Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August Reboot Series - Make it Flatter

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some like this one will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates. 

The schematic

The sweater

I've had two different questions come up recently about the same sweater silhouette pictured above. Question one, was regarding what figure type does this sweater flatter? Some knitters think that the way this garment hangs is very flattering due to the long diagonal lines that the front creates. Others think it makes the wearer look heavy, and wanted to know how to determine if it would look good on them. In terms of figure flattery the long diagonal lines should be flattering, however for this silhouette to work on your body the factor to consider is the fullness of the torso. If your torso curves out away from your spine it is unlikely to make you look your best. If you have a midsection that is straight and perpendicular to the floor the garment tends to drop from the shoulder over the bust-line and hangs straight down. There is a space between the wearer and the sweater at the front. It therefore can take advantage of the long diagonal lines, especially from the front view. On a rounded torso the diagonal line advantage is canceled out by the viewers tendency to see relationships of the body to the garment. It can look like the garment is too small and is pulling open because of a sizing issue. Remember that the pattern photo has been taken on a tall, very slim model  which is why most knitters do not foresee this potential problem when they choose the pattern.Your posture can also have an impact on the amount of space between the garment and the body so assess by looking at both your front and side views in a mirror.

If you have already made something like this try wearing it with a darker garment as an under layer. The torso is more likely to look as though it is receding and that will make the wearer look slimmer.

The other question has been "Why is the schematic wrong?" The schematic is inaccurate due to the technical execution of the garment. Every one of the examples that I was shown was a pattern with garter or seed stitch borders that had been knit at the same time as the garment. These stitch patterns make great borders as they lay flat but typically they do not match the row gauge of the body of the sweater. That means that the border is longer at the outside edge than it is at the side where it meets the garment. If you want the fronts to hang straight, a border that is picked up and knit separately or knit and sewn on will work better. Normally you would work with a smaller size needle when creating the bands separately. An alternative partial solution would be to slip the first stitch of every row to tighten up the edge of the border, that will stabilize the edge but it may still be longer than the garment depending on your specific style of knitting. 

I have one more slightly fiddly fix for those of you whose edges are longer. You can still knit the border at the same time with a set of smaller DPN's, (be sure to choose a non-slippery needle that won't slip out of the work). It will create a firm edge with no join between the band and the body of the garment. It means that you will switch between your regular needles and the band needles as you reach the borders of each front section. Just let go of the needles not in use, in the same way that you would in a circular project with DPN's. 

To determine the best possible choice of size for the DPN's.... you need to do a swatch. But you knew I was going to say that didn't you?

Monday, August 28, 2017

August Reboot Series - How to Make Yarn Stitch Markers

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates. 

I've been making yarn stitch markers lately because I've gotten so frustrated with the tiny ring markers popping off of the smaller size needles. I'm starting a lace shawl and I needed two different colors to mark the borders and center bits from the basic stitch repeat.
Here how I make them. I used a heavier weight yarn in these samples for the photography, however I normally use fingering weight leftovers.  I also recommend using a wool yarn as opposed to any slippery yarn that the knots can work themselves out of.

Fold the yarn to create a loop

Make a loose knot by crossing the yarn strands from the ball over the folded loop.

Pull the folded end through the loop to make a knot

Place it on a needle and snug the knot up to the needle

The completed knot

Repeat until you have more stitch markers than required.

Trim the excess yarn, leaving a short tail so that the knot will hold.

I always make extra's to put in my project bag. I also make more than one colour to mark off different sections of the work. Use a needle one size up from the project needle to create markers which are a little loose on your needle. If you do use a yarn that knots slip out of you can put a drop of fray check or clear nail polish to secure the knot. Just be sure to let it dry thoroughly before putting the markers on your needles.

