Reverse Engineering a Scarf

An interesting project has come across my desk. Last week a charming fellow came into the yarn shop and showed me his scarf. It was a beautiful hand-knit cream coloured aran scarf, slightly discoloured with age and sporting a few holes. “I’m sure you could repair it,” he told me, “but it’s so thread-bare, I was wondering instead if there were anyone who might replicate it instead?”

You betcha, someone might. I might. (Pretty pretty please!)

I examined the scarf and decided it was probably done originally in aran-weight. I counted the # of stitches across (35), weighed it (94 grams), and measured it (precisely 100 cm by 15 cm, what a perfectly neat size!) all gave me a good starting place. He wanted to continue to wear his scarf until the replica could be made.”It’s cold. I need it,” he told me. “Can you work from a picture for me? You’ll know more than I how close a match it really is.” First of all, yes I can absolutely work from pictures, and second: it’s going to match exactly, have you met me? Of course he’d only met only just had five minute prior, but he learned quickly enough.

He selected the same cream colour in Borgo de Pazzi’s Cedro (a personal favourite of mine, but also by far the closest match to what had been used to knit his original piece.  Once he was sure I had everything I needed, he thanked me and tucked his scarf into his coat. It suited him perfectly – cheerful, polished, a little bit formal but not a bit stuffy. I’m very happy he’s going to soon have (I hope!) the joy of wearing his favourite scarf while being able to retire this well loved original.

Once home, I fired up StitchMastery and began fiddling with stitch combinations. I was very grateful I’d thought to photograph the back as well as the front, because it made the task considerably easier. Note to self EVERYONE: always photograph the back when reverse engineering. Because purl stitches, by their very nature, sit at the back of the fabric it can be hard to count them in a dense and busy fabric, but on the reverse side they stand out clearly as knit stitches. Always photograph the back. 

It took two test swatches to make sure gauge was bang on and yet another one to perfect the stitch pattern, but it’s smooth sailing now.

Have you ever reverse-engineered a knitting project? Drop me a line and let me know!

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New Yarn, New Pattern!

One of my favourite things about autumn is the way the knitter’s biological clock starts buzzing. The tiniest chill in the air sparks a profound need:

must. knit. warm. things.

Suddenly thick, cozy wool – the same yarn that I could hardly stand to look at all summer – becomes overwhelmingly appealing. I can’t be the only knitter who feels this way. In fact, I know I’m not. Over the last month working in the yarn shop, customer requests have shifted from “where is your cotton/linen/bamboo?” to “how much of [blank] would I need for a hat/cowl/oversized sweater.” I’m thinking of writing a scientific paper on the phenomena. The Effect of Seasonal Changes on Yarn Cravings and Economic Resource Distribution in the Knitter Population.

The other exciting thing about autumn is that it usually means a new batch of patterns from magazines and a new batch of yarns from manufacturers. In September a sample of a new fall yarn from Debbie Bliss arrived on my doorstep from the lovely people at Laughing Hens, I was understandably delighted. Introducing: Odin.

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Odin, from Conway and Bliss (for Debbie Bliss) is super bulky, single ply, 75/25 wool/acrylic blend. I’m not usually a fan of acrylic yarns, but a single ply this thick the acrylic added some much-needed strength. I didn’t have any issues with the yarn splitting or breaking while knitting, despite knitting a cable pattern at a tight gauge.

I whipped up several swatches of different cable patterns trying to find one that suited the yarn, which conveniently tested how well the yarn ripped back and re-knits. The verdict is: it’s okay. Rip it back once, it’s going to be fine. After multiple attempts, the yarn becomes more difficult to work with and starts taking on more of a fuzzy halo effect. Single ply yarns are more prone to pilling than their multi-ply siblings, so this is understandable.

My plan was to whip up a small cabled cowl that could be done with a single skein of yarn. There wasn’t sufficient stitch definition to make single stitch cables viable (which is a diplomatic way of saying: they looked like I put the yarn in a blender. It was so ugly there are no photos. You’re welcome.) Two stitch cables showed up well though, and this was the result!

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This photo was pre-blocking, which leads me to what finally made me appreciate this yarn: it blocks REALLY well.

Like. Really really well you guys.

My concerns about mediocre stitch definition were abated once the garment hit water. It cleans up real good. I do have some concerns over its long-term durability, seeing as it’s more prone to pilling/fuzzing, but that’s the drawback of any single ply yarn. While I don’t recommend it for children’s garments, vests, or sweaters, it’s well suited to accessories. Especially ones that only need occasional washing.

So, to tally up the points. Pros: it’s warm, comes in sixteen different colours, is reasonably sturdy. Cons: It’s prone to pilling and not machine washable despite the synthetic content. Price point is £7, which I think is well worth it for the right project.

