Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why You Should Learn to "READ" Your Knitting

Do you get lost every time you put your knitting down if you are doing anything more complex than stocking stitch or garter stitch?

If you do you suffer from "linearitis". This sad disease plagues many knitters but is more prevalent in the novice.

There is no cure, but there are ways of managing this condition. You need to learn to read your knitting instead of the written or charted stitch pattern. We learn to read from left to right in a linear fashion and knitting patterns that are written out in words encourage this tendency. Charts are better at providing a visual representation so that you can see what happens below and on either side of the stitch that you are working. Unfortunately most of us still use the chart one line at a time often using a post-it or a ruler to mark our rows. You can practice while you are knitting your swatch (you are knitting a swatch of course?). Once you can read the knitting, finding and correcting errors becomes much easier but it does take practice. You will also find that incorporating more stitches as you increase up the edge of a sleeve or the loss of stitches at a neckline or underarm is no longer be a cause for tearing out your hair or your knitting in frustration.

As you work the swatch don't just construct each stitch one by one take note of how it relates to the stitches in the previous row(s). Take the time to be aware that the yarn overs are moving over row by row one stitch at a time in a diagonal line to the left. Notice the the purl on row 4 is always made into the yarn over of row 3. Every stitch pattern will have different relationships so start to learn this on simple patterns just like when you first learned to knit you knew if the "bumps" were facing you it was time to purl on stocking stitch.

When you get to the end of the row and you have stitches left over you should go back to the stitch pattern and start at the beginning of the row on the right hand side comparing each stitch one by one to the pattern until you find your error. At that point tink back and make your correction.

So start practicing now. Your knitting will be better because of it!

Monday, September 28, 2009

I Need 3 Volunteers

I want to know what your most difficult fitting problems are.

If you post your specific issue in the comments I'm going to sort the posters by category of problem and draw 3 names (each will fall into a specific fitting problem) I'd like to work with each one of you to develop a customized knitting schematic for a basic cardigan. You will need to be prepared to provide me with a detailed set of measurements as well as details on ease preference, gauge of yarn and some pictures to assist me with this process. You also need to be willing to let me post about the process. I won't use your name if you prefer but I will use your measurements. I hope to post one schematic "intervention" per month. You need to be a confident Knitter for this process to be useful to you. It will provide you with enough specific fitting information that going forward you can continue to knit from patterns but will be able to choose the correct size more accurately and make the required adjustments to fit and flatter your unique body.

So are you interested? The draw will be held on Oct. 15th

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An interview with....Maureen Mason-Jamieson

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. This weeks interview is with Maureen Mason-Jamieson You can find her at

Where do you find inspiration?

Colors from nature, fashion magazines, inspiration is all around you if you only start looking!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Slip stitches. There are so many diverse patterns and it is an easy way to introduce the idea of using more than one color in your knitting projects.

How did you determine your size range?

I provide a range of 3 to 4 sizes, ranging from 36-38” finished circumference at the small end of the scale up to 51-52” finished. I provide a range of sizes for knitters whose fitting problems I understand. Larger sizes have special fitting needs that require more personalized assistance.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

When I first began selling my designs, I was told my designs were “quirky”. I thought my designs were very wearable for many people, so I didn’t agree. With experience, I now consider that “quirky” assessment as meaning I have my own voice. When knitters look at my work, they can see my design signature. I try to remain true to those instincts so I don’t spend a lot of time looking at other designers’ work except to appreciate their artistry.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

Patterns should be accessible to as many knitters as possible. That being said, when I was learning to knit, I would consistently choose projects that were beyond my technical ability – that’s how knitters learn. At the time, I loved the process of figuring out how to do those projects. My theory is, if you want to knit the project enough, you’ll spend the time and effort to learn how to do it to the best of your ability. “Dumbing down” isn’t necessary; most knitters will “rise to the occasion”.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I don’t have test knitters working for me. I work with Buffy Taylor from Shelridge Farm. I knit a prototype for each design. Buffy does the first test knit. Because she prefers 2 colorways for each knitting kit, we’ll both do a 2nd test knit version using the alternate colors. Altogether, each design is knit at LEAST four times, so we catch most of the errors.

Did you do a formal business plan?


Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors over the years. The DKC in Toronto, Canada encouraged me to develop teaching workshop skills at their events. Buffy and Don Taylor are a great source of information about the retail aspects of designing. Cheryl Oberle noticed my work at the Shelridge Farm booth at Stitches events and recommended me as an instructor to the organizers. My husband, George Jamieson, helps guide me through the business decisions and details of running a small business.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?


