8 Aug 2014

Blanket coverage

It's 31º C outside (that's 88º F) and steamy too. Yesterday there was an evening rainstorm but it didn't actually manage to take the temperatures down - if anything it just seemed to make things feel even stickier. However, we all know the summer heat won't last. Already the sun is setting a little earlier each evening and the nights can have a bit of a cool edge. Before you know it you'll be looking for a cozy rug to spread over your knees or a blanket to throw on the bed as an extra layer.

So now's the time to start planning your autumn blanket knitting. Of course, it can be difficult to plan for the winter when it's quite so warm outside, so think back to last year for inspiration. Perhaps you would have liked a lap rug when the first of the cooler days arrived. Or a super-cozy blanket that would tuck in securely and keep all the draughts away. That's always such a comforting feeling, isn't it. I suppose it reminds us of our childhood to be well tucked in against the winter chills. 

Blankets need to be soft and warm if they are to do their job well, but it is also really important that they are the right size. A narrow blanket that lets cold air in every time you turn over will not be your favourite item! And that applies to short lap-rugs too. You don't want your feet to be getting cold every time you pull up a little bit of extra material to snuggle underneath while watching TV.

So I thought I would compile some sizes of blankets that work well for hand-knitted projects. Compare these to some of your old stand-bys and make any adjustments so that your next blanket will be your favourite of all time:

KNEE-RUGS and LAPGHANS: Lap-Rugs are great for throwing over your legs at any time you need a small amount of extra warmth, but they do need to be wide enough so that draughts don't creep in. I find that a width of 100cm/40" works well for most situations and gives warmth without bulk.

The photo above shows a woven lap-rug of this size - about the maximum width for my 45" loom. Not a limitation for knitting of course! If I want to weave a King-Sized blanket I need to make several pieces and then join them together, but this isn't the case with knitting. A lap-rug or a double blanket - no seams!

In terms of the length, this depends on how you will use the knee-rug. For sitting in a chair or wheelchair, then work to about 115-120cm/45-48". If you like to relax with your feet on a foot-stool, then a length of 150cm/60" will keep your toes well covered. You can even add another 50cm/20" if you want an extra snuggle factor so that you can have a fold-over at the top or enough length to tuck underneath your feet.

AFGHANS / THROWS: The best size for these will depend upon the chair they are going to be draped over, but a size that works well for most sofas is 130cm/50" wide x 150cm/60" long. If you like to use your afghan as an occasional throw for a bed, then you could make this both a little wider and a touch longer to give an overall size of 150/60" wide x 185cm/72" long. That will give a good extra layer over a quilt.

SINGLE / TWIN BLANKETS: A Single bed in the UK is a little narrower than a Twin in the USA. However, a good sized blanket for both places is 170cm/66" wide x 230cm/90" long. That would also work well for a dorm room or college bed-sit.

DOUBLE / FULL BLANKET: A Double/Full-sized bed is usually about 130cm/54" wide. However, the depth of the mattress can vary considerably between different brands. For a standard depth of mattress, aim for a blanket that is 200cm/78" wide x 250cm/100" long to give good coverage. If the mattress is an extra-deep one, then add an extra 20cm/8" to the width and 10cm/4" to the length.

QUEEN BLANKET: Queen size beds were not available at one time in the UK but they are becoming more popular over time as they do give a little extra room without being too dominant in a small bedroom. They are about 150cm/60" wide, so a little wider than a Double/Full-sized bed, and usually have deeper mattresses too. So for this size of bed, work a blanket 230cm/90" wide x 260cm/102" long.

KING-SIZE BLANKET: In the UK King-sized beds are 185cm/72" wide while in the USA they are about 10cm/4" wider. The mattress can also be quite substantially deeper in the USA. So for a UK King-sized blanket make this about 270cm/106" wide x 260cm/102" long. However, for a US King-size it would be better to be 290cm/115" wide x 275cm/108" long.

