Tools of the Trade: My Favorite Knitting Needles

I learned to knit almost 5 years ago. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) My husband gave me the gift of sending me to a class at a LYS (local yarn store) for Valentine’s Day in 2016. I shopped at that same store fairly regularly until they closed last year when the owner moved out of state. Whenever I went in there, the employee who had taught my class always raved over how I’d taken to knitting “like a duck to water.” The cost of the class was small: one pair of knitting needles and one skein of yarn from their shelves. With those purchases, the class was free (there was a $20 fee if you brought your own needles and yarn). So with the help of the employees, I chose a nice pair of size 8 (5.0 mm) knitting needles and a robin’s-egg-blue skein of yarn.

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interchangeableI still have those very same needles today. And all of my needle purchases since then have been the same brand and line. What are they? Knitter’s Pride Dreamz, a polished wood needle with unmatched smoothness and pointy tips. Each size of the Dreamz needles is a different, beautiful color for easy identification. (Ironically, the two sizes I use most often – size 8 and size 10 – are almost the same color and I have to differentiate them by feel.) I was so enamored by my very first pair of needles that I’ve never bothered trying any others. I’ve expanded my collection over the past 5 years – I now have a set of interchangeable circular needles, many sets of single pointed, and many sets of double pointed needles, as well as two pairs of fixed circulars – but I’ve always purchased Dreamz.

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Blessings,

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Adjusting a Sweater Pattern

I’ve been knitting long enough now to have some confidence in what I’m doing. It’s rather a nice place to be! Today I’m going to talk about how I took a standard pullover sweater pattern (the Flax sweater, a free pattern of which I’ve made numerous iterations) and turned it into a cardigan for Dragonfly. Let’s start with a picture of the sweater I made:

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The sweater pattern in its original form is knit in the round from the top down. This means that starting at the collar and working the neckline, then shoulders, then body, you knit a large tube of fabric that fits around a person. You then come back up to the armpits and knit the sleeves from pit to cuff.

The Flax sweater starts with ribbing at the collar. I changed this to garter stitch, which does two things. First, it matches the texture on the top of the sleeves. Second, because I was working flat instead of in the round (I wanted my sweater to be open in the front, so making a tube didn’t make sense), garter stitch is easier than rib because it’s knit every round (no purl stitches anywhere in sight). I did this for 1.5 inches.

For my sleeves to line up with the front of the sweater, I couldn’t put the markers (indicating where I needed to place my increases for the shoulders) in the same spots as the original pattern. To accommodate the change, I looked at the original pattern and determined which numbers were for the front and back, and which were for the sleeves. I took the front/back number and divided it in half. This gave me the number of stitches I needed for the left half of the front and the right half of the front. I then knit the first half, placed a marker, knit the first sleeve, placed a marker, knit the entire back (no need to divide this one in half), placed a marker, knit the other sleeve, placed a marker, and finally knit the second half of the front. From here on out I was able to follow the pattern as written, with the exception of working in rows instead of rounds.

The yarn I used on this sweater was partially freshly dyed wool for this specific project, partially leftovers from other recent sweaters. I incorporated all of the other colors as stripes in the sweater, and I chose to divide the stripes using a thin stripe of brown. I used that same brown for the collar, waist, wrist cuffs, and button bands.

When knitting the button band that would have the buttonholes (rather than the solid one where I would sew buttons on later), I chose to make a buttonhole at the approximate middle of each color stripe as opposed to placing them evenly all the way down the sweater. Then I found buttons in my stash that matched the colors of the stripes and placed a matching button on each stripe.

That’s it for this sweater! I’ll be starting another “Flax Hack” sweater tonight, so there’ll be another post in a few weeks explaining that one (it’s an adult size sweater for Scorpion, so it’s going to take a while to make).

Blessings,

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Ruby: my entry to the Great Caron Cake Off

I read about the Great Caron Cake Off first on Repeat Crafter Me, and I was immediately excited. Let me give you a quick run down, and then I’ll show you what I made for the contest. 

Caron Cakes were introduced five years ago. The original yarn is a wool-acrylic blend wound into a cake shape instead of a skein (hence the name) and was popular with crocheters and knitters right away. Since then, they have created many more varieties of Caron Cakes, all of which are available exclusively at Michael’s craft stores. Since this year is the fifth anniversary of the Caron Cake, Michael’s is hosting a contest using the yarn. The task was to create something – anything – using any one of the Caron Cake yarns. It could be knit, crocheted, or crafted. 