Friday, August 25, 2017

An Interview with...Kathleen Sperling

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Kathleen here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
In all seriousness, all over the place! That said, though, most of my ideas have probably come from adapting the motif from something else into a knitted item - the inspiration item usually being a textile or art piece, often historical (e.g. Bukhara cowl, Delft beret, photo lower down). There are so many beautiful things in the world that can be translated into knitting! That's my absolute favourite go-to method if I want to stimulate inspiration. But I've also had a fair few ideas that have just come to me, kaboom. Usually this happens because several things I've been thinking about or noticing all fall in place, and my brain decides to put them together and make an idea for me (e.g. Hat-heel socks, photo lower down, Around the Block Blanket). And sometimes, I'll have just a basic idea of what I want to do, and the idea will take shape as I'm trying to put it together (e.g. Leaves and Lace blanket, Arguyle sweater, photo above).
What I've found over the years is that, for me, knitting design inspiration is like a muscle - the more I "exercise" it, the stronger it gets. When I first started designing, the ideas were few and far between. But the more I designed, the more ideas showed up; kind of like a snowball rolling downhill. Now, I always have lots of ideas on the go that I want to try all at once! Often I have to put ideas on the back-burner so I don't get distracted from the thing I was already working on. And sometimes inspiration hits so hard that I have to dump whatever I had going on at the time!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I don't know that I actually have one, to be honest. I will knit anything if it appeals to me, no matter what methods are involved. I love all kinds of different knitting techniques, they're each awesome in their own way. When designing, I'll use whatever works best to make my idea "go", be it lace, cables, texture, steeking, entrelac, knitting flat, whatever. Most often, though, I turn to colourwork to create what I'm looking for. I'm a huge fan of both stranded knitting and double knitting. However, one thing that I figured out how to do, which I love, is knitting a graft instead of sewing it. I hate sewing grafts, so having that alternate technique in my pocket means that I don't feel like avoiding projects that use grafting; or - also bad - getting a project almost completed and then ditching it when I come to the grafting part! (Video at

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Oddly enough, I'm not worried about this. I'm fortunate enough to have (so far) a steady stream of ideas that are my own. So I can relax and enjoy the fantastic work of other designers. Some designers, however, are so amazing that you can't help thinking, "Arrrrgh, that's so incredible, I wish I had thought of that first!!!" (While knowing the whole time that you couldn't have possibly done as good a job!) Sharon Winsauer is probably the best at making me feel this way.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
So far, I've been doing it all, as I'm a fast knitter. Also, the prospect of managing test knitters feels much more stressful to me than just going ahead and doing it myself. However, some of the very lovely knitters at my stitch night have offered to test knit whenever I want, and I've also been researching some of the test knit groups on Ravelry as a possible test knitting pool to draw from. It's definitely on my list of things to start doing.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. But I'm not just winging it. I have the basic concept in my head, even if I haven't ever articulated it in writing. And I continue to modify the plan in my head as the business moves forward.

Do you have a mentor?
No. But I do look at other designers and take on-board the things they're doing that I really like and want to also do; as well as the things they're doing that aren't for me.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Only in terms of what I perceive to be a fairly standard indie designer model - design lots, self-publish, get into publications and yarn company offerings so you can put your name out there, advertise where you can, etc.

Do you use a tech editor?
Sadly, no. I'd like to, but my sales at this stage don't justify the cost. However, I feel confident in my own tech editing abilities, and it seems likely that I'll actually get into that branch of the industry at some point down the road. Certainly when I work with publications, the samples that come back to me for proofing usually have only minor changes from my original submitted instructions. I'm lucky to have a passion for detail and thoroughness, and a solid knowledge of pattern writing conventions. I also seem to be good at understanding what details knitters need to have to succeed in finishing a project, and explaining those details so they'll understand.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
With difficulty! I have a day job, a husband, three children, and other hobbies that I'm passionate about, in addition to the knitting. One thing that helps a lot is that I have about three hours of commuting time per day during the week.
I came to the conclusion some years ago that, unless you're wealthy enough to make some of the big time-sucks in life go away (i.e. job and housework), you cannot possibly do it all; there's not enough time, and there's not enough energy. Something has to give. For me, my top priorities are my kids, my marriage, and keeping myself sane by doing things I love. That usually means that the first thing to be dumped is my household chores! (Also getting enough sleep. I'm quite bad at that, too.)

How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on the criticism. When it's reasonable and delivered reasonably, I think to myself, "Oh yes, that's a good point," and set about fixing it, and then announcing and explaining the correction to the audience who needs to know about it. However, when the criticism seems less reasonable, and/or is delivered in an unreasonable way, that always stings. For this, I allow myself some venting time. If I feel I need to respond, I will then settle down and write a (hopefully!) helpful and professional reply. Sometimes this leads to really productive interactions that I never would have predicted, given that it started out with criticism that got my back up! And sometimes in the course of writing my "helpful and professional reply", I'll realize that the person being the most unreasonable in this situation is actually me. I think the most important thing, if responding to criticism, is to make sure that I've moved out of that unreasonable "why, I never!" head-space, and firmly into the "how can we fix this" head-space before I even think of hitting Send. Internal venting first really helps me with this.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I don't support myself with the knitting work - hence the day job. At the moment, the design work merely provides an additional bit of income. I'd love to be able to do this full-time, but as I'm the sole income earner for my family, I don't have the luxury of being able to take that risk.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
From what I've been able to see, I think that the vast majority of people who do successfully support themselves with their knitting career have more than one arrow to the string, so to speak. It seems excruciatingly rare that a person is able to earn a living wage just by selling their designs. I may be wrong in this perception, but I would advise someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting to make sure they're doing more than one knitting-related thing. For example, design and teach; or work for a magazine and dye yarn; or tech edit and work at a yarn shop; that kind of thing. I would also warn the said someone that, naturally, this means having to be very busy! As I understand it, a knitting career - assuming you're aiming for income on par with a full-time job - means an extremely busy life.

