Sunday, May 29, 2011


Thank goodness for a few days off. This morning I finished all of the Waltham pieces and blocked them, too. I'm hopeful I can start seaming tonight and plow through the button band and shawl collar before the Barton KAL starts Wednesday. I know. I'm too ambitious, but a girl can dream, can't she?

I can finally show you something else I finished: the logo for the Arkansas Fiber Festival Extravaganza. Remember how I got paid with Bijou Bliss for a graphic design job? This is it! I worked closely with Anne Bean and her team and this is the result. I hope the logo helps to make the Extravaganza a tremendous success.

I'm very happy to have the Bijou Bliss because I'm going to use it for the Barton. I love the color, made even more spectacular because it comes from the dye vats of Lorna's Laces.

Don't forget to qualify for the free Chevron Collection e-book giveaway! Leave a memory of a miliary service member or veteran - click here to learn more. I am so grateful to those who have already left their loving stories. If you have a chance, read the comments; every family has a story. Or not.  Raylene, a Mennonite whose family doesn't participate in military service for religious reasons, shared the name of her friend, Andrew, who is active duty. Many non-Americans have left memories; thank you for participating, too. We can all hold brave women and men in our hearts this weekend, regardless of our country of origin.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day contest - free e-book giveaway

Just in time for Memorial Day comes the release of The Chevron Collection, a beautiful e-book that explores "different ways to make a Chevron shape -- with lace, with cables, and with placed increases and decreases that make the fabric itself shaped with chevrons." Miriam L. Felton designed the six beautiful patterns that come in this book -- and she's graciously offered me a free copy of this e-book to give to one lucky winner!

My favorite pattern in the collection is the Rivel Cardigan, which comes in sizes up to 56 inches. Miriam's design includes fascinating shaping. Unlike virtually every other pattern, it is not symmetrical from front to back. The front pieces include additional room for the bust but are narrower through the hips, and the back piece is narrower through the upper back and waist and wider to accommodate the derriere. This girl is singing my song! Here's what she has to say about it: "With front and back pieces shaped to fit a woman’s figure, this high-waisted, feminine cardigan makes a great addition to any wardrobe. Knit it in a smooth wool for a more refined style, or a tweedy yarn for a more relaxed feel."

The e-book also features the Furrows Cowl, Furrows Shawl, Gully Socks, Rill Scarf, and Tributary Gloves, all gorgeous designs knitted in luxurious gray yarns with different chevron motifs.
So how do you get your hands on this wonder to behold? The Chevron Collection is available for download on Ravelry. Or you can enter for the free giveaway!

Frank C. Gage, PFC
For the contest, let's fully celebrate Memorial Day in the spirit in which it was created. To qualify for this free giveaway, leave a comment with the name of someone who served in the military whom you would hold in your heart this weekend.

I will start. I remember my grandfather, Frank C. Gage, Private First Class, 53rd Artillery CAC. He served in World War I and lived in northeastern Indiana his entire life. I never knew him; he died when my mother was a child. But I remember him regardless and thank him for his service to my country.

Now let's hear about who you remember. No worry if you don't know his or her unit. Just let us remember your loved one with you this weekend. Enter a comment below - and be registered for the give-away, too.

And on Monday, I'll pick someone at random and announce the winner.

Happy Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fixing fiascos - again!

With two new KALs starting June 1, I'm sprinting towards the finish line with my Waltham. I've been mindlessly knitting away, watching the final front slowly grow to the armhole bindoff. When I was an inch away from casting off a bunch of armhole stitches and thereby significantly speeding up the knitting, I compared the completed right front with the in-process left one. ACKKKK! I discovered that I'd done an extra twist on the very first cable after the cast-on.

Just go ahead and shoot me. :-(

I'm becoming quite the queen of fixing fiascos, at least from a knitting perspective. You may remember that I performed extensive sweater surgery to resize and redeem the garment I made the beloved boyfriend for Christmas. Disaster-struck again, I whipped out my scalpel and went back to the operating room.