I have been wanting to design my own knit and crochet patterns for a while (I did the pig a few months ago and that was enough to make me want to do more and more!), so this contest was the perfect opportunity to try something. I went to Michael’s to look at the Caron Cake selection (I don’t go there often because it’s about an hour away), and I absolutely adored the Latte Cakes I found. It’s an acrylic-nylon blend (which as I’ve mentioned before are super soft) and has a beautiful, fluffy texture thanks to the loose strands, or “eyelashes,” all over it. As a mom of boys, it would have made the most sense to get a brown or blue cake and turn it into a sweater or blanket. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to use the “Strawberry Flambé” color (gray and pink) to make a toddler dress. So I bought two of the pink cakes (they were buy one, get one half off that day) and brought them home. 

I thought I wanted to crochet the dress, but after two or three attempts that didn’t work out, I realized why: I don’t have any experience crocheting garments. I’ve knit countless sweaters and diaper covers, but I tend to use crochet for toys and blankets – not clothes. So I went back to knitting instead, and this is the dress I came up with:

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In the interest of full disclosure, I used the Flax sweater pattern for my measurements. While I’ve knit loads of sweaters, I’ve never designed one, so it made sense to start mostly from scratch instead of fully. I made a lot of modifications to the pattern (literally all I used from that one was the cast on number and the depth of the yoke measurement), so I’m still comfortable calling it my own creation.

I started by casting on the designated number (68) using the tubular cast on method. This gives a super stretchy neck hole. I worked the top ribbing in rows, and only joined in the round after the neck edge was done.

When it came time to start making the top larger rapidly to accommodate the shoulders, I used the yarn over method for my increases to give a lacy, open, girly feel for the dress. When I did the body-sleeve split, I knit for about 2 inches and then moved in to the waistband and skirt of the dress (rather than knitting all the way to the hips as I would have done for a sweater). I chose to go with short sleeves for this dress, so using my double pointed needles I added one row of plain knit and 6 rows of ribbing to the arm holes left when I did the sleeve separation. I was conscientious about the yarn color here, making sure the edges of the sleeves would match the shoulder portion.

I wanted a clear separation between bodice and skirt, so I did a narrow band of garter stitch (about an inch), and even though I was using self-striping yarn, I cut it here so I could get a clean line for that belt. I cut the yarn again after the belt as I headed into the skirt. The first row after the belt, I doubled my stitches by doing a KFB (knit front and back) increase into every stitch to give a good start to the skirt. 

 

A close up of the cables on the skirt

A close up of the cables on the skirt

I literally had a restless night the night before I started this project because I was thinking up ideas for my dress, and one of those ideas was to include cables on the skirt. I’ve knit plenty of cables before, but never really studied how they work, so I went with a simple 3 over 3 twist pattern. I wanted a super flowy, twirly skirt, so I knew I needed to slowly increase the stitch count to get the shape I wanted. In order to mimic the lacy quality of the bodice, I opted for yarn over increases again. This method leaves you with “on purpose” holes in the fabric. Instead of increasing every other row like I did on the top, I increased every third row; this is when I did the cable twists, so it was easier to keep track of where I was: increase and cable in the same row, then work two rows plain. 

I initially considered adding a crocheted border to the sleeves and bottom, but when I bound off, I didn’t think it needed it after all. I did, however, crochet a little flower and attach it to the waistband with a pearl button. The dress also closes with a matching pearl button at the back of the neck. (I didn’t add in a specific buttonhole; the pearls are small enough to slip through the stitches as they sit.)

I hope to have the official pattern written up (and maybe tested by other knitters) in the coming weeks. When that’s done, I’ll post it here. 

Blessings,

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Two Sweaters for Bumblebee

Because Bumblebee is so small, making sweaters for him is super fun – and super quick! I started this whole “sweater making in the summertime” kick with a sweater for him that matches the feel of one I made for myself a couple of years ago. He doesn’t particularly like this one (yet), so I don’t have pictures of him wearing it, but he has worn it a couple of times (namely once when we were at the beach and it was chilly so we made him!).