What’s next for you?
I'm super-stoked about what's next for me! Right now I'm working on a collection of accessory patterns based around a single theme: manuscript illuminations from the medieval period of Western Europe. This is an incredible source of inspiration for beautiful patterns - I absolutely love every single design in this collection and can't wait to share it with the knitting world. So far I've released three patterns from the collection individually, and hope to have the rest all ready to go sometime this fall (hopefully sooner rather than later).
After that, I've got a few designs that I want to modify from their original prototypes, and get those published as well. Plus there are samples on the go that I need to finish and turn into more designs, and new ideas to try, and, more publications to break into... I get excited just thinking about it all! Probably my favourite part of designing is getting to share what I've made with others. My future goals are all about getting to do that as much as possible.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August Reboot Series - More Tips for Knitting gloves

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some like this one will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates. 

The direction of the increases for the thumb gusset varies from pattern to pattern. The decision to consider is does the work look best with the increases slanting towards the centre of the gusset or away from the gusset? Any stitch pattern may change this result. Neither version is incorrect. What is most important is consistency.

When knitting for yourself check the lengths of each section continuously while knitting and note any adjustments made to ensure the second glove will be the same.

If any of the fingers feel too snug during the knitting, tear back to the beginning of the finger and add in an extra stitch with an additional pickup.

Work the thumb before the fingers for more accurate fit.
If the stitches on waste yarn are slipping down, tug on both ends of the waste yarn above the stitches to be retrieved, until the smaller needle can be inserted.
Use the smaller needles to pick stitches up from the waste yarn and then change to the larger needles.
If the stitches at the base of the fingers look strained, create an additional stitch or two in the pickup area edges and then work corresponding decreases in the first round with knit two together to reduce back to the appropriate number of stitches.
Finger shaping can be perfected by switching to smaller needles just above the upper knuckle for contoured fingers or on the row before the decrease round for fingers of very even widths.
Push completed fingers inside the glove if they get in the way while working subsequent fingers.
Warning, fingertips always look pointy until the yarn tail is woven in.
To find the correct spot to pick up stitches on the fingers, look carefully at the knitting, the little V’s are columns of stitches. Pick up in the center of the V’s running up the finger. If the pickup is in the center of an upside down V it is in the wrong location. The next pickup is after two legs of a downward V.
When joining new yarn, leave a long tail, use it to duplicate stitch over any gaps or distorted stitches.

Use the yarn tails to tighten up holes at the base of fingers, by sewing through the purl bumps on the wrong side of the work around the hole.

Use self-patterning sock yarn to add colour and pattern to the glove.
Choose hand dyed yarns for colour variation in a simple glove.

Work a single lace motif from a stitch dictionary on the back of hand.  

How to center motifs on the back of the hand.  The motif can be centered in one of two different ways. The first method centers the motif across the total number of stitches between the side of the baby finger and the side of the index finger. That total is normally 1/2 of the total number of palm stitches excluding the thumb gusset. This method seems to be the one most often used. 

The second method is to center by measurement. The baby finger is smaller than the others which shifts the center of the back of the hand over slightly. In my case the mid-point is just off to the outside of the tendon (baby finger side) that runs down my middle finger. Some glove designers choose to center motifs this way instead of by stitch count. I personally find this measurement method looks more correct to my eye when using a single motif but I know many knitters who would disagree with me. 

When the pattern used is not a single motif the centering of pattern works best across the total number of stitches. It's often difficult to assess which method has been used in the pattern photos unless there is one taken with the glove laid flat. 

If you would like to see and compare a lot of glove variations you can check out this search in Ravelry.

Monday, August 21, 2017

August Reboot Series - Tips for Knitting gloves

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some like this one will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates. 

Gloves are a relatively simple and quick project. A pair of gloves can often be knit faster than a pair of socks. They are extremely portable and easy to try on as the knitting progresses. Gloves offer the potential for all sorts of creative experimentation on a mini canvas.

