Bling! Placing Beads in Knitting

Like stars in the still and quiet sky, bright sparkly beads sprinkle a bit of bling across soft fibery textures. Adding a bit of glimmer and glam to knitting is fun, and not nearly so difficult as it looks. Of course, feel free to tell whomever asks that it was really, really hard and they should be in awe of both you and your finished project.

Videos associated with this post: Placing Beads on Knitting Part I and Placing Beads on Knitting Part II.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Knitting With Beads

There are two basic approaches for knitting with beads. One is to pre-string the beads: all the beads are placed on the yarn before knitting with beads begins. The beads ride on the yarn and can be moved into place either on or between stitches. The big “Ugh!”is that if you do not count and add enough beads in advance, you will need to break the yarn to add more beads. Although I mention it here, I will not be covering knitting with pre-strung beads in this post. There are a lot of interesting and creative things that can be done with pre-strung beads so it can be worthwhile to learn more about it.

The second and more commonly used approach–and the one I will be discussing in this post–is placing beads: each bead is individually placed on a stitch as indicated in the pattern. The pattern will tell you whether to place the bead before or after knitting the stitch, usually it is before knitting the stitch. If it is not specified, I knit the stitch after the bead has been placed.

More often than not the pattern instruction will be “PB” for “place bead” which means, place a bead on the upcoming stitch and knit it after the bead has been placed. In this case–after executing the “PB” instruction–the bead rests between the stitch from the row below and the newly knit stitch on the current row. If the instruction is to knit the stitch before placing the bead, the bead rests above the stitch on the current row and is not locked in until it is worked on the subsequent row. I think the bead is more firmly held in place between the two stitches when it is placed after knitting the stitch on the current row and locked in place on the next row. Either way the bead is between two stitches; one above it and one below it. The difference is, place bead then knit puts the bead between the stitch from the row below and the current row while the knit then place bead puts the the bead between the stitch on the current row and the stitch on the subsequent row. Picture an hourglass figure with a tight belt, that is the yarn with a placed bead on it pinching the yarn between the stitch below and the stitch above.

For placing the beads, there are a few different methods including a small crochet hook, a Fleegle Beader, or SuperFloss. Each method is described below, but first there are a few things to know about beads and some materials that are helpful for knitting with beads.

Materials for Knitting with Beads

See the Placing Beads on Knitting Part I video for more about materials and preparing to knit with beads.

I like to use 6/0 size beads for fingering weight yarn as well as for a heavy lace or light sport weight. For a finer lace, I like to use 8/0 beads. The bead should have a large enough hole to slip onto the yarn, remembering that when placing a bead on a stitch that there are two strands of yarn being fed through the hole. I have used many types of beads and have found that Miyaki and Toho beads have been very consistent in their hole sizes. I have used some beautiful Czech glass beads that had some inconsistencies in the sizes, some were more of a struggle to place than others.

It is useful to have a beading board to hold the beads and tools. A tray will also work,but if using a tray it is helpful to have a foam or soft cloth to help keep the beads from escaping. The sound of tiny beads clattering in the vacuum is not my favorite tune.

Beads are picked up one at a time with a crochet hook but are preloaded onto a Fleegle Beader. There is a bent end on the Fleegle Beader for picking up beads individually or they can be loaded by using a bead spinner. I am not very successful with my bead spinner, it will probably end up on the Freebie table at the next knitting retreat, but some people really like using a bead spinner to speed up the task. Beads can be picked up one-by-one with the stiff end of the SuperFloss or strung onto the SuperFloss using a Dental floss threader. I use a clip on the long smooth end of the floss to hold the beads in place, but the end can be knotted or something can be tied to the end to keep the beads from falling off.

See “Tools of the Trade” at the end of this post for a list of materials.

Methods for Placing Beads

See the Placing Beads on Knitting Part II video for demonstrations and more about methods for placing beads.