I started by running a life line. I selected the row beneath what would now be the first cable twist.  I threaded a bent-tip tapestry needle with contrasting red yarn and painstakingly picked up the left leg of every stitch. Then I used a long circular needle to thread all the life line stitches onto the needle.

Then came the scary part. Using a pair of sharp scissors, I cut off the initial cast-on row and carefully pulled out the extraneous cut-up yarn up to the needle. I ensured that every single stitch was on the needle and then pulled out the life line. Finally, I joined an extra skein and bound off the row. Cable removed, no stitches dropped, fiasco averted!

I'm getting to be quite the sweater surgeon. But what I really  need is to knit the damn thing correctly to begin with! My goals: pay better attention, check my work regularly, use stitch markers and row counters, and stop knitting so late into the night when I'm completely exhausted and tend to screw up my knitting. But it is nice to know that I can get myself out of trouble when necessary.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mary Maxim marvels

Over the weekend, I came across the following in Veronik Avery's Knitting Classic Style (great book, btw):
In the 1950s, the Mary Maxim company made a big splash in Canada with brightly colored sweaters based on the work of the Salish Indians from the Cowichan Reservation on Vancouver Island. The Cowichan began making sweaters before World War I; their trademark garment was a heavy, shawl-collared cardigan featuring graphed geometric, floral, and pictoral motifs in two-color stranded knitting and naturally colored yarn.

Mary Maxim sweaters, which featured similar pictoral motifs - horses, geese, bison, hockey players - knit in intarsia and heavy yarns, were so popular that almost everyone had one, or wished they did. They were even donned by the rich and famous, from visiting comedian Bob Hope to Princess Anne and the prime minister of Canada. Vintage Mary Maxim sweaters still show up periodically on eBay.
Intriguing! I dug around the web and came up with these examples of Mary Maxim cardigans. Aren't they fun?

There are lots of Mary Maxim patterns available on eBay. Wonder if anyone ever made a Mary Maxim knitting sweater? Now that's a cardigan I'd love to have!

Woo hoo! A new ample knitting book in the works

Thanks to my first and most devoted reader teresa_anawim, I've been chatting with top-down knitwear designer extraordinare Deb Gemmel about plus-size knitting in general - and her upcoming plus-size knitting book in particular!

Deb is perhaps better known as one of the sisters behind Cabin Fever, a company dedicated to creating top-down sweaters that reduce the need for hand seaming. Deb and her sister, Lynne have published a variety of knitting books, including the famous Button Up Your Top Down.

Cabin Fever already sells a variety of plus-size patterns, but Deb announced on her blog today that she is working on a book of top-down, V-neck, plus-size designs:

...I am going to start working on a plus-sized book next. I'm very excited about this project. A book will give me a chance to incorporate all the techniques I've worked on and read about, to make the 'fit' correct. Upsizing this pattern will get me started. I went out today and bought Knitting Plus and is it packed with info! Wonderful stuff. I have also had an email chat with Julie from Knitting At Large blog who is an amazing resource on sizing for ample women. She gave me some excellent advice which I will follow to the T. At the moment writing the pattern involves my calculator, pencil and a BIG eraser. I even had to go and buy a new calculator, I'm a happy camper.
Deb is noodling over how to make sweater that REALLY fit us (rather than big green trash bags with holes for your neck and arms - I know you know all about those).

She's designing raglan patterns that do more than just kinda-sorta fit. It's one thing to make a raglan from a generic formula; it's quite another to make one that  hangs correctly from our shoulders and looks fabulous, too. I can't wait to see what she comes up with.

Although Deb contemplated this book for a while, we learned of her plans when teresa_anawim asked Deb about upsizing the cute A-Line Cardigan #624. Deb originally created this for tweens and then upsized it for adults. She's now working on providing the sweater in extended sizes. It's a great sweater that will flatter most figures - including mine! I'm looking forward to making it one of these days.

I'm going to make my very first raglan ever during the Banstead kal. I'm entering a whole new galaxy and I can't wait to learn all the ins and outs of top-down raglans.

God bless Deb and all the other designers who support ample knitters. Save your pennies, girls. We all need to buy this book as soon as it's published!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adjusting sleeve widths on the Banstead

In the run-up to the Banstead Lystra KALs, some folks making the Banstead have discovered that the following the pattern results in gigantic sleeves, especially in the larger sizes. This post explains why the sleeves are not optimally sized and gives instructions on how to modify the sleeves for a more realistic and flattering fit.

Let's start with the schematic - which is always where you should begin when considering fit issues.

This pattern comes in sizes from 42 to 66 inches - a very wide size range. That's the good news. The bad news: although the pattern designed for a 42-inch finished bust size has sleeve widths that work perfectly, when the pattern is graded up to the largest sizes, the lower sleeves become too large. Why? Because an ample women's upper arms get larger as she gets larger -  but her lower arms do not.

So what works at the smallest size does not when when you get to the largest size, because what we really need is an upper sleeve that's 20.5 inches and a lower sleeve that's still 15 inches. As we get fat, our entire arm doesn't get fat - the bicep grows (or the fat around the bicep anyway) a lot and the lower arm expands just a little..

So, to correct the problem, we need to cast on for 15 inches and then add increases to expand gradually to the larger upper sleeve measurement. I present suggested modifications for each size below. Note that if you have particularly large lower arms, you may not need to make these modifications. Do what's right for your particular form. As I always say, your mileage may vary.

Size 42 - 15-inch upper arm
No changes - knit according to pattern

Size 46 - 17.5-inch upper arm
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St.
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 14th row 5 times.
  • Total stitches: 70
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row. 
Size 50 - 18.5-inch upper arm
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St.
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 10th row 7 times.
  • Total stithces: 74
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row.
Size 54 - 19-inch upper arm.
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St.
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 8th row 5 times.
  • Then increase 1 st each side every 10th row 3 times.
  • Total stitches: 76
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row.
Size 58 - 19.5-inch upper arm
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St.
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 6th row 1 time.
  • Then increase 1 st each side every 8th row 8 times.
  • Total stitches: 78
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row.
Size 62 - 20-inch upper arm
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St. 
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 6th row 5 times.
  • Then increase 1 st each side every 8th row 5 times.
  • Total stitches: 80 
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row.
 Size 66 - 20.5-inch upper arm
  • Beg with purl (WS) row, work in St St.
  • On next row (RS), inc 1 st each side every 6th row 9 times.
  • Then increase 1 st each side every 8th row 2 times.
  • Total stitches: 82
  • Work in St St until piece measures 12" from CO for all sizes. End with a WS row.
I hope this helps the Banstead intrepid knitters. BTW, the Lystra does not have this issue because the sleeves are already tapered, so Lystra knitters need not worry about this Banstead-specific problem.

Oh! And let me give credit where credit is due. I figured out all the increases using the fabu iPad Touch and Go Knitting app. Get your copy now through iTunes - only $5.99!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another stash sale

Still on a yarn diet so I'm selling off some more yarn. This means great deals for you! First come, first served. Shipping is whatever it actually costs to send the yarn to you - no markup or handling charges (I hate that crap). Paypal accepted. Email me to make a purchase. And thanks!


$40 plus shipping
1,500 yards
Used a little of one skein to swatch but yarn rewound ball
Details here

$30 plus actual shipping
2624 yards
Details here

$9 plus actual shipping
282 yards
Details here


1534 yards
$75 plus actual shipping
Details here

$65 plus actual shipping
2580 yards
Details here

$15 plus actual shipping
528 yards
Details here

$70 plus actual shipping
1568 yards
 Details here

$16 plus actual shipping
676 yards
Details here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Waistline placement for larger sizes

Much beloved by ample women everywhere, empire waistlines give the appearance of a waistline when one may not be apparent. The designs also eliminate extraneous baggy fabric around the bust and waist which automatically gives a better fit and a more hourglass appearance. For many women, their underbust measurement is the narrowest part of their body as well.

