
  • easy to enlarge by adding extra repeats to the length and/or width
  • requires 3, 4, or 5 balls of Outlaw Yarn's Bohemia Worsted (depending on size) or 611-1018 yards of worsted-weight yarn
  • solid, semi-solid, or heathered yarn is ideal
  • pattern includes full written instructions as well as charts.

You can see all the details and download the Beeswax Scarf pattern via Ravelry, Loveknitting, Etsy, or Craftsy.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Insulate 1,000!

My INSULATE! Hat has reached 1,000 projects on Ravelry - that's a huge milestone for me, and I'm thrilled that so many people liked my hat enough to knit their own! You can see a few of these fabulous projects (in an amazing array of colour combos) on the pattern's Ravelry page.


The INSULATE! Hat was one of my early-ish knit designs from mid-2012, and I offered it as a free pattern to other knitters who share my geeky love of Daleks. Its stranded colourwork design is nice and simple, and every now and then I receive a lovely comment from someone who used this hat as their gateway to knitting colourwork, which really warms my designer heart!

If you'd like to make one of your own, you can download the free pattern here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Swatching in the round

Swatching in the round is something I know I should do if my project will be knit in the round, but I admit I sometimes swatch flat instead, especially if the stitch pattern is easy to work flat (like stockinette or a knit/purl texture). But for an important project like a garment or something else that will take a lot of yarn and time, there's no way around it - swatching in the round will give you the most accurate gauge information.

In this post I'll be showing you how I knit the swatch for my Cinnamon Stars cowl. The method will work for any stranded colourwork project, and for any other project knit in the round.


I planned ahead by adding a few extra stitches either side of the colourwork chart, alternating stitches of each colour in a chequerboard pattern - I got the idea from the 'bridge' stitches of a traditional no-sew steek. These extra edge stitches helped to keep the inevitable wonky edge stitches separate from the main part of the swatch. 

Because I had plenty of yarn in each colour, I decided to make a swatch that would be cut after knitting. Here's what I did:

1. Using a shortish circular needle, I cast on and knit a couple of rows back and forth in garter stitch.

2. I joined my second colour and began knitting the swatch 'in the round': at the end of each row, I slid my swatch back to the other end of the circular needle, draping strands of the working yarn loosely across the wrong side of the swatch.


3. When I had finished the colourwork, I knit a couple of rows of garter stitch with a single colour and then bound off.

4. I carefully cut the loose strands at the back of my swatch, avoiding cutting through any of the colourwork floats beneath.


5. I tied neighbouring strands together to make a more secure fringed edge on either side. This step is optional, especially if you don't wish to keep your swatch!


5. Finally, I wet-blocked the swatch to make it lie flat and even up the stitches. Once it was dry, I took my stitch and row gauge measurements and my colourwork-repeat measurements.


If you don't have extra yarn to spare, you could knit a 'froggable' swatch by making the loose strands across the back long enough to allow you to block the swatch without cutting them. Alternatively, there are other methods for swatching in the round that use even less yarn - the second method in this TECHknitting post 'Circular swatches knit flat' looks very efficient, but I admit I haven't tried it out yet. You'll recognise the first method as the one I used above.

Do you have a favourite swatching method?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bees on the brain

I'm a week and a bit into my holiday at Mum & Dad's in Whakatane, and so far I've knit half a scarf and taken a ridiculous number of photos. I've borrowed Julian's DSLR camera for the trip, so I can get to grips with its manual controls with Dad's help. It's a lot of fun taking practice photos of whatever I fancy!

But before I get into photo-talk, I'll show you the scarf. It uses a stitch pattern I drafted up about six months ago, which is a lace-and-texture version of my Beeswax cable pattern. It traces the same shapes, with decreases forming the surface layer of honeycomb and yarn-overs forming the layer behind. The benefit of this version is that it's easy to knit flat, whereas the cabled Beeswax pattern is only really suitable for knitting in the round.



The yarn is a rich golden shade of Outlaw Yarn's Bohemia Worsted called 'Troy'. I hope to have the pattern available in about a month's time. :)

One really cool thing about playing with a DSLR camera (and having a photographer and his gear on hand) is trying out different lenses. My favourites at the moment are macro tubes, which can be stacked behind the lens to get varying levels of close-up-ness.

You can really see the darker possum fibres and lighter alpaca hairs in this yarn with a macro shot:


I've also been taking lots of photos around the garden, of flowers and insects and birds. I'm most proud of these bee photos, taken with a macro tube extension. The bee was foraging in a big patch of flowering pizza thyme, one of my family's favourite all-purpose herbs.





As part of my new photography learning curve, I've signed up for the free course A Year With My Camera, which involves weekly email lessons and homework assignments to share in the Facebook group (or on Instagram). We're only two weeks in, so you can still join in if you'd like!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A post-Gift-A-Long post

I can't believe we've come to the end! It's been a whirlwind few weeks helping behind the scenes in the Gift-A-Long, keeping up with the threads, and handing out prizes. While being a moderator has kept me extra busy, it's also been incredibly fun and exciting and I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year. :)

My fellow Hand & Arm Things host Becca worked out the final stats for our category:
Final tally is 238 finished projects (!!) (64% of those declared), but more importantly…
  • nearly 300 people participated in this thread alone,
  • sharing more than 450 GAL-designer-related projects (some not for hands but that’s totally cool),
  • calling out more than 250 GAL-eligible patterns for us to appreciate.

