Well Hi There (& it’s KAL Time!)

Yes blog, it’s been a while. I’m so sorry. There was that little water leak in our house in early December that turned out to be a major disaster and between one thing and another,  I haven’t been around much.

But we’re starting to get past the worst of it. Just this week, the new rinsing sink (it’s huge!) was installed in my studio and the countertops are being finished tomorrow.

Before you know it, I’ll be back in the studio dyeing again! I was even able to put everything back in place in the area where I mix dye and prepare yarn, and it’s fabulous to be close to finished in this part of the house!

Unfortunately, the upstairs isn’t nearly this far along, and we’re going to have to move out for a couple of weeks while our hardwood floors are refinished, but I’m awfully excited to be seeing progress at long last! So with that explanation, and promise to be back in the world of the living, on to the most important part of this post: It’s time for the annual knit along I host on the Elliebelly Group on Ravelry, Adventurous April. If you’ve knit with us before, you know we’re committed to fun & accomplishment in a low-stress environment. If you haven’t, you should come on over, just the Elliebelly Group, and sign up to knit with us!

The first thread for the KAL, discussing pattern choices, is up now. If you reply on the thread, I’ll earburn you when sign ups for the KAL open this weekend. And, in the meantime, you can look at patterns and order some Elliebelly Yarn if you like. So head on over to Ravelry, and get ready to knit it April!


It’s Fall Y’all!

Maybe that headline is a little bit misleading. It’s not quite fall, at least not in the deep south. But, it feels like it should be. And that means it’s serious knitting time around here. I’ve been working on a big, bulky cashmere shawl in The Plucky Knitter’s Groovy  yarn in the Highland colorway for a long time. It’s an easy feather and fan lace pattern and a lot of fun to knit, so it has been my constant companion on my travels this summer, and since it’s easy to memorize, I’ve been able to get in a row here and there even with a busy schedule. I’m working on the last 26 row lace repeat, and then it’s just a wide garter band and casting off.

With the end of this project on the horizon, I’ve had two things in mind: reorganizing my knitting studio and planning my fall knitting. I’ve spent the day cleaning and reorganizing my basement room, adding a new comfy leather chair and generally repurposing the room so I can use it as my home office as well as for knitting and dyeing. It was a disaster in there for a bit this afternoon, as I pulled out all my baskets of yarn, books and tools, but I’m well into sorting it out now and hope to be more or less done by the time I go to bad.  Appreciated this quick visit from the Judge who measured and has promised to get some of the screws that will let me hang a picture I got this summer onto the drywall.

The best part of reorganizing is that I’ve pulled all of the needles, stitch markers, and leftover yarn out of my finished project bags and I’ve reorganized the armoire that holds them all. Once I decide on my fall projects, it will be really easy to grab the needles and notions I need and be all set to go.

My knitting is my constant companion and I’m really grateful for it, whether it’s 4:30 am on the way to work in NYC or the more reasonable hours I keep when I’m at home. I’m planning on devoting my free time this week to winnowing down my Ravelry queue (a mere 3 pages/87 projects at the moment) to only the projects I intend to knit in the next 12 month or so. I want to swatch for my fall projects this week and be ready to cast on – I know I’m going to knit a couple of hats, I’m thinking about a sweater or two – I want a big cozy turtleneck, and some fingerless mitts. So, looking forward to the excitement of choosing, the agony of swatching, and the fun of fall knitting.




Fair Isle Or Stranded Knitting: Making The Case For Upping Your Skills As A Knitter

Be brave and be bold knitter. Yes, the unfamiliar can be frightening.  It may make you instinctively circle the wagons and push all thought of trying a new technique out of your mind.  You knit, you purl.  You've had some success with lace and you can cable.  And stripes, you'll take on stripes.  But fair isle (also known variously as stranded knitting or colorwork) is beyond the pale.  You look admiringly at the photos but tell yourself the knitters who do such projects are octogenarian British ladies who've been honing their skills on Rowan patterns since childhood.


According to Wikipedia: "Fair Isle is a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours. It is named after Fair Isle , a tiny island in the north of Scotland , that forms part of the Shetland islands. Fair Isle knitting gained a considerable popularity when the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII ) wore Fair Isle tank tops  in public in 1921. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour."  Although the term fair isle is often used generically for any sort of knitted colorwork, it is more accurately reserved for the traditional motifs and the limit of two colors per row that is characteristic of this style of knitting, motivated by the need for speed and simplicity, as the finished products were a primary form of income for the residents of the island at the height of fair isle's popularity.  Stranded knitting or even the term colorwork are more generic terms for any type of knitting where more than one color is used in a row, with the unused color stranding across the back of the work when not in use.  I am rather reckless and tend to use the terms interchangeably. I first fell in love with fair isle knitting as a college student in Maine, and saved my money for months to purchase an Icelandic Wool sweater knit in a stranded style, a "Lopi." 