What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Tremendous. My son, Jack, is the computer whiz our family. It was his idea to have a website for my business, Initially, I thought it would give people a opportunity to see my designs and read about the workshops I offer. The response was wonderful and knitters began to purchase my patterns and kits on-line. The Internet sales are now a significant part of my business.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

When developing designs for my company, Kinver Beach Knit Design, Buffy Taylor does the test knitting and acts as a Tech Editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Ah, that’s the difficult thing! I love designing; I love passing information on to fellow knitters; I love traveling all over North America meeting knitters, retailers, and fellow teachers. It is difficult to say ‘no’ to opportunities that arise. However, I’ve just moved to the West Coast and I’m looking forward to taking more walks, exploring Victoria, and delighting in all the new colors around me!

How do you deal with criticism?

I strive to provide quality products, to give knitters new techniques and experiences, and to provide assistance and answer questions. I think of feedback as food: you don’t just put a strange, new food in your mouth; you put it on your plate and examine it; then you put it in your mouth if you are going to benefit from it. I look for criticism that speaks to what I’m trying to do and will help me achieve it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?

I was delighted with the response to my designs. It took several years until I had developed a body of patterns and workshops that could provide an adequate income. During that time, my husband liked to say that he was supporting the arts on a personal level!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

When I was a young person studying fashion design, during the first week of classes in 1st year one of the instructors said, “If you want to make money, go down the hall to the business department. You’re sitting here because you HAVE to be here. Otherwise, you’d be better off devoting yourself to something else.” I think the same holds true for a career in knitting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to Give the Girls Some Extra Room

The normal knitting advice for Knitters of the curvy sort recommends using short rows to add the extra fabric where it is required. There is another method that you can use if short rowing won’t work due to stitch patterns that would be distorted.

On each side seam increase a few stitches below the bust line and knit a few extra rows in length. Use an existing garment to help you determine how many rows are required by examining how much your garments typically pull up at the hem line. Use another sweater or stretchy garment as your baseline not a woven item. Later decrease the extra stitches as you work your underarm decreases. (I’m assuming a set in sleeve is being knit). This makes your front longer and wider. When the garment is seamed. Sew it up matching row by row front to back until you get to the bust increases. At this point ease the extra rows in by matching 1 row from the back to 2 rows at the front and then back to the 1-1 ratio alternating as required based on the number of extra rows. You are easing the knitted fabric in creating a curved area to accommodate your curves. This is a sewing technique that is used for high end T shirts. Let me know what you think and how this technique works for you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The One Thing No Ease Chart Tells You

I've struggled to understand ease as many of you have. The whole concept is comparable to nailing Jello to a wall. Ready to Wear designers get to make a garment, test it on a fitting model correct it and remake it from scratch it if necessary. As knitters we want to get it right the first time!

Have you ever noticed that some women can wear long garments that flow and they look regal and elegant? While others in the same garments in the correct size look overwhelmed, they appear to be swimming in a pool of fabric. Well that's me 5 feet 2 inches with very short arms.

Hummm.... where exactly am I going with this?

To "The One Thing No Ease Chart Tells You" and that is that limb proportion counts. If you have long limbs you can wear garments with a lot of ease and look great. If you have short limbs you need to wear closer fitting garments to avoid being lost in your clothing. Please keep this in mind when you choose your next knitting pattern. If the project you love is oversized adjust it down in length and width or consider knitting it in a smaller size.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An interview with... Fiona Ellis

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. This week it's Fiona Ellis

Where do you find inspiration?

Oh my gosh the question I always try to answer in a nutshell but find impossible to do so. The truth is anywhere and everywhere. And it's like falling in love or developing a crush: it can strike at any moment, usually when you least expect it, then it becomes like an obsession and over time transforms into a smolder like an old flame. My fave sources are nature, particularly trees and flowers, exotic locations (I love to travel), fabrics (woven not knit) and popular culture especially movies.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Cables are my number one fave technique but I love to design with in all types of techniques. But I do go back to cables over and over. I guess when you get good at something it has a familiarity which is comforting. Plus I am asked for cable designs a lot now as the industry sees it as my signature.

How did you determine your size range?

