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Seasonal Socks

LBHandknits

{ Basic Sock with Intergrated Heel , in tweed and merino/nylon}

{Basic Sock with Intergrated Heel, in tweed and merino/nylon}

Does anybody else have separate ‘sock wardrobes’ for summer and winter? As someone whose feet both freeze and overheat quite easily, I definitely do.

One thing I find with superwash sock yarn, is that it doesn’t actually keep me warm - which works to my advantage in hot weather. My summer socks are therefore fingering-weight, superwash, and often lacy. I wear the lace ones on especially warm and humid days, and they are great for ventilation. Yarn with some ramie or silk content can feel cool and refreshing as well.

In the colder months however, wearing socks made out of superwash yarn, or any fibre other than wool, feels as if I have no socks on at all. I need woolly-wool. At least sport weight. But ideally DK, or even Aran. In fact, from October through April my feet mostly live in heavy Donegal tweed. I currently have 3 pairs on rotation and they are the ones that tend to get worn, while finer socks only come out when I need to wear footwear into which the thicker ones won’t fit.

Of course there are also the crossover socks. Fingering-weight, non superwash yarns work well on cooler summer days and milder winter days. These stay in rotation year-round, and always remain in my sock drawer.

Keeping my socks seasonally separated has actually been quite nice. The ones currently in season live in my sock drawer, while the off-season socks get put away in a separate box. When the seasons change, the socks rotate, and it makes or a fun ritual. It also makes me appreciate the sheer variety of fibre content and yarn weight available to us knitters these days. I have not worn commercially made socks in over two years, and absolutely do not miss them.

Mind the Gauge. Ignore the Needle Size.

LBHandknits

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On occasion I talk to knitters who have laboured over a garment, only to be dismayed that it came out too big or too small, compared to what the measurements provided in the pattern led them to expect.

‘And did you get the correct stitch counts?’ I usually start by asking. To which the answer is ‘Oh yes! I followed the pattern exactly, and used the recommended needle size…’

‘Wait, wait. You did what?...’

I then explain about gauge and tension. And depending on the knitter’s background, what follows is either an epiphany, or suspicious disbelief. Because interestingly enough, I encounter two types of knitters who might simply start knitting from a pattern using the recommended needle size, without swatching. The first category is novices. The second is experienced knitters, whose knitting repertoire had previously consisted of a limited - and usually region-specific - selection of patterns, which all happened to recommend needle sizes consistent with the knitter’s own tension. This post is for the benefit of both of these types of knitters, as well as anybody else who might be confused about this aspect of a pattern.


It is customary for knitting patterns to list needle size recommendations. However, many handknits designers, myself included, are of the opinion that needle size figures should be omitted from patterns.

This is because needle size is ultimately irrelevant - a means to and end, if you will. The relevant and crucial information in the pattern is the gauge. And whatever needle size a knitter needs to use in order to meet that gauge, is the correct needle size for them.

For example, let’s say a sweater pattern states the following information:

Gauge: 20 stitches and 25 rows = 10cm x 10cm (4” x 4”)
Recommended Needle Size: 4mm

What this means is, that you must meet the gauge of 20 stitches per 10cm. And that you might be able to accomplish that on 4mm needles. But you might not! Which is why you need to swatch, and determine what size of needles you actually need in order to meet the stated gauge.

Misleading? A bit. And that is why in an ideal world, a knitting pattern would read something like this:

Gauge: 20 stitches and 25 rows = 10cm x 10cm (4” x 4”)
Recommended Needle Size: As needed to meet gauge

There are some intrepid designers who do exactly that. Kate Davies refuses to include needle size in her self-published patterns for this very reason. Alas, not all of us are as brave as she. And the fear of not including needle size recommendtions, is that we will be bombarded with pattern support inquiries from knitters who are accustomed to seeing this (mis)information in their patterns.