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64006710-C79F-4D1D-804C-1E354B399720I used the pattern “Caribou,” but when I was making mine, I realized that I didn’t like the way the cable pattern was forming. It left too many large holes. Instead, I found a different cable pattern that was a similar width that I really liked, so I used that as the basis for the one I made myself. Armed with this information, I skipped the pattern’s cable right from the start when I started making this sweater for Bumblebee. The cable I used on mine was 30 stitches wide, which was too many for a baby sweater, so I found something else for his, which was this six-stranded plait. Then I was able to get a set of buttons that were exactly the same as the ones I have on my sweater (wood elephants).

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Love the costume glasses almost as much as the beautiful sweater!

When I’d finished making the other two kids their Strange Brew (colored yoke) sweaters, I went back and made one for Bumblebee too. I started, like the others, with 100% wool yarn (I was out of my Knit Picks order by then, so this one is Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool that I picked up at JoAnn using a 50% off coupon). I dyed the yarn blue using the same recipe as the blue for Grasshopper’s sweater, minus the McCormick’s drops. By the time I got the first skein of yarn in, all of the black had absorbed so there was none left for the second skein. This means that even though both were dyed in the same pot, one is stripe-y and the other just a straight pale blue. Odd, huh? Because of this discrepancy, I opted to use the stripey yarn for the sleeves, and the plain for the body of the sweater. The variation of the mottled yarn combined with the stitch count of the baby sleeves made almost perfect stripes, so it worked out really well. In order to get a good contrast for the yoke, I made the background in undyed yarn and then added the design using the stripey yarn. Then I finished off the top with the plain blue again.

Both of these are just so beautiful, and I’m super excited for the fall when he can start wearing them regularly!

Blessings,

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A Sweater for Grasshopper

Here is the sweater I made for Grasshopper:

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FA2ADCAE-7A27-438C-8ABD-04506066C37EIt’s the same pattern as what I used for Dragonfly’s sweater (there’s one for Bumblebee that will be posted in a few days, too, and one for myself that I’m in the early stages of knitting). The pattern is really more of a “recipe,” meaning that it tells you the basics and gives lots of freedom in the decorative portion at the top rather than a specific set of pictures to knit. I’ve really been enjoying making these “Strange Brew” sweaters.

Grasshopper’s sweater was made with Knit Picks Wool of the Andes yarn that I dyed myself, just like Dragonfly’s. He was adamant that he wanted a pullover, and he wanted it to be dark blue. I also incorporated some orange that I had left over from making a sweater for Bumblebee (not the same one I mentioned earlier, but one that I will talk about soon). Because dark blue and orange are Grasshopper’s favorite colors, it was too perfect to not use both of those in one sweater for him. To dye the blue, I used 35 drops of McCormick’s blue food coloring (the liquids from the baking aisle) per skein. When that had dried, we looked at the yarn and decided it wasn’t dark enough, so I over-dyed it using Wilton’s Sky Blue icing color mixed with a bit of Black icing color. The black, because it’s made up of different dyes, splits beautifully, and that’s what gave this yarn that gorgeous marbled effect.

31BE549E-5FB9-411A-8E9A-653F0DBB96C1I knit this sweater from the bottom up, and I was anxious to see how the colors would play together, so I incorporated a design into the bottom of each sleeve and then used that same design on the bottom of the sweater, just above the hem. I was a bit concerned about having enough blue yarn, so I also added orange stripes to each sleeve.

When it was time to knit the yoke, I chose to incorporate the same pattern from the bottom as one of the motifs. Upon looking at it more closely I thought it looked like a maze, so I tried to find other motifs that fit that same feel. This was actually the first Strange Brew sweater I knit, and I was so in love with how it turned out that I immediately started Dragonfly’s green sweater – and when that one was done, I started one for Bumblebee! And these three sweaters are some of my favorite that I’ve ever knitted.

Blessings,

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Knitted Sweater for Seahawk

My little kids get all sorts of sweaters knit for them (by me). Because they’re so small, they go really quickly and are a good way to try out new patterns – small commitment of both yarn and time. The older two get sweaters very occasionally. In fact, they’ve each only gotten one from me versus the 3-4 that each of the little kids has. Being nearly adult sized (Munchkin) and actually adult sized (Seahawk), both the money and time needed are quite a bit bigger.

