Category Archives: Craftiness

Knitting love into Christmas stockings

For the past 3 Christmases, I’ve found myself knitting Christmas stockings for folks who don’t have one.

Honoka's christmas stockingThe first one was for our exchange student, Honoka. Christmas in Japan isn’t anything like it is in the U.S. and, even if she had a Christmas stocking, it’s not like she would have thought to pack it and bring it with her.

I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I’d knitted enough socks that I decided I could figure it out. I poked around on a few websites and came up with some designs and just went for it. It turned out pretty well, for a week-before-Christmas project, knitted on the sly to surprise her Christmas morning.

Cecilia's personalized Christmas stockingIt went over so well that, when we hosted, Cecilia, a French student intern, the following year (last year) I decided to knit another one. I didn’t want to keep the same pattern, though, so I got out some graph paper and experimented a bit. The snowflakes didn’t quite turn out the way I’d envisioned, but Cecilia was polite enough to smile and say thanks anyway.

This year, I had no one to knit a Christmas stocking for and I was a little sad.

Then, an online friend of mine posted that she was having a hard time this Christmas. We met 12 years ago on an online forum while we were both newly pregnant with our first kiddos and have kept in touch over the years, along with many of the other women also on the forum at the time. I was one of the first of this group of friends to get divorced and have my family change form. She’s one of the more recent friends to go through the experience, and this Christmas is particularly tough for her in terms of who has kids when.

Not only would she not get her kids until the afternoon of Christmas day, she said. But their dad, her ex-husband, wanted the stockings that his mom had knit for the kids. Fair enough. But it really bummed her out. She’d been the Santa of their family since the kids were born, the one staying up to fill the stockings and place presents under the tree. I’ve been through that first Christmas without the kids. I know how it feels.

Hand knitted personalized Christmas sstockingsSo I asked if I could knit them new stockings. It seemed like a small enough gesture. It wasn’t going to fix not having her kids Christmas Eve or morning, but maybe it’d bring a little Christmas joy back to her life — to know she’s loved and that, while traditions may change, it can still be OK. I couldn’t change any of the family stuff, the grief of loss after divorce, the heaviness that the holidays can sometimes bring. But I could make sure her kids had another set of Christmas stockings, hand knitted with love.

She gladly accepted, gave me the kids’ favorite colors and I got to work. Red for Charlie, yellow for Jack and purple and blue for Eva. Ten days later, the 3 stockings were done, and (with some financial help from the rest of our online group of mom friends) I got them in the mail (global expedited) to fly across the country to her in time for Christmas. Phew!Personalized Christmas stockings

I’ve decided to incorporate spontaneous and deliberate acts of kindness into my life. I want to live in a world where people do good things for others. Where people leave love notes from the universe on car windows and toilet stall doors. Where people buy coffee for the people behind them in line. Where friends reach out to each other and offer unexpected ways to help and offer love and support. Where schools are funded, neighbors offer hot showers when your power is out, and people come together in times of need. And a whole lot of other things, too, but you get the point.

I’ve always liked the (mis)quote attributed to Ghandi – Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Here’s the actual quote, which works even better for me. For me to live in a world with those qualities, I must embody them, in my actions, my thoughts, my words.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Back to the Christmas stockings. If you’d like to have a go at making them, here’s my version of a pattern to guide you. You can also download the PDF here.

Hand Knit Personalized Christmas Stocking Pattern

Here are the basic knitting instructions. I knit these toe up on 2 circular needles. I use Lion’s Brand Vanna’s Choice yarn, as it’s nice and thick and has a good loft, on 5.5 mm needles.

Choose several Christmas-y colors (red, green, white, blue, purple, gold) and choose one color as the main color for the toe, heel and cuff.

Then pick the designs you like most for the foot and leg. If you’re new at intarsia knitting, go with simpler designs with two colors. Knitting intarsia in the round is also different from knitting it regular style (whatever that’s called – flat knitting, I think), as you’ll need to keep the yarn moving around the piece, rather than having several separate balls of yarn. You’ll also have a lot of yarn in the back of your work. Apparently this method breaks the rules of intarsia knitting — and yet it works just fine for me. Remember to not pull the strand(s) of color you’re not actively knitting too tight. Don’t leave them all loose and loopy, either, but allow them to have a bit of give. (It turns out I probably don’t do intarsia “correctly” in flat knitting either, but I manage to live with myself.) If you’d like to make some designs yourself, I used stitchfiddle.com to make the ones below.

Clearly, I’m not much of a rule follower and usually follow knitting patterns about as well as I follow recipes or anything else I’m told to do. I use them for the structure and foundation of the piece. And then I change things… So use this pattern as a guideline and feel free to make changes as you see fit. You hereby have my permission. 🙂

Toe:

With main color, cast on 16 stitches using Judy’s magic cast on.

Round 1: Knit all stitches

Round 2: Increase 1 stitch on each end.

On first needle, K1, M1, K each stitch to within one stitch of the end of the row, M1, K1.

Turn to second needle and repeat.

You’ll increase 4 stitches total.

Repeat these 2 rounds until there are 32 stitches on each needle (64 stitches total)

Foot:

Knit 30-32 rounds in pattern and colors of your choice.

Now you get to decide on the pattern you want to use. You can do plain stripes or fancy them up a bit with squares different colors. It’s your choice.

Heel:

Switch to main color and knit 2 rounds.

Turn heel using your favorite method. I use a short row method, wrapping stitches, that I learned from a book about knitting toe up socks. If you’ve got some other method that works for you, go for it. If you do it the short row, wrapped stitches way, knit short rows until there are 16 live stitches (that aren’t wrapped) and 8 wrapped stitches on either side.

Once you’ve turned the heel, knit 2 more rounds in the main color.

Leg:

Time for more pattern creativity.

You’ll knit about 50-52 rounds of pattern before you knit the name. So choose an intarsia pattern or two. Most of the main patterns are about 21 rounds (snowmen, santas, large trees, poinsettia). I usually do 1 main pattern plus 1 smaller pattern (small trees, zig zags or holly), then 3 more rounds of fancy stripes.

Name:

Create a chart for the name you want to knit onto the stocking. I use a chart I once found online at crochetdoilies.com, which I can no longer find on their website (but here it is on Pinterest). This chart is a little problematic for longer names as the letters are quite fat, but you can find lots of charts online and I like to adapt them with some graph paper and my imagination.

Knit 2 rounds in the color that will be the background for the name. Then knit the name chart, and knit 2 more rounds.

Cuff:

Switch to the main color (if it’s not the background for the name.) Knit 2 rounds.

Next round: knit 2, purl two in ribbing.

Knit 7 rows of ribbing.

Bind off loosely.

Hanger:

Cut 3 strands of yarn in the main colors used for the stocking and braid. Knot together at the cut end in a loop knot. Thread one end of the loop through the top of the stocking about 3 rows down and pass it back through itself to create the loop of the hanger.

The patterns:

Fancy stripes

fancy stripes for Christmas stocking

Holly

Holly knitting pattern for Christmas stocking

Simple tree

Simple tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Zig zags

Zigzag pattern for Christmas stocking

 Poinsettia

Poinsettia pattern for personalized Christmas stocking

Santa

Santa pattern for Christmas stocking

Snowman

Snowman pattern for Christmas stocking

Christmas tree

Christmas tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Knitting projects: reversible cable scarf

I seem to be able to reliably (if infrequently) post about books and knitting. I have a list of knitting projects to write about, so here’s one of them.

Reversible cable knit scarf

alpaca knit scarf pattern This scarf began its life last summer (2014) when the mom of a student in my spring knitting class asked if I’d teach her daughter how to knit a scarf over the summer.

She sent me a pattern she’d picked up at the yarn store for a “luxurious reversible cable scarf.” It looked simple enough — only 6 rows of instructions — so I said, “sure” and we made a date to begin.

I decided to knit along with my student, in case anything pesky or confusing cropped up in the pattern. That was a good call, because by the 2nd row of instructions, there was clearly a problem.

20151203_122532I figured out how to fix it so it made sense and, for a few weeks, we both got on with knitting and cabling. I love cables and was fascinated how, when you combine them with ribbing, these cables become reversible.

Neither I nor my student had finished our scarves by the time our summer lessons ended, so it became my in-between knitting projects scarf that I worked on here and there, especially when I didn’t want to put a lot of brain power into what I was knitting. And so it took a really long time to finish. But the wonderful thing about knitting something is that when it’s done, it’s done. Even if it does take more than a year.

