Friday, October 28, 2011

Elizabeth Cap pattern available for purchase

The TECHknitting pattern is now available for Elizabeth Cap.  The pattern is 7 pages long and includes tutorials on two kinds of garter stitch selvedges and picking up stitches, as well as written instructions plus schematics for the project.

Inspired by the soft flattering caps worn by women for hundreds of years, the cap is worked in modular sections.  The cap is all flat-knit (back and forth) in garter stitch, and was designed especially for "hand painted" yarns. Gauge and yarn info are on the cover shown below (click image to enlarge).

You can view projects made with this pattern on Ravelry or
You can purchase the pattern through Ravelry or
You can purchase the pattern directly by clicking below

The cost is $5.00 USD

Good knitting

Monday, October 24, 2011

What the yarn wants to be

The last post was about a new pattern coming out by the end of this week, which represents something of a new direction for TECHknitting blog--a pattern offered for sale.  This is a small pattern for a ladies cap, called the "Elizabeth cap."  In the comments, a reader wrote:

 "...I'll be especially interested to read about your process."

Which got me thinking backwards and thus begat today's post.

* * *
The drive for every knitting project comes from a different place, I think.  Sometimes, the project is product-driven ("I need a red sweater for the Christmas party").  Sometimes, the project is process-driven ("I love knitting cables"). Often, a couple of drives collide ("I'll knit a red cable sweater!")  But this particular project, this cap, was mostly yarn-driven.

As stated in the last post, I was away from knitting for a long time.  Oh, I did keep knitting the occasional project, but mostly on yarn I had laying around.  When I sold my yarn shop, I held back a *bunch* of my favorite yarn--for years, yarn shopping was unnecessary.  When the long drought was over, yarn shops were full of all kinds of new yarn.  Gone were the old standards (sniff, Brunswick Germantown, RIP).  In their place were new! exciting! yarns!

Among these new yarns were "hand painted."  These looked excellent in the skein, but when knit up in stockinette, they seemed odd and splotchy. Yet, the colors were intriguing and inspired, so I kept trying.

Texture work was a flop--knitting cables and other textures in these yarns was a waste of energy.  The textures were nearly invisible against the surging colors.

Lace work was a flop--the repetitive patterns which make lace inserts so attractive were disrupted by the non-repetitive color placement.  The variations-on-a-theme which anchor the most beautiful lace projects were equally lost.

What the heck was that yarn trying to be?  Not stockinette, not cables, not lace inserts, not lace projects, so what? It bugged me for a long time.

Of course, by this time, I had a bunch of this kind of yarn laying around.  So, one day, just to use up the yarn, I made a pair of socks in stockinette, with garter stitch heels.

Well! The heel was everything the rest of the sock was not--the socks were splotchy, the heels were beautiful strips of color. The "heads" of the stitches alternating down the length of the garter ridges made dots of contrasting color all the way down the row, so the colors worked together in the fabric in the same way they worked in the skein.  Finally. Hallelujah.

Yet, although this solved the color-splotch problem,  garter stitch has issues of its own.  In garter stitch, the yarn is laid into the fabric at an angle, rather than laying in flat sheets, as it does is stockinette. All these angled stitches make the yarn thick rather than tall, so for a fabric of the same height, garter stitch takes considerately more yarn than does stockinette.  As a result:

  • the fabric is heavy.
  • containing as much reserve yarn as it does, garter-stitch fabric is stretchy and unstable lengthwise.  In other words, garter stitch wants to stretch and stretch and stretch when it is worn, as those angled stitches get dragged straighter and straighter through wear and gravity.  Harnessed in a good way, this is excellent.  For one example, garter stitch jackets made for children almost magically grow with their wearers, and this a really swell thing for little people. But for grownups, not so much.
  • because of the amount of yarn it takes, garter stitch is s-l-o-w to knit, which translates into b-o-r-i-n-g

The constraints were clear.  The project must be small; stretch must be wanted, but not so much that the garment became misshapen; and the yarn used be of a light weight, so that stretch and distortion could be combated by knitting more tightly.So, that was one train coming down the track--the need to find a project in which hand painted yarn of a light weight could be knit up in garter stitch.

Coming down the track in the other direction was the perennial train of necessity, here in the upper Midwest, to find a winter hat. The ideal hat would not create hat-hair and would not pin one's ears to one's head so that they ached after a short time.  Versatility would be a good thing, too: the choice to wear hair in, or hair out, and for the hat to be light enough to store in a pocket until needed.