For the crochet hook method, you need a very fine hook that is small enough to insert into the bead; a much smaller size hook than you would use if you were crocheting with the yarn. I like to use the largest size possible. Size 4 (1.25 mm) works for most 6/0 beads, Size 2 (1.5 mm) worked for Miyaki and Toho but not for my Czech glass beads, and Size 0 (1.75 mm) was too large for all my beads. Another option is a Fleegle Beader that has a little sharp hook on one end. The original Beader was 1.0 mm and they later added a 1.3 mm, which is bit better for fingering weight yarns. Both of these options require care, the fine hooks can shred the yarn when placing the bead, but it can be faster than the dental floss method.

The dental floss method allows you to string a lot of the beads on the floss and have them at the ready, but it can be a bit slower and fiddly. On the plus side, it is the most gentle way to put the beads on the work. I have never had yarn shred with this method, unlike with a crochet hook or Fleegle beader. All of these work for placing a bead on the yarn, but each has its pros and cons.

Whichever method you choose, the “PB” (place bead) instruction is executed in basically the same way. Place the bead on the stitch on the LH needle, remove the stitch to place the bead, slide the bead down to expose the loop, and return the stitch to the LH needle. Knit the stitch. Beaded stitch is now on the RH needle with a stitch below it and a stitch above it locking it into place. If you are knitting a pattern with instructions for placing beads but are opting not to use beads, treat a “PB” instruction as a “K1”.

If instructed to knit first then place the bead, knit the next stitch on the LH needle, place the bead on the stitch on the RH needle (I slip the knit stitch back to the LH needle purl wise to add the bead on that needle just because I am more accustomed to beading that way), remove the stitch to place the bead, slide the bead down to expose the loop, and return the stitch to the RH needle. Beaded stitch is now on the RH needle with a stitch below it but will not have a stitch above it locking it into place until the next row is worked.

All of these methods work for placing a bead on the yarn, but each has its pros and cons.

Fleegle Beader

  • Quick to use
  • Stores beads on shaft
  • Sharp edge can shred yarn
  • Hint: Push bead onto yarn, do not pull yarn through bead

Crochet Hook

  • Quick to use
  • Fine head is smaller than yarn, can shred the yarn
  • Can be somewhat gentler than the Fleegle Beader
  • Does not store beads, beads have to be picked up one at a time
  • Hint: Push bead onto yarn, do not pull yarn through bead

SuperFloss

  • Best for travel/mobile knitting
  • Works well with uneven hole sizes in beads
  • Gentlest for delicate yarn, does not shred yarn
  • Beads are stored on the floss
  • Can be fiddly and slow but fewer problems with escaping beads and damaged yarn
  • Has 3 sections with different purposes: a long thin section (holds beads), fuzzy section (holds bead to be worked), short stiff section (used to place bead onto stitch)
  • Can use a dental floss threader to add several beads at once to the floss
  • Needs to be secured at the end of the thin section: use a clip, tie on a stitch marker, or tie secure knot to keep beads from sliding off the end

Each method has its cheerleaders but the correct method to use is the one that is the most comfortable and convenient; in the end a placed bead looks like a placed bead so img_6499there is no right or wrong choice. In my case, I have used the crochet hook when there are not too many beads or I want to pick up the pace. I prefer the SuperFloss when I have fussy or fine yarn, and I certainly prefer it when I am traveling or visiting someone. For mobile knitting, all I need to do is bring a pre-threaded strand of floss along with me and can leave all the other tools behind. The Fleegle Beader and I are still learning to get along, but I definitely see how this would be the method of choice for many given that the beads conveniently stored on the shaft. Let me put it this way, I really, really want to like it and have not given up on our relationship yet.

See Placing Beads on Knitting Part I and Part II for more information and demonstrations. 

