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?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Into gold



There are times when a design just comes to you, fully formed. When Kim, the talented dyer behind The Woolen Rabbit yarns invited me to contribute to her 'Once upon a time' themed club, I saw my design in an instant. I'd been swatching a stitch pattern that made me think of woven straw. Combining that texture with a coin cable was a bit of a literal take on Rumpelstiltskin, but once I'd imagined the two together, it was irresistible.

Into Gold starts with the cabled band. It is cast on provisionally, worked from end to end, then joined in the round. Stitches are then picked up along one edge, and a horizontal braid is worked, separating crown and band. The textured crown is worked in the surprisingly simple Woven Stitch with decorative decreases that pinwheel gently to the center. To complete the play of textures, the bottom of the band is given a smooth I-cord edging.



For the photo shoot we had fun styling things uber-romantic/fairy tale. My friend Nicola was the perfect model. But I'd wear the hat paired with clean, modern lines. The tam style flatters many face shapes, and Kim's gorgeous Toadflax colorway is a rich gold that works well with a lot of skin tones.

The pattern is currently available exclusively to Woolen Rabbit 2014 Yarn Club subscribers. It will be available for purchase in late February 2015.

For more information, visit the Into Gold pattern page on Ravelry.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Welcome Summer!

What better way to celebrate the long holiday weekend and the return of warm weather than with a pattern sale?

From now through Tuesday May 27th, all independently published Blue Bee Studio designs are 20% off. Just click the 'use a coupon code' link in the Ravelry shopping cart, and enter welcome_summer.

Happy, happy Summer!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wrong side tracks, part two



In my previous post I discussed how needle angles can affect the size of knit and purl stitches and lead to rowing-out. Here's a video that shows what I'm talking about, as well the changes I've made to correct my own rowing-out issues. Hope you find it helpful!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wrong-side tracks

Next to garter stitch, stockinette is the simplest sort of knitting you can do. At the same time, it can be the most difficult to do really well. Just work back and forth for a while in a smooth, solid-colored yarn, and you'll get a lesson in which aspects of your technique are wanting.

Personally, I've always rowed out. Pretty badly. If you aren't familiar with the expression, 'rowing out' describes the tendency that a lot of knitters have to create different sized stitches on the knit and purl sides of the fabric when working back and forth in stockinette stitch. You can often see it most easily on the purl side of the knitting: there'll be little horizontal furrows where the stitches are looser on one row, and tighter on the next.

I've tried a lot of things to fix the problem, from using a smaller needle on the purl side – to adopting the Norwegian purling technique where the yarn stays at the back of the work all the time – to pure avoidance, disguising the problem with semi-solid yarns and lace or texture stitches. I'd been able to improve the issue somewhat, but it continued to be a problem.

Handily, knitting gives you a lot of time to think about, well, your knitting. It's right there in front of you, all the time. Lately I've been trying to carefully observe the way that I form stitches. In doing so I think I've discovered not just a solution to rowing out in my own knitting, but the reason why it happens in the first place.

Epiphany

Are you ready? Here it is: The angle of the working yarn – relative to the right hand needle as the new stitch is being transferred over – has to be the same, when knitting and purling, for the stitches to be of equal size.

I'm a continental knitter. When I make knit stitches, at the point where the new stitch is being taken up by the right hand needle, the working yarn is at pretty much 90 degrees to the needle, ensuring that the stitch will be snugged up as fully as my tension dictates, and gauged to the size of the needle.

When I purl in my usual way, because my needle is entering the stitch purlwise it's most natural for me to hold my needles at a wider angle, and as a consequence, the angle of the yarn relative to the right hand needle is always greater than 90 degrees. This provides slightly more resistance to the small force that I'm applying with my tension, et voila! a looser stitch is born.

For me, the answer is simple: Make sure that at the point of transfer, the angle of the working yarn is consistent. In my case, this means perpendicular to the right hand needle. That's it. All I have to do is to close the angle between my needles, and the purl stitch is able to snug up just like a knit stitch. So simple.

Here's what the wrong side of a recent swatch looks like:



Is my knitting perfect now? No, and I don't need it to be – but it's so much more even than it was. And if there's a looser row now, it's just as often a knit row.

Will this work for anyone else? I really don't know. There may be other differences in your knitting style that introduce changes in tension when knitting and purling. But I'd love to know if it does!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gift-A-Long

Starting today, a group of indie designers is throwing a huge party on Ravelry that we’re calling Gift-A-Long.

What’s it all about? Well to begin with, it’s a sale. Participating designers are offering 25% off selected patterns through November 15th. Just enter the coupon code ’giftalong’ at checkout to receive the discount.

And there's more! Through December 31st, CAL/KALs will be running in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long group, with hundreds of prizes being given for finished objects made from Gift-A-Long patterns.

All of my self-published patterns on sale. You’ll find them in the Blue Bee Studio store.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grass River

Near our house there's a wide wet meadow that we call the grass river. It's a shallow swale that runs with snow-melt in early spring, then drys out as the summer comes on. A place of subtle, quiet beauty – you might think it rather plain – unless you see it in early spring when the violet-blue Camassia are blooming, or better yet, in the golden glory of early fall.

The Grass River Tunic is kind of like that. A bit plain, no lace, no cables, just clean simple lines. But once you slip it on, its charms become more apparent.

Knit in the Woolen Rabbit's delicious single-ply fingering-weight Airy, Grass River is light, soft, and so easy to wear. A flattering empire line and a bit of waist shaping make for a figure-skimming fit. The deep surplice neckline layers beautifully over a tank or tee. And decorative welts at the bust, neckband and cuffs add a little polish.

You can find the Grass River Tunic pattern in the Blue Bee Studio Ravelry store.