About Woolly Wits

I am a hand-knitting designer and teacher. See and purchase my published designs on Ravelry.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Definition

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a very narrow field."
Niels Bohr, Scientist

"Call me a knitting expert."
Theresa Schabes, Woolly-Wits

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Which Sweater is Best for Our Svelte New Friend?

The new Webs summer catalog has just been issued, so it's time for one of my favorite games:  Which Sweater is Most Flattering?  This time around, there's a new model.  Unfortunately, she is more modelesque than the typical Webs model, and shaped less like the average woman.  (Who, by the way, is a size 14 if she is living in the US.)  But, the game continues.  I've pulled our svelte new model's photos in the more summery garments, since I can't look at long-sleeved worsted wool sweaters in June.
604 Laurentide Sweater
Laurentide Sweater 
designed by Sara Delaney
605 Colorfall Cardigan
Colorfall Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky

379 Bilateral Cardigan
Bilateral Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky
Laurentide is in Berkshire yarn which has a knitting gauge of 16 sts over 4"/10 mm.  The Bilateral is in BFL Worsted Hand-Dyed by the Kangaroo Dyer.  The Colorfall Cardigan is in Charlemont which is advertised at a sock weight of 28 to 32 sts over 4"/ 10 mm, but the sweater gauge is 20 sts, so worked loosely for drape.  

If you've played this game before, you know the winner just by the yarn gauge.  I always lean toward thinner yarn, because the thicker the yarn, the thicker you look wearing it.  But, let's examine the design lines just to be sure.  Bilateral was knocked out or the running because of the excess of fabric under the arm.  However, because of the squareness of the neckline, this would work for a body with narrow shoulders and wider hips.  The heavier fabric and horizontal lines would help balance out proportions.
So, it's down to Laurentide and Colorfall.  Again, if you've played the game before, you know that a cardigan almost always wins.  The introduction of that vertical design line at the center of the body is very slimming.  Laurentide is giving it a run, however, with it's open neckline and slimming diagonal patterning.  But, it loses me with the cap sleeves.  Besides, the lovely drape of Colorfall was always going to win in the end. 
Colorfall's design would work on many body types, especially if color is used to draw focus.  For bottom-heavy bodies, use a lighter/brighter color on top and a darker/deeper color on the bottom.  For top-heavy figures, do just the opposite.  Lighter/brighter will always attract the eye, so put it where you want observers to look.  Let the other parts fade into the background.
604 Laurentide Sweater
The Laurentide sweater also gives me an opportunity to rant about a style of sweater that irks me - the 'coffin sweater'.  These are the garments which are patterned on the front - sometimes quite elaborately - but completely plain on the back.  As though the sweater were only to ever be viewed from the front.  As if worn when taking a very long rest.  This is especially irksome when adding a little pattern to the back doesn't seem to require much effort, such as with Laurentide.  Since the front and back appear to be identical, why not add a little pattern?  Think how much it would brighten the day of the person in line behind you at the DMV. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Top-Down Knitting: The Disadvantages for Big Girls

Last week I rambled on over my glee with my newly-finished BlueSand cardigan.  And, I do love it.  But . . . it has not changed my preference for bottom-up knitting, especially for us non-waif-like ladies.

BlueSand by La Maison Rililie
From surfing Ravelry, one could conclude that knitters overwhelmingly prefer top-down sweater construction.  And, there are some good reasons for them to do so:

1.  Top-down sweaters allow you to try on for fit as you go.
2.  Top-down sweaters allow you to adjust for fit, as well as arm and body lengths, while knitting is in progress.
3.  Top-down sweaters generally have very few seams. 
4.  Top-down sweaters generally have less finishing.  This is because of the lack of seams and resulting yarn ends to weave in.

Good reasons, all, especially if one knows any knitters who would bury a nearly-finished sweater at the bottom of their UFO pile for years rather than take the 45 minutes required to sew a few seams and weave in ends.  (No judgment - we all have our quirks!)

But, here's the thing: the bigger you are, the less these really are advantages.  Take #1.  Yes, you can try on as you go.  However, there is really no point to trying on your sweater-in-progress until you are closing in on the armpit.  But by then you have already done a whole lotta knitting.  And, if things (like gauge) have gone really off the rails, that's a whole lotta knitting to rip.  (An aside here to say that every single top-down sweater I have knit has had to be ripped back to the beginning after reaching the armpit.  Including BlueSandEven after completing a generously sized swatch.)  On a bottom-up sweater, I can start with a small piece, like a sleeve, work for several inches and then re-check gauge.  Assuming the math is good, I can knit on with confidence.  Much less of an investment of ripping has to happen.

Another disadvantage alluded to above is the length of the rows.  Those last couple inches before the arms are split from the body are loooong rows.  Not so bad for a knit row, but it takes steely reserve to launch into that much purling. 

