A New Sweater and A New Shawl

Another sweater ready to be released into the wild–Odette.

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Odette is a relaxed pullover with set-in sleeves, full-fashioned shoulder shaping, a self-enclosed neckband and a vented hem.  The body is knit in a simple slip-stitch pattern and the sleeves are stockinette.  It is knit in Woolfolk’s worsted-weight yarn, Får, a heavenly chainette made of super-soft merino sourced from the grasslands of Patagonia.  As soon as this yarn arrived at my local yarn store I had a vision of a winter-white sweater that would highlight the halo and hand of the yarn.  I wanted something that would be easy to wear, nonchalant, yet elegant.  Here, at last, is the result.

It’s a simple and relatively quick knit with yarn that you won’t want to put down.  Get the pattern here.

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I also have a shawl pattern being released as part of a collection curated by Michele Wang, owner of Gauge + Tension.  All of the designs are knit in Gauge + Tension’s new line of 100% Cormo sport-weight and I am honored to be included with some exceptionally fine designers.  The first photo is of my shawl, Lenz, followed by a look at the whole collection.

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Basket of shawls!

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Lenz is a German poetic word referring to the spring and how the days lengthen during the season.  The pure, bouncy, whiteness of this yarn conjured up images of lily of the valley blooming in the woods and I wanted to make something to celebrate the warm weather. The pattern is extremely simple (one might almost say soothing) and it makes a comforting and pleasant project for the warmer months.

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Today I’m driving off to The National NeedleArts Association trade show in Columbus, OH with a car full of talented ladies.  The show itself should be really interesting but I’m also looking forward to the actual drive–passing through lush landscapes and knitting all the while.

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Tutorial: How to Backstitch a Collar

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As I mentioned in the last post, one of the techniques used in my Lady Yak pattern is knitting a separate collar and attaching it to the neckline using backstitch.  Written directions for this method are included in the pattern but since it’s a technique I use frequently and it’s difficult to visualize if you’ve never done it, I thought it would be useful to create a photo tutorial.

First, I’d like to explain why one would use this technique.  In the case of Lady Yak, attaching a collar this way allows you to use a tubular cast on for your collar edge.  “But why do I need to do that?” you ask incredulously.  “There’s a sewn tubular bind off that matches a tubular cast on–why not use that?”  Well, there IS a sewn tubular bind off, an ingenious technique which I have sometimes used with great success.  And other times not.  Whether it’s just me or it’s related to the behavior of different yarns, I do not find the sewn tubular bind off to have a consistently attractive result for all projects.  I find that it’s difficult to achieve even tension and, especially with an inelastic fiber like the yak/merino used in the pattern, I find that an undesirable amount of spreading can occur in the bind off.  But there’s no need to be flustered by that, so long as you have a suitable technique in your arsenal.

Enter the backstitched collar.  I first read about this technique in Katarina Buss’s Big Book of Knitting where she uses backstitch to attach both collars and facings. This method allows you to use a tubular cast on for what will be the exposed edge of your collar, creating a firm, and to my mind, more consistent edge, and the backstitch itself creates a very pretty detail where the collar meets the body.  In the case of Lady Yak, which has a fold-over collar that will cover the neckline, the detail of the stitching itself will not be seen (which makes it a good project to practice on), but I have used it in other sweaters where the backstitch detail is clearly visible and I find the effect very pleasing.

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To see how backstitch creates that distinctive, beaded line of stitches, let’s look at how it’s formed.  Here is a very clear illustration of the movement your needle takes when working backstitch and you can see the decorative effect it has in embroidery.

This is what backstitch would look like on a piece of knitted fabric.

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When working with hand knits you can use backstitch to sew almost any seam for which you would use mattress stitch.  It is commonly called for in the finishing instructions of Rowan patterns, and I learned by taking a finishing class with Shirley Paden that she uses it for almost all of the structural seams of her sample garments.  When used for construction seams (side seams, shoulders, armholes, etc.), backstitch differs from mattress in one fundamental respect; mattress stitch is worked with the right sides of the fabric facing you, whereas backstitch is worked with the wrong side of the fabric facing you and the right sides of the pieces you are joining facing one another. The collar example in this tutorial will not be done this way as we are using the backstitch partially as a decorative element and it will be worked with the right sides of the fabric facing.  Don’t worry, I’ll remind you when we actually get to our sample.