Eventually, these two trains got switched onto the same track when I sat down to knit the nth winter hat of my career, using some light-weight hand-painted yarn knit in garter stitch.  This little cap emerged after several experiments in adding ease over the ears and over the cap back, but not over the front of the cap.  The final profile owes a lot to Elizabethan-era caps, which led to the name "Elizabeth cap." After all, Elizabethan women were required by custom to cover their hair at all times.  They must, I thought, have figured out a comfortable, attractive solution.

The yarn I chose, Pagewood Farms' Glacier Bay, has a lovely crunchy hand when firmly knit in garter stitch. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that Glacier Bay is not commonly available (although if you can find it, try it--it is a unique yarn, at a unique weight, and no, I am not related to the fine folks at Pagewood Farms in any way). So, I re-worked the cap in hand painted sock yarn, and that was satisfactory, also.

I've made four of these so far, and they seem popular.  This led me to write up the pattern (which will be available Thursday or Friday of this week).

That's a lot of backstory to freight down such a little cap.  But, it was fun to research and fun to write.  It's also been fun to wear, and to knit a bunch of them, and it's been a trip down memory lane to write the pattern.

In a nutshell, the process of designing this little project was letting the yarn be what wants to be.

--Best, TK

Friday, October 21, 2011

A peek behind the scenes: patterns, old school style

Many years ago, I owned a yarn shop. I taught lessons, wrote patterns and sold them and did the whole business thing. I even started a knitting book.  Oh, I even taught myself Adobe Illustrator, in order to provide the illustrations (and LORD was that program S-L-O-W when it first came out).

Anyhow, despite all the knitting stuff I loved, life got in the way, and I turned my hand to other things.  There were times I wondered pretty severely how it was all going to turn out, and some times when I was pretty sure it wasn't going to turn out at all.  However, with great good luck and all due humility, that non-knitting hiatus worked out OK.

In the past few years, the 24/7 stuff has been gradually fading away, and I have able to find the spare moments to come back to knitting.  One day in 2006, I was poking around the internet, and somehow found a knitting blog. Man, that was IT!  I was hooked.  Two days later, TECHknitting blog stated--I think it took me the whole two days to get the first post up. I was so excited, I don't think I slept.

Ever since then, I've been using every spare minute for knitting and drawing and writing.  And lately, the little voices in my head have been whispering to me that I really ought to go back to pattern writing.

The last time I regularly wrote patterns, spread sheets hadn't yet become very popular. (I think the dinosaurs roaming around everywhere got in the way.) So, I learned to do pattern grading and gauge grading all by hand. Now that I've sat down to start pattern writing again, old habits die hard.  I do the illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, I put the pattern together using Adobe InDesign, and know I could do the gauge grading in Excel, but here I am, writing patterns with paper and pencil.  Go figure.

A new TECHknitting pattern is about to come out--a pattern for an Elizabethan-style cap--and I thought a peek behind the scenes at old-school pattern-writing might be interesting, in a time-capsule kind of way.

The pattern will be for sale on Ravelry in about a week.  It's no biggie, it's just a cap, but it is a new direction around chezTECH, a further return to the knitting business that I had to leave behind so long ago.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Multiple of X plus Y"--stitch pattern notation explained

How's this? "Cast on a multiple of 12 stitches plus 5."  Or how about "pattern is a multiple of 9 stitches plus 3"?  Does that sound horribly like high school algebra?  Does it confuse you? If my e-mail is anything to go by, you are not alone.
* * *
Suppose we are working a cable over 6 stitches.  Another way of saying this is that the cable is a multiple of 6.

a single 6-st-wide cable

For each cable we want to cast on, we have to have six stitches.  That seems simple enough.  But, if we only cast on 6 stitches, we'll have a cable, yes, but no fabric on either side.  If we want, let's say, three cables, it would be awfully tight (and not that pretty) to have nothing but cables sitting right next to one another--here, see for yourself.

three 6-st-wide cables, stacked next to one another

So, let's set each cable against its own little patch of background fabric.  In other words, we'll add a little fabric on each side of the cable to set it off, 3 purl columns, say.

a 6-st-wide cable (purple) set off by two 3-st-wide columns of purl (blue)

The original 6-stitch cable with its two new 3-stitch-wide side flaps is going to take up 12 stitches: 3+6+3.  This LOOKS like we've developed a 12-stitch-wide stitch-pattern. And, indeed, if we just wanted to make a skinny single cable scarf, we'd say "cast on 12 stitches." So far, so good.

