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Random rant about knitting patterns

April 30, 2014

I have a rant and I don’t really have a forum in which to deliver it.  Facebook – most of my friends would say Heh?? because they don’t knit.  Ravelry – unless I ranted this rant in a designer forum (which I’m not in because I’m not a designer), nobody would pay any attention to it.  I put all my FOs on Ravelry now and really this blog has served me no purpose except as an archive of lots of good stuff people have posted over the past ten or twelve years.  But I have this rant.

We live in a golden age of knitting.  There are more wonderful yarns and patterns now than ever.  There are more designers of endless creativity now than ever.  When I started knitting as a kid in the 1960s, you had a few pattern leaflets by the yarn companies and you had whatever patterns came out in Woman’s Day and Family Circle (magazines my mother picked up at the store).  It seems that every few weeks some new book, magazine issue, or digital collection comes out and a flood of pretty designs appears on Ravelry.  However, I feel as though I find fewer and fewer designs I actually choose to knit.  This is not only an aesthetic decision.  My personal dislike of asymmetric designs is not what I’m on about here.

Maybe practicality doesn’t matter to a lot of knitters.  Maybe they are happy to fall in love with something beautiful, have a wonderful time knitting it, try it on for photos, then put it into the drawer or chest and somehow never find a time that’s right to wear it.  It matters to me, though, because I don’t want to create something beautiful, spend a lot of time working on it and watching it come together, and then never get to enjoy it.  So I have become a lot pickier about what I knit, and I find myself sighing over pretty pictures of things I know would be those items that sink to the bottom of the chest after they were photographed.

Things I won’t knit anymore because I can’t use them:

1) Short sleeved sweaters.  After being seduced by a handful of really pretty short-sleeved or sleeveless patterns over the years, knitting them, then never wearing them, I have realized that if it’s warm enough for me to wear something with short sleeves, it’s too warm to wear something knitted at any gauge heavier than fingering.  DK or worsted weight cotton is a recipe for SWEAT.  And all these short-sleeved sweaters in the spring and summer magazines, knitted in SPORT WEIGHT ALPACA??  Good grief.  I would be in such misery in short-sleeved alpaca – too cold in the spring and fall and too hot in the summer.   (I suppose if you live in California, or some desert location, where it’s never humid, all of this might not be an issue for you…)

2) Boatneck sweaters.  My reason for this is not just that I can’t get into the aesthetic of exposed bra straps, or that I can’t get away without them.  It’s similar to my issue with short sleeved sweaters.  If it’s cold enough that I want to wear a nice wool sweater, I don’t want a sweater that leaves my neck and most of my shoulders uncovered.  What good is a pretty boatneck sweater if I have to put a turtleneck under it?  (Don’t say knit a scarf and wear it – I try that, there is still a substantial breeze that comes in between the scarf and the sweater!)

3) Sweaters with lace panels on the back or down the sleeves or below the neckline area on the front.  If it’s cold enough that I want to wear a nice sweater, I don’t want a lot of ventilation all over the place.  I have a particularly hard time resisting these patterns, in particular, they are so pleasing – but I resist.  As much as I love my “Arches” sweater that I made a few years ago, I do feel a draft when I wear it, even with a turtleneck shell underneath.

4) Sweaters with bell sleeves and/or sleeves that come down to my knuckles.  I have a lovely cardigan with bell sleeves that I wear a lot, but basically only for driving back and forth to work.  Otherwise, I have to actually use my hands all day and thus these styles of sleeves are impractical for me.

So, dear designers overflowing with talent and creativity:  If once in awhile you could be sure to create something beautiful, that also suits the style to the yarn weight so that it works in some actual season, please do, because I’m planning to knit for many years yet, and I am not that great at rewriting patterns!

Rhinebeck 2012

October 23, 2012

I’m definitely out of the habit of bringing cameras to sheep fairs – I think I’ve posted so many photos over the years that the weight of a camera, not to mention the challenge of photographing things when jammed into a crowd, has made me glad to drop the plan.  I took a few photos this year with my phone, though, which might be fun.

The first one I took was of a Soay sheep, not something I’ve run across before.  Too bad it didn’t come out too well…

Emmy got a monkey in a palm tree from the balloon man.

We visited the Roosevelt estate, saw an exhibit of photos and audio, stopped by the gravesite, and looked at the outside of the house.

The weather was great this year, if a little warm, and the row of trees right at the nexus of the fairgrounds (near the food) was beautiful.  I felt happy every time I looked at them.