Speaking of projects…

I liked my little test pattern so much, I’ve elected to publish it. The pattern is called “Odin” after the yarn itself. While I love me a good oversized cowl, sometimes you want something warm that tucks neatly into your winter coat. What’s nice about this style is that it buttons one of two ways, either overlapping (as shown on the left) and snug, or adjacent (as shown on the right).  odin-styles

Because it’s knit in a super bulky yarn this cowl knits up mighty fast, making it a great last minute gift. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, which us Canadians celebrate this weekend, I’ve decided to offer the pattern for free until Tuesday, October 11th (so y’all can get a jump on your Christmas knitting). You can download Odin from Ravelry here.

Thanks again to the folks at Laughing Hens for reaching out to me. Until next time – happy stitching!

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Modifcation Monday: Anthro Cardigan

This is easily one of my favourite knits of the year. In the spring my LYS held a special kind of knit-along: an indie dyer knit along! It gave me a perfect excuse to continue my affection for Lichen and Lace’s single ply fingering weight (which some of you may remember was also the yarn used in my Devil’s Backbone shawl). I decided to go with the Anthro cardigan by Polish designer Hanna Maciejewska.

Anthro Cardigan knit in Lichen and Lace

The biggest reason I picked this pattern was because the waist shaping method is to place a gorgeous cable in the small of the back. No increasing and decreasing along the sides – just a cable! And what a lovely cable to boot. I love the texture, and how it played with the handpainted yarn.knit cable as waist shaping

I made a few modifications to the original pattern. The most significant being that I took the contrast colour that is supposed to be knit on the inside of the cuff and bottom band and flipped it. The main body is knit in the colourway rainy day and the contrasting colour is calm waters. I liked the look so much that I used calm waters for the button band and the collar.

I also added an inch or so to the body after the waist shaping so the bottom hem sits exactly where I’d like to. This meant I had needed even more buttons than the ten or so required.

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I found the buttons at a local shop in the market, and the sweater requires fourteen of them. I really like the pearly-stormy look, matching right in with my sea/sky theme that is threaded through the sweater.

I made a mistake modification with the sleeves. They’re 3/4 instead of full length (on purpose, I swear!) and the cable detail on the cuff is altered to make it tighter than the original.

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Now I did that by eliminating plain knit rows between cable rows. Which wasn’t originally my intention, but once I did it, I liked it so much that I mimicked it on the other side to match.

I was so pleased with the final product that I treated myself to some new wool-wash from Eucalan’s jasmine-oil infused Wrapture. (They didn’t even pay me to say that or anything. I just adore it.) The yarn bloomed very nicely, making the sweater very soft and easily washable. My Lichen and Lace obsession continues! I’m sure this won’t be the last project with it.

Thanks to my lovely Mama for the pictures. Happy Knitting, friends!

 

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On Cancer

My mother has breast cancer.

I’ve written and deleted that sentence six or seven times by now. There’s no other way to begin this piece.

It was a bit of a shock for us, back in February when we found out. My mother is barely 51. She’s only just dipped into the age bracket where your doctor starts recommending regular mammograms. She works hard to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. It didn’t make any sense.

Often when loved ones are facing an illness or experiencing a loss (and cancer is both, over and over and over again) we jump immediately to “What can I do?” “What can I do to make it better? What can I do to make you happy? What can I do to make things be okay? What?” It’s human nature, and it was the first thing I did. My mother, clearly prepared for this response had an answer: make playlists for when I’m bored during chemotherapy, come with me to appointments, hold my hand.

I did those things (except for the playlists, sorry Mum, but we both know that was busy work anyways…), and many more things. Being a knitter, if you say the words “chemotherapy” to me, my first thought is always going to be  “cap, you need a cap.”

That is a thing I can do. I’ll do that.

I poked around Ravelry until I found the pattern I wanted. Knitty had done a breast cancer awareness mini-issue,  in which there was a hat pattern designed specifically as a chemo cap: Shedir. I went to the yarn shop for hugs and reassurance and some Cascade Ultra Pima in a flattering colour. Blue, obviously. I cast on.

I didn’t know that this would become one of the most difficult things I’ve ever made.

On the surface, it shouldn’t have been. I’ve knit lots of hats for adults and children alike. There weren’t any new techniques for me. It took less than 200 yards of a cotton sport-weight yarn. It’s a well-written pattern that I didn’t plan on altering. Simple.

knit chemotherapy capI knit, frogged, and re-knit the brim three times, trying to get the perfect fit for a head that wasn’t bald yet, but would be. I tried to think instead about how pretty the cable pattern would be or how the colour would compliment her eyes. But all I could think every time I picked it up was: “Cancer. My mother has cancer. I’m making this because she has cancer. My Mum is going to lose her hair during chemotherapy. Which she needs because she has a rare and aggressive cancer. Fuck.”

