In early 2009, when ordering the opening inventory for Rare Purls, the yarn sales reps kept telling me that with the economy in such bad straits, the fancy, pricey novelty yarns were out of style. Those frilly yards of fun were not in the latest collections for so many of the lines. Knitting magazines featured smooth yarns knit in elegant cabled patterns, and knitted lace was everywhere. But for many knitters, well, they just loved their novelty yarns. To cast on a yarn with size 11 US needles and whip out an incredible scarf in a weekend was their idea of happy knitting. Slubs and flags, sparkle and fluff all served up in a single strand made easy garter stitch scarves look extraordinary. And remarkably, most errant stitching simply vanished in the glitz. The shop opened with an inventory of lovely smooth yarns of every fiber variety and colorway. Still, time after time, customers looked around, then finally asked "where are your novelty yarns?"
Oh yes, I parroted all I had been told, that more somber yarns were a reflection of more somber economic times, but they didn't buy it (literally) and honestly, neither did I. The average knitters wanted bang for their buck and nothing quite filled the bill for novice knitters like novelty yarns. When curious crafters, having seen a friend's froufrou wrap, came in to sign up for lessons and give knitting a whirl, I would pull out the simple wool sampler scarf taught in our beginner class. Their disappointment was obvious. Often, I would go home and pull from my own stash to sate a newbies appetite for instant gratification. Now that's love for a fellow crafter.
Fortunately, this saga has a happy ending. The yarn industry is responding to the outcry from novelty loving knitters who still want those wonderful, fulfilling skeins. Production of novelty yarns is back on track. In many versions, the plentiful nylon, used for so many ribbons and wrappers, is now being replaced by more natural fibers such as bamboo, and silk. Kid mohair, lovely solo, is also gorgeous incorporated in a more novel presentation. Though novelty yarns will never replace the bread and butter yarns such as Cascade 220 and On Line Clip, this is not their purpose. They make effortless knitting into striking designs, strong on texture. In fact, I think a year or two of innovation has brought us all to a better place. Maybe it is a form of "natural selection", because the new luxury novelties are better than ever. It is our attraction to fancy yarns that has brought them back to this season's collections. Knitters have been heard; the novelty has not worn thin.
Copyright April 2010
On Kay's Needles
This month, my knitting is a multitask, for sure! I am about 10% across the 468 stitches, bound off in picot on my Peony Scarf by Twisted Sisters. I can hardly wait to block and wear. This project has been a long labor of love. My Ron Socks, knit in Opal's Harry Potter Limited Edition, are at about 45% complete. I knit the first sock with a slightly longer usual leg for Bill's socks, then noticed that this great, long repeat hand dye had less yardage than the yarns I had previously used for Bill's tootsies. Perhaps I will need to knit solid toes. Then the internal quandry, "how can I make these socks identical with a long repeat and so little yardage" So, I took the sock with me (in my new Daisy Muir project bag that Luke gave me for my birthday) to one of my local knitting groups, asking for a concensus. Should socks be identical or fraternal? (I had even found a Ravelry thread asking the same question.) I was met with humor and tough love. Finally, having knit the first sock to the toe and the second one, knit from the center of the ball, to the gusset, I am on track for an awesome pair of fraternal socks. I have let the dyer's talent shine, adding simply a tweek of 180 degrees in the two socks. If need be, I can knit the toes in both with a solid color, no biggie. I love that I let these socks take a different direction.
My most recent project is a crochet poncho crocheted in an elegant Gedifra ribbon for a friend's daughter.
Copyright 2010 Kay Mather
Since ancient times, people have used dyes to adorn fiber and to this day, men and women enjoy color in their clothing. But when it comes to knitters, we not only love colors in our projects, we are willing to go to effort and expense to cast on with lovely and interesting hand dyed yarns. Every season, new hand dyeds hit the shelves of local yarn shops to meet the demand for these artsy yarns. Knowing how to knit these unique skeins to show off their best advantage is key to successful projects using hand dyed yarns.
The road to hand dyed yarns is paved with years of innovation. Originally, colorwork in knitting was attained by simply using two or more solid yarns. Stripes from two tone to a series of seven Fibonacci bands were accomplished by knitting with separate skeins, leaving many ends to weave in at finishing. In 1963, H. W. Wilkinson, Jr. was issued a patent for a dyeing machine to produce variegated yarns, allowing mills to use multiple colors in a single skein, in a fixed amount and progression. The variegated yarns produced using this process were immediately very popular and continue to be to this day. Colorful knitting became easy and the finished projects were bright and cheerful. In the early 1980's, Eisaku Noro of Japan developed a line of yarns with long repeating stripes of elegant colors, a technique he still uses today to produce some of the worlds most popular yarns. Other companies got on the self striping band wagon, producing yarns of every weight and color, so knitters could enjoy effortless color work in their knitting, using but a single strand.