Resources

See “Tools of the Trade” below for a list of materials mentioned in this post. Materials can be purchased from online merchants as well as from specialty shops, big box stores, and local yarn shops. I found my Fleegle Beaders on Etsy and Miss Babs. Miyuki and Toho beads are sometimes sold at yarn shops, there are many excellent online bead shops although I have mostly purchased them through Amazon partners and Loopy Ewe. If you know of a good online resource for beads, feel free to leave a comment.

image

Tools of the Trade

  • Beads (Miyaki and Toho consistent brands, many other nice options available in stores and online) Size 6/0 for heavy lace, fingering, and light sport weights or size 8/0 for lace and light fingering
  • Beading board or foam/soft fabric square on tray for containing beads and tools
  • Dental Floss Threader (GUM, other brands available) for threading beads onto SuperFloss or yarn if doing pre-strung beading
  • Super Floss (Oral B, other brands available) for holding and placing beads
  • Wonder Clips (Clover, other brands available) for holding beads in place on SuperFloss
  • Fleegle Beader for holding or placing beads. Available in the original 1.0 mm or 1.3 mm, which is better for fingering
  • Small Crochet hook for placing beads: Size 8 (.90 mm) works for 6/0 and 8/0 beads, Size 4 (1.25 mm) works for most 6/0 beads, Size 2 (1.5 mm) worked for Miyaki but not for my Czech glass beads, and Size 0 (1.75 mm) was too large for all my beads

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

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.

image

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”.

Picking up the Pieces (TITW Part 4)

I really cannot blame the day’s polar vortex temperatures, by the time I sat down to knit my dexterity had more or less returned.  With temperatures in the single digits, I had donned sweater, fur-lined boots, shawl wrapped around nose and face, knit cap, cozy cashmere gloves, and topped it off with a below the knee, fake-fur-lined-hood-up-and-snapped-in-place down parka in preparation for my walk to the end of the driveway to collect trash bins.  The spouse, bless his heart, had put cut-up cardboard boxes not inside the recycling bin, or even between the bins, but on top of the bins where they could blow like dust in the wind.  And blow they did, scattered across neighboring yards like giant dead leaves.  The cashmere gloves that had seemed cozy while getting layered up were insufficient for gathering wet slushy boxes.  The chill gripped my face and fingers. The thought that cardboard will eventually recycle itself did flicker across my mind–and I sincerely hope the ones in the pond eventually do–but having our address on many of the boxes would make us rather unpopular in the neighborhood were I to just leave them.  Not an option.

With a newly lit fire roaring, a cup of hot tea consumed, and two hits of a rescue inhaler to offset the cold-induced asthma, I really cannot blame it on frozen digits.  Stitches still fell off the ends of needles and, when I started the double wrapped slipped stitches I realized that my skill in picking up stitches was not equal to the task.  I fixed one set of double wrapped stitches, poorly while lying to myself that I would never notice it in the finished work, and moved along even more carefully.  Just as the sun was going down and the day darkened, snap.  Another needle broke while knitting, dropping stitches everywhere.  I put it down, walked away, and did the one thing any rational person would do: got online and ordered some unbreakable metal needles.

The next day I grabbed the set of Dreamz needles I had on hand, picked up the stitches, put aside my despair, and moved on.  Happy to report that it has been going great, no dropped stitches, no broken needles, and the awkwardness is finally subsiding.  I even got a rhythm going with the double wrapped slipped stitches.  The rescue box arrived containing more of the lovely Lantern Moon Sock Sticks, the needles I have so handily been snapping to pieces. I had to admit, my top choice at the start was not the best choice for me. Shout out to Paradise Fibers, not only did they get these needles to me quickly, they were so nice about allowing me to return them.  For all that shopping, I may have found just what I needed hidden in my own collection of needles.

More polar vortex days on the way, but I will be by the fire knitting around and around and around until I reach a heel, trying not to think about the specter of the second sock.

IMG_5125

Broken Arrow (TITW Part 3)

It is 12 degrees F heading for a high of 15 and a low of 8 today.  A pair of woolie socks would be very nice right about now, but I have miles to go before I wear.

Madness in the method.  I started by casting all stitches onto one tiny toothpick-sized needle, moved half the stitches to a second toothpick-sized needle, and started knitting with a third needle, introduced a fourth, and–high wire circus act–added a fifth.  I was so tempted to start with a circular needle, with all the space in the world to spread out the stitches to count and corral them, but I stuck with the method as described in the course video.  Adding each needle was like adding a ball with juggling but I stayed the course and got them all in play.