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A while ago, I decided that it was time for me to make a sweater for Seahawk. He was the only kid who hadn’t gotten one yet, and I was feeling a little bad about that. So he and I sat down at the computer together and surfed Ravelry for patterns. I guided him toward patterns from Tin Can Knits because I knew that any pattern I bought from them would be a good value (because all their patterns come in a huge variety of sizes from “baby to big”). Before too long, he picked the Jones cardigan. It was an ambitious project because it’s made from a stitch pattern called “moss stitch,” rather than the traditional stockinette. Add to that the large number of braided cables and I knew I was in for a long project. But I tackled it for him.

sweater 1The pattern was a lot more complex than I expected. Don’t mistake complex for difficult, though. It wasn’t hard; it was just complicated. And for reasons I can’t place my finger on, I didn’t really like making it. I don’t know if it was the pattern itself or if I just chose an unpleasant yarn (it’s 50% lamb’s wool, 50% cotton). But whatever it was, I would almost always choose a different project to work on instead. Finally, I made the decision that I had to a certain amount of work on this sweater before I’d allow myself to work on any other projects. Then, about a month ago, I told myself no other projects at all until this one was done. You’d think that would have motivated me to just power through it, but no. I still took days off from knitting altogether sometimes just to avoid this project. But finally, about a week ago, I bound it off. What a happy day that was! Not only do I not have to work on it anymore, but it was such a big project that it just felt good to have finished it.

The sweater took me almost exactly a year to finish – by far my longest knitting project ever. Fortunately Seahawk doesn’t seem to have gone through too much of a growth spurt during that time, so it still fits him. And he gets lots of compliments when he wears it out (which has been basically every single time he’s left the house since I finished).

As glad as I am that the sweater is done, I’m even more glad that he likes and appreciates the work that went into it. Knowing that he loves it makes all the “blood, sweat, and tears” totally worthwhile.

Blessings,

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Pictures of the Week: Christmas Sweaters

I was so excited to give my parents the sweaters that I’d hand knit for them for them for Christmas. I was not disappointed in their reactions! It was so rewarding to hear them gush about how much they  loved them and had been thinking about getting new outerwear anyway since theirs was wearing out. And when they both put them on immediately, and both sweaters fit, my heart swelled.

Here are my mom and Dragonfly in their matching sweaters. (The pattern is the same, but the colors are different, obviously.)

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And here’s my stepdad in his.

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He was happier about the sweater than he looks in this picture, I promise 🙂

Blessings,

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How to Knit a Washcloth

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The next three posts will focus on knitting things that aren’t clothes. While my very favorite things to knit are sweaters for my family (both my kids and some extended family), there are situations when you need or want to knit something that you can’t wear. Let’s start with a simple washcloth.

3C68E271-E019-4AF9-8B82-62995CD73409I’ve only ever knit one style of washcloth, and it’s not a terribly difficult one. You can get your own copy of the free pattern here. I recommend 100% cotton yarn for washcloths. This type of yarn is very stiff and can be difficult to work with, so I don’t necessarily suggest this as a first project, despite the fact that it’s really easy on the stitches.

Start by casting on 3 stitches. Obviously three stitches isn’t enough to create an entire cloth, so you’re going to have to increase, or add more stitches, to the rows. So, once you’ve cast on your three stitches, knit one row straight (this means “without increasing”). Turn the work, and knit one stitch. Into the second stitch, you’re going to knit two stitches. The first one will be knit normally; the second (done before you pull the original stitch off of the needle) is knit through the back of the stitch. Once you’ve knit both of them (the front and the back), then you slide the old stitch off of the left needle. Then knit the final stitch normally. By doing this, you now have four stitches instead of three on your right needle. Turn the work (by switching needles/hands). Knit the first stitch normally, then KFB (knit front and back) into the second stitch, then knit normally to the end of the row. Continue in this manner until you have 45 stitches on your needle. Your washcloth will be triangle shaped at this point.

Once you get to those 45 stitches, you need to knit 3 rows straight. Then it’s time to decrease to create the other half of the triangle. With the full needle in your left hand and the empty one in your right, knit the first stitch normally. Then knit the next two stitches together (k2tog). This means to knit normally, except instead of knitting through just one stitch, you’ll go through the next two at the same time. After the decrease, knit all the rest of the stitches normally. You’ll repeat this row until you’ve got yourself back down to just three stitches. Knit those three straight, and then bind them off. Weave in your ends, and your washcloth is done!