But, suppose we want a scarf with two cables. If we simply double the 12-stitch-wide stitch-pattern we've developed, we get trouble.

two 12-st-wide cable patterns, side by side

As you can see, doubling twelve (casting on 24) means the cables aren't centered in the fabric.  Instead of being framed on both sides by THREE columns of purls, the two cables are separated from one another by SIX columns of purls.  Now the edge-columns are looking a little skimpy, the fabric is unbalanced, and the cable placement is not symmetrical.

The problem, of course, is that we really only needed THREE purl columns between the two cables, not SIX.  The three purl columns in the middle of the fabric ought to be SHARED between the cables.  In order to share these columns, however, we're going to have to think about this stitch pattern in a different way.

a nine-st-wide stitch pattern
What if we think of this particular stitch pattern as being NINE stitches wide as shown above, instead of TWELVE stitches wide?  When we stack up these nine-stitch-wide patterns side-by-side, we can see that the cables are sharing the center three purl columns just fine.

two nine-st wide stitch patterns, side by side
Conceptualizing this as a nine-stitch-wide stitch pattern has certainly solved the problem of sharing the purl columns between the cables. Yet it clearly leaves us with a different problem.  That second cable?  The one to the left?  It's naked on its left edge.  We're going to have to add three more purl columns to complete the pattern repeat to the outer left edge.

two nine-st-wide stitch patterns PLUS a 3-st-wide purl column (shown in red)

Now we're finally there: two 6-stitch-wide cables, each framed by 3 purl columns, and no naked knitting.  In fact, we have a pattern of two multiples of 9, plus the three red edge stitches we just added.  Our stitch pattern turns out to be a multiple of 9 plus 3.

looks like a twelve stitch pattern, but it actually
turns out to be a multiple of 9, plus 3

Stated otherwise, when we flanked our original 6 stitch cable with two 3-stitch-wide purl columns, we weren't developing a 12-stitch-wide pattern.  It did have 12 stitches, true, but it was actually a pattern constructed of a single multiple of 9 stitches plus the 3 red edge stitches, as shown above.

By notating the pattern in this manner, we can stack any number of repeats side-by-side without throwing the pattern off.  Further, this notation makes it quite easy to mathematically work out any number of pattern repeats very quickly. For example, a stitch pattern which is a multiple of 9 plus 3, such as this one, can be
  • 12 stitches wide [1x9=9+3=12)  which is one repeat of the pattern,
  • 21 stitches wide [2x9=18+3=21] which is two repeats, or
  • 30 stitches wide [3x9=27+3=30] which is three repeats, or
  • 39 stitches wide [4x9=36+3=39) which is four repeats,  and so on
where the large red numbers are the multiples--the number of pattern repeats and
the small red numbers are the "catch up" stitches required to complete the last
repeat of the pattern to the outer left edge.

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on stitch pattern notation: "Multiple of x plus y." 

Monday, October 17, 2011

And the winners are...

Until noon today, TECHknitting blog offered three random winners the chance to win one of three random books--books I somehow acquired doubles of over the years.  After the noon cut-off, the three random winners picked were:

Margaret who wins "Knitted Lace of Estonia"

Astrante who wins "Knitting Brioche"

Jenny who wins "Fair Isle Knitting"

Congrats, thanks to all for commenting, and thanks for reading TECHknitting blog.

Good knitting! TK

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Renew and reuse: refresh your Uggs

Fall is coming.  The cold-weather clothes are coming out.  Here's a neat trick to get fix worn-out Uggs to get another year's wear out of them.

This is not actually a knitting post but close enough--a trick with loose wool.  The thing with Uggs, heck, with all shearling boots, is that as time goes by, they start to wear out.   First, the wool inside gets beaten down.  Then, the leather tends to stretch with wear. So here's a (super) simple trick to refresh the innards of a well loved pair, and at the same time, tighten the fit to like-new.

1) obtain some loose wool--the kind of locks prepared for spinners (washed and combed) are perfect. However, pretty much any combed loose wool with vegetable matter and oils removed will do.

2. Slip some of this loose wool into your boots in small handfuls, trying to keep the strands of the fibers oriented in the the same direction.  Insert your foot every handful or two, to test the fit, then keep going until things feel snug but not suffocating. Put the wool more around the edges of the foot, and don't put as much under the foot as you think--too much loose wool under the sole tends to clump up and get hard to walk on. As you walk around, the wool inside will mold to your foot. 

It is best to wear your Uggs barefoot with this trick, or the loose wool will stick to your socks and make a mess.  If you must wear socks, wear thin light-colored smooth cotton ones, *not* woolen.