But I found the technique elusive as a knitter.  For one thing, it scared me.  I never felt like I was good enough to try stranded knitting.  And when I finally screwed up my courage and tried this simple hat, decades later, the results were disastrous.  The hat, despite its charming model, was a fail for two reasons:

  • Stranded knitting requires you to run the unused yarn for each stitch or set of stitches loosely behind the yarn you are knitting with.  If you pull it tight, you will end up as I did, with an adult sized hat fit only for a toddler.  If you periodically stretch your stitches across the needles and make sure the float behind is neither too long nor too short, your knitting will turn out just fine.  And, for longer runs where a color goes unused, try this method for catching the float in back.
  • Give how you're going to manage the colors some thought.  I knit fair isle with the different colors held in two different hands, essentially knitting continental with one strand and British with the other.  I've extolled the virtues of this approach before and found it surprisingly easy to learn, but a friend who knits fair isle more beautifully than anyone else I know simply hold both strands in one hand knitting with the proper yarn for each stitch.  There is a lot of information on the internet, and some very good videos.  Give yourself the luxury of a few hours and a good cup of tea to explore them.  Play with some swatches.  The gift of time to learn a new knitting technique is something we don't always give ourselves.  You should do that here.

Why should you take the time and risk of learning to knit fair isle?  Quite simply, because of the results.



A good place to start, particularly if you're impatient and want to dive right in without much preparation, is my failure of a hat. It's Grace Akhrem's Boy Meets Girl Hat, and knit in a super bulky weight with simple blocks of color to practice out your new skills in, you'll be done in a day or two.  That initial experience will be enough to show you where you may need to pick up a few skills and give you the basic hang of things.  And even if, like me, your hat has a different than intended recipient, I bet you'll love it.  In fact, this post was motivated by my discovery of that tiny orange and brown hat, carefully folded at the bottom of my now 13-year old's "treasure drawer" in his dresser.  My hat was knit in the pattern yarn, Spud and Chloe's Outer, but there are lots of super bulky choices out there and you probably have some leftovers on hand you can play around with.

image from images4-e.ravelrycache.com

Although I remained in love with fair isle after my early college exposure to Lopi's and on into a beautiful variety of Norwegian Snowflake Sweaters and Talbot's Fair Isle Yokes in bright preppy colors, I managed to convince myself it was beyond my skill set.  That was until I saw Kate Davies' Peerie Flooers Hat and fell hard and fast in love in a way that would not be denied.  See its pretty corrugated ribbing?  It was a struggle at first, but it became easier.  I couldn't but it down!  Those pretty little rows of colored ribbing are amazing.


Ultimately, it was the hats that sucked me in.  I seem to knit five times as fast as normal knitting them, because; can't.stop.watching.the.colors.change.

And that was what convinced me I was ready to try a sweater.  It remains to be seen what happens, but so far, so good.


This isn't my first post extolling the virtues of taking up stranded knitting, and yes, I do have an agenda.  I have this vision of happily sitting around some long, cozy weekend, knitting fair isle projects with all of my favorite knitting friends.  You should definitely be brave if you haven't taken the plunge yet, or keep expanding your skills here, anticipating all the fun we could have!

Lopi collage

On a trip to Iceland a couple of years ago, our guide had the most beautiful Lopi, knit for him by a friend's mother.  He wore it everywhere, in place of a jacket. Although Lopis get a bad reputation for being scratchy, I learned that what they really need is some wear and washing before they soften up.  I love this sweater and purchased some yarn for it while there, subsequently tracking down the stitch pattern.  It's my dream project to work on during that weekend of knitting with friends.  It will be my third Lopi, in addition to the two below.



During our  trip to Iceland, the newer Lopi, pictured on top, joined my vintage 1983 version from LL Bean (on bottom).  My college Lopi is older than my marriage, older than any of my children.  It's dependable and one of the first things I reach for in colder weather.  Still, there will be something incredibly special about knitting a Lopi of my own.  It will bring me full circle with the place where my love of stranded knitting started.






Fairisle & Janine, The Feral Knitter

One of the (many) high points of my Glamping with Plucky experience was my class with Janine Bajus, who goes by the Ravelry name feral knitter.  Her website is here.  Janine is an amazing advocate for an evolved but still traditional type of fairisle knitting and she is a superb teacher as well as practitioner.  I first met her as I was walking out of the market.  She was nice enough to autograph my copy of her brand new book.


Even though I wasn't sure what to expect from the class, I wanted to take it to help with my Sjølingstadkofta, which is coming along slowly but nicely.


The class was great.  It touched on the history and nature of fairisle as well as color theory and selection.  And Janine's patterns are beautiful.  I knew this when I met a knitter wearing one of her hats before class.