I am usually asked to produce patterns in 5-6 sizes. I like to include larger sizes because that is what I would knit for myself.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I love to admire the work of others but I don't look to it for inspiration at all. When looking at other people's designs I do sometimes have those moments where I think...that's lovely I wish I had thought of that.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

There is too much dumbing down in the world- TV shows for example, we should be raising the bar not lowering it. So I don't dumb things down, I know that knitters are smart and creative people and look for challenges.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I have a core team of 3-4 knitters but draw on several more when working on my books. I do some of the projects myself and I like to do the finishing...yes really.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No but I did take business courses in university so even though I don't actually write it down I do have an informal plan that I follow.

Do you have a mentor?

I have had several people whose wisdom I have drawn on over the years but none of them were/are knitting mentors.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

It has opened up new outlets, but they work out just the same as print media for me. Although I like that you are able to get feed-back from knitters.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes, we all need to have somebody to look over our work as sometimes it is impossible to see the wood for the trees.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I don't always- it can be all consuming sometimes. But I do a lot of yoga and have many other interests which helps a lot.

How do you deal with criticism?

My work is a personal expression so I find it hard to take criticism, but I am OK with critique or constructive criticism. Plus I try to remember that you cannot please everybody.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

If you love it follow your heart. People respond well to something that is done with passion and it in turn proves to be, not only successful, but very satisfying.

The Things the Ease Charts Don't Tell You

Ease is the space between your body and the garment you are wearing. It determines if you can move comfortably and how your garment looks to others. Is it tight or over sized, does it flatter you or do you look lost inside your clothing.

I have read everything I can find on ease.I've compared all of the various charts. I've read what both knitters and sewers have written in an attempt to find a clear and simple way to teach this concept to my students. I've taken pattern drafting classes, courses from other knitters and I have a long history of both sewing and knitting.

Most of the charts look like the one I've copied in below from

Fit Chart

Very-close fitting:
Actual chest/bust measurement or less




Over sized:
6"/15cm or more

The first thing you will notice is that this information is pretty vague. Also notice that there is no numerical measurement of negative ease. The charts don't give any information about the hand of the fabric either. Hand refers to the feel of the fabric in terms of stiffness or drape. Think about the difference between a light as air silk mohair, a heavy silk ribbon yarn that drapes and 100% wool that has been felted. As you can imagine each of these has very different ease requirements. The general rule is that the stiffer the fabric the more ease that is required. But how much exactly?

When sewers buy a pattern meant to be used for knit fabrics the back of the envelope includes a stretch scale. The scale is there so that you can compare the fabric you plan to use against what the designer intended. It determines that you will have the correct amount of ease. Even here it is assumed you picked your right size by actual measurements not by the size number of ready to wear clothing or the size you hope to be after your next diet.

Unfortunately there is no comparable scale for hand knitters. Often we don't even have access to the original yarn choice of the designer. Yarn substitutions are common and your LYS will do the best they can to advise you. Your swatch is where the most information comes from but you don't have that until after you buy your yarn and if you are a novice knitter you don't yet have the experience to get all the information you need from your swatch.

When you are buying a pattern the designer has tried to work all of these factors out in advance for you. Unfortunately even our best attempts often fail our audience. The individual knitter may have difficulty getting the recommended yarn, getting gauge or they may choose to knit the wrong size if the pattern is not interpreted correctly.

One of the reasons for this has to do with individual preference. Some of us like close fitting garments and some of us don't. As a knitter you need to figure out what you personally like and the best way to do that is to look in your own closet. Measure yourself, measure a few of your favourite garments and compare to the chart. It will give you a starting point when choosing which size of the pattern you are going to knit and what adjustments you need to make to that pattern.

It also helps to recognize that you will need to test out ease on a number of projects to develop a strong sense of what is correct for you and the intended wearer of any garments you knit.

Monday, September 14, 2009

5 Really Good Books on Style

We all want our clothes to flatter us and it takes time and effort to make sure they do. I regularly read style books. The ones in the following list are some of my favourites.

Style clinic : how to look fabulous all the time, at any age, for any occasion By: Reed, Paula.

Style evolution : how to create ageless personal style in your 40s and beyond By: Farr, Kendall

Style Rx : dressing the body you have to create the body you want 1st ed. By: Raes, Bridgette.

Brenda Kinsel's fashion makeover : 30 days to diva style! By: Kinsel, Brenda

The science of sexy : [dress to fit your unique figure with the style system that works for every size and shape] By: Bayou, Bradley.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The 80/20 Rule of Why You Should take Classes

You should take classes if you want to produce great knitting.

I often have students tell me how sorry they were they didn't take classes sooner once I teach them a technique they haven't seen before. I still take classes and I've been knitting longer than I like to admit.