I bought just a few things.  Soay roving from Spirit Trail (it seems to have been a day for running across Soay stuff), an eight-ounce hank of pretty yak/merino/silk spinning fiber from the Sheep Shed, a four-ounce braid of merino/silk spinning fiber from the Tsarina of Tsocks, and some things from Lisa Souza:  one hank of cashmere/silk yarn in the Casbah colorway (must become something to go around my neck), four ounces of BFL fiber in Joseph’s Coat for something bright, and a skein of Sock! in North Sea for socks for Emmy.

It was a good weekend.

From sheep to shawl

May 7, 2012

Yesterday four of us from my local spinning group did one of those insane things called a Sheep to Shawl competition, at Maryland Sheep and Wool.  Here is how it works.

You leave your house at 0-dark:30 to be able to drive into the fairgrounds and unload much equipment (including a warped loom) into a tent and get your car back out again, and be at the figurative starting line at 8am.

At 8am, the shearer you’ve recruited comes and grabs the sheep you’ve recruited and drags her off to be sheared.  You follow.  When the judge has examined the newly shorn sheep and the pile of greasy fleece and given approval, you grab that fleece and shove it in a basket and run for your battle stations.

After that, it’s nose to the figurative greasy grindstone for a couple of hours.

We chose to flick the locks and spin them that way.  The team beside us (who were the winners and obviously were total pros at this) all sat down on their mat and began carding like madwomen, until they had enough rolags to produce the entire quantity of weft they needed.

We brought antique Canadian production wheels, and made a gesture toward costuming with blue skirts, white shirts, shawls, and straw hats.  You can see a few pictures of us at work here, and I hope there will be more to be found.

Here’s one someone just sent me!  Thanks!

I did get a picture of our finished product before we turned it in.  We placed fifth out of seven which is not bad for novices I think.  We got lots of ideas for what to do differently, by watching the teams who did better.  If you give us a week to recover, you might hear us say we want to do it again!

My homemade bobbin winder

January 28, 2012

While we wait for Jan to come home from Hawaii with some beautiful photos, I thought I’d post pictures of my homemade bobbin winder.  While I’d love to have one of those Swedish things with the tapered metal shaft, I can’t bring myself to pay $80 for one, so after the loom came to live with me a year ago I set about improvising a way to wind bobbins.

The Swedish winders remind me of nothing so much as the hand drills my dad had in his tool box, to use when an electric drill would be overkill, so I possessed myself of one of them ahead of time.  Everything else, I had around the house.

The dowel is 1/4 inch.  I’d love to get a fatter one and sand it to taper, but that’s not on the short term action list!  The C clamp was already here because I use it with my English combs.  The piece of wood was painted by Emmy at some point.

I started by drilling holes on the handle into the wood to attach it.  Because of the tapered shaping of the handle, I put a shim under one of the screws to get it to be steady.

I put some electrical tape on the end of the dowel up against the drill chuck, so I could ram the bobbin onto something to hold it in place.

At the other end is a rubber grommet that I push tightly against the bobbin to assist it in staying put instead of revolving uselessly on the dowel.

By paying close attention to what I’m doing, and adjusting the tension on the drive band of the wheel I’m winding off of, I can get some reasonably well packed singles.  This bobbin is one of my Kromski ones that works on my tensioned kate, but I can also wind onto large-size plastic storage bobbins.

For winding the small bobbins for the boat shuttles, I’ve turned to a $6 battery-powered drink mixer that I got on Amazon (I saw this tip on someone’s blog somewhere), but this works well for everything else.

Knitting, Spindling and Playing with Fleece

November 27, 2011

(… welcome to our new home.  Not sure how much action there will be here, but at least we aren’t going to be forcing Liz to pay hosting fees for us anymore!)

Jan here–Welcome to the new KnitMe home!

I am going to start my posts off  by giving you a galloping run-through of my knitting year. Mostly it was about pushing boundaries and learning new things.

This spring I did some…um…educational knitting.

I am not a sweater knitter. So I started the year by knitting the wonderful Burnside Vest. There are so many sizes in the directions that it was easy to convert the DK pattern to Lambs Pride worsted in Sandy Heather (right). I promptly learned how much a heavy, softly spun singles in a dense fisherman’s stitch pattern, knitted at the recommended ball band gauge, can grow… and grow.

So I reknitted, same yarn (in Golden Oak) and same pattern conversion, but using needles two sizes smaller than the ball band recommendation. The red sweater is my everyday comfortable turtleneck. The negative ease gives the vest a pleasant body hugging fit, and the gorgeous gansey pattern pops.

After making knitting progress, I pushed my spinning horizons.