I’m the kind of knitter who worries about knitting “bad vibes” into a gift, despite being a scientist who doesn’t actually believe in such nonsense. I wondered if maybe I could knit my worry into a hat. I started taking deep breaths whenever I’d start a row, letting my thoughts be whatever they naturally were, but not panicking about them. Honestly, it’s the only way I made it past the brim.

Whenever I worked on it, I thought about what the cap represented. What it meant. And instead of this being a negative thing, it turned out to be very important for me. It slowed me down enough to let me process what was happening on my own time and in my own way.hand knit chemotherapy cap

I ripped back even the smallest error and corrected it. I spent several weeks picking it up and putting it down. Acceptance of the situation – and I mean a true, deep acceptance – took time and more than a few false starts. That’s okay. It’s all a part of the process.*

*ack, I sound like my therapist.

By the time it was finished, I decided the hat was probably more a gift for me than for my Mum, who wears it to humour me, but prefers her collection of peaked hats. Or just going about bald (to be fair, she’s a very attractive bald lady. Seriously. She has, like, a perfect head). But making it let me process everything, as well as feel like I was helping out at a time when there wasn’t much to do.

After weeks and weeks chemotherapy, which she handled well, came surgery. Just a week post-surgery she agreed to model her hat for me.

Knit chemotherapy cap

(she’d probably like me to mention at this point that she’s not actually that large around the middle, but that she still has post-surgery tubing under her shirt. I tried to crop out most of it Mum, I swear!)

Adversity can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. It’s certainly brought out the best in her friends and family, all of whom have been incredibly loving and supportive. It brought out the best in my yarn friends who checked in on me, and in my bosses who graciously covered for me so that I could spend a few weeks at home with her. There is still a bit of a road ahead. However. If there ever was a person more capable of beating this than my mother, I’ve yet to meet them. I’m in awe and very proud of her.

“When you’re going through Hell, keep going!”

Good luck with the second half of your journey, Mum.

I love you.

Nicole

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Is it a shawl? Is it a cowl? Is it a… poncho?

Whatever it is, my newest pattern is now up on Ravelry!

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Devil’s Backbone is now available on Ravelry as a free download until July 10th. This one skein project was originally conceived back in December as a way to show off the subtle colour shifts in Lichen and Lace’s “lichen” colour way. I love the shifting yellow/greens and wanted to make something lace-ish that appeared complicated, but was actually a fairly straight forward knit. After a lot of false starts and bouts of perfectionism, I had a growing zig zag pattern that could be knit for long periods without consulting the pattern.

Not that, as a pattern designer, I recommend FORGETTING about the pattern. Even if I’m guilty of that a fair bit myself…

This was the first project to make me fall in love with Lichen and Lace, and single ply merino in particular. It’s so soft! And it blossoms so nicely after washing. I’d go on to make a whole sweater out of it after this (if you follow me on instagram…hint hint…pictures of it are already up!)

But back to this pattern – who’s name I should add is inspired by the PLANT devil’s backbone, not any…skeletal demon thing. Though that would be cool! Maybe as a hallowe’en shawl! Oooooh, I better get my notebook…

I’m off track again. Here, think fast, picture!

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I owe a debt of gratitude to Julia for the pictures, and for spending an afternoon in a SUPER WINDY (and garbage strewn) park to get these shots. Thanks darling! We had lots of fun, but as you can tell from my hair in this shot…WINDY.

(When it’s windy I recommend a light shawl. Such as this one. See that, subtle.)

I played serious yarn chicken with this one, so the pattern does have a few early exits if you find yourself running low on yarn. Or get two skeins of fingering weight and make it extra huge, the pattern is in your hands now. Have fun!

 

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Spring means handknit skirts!

Knitting skirts (or pants, more on that later…)  is a strange business. Handknit fabric usually doesn’t stand up well to the type of wear we put on our skirts and comes with a high risk of sagging in a rather…unflattering way.

Enter: The Lanesplitter Skirt by Tina Whitmore.

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It’s also now warm enough for impromptu photography on the balcony. Hurrah! 

Alternating between two balls of Noro Kureyon gives a pretty wild look, that adds a heavy dose of colour to my otherwise very neutral wardrobe.

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All my favourite colours in one skirt. Yes, please.

I went down a needle size and used a 50/50 wool/acrylic blend to create a small waistband at the top. The 2×2 ribbing  is stretchy enough that there was no need for an elastic band to hold it in place. I’ve worn this skirt from morning until night, and it doesn’t shift or ride up – for which I’m very grateful! It was deliberately made as a high waisted mini-skirt and I only ended up using three balls of Noro for a 27″ waist.