Yet another disadvantage is that you are working the entire sweater in one piece.  If you save the arms for last, as most patterns do, that's a big mess of sweater twisting in your lap as you knit your sleeves in the round.  Smarter knitters do the sleeves before the body, but then it's hard to double-check their length without the weight of the sweater body holding them in place. 

Here's the thing about these last two points.  The bigger you are, the longer the rows will be, and the more your sweater will weigh.  So, as your sweater increases in size, all the disadvantages of top-down knitting are exaggerated.  But, there's the biggest disadvantage of all . . .

No seams.  Why is this a disadvantage?  Seam give your garment structure and strength to carry its weight.  Thanks to gravity, the weight of your sweater  - both body and arms - is carried by your shoulders.  In a bottom-up sweater, there are typically some nicely reinforced shoulder seams.  (I give mine extra strength by constructing with a 3-needle bind off.)  If you don't have seams, what is carrying all that weight?  Your stitches.  And, the bigger the sweater, the greater the weight and the greater the stress on those shoulder stitches.  At the least the stitches will become distorted and throw off your carefully fitted and adjusted bodice, as well as the length.  At worst the yarn will not be able to bear the tension and will break. 

So, I know knitters don't love sewing seams, because if we did we'd be quilters.  But, it's a trade-off that I am usually pretty happy to make because I know that it results in a more stable, stronger sweater.  And the proportion of time spent sewing as compared to the time spent knitting is really a tiny fraction. 

Have I convinced you?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My BlueSand

The table is set.  The wine is poured.  Crow is served.

Yes, I confess to breaking my own rules.  Sometimes the temptation is just too much.  So what design flirted so hard with me that I succumbed to its horizontal stripes?  BlueSand from La Maison Rililie. 

I loved the easy shape.  I loved the big, bold front bands.  But, most of all, I loved the pockets.  I was a goner.

When I was asked to step in as leader of an existing knit-along at the shop where I teach, I knew our first project had to be a design with near-universal appeal.  But, also one that would be flattering on a variety of figure types.  BlueSand fit the bill.  The stripe pattern also allows for much individual creativity, which always makes a project more fun.

So, how did I play with those terrible horizontal stripes to play them down?  I turned them on ear to create a ombre effect.  Since my body has wide shoulders and a broad chest, and relatively narrower hips, I placed the darkest colors on top and worked my way down to the lightest.  (BlueSand is knit top-down.)  For most of you who are more pear-shaped, you would reverse the direction with the lightest colors closest to your face.  I also chose a brighter, but mid-range, color to create the front bands and make a strong vertical line to lengthen the body.

How do I feel about the results?  I love it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Even More Summer Cardigans

So, we've been checking out ideas for summer cardigans - little sweaters to throw over a tank top/camisole or summer dress to dress it up a little, add a little warmth in an overly-air conditioned room, or, most importantly to me, cover those upper arms to which genetics or gravity has not been kind.  As I was coasting through Ravelry, as I am want to do from time to time (if defined as several dozen occasions per day), I happened across a great new pattern - Myrna by Andi Satterlund.  
Myrna by Andi Satterlund

Myrna has a vintage vibe with it's close curve-enhancing, waist-hugging fit.  And the sassy pin-up girl styling certainly enhances that look.  Love, love, love the deep V-neck.  It is extra-sassy here with the exposed cleavage, but would be equally charming, and definitely more modest worn over a garment with a higher neckline.  The sleeves are a perfect length with full coverage, but stopping just short of the elbow.  Since it appears to have zero to negative ease, wearing Myrna open would cause it to hand nicely to the side. 

Miette by Andi Satterlund
Andi Satterlund is a name I should have had on my initial list of summer cardi designers, since she is also the brains and hands behind the super-popular Miette - 1,400 projects and in over 4,000 queues on Ravelry.  Like Myrna, there's a flattering neckline (a more modest scoop neck here), lace detail around the borders, cropped to waist length and close fit.  Miette's sleeves are to a 3/4 length, but, I imagine, could be easily shortened to just above the elbow as Myrna.  Miette's shaping creates a definite focus to the bust, so take that or leave it dependent upon your own cup size and modestly level. 

So, Myrna or Miette, either lady would be another great summer cardi choice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Crochet Chain Applique Tutorial

Vogue Knitting's
The Ultimate Hat Book

A quick review of my designs makes it clear that I have a passion for plaid.  I am not sure why since I don't bear a Scottish heritage.  And, the private school uniform typically causes a life-long aversion to plaid.  So, I suppose it is due to my love of color, but the opportunity to use it in a controlled manner.  My interest may also be that I've learned a few tricks to simplify plaid patterning, and I am willing to share my favorite with you.
The key characteristic of plaid is the crossing horizontal and vertical stripes.  In knit fabric, horizontal stripes are a beginner-level pattern - just change colors for one or more rows.  Vertical stripes are a whole different challenge.  Traditionally that problem was resolved by working intarsia.  In my mind that might be fine for a wide stripe, but narrow it down to just a few stitches - or even one stitch - and it becomes a disruptive step that often results in uneven stitches. 