I worked the exercises in the Fine Spinning Workbook  by Liz Lovick. I spun Romney roving dyed by a local indie dyer. I figured it was high time I learned park & draft, and I spun and plied the singles with some of my beautiful  Bosworth  spindles.

After several sessions of  being a tense and overthinking klutz,  I relaxed (score a major lesson from the workbook!), and found that I too, could spin a variety of thicknesses.

Handspun Romney various thickness

From cushy fat…


Cushy fat Romney

To fair-to-middlin’ midweight…

Fair to middling skinny

To some really, Really, REALLY  skinny singles…

Skinny Romney singles

…which I have not yet mustered the nerve to ply, because she who plies it will have to knit it. Someday.

Next I put my new skills to work for the 2011 Tour de Fleece.

Since the hardest thing for me to learn from the workbook exercies had been to spin a thick singles,  I decided to spin fat yarn from skinny yarn fiber for the Tour. My fiber was Brown Sheep 100% wool Mill Ends from Detta’s Spindle, and again I used my spindles. The wool is very fine, perfect for laceweight, but but a challenge to spin thick and still retain softness. My smooth-spinning Bossies helped a lot. I made…

Singles for a marled yarn…

…and a heathered 2-ply yarn from a more thoroughly color-blended section of the roving.

It worked! I can do it! I will go back to the workbook and focus on the fine spinning another day. Meanwhile…

The payoff is:  A cushy handspun hat and neckscarf.

I knitted them in two days in December, using the Design Your Own Hats pattern available from Northern Lace’s Ravelry store. Bring on the cold! I am going to love wearing this.

Hat and scarf from TdF handspun

In addition to knitting, I played with fleece.

This summer I washed several fleeces of new-to-me sheep  breeds. The transformation from more or less grimy outdoor animal coat to shining wool is always amazing, but by far the most ethereal  was the Jacob lamb from Lazy Pi Farm. I laid out the intact fleece on the kitchen floor, and kept the  locks in strict order as I washed and dried them. The delicate lamb curls, the subtle shifting colors, and the translucent glow make this fleece a piece of art. It needs no embellishment.

Entry 400 360! and Maryland Sheep and Wool

June 6, 2011

Due to blog move and housecleaning, not entry 400 anymore… all previous citations of comment numbers of entry numbers are now inaccurate…

Another Sheep and Wool has come and gone. I bought just a few things, I tried to be very good this year.

In back, 8 ounces of BFL/tussah from Bullen’s Woolens. I bought some of this last year and it’s lovely, I had to have more. Then, one 4 ounce braid of, yes, BFL from Mss Babs. I would have bought a second one if she’d had a match but that was the only one. One skein of sock yarn that I bought at Cloverhill – I think it’s Unique Sheep but I don’t remember for sure. It has a cute little line drawing of a sheep in purple on the label. And there is a lock of the fleece I bought, a five pound silver Border Leicester. I’m washing and combing it myself, it was a very good price too.
This was the top item on my shopping list, a purpleheart boat shuttle from the Bosworths.

It has a lovely, slightly matte finish compared to my two Leclerc shuttles, and some weight to it.
I went a little crazy and entered five things in the skein and garment competition. It’s a good thing I did. The two best spinners I know from around here didn’t enter anything this year.
My last entry, almost an afterthought, was a skein of 2 ply in a sort of laceweight, spun from wool given to me by a friend in my spinning group. It gave me FITS plying because there was so much of it and it stuck together so much, but when it was done it looked pretty good so I threw it in the dyepot on Wednesday and submitted it on Friday. They do like to get things made from Maryland wool.

A skein I’d been planning all along to submit was my three ply worsted weight wool made from a blend of natural dark and light BFL. I really spun three ply with this, I didn’t cheat and navajo ply for no particular reason other than convenience. I knew it was a nice skein but I didn’t know it’d get Best Handspun Skein.

My Lissajous socks from handspun got a blue ribbon in their category too! And I got a white ribbon for another skein I put in. This year I decided to stick to handspun.

I put a shawl in the handspun shawls category too, but let me tell you, competition in that category is fierce! There were what seemed like dozens of lace shawls, made from both handspun and commercial yarn – shawls everywhere.

One of the weaving prizes went to this lovely jacket. You may be able to see that the yoke is felted.

We had a very nice time this year. We arrived right at 9, so there was a period of maybe 30 minutes when we could just walk through the main building and look around. I think having that calm time at the beginning made the whole day seem relaxed.