The Lanesplitter skirt is knit on the bias as one large rectangle, which is then seamed at the end. Because of this structure it doesn’t sag very easily, if at all. There are many variations on the pattern that allow for seamless construction, but I kind of like the seam look. Adds to the effect, in my opinion. Plus it makes this pattern a dead simple knit.

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Typically I fashion it with my shirt OVER the waistband instead of tucked in.

The only really downside to this skirt is that it must be worn with leggings, for both length and texture reasons. I find the yarn too rough to wear directly against my skin, so tights or leggings are a must. I decided that since it was always going to be worn over something, I could get away with knitting a shorter length which was more flattering and I don’t have to worry about it being more revealing than I’d like.

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A new wardrobe staple.

If you’re nervous about making a knit skirt, I definitely recommend this pattern. It was done as the winter KAL (knit-along) at my local yarn shop, Yarns Untangled. I got to see it in person on all shapes and sizes and it’s flattering on absolutely everyone! You can go in for bright colourways, or more neutral shades and it’s still gorgeous.

Until next time, happy knitting everyone!

 

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New: Ffrench Twists

Ffrench Twists is a bulky weight hat inspired by the work of natural dyer Caitlin Ffrench. The pattern is knit in the round and the texture from the twisted stitches make it nice for showcasing variegated yarns. Top it off with a floppy pom-pom and you are good to go!

Ffrench Twists

Ffrench Twists is available on Ravelry and on my pattern page for $3.00 CAD. Happy Stitching!

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FO: Zauberball Socks

Technically it’s November 1st, but I think it still counts as a Socktober win. One pair of plain vanilla socks in Schoppel-Wolle’s Crazy Zauberball!  

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The yarn is so interesting by itself that I didn’t want to add a stitch pattern into the mix. The colours don’t repeat, so I have fraternal socks instead of identical twins.

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They’re soft even before blocking, so I have a feeling these ones are going to be worn a lot. The fact that they’re a combo of my favourite colours doesn’t hurt either.

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The next sock mission? Two at a time socks! Now I just need the right yarn…

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New Pattern! Double Quick Infinity Scarf

This pattern started almost a month ago when my friend Amin wanted a “circular scarf.”

“What kind of scarf?” I’d asked.

“Ruby pink and make the knitting go sideways.”

Sounded good to me. I bugged him with loads more questions about dimensions and fibre, and sketched out some concept. I scoured the net and some local shops for the right colour – finally landing on Knitpicks Wool of the Andes Rouge. Even though my concept was fairly simple, somehow I ended up spending almost as much time finding the gauge I wanted as actually making it! I do like the result though: simple, sophisticated, and very wearable. Best of all, Amin thinks so, too.

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He kindly agreed to model it for me. Because it’s a tube grafted to itself the fabric is twice as thick, with a pocket for air, making it very warm. As winter is just around the corner, that’s exactly what we need.

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The Double Quick Infinity Scarf is now available for free on Ravelry as well as on my Patterns Page. Happy Knitting!

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Knitting A Sock Is Not Like Riding A Bicycle

If you haven’t done it in five years, it’s probably best look up some instructions. I needed a travel project so I cast on a pair of socks using this awesome German yarn by Schoppel-Wolle called Crazy Zauberball, which translates literally to “Crazy Magic Ball.” It’s two ply and each strand changes colour periodically. I know. I know. I’m over the moon.

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So over the moon in fact, that I was halfway down the cuff before I thought to myself:

“I have absolutely no idea what the next step is. At all.”

Fortunately the internet is full of basic sock tutorials (some good, some appallingly terrible. I could practically feel Kate Atherley facepalming at a few websites that do not deserve a single bit of traffic from me.) Away from home it was HGTV, of all places, that reminded me how to do a heel flap. I do love a good sturdy slipped stitch heel. Once I was back at home I had time to consult the expert herself:

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Custom Socks to Fit Your Feet by Kate Atherley

This book is GOLD. Every technique you could want, tips, patterns, math (the math is the best part for me, as usual), EVERYTHING. I may never pick up another sock book again, because I might never need to. Please don’t ask me about this book in public because I will gush to an embarrassing degree about it. It’s a book I can point to and say: I wish one day to write a resource for knitters that is as amazing as this.

You know, it also reminded me how to turn a heel properly and I’m grateful for that, too.

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There is something about the three-dimensional magic of a well executed sock heel that cannot be captured by a two-dimensional picture on my instagram, not matter which filter I use. I may be too sick to get out of bed, but darn it, I can make a sock.

See what I did there?

I’ll show myself out.

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