I hope this gives lots of good ideas for blanket sizes for future projects. I will be posting patterns for all of the knitted blankets pictured above soon and will add links in here as soon as they are ready. Cozy winters are on the horizon!!

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Yarn Overs I have known


30 Jun 2014

Yarn Overs I have known

Knitting lace is fascinating - watching the yarn overs and decreases marry together as you work to form wonderful shapes and designs. You can add small, wide-spaced holes into a baby blanket and bring a lightness and airiness to an otherwise solid fabric. Or you can place holes in sequences to make patterns that seem truly organic, such as in the Tulip Lace Pattern above. 

There are also some knitting patterns that seem to have more holes than material! The soft lace shawls from the Shetland or Faroe Islands are an example, just floating over your shoulders like a breath of warm air.

The holes in these designs are formed by taking the yarn over the needle, or just yarn over for short. But did you know that there are a number of ways to work these? 

In fact there are four basic types of yarn overs depending on what goes before and what goes afterwards in the row as well as some special cases that I'll detail below. Knowing the differences between these different types of yarn-overs gives you a lot of choices as you work to select just the right 'look' for your next lace project.

#1 - Between Knit Stitches:

If you need to insert an eyelet hole between knit stitches you have two options. For a small, neat hole you can bring the yarn forward to the front, just as you would to work a purl stitch. Now take the yarn in front of the needle and over the top so that it is ready to work the next knit stitch. This is the basic, simple yarn over (yo), also referred to as a throw in older patterns and also sometimes abbreviated to yarn over needle (yon). You then continue on your way, patterning to the end of the row. On the next row, you work the yo in the same way as a regular stitch, taking care not to twist the thread as this would close the hole up again.

There is also another choice to make a lace increase between knit stitches and that it is the yarn round needle (yrn). In this version, the yarn is brought from the back where you have just been working over the top of the needle to the front, then around the needle and under to the back again. The yarn has now completely encircled the needle and is ready to work another knit stitch. The amount of yarn taken to work this type of yarn over is much greater than in the first option and produces a more emphatic hole. 

A simple change like this can produce a very different-looking item. The smaller yo might be better in some situations, but in others this neat little hole can get lost in the design and a larger yrn would be a better choice. You will sometimes be directed by the pattern designer to work one type or another, or you may see yarn forward (yfwd) or yarn back (yb) as instructions on what you should do at various points in the pattern.

#2 - Between a Knit and a Purl:

After working a knit stitch your yarn is at the back and you need to bring it forward ready to work the purl stitch, but with extra yarn inserted to form the hole. The simplest way to do this is to take the yarn over the top of the needle instead of underneath it. This puts a very small eyelet hole in place but is not always satisfactory as the yarn can tighten up and give the effect of a distorted purl stitch instead of a hole. However, it is useful for small delicate items and can work well with care.

The more regular approach is like the yrn in the previous section. Bring the yarn forward just as though you are going to work the purl stitch without a lace increase in front. Now take the yarn up over the top of the needle to the back and then under again to the front. The action almost feels as though you are wrapping the yarn twice around the needle, but in reality it is only going around once. Now work the purl stitch in the usual way. Keep the yarn fairly tight through the whole of this manoeuvre to ensure that the yarn over does not become too large in comparison to other lace holes in your work.

#3 - Between a Purl and a Knit:

After working a purl stitch, you can take the yarn over the top of the needle ready to work the next knit stitch. This will give a small, neat hole. However, as in the previous section, this is not always successful as the yarn over can get lost and look like poor tension instead.

A more satisfactory lace increase is formed by taking the yarn under the needle to the back of the work, then up over the top of the needle to the front and around underneath to the back again ready to work the next knit stitch. As before, keep the yarn fairly tight through the whole of this procedure from working a firm purl stitch before, wrapping the yarn around the needle and then the next knit stitch. Think of the 2 stitches and the yarn over as one unit and maintain a good tension through the whole sequence for a good result.

