A Yarn Tells Different Stories

What happens when a group of knitters start with identical skeins of yarn? Our knitting group found out recently. We discovered Lorna’s Laces String Quintet mini-skeins in a color-way called Jamie’s Kilt. Every one of us has been watching and enjoying Outlander; it did not take much encouragement to yield to the temptation of nice yarn with such a great name. A knit along with Jamie was inevitable.


The rules for our KAL were simple, we all had to include the yarn reminiscent of Jamie’s Kilt but patterns were of our own choosing.  First we set up a Ravelry thread, created a tag (jamies-kilt-along) for our projects, ordered our yarn, and then began our search for patterns. Those of us using just the skeins were limited to 535 yards, which helped narrow it down a bit. None of us were inspired by lacey patterns, although texture, cables, or pleats were definitely appropriate and some of us went in that direction. We did pattern searches on Ravelry, but even narrowing it down to “shawl” within a yarn weight and a yardage range resulted in searches that were pages and pages long. Potential patterns were shared, additional yarn choices were explored, and suggestions were given and received on our thread. After much deliberation, eventually we all cast on shawls and started our individual journeys, journeys that ended in very different places. Two of us used just the mini-skeins, one person added a pale green background to highlight her mini-skeins, and another added a deep blue background accented with orange highlights.


We had 4 people in the group participating, which I will refer to as knitter E, K, L, and P which, coincidentally, are their initials.

Knitter E

imageUsing the mini-skeins plus a skein of pale green for the background, knitter E chose a beautifully textured pattern by Melanie Berg, A Spark of Grey. She used the mini-skeins sequentially for the textured pattern within the green background and finished the border with two of the remaining mini-skeins rather than continuing the pale green background into the border, giving it a nice contrast.

Knitter K


Using just the mini-skeins, but splitting each skein in half to create two sets of skeins, knitter K (that would be me) knit the first set sequentially and mirrored the color order with the second set of skeins. The color swaths were narrower than in knitter L’s shawl, which used full skeins, but colors were repeated. The Issa pattern by Katie White features cable like texture in the middle panel and a simple picot edge.

Knitter L

Using just the mini-skeins and ordering them sequentially, knitter L made a lovely And So Are You designed by Rose Beck. It all works together so well, the shawl features a nice texture and a pleated border; the pattern does not detract from the colors of the skeins and the colors do not detract from the stitch work. The pleats are perfect for a shawl inspired by a kilt.

Knitter P

Using the mini-skeins, deep blue, and a touch of orange, knitter P also chose a Melanie Berg pattern that features frequent color changes, Drachenfels. Her touch of orange was an inspiration, a color pop that really sets off the others. She did a smart thing, brought her skeins into her LYS and worked with someone to find the perfect combination. This one was a “wow” when I first saw it, so striking and so different.

In The End


Starting with identical yarn, adding individual visions, and ending with something completely different, each project was unique and creative as the person who knit it. KALs are always so fascinating because–whatever the common thread or theme–the finished projects have so much variation. Whether it is using the same pattern, the same yarn, or even the same pattern and yarn, somehow individual knitters find ways to make it their own. The fun is in seeing all those variations and sharing the journey to the finish line.



Beasts of Fiber: A Day at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials

On a rainy Saturday in Lexington, we ventured out to the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and the Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials held in Masterston Station Park for a day of beasties, fleeces, fibers, and gizmos.

Traveling with an uniKNITiated muggle to a fiber fair is a very different experience from going to a fiber event with a fellow knitter. Long leisurely hours of petting fiber and oohing and ahhing over colors and textures was not an option. However, we did find lots of animals–just about everyone likes animals–including alpaca, goats, sheep, and rabbits and the camera wielding spouse had a good time with the beasts of fiber. There was not a lot of visitor interaction with the penned animals but they did have ongoing sheep sheering demonstrations and sometimes animals were outside their pens and available for holding or petting.

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For those more interested in seeing how things work than in admiring lovely skeins of yarn there were lots of gizmos: hand crafted or precision machined equipment developed for carding, spinning, weaving, skeining, hooking, and knitting. I found we could linger a bit in a gizmo rich booth to discuss form and function, adding an engineering slant to our visit. Looking at yarn was a brief pet and a quick mental note for me, never spending too long standing in one place and risk pushing my partner’s patience.

One booth had floor looms available for hands-on instruction. It was rather fun and, unlike spinning that would produce even more yarn for my stash, a loom would do the opposite. Weaving would consume fiber much faster than knitting it. Something to consider; the estimated years to work my way through my stash might exceed my lifetime. The question is, would my beneficiaries prefer legacy stash or woven placemats? The most basic two-pedal floor loom was over $1000 and, although I considered it and took their business card, that is a lot to spend for a one-day-I-imagemight-like-to-do-this whim. Still, I may keep my eye out for used looms or opportunities to borrow one. There were also beautiful hand carved yarn bowls in lovely smooth woods that tempted me. There were beautiful ceramic ones too, but being a bit of a klutz I think wood might be more practical than ceramic. For my wish list, I might consider that a yarn bowl would fit under a Christmas tree more easily than a loom and would certainly be a better fit for Santa’s budget.

The one thing that moved from wish list to shopping list was a Strauch swift. I had seen them on the Woolery site and they looked nice–and looked tempting–but trying it at the Strauch Fiber booth convinced me that it is a must have. I love my Strauch winder but it can be fussy, a bit like an Italian sports car. When it winds smoothly, there is nothing like it for zip-zoom creation of center pull cakes, particularly with large or heavy skeins. But when it is not winding smoothly, the yarn falls off track and imageit can quickly go from firm cake to free form mess if not caught and remedied right away. From my visit at the Strauch booth I learned that a jerky swift is the enemy, a precision crafted one with ball bearings and made in a choice of beautiful woods is the answer. When I tried winding with both the Strauch swift and winder, it ran as smoothly and swiftly as a freshly tuned Italian sports car. There will be one in my near future.

We did find many interesting crafts besides knitting, even one that we could both could find interesting that combined bicycles and fiber. The spouse might want to keep an eye on his bicycle wheels in case I got imageideas, or I may have to keep an eye on my fiber in case he does. A vendor from Sweden brought some traditional pelts that were sheep fleece on one side and painted skins on the other. Not only were they very unique and beautiful, they would be the perfect thing to hunker down with on a cold winter’s night. Or so I thought until I asked the price. Unfortunately, with a price tag over $1000 USD they were not throws I could leave about, not the practical relax, munch popcorn, and watch TV lap blankets of choice. Made from traditional Gotland sheep, these were heirlooms. We also saw rugs, artistic felting, a hand spun skein competition, and lots and lots of raw and hand-dyed fleece.