When hand dyed yarns hit the yarn shops, knitters were delighted and this category of yarns continues to enjoy widespread popularity. Rather than a machine dyeing the fiber or yarn, color was applied to hanks by hand with new and fabulous results. Even amateur fiber artists were able to attain unique, repeating color patterns using this technique and hence the indie dyers came on the needle arts scene. Some of these talented indie dyers went on to take their talents to stellar status, starting yarn companies featuring their custom colorways. Twisted Sisters and Aruacania Yarns are examples of women who have made their hand dyed yarns common features in local yarn shops nationwide.
I can still remember my first exposure to true hand dyed yarn. The owner of my local yarn shop suggested a wrap knit in two Colinette yarns, a mohair and a cotton chenille, both hand dyed in soft undulating pinks. Two weeks later I was back for more, knitting a sweater in a Colinette rayon blend, this time with more colors and interest. It seems that hand dyed yarns can be addicting! Even today, I have several works in progress that feature these fascinating yarns. I love the surprise of varying lengths of color and how each skein holds mystery. Where with machine dyed yarns, our finished projects were near identical to the pattern photos, now every project is unique. My Peony scarf from Twisted Sisters will be different than any other knit in the same colorway. The art in our craft has attained a whole new level.
Even with all its beauty and marvel, working with these yarns has its eccentricities. Where in my first Colinette pattern book, there was a designer note in the preface instructing to alternate skeins every two rows (if you went straight to the patterns, you missed this info), most of todays hand dyed yarns and patterns seem to assume that tidbit as prior knowledge. One of my favorite students was very disappointed when her first sock striped, but the second sock had pools of color. Those knitters who seek strict order in their knitting, may find hand dyed yarns a bit frustrating. For years, I worked very hard to line up the stripes on sleeves and to make my socks a matching pair. My relief from hand dyed frustration came when cover shot after cover shot in major knitting magazines featured sweaters with obvious color pooling. A sample knit had passed the scrutiny of a sample knitter, a photographer, a feature editor and a chief editor. Who was I to say that pooling is knitting gone wrong?
To experience and fully appreciate a hand dyed hank, it must be knit. When the hanks have not been reskeined to blend the colors, all you see is bands of color on the yarn.
Once reskeined, it is easy to see the distribution of the various colors. But the piece de la resistance comes when the strand is cast on and worked into a pattern. Even in simple garter, the lengths of color come alive, bumping into each other, sidling along, occurring and recurring. Sometimes, a simple striping appears, yet in a different project, even a different part of the same project, the colors may come together in a totally new way. The color patterns in a back and front and/or the left and right fronts will not be identical, but similar. I have come to love the differences in the sections of my projects. The surprise and mystery of hand dyed skeins are part of the art. That someone put dyes to fiber individually, becomes an individual opportunity.
The more staid knitter might prefer a space dyed, dependable, self striping yarn, but there is ever so much more fun in knitting with a unique hank. Learn to go with it, if you can, and experience the creative flow. If you must have more order in your knitting, alternate hanks every two rows and line up the repeats in the different sections of your project, for example beginning both sleeves at the same part of the color repeat.
Today's designers are savvy when it comes to which yarn they choose for a project, so if a hand dyed yarn is recommended, trust the guidance. Iris Schreier developed an entire line of yarn and patterns around hand dyeing techniques, as have other popular modern design divas. Both the talented Twisted Sisters and the mother/daughter team who began Araucania Yarns offer fabulous pattern support for their luxury yarn lines, as do Farmhouse Yarns, Colinette Yarns, Art Yarns and many others. The list of designer hand dyed producers keeps growing as does our love for these wonderful yarns. When you choose one of these artful hanks, you welcome aboard a collaborator and I promise you, the enlivened results will have you coming back for more.
Copyright March 2010
It has been said that some knitters are knitters with a capital "K". As for myself, I am clearly a ?dyed in the wool? knitter - knitting reaches all the way down to my core. Without my knitting, there would be a void in my life and there is a good chance that I would develop a nervous tic. With every stitch, it calms me, inspires me, and connects me to others who also love this craft.