But first, back to my case for using backstitch to attach a collar.  The other advantage of this method is that it allows a good deal of flexibility in the number of stitches you use in your collar and how you space them along the neckline.  I like dense, luxurious collars that contain a lot of stitches and since the backstitch method allows you to ease your collar into place around the neckline, you can simply cast on the size collar you want without having to worry about changing needles sizes or incorporating increases as you might in a picked-up collar.

To understand why this is, let’s look at the starting point for the method.  If you’d like to make a sample like the one I use here, you will need a small amount of yarn and a length of waste yarn in a contrasting color.  It can also be useful to use a contrasting yarn when practicing the backstitch for the first time as it will make the path of your stitches stand out more distinctly.  The collar sample is shown in worsted weight yarn and is 42 stitches wide in 2×2 rib.  The sample neckline piece is 34 stitches wide.

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The Lady Yak pattern will direct you to cast on a number of collar stitches and to work in rib to the length indicated, ending after a WS row.  Leaving a short tail of the main yarn, join a length of contrasting color waste yarn and work 2 rows of stockinette stitch. Cut waste yarn, leaving another short tail. At this point your sweater will be completely assembled and your pieces will look like this:

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Now that the live stitches are secured with waste yarn, remove your work from the needle.  Let’s switch over to our sample pieces and get a closer look.  Notice how the collar piece looks at rest and then observe how much the waste yarn edge can be stretched around the neckline.  This is what allows for the method of easing I mentioned before.  Depending on what your project requires, you can spread those live stitches out or squish them together.

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See how the two tails of the waste yarn are both at the same edge of the collar stitches?  When you tug on one tail then the other it allows you to securely expose live stitches a few at a time as you backstitch around the collar.  The picture below shows how this works–but before we actually remove any stitches, we need to pin the collar to the neckline.

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Pull on waste yarn tails to expose live stitches.

Pinning:  In this example you will be working with both the RS of the collar and the RS of the sweater facing you, with the waste yarn tails at the right edge of the collar, ready to be removed during the backstitch process, which moves from right to left.

Lay the collar so that the waste yarn stitches overlap the neckline edge of the sweater and the cast-on edge of the collar points away from the sweater body. Using straight pins or coil-less safety pins, pin the live collar stitches to the neckline on the right side being sure to pin through the collar stitches only so that the waste yarn remains easy to remove.

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Thread a tapestry needle with a length of yarn. Pulling on first one tail of waste yarn then the other, remove both rows of waste yarn from five or six collar stitches at a time, removing pins as needed. (I like to remove a number of stitches at a time to work on but if you’re feeling nervous you can just remove the waste yarn from 3 stitches to begin the collar and thereafter from one stitch at a time.)

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In the basic backstitch link above you saw the path the needle took when working through fabric.  In our application, the needle will travel from right to left, just as in traditional backstitch, but the needle will go down and come up through specific live stitches.  This can be tricky to grasp at first but you will quickly develop a rhythm to the needle movement.

The basic movement proceeds from right to left, moving the needle down then up: The tapestry needle will first go down through a live collar stitch and through a neckline stitch, then come up through a neckline stitch and a live collar stitch two stitches to the left. Next, bring the needle down through the collar and neckline one stitch to the right of where you you just came up, then bring the needle up two stitches to the left of where you went down. Then repeat the motion around the collar: Down one to the right; up two to the left.  Although it is a down and up motion, your needle will remain largely horizontal as you can see below.  In this method of attaching the collar you will enter each live stitch of the collar and each corresponding stitch on the neckline twice, similar to the way you would if working kitchener stitch.

Here it is in more detail.

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Put the needle through a live collar stitch and a neckline stitch from top to bottom, glide the needle under both layers to the left and bring the needle up through the neckline stitch and collar stitch 2 stitches over.