I headed towards the exit with a firm determination to get a precision made swift, an interest in a loom and wooden yarn bowl, and an appreciation of many of the fine imagecrafts but I was empty handed. Halting at the exit gate, I returned to one of the many friendly booths who’s yarn had stayed in my mind, A Yarn Well Spun, and selected a pair of socks, some assembly required.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and think the spouse did too, if not quite so much. Although I did not spend the time carefully perusing the yarn vendors–as I would have done had  I been on my own or with a like-minded partner in crime–I was impressed with what I saw. The fiber vendors seemed to be mostly small independent businesses, there were not many displays of large company’s name-brand yarns. It was a special treat to see so many unique hand-dyed and hand-spun fleece and fibers on display. There were also a lot of natural undyed fibers that were beautiful in their own way. Although I got more of  a big picture view of the festival than my usual putter and peruse visit to this sort of event, I saw many interesting and wonderful things in the moderately sized festival. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

The festival provided continuous shuttles between the fiber fair and the dog trials. It is difficult to describe just how huge the competition area was for the trials, suffice to say that when each dog was released on one end, the sheep on the other looked like little dots. Everything we know about dog trials we learned from others sitting in the bleachers with us. In other words, this is what we understood to be the rules.

Briefly, when it is their turn, the handler and the competing dog stand by a pole until they are given the signal to start. Meanwhile, very far away a horse and rider and an imageofficial dog who works for the organizers bring three sheep out to a spot in the pasture. The competing dog is released while the rider on the horse and official dog withdraw. The dog races from handler to cluster of sheep, skirting the perimeter of the pasture so s/he can sneak up on the sheep from behind. The dog must herd the sheep to a set of gates and bring them through the gates, bring them to another set of gates and herd them through those, return to the handler, separate one sheep out from the other two for a set amount of time, and herd all three of them into a little pen. The handler, meanwhile, issues all commands using a whistle. Once in the pen, the competition is over but the dog can then proudly herd them toward a little pasture outside the field of competition where they are greeted by a second “official” dog. The official dog brings the befuddled sheep into the final enclosure. The dog has eleven minutes, and if s/he does not finish, the official dog is sent out to end the run and bring the sheep to the outer pasture. This is humiliating for the competing dog. Each dog starts with 100 points and points are deducted during the course of the run. It is both a judged and a timed trial.

The first dog we saw completed the course in less than 11 minutes and had around 60 points. The second dog took off running at great speed and got the sheep to the first set of fences fairly quickly but did not complete the run before time was up. The third dog we saw really struggled, perhaps s/he was a young and less experienced dog, and had not successfully brought the sheep through the second set of fences when the official dog came out to gather the sheep. The competing dog upped the energy level, as if saying, “I can do it, I can do it, I CAN DO IT!” An increase in energy failed to convince the official dog that the little guy was a mighty sheep herding beast, the look the official dog gave him said, “Out of the way puppy, watch how this is done.” As the official competently and quickly herded the sheep to their new pasture, all the while ignoring the other dog, the little guy continued to run around them as if s/he was the sheep master. The next dog we saw did much better, doing all the elements and almost completing the run but was about a minute too slow. The last dog we watched completed the elements and beat the clock.

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We just watched a few dogs, and would have stayed to watch more were it not for our rumbling bellies wanting lunch and our travel plans for the day. We were fascinated by the use of the whistle. The sheep were so far away that we could not imagine how the dog could hear the whistle when s/he was at the furthest point from the trainer. The different tones signaled the dog to stop, crouch, move the sheep right, move the sheep left, and so on. It was only afterwards that I thought, wait a minute. How does a dog know left from right? People struggle with that concept, think of how many times we have all heard, “No, the other left hand.”

We were also impressed by how well imagebehaved the dogs were as the hung around the area waiting to participate. Most of all, we were impressed by dogs knowing what to do in such a huge open space. We wondered where they were able to train for such a thing. Unlike the Sheep and Fiber Fair where the spouse good naturedly wandered about for my sake, I think we both enjoyed the dog trials equally.

It was an interesting day with beasts of fiber.

Next up, our travels in Kentucky.

All Roads Lead to Le Mouton Rouge

Knitting can be a very quiet, contemplative activity. It is often said by knitters that, “I do not knit because I am patient, I am patient because I knit.” It is so very rhythmic and calming, the perfect private time activity. One of my favorite things to do on a cold day is to curl up by the fire, listen to an audiobook, sip a cup of tea, and knit away (banking some of that knitter’s patience for my next mistake). But no knitter is an island. There is a whole world of knitters, and like the gathering of the Clans, knitters like to come together and share their accomplishments, knowledge, and love of knitting. There are knitting groups, knitting retreats, knitting events, and impromptu gatherings in knitting shops. There are virtual communities on social media and websites. There are virtual KALs (knit alongs) where participants ask questions, provide answers, and show their stuff. Even curled up by the fire alone with my knitting and cup of tea I can swap out the audiobook for a knitting podcast and poof, I am joined by another knitter.

One of the podcasts that is special to me is the Knitting Pipeline podcast. I first met podcaster and designer Paula Emons-Fuessle, aka Prairie Piper, at her spring Knitting Pipeline Retreat a couple of years ago. My friend Lynn encouraged our knitting group to go and, although I had never listened to her podcast nor was I familiar with her designs at that point, a couple of days away with knitters sounded fabulous and I was all for it. And it was fabulous. So many of the other knitters talked about this and that podcast, it was then that I discovered there were knitters serving up virtual chats at a touch of a mobile device button. When I returned home, I gave a few of them a try but the one that has stayed with me is the Prairie Piper podcast. It is like Paula is sitting in the other chair by the fire and chatting with me as I knit. But it is even better to actually sit and knit with her, so I jumped on an invitation to get together for a knitting day at a bit-of-a-drive-but-within-striking-distance yarn shop.

Paula sent out an invitation on the Prairie Piper Ravelry thread to join her and friends, Bronwyn and Sarah, for field trip to a knitting shop. Bronwyn, also a designer, and Sarah are key members of the retreats team and appear on the podcast periodically. The recently relocated Le Mouton Rouge knit shop was our host for a day of knitting and shopping. Fellow knitter Lynn joined me on our little road trip and we were surprised to see so many parking spots taken when we arrived. Two rooms full of lovely yarns welcomed us, as did a large table circled by others who had gathered for the day; some we remembered from earlier Pipeline retreats and some we were meeting for the first time. We were warmly greeted by Paula, Sarah, Bronwyn, and shop owner Kelly. A lively discussion was going on between a few knitters about whether one should pull yarn from the outside of the cake or from the center and if it was the twist of the yarn that determined “the right way” to pull it (no change in direction for me, I am still in the center pull and pray it does not tangle camp). Other discussions sprang up, some about knitting and some not. The noise level around the table climbed bit by bit, aquaintances and strangers alike were soon chatting and laughing like old friends.

I should mention that our knitting group did a field trip to Le Mouton Rouge less than two weeks ago, this time I was there for the knitting not the shopping. Those darn yarn fumes, I suspected I might succumb once again. This time I was prepared. I brought two wonderfully wild and wacky skeins of yarn that I had no idea what to do with. Thinking that if I could pair them with a tamer yarn, they might have a chance of becoming a project rather than remaining outcasts in my stash bin. I had a focused shopping mission, something to keep my eyes from straying and yielding to love at first sight.