#4 - Between Purl Stitches:

You can work this increase in two directions: either take the yarn back under the needle and then over the top ready to work the next purl stitch.

Or go from the first purl stitch and take the yarn over the top of the needle first. Then bring it around the back of the needle and under again to the front. 

There is little real difference between the two but one may suit one person better than another. The second seems to be marginally longer than the first but this is not as marked as in some of the previous examples. You just need to be careful when working the next row so you do not twist the stitch and close up the hole. You will soon see if you are getting little 'crosses' instead of holes!

#5 - Increases at the start of a row:

Just occasionally, you will need to make a yarn over at the start of a row. This might be part of a pattern as in Brioche stitch, or to give a decorative finish to the selvedge. The easiest way to do this is to take the yarn to the opposite side from where you should be holding the yarn.

So to work a yo + knit stitch at the start of a row, hold the yarn to the front of the needle, insert the needle into the stitch ready to work, and take the yarn over the top of the needle to insert a yarn over. You may also see the instruction to start the row with yarn in front (wyif)

To work a yo + purl at the start of a row, keep the yarn at the back and bring it over the top of the needle before working the purl stitch. You might also see the instruction to start this row: with yarn in back (wyib) or sometimes that is written with yarn at back (wyab). These yo's can easily get lost on the next row so make sure you remember them when you work the next row.

#6 - Multiple yarn overs:

For large-scale holes in the fabric, the yarn can be wrapped any number of extra times. You may see the instruction: Knit the next stitch, wrapping twice or wrapping 3 times etc. To do this, start with a basic yrn and do that all over again as many times as required. Sometimes these extra wraps are dropped in favour of a single stitch, but they can also be a way of increasing the number of stitches too. You will probably then be directed to first purl, then knit into the multiple yarn over on the next wrong-side row.

For shawls and capes, these various increases can be used to shape the garment, while in flat pieces of knitting such as the FFCT (Feather and Fan, Cables and Tulips) Wrap the increases are matched by decreases along the row so that each pattern repeat has the same number of stitches at the start.

Enjoy trying all these different types of yarn overs as you work your next piece of lace knitting!

Happy Knitting!



23 Jun 2014

The murmur of a cool stream...

The murmur of a cool stream,
Bird song, ripe fruit in plenty,
Bright multicoloured tulips
and fragrant roses.

This poem depicting an ideal garden was written in about 1258 by Sa'adi in his work Gulistan. It sounds like the perfect description of a garden even today. You can almost smell the fragrance of the roses as you walk along the garden path.

The FFCT Wrap that I wrote about in the last blogpost was inspired by an absolutely wonderful display of tulips in one of our favourite locations, the botanical gardens in Kyoto. We were so fortunate to live close to these gardens a few years ago and like to revisit them from time to time. On this particular occasion, the gardeners had been busy planting several thousand tulips and there was an incredible variety of different flowers on show. Some were modern varieties with multiple petals and almost looked like rose-buds.

However, the ones that impressed me most were the traditional single flowers. They just have such an elegant simplicity. Set out into their rows and grids they had an order and pattern which emphasised their beauty and structure. As I sat looking at them, I thought how lovely they would be if captured in a knitted design.

I had brought some Rowan Wool Cotton 4-ply yarn with me on the trip and started experimenting when we arrived home. The result was the tulip lace-and-cable pattern used in the FFCT Wrap. The yarn brought out the structure of the tulip design and gave a wonderful depth to the pattern. 

The yarn is an interesting mixture as it combines two very different fibres. The cotton brings a crispness to the mix which emphasises the lines and curves in the pattern. However, a stole or shawl needs some gentle warmth if it is going to help keep you warm after the sun goes down, and this is provided by the merino wool in the blend. It makes a perfect combination for a summer wrap.