Are you a dyed in the wool knitter? Ponder these thoughts. If you can relate to even one of these scenarios, there is a very good chance that you, too, are a dyed in the wool knitter!
You know you are a dyed in the wool knitter when...
1)...you spend your anniversary at your local yarn shop's knit night
2)...knitting is more important than sleep
3)...you finish someone else's project for them
4)...you ask for yarn for your birthday and Christmas
5)...you pack more yarn than clothes for vacation
6)...your stash exceeds your life expectancy
7)...you only knit with Addi Turbos
8)...your pet's sweater is knit from his own hair
9)...you skip a car payment to take classes at Stitches
10)...?beg? doesn't mean freeloading and ?stock? isn't soup base
11)...you use your kitchen more for dyeing than cooking
12)...net bags aren't for washing lingerie
13)...every gift you give requires a yarn purchase
14)...you can tell it's acrylic by touch
15)...you know how to spit join and it doesn't seem gross, because it's just
16)...you're on Ravelry more than Facebook
17)...you teach your boyfriend/husband to knit
18)...your closet has more yarn than shoes
19)...holding baby alpaca causes you to sigh
20)...you take your vacation during SAFF, so you can see the llamas both
judged and sheared
21)...the alarm is set so you can get up early to knit
22)...your socks are all hand knit
23)...your significant other's socks are all hand knit
24)...your cat's toys are hand knit
25)...?cozy? doesn't mean comfortable
26)...the only time your bed is made is when you need to block a project
27)...there are more knitting needles in your home than spoons
28)...?blocking? doesn't mean forgetting a traumatic event
29)...your blog gets over 2,000 hits
30)...you will rip more than half of what you have knit to fix an error
31)...you can fix an error WITHOUT ripping half of what you have knit
32)...you tweak all your patterns for a better fit, even if they don't really
33)...you can see a pattern is wrong before casting on
34)...you often check your mail for the latest issue of your Vogue Knitting
35)...your pattern is published by someone other than you
36)...you have a knitting scrapbook, but no family photo album
37)...you bought a computer just so you can download patterns
38)...the folks at your local yarn shop know you by name
So, are you a dyed in the wool knitter? If so, congratulations!
All it takes is a few snowflakes and I am enamored. These icy, cold days are just the thing needed to get me motivated for knitting pieces of yarnie warmth. Snuggly scarves, cuddly cowls, and warm, wooly socks have been the favorite projects at Rare Purls so far this month. Whether you choose a pattern from the many books and leaflets available, peruse the designs on Ravelry.com (join now, to be ready for winter knit alongs!), or surf the many yarn company websites for their latest offerings, you are sure to find plenty of inspiration for your next cold weather project. Who can resist the warm hug of a bulky wrap or cowl? Or maybe a fashion forward, super bulky, hand knit hat is your ticket to hours of happy knitting. This chilly weather is calling us and we all know how to answer that call - cast on some wooly warmth. So grab your needles and pick a pattern, and start knitting up a winter storm!
One of my favorites this season is the super bulky capelet. Most of the luxury yarn companies have come out with uber super bulky yarns and accompanying patterns for super fast results. If you would like to design your own, t's easy! Just grab a #11 - 15 US circular needle and cast on with a super chunky yarn to knit a tube. With the measurement from around both shoulders (mine are 48 inches) and the gauge from a super quick swatch, do the math and pick your stitch pattern. Ribbed patterns and cables work best with this design, as they have natural elasticity. Remember, when working with large gauge yarns, elaborate stitch patterns with long repeats are more difficult to plug into your size, so keep it simple. Also, although I am always into generously sized accessories, preferring wider scarves and longer wraps, a capelet knit too long can impede arm movement. A capelet that fits from the top of the shoulder to the elbow is the largest you will need. If more warmth or a longer look is desired, choose a full sized cape pattern that incorporates either arm slits or low armholes to accommodate partial movement of the upper limbs. For some examples of beautiful full sized capes, go to the free pattern section of VogueKnitting.com.
On Kay's Needles
The quick and easy success offered by bulky yarns had my needles flying last week. My Snowboard Hat took one hank and one night. Earflap hats look great on guys and dolls, so make an extra for those last minute gifts.
The combination of a bulky alpaca/silk blend and an easy one row repeat pattern had me obsessively knitting this great scarf until it reached over 80 inches long. But, oh, is it snuggly!
The project with the best reviews is Circular Shrug, a free pattern on Ravelry. This has to be the easiest sweater ever!