Browsing for yarn is fun, browsing for yarn to match wildly whacky skeins was even more fun when several people joined in to help and to share their opinions. Color is such a personal thing, and we did find some colors that worked for the yarn but did not work for me. Eventually I found something for both wildly whacky skeins that got group approval. I had spied packs of Frabjous Fibers Chershire Cat mini skeins and had an Aha! moment. Finding a pack of Cheshire Cat in Jewels In a Nutshell–with colors found in my wildly whacky Miss Babs Yummy 2-ply Berlin yarn–I thought, why match for just one color when I can match six of them? Another person also had a skein of the wildly whacky Dream in Color Animal Menagerie and she was inspired to find a match for hers as well. I ended up with a russet red and she with deep tangerine orange. The best part is, even if we were to make the same pattern, our projects would look completely different; every knitter puts their personal stamp on a project and color is such a big part of that. Of course, at the time I had no idea what I was going to make other than the vague idea of some sort of shawly thing, but whatever it is, it will be different from anyone else’s.

After all the shopping, I had only manged to knit one row before it was time to leave for lunch. If anyone has ever met Paula, they know what a calm and evenly spoken person she is, there really is no tone of strident command in her voice yet in moments she effortlessly had everyone out of their seats and on their way to the restaurant. Well, everyone but us. Lynn had to finish her row and then we were further delayed when my GPS navigator, an App I call Doris, sent us on a twist and turn scenic route to our destination, the Destihl Brewery. Those two things combined made us the stragglers, but seats were waiting for us at the table.

One thing about sitting at the center of the table is the side-to-side conversations, I felt a bit like a spectator at a tennis match with my head turning from left to right and back again, but it was a great place to participate in all conversations. There were imageconversations about knitting of course, but there were also discussions about families, books, traveling, and all manner of general interest topics. As well as thoroughly enjoying myself, I left with a little more knowledge of knitting and a long list of interesting books to read.

Some people peeled away when lunch was over and many of us returned to Le Mouton Rouge for more knitting. Shopping completed, I sat at the table and knit and conversed with others. Paula, Bronwyn, and Sarah had to leave us, but a good sized group carried on. Not much later I finished a row, Lynn finished hers, and–saying our good-byes to the remaining knitters and our thanks to Kelly–we set out happily with our purchases in hand, our bellies full, and warm glow of contentment for our road trip home.

Friendships renewed and friendships made, we look forward to our next meeting. Hopefully it will be with the two wonderfully wild and whacky skeins liberated from stash, in and out of project bags, on and off needles, and completed by the time we do.


Having met their mates, the orphaned wildly whacky skeins are destined to escape stash exile to find their happily ever afters. Wildly whacky skein of Miss Babs Yummy 2-ply in Berlin will exit stash and be joined with Frabjulous Fibers Cheshire Cat Mini Skeins in Jewels In a Nutshell, living happily ever after as The Joker and the Thief by Melanie Berg. Wildly whacky skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in Animal Menagerie will depart stash to be joined with Dream in Color Smooshy Poma Grenade, living happily ever after as a Barndom by Stephen West. 

One day.

Fashion a Cable Finale

Apologies to subscribers who suffered the unedited and incomplete version from a self proclaimed klutz who pressed the “publish” button instead of the “save draft” button. Once again I prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am not perfect, yet.

When I first knit cables, they were like magic. And like magic, I did not know how it worked but just trusted the instructions and hoped for the best. The charted symbols for cables were absolutely meaningless to me, I found myself color coding the instruction key and the chart with something like “Red for right” and “lavender for left” and the highlighting did help me stay on track. There was still this issue with that extra little stick. I tried so many things–the plastic cable needles shaped like handlebars, a plastic needle shaped liked a short legged “U,” wood needles in different finishes with notches, DPNs, a locking stitch marker–but somehow it was always a fumble to find the darn thing when I needed it. The little stick favored hiding between cushions, falling under furniture, or just disappearing into the ether. I tried weaving it into the earlier stitches (it would fall out and hide), I tried putting it next to me on a side table (it would roll off and hide), and I tried putting in a pocket in my knitting bag (it would climb out and camouflage itself amidst the other detritus and hide at the bottom of the bag). No matter where it was placed when not in use, it never could be found when it was time to perform its duty.

Then I learned to cable without a cable needle. It was like a revelation, taking apart the cable and reordering the stitches got the structure of the cable into my brain. Once understanding the mechanics better, I even found reading the charts easier without having to resort to highlights and color coded memory tweaks. Unfortunately, it also confirmed beyond a doubt something I already knew, sometimes I am really a klutz. When I first started knitting, nothing could elevate my blood pressure and induce panic like dropping a stitch. Before I knew how to pick up stitches, I would watch it drop down several bars and, this is no exaggeration, I would put a removable stitch marker on the stitch to stop it from going further and knit back as many rows as it had dropped in order to put it back into place. So many stitches sacrificed for the one. Now I am pretty comfortable with picking up stitches, but in a cable it can be a bit dodgy. Perhaps because I am a loose knitter, or perhaps because there is more pull from crossed stitches in a cable, the stitches are always at the ready to escape down a couple of rows. Cabling without a needle, in theory, is quick and efficient, but for me I can spend more time picking up rogue stitches than I did hunting for the elusive cable needle.

There are loads of YouTube Videos for how to cable without a cable needle, including Very Pink Knits and and KnitPurlHunter. It is a method that many knitters swear by.

Very Pink Knits -Knitting Help Cable Without a Needle

KnitPurlHunter Cable Without a Needle

Then I found cable jewelry. A cable necklace is on an adjustable cord that hangs about my neck, with the decorative cable needle always at hand. A cable ring rests on my thumb until needed. But learning about cabling without a needle has been invaluable because, now that I understand the reordering of stitches better, I use cable jewelry to prevent my stitches from escaping but still use the same basic method as cabling without a needle.

Breaking Apart a Cable Stitch

A cable stitch involves a multiple of stitches, a simple and common one is a cable 4 right or left, crossing two stitches to the left or to the right across two other stitches. Although two stitches are being crossed, there are 4 stitches involved in creating the crossed pattern. To cable right, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the back, the next two stitches are knit from the left-hand needle, and the held stitches are knit from the cable needle. To cable left, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the front, the next two knit, and finally the two stitches are knit from the cable needle; the same operation but for the cable right the stitches on the cable needle are held to the back and on the cable left they are held to the front.

There are a few different ways to cable without a needle, but those methods involve dropping live stitches off the needle to reorder the stitches. With a cable necklace or ring, I do essentially the same thing but slip those live stitches temporarily onto the jewelry rather than let them dangle in midair. The cable jewelry can be used exactly as a cable needle, one can knit from it, but I find it really fast to reorder the stitches. I created a little video that compares cabling with a cable needle, without a cable needle, and with cable jewelry.

Cabling with Cable Jewelry

Note: stitches on the cable necklace are held towards the front for these two examples. I do not knit from the cable necklace, I like knitting from the consistently sized needles, but that is an option.

To cable 4 right I slip the first two stitches purl wise onto the rIgGot-hand needle with yarn in back, slip the next two stitches onto the cable necklace, return the first two stitches from the right to the left hand needle, and put the stitches from the cable necklace on the left hand needle. This swaps the first two stitches and they are now behind the second set of two stitches.  The first two are angled to the left \\ behind the second two and will be knit last. The second two are angled to the right // in front of the other two stitches and they will be knit first.