As to the exactly best kind of wool to use,  my own method has not been very scientific--I just grab a small bag of loose wool at a farmer's market whenever it comes up for sale, so I can't tell you what kinds are best.  It does seem, however, that different batches of stuffing-wool last for different amounts of time. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable will speak up in the comments as to what would be a specific kind of wool to look for?

At any rate, when this new wool has become too trodden down--overly felted and worn, its easily removed and replaced with fresh.

Neat, huh?  Not a new idea, though--this is actually a trick from the Middle Ages.

This is how folks kept their feet dry and warm in all manner of clunky footwear--wooden shoes and heavy boots.  This is also how the fit was adjusted on the coarsely-sized footwear then made. Wool was used if available, but really poor folks used straw (ouch!) or moss.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seeing double: your chance to win a knitting book

Note: the below contest is now closed. Thanks for participating.
The other day, while reorganizing books in my studio, I realized I was seeing double.

The knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush
Knitting Brioche: Guide to the Brioche Stitch by Nancy Marchant
Fair Isle Knitting by Sarah Don

Although a big fan (huge!) of all three books, I have no use for an extra copy of each.  So, to thank you for being readers of TECHknitting blog, three lucky commenters will be chosen, each to receive one of the (lightly used) duplicates.

To enter, all you have to do is tell me, in the comments
1. the title of your favorite knitting book--the one YOU would take to a desert island (pick from any book in the whole wide world, not just one of the three being given away)
2. the reason(s) why that particular book is your fave--

  • Charming things to knit? 
  • Good illustrations? 
  • Love the author's writing style?
  • Lays flat when you open it?
  • Straightforward instructions? 
  • Inspirational?
  • Brilliant knitting insights?  
  • Excellent photography?
  • Amazingly useful for ... starting? slogging through? completing? a garment
  • Good graphic design (layout of the contents)?
  • Some other reason(s)?

The fine print:
1. The whole process is going to be random:  Three winners will be randomly chosen, and each of the three winners will randomly be assigned to win one or another of the three books available to be won.
2. A non-US winner would be responsible for any customs tax or fee incurred by receiving the book.
3. The entries will be closed at 12 noon, Monday October 17, CDT, and the winners will be announced shortly thereafter.

Good luck in the drawing, and thanks again for being a TECHknitting blog reader


Saturday, October 1, 2011

How to sew on a button without the spacer sandwich

A spacer sandwich?  What?

one kind of spacer sandwich

Actually, this post is not about UFO's on a bun, it's about a different kind of spacer sandwich--it's about a little trick to make sewing on buttons easier.  How it came about is that recently, I had to sew 9 buttons onto a sweater-coat.  Naturally, only on the very last one did today's neat trick decide to reveal itself.

The problem arises because non-shanked buttons (the kinds with holes in the top) still need to have a shank (shank = little stem on button back).  The shank raises the button high enough so that you can work the button into and out of the button hole without the button compressing the fabric.  Naturally, the thicker the fabric, the longer must be the shank.  

shanked and unshanked

Shanked buttons are offered in different shank heights, but unshanked buttons are more generally versatile--making the shank yourself out of thread allows you to custom-control the shank height, and so use the same button on a thin fabric or on a thick one.

The usual method for making a thread shank on an unshanked button involves inserting a spacer of the desired height (a matchstick or toothpick is common) between the button and the fabric, then sewing the button on over the spacer.  At the end, the spacer is removed. The needle is then poked into the space between the button and the fabric, and the loose sewing loops are wrapped tightly with thread to make the shank.  Finally, the end of the thread is "buried" in the thickness of the underlying fabric, taking one or two 180 degree bends on the way to stop it from pulling out.  The end result of all the sandwiching and sewing and wrapping and burying is a thread shank.

a thread shank being wrapped

Until today's trick revealed itself to me, I dutifully sewed on buttons by making each into a button-spacer-sandwich: the button on top, the matchstick in the middle, and the knitting on the bottom.  Naturally, until several stitches were made and this slippery sandwich snugged down, the spacer wanted to shoot out, fall down or generally wiggle around, taking the button with it and requiring the whole works to be carefully repositioned before sewing could re-commence.  Annoying.

a spacer sandwich about to be sewn

So, on button number nine, when patience was wearing out and sailor words were about to fly, it occurred to me to tack the spacer down FIRST! with a couple of stitches! and THEN sew the button on over the spacer.

tack the spacer down first with a stitch or two, 
and say goodbye to the wiggly sandwich

Good knitting, TK

Related posts

Buttonhole series:
.Buttonholes in hand knitting, part 1: lore and tradition plus some nifty tricks 

Other button and buttonhole posts: