Tag Archives: fiber arts

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.

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).

A year of knitting, a year of learning

Note: I started this post in April 2013. Yes, more than a year ago. What happened to posting every time I finished a knitting project? Oops.

So here’s what I knit last year (12 months of knitting is all I can manage in one post.)

First up, in January 2013 I finished this Child’s Library Cardigan for Berry who was still sweet and little with long hair and sparkly gold boots. How old was she then? She turned 7 in 2014, so she must have still been 5.

It’s knit in Cascade 220, which I loved working with. It’s so soft and felt great to knit with. She still wears it, even though it’s missing a button and has become 3/4-length in the sleeves.

Duncan’s turn

Isn’t this how you dress every day?

Then came a basket weave scarf for Duncan made with some leftover yarn from other projects. Why is he modeling it in his footie pajamas while wearing kitty ears that we made at the Asian Celebration? I don’t know. It was taken in February 2013. So he was 7-years-old or something (he turns 9 on Sunday and he’s still trying to fit into those PJs).

From what I remember, I made up the pattern, quickly deciding that changing the colors for every block of four knit/purl basketweave thingies (I’m feeling very technical today) was too much trouble and progressing into stripes of red and blue.

Unfortunately, the result of this scarf was that I barely had enough yarn to later lengthen my nephew’s sweater that I originally bought it for.

A scarf for Berry

Beautiful, but itchy (the scarf, not Berry).

Berry, then, needed a scarf as well. So we went to the yarn store and she picked out some yarn to go along with a pattern from my stash. This took a while to knit as she chose a fingering/sock weight yarn that she later decided was too itchy. Fortunately, I had to sit through a lot of meetings at work, so it kept me occupied and awake and gave me lots of time to knit.

Sadly, I can no longer find this scarf in the hat/glove/scarf closet, so it may have been lost at school. Perhaps a less itchy child somewhere is enjoying it.

And then?

And then I discovered wool roving and the drop spindle. I won them at a silent auction and, thanks to YouTube, learned to spin my own yarn. This is my first effort, some sweet little handspun wool.

Once the obsession had me in its clutches, there was no turning back. With time, the drop spindle stopped dropping on the floor and I became relatively good at it.

A “baby” dress

Knit top on the London subway
A very tired Berry, insisting we only have one more stop on the London Tube before we get to our hotel, models her new top.

Our long-time babysitter, Jessica, had her first baby, so I decided to knit her a little sometime (for the baby). Duncan picked out the yarn and I dug out one of my mum’s patterns that she knit for me when I was little.

At some point, I realized my gauge was way off. I swear I checked it. But, you knit, you learn.

So, as I knit away on our holiday to England and France last summer, we decided that the baby dress would become a top for Berry.

The Moshi Monster sweater

Duncan decided it was his turn for another knitted project and somehow convinced me to make him a Moshi Monster sweater. (He probably just said, “Moshi Monsters” in response to my question of “What would you like me to make you next, Duncan?” and I ran away with it from there.)

The one thing he really wanted was all six Moshi Monsters on the sweater together.

So I found a website to turn digital images into intarsia knitting charts (can’t remember what it was now, though) and plotted the pattern.

One of the things I enjoy about knitting is that I learn new things all the time. Like reading the pattern properly. In this case, I completely misread the pattern and didn’t realize I was making the front and back in one piece. This threw off my measurements just a little.

And the placement of the Moshi Monsters. I’d originally planned to do three on the front and three on the back, then realized belatedly (when I started reducing for the sleeves) that I’d knit both the front AND the back.

And yet, I wasn’t about to let this minor issue stop me! I managed to fit all six monsters on the sweater and finished this miracle of intarsia knitting. By the time Duncan was able to put it on (this one took a while) it was a bit snug, even on his skinny frame. *sigh* Still, this sweater is so awesome that it deserves three photos.

A sweater for the baby

Lesson learned with gauge and following patterns, I chose new yarn and a new pattern and knit this little number for baby Avery. I realize it probably fit her for about 5 minutes (even though I made it in a bigger size than she was), but it was fun to knit and good practice actually following a pattern, unpicking when needed.

Then I bought another drop spindle and hand spun some more yarn. And added a spinning wheel to my Christmas list.

Handspun shawl

My pound of roving finally spun and skeined, I decided to knit something for myself.

I loosely followed Stephen West’s Daybreak Shawl pattern — although with a completely different yarn and needle size (I did say, “loosely followed.”)

I added some yarn overs for a bit of lacyness and ignored some directions here and there that seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was very pleased with how it turned out but, being allergic to wool and no longer working in an over-airconditioned office, I really haven’t used it. It adorns my office chair downstairs, though, and Berry sometimes plays with it.

Another baby sweater

Wrapping up the year were a few more knitting projects, including a sweater for my newest nephew, Finn who we visited over the summer (along with his my brother – his Dad, sister-in-law and nephew).

Finn’s sweater came from the same book of patterns as Avery’s sweater. It took forever to knit with such fine yarn. And I modified the pattern to remove all the complex cabling in the middle. It seemed too much combined with the striping yarn.

Berry made the stuffed bear and we shipped them off to France for Christmas.

A Christmas cap

Also on the Christmas knitted gift list was this cap for Adam.

The yarn had come home with me from the silent auction along with roving and drop spindle. And the man needed a hat.

I think I found the pattern online…I no longer recall where. The thing I remember most about this project is that I had to knit it in secret.

It’s easy to knit surprises for the kids as I do most of my knitting at night in front of the TV or at church on Sunday mornings. But Adam sits next to me at night (often rubbing my feet, lucky woman that I am). So that was out.

So this secret project was knit in furtive spurts at home and at church on Sundays. Fortunately, I managed to finish it in time, with him none the wiser. It’s a good feeling when you can pull off a pleasant surprise.

Berry’s winter scrap yarn sweater

As my yarn stash grew — what better souvenir from your travels than local yarn? — I felt compelled to use up leftover yarn from other projects. I had this thick, chunky yarn left over from a crocheted blanket (which disappeared at some point in one of our moves) and it looked like the perfect amount for a child’s sweater.

I’d recently found an amazing book in the library, The knitters handy book of sweater patterns, which bestowed on me the knowledge to make any sweater from any yarn. No more hunting for patterns that fit the idea and the yarn I had in mind!

Instead: decide on the basic style (crew neck, v-neck, turtleneck) and sleeve type (raglan sleeves, drop sleeves, etc.) knit a gauge swatch, decide on the finished size, look it up on the chart and off you go! Amazeballs, people. Amazeballs. (I know, I’m over 30 and not supposed to use that word, but whatevs.)

I used up most of three leftover balls of yarn for this and Berry got a soft, comfy sweater that she loved.

Christmas wonder

And what did I get at the end of the year? I must have been a good knitty girl because Father Christmas (aka my lovely husband) got me an Ashford spinning wheel.

The little kids were at their Dad’s for two weeks, leaving me the option of pining over them during the holiday season, or losing myself in the hypnotic medication of spinning yarn. I pined a little. But mostly I spun yarn — the rest of the roving won at that silent auction back in June and more that I purchased at our local textile and fiber arts store.

My journey into spinning is another post in and of itself — as are the 2014 project completed to date. So I’ll end here with a year of knittyness. Out of 11 projects, only one was for me — and I can’t even wear it due to its wooliness. That’s usually how my knitting goes, but that’s OK.

I do it because I enjoy creating. And it keeps me from fidgeting when I’m supposed to be sitting still and paying attention. Plus people get presents, made with love. And I get to keep learning new stuff. A win for everyone.