To cable 4 left I slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, slip the second set of two stitches onto the right needle purl wise, put the stitches from the cable needle on the left hand needle, return the stitches from the right hand needle to the left needle.  The first two stitches are now in front of the second set of stitches, angled to the left \\ ,and will be knit last. The second set of two stitches are in the back, angled to the right //, and will be knit first. Alternatively, I simply slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, knit the next two, return the first two to the left needle and knit them. This alternate method is more like working with a cable needle than swapping stitches.

There are many other versions of cables, but the idea is basically the same. Sometimes some of the stitches are knit, sometimes pulled, sometimes more stitches are involved, but the concept of reordering stitches remains the same. With 2 or 4 stitches I often just cable without a needle or necklace, but when more stitches are involved or the yarn is difficult to work with, I like to use the safety net of the cable jewelry. I prefer the necklace, probably because it is what I learned to use first, but for smaller work–like socks on tiny needles–the ring is handy.

Cable jewelry is available on Etsy. I found both my necklace and ring on Lesliwind’s shop by accident, I won one of her shawl pins on a KAL and went to explore her shop and was intrigued by the idea. I am glad I tried it. Cables are easier and more fun than ever.

My Cable Necklace

Frankenskeins: The Skein Experiments 

In an earlier post, Looks Like a Shower Scene from Psycho, I discussed color bleed, which is when a color from one yarn bleeds into and changes the color of another, turning a beautiful creation into a bleeding monstrosity. After reading differing opinions and approaches on Ravelry threads, I decided to do some experiments and form my own opinions.

Disclaimer. Experiments were not controlled using the same yarn; I used multiple skeins, not a single yarn in the same colorway, on the same base, and from the same dyelot. What I did use were two different sets of mini-skeins that I had purchased for projects. If someone wants to fund my yarn purchases–um, I mean my research–I would be willing to run my experiments with identical yarn. It would also be possible to cut a single skein into many pieces, but I would have to insist on a lab assistant to weave in all my ends.

Materials used: Yarn skeins, lace weight scrap yarn for tying skeins, Amish yarn swift, scissors, glass bowl, Kookabura Wool Wash, vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, warm (not hot) water, and bath towels.

Yarn: One set of hand-dyed mini-skeins from Leading Men Fiber Arts and one set of mini-skeins from Miss Babs. Both sets contained skeins with reddish and purple tones, colors said to be the most problematic for color bleed.

I may have mentioned before that I want to just sit down and start knitting, all this pre-knitting stuff just delays take-off. Winding skeins of yarn into cakes is another one of those pre-knitting things that cannot be avoided. If everything goes well, the yarn is skeined without snags and tangles, the winder runs smoothly, and the ball comes off the winder cleanly, then I usually do not mind it very much, but it is not my favorite thing. It was certainly not something I wanted to un-do as I had to for one set of these skeins that I had already wound last week. But for the sake of science; if pre-washing is going to save my finished project from looking like Tammy Faye’s streaking mascara after a good cry then one must do what one must do.

The first experiment was with the brightest, fuschia color mini-skein from Leading Men Fiber Arts. I re-skeined it from the ball onto the swift and, using some scrap yarn, tied it in 4 places using a figure eight type method. I used lace weight, but string or any contrasting yarn should work. My little YouTube video shows how I tied the skeins.

How to Tie a Skein

I used a glass bowl to observe the amount of color-bleed. One of the things I read was that wool wash made things worse. It may be so because it bled the most and I did not repeat this method. When I first put it into the warm water, the water remained clear but when I checked it 20 minutes later there was a lot of color in the water. I rinsed it several times, not letting the running water touch the yarn so as to be as gentle as possible, and rinse after rinse color kept coming out. I soaked for another 20 minutes in plain water and did more rinses, still color was coming out. I changed the water to a warm water and vinegar solution and set the timer for 10 minutes, which turned into 40 minutes because my daughter called and I found I was more interested in what she had to say than playing Dr. Frankenstein. Call ended and water drained, I rinsed several more times and still some color drained out and leeched onto the towel. Speaking of towels, I threw it in and hoped I had done enough to not ruin my finished product. Looks like I will be relying on crossed fingers and the color capture sheets for this skein.



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The next four skeins were increasing shades of purple. I  did them, two-at-a time,  in a vinegar and water solution. No bleed, even after sitting 20 minutes. The final mini-skein in the set is black, and as I am mixing it with gray I am going to let myself believe that a little smudge of black on gray will not show, remembering that my color capture sheet will be there for the bright bleeding fuschia skein.

The Miss Babs set had a range of a reddish color to muted purples, the final two colors were close enough to the warm grayish background color so as not to worry about it. Because my fuschia in the other set was the most problematic, I did the reddish yarn by itself in vinegar and water. No bleeding. I did the next two in vinegar and water with the same result. I then changed the solution, putting a few drops of Dawn liquid in the bowl and adding some warm water. There were so many suds that I poured some out and diluted it a bit. I soaked the final two skeins in the Dawn and, once again, did not observe any color bleeding.

I ordered some organic, minimal ingredient hand soap and will try a squirt of that next time I wash skeins. I looked online for organic shampoo for color treated hair but, other than the one I found at $35 for 8 ounces, I was not conformatable with the ingredients lists. One for $17 looked promising, but it just said “safe for color treated hair” and I am not sure it is the same thing.

Conclusions. I think I am sold on the vinegar and water for a pre-soak. I am definitely sold on the concept of pre-soaking when it comes to a multi-color project. At this point, I am not trying to clean the yarn so I do not need a sudsing agent. If the water serves to release loose dye and the vinegar helps set the color, that seems like a reasonable first step.

However, I do like to wash a project after it has been dragged around to knitting groups, dropped on the floor, and pushed aside or shoved into knitting bags. For a project that is all one yarn or a knit with similar hues, my Kookabura is probably just fine. When it comes to a multi-colored project I am going to avoid using wool wash and look to other options. I am interested in trying the minimal ingredient organic hand wash I just ordered, and the Dawn certainly is another option. I think I am okay with missing the bus on the shampoo for color treated hair but if I come across a formula that looks mild enough I might give it a shot. The color capture sheets are definitely going into the bath, no matter what I use as a washing agent.

The yarn still looks saturated in color, I did not observe any noticeable fading. After the yarn dries it will be interesting to see if the yarn feels different after being soaked in wool wash, vinegar, or Dawn.

With my pre-washed yarn and a plan for washing at the end, I am ready to start my project and, as always, hope it is a beautiful creation, not a bleeding monstrosity.


Looks Like the Shower Scene from Psycho

After the many hours of planning, knitting, and finishing, the last thing I wanted to have pop in my mind when washing my project was, “OMG, it looks like the shower scene from Psycho!”

For those who are too young to remember the 1960 Hitchcock movie, there was a gruesome scene in the Bates Motel involving a woman traveling on her own, a shower, a knife, and a psychopath wielding it. The scene pretty much went from setting the scene with all those components, a shot of the woman screaming, and a cut to a great deal of blood running down the drain. Hitchcock was a master, he did not need to

explicitly show everything to scare the holy heck out of people. It worked, I saw it as a child and that final image from the scene is imprinted in my brain. I would not get into a shower shawl for weeks, opting for a bathtub and a securely locked door. When I finally did brave a shower stall, I had just sudsed up my hair when one of my brothers flipped off the light switch, let out a long howl, and ran into the bathroom with a big Halloweeny blood-coated rubber knife. It was to my mother’s horror when, moments later, I ran screaming through the living room–where she was sitting primly with guests–barely covered in a towel, streaming water and suds in my wake.

