Z is for Zimmerman

How better to end our Alphablogging April than with a guest post by fellow raveller Stripycat? Here is her post on the ineffable Zimmerman:

Z is for Zimmerman, specifically Elizabeth Zimmerman (EZ), an opinionated knitter who passed on a wealth of knitting knowledge through her numerous publications and championed knitting in the round  as a sensible means of avoiding all that pesky sewing involved in making jumpers.

I have embraced the circular needle whole-heartedly. Not only is it useful for seamless projects, it has the added advantage of ensuring the pointy things you are working with aren’t that long. Now that my fellow bus passengers are no longer in danger of being skewered, I have taken to knitting everywhere – on the bus, on aeroplanes, walking down the street and in cafes. I even tried knitting in the cinema, but mistakes are not easy to spot when sitting in the dark….

The humble garter stich is another of Zimmerman’s pet topics. I first came across Zimmerman through her collection of garter-stich designs in Knit One Knit All at a time when I was beginning to think that more advanced knitters should do more advanced knitting (which is utter codswallop). These simple but effective designs persuaded me otherwise. Last year I finished a veritable garter marathon in the form of one Color Affection.

Writing this has made me realise that I need to find another simple/social pattern. I’ve been knitting a square baby blanket (in the round) with an easy lace pattern. However, due to my inability to concentrate on two things at once, my weekly stich-and-bitch knitting has been reduced to spending the second hour tinking whatever I did in the first. Oh look EZ has of course provided the ideal raglan sweater solution!


Y is for Yardage

I have a pervasive fear of running out of yarn on projects, all the time. At some point I’ll be midway through a project and I’ll hold up the remaining ball of yarn and say “I’m not sure I have enough here” while himself rolls his eyes at me.

It’s not a big deal for something small, a weekend hat project, but imaging putting weeks of work into a jumper, or a shawl, only to discover that you can’t finish it because you just used up the last. And the yarn will have been the last ever of its kind, so there will be no replacing it. And then the knitting police will confiscate you needles because of your lack of knitters foresight and you’ll never knit again.

Ok, perhaps my problem is more that I assign mysterious dire consequences to small obstacles, but the running out of yarn fear is a thing too.

Generally this means that I overbuy yarn for projects. If my size says I’ll need 7 balls, best get nine then. Or if I’m buying without a project in mind, I’m drawn to big yardages like a moth to a … lets not go there, shall we? I love getting my hands on solid or semisolid laceweight with over a kilometer to a ball. Or a cone of fingering that’s 1000 yards long. Yum!

The up side of this wee neurosis is that there’s almost always yarn left over. My cardigan has a matching hat and gloves. Knit a shawl, and have enough left over for a shawlette. Drop your glove at Dublin Airport while emigrating, knit yourself a new one.

Sometimes, though, I’ll just race the yarn. I’ll be watching that ball on the sofa beside me shrink into nothing, and think that if I just knit a bit faster, maybe I can get there first. It makes no sense, but I just can’t help trying to beat the yardage at its own game.

X is for XO

X is always a tricky letter for this kind of exercise. Apple, ball, cat, xylophone? There’s not that much choice for the alphabetically inclined. Letterland decided that “kissing cousins” was the way around that problem, which always bemused me a bit. Of course, science has plenty of x words to choose from, x-axis, x-space, x-rays, but they’re not very fibre crafty. Luckily, there’s an X themed knitting pattern to the rescue, the XO, or hugs and kisses cable.

The XO cable is a cable that looks like XOXOXOXO. Fancy that! It’s one of the standard cable stitches you’ll find in most stitch dictionaries, and in various places online.

The stitches are worked as two mirrored columns of 6 to 8 stitches each. To make an X, you twist the cable of each column in (i.e. the outer stitches are to the front), and then out (i.e. the inner stitches are to the front). An O is made by twisting out then in. So to make an XO you twist in, out, out, in.

The XO cable is a lovely, big squishy cable that looks good in a variety of patterns. The above photo is a picture of my Milo socks, from Sock Innovation, and you can see how the sequence of twists creating the pattern. What I managed not to capture are the places where I twisted out instead of in, or in instead of out, throwing a few oddly shaped C’s into the mix. I made these while I was writing my thesis, which I think is a recent event, but is now almost exactly three years ago. Even still, my Milos are some of my hardest wearing socks, keeping their shape after all these years.

I finished a pair of socks this afternoon, and needed (yes, needed) to cast on another, so I’ve decided to make another Milo, this time in brown yarn. Hopefully by the end of May I will have a nice neat string of hugs and kisses ready to show you.