Show, no tell…

March 23, 2011


Falkland 2 ply:

Flax! sort of…

Some knitting

September 17, 2010

Once Jan started with her flax spinning series, I just wanted to let those be out there for awhile without jumping to the head of the screen.

But there has been knitting here. I am shockingly behind on showing what I’ve knitted this year so let’s catch up.

A long time ago I showed a partly knit Azami. Not long after I took those pictures I went and read the part of the pattern where the hood is knitted in, and realized I’d overlooked that the edging of the hood goes down all the way down into the neckline, thus producing the V shape that was puzzlingly absent from what I had already done. So I ripped out the back neck and finished it with the same lace that would have been knitted on as the base of the hood, then put a garter border on the front neck, using some short rows to make it shaped correctly without it being attached to a hood. It’s a pretty sweater that I’ll start wearing as soon as the weather allows for long sleeves.

I finished this in June. Wow, that feels like a long time ago. The yarn was Nashua Handknits Creative Focus Linen, which is 50/50 cotton and linen. I was hoping to be able to machine wash and dry this, so it would not become stiff, but when I washed and dried my swatch, it shrank up vertically to an alarming degree, so I’m going to have to find another way to make sure this doesn’t turn into burlap.

I never did post much of anything here about Cable and Lattice. This was a Vermont Fiber Designs pattern that I have had for ages, set aside with some Cascade 220 that I bought especially for it. I finally finished it this April. I hope we have cold enough weather that I can get some wear out of it.

I submitted this to the skein and garment competition but they did not like my sleeve seams. Which I can understand, as doing mattress stitch on reverse-stockinette is a thankless job. Any brilliant ideas on how to make attractive seams in reverse-stockinette fabric?

I finished this in April, but I started it in December. There’s no good reason it took so long, as it was not a difficult pattern. I guess there were just too many other projects happening.

After getting these projects off my lap I was able to embark on some summer knitting.
Rosemary started releasing a series of small shawls, intended to be made with a skein of sock yarn. I liked the first one, Merope, so much that I knitted it in less than three weeks. I had just spun four ounces of delicious bluefaced leicester and tussah fiber from Wool Gatherings that I got from my local yarn shop’s MS&W stock, which was just about fingering weight, and I couldn’t wait to knit with it. Here it is, photographed with the Frederic Bordua wheel that spun the yarn.


The pattern was cleverly designed, beginning at the bottom point and creating its border points by increasing and decreasing within the border pattern while at the same time increasing the center section to grow the triangle. It may not have been ideal for a variegated yarn, but frankly, nobody has to like it but me, and I do. It’s a nice size to tie around my shoulders if the office is cold.

Emmy is growing and it’s time for another hoodie. She likes her clothes big and roomy, so I got a copy of the classic Wonderful Wallaby pattern – it has sizes from toddler to big adult, so I’ll be able to make her sweaters from this as long as she’s willing to wear handknits. She wanted it in her school colors, so while that makes somewhat unfortunate knitting for me, it’ll make her wear it more! And really this is the nicest orange I have ever seen. It’s Cascade 220, in the colors “tangerine heather” and “jet heather” and it’s working up quite nicely. The body is complete to the armholes and awaiting the sleeves.

This project sat around most of the summer because for quite awhile it was just too hot to think of picking up worsted weight wool, but now it’s moving along again.

I was kind of pleased to see that the way they do the front pocket was quite similar to the way I threw a front pocket on her blue hoodie some time ago.

Since mid summer I’ve been working on the intricate Lissajous knee socks, by Cookie A. from the first issue of Twist Collective. They were something I put off starting because they use twisted stitches (twists on every row, ouch!), but at last their beauty overcame my desire to avoid twisted stitches. I had some handspun that I’ve been saving for knee socks for quite awhile now – some Lisa Souza bluefaced leicester fiber in the Peacock color – so I set off.

They do take time.

Some parts hurt my hands to knit, and I can’t do too much at once, but for the most part it isn’t too bad. I can’t do it without a cable needle because the stitches have to be twisted, which I can’t do correctly without a cable needle. Still, I have one entire sock done and about 1/3 of the second.

There was a short trip to Quebec in the summer, accompanied by some spinning wheel action, but that will have to wait for another day.

Oh, yeah, and the haircut people keep asking about:

2010 TdF – Second half: plying and knitting my handspun linen yarn

August 31, 2010

The next step in my TdF project was plying Serena’s singles. Serena had trouble with the 2 ply snagging on her tiny hooks, so I called in Suzanne, an antique Quebec saxony, for the assist. Serena’s Little Sister wound the finished skeins.