I knit a cross-over shawl, by that I mean something between a shawl, a cowl, and a poncho: looks like a shawl in knitting style but drops over your head as something larger than a cowl but smaller than a poncho. The yarn was a gradient in reds, the month December, and the project still too short when the skein was nearly gone. I happened to have some white yarn in the same base and, well why not add a little white border with some sparkly beads?  It was adorable, putting it on made me want to get in touch with my inner Marilyn Monroe and dance about lip syncing Santa Baby. Then I washed it. Evoking images of the shower scene was the last thing I wanted when soaking my project for blocking. But there it was, the basin filled with red, rinse after rinse after rinse. The border went from snowy white to peppermint pink. I really, really tried to like my pink peppermint trim, but I think I have worn that thing once or twice and, rather than Santa Baby, all I could think of was Sugar, Sugar. I hate that song.

Yes, a certain amount of preparation and planning is necessary before starting a project, but I just want to knit not prepare to knit. I know it is important to read the pattern carefully, a quick scanning before picking up the needles will seldom do. Do not ask how many times it took for me to learn that lesson. It takes all my strength of character to stop and swatch, and only then when I think gauge is going to matter in the finished product. Sometimes even then I fudge it by dropping down 2 needle sizes and hoping for the best. Like with a hat; I figure if I am charity knitting that–no matter what size the hat comes out–someone will have a head big or small enough to fit it. Getting gauge for a test knit is painful. Clearly I am just a loose woman because I have to keep going down, down, down in needle sizes to get anywhere near the designer’s stated gauge, knitting many a swatch along the way. For a shawl, what is the worst thing that can happen, other than knitting something too big or too small or running out of yarn? OK, I admit, the answer could be a peppermint pink border. This is all to say, I really do not want to add even more extra steps to my pre-knitting.

My imagination was captured by Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market shawl and I started following the KAL thread on Ravelry. Someone brought up, horrors, color-bleed. There was some discussion on the thread, but the most useful comment was a link to the Miss Babs thread where color bleed was discussed in great gory detail. In particular, Miss Bab’s post number 19 provides a detailed explanation for why some yarns bleed and what her recommendations are for preventing it.

Miss Babs Color Bleed Thread

There were many  warnings, hints, and recommendations in the thread and, as usual, there were things that one person swears by that another would never do. But the basic takeaway was this: if you are going to mix colors, pre-wash your yarn. Especially yarns that are red or purple, and especially if those reds and purples are going to be mixed with lighter colors. Some people swore by Dawn liquid. I think I will take a pass on that one, when we had to quickly make up a DIY skunk wash for the dog at 6:30 one morning, the recipe we found called for hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn. Not generic dishwashing liquid, Dawn. Anything that is strong enough seek and destroy skunk stench might be a bit much for my fluffy little knits. Others swore by shampoo for color treated hair. Some people warned against using wool wash. Still others recommended soaking in vinegar and water. Miss Babs said she used a mild hand soap and that she recommends pre washing her yarns, particularly if colors are mixed in a project.

So this is all interesting to me because three of my projects–one about to start, one in its infancy, and one nearly done–all involve light backgrounds with darker contrast colors. It is too late for the one that is nearly finished, the one with deep dark magenta highlights on a white/multi background. All I can do is hope the verigated pattern disguises magenta escaping its borders into the white. But for the others, sigh, looks like there will be a knitting delay to pre wash the contrast colors.

From reading and sorting through the thread, here is my game plan. First, make sure the yarn is made ready for a bath by using a contrasting yarn and tying the skein in at least 4 places. I am inclined to stick with my tried and true Kookabura wash in spite of what some people said, but I am going to use color capture sheets to be on the safe side. I will soak it for about 20 minutes, rinse, and repeat until the water runs clear (no Psycho shower scenes), wrap it in a towel, spin it inside the towel in my top loading washing machine, and hang it on a wooden dowel rack to dry.

I can read my patterns carefully while my yarn dries, but I will not be taking more time to swatch when it finally does. Besides–if I miscalculate and run short–I know how to make sicky sweet peppermint pink yarn. That goes with everything, right?

Life is Like a Box of Crayons

A little knitting shop in our community is quite cute, located in a tiny old house on the edge of a tiny old downtown. While it displays a lovely array of knit samples and packs the classics within its walls–Malibrigo, Madelintosh, Lornas Laces, Rowan, and so on–it is also distinguished by an I-knew-him-when association with an icon of the knitting world. A dance student at the local university wanted to learn more about this thing called knitting. It was here that the young man first learned about fine fibers and techniques beyond the knit stitch, opening up a whole new world of exploration. That exploration led to mastery of techniques, a thorough knowledge of knitting, experimentation, and eventually to design. His designs grabbed the imagination of knitters and soon examples of his designs became ubiquitous wherever knitters gathered. He had ascended the Mount Olympus of the knitting world, joining the revered knitterati. Yet every now and again he returns to visit the little knit shop in the little house. This spring he came for a week of events in our community sponsored by the shop, including classes and exhibits.

When our knitting group heard a circus was coming to town, we were in line to buy our tickets. Of course I had heard of Stephen West; I was aware of and had seen many examples of his designs. Anyone who had been to Stitches would find it impossible to miss the Stephen West and Steven B booth, both of them decked out in a cloud of colors and surrounded by hoards of admiring fans. But truth be told, I had never been bitten by the SW bug, never knit one of his patterns, and never braved the crowds at Stitches to elbow my way into his booth. In joining the parade, I had no idea what to expect, no expectation of learning anything substantial, and no thoughts of becoming a convert. However, I had no doubt at all that it would be entertaining. We signed up for a shawl class and a fashion show luncheon to be held at a charming B&B and waited in the coming weeks for our curiousity to be satisfied.

What I did not expect, but found, was a very knowledgable and patient teacher. He was so sweet and charming, no hint of impatience with any of us; he was there to share his discoveries with us and share he did. I have knit an abundance of shawls in my knitting journey–often chiding myself to get out of the shawl rut–yet he still managed to switch on a few lightbulbs. The class was structured with a pre-printed imagepattern and an assignment to knit a swatch from the pattern. While we did so, he gave us tips, helped individuals, and answered questions. Not only did he answer questions about the task at hand and knitting in general but he also answered many questions about his designs and his design process. I got the impression that his design process is more often–although not exclusively–the result of hands-on experimentation rather than intellectual forethought and envisioning.

With only 10 people in the class, it was a relaxed session. His mother joined us towards the end of the class, stayed for the luncheon, and was one of the models for his fashion show. We all enjoyed chatting with her, finding her as open and charming as her son. It was like a comfortable living room knitting group; a group with the purpose of learning but with the enjoyment of social knitting. There was ample time for individual attention, the time he spent with each student was unhurried and focused. Between the group teaching and the individual instruction, I believe every student, from novice to experienced, learned something.