For more details on the FFCT (Feather and Fan, Cables and Tulips) pattern, please see my Etsy store and/or my website: www.wyndlestrawdesigns.com.

Happy Knitting!



17 Jun 2014

FFCT Wrap (Feather & Fan, Cables & Tulips)

Sometimes you just need an extra layer available even in the heat of summer, for example at the end of a day as the sun goes down, or in an overly air-conditioned restaurant. This is when a lacy shawl or wrap really comes into its own.

This new knitting pattern features tulip lace flowers topping tightly cabled stems and set onto a background of a slim Feather-&-Fan leaf pattern. The combination of these pattern elements gives a complex and eye-catching modern design. 

The pattern uses Rowan Wool Cotton 4-ply which is a lovely, crisp yarn. The combination of the soft merino and the cotton fibres gives just the right degree of warmth for evening strolls. 

It can be used as an every-day wrap but would also be superb used as an evening stole. I could also imagine this worked in a pure white 100% cotton yarn as a wedding wrap.

The knitting pattern includes both charts and line-by-line instructions, and there are two sizes: the medium wrap is 168cm/66 ins long while the long one measures 182cm/72 ins. Both are 50cm/20 ins wide.

It is available on Craftsy, Etsy, Kollabora & Ravelry. Further details are also available on my website, www.wyndlestrawdesigns.com.

Happy Knitting!


Previous Blogpost: Why stop at one?


28 May 2014

Why stop at one?

Thanks for the messages about this series of ideas for Summer Knitting - glad you like these. And here's another: Think in Multiples!

We've all experienced the phenomenon of having to concentrate at the start of a pattern to make sure everything is going just right, haven't we. Then all of a sudden it seems to get easier, and by the time you reach the end you are almost knitting on auto-pilot. Well, you can tap into that for some great summer knitting. So here are five ideas for repeats that really work.

#1 - One pattern, two or three yarns: 

If you have a pattern that you have enjoyed working, then go on to repeat it with a couple of different yarns. You will be surprised how different the end result can be! A fine gauge yarn might turn into a lovely skinny scarf which would be perfect as a tie-wrap for an evening dress. A chunky yarn would produce a wide comfy scarf which will be pressed into service as soon as the weather turns colder. 

For example, a pattern such as the Elizabeth Scarf lends itself to many different weights of yarn. The photo above shows a North Ronaldsay Aran-weight yarn being worked in this pattern, and it has a completely different feel to the original - very rugged and a really nice width to the scarf. 

Pop into some knitting shops along your travel route and see what yarns "speak" to you. You might find something quite inspiring in a new store. 

Do a quick gauge swatch to test out the yarn and decide what needle size works best. Then cast on and see what comes! You will need to carry a few different needles with you as you go, but perhaps this is the year to treat yourself to a set of interchangeable needles. Then you'll have everything you need to explore those luscious new yarns you find along your way.

#2 - Same yarn, different pattern: 

When you have used a yarn that was especially good to work with, you just want to find more excuses to use it. I loved the yarn I used for the Kimpton Scarf, for example, and am about to order some more of that in different colours. That was Knit Picks Shine sport-weight yarn and it is gorgeous. I am planning to work a wrap in this yarn and I think the end result will be beautiful. 

The advantage of this approach is that you already have an idea of how the yarn behaves and what type of projects it might be good for. You will probably also have some notes of the size and type of needles which are most suitable too. So it should be very easy to find another pattern to work in that yarn and then you can get going straight away.

#3 - Don't just make one - knit a set: 

Cushions and pillows always look better when there are a lot of them, so why not plan to make a whole set, such as these Rare Earth Cushions. Start each with a different co-ordinating colour and knit away. Then when all the knitting is done you can sit in a quiet place and finish them all off together. In fact, you could do the knitting during the summer and then sew them together when the kiddies go back to school in September. It is always very satisfying when you can turn a stack of knitting into finished objects very quickly, so this would be a good two-season project! 