Suzanne is wearing her red Team TRU driveband and a jaunty Quebec blue tassel. Little Sister sports herTeam TRU red tassel, and a white novice tasse because this is the first time I have reeled yarn on her.

To prepare Suzanne’s 2-ply linen yarn for knitting I skeined it, washed it, boiled it for two hours, dried it and wound it into the final balls. The ball in front is the main batch of linen that Serena spun. It is 108 yd. at 2199 YPP. The yarn on the tp tube was spun from the same strick, but using a different style of dressing the distaff. It is 19 yd. at 1394 YPP.

On the very last day of the TdF I met my final goal, knitting with the linen yarn. After considerable swatching for both pattern and needle size, it went on the needles, committed to becoming a neckscarf in New Shell Shetland lace. That day I wore a yellow t-shirt and a big, happy smile.
We did it! I am mighty proud of our flax Team TRU: Serena, Little Sister, and Suzanne.

After the TdF the next step was to finish the neckscarf by the traditional method of cold mangling. After a gentle wash in tepid water, it spent the night rolled in a towel. The next morning I spread the barely damp scarf on an antique linen mangling cloth. Using a rocking motion I pressed down on it HARD with an antique oak roller. I worked along the scarf in short sections, rocking and pressing as hard as I could. Under the pressure the fabric began to smooth out and take on a sheen impossible to attain with a heated iron. The lace became unbelievably thin, with a texture that was at once crisp and flowing. Reflecting the morning sunlight, the linen seemed to be lit from within.

Spun silver–Serena’s linen scarf:

What a lovely souvenir of the 2010 Tour de Fleece.

2010 TdF – Serena Spins Flax

July 20, 2010

For the 2010 Tour de Fleece, I joined Team TRU, fielded by the Ravelry Antique Spinning Wheel and CPW Lovers groups. My goal for the TdF is to put several of my antique spinning wheels into working order and then spin some challenging yarn on them. I also decided to have fun playing with with all the colors and ribbons of the real Tour.

Serena is an exquisitely turned double upright Scandinavian wheel from North Dakota. She came to me accompanied by her own diminutive yarn reel, very like a princess and her lady in waiting.

As ethereal as she looks, her treadle (here tied up for the ride home), says a lot about her. The heavy treadle bar and double pivot bar suggest that she was made in northern Sweden, and was intended to be a working wheel. The wear on her footpad says that indeed, she has seen much use. I wanted to put her to work again, but time, and a heavy coat of shiny varnish, had frozen every moving part in place. Days of squirting turbine oil into her stiff joints and some strategically placed matchstick shims put her back into alignment and working order.

My project for Serena, once she was up and going, has been to learn to spin a strick of long line flax from her distaff.

A strick is made from the longest, finest fibers of the flax plant, carefully combed and bundled.

This is long line Belgian flax; the fiber length is more than a yard. It is a magnificent preparation, befitting a princess.

Because of the fiber length and my inexperience, dressing her truncheon distaff was a daunting task. Dressing the distaff involved tying the end of the strick to my waist and fanning it back and forth on a table, then rolling the distaff up in the flaxen web and securing the fiber to it with a satin ribbon.

At last here is Serena, shimmed and oiled, and tensioned and dressed in her finest, ready for the TdF.

She is wearing her red Team TRU tassel, and a winner’s yellow tassel for the victory newly gained: coming back to life after so many, many years. Her distaff is wrapped with a white ribbon, identifying her spinner as a novice at spinning strick.

Distaff dressed, water cup filled, she is ready to go.


It didn’t take long for Serena to announce that she preferred spinning Z, and that she would condescend to cooperate in this S business **ONLY** if her pretty red Team TRU driveband was crossed in the direction opposite to what every other S-spinning wheel in the fiber universe wants and needs.

Furthermore, if her spinner slighted her by letting up even the least little bit on her gorgeously carved treadle, Serena would whip around Z-wise and fling 5 or 6 flyer turns of loose yarn all over her hooks.

It was a slow slog at first, but by the end of the day everything changed.

Fiercely independent and enormously talented, Serena spun fast and well, once the two of us learned to maintain constant contact and communication with each other. Yarn began to build steadily on the bobbin. Spinning became a pleasure.

FO!!! – Wet-spun linen singles.

One and a half ounces of real linen yarn. What a joy.

Serena bedecked in ribbons–

She earned every one of them! Team red and triumphant gold, a snippet of her white novice ribbon, and a multicolored bow for mastering the climb up the learning curve. A beautiful princess, proudly wearing her own beautiful yarn.

Way to go, sweet Scandi girl!

Serena, I love you. Flax, I love you too.