As with many other skills, what initially seems complex is not in reality difficult. Once the process is broken down into a series of steps, each one progresses logically.

Working in wool initially is recommended. It’s warm to wear and can be blocked to smooth out any uneven stitches. Cottons, linens and rayon’s are all workable once the knitter has built some basic glove skills. These fibres are cooler and less elastic, therefore accurate fit becomes more important. The smaller knitting gauges of fine yarns offer more potential for patterning and often allow for better fit. Take note, sock yarns are commonly referred to as fingering weight indicating their common use in creating gloves. Very chunky yarns become problematic when working fingers as there are so few stitches required for each finger. Gloves can be made in any nearly any yarn thin enough to permit four stitches around the little finger; finer yarns do create a more elegant glove.
Needles for gloves should be made out of stickier materials like wood or bamboo. The recommended needles to use for making gloves are the five inch length made by Brittany in birch or Knitter's Pride wooden needles. The latter have the advantage of being produced in different colours, which makes the various sizes less likely to be confused by the knitter. Both types are light weight and short enough not to be cumbersome.
There are many different ways of casting on for gloves. Choose a method that creates a stretchy flexible edge. Long tail cast on works for most knitters. When using this cast on, try spacing each stitch on your needle about a needle width apart to keep the edge flexible.  When experimenting with alternative cast on techniques, remember that with circular knitting it is the opposite side of the work that faces out.

It is also possible to begin the cast on without creating a slip knot by using an e wrap twist a
s the starting stitch. I like to do this as it ensures a very straight edge at the wrist.

There are several ways of joining work in the round. The first is to cast on the required number of stitches, arrange in a circle and keep knitting. Two other methods have the knitter cast on one extra stitch. The next step is to either knit the last and the first stitch together or pass the last stitch over the first to join the round securely. My favourite is to knit two stitches together and pull snugly while making the next stitch.

I like to recommend that you avoid inflexible or heavy stitch holders during construction; it makes it more difficult to assess fit when trying on a partially completed glove. Stitches are less likely to pull or elongate using waste yarn as a holder. Choose a smooth yarn of the same or of a lighter weight to use. I use several different colours of markers to keep track of the start of round, the thumb gusset and any stitch pattern sections.

As it is not always possible to measure the recipient, glove pattern sources like Ann Budd’s book “The Knitters Handy Book of Patterns” are recommended. This book includes five gauges and seven sizes for knitters to work from.

Gloves can often be knit with the yarn leftover from other projects as they require approximately, 130 yards (120 m) to 250 yards (230 m) of yarn for gauges from 5 stitches to 9 stitches per inch, for a woman's medium size. The smaller the number of stitches per inch, the lower the number of yards or meters required.

Gloves are easy to customize while knitting, if the knitter is the intended wearer, because they can be tried on at every stage of construction.

To create a personalized pattern, place the hand down flat on a piece of paper and draw around all fingers and the thumb. Notice the little finger starts lower down on the hand than the other fingers. The thumb starts to protrude immediately above the wrist. Note each finger is generally a different length. Add measurements to the drawing of the hand. Measure each finger and the thumb around the base and record their lengths as well. Document the wrist measurement. Measure the palm straight across above the thumb, just below the knuckles to determine sizing when using patterns. Hand sizes and shapes vary much more between individuals than is generally thought. Finger length ratios in particular, vary widely among individuals and the variations are not all consistent with all fingers being longer or shorter.


Friday, August 18, 2017

August Reboot Series - More on Barbie

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some  will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates.  (As predicted I sent out a much higher number than usual of interview invitations but I don't yet have a new one to post.)

One of the most popular posts on my blog is about the Barbie factor and how it impacts body image for many women. I found the above image fascinating, now I'm thinking about how makeup plays into the negativity. In some ways I've become more relaxed about being seen without makeup by friends as I've gotten older, however I don't leave home without at least applying some, even if it's a short trip to run errands. 

How about you? Do you go out in public without your face done?  

The Huffington Post has a very interesting article on what is being called a normal Barbie. You can read the article here

Nickolay Lamm has now created a new option. It's a doll with realistic proportions scaled exactly to the average 19-year-old American woman's measurements. In the photo above the doll is posed next to Barbie. Elle magazine has an article here about the fundraising Lamm did for his project.

There is a chart comparing Barbie proportions to real women on my blog here

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August Reboot Series - Stripes, Breaking Fashion Rules

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some like this one will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates.