W is for Weddings

We’ve already heard about my flowers, and the shawls you made, and we heard more than enough about the shawl I knit, but I have left out one very special knitted wedding thing.

Unsurprisingly enough, my mum is also a knitter. She made us lots of clothes when we were younger, including an awesome dinosaur skeleton colourwork jumper many, many moons ago. She even made me an aran jumper when I was going to Canada in winter a couple of years ago, which kept me extra cosy. It’s fun to have people in the family to talk yarny things with, and she’s helped me out a few times. Although she got so fed up with me not weaving in the ends of a blanket I crocheted, she did it all for me.

Mums are great!

On our wedding day, after the ceremony the guests headed to the dinner while a few of us headed to the castle to take advantage of the views and the weather. When we arrived at the table afterwards, we were greeted by these two.

In the week before the wedding, mum decided to grab the needles and yarn, and whip up a couple of wedding meerkats. The groom-kat is even wearing a kilt! The glow sticks were added over the course of the meal because … well, because glowsticks!

The pattern for the meerkats and their outfits was from Knitted Meerkats by Sue Stratford. Mum made a couple of alterations to match our wedding, and used thicker yarn to make them biggger.

So that’s the final knitted piece of our wedding. We had a lovely day, made all the more special by the little touches that people put together for us.

V is for Venus

In my 2012 round up I mentioned I hadn’t crocheted much last year and that I planned to learn Tunisian lace crochet this year. In particular the Venus, Freya and Honeymeade shawls by Irish designer AoibheNí. So when This is Knit (my LYS) announced a CAL (crochet along) using the Venus pattern I was quick to sign up. It’s my first ever CAL, my first KAL was only this January for the Swallowtail shawl. The yarn I’m using was a present from Knitmas. It’s a gorgeous dusky tea rose colour in a soft plied merino with SPARKLES!

I started well after watching the video demonstrations on youtube. These are definitely required! I was flying along, getting the hang of the right hand throwing yarn method. Until the dreaded row 8. There were two problems – the first was that I had counted the setup row (row 0 if you will) as row 1, so I had skipped row 6. Lots of ripping later I was ready for row 8 again.

Second problem – I got to the halfway point of the row before I had done half the fans. I re-read the instructions, re-counted the stitches. Repeat. Then I did the calculations and there’s no way following the instructions as written would make it possible in the number of stitches required. I read everyone else’s notes. It seems there are three different fixes – each to make the connecting chain of each fan shorter by one stitch. I tried all of them on different fans and didn’t find any one better than the other. Eventually I made it to the end of row 8.

For the subsequent rows there was still a fair bit of fudging involved because for each fan the connecting chain/block takes one more stitch than the pick-up block (as written in pattern). Which left me with one stitch too many/too few. I balanced it out by skipping the last stitch before a fan. It seems to work except at the last fan of the row where it puckers a bit. In future I’ll just do the last picot over two stitches to balance that.

Now I’m motoring along and it’s nice sweet crocheting. Enough interest that it’s not boring but easy enough it doesn’t require thinking. I haven’t decided on whether or not to do the cnupps. It will depend on how much yarn, concentration and patience I have left when I get that far. I’m hoping that when I block it the fudges will all even out, and that it won’t grow too much as it’s large enough already!



U is for Ultimate Dreams

It seems the original ‘U’ post got lost and didn’t publish in sequence so I bring you my ultimate knitting and crocheting goals.

We all have dreams of that pattern we will knit one day, a large project we will take on and complete or a technique we will master. A dream for the future that keeps us progressing in our craft, an ultimate goal. I have several, each representing different aspects of the crafts I follow.

For lace knitting I dream of one day knitting the Evenstar shawl, as Stew did. This will be a massive undertaking of intricate knitting. I’m already thinking of what yarn I will use, I’m leaning towards Hedgehog Fibres silk-merino lace in ‘Crystal’, so perhaps this project isn’t too far away. I’d also like to knit some proper two-sided lace like Percy, though maybe not that pattern as so many talented lace knitters have struggled with it.

I’d also like to knit (or crochet) a blanket. This would require a lot of stamina I think, as well as fighting startitis for a long time. I’ve been making squares from leftover blue, purple and green sockyarn and 4ply. That way it breaks up the big project into lots of little ones. This is definitely a long term project and I would still like to make an all-in-one-piece blanket too, as a challenge.

In particular I’d like to one day knit a beautiful colourwork blanket such as Kate Davies’ Rams and Yowes or like this gorgeous child’s blanket or this one with snowflakes. As we saw in my post on Stranded Knitting I have only barely touched my toe into the colourwork pond. I have a long long way to go before I can contemplate anything as amazing as those I mentioned. My intermediary goal is to knit Kate Davies’ Snawheid.