That's the good news about empire garments. The bad news is that most larger-sized empire sweaters are often upsized versions of "standard-sized" garments that increase the length and width of the sweater - but don't move the waistline.

A perfect example is Hey Teach, designed by Hélène Rush and published in the Knitty. This free pattern, much beloved and made by more than 2000 people on Ravelry, features a lace bodice and stockinette skirt.

It's a cute design. But Hey Teach has a real fit problem for larger women: the bodice below the armholes is always exactly the same length regardless of the size, and the length from the waist to the hem doesn't change either.

Take a look at the schematic and you'll see what I mean. The pattern calls for a different armhole depth depending on size. But the area beneath the armhole does not vary whether you're making the 32.5-inch size or the 55-inch size.

And why is an issue? Because at the smaller sizes, the ribbing beneath the lace panel falls a little beneath the bustline and just slightly above the waist, as shown in the pattern's sample sweater.

However, on an ample woman, that bodice ends smack dab at the nipple line and the hemline ends in the middle of the stomach. The photo below shows what I'm talking about. Unmodified, Hey Teach's bodice ends below the bust of the thinner woman and across the bust of the larger one. Similarly, the hemline hits the smaller woman at the hip and the larger woman at her belly.

This doesn't mean that larger women shouldn't make Hey Teach or similar designs. It just means that mods will lead to a better fit. If I were going to make this, I'd measure to figure out exactly where the empire waist should begin, making sure that the ribbing hit a couple of inches below my bust. 

Hey Teach is knit from the bottom up for eight inches. Then you knit about 1.5 inches of ribbing and switch to the lace pattern. The pattern tells you to knit until the piece measures 13 inches and then start the sleeve shaping. If I were making this sweater, I'd lengthen the stockinette portion of the skirt by an inch or two, add the ribbing, and  then knit the lace section until it was deep enough to cover the space between my armhole and empire waist - about nine or ten inches instead of the four inches called for in the pattern. Mind you, this is for my body - your mileage will vary.

These considerations apply to empire waists that are designed to fall below the bustline. Some sweaters are designed for that line to hit at the nipple line, such as Marly Bird's Sweetheart Tunic.

And some, like the ubiquitous February Lady Sweater, are designed to hit above the bustline.

Regardless, the moral of this story is: when you make an empire sweater, make sure you figure out exactly where the waistline should hit on your body and modify the sweater accordingly. You'll get a much better, more becoming fit if you do. Ensure that your sweater fits your body as the designer originally intended - even if they don't provide you with the specific directions to do so.

A new and improved KAL

This week, I started a new KAL for less experienced knitters who aren't quite ready to tackle complicated sweaters like the Waltham or the Barton. This KAL is also designed for knitters who want to learn more about making sweater mods for a  better fit.

We'll be knitting either Banstead or Lystra, both from Knitting Plus and designed by Lisa Shroyer. The Banstead also appears in the summer 2011 edition of Interweave Knits. These two classic sweaters give you the choice of making either a raglan or set-in sleeve style. You pick!

The Banstead comes in finished bust sizes up to 66 inches and uses a worsted weight yarn with a four-stitches-per-inch gauge.

The Lystra comes in finished bust sizes up to 58.5 inches and uses a dk weight yarn with 5.5 stitches per inch.

We're doing this as one big group, so if you're interested in knitting either or both of these beautiful sweaters, sign up for the Banstead Lystra KAL group on Ravelry.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Some thoughts about yarn substitution

I've been getting lots of questions about yarn substitution lately, especially with the advent of the Barton KAL and a new Banfield KAL I'm planning for less experienced knitters or for those who would like to focus on learning fit techniques.