I'm always suspicious of simplistic fashion rules. You know the kind I mean, the ones that are supposed to apply to everyone equally. I think they are like using stereotypes to describe people, there might be a tiny kernel of truth that applies in some cases but the real problem is that they limit our thinking and stop us from considering variations. 

Almost everyone says not to wear horizontal stripes or you will look wide, yet stripes are a fashion classic and they are one that knitters seem to be afraid of.

I would like to suggest that you challenge this fashion rule. Stripes are an easy to knit pattern that can add colour and freshness to your wardrobe. So how do you make them work? Take a look at the images above. I've kept it simple and only used black and white / red and white samples. Look at each example, first compare the width of the stripes. Do you see what happens as we go from wide to narrow stripes? That is what is known as the ladder effect. Narrow stripes encourage the eye of the viewer to climb up the body. Visually that works like a vertical line which makes the eye move in the same way. At the far right the patterns become so busy they come very close to reading more like a solid, especially when viewed from a distance.

Next, look at the garments in the center. Where does your eye go? Mine immediately drops to the wide band at the bottom. Does that give you any ideas about how single wide stripes should be placed on the body. Maybe at the shoulder it would be more flattering? Or, what about doing a folded knitted hem so that the pattern repeats evenly right to the edges on the garment?

I choose highly contrasting colours to demonstrate stripe effects. What if you did stripes of low contrast colours? How does that change the look? What if you varied the width of the stripes from narrow at the hip to wider at the shoulder? What if you used more than 2 colours? What if the contrast colour was low contrast at the hem and high contrast at the shoulder? Are you getting a sense of why I don't like a single simplistic rule?

A reader of the original post also pointed out "that stripes are cheerful. Cheerfulness compensates for (alleged) widening, in my book." I fully agree!

Do you have any other observations?

You get extra credit if you made note of how matching stripes across the body and sleeves ups the flattery quotient and that dropped shoulders lowers it by pulling the eye out and down to the armhole where the lines converge. More credit for anyone who saw the flattering diagonal lines created by the cowl neckline on the red and white garment on the far right.

Monday, August 14, 2017

August Reboot Series - Understanding Ease

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates. 

What is ease?  In simple terms ease is the difference between the finished measurement of a garment and the measurement of the body. A garment which is smaller than the body has negative ease. A garment which is larger than the body has positive ease. If a woven fabric garment is too tight it will restrict the wearers movement. Our knitted fabric has stretch, which allows garments to have a closer fit without restricting movement. In knitting we often base ease assessments on the bust or chest measurement only. Patterns then make assumptions about the other body measurements in relation to that single point of reference. Ease looks like this. But it is confusing to garment makers because this is also fit and styling mashed up with ease.

Image from

Understanding ease is one of the most difficult concepts for garment knitters to truly understand. Knitters often show me gorgeous work and then tell me how very unhappy with the result. When I ask questions, their disappointment most often comes down to the gap between the garment that they imagined and the one they knit.

Often the gap has to do with the knitter's personal ease preference. This preference is a moving target, as we age, gain or loose weight and adapt to changing silhouettes in mainstream fashion, our preferences are constantly shifting. 

I sewed many of my own clothes for years. I also used the same patterns over and over. Once I had something that fit me well I would return to that pattern often. I would make it in a different colour. I would make a jacket with a matching skirt, then I would make the same jacket with pants. Then I would make it in a print fabric, or a tapestry or a knit. 

When I was machine knitting I used a knit radar for shaping. It's a charting device which allows you to draw your garment shape. You select settings by your stitches per inch and rows per inch, and let the Radar guide you through the shaping of your garment piece. By simply changing the gauge settings, you can knit this same garment over and over with a variety of yarns and stitch styles. I used to knit the same basic garment shape, change the neckline, shorten or lengthen sleeves and the hem, and no one ever noticed that I was knitting essentially the same sweater over and over.

Now I often do the same thing with my hand knitting. I layer new or different details on the same basic garment shape. In the LYS that I worked at we had only one customer that I was aware of who did this with a pattern. She had an old pattern, that fit perfectly, she only worked in one gauge but substituted many different yarns. She varied the length from garment to garment and substituted short sleeves for long on summer sweaters but that was about it....and no one noticed what she was doing.  

You can do this if you really want to understand the illusive concept of ease, as it is impacted by fabric weight and drape. In the photos above look at the sleeves. The jacket on the bottom right is made from a tapestry print, it is the stiffest fabric in the four jackets. Did you notice how those sleeves stand away from the body? Once you make the same pattern with different yarn types, your understanding of the concept starts to crystallize. When we move from pattern to pattern each time working with a different silhouette we learn these lessons more slowly.