Yes, I am both an avid and prolific knitter. Even before I began teaching at Rare Purls, I always had several projects on my needles and this has been going on for many, many years. Even with all of my experience, I spend a fair amount of time ripping out my work. Ripping, frogging, whatever you want to call it, is when you take your working yarn end and unravel stitches to remove an error. Anyone who knits or crochets long enough will experience the aggravation of pulling out hours (and sometimes hours and hours) of work, to make our knitting the best it can be. It helps to maintain a good humor if ripping is considered a part of the process. Personally, I think that "rip" is an acronym for "rectifying imperfect pieces." Of course, no one enjoys watching row after row of stitching go up in string, so my New Year's resolution is to rip less in 2010. Perhaps you, too, think this is a worthy goal and if so, perhaps these tips will help both of us on the road to happier knitting.
Even though I always implore knitters at the shop to read through their entire pattern before casting on, this step is often skipped. The urge to knit can be strong and little details like pattern instructions can seem tedious. Please, do not let enthusiasm trump good practices. I once had to eventually reknit nearly an entire sweater and half of the problem was not reading ahead in the pattern. That the other half of the problem was the dear designer's notion that I could read her mind is a story for another day. Had I not been so enamored with both the yarn and design, the project would have been scrapped. Please do not be ambushed by the words "at the same time" or "see designer's notes." The dear designer is trying to lead you to success and she is giving some words to the wise. For example, knit pattern pieces in the order given. There is a reason why sleeves are knitted first in a striped pullover (so the stripes will match across the shoulders) and seaming is accomplished in a particular progression. Trusting your designer and following her lead can save hours of reknitting and perhaps, on occasion, your sanity.
Another habit that leads to ripping is an improper gauge swatch or completely skipping the gauge swatch. Only a couple of weeks ago, one of our loyal customers, a lovely woman, had knit her sweater back only to find it nearly double the size she had intended to knit. Yes, she had knit a gauge swatch, but she had overlooked that the swatch was to be knit in garter stitch, rather than the usual stockinette. This error had made her heftier yarn seem a good substitute and the outcome was a torrential Rip! She did not know that designers usually instruct that the swatch be knit up in the predominate stitch pattern, which can be anything from stockinette to cables, lace, or ribbing. Another swatch that can lead you down the road to disaster is one too small. Gauge swatches should be a minimum of 4 inches by 4 inches. When only an inch or two are measured, it is difficult to be accurate. Those fractions of stitches can really add up when knitting, especially in a large garment. For example, if one knits a 2" X 2" gauge and gets 8¼ stitches per 2 inches, if that ¼ stitch is overlooked in a sweater with a chest that measures 48 inches, that fraction of a stitch can reap a 6 inch difference in the finished garment. In a 4" X 4" swatch, most probably the gauge will be seen as 16 ½ stitches to 4 inches. Half stitches usually receive notice, especially since now you know they should. In the 2" x 2" swatch, the smaller fraction will most probably be overlooked, leaving the recipient swimming in extra wool and your pocketbook a bit slimmer. Remember, the bigger the yarn, the bigger an error in gauge will be.
By far, the practices that cause the most ripping are knitting when tired, stressed, or distracted. I cannot count the number of times when I have knit feverishly into the wee hours of the morning in an effort to complete a project and woke up to the horror of terrible knitting. Rip! Or when I try to multitask by watching a movie and knitting a lace project with shaping. Rip! Or the awful outcome of tipsy knitting. Rip, rip! Save projects with rows and rows of garter or stockinette to keep your hands happy during these times. You just cannot come out ahead in a project when the next day, most of your progress must be ripped.
As far as those times when we do the best we can and still our project leaves us most unhappy, please do not stuff it in a bag and stash it away, never again to see the light of day. Rip! Salvage the yarn for use in a more worthy project. One friend knit an entire sweater and on finishing, knew it would fit no one she knew. It was a gorgeous hand knit, perfect in every way, except that it was really very large. The finished bust measurement in her pattern had been more than generous for the stated size. Although not an outlandish investment, why waste all that yummy cotton/alpaca blend? I truly admired her courage as she Ripped! out her many rows of work. We are practicing an art, not a science, and there are so many variables. Though ripping is certainly something we want to avoid, isn't it wonderful that our work is not etched in stone?
On Kay's Needles
Oh yes, I have been snared by the late Christmas present snafu. I was so sure that I could finish my sister's mittens and hubby's vest by C-day. Thankfully, the mittens were delivered timely and I have a wonderful husband, so all the consternation over his late gift is mine alone. Now, let me get back to my knitting, so the vest is sure to be finished by Bill's birthday, January 5.