Yarn substitution is a quirky quandry. As we all know, there are six different yarn weights:

Yarn Weight1: Super Fine2: Fine3: Light4: Medium5: Bulky6: Super Bulky
Yarns in CategoryBaby, Fingering, SockBaby, SportDK, Light, WorstedAfghan, Aran, WorstedChunky, Craft, RugBulky, Roving
Needle Size (US)1-33-55-77-99-1111 and up
Average stitches per 4 inches27-3223-2621-2416-2012-156-11

The problem is that not all worsteds, for example, are alike. Nor are any other yarn weights consistent across all manufacturers and brands of yarn. So the first lesson is knowing that just because a skein wrapper says worsted doesn't mean it is interchangable with every other worsted.

This issue really played out looking for substitution yarns for the Barton. Most knitters couldn't afford the $400 to $600 price tag for the Bijou Basin Bliss, a yak/cormo wool blend sport weight used to make the sample garment. Marly Bird, the designer, emphasized that knitters should avoid plant-based yarns (cotton, linen, silk, etc.) and instead use animal-based fibers like wool. She also warned against using softer animal fibers such as merino and alpaca because they wouldn't hold the sweater's shape well.

The search ensued for a suitable alternative sport weight. I compared the yardage per gram between several sport weight yarns. The specified Bijou Basin Bliss weighs in as follows: 150 yards per 56-gram skein. So, the average yardage per skein is 150 yards divided by 56 grams equals 2.67 yards per gram.

Then we looked at sport weight yarns, all of which are 100% wool.
Classic Elite Portland TweedKnit Picks WOTA SportReynolds WhiskeySt. Denis NordiqueCascade 220 SportBijou Basin Bliss
Skein in grams505050505056
Average Yardage per Skein2.42.743.

Optimally, you'd want a yarn that's very close to the 2.67 average yardage per gram of the Bijou Basic Bliss. This would ensure that you're knitting your sweater in the same weight as the one shown in the pattern.  Here's the start of my swatch using the prescribed yarn.

Now look at the Reynolds Whiskey. It's 46% lighter than the Bliss, so I'd worry that this yarn wouldn't work, but I've seen a beauteous swatch created by Pam. She was able to make gauge with the Whiskey - and that's the most important goal. If you can get gauge and you like the resulting fabric, you're golden. This yarn will result in a lighter, less dense cardigan than the original.

On the heftier side is Classic Elite Portland Tweed, which is 11% heavier than the Bijou Basin Bliss. This yarn will yield a bulkier version of the cardigan. This pretty swatch was knitted by Liz.

Now let's look at the Banstead, which is knitted in Blue Sky Alpaca Suri Merino, a soft, haloed, worted alpaca/merino blend. Lyn, who is allergic to animal fiber, wanted to knit the Banstead with Berroco Mica, a slippery, shiny linen/cotton/silk/nylon DK weight yarn. Let's compare the average yardage per gram. The Alpaca Suri Merino weighs in at 1.64 yards per gram; the Mica gives 2.7 yards per gram - a 35% lighter yarn. But the fibers are different weights, right? Lyn swatched - and hated the result so she's off to the LYS today to find something else.

So what are the questions you should ask when you swatch with a replacement yarn?
  • To make gauge, will the garment lose it's shape if it's knitted loosely? (Cotton sweaters routinely lose their shape.)
  • Will there be big gaps between the stitches so you can see her undergarments underneath?
  • Do you like the way fabric and the way it would hang on the body?
Knitter beware! Yarn substitution isn’t an easy process but if you get it right, you’ll end up with a beautiful sweater that fits in the fiber of  your choice.

To learn more about yarn substitution, check out these resources:

Knitty's A Field Guide to Yarn Substitutions
Knitting Daily Gauge and Yarn Substitution
A Guide to Yarn Substitution