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What Makes Your Knitting a 'Success'?



A question for you today, dear readers.  What determines whether you consider a piece of knitting successful? 

Somebody asked me this recently, and I considered it for some time. In the end I realised that, for me, a successful piece is one that gets worn. That is it.

Should a garment be the most technically perfect, aesthetically stunning, conceptually elegant thing I have ever created, yet for some reason languish in a lavender-scented drawer - then I can’t help but see it as a failure. Even if the owner tells me they are ‘being careful’ with it, because it’s ‘special,’ something does not feel right. It is as if, despite its evident merits there must be hidden, profound flaws. The garment is not serving its purpose. 

On the other hand, should a garment be lopsided, sloppy, and full of glaring mistakes, yet get constantly worn by its owner - be it me, or somebody else - then despite its obvious flaws it feels as if it has true merit. Whatever its flaws may be, they are overshadowed by the fact that it is good enough to serve its purpose. Good enough to be wanted. Needed. 


With that in mind, one of my most successful pieces of knitting to date must be the fingering-weight Alpaca pullover I knit in winter 2016-2017.  I had at some point considered turning it into a pattern. But although the general idea is good (lightweight, basic, warm), I never did write it up, because I knew I'd have to re-knit the sweater for the sample. The original was not only difficult to photograph due to the dark shade of charcoal I chose, but also catastrophically flawed. 

Because you see, I made the unfortunate decision to knit the (oversized) neck and cuffs in boucle. I think I envisioned an Astrakhan collar sort of effect. But instead, both the collar and especially the cuffs, immediately became matted and tattered to the point of disgustingness. Because of how large they are in proportion to the overall garment, this is quite noticeable, and as a result the entire sweater has a rather unsavory, 'dragged through the hedges' look to it. I should have just cut off the collar and cuffs as soon as this started to happen and re-knitted them in the same yarn as the rest of the garment. But I didn't. And now that the sweater is a year and a half old, it seems silly to add new parts to it?

All that said... I wear this sweater constantly! Because it is darn comfortable. And it matches every article of clothing I own. And it is exceptionally warm, yet thin enough to fit under any coat or jacket without adding bulk (see my post on knitting out of Alpaca). And so, matted collar or cuffs or not, it gets worn more often than probably any other article of clothing in my wardrobe!

It's funny, and annoying. Only because I've knitted so many much more attractive and conceptually successful garments over the past several years, and they all take a back seat to this thing. But you can't argue with what's useful, and convenient. And if anything, I should take this as motivation to knit several sweaters just like this one, in different colours and without the boucle

So, what is your most successful piece of knitting? I am curious, whether others base this on craftsmanship, or - like me - on whether the garment gets worn. 


A Little Housekeeping



I am never quite sure whether anybody reads this space and, subsequently, whether it is worthwhile to make any sort of announcements here. But the responses to several recent posts make me think that perhaps people do read, at least on occasion! So I'll give it a try. 

The thing I wanted to announce, is that I have recently made some changes - both to this website and to my work process. And before I explain what they are, allow me to provide some background:

When I started this website, a little over a year ago now, it was intended to serve a different purpose than it does now: It was meant as an online shop for bespoke and ready-made handknits. I had been knitting for hire for years, and friends kept encouraging me to make it ‘official.’ So finally last year I did. And in the first couple of months I did get some custom order requests. But what I got a lot more of, were requests from fellow knitters - for patterns. 

Quite taken aback by this at first, I would respond by explaining that I did not know how to write (or even read) knitting patterns; that I simply knit what I wanted and kept all designs and measurements in my head. This gave rise to a series of lively virtual interactions with knitters from around the world, as a result of which I first became aware of how different my knitting background was to that of my peers.  

With encouragement from said peers, I then set out to teach myself how to translate knitting as I knew it, to what we mean by knitting in the ravelry era. The terminology, the symbols, the very idea of patterns, of counting stitches… it was all completely foreign to me until then. And even after I started to write patterns - in the first instance, under LB Handknits and soon after for Apple Oak Fibre Works - they were, as it was soon pointed out to me, a tad different! 

I should explain here, that I did work with a technical editor straight away. But the problem was, that - like me - this person was only just starting out in their field. In hindsight, as someone who required a huge amount of stylistic direction, I needed a more experienced hand in this regard. It was only after I was engaged by a couple of clients with in-house tech editors/ pattern checkers/ schematic renderers, that I became fully aware of this. My pattern drafts returned transformed, and my jaw dropped. I realised then, that if I wanted my work to resonate with my audience and to be fully in line with industry standards, then all my patterns needed to be like that. 