Often we learn to knit from a friend or relative who has basic skills and we don't realize that there are many other techniques to choose from. The more techniques you know the more solutions you have to your knitting problems.

My unscientific polls of students have told me that only 20% of you feel comfortable learning new techniques from books or Internet sites. You say you need the feedback of an observer to correct problems that you can't see for yourself while in learning mode. Another 20% tell me they have no problems ever getting gauge. That means 80% of you don't get gauge so you need strategies on how to fix that problem if you want to knit from patterns and get great results.

That's why you need to take classes. So please support your LYS and the design community who wants you to be a great Knitter.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sewing Tricks for Knitters

One of the differences between sewers and knitters is that sewers tend to do a lot more pre-work to perfect the fit of their garments. A sewing pattern is just a starting point and many of them will sew a "muslin" before cutting into more expensive fabric.

A muslin is a mock up of the intended garment sewn from inexpensive cotton muslin fabric. If you take this idea and apply it to your knitting you will be able to customize the fit of all knitting patterns for your garments to your individual shape or for the intended wearer.

As a knitter instead of using a woven cotton fabric you can substitute a medium weight knit fabric. You want to choose something with a little stretch as your knitting also has stretch. If you have a specific pattern in mind you can use the schematic measurements to draw the pattern out and transfer to the fabric adding seam allowances. An alternative is to buy a sewing pattern meant for knits. Look for something like this or look for a pattern close to the silhouette you would like to emulate. Cut out your mock up and sew it up. You can do this by hand or machine if you have one. Sew everything together with large loose stitches as you may want to tear them out and re-seam as you correct the fit. The neckline will be a raw edge so you need to run a row of stitches along the edges to stop it from stretching out when you put the mock up on.

Now look at the length and mark where you usually like your sweaters to hang to. Check the shoulder line, is it in the right spot? If its too low or too high mark the correct spot and then remove one sleeve and move it up or down as required. Once you are happy with the shoulder line mark the hem of the sleeve. Mark more then one length of hem so that you will have a permanent record of various lengths for future projects. Mark where your natural waistline is. Look at the neckline and decide if it's too high or low. If the mock up is too tight cut it open and use safety pins to add fabric where is it required. Use pins to make it smaller if necessary Once you are done you can transfer back to the paper pattern any alterations you made and as well take notes of the measurements that you prefer. You will use these details going forward to compare the pattern measurements on knitting schematics and then change them to more accurately fit and flatter your own body. As an example you can use the length measurement to get the bottom edge at the right spot for you and make sure that any waistline shaping is at your natural waistline by either adding or eliminating rows of knitting as required.

This post is a basic starting point for fitting I will write future posts on specific fitting issues so watch for further updates and if you want me to cover a specific topic let me know.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I'm Using You!

I need to confess this, I need to get it off my conscience now before you figure it out for yourself!

When you take one of my knitting classes I'm using you.

I use you to make me a better teacher. All my students have taught me something even the ones who didn't get a lot from my class.

The challenging students gave me even more.

They helped me to define my teaching style.
They made me test and practice techniques that were new to me.
They made me clarify my teaching goals.
They asked me hard questions that I had to do research to answer.
They taught me that I know more than I thought I did and that the 10,000 hours of sewing, millinery, knitting and designing have paid off with a treasure trove of knowledge that is invaluable to me in my quest to become a professional Knitter.

Thank you

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What You Can Learn from The Dog Whisperer

I've become a huge fan of the Dog Whisperer

I don't have a dog but I'm very interested as a previous psychology student in the positive psychology movement. If you watch Cesar you begin to realize that his messages aren't just about dogs, they are about life.

What can you learn from Cesar?

1 Sometimes you are the problem in a relationship. You need to analyze your own behaviour before you blame others for a situation. They may be reacting to your actions. Change your behaviour and they will adapt their response.

2 Energy is important. You communicate your energy through body language and you need to examine your own energy when people respond to you in unexpected ways. Are you calm and assertive or do you stand hunched over with clenched fists?

3 You need to think like a "dog" and empathize with the viewpoints of others to move forward in difficult situations. Sometimes you have to make the first move and ask people what they want. They may not be able to articulate what they need from you but just asking the question may change how they relate to you.

4 You need to practice to get better at what you want to do, this includes knitting and everything else in life.

5 People often treat you the way you expect them to so you need to expect the best treatment from others and be ready to speak up and take appropriate action if they don't.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pattern Number Five

Oops - Pattern #5 was missing this is it.