One newbie issue was to be expected, awkwardness with those little sticks and sharp points sticking out in all directions.  Having done a little needle test swatch knitting in the round helped prepare me but this time there were a lot more stitches and I was working in a rib pattern rather than a simple knit.  The first surprise was how easily stitches could fall off the needle to the front or the back.  Fortunately I am pretty adept at picking up dropped stitches but it was annoying to have to stop and fix them, hard to get a rhythm going when it is slip-slide, whoops, [expletive], inhale, fix time after time.

By squashing the stitches to the center of the needle before moving on to the next I have found they are behaving better.  Or perhaps they are just staying put because I have more rows knit to stabilize them.  We shall see if my technique has improved when I start the process again on sock number two.  Optimistically I am saying when rather than if.

The second sock syndrome still worries me a bit.  Will I really want to start this all over again when I finally finish the first?  With that in mind, I ordered a second set of these itty bitty needles thinking that next time it would make sense to work on two socks simultaneously: do the cuffs on the first then do the cuffs on the second, do the legs on the first then do the legs on the second, and so on.

As it turns out, it is a fortunate that I ordered more of these needles.  While fixing dropped stitches for the umpteenth time, I heard a horrible snap.  And with that snap came stitches falling off the center of the needle as well as the front and back.  Now I know why the included 6 needles in that pack. I thought it was because they were so tiny that they could get lost easily, but perhaps it was because they are just brittle little sticks and not long for this world. Thinking I was in no hurry when I ordered more I went with the very free but very slow shipping option. I will be holding my breath until they arrive. Snap or lose, my gauge would change if I substituted a different needle.  I need to stay with these for the duration and now I am driving without a spare tire.

Am I a punk knitter?  Maybe I do need to stop hugging trees and go back to metal.

image.jpeg

Choose Your Weapon [TITW Part 2]

Planning phase (or procrastinating as it is allowing me to put this sock knitting thing off for a bit longer).

Before starting a knitting project there is a certain amount of planning required.  This might be my favorite time because I see my finished project only in my imagination–and it is always amazing–before being faced with any of the grim realities.  The which comes first, yarn or pattern, is a chicken and egg thing.  Sometimes it starts with finding a pattern to match a yarn and sometimes it starts with finding a yarn to match a pattern.  Chances are, in spite of the size of one’s pattern library and number of bins storing one’s yarn stash, having the one will lead to the purchasing of the other.  But this project starts happily for my pocketbook with a free pattern in a free KAL [knit along] class and re-gifted yarn from the shelf.  The next decision is which set of sticks are going to shape the string.

The first weapons were probably sharp sticks and fist-sized rocks.  Although my ball of yarn would work well as an item to pitch, hopefully I will not feel inclined to hurl it across the room during the course of this project. But I do need a set of sharp sticks. When it comes to knitting, I am totally into metal needles but this may be the time to stop rocking and rolling the heavy metal and become a mellow tree hugger.  Having passed through the many phases of bamboo, plastic, exotic woods, nickel, steel, straights, and circulars, I reach first for Signature Stilettos. The thought of knitting with tools called “stilettos” alone might be enough to make them my preference, but those brightly colored finger piercing sharp lovelies are what I reach for first and enjoy using the most.  If they came in size 0 or 1 the discussion would stop right here; I would grab one or two of them and use the other methods for knitting in the round–magic loop or knitting with 2 circulars–and abandon the notion of trying DPNs [double pointed needles].  This experiment would be at an end.

Those short little DPNs are going to feel awkward at first so I am going from Led Zeppelin to Dan Fogleberg, putting aside the slick metal and going for the less slippery woods.  That eliminates all the metal options, but thankfully my needle stash included a few options to try beyond the usual Clover bamboo. I started first with Brittany which were very nice but I think better for a slippery yarn; they were a bit too tacky and points too dull for the yarn I am using.  I next tried both the everyday Knitter’s Pride and the Mercedes of the needlecraft world, Dyakraft’s handcrafted wooden needles.  Either of those needles–with just the slightest preference for the Dyakraft–would have been a fine choice, but in the end the ones I felt most comfortable with for a combination of smoothness and sharpness were the Lantern Moon Sock Sticks, if one can call the feel of any set of size 0 itty bitty tiny sticks “comfortable”.