So, the first part of my announcement, is that as of March 2018 I have been working with a new technical editor. She is Sarah of Tricot Edit, and she knows All The Things, and she has been a tremendous help in bringing my design process in line with everything it ought to be in line with! 

The soon-to-be-released Sunny Every Day will be my first pattern that is 100% in the new format, and of course all subsequent patterns shall be as well. Then, once I have some time on my hands (after Woollin!) my plan is to go back and re-work those of my older patterns which I feel will benefit from it (if you've purchased an older pattern, you should automatically receive the new version around the end of this summer). 

What this change means for knitters, is patterns which I am now fully confident will meet their expectations. What this means for small indie yarn companies interested in collaborating - is that, unfortunately, I am no longer able to design for yarn support - as my out of pocket costs for publishing a pattern are considerably higher than what they previously were.  If you are an indie yarn seller or dyer, I would still love to collaborate with you, time permitting, in a way that is affordable to both of us. But basically, in addition to yarn support you would need to cover my costs - which I hope sounds fair!

The other thing I wanted to point out,  is that I have removed the Shop feature from the website. As mentioned at the start of this post, the Shop was originally there to sell bespoke handknits. Considering that I have changed my focus to design work, and that most of my pattern sales happen either through ravelry or through direct orders, the shop feature no longer makes sense. It still might come back on occasion, for sample sales and collaborative special edition runs, just not as a permanent fixture on the site. 

On the other hand, the Blog - which originally was only intended for occasional product-related updates, will continue to grow as a space where I share my thoughts on techniques and other (hopefully!) useful information. I am still finding my voice, as far as communicating about knitting in a way that makes sense to other knitters. But I think I am, slowly, getting there. 

When I started this website in 2017, I did not anticipate the direction it would take me in. I feel very fortunate to be involved in the fibre industry, and to be taking part in the many new projects which I soon hope to share with you. 

With thanks to all for their support, in its many forms,

- LB


On Wishbone Sweater Yokes (or, This Is Not a Carbeth)



It was over a year ago now that I wrote about knitting a top-down version of Elizabeth Zimmermann's  'Hurry Up! Last Minute Sweater' from The Knitter's Almanac, and my subsequent inability to share my method due to potential copyright issues. I am not going to re-tell the story here - so if you are interested, please read that post first (nothing has changed since I wrote it).

That said! I have been wearing my 'upturned EZ sweater,' as I call it, quite happily for the past year (you will see I played around with the hem and collar styles, but the photos here are the final version). Knitted in a dark, rustic wool from Kerry Woollen Mills, it is a loose, rugged, unassuming sort of sweater, and only on occasion would I get any comments on it. And then one day - it must have been a couple of months ago now - I was in the town and wearing this sweater, and several knitters stopped to comment on it, saying something cryptic to the effect of 'Oh my, I can't believe you finished yours already!'

It was only later when I glanced at my instagram feed, that I realised what they meant. For the Scottish designer Kate Davies had just released her beautiful Carbeth sweater, and it quickly became the new hot thing, with knit-alongs (Bang Out a Carbeth!) in feverish progress. 

There is indeed some similarity between the Carbeth and Elizabeth Zimmermann's Last Minute sweater. And on this topic, behind the scenes, there have been some (very polite) grumblings. And while I normally would steer well clear of such discussions, the question interests me from a research perspective - because honestly, I devoted quite a bit of energy last year to investigating the origins of the 'wishbone' sweater yoke, and what a shame it would be to let that go to waste! So, as a creator and wearer of a non-Carbeth, I am going to throw in my 2 Euro-cents.


As far as a direct comparison between the EZ sweater and the Carbeth: Having now seen both patterns firsthand, I can assure you they are not the same design. The visually obvious differences are in the silhouettes, in the neckline styles, and in the treatment of edgings. But the more subtle, yet - from a design perspective - more significant difference is in the yoke construction. Without giving anything away from either pattern, EZ does something quite specific with the shoulder shaping in addition to the 'wishbone' yoke shaping. KD's design uses a different method. Clearly, these are distinct approaches to the same general style of yoke.

Now, onto the more interesting question of what that style of yoke is, and where it originated. In her December chapter of the Knitter's Almanac, Elizabeth Zimmermann writes, that she had not seen elsewhere the sort of 'wishbone' yoke she ended up developing for the Hurry Up sweater. Some interpret this to mean that she invented this look. However, in fairness, EZ 'unvented' (as she herself would put it) quite a few techniques, which had certainly existed before her time, but which she discovered independently and then popularised among a new generation of knitters (for example, the i-cord). 