Other students may have left with different impressions and different pearls of wisdom, but I am quite happy with my impressions and my pearls. These were my personal Aha! moments. I have included links to YouTube videos demonstrating what I learned but warning, you are trusting I paid attention in class and remembered it 😉

First Aha! moment. On a garter tab he casts on the number of sts for the border, knits his rows, and picks up the side stitches by inserting the left-hand needle into all the purl bumps before knitting them. For years I have picked up each purl bump awkwardly with the right-hand needle, but this was so much easier. Sure, I had a few twisted loops that I had to knit into the back loop to straighten, but it was so simple and neat and, as an added bonus, if there were not enough purl bumps it was simple to pull out the left needle and knit more rows to make more bumps. For some reason, it seemed easier to count the purl bumps when going from bottom to top rather than the reverse. To finish the tab, he picks up from the cast on edge, not bothering to use a provisional cast-on. I was skeptical, having religiously used a provisional cast ons for the bottom edge, but it looked fine. Using his method resulted in a garter tab that was smooth and even and, happily, easy to do.

Picking up stitches in a garter tab

Second Aha! moment. For M1L and M1R (directional increases with either a left- or right-hand slant), he substitutes a neutral (unslanted) increase by doing a single backward loop cast-on. In looking at my swatch I was not entirely convinced. I would not want to use this in all situations, sometimes the slant is a design or a shaping element that would be lost. However, it looked just fine for an increase on the edge or around the center stitch and did not tighten the knitting; no borrowing yarn from the row below to make an increase. It was also much quicker and saved me from reciting, “Came right through the back and left through the front,” as I do when knitting a M1L or M1R.

M1L, M1R, and backward loop increases

Third Aha! moment. Now that I knit continental, it is so simple to do a YO before a knit stitch, and it is pretty easy when I knit English style. But a YO before a purl stitch has always felt like a sloppy loopy ungainly action, leaving more yarn on the loose than I would like. He showed us an easy method for creating a small YO before a purl stitch, perhaps a little smaller than the opening left by a YO before a knit stitch but certainly better than my usual floppy gaping hole left by a YO before a purl.

YO into a purl stitch

Unexpected Bonus: a design consultation for the Daybreak Shawl. We had been told to pick out one of his designs and have our yarns caked and ready to start the project in class. I chose the Daybreak shawl. When I started working on the shawl, I discovered the first section has an increase every fourth row described as, “K halfway to [m/last 2 sts], M1[R/L]” which is simple when there are a few stitches on the needle, but as the piece grows the prospect of counting stitches was not a pleasant

one. He helped me see how to read my knitting so I would not have to count the rows and gave me a great hint so I would not need to count the stitches either. The next increase is always 3 sts from the previous increase. If I add a marker where I have made the increase, it will save me having to find and follow the increase up the rows to count over 3 sts. I had chosen a background skein of gray and a mini-skein pack of purples to black for the contrast stripes from Leading Men Fiber Arts.  He also spent a few minutes to help me decide on my color orders for the stripes and assured me that I could easily deviate from the pattern so as to make as many–or as few–stripes as I would like. Oh, and although I am sticking with the M1R and M1L for the once every 4 rows increase, I am definitely replacing the M1R and M1L sts on the edges and around the center stitch with the backwards loop cast-on. Save me from getting laryngitis saying my little “came right through the back and left through the front” ditty 4-6 times every row.
Big Aha! moment. Color. Perhaps it was uncertain April’s return to the winter weather that inspired me to dress in drab neutrals. Dressed like a gray cloud and the bare earth of winter, in coming to this event I stumbled into a wall of color and was awed by a kaleidoscopic brilliance alien to this colorless season. Stephen West designs are graphic and textured, but highlighting every design element is Color with a capital C. Even he was dressed head to toe in more colors than my color wheel.

Perhaps I should say that creativity that was the message of the day. During the class we talked about mistakes as design elements. I think anyone who has knit for a while is aware that many of the interesting stitches, increases, decreases, and so on were the product of someone really messing up and, rather than jumping into the knit, cuss, frog, repeat cycle, looking at it and saying, “Isn’t that interesting. Hmm, I wonder if I could use that…” When a knit dress was modeled–that he had started as a hat–followed by a cowl–that he had started as a hat–it became clear that one thing can morph into something else while on the needles. Not ready to go from A to Z quite so drastically, but I am inspired to follow my intuition more, to break away from what is written in a pattern and take risks. At the very least stop saying to myself–as I do with every project–that “mistakes were made” and start saying, “lessons were learned.”


Still, while there was a lot of inspiration for creativity, there is a strong argument for color being the overwhelming theme of the day. Throughout the class we were treated to a preview of the items we would see later in the fashion show. So many colorful creations, and creations mixing fiber types and fiber weights for the sake of the color or texture. I am inspired to pull out my neatly organized by weight and by fiber type bins of stash and empty them out on the floor, making piles of colors. It can be a bit tricky to join two colors together, but there are some tried and true combinations and I do feel fairly confident in my ability to make groups of two. Recently I have been meticulously trying to create 3-color combinations; trying to break away from the safe gradient tones to the more uncertain realm of contrasting colors. It blew my mind to see all 64 Crayola colors combined into single garments, and finding it worked. The take-away was, when using multiple colors, use more, more, more–keep going–more, more, and still more.

Life is like a box of crayons, you never know which sharp, new, unbroken ones you will find. We reserved our spots in class with no idea of what we would experience. After my day of color, creativity, and Aha! moments, am I a convert?  While I am still not ready to elbow my way through the crowds at Stitches wearing layers of Stephen West shawls and burdened with overflowing bags of purchases to make still more, but I think I am. I might just saunter by in my Daybreak and wave and, although there is no chance he would remember or recognize me, I am certain he would return the wave as if he did. In the end I am glad I joined the party as I did enjoy every minute and learn a few things and–more importantly–it may have changed me as a knitter. I may just take out more than 1 or 2 colors and boldly color outside the starkly drawn lines.


Kilt Along: The Comfort of Knitting

Our KAL, in our case Kilt-along, was something I have really been looking forward to. April Fools Day could not come soon enough for me to stop the planning and get started on the real deal. When we first launched this idea, I did not realize just how much I would benefit from a clear calendar and a quiet day of knitting along.

When asked why I knit, I can think of many reasons. Perhaps the most important is the sense of calm I get from the meditative practice of knitting. At any given time I have several projects on the needles and rotate them based on my frame of mind. For mindless, let-my-mind-wander knitting it is perfect to have something simple on the needles that does not require a lot of attention; also a perfect project for distracted knitting such as watching television or social knitting with a group. When I have a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off day, nothing beats a complicated project for taking my focus away from whatever is keeping me awake at night and putting it into concentrating on precise instructions and making complicated stitch patterns. From the difficult to to the simple, my knitting projects provide me with a sense of calm.