The ongoing parade of WIPs and FOs provided an incredible source of inspiration from the great colour choices, skilful stitching, beautiful yarn (including handspun), and lovely patterns people chose. I found out about new-to-me methods of construction, such as starting a pair of mitts with the thumb and it growing from there (Lee Meredith's Either/Or mitts), and cool-looking techniques like slip-stitch crochet (Yuliya Tkacheva's Snegurochka Mitts), and some just really beautiful cable designs I hadn't seen before (Olga Beckmann's Morosko mittens, and Kelly G.'s Cèilidh Fingerless Gloves).

Another big source of excitement was seeing my own designs pop up! My Beeswax Hat was actually the tenth-equal most popular pattern, with 11 finished projects during the GAL. In total there were 22 finished projects from my patterns, which is pretty amazing! Here are a few of my favourite photos from the 22, including two Beeswax Hats, an Ascent hat, and a Silverwing shawl:

knittingvortex's Beeswax

UkeeKnits' Ascent

rebekafish's Darkwing Duck!

theaburras' Beeswax Hat

For participating designers, a traditional part of the Gift-A-Long is sharing other designers' work. An obvious way of doing this is using their patterns for our own projects, which I did with my GAL socks, and we've also been sharing our favourite patterns on our blogs and other social media. I've been posting collages of great knit designs on my Instagram account. These are a few of my favourites from the past few weeks:

Star Anise by Svetlana Volkova (top left),
Singing Beach
by Bonnie Sennott (top right),
Crisp Apple Strudel
by Katy H. Carroll (bottom right),
and Same Wavelength by Kristina Vilimaite (bottom left).

Stornoway Throw by Anita Grahn (top left),
Icterine
by Hunter Hammersen (top right),
Tree Rings
by Andrea Rangel (bottom right),
and Badlands Mitts by Kathryn Folkerth (bottom left).

Hudson by Shannon Cook (top left),
Ballydesmond
by Irishgirlieknits (top right),
Dancing with Bears
by Carol Sunday (bottom right),
and Grellow Love by Clare Devine (bottom left).

Another cool way to share each other's work while getting to know each other better is to interview fellow participating designers on our blogs and podcasts. I've been lucky enough to have been interviewed three times during this GAL! Once by Stephannie Tallent for her Sunset Cat Designs blog (Interview: Amy van de Laar), once by Vikki Bird for her blog (GAL 2016: Meet Amy van de Laar), and Carolyn Macpherson also featured me in an episode of her podcast The Next Beautiful Thing:


Thanks for the ride, everyone! Hope to see you all again next year. 💛

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New pattern: Cinnamon Stars

Cinnamon Stars is my final new pattern release of 2016, and I must say it's one of my favourites! It's a very soft and cosy tubular cowl with a liberal dusting of colourwork stars. Knit up in the rich hand-dyed colours of Manos del Uruguay's Silk Blend Fino, it looks almost good enough to eat...



This yarn is a luxurious blend of 70% merino and 30% silk, in a single-ply construction which has enough fuzziness to it to produce a great colourwork fabric. I used one skein of 'Gilt' for the background colour and one of 'Ivory Letter Opener' for the star motifs, with plenty left over for swatching since Fino comes in generous 490-yard skeins.



I've been working on my 'travelling cowl' on and off since March - it even came to Europe with me, and kept me busy on the long train ride through the Alps. After taking it to New Zealand a few months later and then back to Australia, I finished it at last! That's what I call a well-travelled WIP. Now, with my northern-hemisphere knitting friends in the midst of winter, it's the perfect time to release a decidedly cold-weather pattern like a tubular cowl.

Doesn't it look great with my speckled Blank Canvas jersey? I think I've found my 'look' for Winter 2017. :)



Features:
  • an all-over pattern of colourwork stars
  • knit in the round beginning with a provisional cast on
  • grafted into a seamless loop to finish
  • one size, with easily adjustable circumference
  • requires two skeins of fingering-weight yarn in contrasting colours
  • solid or semi-solid-dyed yarns are ideal
  • pattern includes tips for swatching in the round, a crochet provisional cast on, and Kitchener Stitch or grafting
  • the colourwork motif is charted only. 

I have a couple of tutorial posts coming up for you, on swatching colourwork in the round, the crochet provisional cast on, and Kitchener Stitch. In the meantime, I'll leave you with these tutorials which are all excellent:
Ysolda's 'Swift swatching in the round' tutorial
Ysolda's 'Crochet provisional cast on' tutorial
Knitty's Kitchener Stitch tutorial

You can see all the details and download the Cinnamon Stars pattern via Ravelry, Loveknitting, Etsy, or Craftsy.


The biscuits were a fun little project - edible photo props are definitely the best kind. I used the Cinnamon Stars (Zimtsterne) recipe from one of my favourite baking sources, Ladies A Plate. They were actually easier than I anticipated after examining the recipe, I had no trouble rolling out the almondy meringue dough and cutting out the little stars. They taste amazing too, and the remaining ones are still crisp now, after almost two weeks. Pssst Mum - they're gluten free! ;)