The wishbone yoke is in fact simply a variation of the raglan yoke. Consider that for a classic raglan yoke, the body to sleeve stitch count ratio at the neckline is typically 3:1. However, the designer can vary that ratio in what ever way they wish.

In the feeble little drawings above, for example, I have attempted to illustrate the aerial neckline views of three raglan yokes, with identical stitch counts, which use different body to sleeve proportions. As you can see, the fewer stitches are allocated to the sleeve in relation to the body, the more the style begins to resemble a saddle shoulder. And, as more stitches are allocated to the sleeves in relation to the body, the yoke attains a 'wishbone' look. 

In addition to being quite interesting to knit plain, the wishbone construction has useful applications - most notably, that it allows for long, uninterrupted vertical motifs to flow from collar through sleeve, and be visible from the front. It's a useful canvas for creativity. 


As readers familiar with my background will know, I very rarely knit from patterns. Yet something about the EZ Hurry Up sweater drew me in, as soon as I saw it. And while initially I assumed it was the novelty of it, later I realised it was in fact the familiarity. Where had I seen such sweater construction before? I tried to remember, but couldn't.

Fast forward to several months later, when I was browsing various sources to try and find patterns with similar yoke styles. I found quite a few, including the popular Onske by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, and Bloomsbury by Svetlana Volkova. And as I looked at those authors' names, it finally dawned on me...

Soviet films! 

I can visualise one particular film so distinctly now: It had something to do with three friends setting off on a mountain-climbing expedition, and one of the main characters wore a thick yellow pullover with a wishbone yoke and a slightly raised neckline. There were many close-ups of him gripping the mountain face, which made the interesting yoke quite prominent. Naturally, I do not remember the name of the movie. But it was from the 1960s, maybe even the '50s, and certainly uninfluenced by the Knitter's Almanac.

Once I realised this, I busted out the virtual cyrillic keyboard and started specifically searching for Russian terms which I hoped would bring up this film and this sweater. I did not find it, but I did find that the wishbone style of yoke construction appears to be not at all uncommon among Russian-speaking knitters. They refer to it, however, simply as a type of raglan sweater and do not attribute any special name or designation to the style. 

Does that mean the 'wishbone' yoke is Russian, or former-Soviet, in origin? Not necessarily. But finding examples of it in that context at least shows that it isn't a novel or recent stylistic invention. 


So, where does that leave us? Well, nowhere in particular, dear readers. It is generally my feeling that today's rather academified knitting culture, for lack of a better term, is in many ways disconnected from its own historical origins. Traditionally, knitting has been a folk art, passed down through generations orally and visually, with little accompanying documentation. It is therefore not only possible, but quite likely, that a technique or style we might be tempted to attribute to a contemporary knitter, was in fact in active use in a different era or culture. 

With that in mind, I can only encourage all to be creative, and to design and knit whatever they want - and most importantly to enjoy it, and not worry too much about who invented what.

{...Just please, pretty-please, don't call my sweater a Carbeth!}

You can find the actual Carbeth pattern by Kate Davies here.
And Elizabeth Zimmermann's Hurry Up! Last Minute Sweater in The Knitter's Almanac

Also, if you are new here and wonder why I watch Soviet films, you might enjoy:
Of Ireland, Identity and Fibre
Exploring Russian Knitting Podcasts



Keeping Your Tension Consistent With Lace



Some knitters find that their tension, when working lace, is looser than it would normally be. To address this, they are often advised to go down in needle size for lace.

Personally, I do not agree with this advice - because it addresses the problem only when a project is either entirely done in lace, or when the lace presents itself in horizontal panels. 

But what happens when the lace appears in vertical panels, so that in the same round/ row you must work a section of stockinette punctuated by lacework? You will now have to use the same needle size for both sections. And if you have never learned to streamline your tension across platforms, as it were, your lace sections will look sloppy and overly loose, in proportion to the stockinette fabric - which is especially problematic when the vertical lace panels are in areas where they take a lot of stress.

For example, one of the garments I am currently working on (top of the photo) is a fingering-weight version of Pale Fire (shown in Babbles Yarns). There, you can see that the lace is used as a decorative element along the raglan line, which means the entire sweater is basically hanging off the lacework. Now, I deliberately used a motif here that is only slightly lace-like and really has shown itself to be quite stable. Still, you don't want your tension to be loose in the part of the sweater that gets the most stress, causing the raglans to spread uncontrollably. 

