Monday, July 20, 2015

From the top

I love set-in sleeve sweaters. In my opinion, they are the most universally flattering garment style. But in order for them to flatter, they really need to fit properly.

With a classic, bottom-up, pieced sweater, where the sleeves are knit separately then sewn into the armholes, adjusting the fit of the upper bodice, armholes and sleeve caps is no trivial matter. Because of this, knitters are often advised to leave these areas alone and focus on fitting bust and hips. But if your shoulders are wider or narrower than the industry standard, or if you have very slender arms, (or massive guns like I do), you need to be able to make adjustments.

It turns out that if you work a set-in sleeve from the top, starting with stitches picked up around the armhole, it’s much, much easier to fine-tune the fit of the upper bodice, armhole and sleeve cap. Giving knitters a better understanding of how set-in sleeves work, and providing them with the tools to make them fit perfectly is what Top Down: Reimagining Set-in Sleeve Design—the new book I've just published with Quince and Co—is all about. Here’s a peek at what you’ll find between the covers:

  • An overview of set-in sleeve architecture
  • An improved method for knitting sleeves from the top, designed to mirror the clever shaping found in a conventionally set-in sleeve
  • Tips on measuring and fitting
  • Extensive section on making pattern adjustments, both to accommodate gauge differences, and to tailor the fit of the sweater to fit you beautifully
  • Detailed patterns for six classic set-in sleeve sweaters

For more photos of the sweater designs view the online lookbook.

A print book/e-book bundle is available for pre-order from the Quince and Co website. Print books will begin shipping August 6th, but the ebook can be downloaded immediately. The e-book is also sold separately.

If you’d like to join others who are knitting the designs in the book, a knit-along will be happening in the Quince Ravelry group. The KAL starts Thursday August 6th and runs through October 1st.

And if you’d like some help with swatching, measuring gauge, evaluating fabric, as well as making adjustments for gauge differences, come join in the swatch-along just getting started in the Blue Bee Knits group. Quince will be giving away a $25 gift certificate to one lucky winner, chosen at random from the finished swatch thread. Pretty great for just knitting a gauge swatch!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

New pattern: Colina

With a flattering draped neckline, Colina is the uptown cousin of the recently released Lina tank. Designed in Sparrow, Quince and Co's fingering weight organic linen yarn, both Lina and Colina are worked from the top—without a single purl stitch between them. Garter stitch worked flat makes up the bodice, and stockinette in the round the skirt.

Colina begins with the neckline drape, a long garter stitch rectangle. Stitches are picked up along the short ends of the rectangle for the back shoulders, and more stitches are cast on between them to form the back neck. The back continues in garter, with shaping at the underarms, and is worked to the underbust.

With the upper back complete, the drape stitches are returned to the needles and the shaping of the front begins. Decreases are made at the sides of the piece, gradually reducing the stitch count until the desired cross-front width is reached. Underarms are shaped as for the back, and the front is worked to the same depth as the back. Front and back are joined, and worked in the round to the hem.

Lina is a similar construction. There's no drape, so the upper back is worked first, to the underbust, then stitches for the front are picked up at the shoulders, and the front worked to the underbust, too.

Lina, Colina and that magic line

So where exactly is this 'underbust'? When I knit the prototype for Lina, I assumed that the best place for the garter bodice to end was at the Empire line—the narrowest part of the upper ribcage, just below the bust. I found, however, that unless you have a very small bust, like the model in the photo above, it's actually better end the garter a bit higher up. Somewhere about halfway between the fullest part of the bust and the Empire line seems to be about right. Here's why:

Lina and Colina have an A-line shape that skims the body. This means there's no underbust shaping, so the dividing line between bodice and skirt does not have to correspond to actual anatomy. The lower you place this line, the larger (and visually heavier) the upper torso will appear. If you raise the line a little, it gives a sort of visual 'lift' to the bust line.

Both patterns have instructions to work the upper bodice to a certain number of rows below the underarms, but obviously the ideal depth for the garter section will differ from person to person. When I knit my Colina prototype, as I approached the point of transitioning to the skirt, I tried it on frequently, pulling down on the fabric to simulate what happens after washing and blocking the linen fabric. When I reached a depth that looked good, I began the stockinette skirt.