Here are the improved directions:

Cast on 40 stitches (I used Paca-Paints alpaca yarn, 22st/4″ on US6/4mm needles).

Rows 1-12: *k2, p2; repeat from *

Row 13:

  • slip 8 sts onto cable needle and hold in front of work
  • (k2, p2) twice (8 sts)
  • (k2, p2) twice across 8 sts from cable needle
  • (k2, p2) twice (8 sts)
  • slip 8 sts onto cable needle and hold in front of work
  • (k2, p2) twice (8 sts)
  • (k2, p2) twice across 8 sts from cable needle

Rows 14-22: *k2, p2; repeat from *

Row 23:

  • (k2, p2) 3 times (12 sts)
  • slip 8 sts onto cable needle and hold in behind work
  • (k2, p2) twice (8 sts)
  • (k2, p2) twice across 8 sts from cable needle
  • (k2, p2) 3 times (12 sts)

Repeat rows 1-23 until scarf is desired length, leaving enough yarn to finish with 12 rows of k2, p2 across. Bind off.

Knitted cowl made with hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn

hand dyed yarn Knitting and writing are alike in that both take a long time to create something from scratch that’s worthwhile when it’s finished.

And when you decide to not only spin the yarn by hand but also dye it yourself, it takes even longer. I have no writing analogy to go along with that — fortunately, even if I want to write in a wacky new form, I don’t have to invent the words.

You may have noticed by this point that I love knitting. At least if you’ve spent any time with me when I’m sitting down for an activity that doesn’t require my hands or you’ve visited more than 3 pages of this blog (other interests being writing, reading books, cooking, gardening and raising children: so words, food and love). I also enjoy spinning yarn and dyeing it. Adam jokes that next I’ll want a sheep, goat or alpaca to trim the grass.

silk and alapaca handspun yarn knitted pillow
Berry’s alpaca and silk pillow

The irony is, despite my love of fiber, I can’t wear animal fibers. They make me itch. I can spin and knit them, but if they touch my forearms or neck…itchy itchy itchy. True, I can buy acrylic or cotton yarns and knit myself stuff to my heart’s content, but I can’t wear the stuff I spin. And, with the exception of Berry’s alpaca and silk pillow, I don’t think the kids (or husband) wholly appreciate socks and hats made with hand-spun yarn. Sad face.

Fortunately, I’ve learned it’s possible to spin non-animal fibers. I learned this a while ago. But it took me a really long time to complete the process of selecting fiber, dyeing it, spinning it and knitting it into something for myself. But I did it. (I may have mentioned writing a book as well. That took a long time and I did that, too. Happy face.)

I didn’t take nearly enough photos of this process of dyeing, spinning and knitting my awesome yarn, but I clearly remember the conversation going on in the kitchen while I chose dye colors — green, blue and purple — and dyed my hanks of fiber in the microwave. Sam had come home with some sex-ed homework and sat at the kitchen table with Adam, asking questions about relationships and health. He was in 9th grade (he’s going into 11th in September), so it was late spring 2014. We talked about the emotional ramifications of sexual relationships while I applied dye, covered my dish of fiber with saran wrap, popped it into the microwave and urged him to always use 2 forms of birth control.

My fiber blend was a mix of faux cashmere, silk and soy silk. I had no idea then I needed to do a different dye process for the soy silk. It didn’t take the color well, barely at all really, but added a shimmer and lightness to the finished yarn.

After it was dyed and dry, I got to work spinning, quickly learning that faux cashmere — an acrylic fiber — was a bitch to spin. Soft, elastic, slippy, it didn’t want to hold a twist without the encouragement of other fibers.

I added in some silk hankies, to add some substance and strength, but they caught on every rough spot on my fingers and I slowly peeled them off my hands in disgust. (You can’t throw them down in disgust, they just stick to you.)

I stopped and started with the spinning, getting frustrating and giving up. I’d switch to a new spindle and an easier merino wool or alpaca, for a while, but wasn’t willing to pack it in completely.

hand carded acrylic fiberThen I got hand carders in January. I had the bright idea that blending the fibers together would give me a more even fiber to work with and easier go of it during spinning. I was right. After many sessions of blending together chunks of the different fibers — often while chatting with the kids during bath time — I had mounds of ready-to-spin fiber rolags.