And of course you could make several cushions in different colourways so that you can change your cushion covers to suit the season - pumpkin coloured cushions for Halloween, red and green for the holiday season etc.

#4 - A basketful of socks:

Socks are a great summer knitting project and it is easy to knit a whole basketful of socks with only a small amount of yarn. Once you are in "sock knitting mode", you can easily make three or four pairs ready for the cooler weather ahead. The yellow socks above are some more I have worked from the Mentmore Socks pattern I was mentioning in my last blogpost. 

#5 - And don't forget patchwork afghans:

Small items such as squares are perfect for carrying with you when you go to the beach, or to work on in quiet moments under the welcome shade of a palm tree! You could knit just a few squares for charity using oddments you have around, or gather co-ordinating yarns specifically for a larger project such as in the log-cabin blanket above. 

I hope that has given you some more ideas for #summerknitting to keep those knitting needles going over the summer! By the time September comes around you will be amazed at how productive you have been over the summer months. 

Happy Knitting!



19 May 2014

Dyeing in the kitchen

There was a story in one of the textile magazines when I was first spinning: the lady who was writing the piece said that the postman had come running into the kitchen looking most distressed. The children had answered the front door and when he asked where their mummy was, they had dutifully replied that she was "dyeing in the kitchen". Of course, he found the lady busily stirring a batch of colourful dyepots and not lying on the floor gripped by a heart attack! I have no idea if that story is apocryphal or not but it still makes me laugh. I suppose I am easily amused.

Anyway, it set me thinking about further ideas for the summer. I started last week by outlining a Guide for the Summer Knitter and I intend to continue for the whole of this month to suggest ways in which we can get our textile 'fix' while still enjoying all the other pleasures this season brings.

So here's an idea for a project where the kiddies can get involved too - dyeing your own yarn! I know, your first reaction is to think of dye splashes all over their best outfits and a mess on the floor that will take weeks to clean off. However, it can be done. Our two girls always had a great time 'helping' me with dyeing. They gladly fetched and carried water, pre-washed skeins of yarn while standing on a small stool at the kitchen sink, weighed out batches of fleece ready for the dyepot and giggled helplessly every time I splashed dye on the walls or all over myself.

You need very little equipment to start dyeing and it is immensely satisfying to see something change colour right before your eyes. All you need is a good-sized stainless steel saucepan with a well-fitting lid, a couple of slotted spoons and/or metal tongs, a Pyrex measuring jug, a few small plastic bottles to store your dye stock solutions and a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands. Of course there are more items you can add if you really get into this in a big way, but this will get you started. 

Then the only other items you will need are a bottle of white vinegar and some dye. I use Cushings acid dyes which come in small packets ready to prepare your stock solution. Or your can explore the contents of your kitchen cupboards for Easter Egg dyeing kits or Kool-Aid drink mixes, which also do a great job of dyeing wool.

So here's an easy dye project that will be immensely fun both for you and the kiddies: kettle-dyeing some yarn ready for a pair of socks. Kettle-dyed yarns are ones that have been dyed unevenly to give a wonderfully subtle effect. There are many of these yarns available from Indie dyers in places such as Etsy, but they are also super-easy to do for yourself. Have a look at this great video from Rebecca at ChemKnits: 'How to make a tonal kettle-dyed yarn'. You will want to get your own dyepot running the minute this video finishes! 

The only problem with kettle-dyed yarns is that they are, well, a bit variable! That is after all one of their most endearing features. However, sometimes one skein can vary enormously from another which can lead to disappointing results in the final knitted article. The same goes for other types of tonal effects produced by space-dyeing or hand painting. 

So have a look at the Mentmore Socks knitting pattern which has a method for combining several skeins of yarn to give some wonderfully tonal socks. I also chatted about this in a couple of previous blogposts here and here, so check those out too.