The other project I am working on (bottom of the photo) is a cardigan with vertical lace panels alongside the button bands (shown in Apple Oak Fibre Works yarn). These panels, while not structurally significant per se, will be stressed whenever the wearer tugs at the button band. If the lace is knit too loosely, it will quickly distort out of shape. 

So how does one keep their tension tight when knitting lace?

According to my observations from watching knitters struggle with this issue, the main culprit of the looseness is the yarn-over (YO). So my suggestion would be, to pay attention to how you are executing that step, and find a way to tighten it up - to release less Y when doing the O, as it were.

More specifically: Observe your hand movement when doing a yarn-over. A flamboyant flick of the wrist can result in an over-generosity of micro-millimeterage bestowed upon the needle. Rather than wrapping yarn over the needle, treat the YO almost as if it were a slip stitch. Tighten your hand movement and let the needle only just catch the yarn on its way to the next stitch. 

You can practice this in slow motion, until it becomes natural. And trust me, it won't take that long until it does. Being able to hold your tension consistent as you switch between stockinette and lace is a useful skill, for which your lace-paneled garments will thank you! 

Fit Clinic: If Your Colourwork Sweater Fits Funny...



Happily for all of us who enjoy stranded knitting, sweaters with circular colourwork yokes are extremely popular at the moment. And a number of new designers are infusing this traditional Scandinavian style with some much appreciated freshness and creativity. 

But of course creative freshness ushers in a fresh set of issues! And there are knitters who find themselves having some very specific fit problems with this popular style of sweater.

1. that the colourwork section of the yoke feels too tight, even if the floats are kept appropriately loose and the section meets gauge, and
2. that the underams sit too low

The combination of these two issues can make the sweater feel constraining, to the point that it is difficult to move one's arms. Not exactly ideal! So how to avoid this?

Okay. So firstly, let me say that I have not actually seen any of the patterns I am referring to. My observations are based entirely on the sweaters people are knitting. And when I look at those sweaters, I notice two consistent themes, which I will address individually:

1. The depth of the colourwork motif exceeds what would normally be the wearer's yoke depth.

The way I see it, this is a manifestation of row gauge variability. In other words, the knitter's row gauge exceeds what the designer envisioned, and there is no way to alter that without also altering the knitter's stitch gauge, if that makes sense, since the two are connected. So instead, I can see two potential solutions. The easy but disappointing one, is to omit rounds from the bottom part of the colourwork section (we are assuming a top-down sweater construction here), allowing for the sleeve separation to happen earlier (i.e. higher up). The aesthetically nicer, but more difficult solution, is to place the colourwork higher up on the yoke. The reason this is more difficult, is that it involves making decisions regarding where to place the yoke increases, which would otherwise happen before the colourwork begins. Which brings me to the second theme...

2. The colourwork motif does not appear to incorporate increases (assuming the sweater is worked top-down), which are instead made only above and below the colourwork section. 


Now: Ideally, a top-down circular yoke construction will incorporate increases consistently throughout the yoke, as shown in the drawing on the left.But incorporating increases into a colourwork chart can be awkward, and disruptive to the motif's aesthetic, and so it is understandable that designers might want to avoid it - placing the increases before and after the colourwork instead, as shown in the drawing on the right.

And if the colourwork section is only a narrow band, it is fine to leave that part without shaping; the yoke will block out evenly. However, the deeper the colourwork chart, the more likely it is that the fabric will look (and feel) uneven if increases are not incorporated into that section. When it comes to the sweater designs in question, I suspect that the colourwork is borderline too deep to start with, and that the knitter's row gauge (which is deeper than the designer's) pushes it over the edge to being properly too deep. 

Am I being confusing here? I know this post is a bit more technical than previous Fit Clinic topics. So if you have any questions about what I am trying to say here please ask in the comments and I will try my best to explain better! 

So what is the general solution? If you are not confident in altering the colour section of an existing pattern - either by omitting the bottom rounds of the colourwork, by moving it higher up on the yoke, and/or by adding shaping to the colourwork chart, I suggest looking for a pattern where the colourwork section is shallower, sits higher up on the yoke, and/ or incorporates yoke shaping. 

For example, here is a (free!) top-down pattern which meets these criteria:
Iðunn, on Knitty

And a (free!) bottom-up pattern that meets them as well:
Ryðrauð, on ravelry 

Because the thing is, no matter how hard a designer might try, they cannot accommodate all body types (what I mean by this, is that your individual anatomy might require a shallower yoke depth than the designer planned for). And neither can the designer always anticipate inconsistencies in row gauge. So in the end, it is all about choosing the type of pattern that works for your body shape and for your knitting style... and, ideally, lets you move your arms!