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Pull yarn through.

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Moving the needle one stitch to the right of where your needle just came up, move needle from top to bottom of fabric layers through a live collar stitch down through a neckline stitch, then glide needle under fabric and come up from underneath through the neckline and a live collar stitch two stitches to the left of where your needle went down.

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Pull yarn through. Notice that the first stitch of the collar only has the red yarn passed through it once. When actually sewing on a collar you would make the second pass through this stitch at the end of attaching the entire collar.

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Continue in the same manner. Put your needle down through the fabric one stitch to the right of where you just came up and bring it up two stitches to the left of where your needle went down.  DSC06649 DSC06650 DSC06651 DSC06652

It’s usually clear where to put your needle through the live stitches but sometimes it can be less clear where the needle should go through the neckline stitches.  In the example we have here, we are sewing along the center bind off area of the neckline which is completely straight, and the vertical lines of stitches in the sweater front exactly correspond to the vertically oriented collar stitches so the principle of moving your needle one stitch to the right and two the left with each movement will be clear.  As you work around the collar and the curve of the neckline shifts, presenting you with the sides of neckline stitches, try to maintain the same rhythm (one to the right, two to the left with regard to the live stitches) and continue to go up and down through the neckline stitches at the same even intervals.  In the end, the live stitches of the collar and the backstitches themselves will cover the neckline edge so precisely where you place your needle into the neckline stitches is really not vital, just continue stitching at even intervals in a manner that you find pleasing.  It is one of those (many) moments in knitting where you do what looks best to your eye.

Hopefully, you will end up with something like this:

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So there you have it; another technique at your disposal.  If, like me, you find yourself drawn to drapey fibers that defy your tubular bind-off skills, consider using the backstitch collar.

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A New Sweater Pattern–Lady Yak

Here we are in the middle of an extraordinary, flower-filled May and what do I find myself thinking about working on?  Knitting.  With wool.  Yes, I am one of those season-less knitters that knits happily through all seasons and usually mid-July finds me sewing up the seams on a sweater I’ll be wearing in October. So although New York City seems poised for summer, I find myself thinking about the sweaters I’ll be wearing next fall.  Allow me to introduce, Lady Yak.

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This sweater was designed as a wardrobe staple with a sleek, simple silhouette and just enough detail to keep the knitter interested.  When I was knitting the sample in the fading fall light, with yarn that is so charcoal it’s almost black,  I affectionately dubbed the sweater “Nothing to See Here,” but if you look closely, there are a few areas of interest.

First, the essentials.  The cuffs and hem are worked in 2×2 rib with tubular edges.  The sweater has set-in sleeves with full-fashioned shoulder shaping to set the shoulder seam behind the natural shoulder line for a flattering fit.

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A ribbed detail runs up the side seams for a slim profile.

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And perhaps my favorite aspect is the asymmetrical fold-over collar which is knit separately and sewn to the neckline using backstitch.  This is a technique that I really love to use for necklines and in addition to the written instructions in the pattern I’ll be posting a tutorial to illustrate how this is done.

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Lady Yak became a design idea after I knit a hat for my husband using Lang Yak, a 50/50 blend of yak and virgin wool.  Not only did the hat come out beautifully soft, but after several winters of being shoved in and out of winter coat pockets, it hadn’t developed a single pill.  I was intrigued by the strength and beauty of this fiber blend and I knew I wanted to try it for a sweater.  During the time I worked at Knitty City I earned a reputation for myself as a real yak-pusher as I tried to encourage every customer that would listen that it was the epitome of durable luxury.

Lady Yak was conveniently knit in my size and has indeed become a wardrobe staple.  It feels better with each successive wearing (that yak halo practically hugs you while you wear it) and I haven’t had to shave it for pills once.  The only danger of wearing a sweater this delicious is that people have to feel for themselves just how dreamy it is, so there is a risk of being pet like a small dog.  Worth it!