In the process of trying needles, I used different sizes and created a gauge swatch to calculate the number of stitches per inch each size needle produced with my yarn. Gauge swatches are one of those oft hated and scorned necessities, but without matching the size of my stitches to those specified in the pattern I would be doomed to failure.  I do remember my first pair of mutant, oversized socks and lesson learned.  This time the aim is for Golidlocks socks, not too big and not to small but just right.

Having reached the decision on which needles to use for this project I did what any reasonable knitter would do at that moment…I immediately went online and ordered more of them in different sizes.  Yes, I do harbor the illusion that I will have success and do this again.  And when I do, I will have the needles, in whatever size necessary, ready and waiting in my tool kit. I view it as optimism, not as hoarding.  As with patterns and yarns, it is all about planning for that magical day when I enter my workroom and find the pattern that matches the yarn that matches the needles. It could happen.  One day.

image

Toe in the Water (TITW Part 1)

I have not yet succumbed to the siren song of sock knitting. Opinions differ as to the best method for knitting socks, and few have opinions so strong as those of sock knitters. But with so many knitters turning out pair after pair, carrying their projects about in adorable project bags, and spending small fortunes on skein after skein of drop dead gorgeous sock yarn, I can only think that I am missing out on something fabulous and all engrossing. How do I go about mastering this?

I have made forays into the abyss before.  I took a class for knitting  two-at-a-time socks top-down on two-circular needles.  I bought the book. I knit a pair of men’s socks for my daughter’s boyfriend that were positively mutant–sized for a giant–and quickly frogged them back to their original state, a ball of yarn.  From cuff to toe I knit them again.  Although I would love to report a happy ending, practice did not make perfect and, although somewhat improved, they were just awful.  Nevertheless, I wrapped them up in pretty paper and gave them to him as a Christmas gift.  They broke up.

A year later I took a class for knitting two-at-a-time socks toe-up on two circular needles. I bought the book. I knit another pair of socks for my daughter’s boyfriend, toe to cuff and much better than the first, wrapped them up in pretty paper, and gave them to him as a Christmas gift.  They broke up.

My mother and I used to spend time knitting together when I lived close by.  She often spoke about how much fun she had knitting socks, well fun except for the darning heels part when my father wore through them.  Thousands of miles away and remembering those conversations, I was inspired to buy her a few skeins of sock yarn one Christmas.  Sadly, the last time I visited her she handed me the yarn, still in the gift box, declaring that she was no longer able to knit.  I brought it back with me and with great sadness put in on a shelf where it has sat for over a year.

Sock knitting has not brought me happiness.  Yet with watching pair after pair of socks come off needles in my knitting group, listening to a recent podcast from the ever encouraging Prairie Piper featuring the joy of knitting socks, and finding out about a free sock knitting class taught by the ever entertaining Lucy Neatby on Craftsy, it seemed like the right time to once more stick a toe in the water.  First, I did something that I rarely do with a Craftsy class, I watched it.  What inspiration it fired deep from within. Yes, I think I can take 5 little pointy sticks no fatter than toothpicks and create a foot covering.  Maybe even two foot coverings.

The box of sock yarn was right on the shelf where I had left it so many months ago.  I wound the skeins into cakes of yarn, ready to be confronted by 5 tiny pointy sticks and assembled into lovely socks.  I like my daughter’s current boyfriend very much. If 5 tiny pointy sticks do not lovely socks make, they will go into my own sock drawer.  If by some miracle they become the lovely socks that exist so vividly in my imagination, I will return the gift to my mother as socks in place of skeins of yarn.

No lifetime warranty included, she will have to darn her own darn heels.

image