Knitted base fabric, crochet hook and accent yarn

A better approach is to work the verticals after the knitting is complete with an applied crochet chain stitch.  This creates strong, clear vertical lines one stitch wide.  And it is much faster to work a crochet chain stripe than to knit it into the fabric in intarsia. 
You'll need a crochet hook matched to the size of your knitting needle.  Translate each to a mm measurement to find your size, find a reference chart on the internet, or pull out your needle gauge (most have the conversion since they can also be used to size crochet hooks). 

Insert hook thru fabric at base of purl channel

It is easiest to work an appliqued crochet chain into a column of purl stitches for a couple reasons.  First, it is much clearer where to work, and your stitches won't wander across columns.  But also, the depression caused by the purl channel allows the ridge of crochet chain to sit nearly flush with the surface of the stockinette fabric.  You can certainly work a crochet chain on a plain stockinette base, but your chain will sit above the fabric. 
Ready to give it a try?

Putting slip knot on hook on wrong side
Slip knot pulled thru to right side

Begin with the right side facing, and starting at the cast on edge, insert crochet hook through the fabric at the base of the column of ladders of the purl stitch groove.  With your other hand and working yarn on wrong side, place the slip knot on hook and pull through to right side. 
Inserting hook for first chain stitch
Continuing on with chain
*Advance hook over next yarn ladder up in vertical column and insert through fabric.  Wrap yarn around hook and pull new loop through to right side of fabric and through loop on crochet hook.  Repeat from * until you reach the last ladder before the top of the groove at the bound off edge. 
Making progress

Be careful not to work tightly, as that will draw in fabric and shorten the piece.  Every couple inches stop and give your work a tug along the vertical axis to check that it is not too tight and that the fabric remains elastic. 
To finish your chain, remove the last loop from hook and, inserting hook from WS at top of purl column, pull loop to WS.  Cut yarn and pull through.  Repeat for all vertical purl stitch grooves.
If you are working several closely spaced chains, the yarn ends from your completed chains may tangle with your working yarn.  If this happens, stop and weave in your ends. 
Gait's Haire Cowl

Speaking of weaving in ends, there will be quite a few.  To weave them in most invisibly, work the end back into the backside of the crochet chain.  The chain is much tighter than the surrounding knit fabric and will hold it secure.  This method also works well to hide the ends when your knit fabric is sheer, as in my Gait's Haire cowl or wrap design. 
Picture Perfect Plaid
from 60 Quick Baby Blankets
If you'd like to give this technique a try on a smaller project, I suggest my Cuthaig Plaid Mitts.  Another smaller project is the plaid tam pictured at the top of the post.  On a larger scale is my plaid baby blanket.

Cuthaig Plaid Mitts

I also have a couple new plaid garment designs using the applied crochet chain appearing in publications later this year, so keep an eye out. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Queen of the Summer Cardi

Abria from Chic Knits
Yesterday I hinted that there's one designer who owns the category of summer cardigans.  She owns more than just this category, but this is one where I think she really shines: Bonne Marie Burns of Chic Knits.  Her latest design, Abira, is an example of a perfect summer cardi.  Very refined with a trim fit and just a tiny bit of lace detail.  She offers a long list of yarn options, including Classic Elite Firefly, pictured in the sample here.  It's a top-down design, which is not my favorite, but it is for many knitters, and I will say that the technique's flaws are less evident in a short little cardi.  My only change would be to shorten the sleeves to above the elbow, since I feel they look a little awkward just below.  
Brynna from Chic Knits

Last year's summer cardi pattern was Brynna.  This is also a very refined design which is all lace - body, hem and bands.  Again, Bonne Marie offers a number of options for yarn, including one of my favorites, Elsbeth Lavold's Hempathy.  

Cece from Chic Knits
Cinnie from Chic Knits
Cece is an older pattern, but a goodie.  It also features an all-over lace pattern, v-neckline and 3/4 sleeves like Brynna, but is a bit more refined since it sticks to one lace pattern.  The single button closure also gives it another wearing option.  

Cinnie is the last of the summer cardis I'll mention before sending you off to the Chic Knits Ravelry shop for other great options, both summer and winter.  It's another great all-over lace short cardi.  But, you know I am going to mention the sleeve length.  As pictured, it would cut right across the widest part of my quite wide arms, which is not flattering.  I would extend the ribbing for several more inches to take the sleeve much closer to the elbow.  Check out the projects photos to see how other real-sized knitters resolved this dilemma.

In the past three days I've rounded up my current favorite summer cardi options.  Did I miss your favorite?  Let me know . . .