Blessings,

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Knitting Flat vs In the Round

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There are two basic ways of knitting, and different patterns will have you do it different ways. The first way is “Flat.” This means that you’re working in rows, going back and forth, making a piece that is… wait for it… flat. If you’re making a garment, knitting flat means that you’ll have seams to sew up at the end (unless you’re working on a cardigan). Not everything is a garment, though, and therefore requires knitting flat – such as a washcloth. It would be silly to have a tubular washcloth, so you knit them flat.

Knitting in the round, just like knitting flat, is exactly what it sounds like. You connect the first stitch to the last one and knit around and around in circles, creating a tube of fabric. For clothing, this is ideal because you don’t have to worry about sewing the flat pieces together at the end to create the tube you need. 

There are lots of tutorials around on how to join your stitches to start working in the round, so if you’re interested in that method (which I highly recommend; it’s much easier in the long run than knitting flat), it will be easy to find one of those. YouTube can be your best friend 🙂

Blessings,

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Knitting a Gauge Swatch

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Most patterns will give you a gauge for the pattern in order to have your finished article turn out the same size as that of the designer. This is important because otherwise you’ll put in loads of work on a garment and it just might end up really huge or really tiny, depending on how your gauge compares to that of the designer. Here’s how to check your gauge.

Choose the yarn and needles you intend to use for the project. Cast on a few stitches. I like to do 30. Knit 3 rows. On the fourth row, knit 3 stitches, purl to the last 3, then knit those last three. On the fifth row, knit across. For the sixth row, repeat round 4. Continue in this manner until you have about 6 inches of knitting, then knit 3 rows at the end. Bind off. This is called a gauge swatch.

Once you’ve knit your gauge swatch, you need to measure it. For a long time, I just used a measuring tape to do this. I’d set the tape on top of the knitting and count the stitches over a span of either 2 or 4 inches. Now, I have this tool, which I can lay on top of my swatch and count the stitches in the cutout, which is a 2-inch L shape (for stitches across and rows up and down).

So… you’ve knit your gauge swatch and yours matches up with the pattern says you need. That’s great! You’re ready to start knitting with the assurance that your garment will fit as intended. But what if your stitches aren’t the same as what the pattern says?

That’s easily fixable. First you have to know whether your count is more or less than what the pattern calls for. If your pattern calls for “18 stitches over 4 inches,” simple division tells you that that’s 4.5 stitches per inch. It’s easy to think that if you get 4 or 5 stitches per inch, that’s “close enough.” This just isn’t the case. Think about it: an adult sized sweater is 30 inches or more around. If the gauge for the pattern is 4.5 stitches per inch, that means for a 38 inch sweater (random number), you need to cast on 171 stitches. If your gauge is 4 stitches per inch (and you don’t correct it, which I’ll explain how to do in a minute), then those same 171 stitches will give you a sweater circumference of 42.75 inches. That’s a lot bigger than the 38 you were going for! Looking the other way, if you’re getting 5 stitches per inch, those 171 stitches are going to give you a sweater that’s 34.2 inches. That’s also no good. So you can see, it’s really important to be dead on with your gauge if you want the garment to fit as expected.

Fixing your gauge for the project is as easy as swapping out your knitting needles. Using the example above, let’s say your gauge is 4 stitches per inch using the needle recommended in the pattern and on the yarn label. The pattern requires 4.5 stitches, so this means you’re not getting enough stitches per inch; yours are too big. Swap your needle out for one of a smaller size. This will make your stitches a bit smaller, and you’re likely to get the gauge pretty easily with just one size difference. The exact opposite is true if you’ve gotten 5 stitches per inch using the subscribed needles. You have too many stitches, which means yours are too small. Try a bigger needle. 

Of course, you can always adjust a pattern instead of adjusting your stitches if you want, but that’s a lot more complicated and requires a fair amount of math. I prefer to adjust my needles instead.

I hope this helps you understand gauge and why it’s important, but more important, how to make sure you get it right and how to fix it if you don’t.

Blessings,

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