Sometimes the quest for calm is a difficult one. For anyone who has been told by someone in the medical profession that there could be “something” and it will require a closer look, the rotation of thoughts that ran through my brain might sound familiar. In that stressful period between hearing that more investigation is needed and waiting for the results of that investigation, the thoughts circled like a Ferris wheel from the highs to the lows; from the optimistic it-is-probably-nothing to the dire this-could-be-it thoughts. Yes I know we all will have our time, but I could not stop thinking that now is not the time. But maybe it is the time. Why now? Why not now?  Do I need to stop singing When I’m 64 and start singing If I’m 64? Above all, how could knowing the worst be any worse than all the dizzying thoughts repeated while waiting to know?

Matters are made challenging by the overburdened medical resources in our area. We have a large regional medical group, but clearly not large enough. In the days after being told I would be contacted to make an appointment for the follow-up test the phone did not ring. When I had enough of waiting on edge I called them. I was told that it would take 7-10 days for insurance approval but…they were not sure it had even been requested because, after all, it had only been a couple of days. A couple of days that my mental Ferris wheel has been spinning and picking up speed. When I finally received a call it did little to alleviate my nerves. They could not schedule me for several weeks.  The wheel still turning, I called back and inquired about other locations. The good news was, yes there was an appointment that was only a week later, but the bad news was it was an hours drive each way.

The day before our Kilt-Along commenced, the spouse drove with me on the long journey for my test. It took nearly two hours, and I was a bit shakey when at last we were through, but it was in the books. Although I know techs tell you nothing, when he said, “Be sure to make an appointment to discuss the results with your doctor,” I wondered if that remark did mean something. That worry joined right in with the many other crazy thoughts riding around on the Ferris wheel. Did he see something, or does he always say that? Round and round that thought rode along with the many others.

Kilt-Along morning, Ferris wheel in full spin, I gathered up my yarn and started in. Of course it is a fantasy to think of the yarn as Jamie’s kilt, but the colors as I knit made it so. I sensed the warmth and comfort of the soft browns as the yarn slipped through my fingers and slowly began to look like the beginnings of a shawl. The new pattern drew my attention away from my thoughts and brought it to the process of knitting. So worn out from the previous day and the worrying days leading up to it, this day was a gift to myself. I was making something that was giving me comfort as I knit and would give me comfort when I finished, whatever happened. The frustrations of scheduling and testing was over, I had only to await the results. When the phone rang around noon, I drew in a breath and answered with a tentative hello. A nurse told me the results. It was…going to be okay. When I was rather quiet, perhaps waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, she said, “This is good news.” I realized I was still holding my breath and had to struggle to let it go before I could hear, understand, or respond.

The Ferris wheel slowed and came to a halt, when I got off that spinning ride I found that I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Click, click, click, the rhythm of my needles sang as the soft brown yarn formed into patterns and slowed the spinning in my head. Like being weeks aboard ship, it took a bit of time to stop feeling the sway. It was the repetitive forming of stitches and the soft yarn sliding across my fingers that, stitch by stitch, eventually brought everything back to stillness.

Wrapped in the warmth of knitting to be wrapped in the comfort of a soft brown kilt. This is why I knit.

Be sure to see all our projects by searching for our project tag on Ravelry, “jamies-kilt-along”.

Kilt Along: a KAL to Arms

April Fool’s Day, the perfect day to start a KAL–or Jamie’s Kilt-Along more specifically–making anything that uses either the mini-skeins or the single skein version of Lorna’s Laces Jamie’s Kilt colorway.

Planning for it has been almost as enjoyable as diving right in. The fun has been in seeing what people are going to make and how they are going to incorporate the yarns. Some are combining the colorway with complimentary yarns and some using only the mini-skeins. Interestingly, everyone’s pack of skeins came in a different color order so there is no set gradient scale; how we order our crayons in the box is up to each individual.

imageMy favorite stage of a project is always when it is the images in my mind, imagining the what-can-be before the reality of the what-have-I-done hits followed by the inevitable coulda-shoulda-woulda regrets. For this yarn I pictured a cozy shawl in the warm colors, something to comfortingly wrap around my shoulders. Picking a pattern was a challenge in winnowing down the thousands of options; even limiting Ravelry searches to shawl, 450-600 yards range, fingering weight, and “in my favorites” resulted in pages and pages of options. I narrowed it down to shawls with texture, avoiding the lacy and delicate options as that did fit with the theme as I envisioned it. The candidates were Swan Lake by Penny Schumers, Cerasifera by Kirsten Kapur, Enticing by Jennifer Weissman, and Nutmeg by Ágnes Kutas-Keresztes. And, as things like this usually happen, I later stumbled across Issa by Katie White, a fairly simple shawl with loads of texture in a center panel. It also looked very easy to modify.

Being able to modify the size of a pattern is definitely a plus with multiple colors. It is always a challenge with gradients and mini-skeins to find a pattern that uses the yardage almost exactly, to work in all the colors while at the same time not run out of yarn. In other words, a game of yarn chicken. My personal best in the game of yarn chicken was about 15 inches of yarn remaining after I bound off, but it is not a fun game when winning is in doubt up to the last cast-off stitch. It is like penalty shoot outs in soccer or hockey, you may win in the end–or lose in a heartbreaker–but there is a lot of nervous energy spent before the results are in. Being able to modify a pattern increases my odds of getting out of a close game with a win.

Gradient yarns are fun to use–the colors gradually change as the yarn spools off the imagecake–whereas mini-skeins are more like stripes or swaths of color. Mini-skeins are more flexible in how the colors are mixed and ordered. Among the many options, one could do narrow stripes alternating the colors, narrow stripes of multi-colors within a main color, or wide swaths of non-repeating colors.  What I decided to do was a mirror effect, so that with 5 colors I do color 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ending with the same color I had started with. The first thing that might occur to the reader is that many mini-skein color changes means many not-so-mini ends to weave in. I was very skeptical at first, but the magic cake used in the Magic Cake Ruffle Shawl by Paula Emons-Fuessle opened up my eyes to new possibilities for joining pieces of yarn together without the chaos of spaghetti hanging off the back of the work. Her “magic cake” is made by joining multiple pieces of yarn into a single cake using a magic knot to attach them. Jane Richmond made a nice You-Tube video showing the magic knot:

JR Magic Knot Video

It is not at all hard to do but if not done right it will not hold, there is no shame in watching the video again and again. As I do it, I say to myself that the top knot is “over-under-around-and through” and the bottom knot is “under-over-around-and-through.” It can probably done in the opposite, I think the important thing is that they are done in different directions but that is how I remember it. I also tug the yarn really hard after I have pulled the knots together and trimmed them, it is like checking for your keys before you lock your car rather than after. Now is the time to know if the knot has to be redone when nothing is at risk. Finding out it will not hold while knitting it would be annoying, finding out after the project is completed would be disastrous.

To make my project cake I first wound all my mini-skeins into individual cakes and weighed them each on my little portable scale. I placed my cakes in color order and, beginning with color 1, put the cake on the scale and wound 1/2 of it into a center pull cake on my ball winder. I then did the same for colors 2-4, joining each new color with a magic knot. Because color 5 was the center, I wound it in its entirety then completed the project cake by adding the remaining colors 4, 3, 2, and 1. Now I have a single center pull cake with the colors in the amounts and order that I plan to use them.