My ultimate crochet dream is to crochet a lace dress and an umbrella. My spinning dream is to spin a proper amount and then actually make it into something, like a jumper or lace shawl. I also dream of designing lace shawls.

What are your ultimate crafting dreams/goals?


T is for Tubular Cast On

I cast on a hat for my brother today in Malabrigo Finito, yarn so soft it’s practically criminal. As soft as cashmere, if not softer! Inevitably the colours come out muted and subdued – perfect for this purpose. I wanted to make this hat really neat and professional looking, as well as having a brim firm enough to counter-balance the softness of the yarn, so I turned to the tubular cast on.

A tubular cast on is an excellent stretchy but firm cast on for hat brims and cuffs on sleeves, socks, gloves etc. It takes a bit more work than the usual cable cast on but it’s neater and keeps it’s shape better. Designed for 1×1 ribbing but easily adaptable for 2×2 ribbing. It looks great from both sides so especially good for cuffs or brims that are likely to be turned up, especially good for items that children will gradually grow into.

The tubular cast on is so called because it makes a little tube of knitting from which you then continue knitting from.

There are four main types of tubular cast on: the standard tubular, provisional tubular, yarnover tubular and Italian tubular. The first is similar to the turn-down picot cast on where you provisionally cast on half the stitches, knit twice the height of the tube and then interlace the live stitches with the stitches from the provisional cast on.

The second type starts with provisionally casting on all of the stitches you will need. On each side of the work you knit every second stitch, slipping the other stitches. This forms two pieces of fabric, joined at the bottom, each half of the tube. When the tube is the right size you simply purl the stitches you had been slipping, while still knitting the others and that’s plain 1×1 ribbing. Finally snip out the waste yarn from the provisional cast on.

The yarnover tubular combines a crochet-provisional cast on of half the stitches and yarnovers to create the remaining stitches. It then proceeds similar to the second type. It’s especially suited to knitting in the round.

Today I tried the Italian tubular for the first time and I think it’s my favourite as it doesn’t require messing about with waste yarn. It’s a little like the standard longtail cast on in technique. You alternately cast on purl and knit stitches then continue as for the second type again. It’s best to cast onto a straight needle as at first it can twist about on cables, not unmanageably though.

For 2×2 ribbing a little jiggery-pokery is needed first before it’s plain sailing. Nothing more than changing the order of the stitches though. Some people prefer to use a needle smaller for the tube than for the ribbing that follows. Personally I find it you’re using a size smaller for the ribbing than for stockinette (as is best!) then the same size will do perfectly for the tubular cast on. With the possible exception of the yarnover tubular.

As always there are plenty of tutorials and demonstration videos available on the web. My go-to resource however is ‘Cast on Bind off’ by Leslie Ann Bestor, a lovely small ring-bound book with excellent diagrams and instructions. It’s one of my favourite presents ever and I look forward to learning more techniques with it.


S is for Stranded Knitting

My sister in law loves orange. So when I saw Malabrigo sock in a gorgeous burnt orange shade, called terracotta,  I had to make her a willow cowl with it. How better to use the 20g of unused yarn than to make a little hat for her son. But winter passed quickly into hot weather where they live and the hat remained unknit. Babies grow quickly and by next winter he’ll be a toddler.

Concerned that the remaining 20g wouldn’t be enough for a toddler sized hat, and having some co-ordinating brown yarn, I decided to try some colourwork. It was the perfect opportunity for a tiny taster of stranded knitting  Stranded knitting, also called fair-isle, is knitting more than one colour in the same row, swapping back and forth between the colours. I couldn’t find anything on ravelry that was simple enough for my thesis-addled mind so I tried designing my own. With only 4 rows of actual stranded knitting it was easy and quick to knit. I’m pretty pleased with it and if you’d like to try one yourself I’ve included the pattern. Let me know how you get on!


Oisín Hat

Toddler sized hat in sock yarn (or 4ply). Perfect for using up the ends from socks or shawls. I suggest a soft and springy merino wool for stretchiness without itching. Try to keep your stitches loose while swapping back and forth on the stranded rows, using a springy wool will be more forgiving here too.
Circumference is about 14 inches.
You will need:
17g Main colour – orange (I used Malabrigo sock in terracotta)
4g Contrast colour – brown (I think Laura Hogan sock)
3mm dpns (double pointed needles)
Cable Cast on 104 sts
Join to work in the round.
Knit in 2×2 rib for 9 rounds:  (k2 p2) repeat to end of round.
Knit 1 round
Knit 2 rounds brown
Knit 2 rounds orange
Knit 2 rounds brown


Knit 1 round orange
(k1 orange, k1 brown) repeat to end of round
Knit 1 round orange
(k1 brown, k1 orange) repeat to end of round

Repeat last four rounds once.
Knit 1 round orange

Knit 2 rounds brown
Knit 2 rounds orange
Knit 2 rounds brown

Knit all rounds in orange until work measures 5 inches from cast on edge.