My personal compromise, is to include needle size recommendations, but with a caveat. So, my patterns are likely to read something like this:

Gauge: 20 stitches and 25 rows = 10cm x 10cm (4” x 4”)
Recommended Needle Size: 4mm or as needed to meet gauge

But whether that last phrase is italicised, highlighted, or embellished with dancing cat emoticons, it doesn’t always help. Once a knitter sees that handy needle size number, unless they already know about the importance of swatching, they might be tempted to grab a 4mm needle and get started. After all, why is the number there if they are meant to ignore it??

Indeed.

If the needle size recommendations are irrelevant, you might ask, where do they come from and what are the figures based on?

Good question. And as far as I understand it, they are based on the hypothetical knitter with so-called average tension (which, by the way, differs regionally - but that is an aside I won’t delve into just now!). But while averages are useful in the realm of statistics, they are not always helpful on a practical, personal level.

For example: Let’s say you read that the average height for a woman is 5’4”. This does not mean that, if you are a woman, your height is most likely 5’4”. Right? Your height could be anything at all compared to the average!

Similarly, let’s say that a knitter with statistically average tension meets a gauge of 20 stitches per 10cm with a 4mm needle. It does not follow that, if you are a knitter, you too will most likely meet that gauge with that needle size.

The only way to know how tall you are is to measure your own height.

The only way to know what size needle you need to meet gauge, is to swatch with your own hands.

And in that sense, a good way to think of the recommended needle size in a pattern is as a starting point. Start swatching with the recommended needle size. And if that doesn’t meet gauge, swatch next with a needle sized larger/smaller, depending on your initial swatch result, until finally you settle on a needle size that enables you to meet the gauge stated in the pattern. This is the correct needle size for you.

Csilla and the Shorn Project

LBHandknits

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Quick Links:
Shorn Yan & Kits [sold out!]
Csilla Cowl
Csilla Hat
Yarn Launch Podcast Episode

Some time last year, Melissa Littlefield of the Knitting the Stash podcast ran a designers interview series in which I took part. And one of the questions asked was, what role does yarn play in my design process. For instance, do I have a design in mind, then look for a yarn to make it happen, or do I start with the yarn? This is actually a question I get asked a lot, and my answer tends to surprise the person I’m having the conversation with. Most of my designs start with the yarn - not the other way around.

That is not to say that I don’t have heaps of ideas twirling around in my head. The problem is that I have too many ideas; their sheer volume and vagueness can be debilitating. With yarn in hand, the process immediately becomes more real. Here is the yarn. These are its characteristics. What does this yarn want to become? The physicality and immediacy of the yarn sparks my imagination in a way that is not just creative, but actionable.

When Melissa invited me to design an accessory for the Shorn project, I knew that once the yarn arrived it would tell me what it ‘wanted’ to be. And I was right! Because nothing in my previous experience of yarns could have prepared me for Shorn’s unique blend of qualities.

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It has long been a dream of Melissa’s to produce her own farm-to-skein yarn. And the Shorn project is that dream’s realisation.

Shorn is a small batch yarn made from the fleeces of sheep who live just down the road from Melissa’s house in Illinois, USA. The yarn is minimally processed and worsted spun by Stonehedge Fiber Mill in Michigan. It is left undyed, with a creamy natural colouring.

This description may set up expectations for a wool that feels distinctly ‘rustic’ (read: a bit rough). But the remarkable thing about Shorn is this: It is next-to-skin soft. A blend of 80% Cormo and 20% Corriedale, the yarn was specifically designed with this in mind. And it is this combination of silky-softness and chemical-free, minimally processed, sheepiness that makes it so unique to work with.

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In addition to being soft and springy, Shorn is also quite silky to the touch and gives off a subtle yet distinct sheen which takes on different qualities depending on the angle from which it is observed. Even as I wound the yarn from skein to ball (which I always do by hand), I noticed these characteristics. And once I began swatching and playing around with stitch combinations, I became quite entranced with them. How crisply defined the knits and purls stood against one another! How sculptural the cables looked! How glossy the lace! But which to choose, to capture this yarn’s spirit?

The idea to use smocking evolved as I kept feeling compelled to play with the yarn by wrapping it around my fingers. I liked the look of the various stitches, but I also liked the look of the yarn in its own right. Smocking offered a way to incorporate unworked strands into the pattern.