Then have a think what you might need to get started on this - and how to get your kids dyeing in the kitchen too!

Happy Knitting!



12 May 2014

Summer Knitting starts here

In the USA, many summer activities start on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and end on Labor Day (the 1st Monday in September). That's 26th May to 1st September this year, so is only a few weeks away. 

For many it means a welcome end to the cold weather and the start of a whole raft of activities - the arrival of the kiddies home for the holidays, summer camps, school catch-up programs and long car journeys to the beach or the mountains. However, that poses some problems for us knitters - how do we manage all our regular interests so that we can keep knitting wherever we are?

Well, the good point is that we're ahead of the game right now and have enough time to prepare. So, I have put together a Guide for the Summer Knitter to help make this the best knitting season of the year!

#1 - Get ready for selfish knitting: Yes, you can do it! Knit something just for yourself. You know that by the end of August or beginning of September you will be starting your holiday knitting projects, so now's the time to focus on you. Choose a pattern for that summer scarf you've always fancied. Or how about a linen-lined bag such as the Sarasota Shopper from the Southampton Collection - perfect for your next long road trip.

#2 - Download an armful of patterns: You won't have time to look later on, so choose 3 or 4 knitting patterns now that will give you a whole range of projects for the summer. You can sometimes also save money by purchasing several patterns at once. On my Etsy store, for example, I have some pattern packages where you can buy 2, 3 or 4 patterns together. Then you can go ahead and load them onto your iPad or print them out ready to go. 

#3 - Click on the on-line yarn stores: Many yarn stores have offers at this time of year and they often choose the summer season to introduce new yarn lines too. So it's a great time of year to see what is available and get stocked up. Try to get all the yarns you need for the patterns you have downloaded and place each pattern with its relevant supplies in a bag ready to grab and take with you. 

And if you want a suggestion for a wonderful summery yarn, then how about Knit Picks "Shine" Cotton/Modal yarn. This soft and silky yarn drapes beautifully, as you can see in the Kimpton Scarf on the Right.

#4 - Hunt out yarn stores along your route: There is a brilliant website called Knitmap which will give you lists of yarn stores in the area. You can enter just a town name or a whole state and see what's around.

And it's not just for the USA as they have international offerings too. The map on the left shows listings for London, and new stores are being added all the time. It's a great resource and will enable you to top-up your yarn purchases as you go along. Just be sure to call ahead and make sure they haven't moved!

#5 - Remember the notions: It's so frustrating when you come to the end of your knitting and don't have the right bits and pieces to complete an item. So gather all the zips, buttons, closures and so on for each of your projects and put them right into the bag with the yarn and needles all ready. Then when the knitting is done it won't be long until the item is finished!

#6 - And that goes for knitting tools too: Have you ever been on a plane and dropped an interchangeable needle end down the side of the seat? Or been unable to find the crochet hook you need right now to catch that dropped stitch? 

So, check your tool supplies and make sure you have spare needles and all the other essentials. Then put them into a bag so you know exactly where they are. I have an old US Airways travel bag with 3 mesh pockets and it goes everywhere with me. However, if you can't remember the good old days when airlines used to give away freebies, then here's a fun notions bag from the OceanPatch Etsy store - and it's even made from organic cotton. What could be better.

#7 - Look out for the #summerknitting hash tag! Yes, you can't escape it. Twitter hashtags are making their way into mainstream knitting. However, the #summerknitting tag is a great way of finding some inspiring summer projects. In addition to Twitter, look in Pinterest, Instagram and even a general Google search for some great ideas.

Then you'll be set for a whole season of knitting and will hopefully have a large number of completed projects by the end of the summer. After that, you'll be able to contemplate your holiday gift-list in a refreshed state of mind. But that's for another day!

Happy Knitting!


NB: The photo at the top of this blogpost shows Hever Castle in Kent, with the beautiful rose garden in full bloom.

Last Blogpost: Kimpton Scarf



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