Decreases for the crown:
(k6 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 2 rounds
(k5 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 2 rounds
(k4 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 1 round
(k3 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 1 round
(k2 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 1 round
(k1 k2tog) repeat to end of round
Knit 1 round
k2tog in rounds until 5 or 6 stitches left.
Cut yarn, thread the end through the live stitches and weave in.


R is for Reading Knitting

I’ve never been particularly good at rote memorisation. It’s just never really clicked for me, and my least favourite parts of school were those bits where you just had to learn a long list of information with no sense. For me to be able to learn something, it had to have a logic to it. A poem, or lines of a play made sense. They had a rhythm and told a story and every line was just the next step along the path. Theorems and mathematical formulae were fine, I understood the reasons for their shape and could usually derive them myself in a pinch. Lists of rivers, or foreign language vocabulary, however, just didn’t click for me at all and it was painful to try to force them into my head.

I think this is why I find being able to read my knitting so useful and enjoyable. Reading knitting means being able to tell what each stitch is by sight, and being able to “read” the sense of a pattern. If you can read you knitting, you’ll know exactly where that k2tog is supposed to go to make a smooth decrease line and which direction that line will go, without having to count the stitches running up to it. It also means you can tell what row you’re on, and what point in that row.

When I’m knitting lace, I find this is the easiest way to spot errors before they become issues. I can go with minimal stitch markers, and often memorise a chart easily. In one shawl I’m making, I know that I start a particular section by knitting 1, starting a line of holes, knitting four as the gap between the increase and decrease, ssk, then knit 5. I know that all I have to do is follow those lines in the pattern until I run out of stitches at the end, and start over. I don’t have to check and count every row, just make sure that my stitches all line up in the pattern.

Of course, this doesn’t always work. For my Paisley Swirl Shawl, the body was no problem, but part of what made the boarder so painfully slow was that I couldn’t manage to memorise the chart. I was able to trace out some parts that made sense, but there were a few increases and decreases that weren’t obvious based on the previous row. So I had to check the chart every patterned row, 12 per repeat, for 39 repeats. It’s no wonder it took me six months!

Despite reading your knitting being such a useful skill, there aren’t very many resources out there on it. Most beginner’s books will tell you how to spot your knits and purls, but once you go beyond that you’re on your own. I did find this tutorial that looks interesting, but perhaps this will be a topic for another blog post.

Q is for Quitting

I’m a quitter.

I mean, I finish plenty of stuff, but I have no problem consigning something to the frog pond if I decide I don’t love it, even if I’ve invested a significant amount of time to it. Looking back over my projects, I have far more regrets for projects I’ve finished despite misgivings than the projects I ripped back.

So what are some of my good reasons to frog?

1. It’s the wrong size

This jumper would have been perfect for me, when I started it. Unfortunately I dawdled and eventually had to conclude that I was no longer the Stew that would fit into the size I was knitting. So I frogged, despite having the back and half of the front done. I still love the pattern, but it’s for another day now. Instead, the yarn (after a few different attempts) became this vest, which I love dearly. It lives at my desk in work for those nippy days.

2. Too many mistakes

This was probably one of my earliest attempts at lace, a lovely simple triangle with a knitted on boarder from Victorian Lace Today. Nowadays, I’d be able to knock out the centre no problem. Back then, I was counting and losing my place, and when I made a mistake, my knitting was still a foreign language to me. After the lines of yarn overs went askew one too many times, I decided to call time on that project. Again, that yarn went on to live a very happy life as another project.

3. The ugh factor

Sometimes it’s not a project-yarn mismatch, or a size issue. It might not even be an accumulation of mistakes that pushes you past the point of no return. The pattern may be lovely, the yarn may be ideal on paper, but at some point you just fall out of love. Such was the fate of my In Dreams shawl.

Yup, that was just after I took the needles out.

I was several clues into the mystery knit-a-long. All was going fine, technically, but something was missing. It felt like a chore, and an endless one at that.

So I quit.

I’ll never get those hours of knitting back, and I may never get back to that pattern, but looking at that half finished WIP doesn’t bother me. Knitting is a luxury. It’s a hobby and stress relief. I might as well spend that time on projects that I love.