Csilla_G1.jpg

And thus, the starlike motif of Csilla was born.

Pronounced ‘heela’, Csilla is a Hungarian feminine given name that means ‘starlike’ and she is exactly what the yarn ‘wanted.’

I love the way the pattern and the yarn interact. The knit stitches, the purl stitches, and the wraps, each showcase this yarn’s subtle sheen from different angles. And the squish effect of the smocking further accentuates the natural springiness of the yarn.

The ornate motif is both 
top-down and inside-out reversible, making this cowl quite versatile in wear. Suitable for adventurous knitters of all skill levels, Csilla is a single-skein project 
ideal for showcasing those very special yarns in a way that is artful and wearable. 

In addition to the Csilla Cowl, there is now also a matching Csilla Hat design. Both patterns are compatible with a variety of DK weight yarns.

With a meterage of 230m/ 100g, Shorn is a light-DK. It is available from Melissa in 100g skeins, as well as in kits with the Csilla cowl and hat patterns. The pricing is very reasonable for an indie yarn, and keep in mind this is a very limited edition - so while supplies last, etc.!

If you are interested in small batch, minimally processed, locally produced yarns from the USA, Shorn is certainly a very special one that you will not regret snapping up.

For more on the Shorn yarn launch, watch the latest episode of Knitting the Stash. I am delighted to be included in this project, and thank you in advance for supporting it!

Can You Train Yourself to Knit Tighter, or Looser?

LBHandknits

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It’s a question that sometimes comes up in conversations. We all knit with different tension. But for those of us who find ourselves on the extreme ends of the tight/loose knitter spectrum, is it possible to retrain our hands to knit closer to a happy medium?

The answer is definitely yes, and I know many knitters who have done this. In fact, I myself used to be a very loose knitter, and deliberately tightened my tension around 2 years ago - so that the needles I use on any given project now are about .5mm larger in diameter than they would have been then.

But as a prequel, let me first say that being either a loose or a tight knitter is not in of itself a problem and in most cases does not mean that you need to retrain yourself to knit differently. It only means that the needle diameter you choose for projects will be consistently smaller or larger than what is recommended in patterns.

So for instance, let’s say a sock pattern recommends 2.5mm needles, and this recommendation is aimed at the ‘average’ knitter meeting gauge. If you are a loose knitter, you will need to go down to 2.25mm or even 2.00mm needles to meet gauge. And if you are a tight knitter, you will need to go up to 2.75mm or even 3.00mm needles to meet gauge. Again, not a problem. After some time knitting you will likely know how your tension compares to the so-called average, and pre-emptively start swatching with a needle size that is either a bit smaller or larger than what is recommended in patterns.

Individual difference in tension becomes problematic, only if your knitting is so much looser, or tighter, than the typical average, that you cannot source needles small enough or large enough in diameter to meet gauge for the pattern. For tight knitters this can happen with bulky knits. For loose knitters, this mostly happens with fingering-weight socks - which was the case with me.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I had actually never knitted socks out of ‘sock yarn’ until abut two years ago. Before that, I made socks mainly out of rustic wools, which were either DK or sportweight. When I first tried fingering weight sock yarn, I was unable to meet gauge on even the smallest needles available to me. Of course I could go down in stitch count and knit at a looser gauge. But experimenting with that confirmed that it was a bad idea. Socks must be knitted densely to be durable. If I wanted to knit a sock at a 35st gauge, with the needles available to me, I needed to tighten up.

This took willful practice, and was more than a little frustrating. I used 2mm needles, stainless steel and not overly slick. I cast on a 64 stitch sock. And then, knitting at about a third of my usual speed, I made a concerted effort to tighten my tension when working each individual stitch. I do not know how to describe the physicality of this in any greater detail than that. But the comparison that comes to mind, is trying to write smaller than is natural for your handwriting. Imagine you are working with one of those workbooks you get either as a child when first practicing your handwriting, or as an adult if you have ever done a calligraphy workshop. You do not focus on the sentence or even on the word, you focus on each individual letter and take care to make it the correct size and form. In the same vein, I focused on working each individual stitch, pulling tight on the yarn. It took a while to make that first sock! But by the time I got half way through the leg, tightening my tension did become more natural and I was able to speed up a bit. By the time I finished the pair, it became automatic and I was able to knit socks at a 35st gauge on 2mm needles.