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Handmade Doesn’t Have to Mean Homemade

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My brother got married last July and I thought it would be nice if I made my mother a dress to wear for the occasion.  Translation: I knew that my mother needed a dress for the occasion and I decided that making one entirely from scratch would actually be easier than the two of us shopping for one.  I like to think that we have a number of useful skills, my mother and I, but the ability to shop for clothes is not one of them.  And shopping on a deadline, for a particular occasion…well, the very idea was making me queasy.

Sometimes a tight schedule is a good inducement to get things done in a timely fashion.  We decided to use a Vogue pattern that I had used to make a dress for her back when I was in high school.  It is affectionately known as the Krinkle Dress as it was made from a wine-colored krinkle fabric purchased at an Indian sari shop in New Jersey.  It has worn well and appeared at many a summer gathering over the years, so we thought it was a good place to start.

My other idea was to make the dress a bit of a tribute to my great-grandmother who worked as a seamstress at Liberty London.  When I was in high school my grandmother gave me a beautiful beaded purse and told me that it had belonged to her mother.  She said that her mother had gone to a party wearing a dress that she had made herself and a woman she met pronounced the dress to be so beautiful that she emptied her handbag of her personal affects and presented it to my great-grandmother, saying that a dress so beautiful deserved a bag to match.  Whether this tale is true or apocryphal I don’t actually know, though my grandmother was not prone to embellishment or fabrication.  Whatever the truth of it, I brought out the handbag and managed to find a Liberty print that matched it quite perfectly.

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This whole process was fueled by my having been working on sewing and pattern drafting rather intensively for the first time in many years and so I wanted to approach the making of the dress with all of the skills I had been practicing.  I decided that I would make a muslin and do a fitting before cutting into that precious Liberty fabric and then proceed with confidence.  I began the process with the dignity of a seamstress in the house of Valentino but I am forced to admit that my conduct during the fitting of the muslin would have me banned from every atelier in Europe.  I may have uttered phrases to my mother (the client in my imaginary salon) such as “Why are you shaped like that?!” and ” I don’t even understand how ANYTHING fits you EVER?”  These are definitely not things you should say during a custom-fitting, especially not to the patient woman who is allowing you to stick pins into her for hours on end. In the end, we weathered the storm, the muslin was fit, the Liberty was cut and sewn with silky Mastex thread and lined with Robert Kaufman black voile and the resulting dress did what all bespoke clothing should ideally do–it made the wearer feel comfortable and beautiful.  To complete the look my mother knitted Jared Flood’s Rock Island Shawl in Reywa Bloom.  And here is the result.

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The pleasure of making one’s own clothes is, at least for me, largely about the sense of well-being that one has when wearing clothes that fit well and are entirely suited to you.  Seeing how at ease Mum looked in her wedding ensemble made me feel that we had entirely succeeded in our handmade venture.  And for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of making something for someone else and the freedom that comes from not being concerned about one’s own shape and fitting issues. All in all, a very satisfying experience.

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The Month in Review

January was a very busy month, first preparing some patterns to debut at Vogue Knitting Live and then finishing up a pattern and sample for a magazine.  Vogue is always splendid and overwhelming and fun and this year was no different.  I took two machine knitting classes taught by Susan Guagliumi.  If you have any interest in machine knitting whatsoever it would be worth taking a class with Susan, or at the very least checking out her books.  Not only is her knowledge of machine knitting vast but she is hands down one of the best teachers I’ve ever taken a class with–one of those people who has command of both the material and the class itself.  The more classes I take and the more I teach myself, the more I realize how rare this combination is.  She is also just a hoot and class time passed very pleasantly.

I also had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Catherine Lowe that featured some drawings that I made back in the fall.  The lecture was entitled The Knitter and the Seamstress: A Cautionary Tale and it discusses how knitting has adapted certain techniques from sewing and tailoring and when these techniques adapt well to knitting and when they do not. Given the technical nature of the talk, Catherine wanted to lighten the mood a bit with some cartoons and thanks to the suggestion of a mutual friend Catherine asked me if I would like to do the drawings. I have admired Catherine’s work for a long time and it was really quite amazing to contribute to her presentation.  Getting to attend the lecture and see it in its finished form was probably more exciting for me than going to, say, the Oscars.