What I have found with a shawl that is shaped in something like a crescent or triangle is that the color swaths are wider at the top where the shawl is narrower and thinner at the bottom where the shawl is wider because it takes less yarn to do a row at the top and more yarn to do a row at the bottom. This holds true for both top-down and bottom-up shawls. Side-to side shawls would have wider swaths of color at the ends and narrower swaths in the center because the edges take less yarn to complete a row at the sides and more in the center. Because I am doing a mirrored effect with the yarns, I did not trouble to do something like 1/4 of the yarn to start and 3/4 to finish because I expect it will all work out nicely with the color repeats in reverse order. But…as I mentioned above, this is based on the images in my mind and I may be saying coulda-shoulda-woulda later on (smiley face). The one regret I have already is that I did not save out some snippets of each color; if I need to make any after the fact repairs I will only have the bits and bobs left over from the cast-on and bind-off in color 1. Whoops. Guess I will not be able to have any repairable mistakes, knitting perfection will be a must else the project will be a bust.

Well, there it is. Having answered the call to arms I am ready to begin my Kilt-Along. To steal a line from the British Baking Show, “Knitters, on your marks, get ready, set, KNIT!”

Here is hoping the reality will measure up to the beautiful vision in my imagination.

Be sure to see all our projects by searching for our project tag on Ravelry, “jamies-kilt-along”.

Name Calling

O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
            Romeo and Juliette, Act 2 William Shakespeare

I grew up near San Francisco and have many fond memories of enjoying that beautiful City by the Bay. Among the many, many sights are the gorgeous Victorian houses, lined up side-by-side in an array of colors from soft pastels to the intense colors of the rainbow. They are often called “the painted ladies” by locals. Hearing that term brings vivid images and whistful memories of visits to The City to mind, so imagine my reaction when I saw a yarn in a gradient colorway from Fresh From the Cauldron called, “Painted Ladies” custom dyed for a a Bay Area fiber event.

I do not need any yarn. After years of reading evocative names, my resistance should be strong. Before letting a skein of Painted Ladies leap into my Etsy basket, I asked if there were any example projects knit with this yarn. There was. It was nice, a gradient yarn going from gray to yellow to white with speckles of color starting to appear imagemidway through. Gray to white, nice neutrals in the would-be-nice-to-have way. But with a name like that, it came to represent the lovely Victorian Painted Ladies peaking through the fog as it rolls across the many hills of San Francisco. It became my memories, my childhood, my youth. It became a must have. It became an item in my shopping cart, a package on the way, and finally it became another skein of yarn in my stash awaiting the perfect project.

As George Santayana famously said, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So it has been with many a skein with an evocative name, attracting me to the idea but in the end bringing me varying amounts of satisfaction. Perhaps my first capitulation was a knit-along (KAL) using a skein of “Christmas at Downton” from Lorna’s Laces. It was every rich Christmas color one could think of, all joined together in one skein. The accompanying mystery pattern emerged week by week, bit by bit, finally revealing a pair of lacy gauntlets. As open minded as I am willing to be about the concept of gauntlets, if my hands are cold I do not want the openness of lace in my golves. They were frogged before gauntlet one was completed and turned into a shawl that went with every winter sweater, blouse, and jacket I had in my closet because it had every winter color I ever owned, and then some. It served me well for winter travel–but it was not a shawl I loved–and it soon found its way to a more winter color loving owner. It is a colorway that may still be available, and there are many lovely projects made with this yarn, but my love for Downton Abby just did not align with the colors attributed to the holidays at said Abby.

Abby holidays forgotten, I swooned and succumbed to “Winter is Coming,” another Lorna’s Laces colorway and another KAL timed with an upcoming season of Game of Thrones. This time the colors were a dream, so much so that I bought the KAL yarn weight plus a fingering weight in that colorway for good measure. The KAL pattern was nice but…not something I would wear. So as I pondered over what I should do with the KAL yarn–and the auxiliary yarn for that matter–I was contacted by someone who was part way through a sweater and in desperate need of a couple more skeins to complete it. So desperate, she offered to drive 3 hours each way to meet in a cafe close to where I live with cash in hand. Knowing the OMG-I-am-going-to-run-out panic and desperation, having met it once or twice before, I was ready to run to the Post Office and send it to her immediately, no questions asked. She could not wait that long. We met the following morning for the emergency exchange; like an ambulance bringing a donor organ, I transported the precious yarn to find her anxiously seated and awaiting her delivery. Having experienced first hand the value of this precious yarn, one would think that I would have immediately returned home and put the auxiliary skein to work. Not so, as of yet no project has presented itself that calls out for this yarn.

Sometimes the marriage of idea and yarn is a happy one. When I had to knit Lara Smoot’s “Mother of Dragons” because, well, who can resist donning a shawl and imagining herself as a mother of dragons, happily I found the perfect yarn by Dream in Color Smooshy in Cashmere (those words alone would make me want to wrap myself in the yarn) in a colorway called, “Naughty Royals”. The royals in Game of Thrones are pretty naughty, and with a few beads for imaginary dragon scales, I was on my way to the perfect set of dragon wings in a deep naughty royal blue with sparkles.

Oh there have been others that sang out to me, such as the yarn that recalled Princess Bride in the colorway “Prepare to Dye”. That turned into an infamous and rather clunky pair of socks. Another limited edition Downton Abby colorway Yorkshire Skies in lovely shades of aqua and blues that sent me back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth until my internal voice that said, “You do not need another skein of yarn in shades of blue” was drowned out by the, “But it is Downton Abby!” By the time I gave in the yarn had sold out, saving me from adding yet another skein yarn in shades of blue to my collection. A yarn with a great name, but still just another skein of yarn similar to ones I already have. I have heard my rational voice speaking, telling me to close my ears to the name and fall in love with the sight of the colors and the touch of the fiber; love the yarn itself not the idea of it. And sometimes I do heed that voice. It recently stopped me from buying a yarn that evoked Jane Austin as well as a yarn that referenced Princess Bride. It stopped me, after much internal deliberation, from buying a yarn dyed exclusively for a retreat I attended. It has reminded me that names referencing beloved authors, books, series, or movies should not prejudice me to love a yarn that I otherwise would at best like somewhat or at worst not consider at all.

It did not stop me when I read a name that captured me the moment I read it, “Jamie’s Kilt.” A set of mini-skeins in the muted colors of an old Scottish kilt are nice enough, but put that name to it and that yarn was in my cart and checked out minutes after reading the yarn’s name. It did not stop me from telling my knitting group about it, all of whom loaded their carts and checked out within the next 24 hours. Each of us are embarking on our own personal journey in our group’s KAL; each choosing her own personal way of being wrapped in Jamie’s kilt. That name silenced all our rational voices, thoughts, and restraints.

For all the hours that are spent knitting, perhaps the joy felt from inserting myself into a story, or a place, or a time, or a memory, stitch by stitch, is reason enough for allowing rational thought to give way to imagination. If the very idea of the yarn increases the pleasure of seeing and touching the yarn through its long journey from selected skein, to wound cake, to yards of fabric, then that long journey is just that much more enjoyable for the knitter behind the sticks. With over 600 yards of Jamie’s Kilt to knit, there is a lot of enjoyment in my near future. And in the end, having made that journey, I will be wrapped warmly in Jamie’s Kilt long after the Visa bill is paid and forgotten.