More visual aids

On each side of the skirt is a faux seam, created with slipped stitches. These 'seams' divide the front from the back, and end at the split point of the hem. As you work the skirt, increases are made to the back panel only, shifting the line of the 'seams' slightly towards the front on the garment. This makes for a more flattering line, visually narrowing the front panel.

You can find Lina and Colina here on Ravelry.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Warming up to linen


Made from the long, straight fibers of the flax plant's stem, linen is cool and drapey, the perfect thing for knitting warm-weather garments. If you have never worked with an inelastic fiber though, linen can feel pretty different the first time you try it. So here are a few tips for getting comfortable with this most glorious fiber:

Relax. Linen yarn doesn’t conform to the needles the way that wool does, so it creates a slightly larger stitch. In response, many knitters tension the yarn tightly, trying to achieve the same size stitches they’d get with wool. Don’t. Ease up, and go down a needle size or two. You’ll probably need to use a much smaller needle than you would for wool, but it will ultimately be a more pleasant experience.

And try bamboo or wooden needles. The grippier texture will help even out your stitches, and is often more comfortable than metal at small sizes.

Swatch. And wash. The ‘hand’ of linen yarn changes dramatically when it is washed and blocked. Linen fiber is ‘toothy’, so when stitches are formed, they tend to stay put. If you pull the needles out, the stitches will just stand there. Because of this, the working gauge and fabric can be quite different from the finished gauge and fabric—depending on the stitch pattern used. Once it has been washed and dried a few times linen becomes incredibly supple and drapey. And the drapeiness increases with wearing.

Stockinette fabric usually doesn’t change gauge too radically between the unblocked and blocked fabric. Garter stitch is another story, as the following photos of the gauge swatch for Lina and Colina—my two new designs in Quince and Co’s Sparrow—make clear.

The top photo is of the unblocked swatch, the bottom photo is the same swatch after washing and drying in the dryer twice, and then steaming. Washing and drying has completely changed the aspect ratio of the fabric, allowing the stitches to condense horizontally and relax vertically.


Unblocked gauge: 24 sts x 60 rows = 4" [10 cm]


Blocked gauge: 27 sts x 44 rows = 4" [10 cm]

Note that running the swatch through the washer and dryer is an excellent way of finding out what the fabric will look like a few washings and wearings down the road. But depending upon what kind of machines you have, it can cause some color loss. Use caution with the actual garment.

Pull from the outside. Linen fibers can cling to each other when they are wound together, so a center-pull cake is not ideal. Working from the outside of the ball or cake will minimize the possibility of tangles.

Rein-in your stitches. When working flat, use a longer needle than you ordinarily would. Stitches in linen yarn don’t compress as well as wool (before washing, anyway), so a longer cable will keep them from jumping off the end.

Count on drape. While it is not best suited to garments that need a lot of elasticity, (no socks!), linen is magical for projects where a fluid, supple fabric is desired. And your linen fabric will become softer and drapier over the life of the garment, the more it is washed and worn. Expect to love it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Lina

I'm happy to announce the release of Lina, a simple tank with a flattering A-line shape, knit in Sparrow, Quince and Co's fingering-weight linen yarn.

I adore Sparrow. It knits up into a fabric with incredible drape and sheen. But if you are new to working with linen yarn, it can feel a bit, um, different. So, in addition to being the perfect simple warm-weather tank, Lina is designed to be an introduction to knitting with linen. It is worked entirely with knit stitches—using garter stitch for the bodice and stockinette in the round for the skirt.

I love the look of garter stitch worked at a fine gauge—like tiny elegant pintucks. Garter stitch helps to overcome any unevenness of tension when working flat, and makes for a more opaque fabric that can be worn without another garment underneath, preserving Sparrow's airiness.

Lina's skirt has faux slip-stitch 'side seams' that end in a sweet split hem. Apart from being a nice detail, the slipped stitches provide landmarks that somehow make the knitting go a little faster.

You can find the Lina on Ravelry, or purchase directly from Quince here.

I'll be back soon with tips on knitting with linen...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Metalwork update—and a knit-along!