Spinning the rest was definitely much more fun. And so it went more quickly. Almost like doing proofreading edits rather than revision.

Finally, I was done. I plied the yarn with a navajo 3-ply and forgot to take pictures of the finished product.

It was time to knit. But knit what? I’d envisioned and warm, comfy cowl to keep my neck warm in the winter. Something soft and pretty that matches most of the coats I owned.

I had a stash of patterns I’d found at yarn stores over the past year-and-a-half while I planned this project but, unphotographed yarn in hand, none seemed right. I searched online and found this Stockholm Scarf pattern (free on ravelry).

And then I knit. I knit while watching TV at night, during church services, through meetings and weddings and waiting for appointments and any time I have to sit down and my hands aren’t otherwise occupied. I’ve even been known to knit at restaurants while waiting for my food.

hand spun man made fiber scarfWhat emerged wasn’t what I envisioned. The pattern confused me one night during a particularly dramatic scene in Outlander or Orange is the New Black or Downtown Abbey, and I got one stitch off pattern. But it seemed to complicated to undo. And I didn’t want to start over from scratch. Fortunately, knitting isn’t book writing and my one missed plot point wasn’t going to undo the work that went before and came after if I ignored it. So I ignored it and kept going, the pattern soon integrated into my brain and fingers.

knitted handspun cowlThe colors mostly weren’t what I imagined. I pictured mottled shades of green, blue and purple, merging and fading. What I got were stripes. Huh. A different pattern, knit width-wise instead of length-wise may have given me thicker bands of color. But what I got is what I got. I didn’t have a strong idea of what it would be, just not quite what it turned out to be.

It’s soft, light, warm. It goes with my coats and jackets. And I made it, from fiber, with my own knitty little hands.

Knitting for the digital age: Minecraft sweaters

The most awesome Mincraft creeper sweater ever.
The most awesome Minecraft creeper sweater ever. The eyes and mouth are pockets.

My kids are crazy for Minecraft. After I made Duncan a Minecraft creeper sweater (OMG, I did not blog about this. It is the most awesome Minecraft sweater ever), Berry initially wanted a similar sweater in skeleton form. But by the time I got ready to knit it, she’d gone off the idea.

custome Minecraft skin
Berry’s Minecraft skin

So after I finished Duncan’s Pikachu sweater and it was her turn for a hand knitted garment, she asked if I could knit her a sweater featuring her Minecraft skin. If you don’t know what a Minecraft skin is, it’s basically how your player (the person you move around in the game) looks. You can customize your skin to look however you want.

After some deliberation about how it would work, I realized it’s basically already laid out like a knitting pattern. I explained to Berry I’d have to stick with more basic colors – red, orange, yellow, blue, white, pink, grey and black – without all the slight shade variations. She assured me she was OK with that.

20150509_183337I’d stocked up on the main color yarn – Bernat Li’l Tots in All Blue – with the idea of knitting her a plain sweater. For her Mincreaft skin sweater, Berry wanted to have half sky and half grass, but the greenish color (Honey Dew) didn’t look right, so we went with an all blue background.

It was a fairly easy intarsia knit using a basic scoop neck pattern (that I keep in my head based on the gauge and desired length and width). I had all the other colors in about the right weight yarn in my stash – mostly Cascade Pacific (the white, grey and black from the rejected skeleton sweater) and some leftover red, yellow from Pikachu, a little Bernat Satin (Teal) some pink acrylic and Cascade orange from the Moshi Monster sweater (both were a little thin, but it worked fine)

For reasons I don’t yet understand, my neck openings have been a bit large on the last two sweaters I’ve knit the kids. I may have to go back to following a pattern again until I get it cemented in my brain.

20150604_162621It was a reasonably quick knit in nice, soft yarn, resulting in a cuddly, warm sweater. Berry loves it. She wears it all the time – eating frozen yogurt, making s’mores. It’s a sweater for any weather.

20150625_195110Adam says I should display my video game-themed sweaters in a gallery or museum someday. Perhaps once the kids have grown out of them, if there’s anything left, they can become retro relics admired behind glass.

Latest knits: the Pikachu sweater

“Knit me something next!”