Of course, retraining myself to tighten my tension affected my overall knitting, meaning that my needle size went up across the board. If in the past I had used 3.5mm needles to meet a 20st gauge, I now meet that same gauge with 4mm needles. And so on.

Funny enough, I still knit a bit looser than the average knitter. But again, that does not matter as long as I am consistent, and am able to meet gauge with an available needle size - which, happily, is now the case.

Laitís
 Re-Release

LBHandknits

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I have written before about my somewhat unconventional background as a designer. I’ve been making original handknits for some time, but writing patterns for only about a year and a half. And these two things are not the same.

Design in of itself is a creative process, made all the more wonderful in that it isn’t constrained by any standard language. Design can be informed by a kaleidoscope of cultural, personal, aesthetic, and technical factors, and one designer’s process can differ radically from another’s. I learned to knit at a young age in the improvisational folk tradition, which carries with it its own mentality and methods. It was not until much later in life that I was introduced to the world of written patterns and ravelry. I did not initially recognise in this world the ‘knitting’ I knew all my life, and for a long time I felt quite alienated from it. When I met other knitters in person, they admired my work, but we could not communicate. They could not understand how I made what I made. And likewise, I could not fathom how (or why) they used these things called 'patterns.’

When I found myself at a career crossroads two years ago, I was actively encouraged to become a pattern designer by several key people I’d met at that time. And I embraced this opportunity, without - as I realised only later - having fully understood what that actually meant, in today’s knitting parlance. Because pattern writing, unlike design in itself, is governed by a distinct set of rules and expectations. In my early patterns I tried to change those expectations, and introduce knitters to my way of approaching design. It was often effective. But just as often not! And after some time, I had to consider what was more important to me: holding on to my approach, or communicating with knitters in the way they wanted to be communicated with.

Laitís
 
 was the design that made me decide on the latter. People loved it - but were scared to knit it, because the pattern was so different from what they were accustomed to. The discrepancy was deeply frustrating to me (as I am sure it was to them) and pushed me to revamp my pattern writing process, so as to bring it in line with the expectations of ravelry-era knitters. It was difficult, as it really did mean changing my entire approach to design. But with the help of a new tech editor and some wonderful feedback from supportive knitters, I was able to do it.

As of Spring 2018, I am confident that my patterns are written in a style that is familiar and easily understandable to my customer base. And while I expected to feel as if I’ve ‘lost something’ of myself in the process of changing my pattern writing to meet convention, that has not happened. Instead I feel happy that knitters are finding my patterns easy to follow, and do not require pattern support!

I am now working through my earlier (pre-2018) patterns and plan to re-write them all in the new manner. Happily there are not that many. And Laitís
 
was a priority, because I love the design and I want people to have a good experience knitting it.

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And so allow me to introduce: Laitís, the new version.

Made possible with the kind support of Yarn Vibes (more on this interesting company in a later post), the new pattern includes a schematic with measurements in an expanded range of sizes, a cable chart, and detailed instructions with stitch counts at every step of the process. It is, in short, the same design, with improved instructions. If you purchased the original sweater pattern, you will have already received the update!

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The latticed cables in this pattern are extremely easy, and are suitable for new cable knitters. However I would overall class Laitís
 
as Intermediate, because - being worked from the top down seamlessly - it requires increasing in pattern. Increasing in pattern is not necessarily difficult, and anyone who has made lace shawls is probably familiar with it already. Just be aware that you will need this technique. And while the pattern explains briefly how to do it, it does not include an in-depth tutorial.

That said, everything else about Laitís
 is very straightforward. This is essentially a ribbed sweater with occasional cabled crossovers, worked at a gauge of 17st per 10cm - so it knits up quickly!

In honour of its re-release, I am offering the new version of Laitís
 at 40% off until the 28th of February.

Thank you as always for your support, and I hope the re-write will allow more people to enjoy this pattern!