Catherine delivering her lecture At VK Live

Welcome to the Land of Couture

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Examining the inside of a garment constructed using couture techniques

I also got to spend time at the Young Designers Booth sponsored by Knitty City and it really felt good to unpack my stack of patterns and my bag of samples and to sit at a table covered in things I had made.  After weeks of pattern writing and editing it was gratifying to see the results of all that labor.  Here are a few of the patterns I had on display (with links to where you can find them on Ravelry).

The Aberystwyth Cowl

Knit in Handmaiden Maidenhair

Aberystwyth Cowl

The Kufstein Cowl
Knit in Malabrigo Finito

Kufstein Cowl

The Stratus Cowl

Knit in Blue Sky Alpacas Suri Merino

Stratus Cowl

The Working Girl Armwarmers

Knit in Lang Jawoll Magic

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by the booth and to Knitty City for giving me the opportunity to show my work.  It’s lovely to have a public venue where we can all get together and celebrate this often solitary thing we do.

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Companion Pieces

Here to keep the Fleurette Cowl company are two more whisper–light but seriously warm little pieces knit in Quince & Co. Piper.

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The Fleurette Hat is a slightly slouchy cross between a tam and a stocking cap and the Fleurette Mitts are a simple pair of fingerless mittens with a gusseted thumb.  Both pieces provide weightless warmth and are easily tucked into a pocket until they’re needed.

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The mitts just joined me on a trip to Berlin and Dresden and they were frequently deployed.  Here they are being donned for some wind protection during a roof–top photo shoot in Dresden’s Altstadt.

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And here you can observe them tucked beneath a steaming Baumstriezel at Schloss Charlottenburg’s Christmas Market in Berlin.  Should you find yourself craving a hot, yeasty spiral of sugar–coated dough, this English recipe will help you to make your own.  Who doesn’t love a recipe that includes a broom handle as one of the essential preparation tools?

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If you can tear your eyes away from the Baumstriezel you may observe my latest version of Jared Flood’s Laurel Hat.  I think this is my third version of this hat, which is objectively, a perfect pattern in every way.  This version was knit in Zealana Rimu DK and is wonderfully warm in addition to being the ideal shade of red for dark winter days.  It served me well on this trip but tis the season to give away your woollies so I left it in Dresden with my dear friend.

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She probably thinks I was being generous but giving it away simply means that I’m justified in knitting yet another one for myself [insert diabolical laughter here].  One of my first errands when I got back was to head to Knitty City to pick up another skein of Rimu.  For anyone interested, I think that three skeins will make two hats.

However, I won’t be casting on my new Laurel just yet, as there is much to be done in the next few weeks.  I am preparing some patterns and samples for Vogue Knitting Live New York City where I have a slot in Knitty City’s Young Designer Booth on Saturday, January 17 from 3–4 pm.  All of the Fleurette patterns and samples will be there along with several other pieces so if you’d like to see the samples in person, or better yet, try them on, come on by on Saturday.  Hard copies of the patterns will be available.

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Introducing…Fleurette

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Fall is here and it’s time to keep our necks warm again.  Introducing the Fleurette Cowl, made with Quince & Co.’s Piper, a beautiful blend of 50% superfine texas merino and 50% super kid texas mohair.  This yarn is a pleasure to work with and to wear.  Although I tend to love mohair in all of its forms I think that Piper might convert a lot of knitters who think they don’t care for mohair.  The quality of the merino and the mohair speaks for itself and Quince gets the balance of the fibers and the plumpness of the strand just right.  The result is the elasticity, roundness and stitch definition of merino with the sheen, halo and drape of mohair.  And one skein of Piper goes a long way; once the cowl was cast off there was still enough yarn to knit a fingerless glove.  In fact, this yarn is inspiring quite a few designs, so check back for Fleurette’s companion pieces in the coming weeks.  If you’re in the New York City area, Piper is available at Gauge + Tension in Greenpoint, Brooklyn along with a sample of the cowl and a tempting array of other hard-to-find yarns.

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