If you are subscribed to the Metalwork collection, you'll have received two new patterns this week, Antimony, a slouchy hat with optional dangly pompoms, and Into Gold, the tam—originally designed for the Woolen Rabbit yarn club—that inspired the whole collection. Both patterns are now available individually, or as part of the collection, in the Blue Bee Studio Ravelry store.

If you are knitting any of the Metalwork patterns, come join the knit-along just getting started in the Blue Bee Knits group on Ravelry. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Metalwork collection

Metalwork is new a subscription-based pattern collection featuring five accessory designs, each full of rich, textured stitches and knitterly details.

The idea for the collection began with a hat I designed for The Woolen Rabbit's 2014 Yarn Club. The interplay of textures that came together for Into Gold reminded me of details found in metalsmithing or fine jewelry. What's more, Kim's Emma yarn, a blend of Polwarth wool and silk, gave the piece a fantastic burnished-metal look. By the time the hat was finished, I knew that some coordinating accessories were in the offing.

First to be released is Copperline, a fingerless mitt pattern that uses the same Coin Cables and Woven Stitch pattern found in Into Gold.

When the club exclusivity period is up in February, Into Gold will become part of this collection. At least one other piece will coordinate with that design, but there are some surprises in store, too.

The collection is available for subscription here. When you subscribe, Copperline is available for immediate download. The remaining 4 patterns will be delivered to your inbox over the next six months, each approximately six weeks apart, ending in May 2015.

Hope you'll join in the fun!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hand-wound

Can I tell you a secret? I don't own a ball-winder. Nope. I wind my yarn by hand. I know what you’re thinking—really, I do. But I consider it pure pleasure. Want to know why?

To begin with, there’s the tactile experience. Whether I’m knitting with it or just holding it, touching yarn makes me happy. When you wind a ball by hand, the strand is continually running through your fingers. If it’s a yarn you’ve never used before, it’s sort of like a first date. You can begin to get a feel for how it will behave on the needles, how it will drape, and how it will feel next to the skin. If there are knots, you can deal with them. And because the yarn is moving more slowly through your fingers, if there are any small slubs or bits of vegetal matter, you can easily tease them out as they go by.

Then there’s the movement. Some people like to place the loose hank of yarn around their knees to wind from. Others use the back of a chair. There’s even the time-honored method of getting a family member to hold the yarn on outstretched arms—but I like to take my yarn for a walk. Here’s what I do: I put the yarn on my swift. If it’s a nice day, I’ll set it up out on the back deck. Holding the end of a strand, I walk away from the swift as far as I can go without the yarn dragging on the deck. Then I walk back toward the swift, gently winding the yarn around two fingers, making sure to keep it very loose. The idea is to create a fluffy, open pocket at the center of the ball. When I get back to the swift, I pull my fingers out of the center, and repeat the process, winding the next length of yarn crosswise to the previous bit, still keeping it loose. Winding on the return trip allows any tension created by pulling out the strand to be released, creating a soft, squishy ball.

There’s a lot of sitting in knitting, and winding yarn this way allows me to get up and move around a bit. I’m not sure I’d say it was exercise exactly, but if I wind enough fingering-weight yarn for a cardigan all in one go, I’ve walked the better part of a mile on my out-and-back trips.

There’s also the aesthetic consideration. I love the look of a tidy round ball, whether sitting in the palm of my hand or dancing around my yarn bowl as I work. When I have a travel project, I place a small plastic bowl in the bottom of a project bag, and let it spin happily away in there.

Then there are the yarns that prefer to be wound by hand. Airy woolen-spun yarns don’t always appreciate the rough treatment that a mechanical ball-winder can dish out. Toothy yarns like linen, and fibers that are haloed like mohair and qiviut can be challenging to work with from a center-pull cake because the fibers latch onto each other, creating tangles. Working from the outside of a ball that is free to spin eliminates these problems, and gravity helps to separate the fibers that want to grab.

Yes, winding by hand is a little bit slower, but on the whole, knitting is not a very fast business. I can spare a few minutes.

I know I’m not alone in my love of the hand-wound ball. How about you?