It’s the first thing I hear whenever I finish a knitting project, from whichever kid didn’t just receive a piece of knitted wonder.

pikachu knitted sweater  Whatever it was that I knitted last wasn’t for Duncan, so his little voice was heard the loudest. So I dutifully planned and created a Pikachu sweater for him.

Here’s (almost) finished result. (I made the neck too big and had to unpick and redo it.)

How to knit a pikachu sweater

While I confess to loving the adulation I receive when I post photos of my knitted creations on Facebook and Instagram, I’m sometimes confused by it. Is knitting a sweater really that hard? Perhaps when you don’t know the steps (much like anything else in life that you haven’t tried or figured out the steps to do).

Taking an image and making it into a knitted image is actually quite simple. Pikachu is the latest in many designs I’ve come up with, but it’s not magic (or even artistic talent).

Here’s how I do it.

  1. Find the image you want to knit. Pokemon pikachuI got Pikachu from the Pokemon wiki gallery.
  2. Turn it into a knitting chart. I can never remember the website I use, so I do a web search and usually end up here on knitPro. The site has instructions, but you basically choose the size of pattern you want to end up with and whether you want it horizontal or vertical, and upload your image.
  3. Print the knitting chart. It’ll look something like this (click here for the Pikachu knitting chart I used).
  4. Adjust the blocks of color according to your available yarn colors, style and whim. I used yellow, red, white and black yarn for my Pikachu, as I didn’t have a darker yellow for his shading or lighter red for his mouth. I also decided to outline his body, tail and arms with black stitching so that he retained some definition.
  5. Start knitting — and count your stitches. Cross of each line of your chart as you knit it to help you stay on track.

Tips for intarsia knitting

Intarsia knitting can be tricky at first. My initial projects were a bit too snug in places where I didn’t leave enough yarn at the back of the work. Fortunately, over time and repeated washings, everything flattened itself out.

Here’s what I’ve learned over time to reduce the instances of puckered knitting:

  • Use a new bobbin or ball or yarn every time the color changes. Avoid running the same color yarn behind your work as much as possible and for no more than 4 or 5 stitches.
  • Twist the two strands of yarn whenever you change colors. This prevents holes.
  • Count your stitches and follow the pattern closely. No matter how carefully I do this, I still manage to mess up somewhere. I somehow made Pikachu’s left arm too skinny by one stitch.
  • When you make a mistake, decide if it’s an important one that you need to unpick (because you only notice the mistakes you made 10 rows ago), if you can fix it afterwards with a bit of over stitching/duplicate stitching, or if you can simply ignore it. It’s your call. Just because a pattern says something doesn’t mean you have to follow it exactly. You’ll just get slightly different results.

What sweater pattern should you use?

I’ve knitted enough sweaters that I decided to make this pattern up as I went along. I absolutely love The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns as it teaches you how to knit any size sweater you want just by knowing your gauge (how many stitches you knit per inch with the yarn and needles you’re using). I also like being able to knit a sweater that fits a particular body — in this case, a long, skinny one.

knitted kids pikachu sweaterFor this sweater, I measured my son, knit a gauge swatch and did the calculations. I cast on 85 stitches or so and went to work, knitting the back first, then the front, then both sleeves at the same time.

The only issue I have with intarsia knitting and a design like this is that I can’t knit in the round, so I have to sew up seams at the end, which is one of my lesser favorite knitting activities. There are also a lot of ends to weave in as well.

But you can use any basic sweater pattern that you like, as long as it works for the yarn and needles you’re using.

For this sweater, I used Bernat Satin worsted weight yarn on 5mm needles. I knit about at the expected gauge at 4.5 to 4.75 sts/inch. I used teal for the main color, yellow for Pikachu and, I confess, some black, red and white Pacific Cascade 40% merino, 60% acrylic yarn I had leftover from another prokect. It knits up at the same gauge and Duncan doesn’t have any wool allergy issues (unlike me).

So, there you have it — one cute boy in one cute Pokemon pikachu sweater. It’s cozy, warm and soft, great for a cool Spring day and hopefully with long enough sleeves that it’ll still fit him in the fall.

Next up? A cuddly blue sweater for my daughter featuring her Minecraft character’s likeness (aka skin).