The sample knitting she brought to share with us was amazing and inspiring (and maybe a little bit intimidating, but she made it feel very much like something you could accomplish).


She designed a hat pattern, just for us, and showed off swatches in a number of different color variations.


I can't seem to stop working on mine.  (Ignore the nasty blue stuff on the bottom, that's provisional cast on cotton, so I can go back and do the ribbing later).


No mention of how much I'm enjoying knitting this hat (despite having to rip back three rows for failure to change color while flying home yesterday, and then an additional row because, when you knit on a plane after a full day of flying, you're just going to make a careless mistake in reading the pattern)  would be complete without mentioning the lovely little project bag my Ravelry friend Eleanor made for me.  It's incredibly sweet with it's little Liberty fabric lining and the perfect size for a fairisle hat, with interior pockets to handle the different little balls of wool.


I don't have enough superlatives for this class and this fairisle hat project, so I'll simply say I loved it all and am looking forward to working on the hat later this week!




Glamping With Plucky

What kind of person flies cross-country to spend a long weekend with a group of people she has never met at a remote island retreat? Me!


The entire trip was magical, from the first glimpse of Bainbridge Island, Washington, while on the ferry.  The Plucky Knitter knows how to throw a knitting retreat like no one else. 


By mid-morning Thursday, knitters began to show up at Churchmouse Yarns in "downtown" Bainbridge, before heading out to the retreat.  There was a flurry of seeing old friends and making new ones, and perhaps a bit of shopping, although I mostly stuck to adding a few patterns to my collection and buying some new blocking boards — the puzzle piece foam mat type, that interlock.  Then we all headed on out to Islandwood, the site of our retreat and the most beautiful setting imaginable for a weekend of knitting.


I lucked into the most wonderful group of roommates, one of whom made us these incredible project bags with our Ravelry names on them.


One of the highlights of the weekend was the Market, with ALL the Plucky.  Being knitters, we waited patiently in line for it to open. 


Once inside, it was an exuberant madness of yarn, samples, swag and happy knitters.


I fell in love with Jill Zielinski's Two Track Sweater (modeled by Jill!), which I had yarn for at home in stash.  And I also fell in love with other patterns and was forced to buy yarn for them.  That would be me, on the left, with the full shopping bag.


Vini, Vidi, Vici, which, loosely translated, means, I came, I saw, I bought Plucky.  Lots of Plucky.


All of my purchases were carefully wrapped up by Drew from Plucky Headquarters, who kindly suggested packaging them in cellophane to get better compression, so I could fit all of the yarn in my suitcase.  Drew also played trivia on my team Friday night.  We lost, but he was lots of fun. 


I focused on knitting a bit on my Grannie Annie and Sjølingstadkofta.


I was so sad when Sunday morning rolled around and it was time to say good bye.  One last view of Bainbridge Island through the window of the ferry as we departed.


Still to come: I want to share pictures with you of some of the beautiful knitted items I saw and details from Janine/FeralKnitters wonderful fairisle class.  And of course, pictures of my new yarn and what I plan on knitting with it!


Linen & Lace

One of the Ravelry knitters who is testing knitting my yarn is currently working on a lace sweater using Elliebelly Chemise, the sport weight linen and silk blend.  I used this yarn to knit my Mithril Sweater earlier this year.

image from images4-b.ravelrycache.com

But Gail is using the yarn in a very different pattern than the one I chose, defined by columns of lace, called The Secret Life of Trees.  It's exciting to see the yarn used successfully for such a different purpose.

Fragment© GGailG

This fragment gives you some idea of how the lace patterning looks.  

And here's a full sleeve.  Even unblocked, you can see the lace pattern and tell that the linen yarn is perfect here.

Laceprogress© GGailG

Gail is one of those fabulously experienced knitters who seems to be able to pull off complicated patterns with the same ease with which I would knit a garter stitch scarf.  You should take a look at her projects on Ravelry (in the link to her name).  In particular, her lace shawls are incredibly beautiful.  

I often buy yarn because it looks beautiful in the skein.  Thanks to knitters like Gail, I'm getting a much better sense of how those beautiful skeins knit up and what they most want to become.  There is definitely a lacey project in Chemise coming in my future!


Knitting Families

Poppy knits

I'm enormously grateful for my maternal grandmother who, among many other things, taught me to knit.  I'm grateful to my Mom, who has nurtured my love for knitting and other crafts at various stages along the way.  And, I'm enormously amused and proud to be part of a family of knitters.  All of my cousins knit (belated shout out to my cousin Ann who knit me the most gorgeous cabled aran when I was in college in Maine), but undoubtedly my favorite family knitting photo is this one of my Uncle, happily knitting himself an afghan.  He learned to knit as a public school child in Britain during WWII.