cedarwood
If you know one thing about Knit Purl, it’s probably that we love Shibui Knits, and if you know one thing about Shibui, it’s probably that they love combining yarns to create exciting new fabrics. From the opulent medley of silks in Mix No. 9 to the intriguingly plush yet crisp Mix No. 28, their blends inspire us to be creative when selecting materials for a project. In our latest newsletter, we took advantage of Shibui’s highly mixable yarns to develop two new takes on Alicia Plummer’s Cedarwood cardigan.

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When combining Shibui yarns, it’s common to choose two different yarns in matching colors. After several years of observing swatches, projects, and trunk shows, I’ve realized my favorite mixes feature yarns that are close in color but distinct enough to give the finished piece visual texture and depth. Sometimes, as with our Baby Alpaca + Pebble Cedarwood suggestion, this can be accomplished simply through choice of yarn. While Baby Alpaca is solid in color, Pebble’s trio of fibers lend tiny, playful flecks, echoing the tweedy look of the original Shelter in a soft and swingy fabric.

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Other combinations require slightly more experimentation. For our Cedarwood sample worked in Maai + Silk Cloud, we first tried using Caffeine in both yarns. While the resulting swatch was plush and bouncy—everything you’d want in a cozy cardigan—I didn’t feel the fabric was enhanced by the play of pale silk against darker mohair, alpaca, and wool. To my eye, one of the most beautiful ways you can use Shibui yarn is to match the silk of Silk Cloud to the color of a thicker yarn, allowing the darker mohair halo to accentuate your fabric’s shadows. You can test the effect by wrapping a strand of Maai in Tar, for example, around a strand of Silk Cloud in Abyss. In the end, we took this approach with Cedarwood, pairing Maai in Ash with the slightly darker, slightly greener Fog in Silk Cloud. The finished fabric has an almost metallic appeal, with the two subtly different grays shimmering across its surface. The textured band stands out as if it had been shaded with a graphite pencil. It’s a sweater that looks like a work of art and feels as comforting as a hug. I highly recommend you treat yourself to a kit!

Do you have a favorite way to combine Shibui yarns?

swatch

Swatching, it could be argued, is perhaps the most important task in the knitting process. A swatch tells you everything you need to know about whatever you’re hoping the yarn you’ve chosen will become: how it will wash, how it will wear, and what gauge measurements you have relative to your pattern. It allows you to experience your choice of yarn and needle, and make alterations before you’re elbow deep in thousands of stitches. Why then does it feel like such a chore to knit those squares?

Instead of approaching swatching as busy work that comes before the knitting, I’m trying to think of my swatches more as an entirely different project—just as important and relevant as what I’ll be making after they’re complete. To gain some insight into the mind of those who swatch, I chatted briefly with Sandy Barnes, Shibui Knits’ self-pronounced Lover of Swatches.

Sandy began her love affair with swatches when she started working with Habu.

“I actually bought little cones, little quantities, of Habu yarns. I would keep them in a box and just get them out to see all of the different fabrics I could make. They were a separate craft project in and of themselves—I never knit anything big with them, I never made anything. I was just swatching to play with the fabrics,” she explained.

Swatching, for Sandy, is all about playing with fabric. When she began to think about the finished swatches as potential fabrics for her garments, the act of swatching became about the excitement of the yarn, combined with the act of choosing fabric (instead of constantly worrying about matching gauge.) Through teaching MIX parties, Sandy began to extend her love of swatching while sharing all the possibilities of Shibui with shops and other knitters.

“I had a seamstress in one of the MIX parties come up to me afterwards, and tell me that I had revolutionized the way she thought about swatches,” she recalled. “She told me that as a seamstress, she fell in love with the fabrics first, and they told her what they wanted to become. Now, her knitting has become that way for her. She falls in love with the fabrics first, all of the textures that can be created in knitted stitches. Afterwards, she finds the right pattern, or has fun matching a pattern she loves to the yarn.”

It’s so important to remember that simple detail when applying yarn to pattern, of course. Swatching an inch in simple stockinette isn’t enough. Swatch in pattern. Swatch in the round. Swatch using your increases and decreases for the pattern and see if you’d rather use different ones. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but don’t get lazy and hurry towards your project blindly.

“Swatching is all about needle size, and yarn choice, and how it will affect everything in the end. Try different yarns, think about what you want the finished piece to be. Yes, it might be a cardigan, but what kind of cardigan? Choosing the right yarn at the right gauge can transform any piece into something new.”

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After our extensive section on cable knitting, I thought about what other projects knitters worry about tackling. Lace, of course, was first and foremost in my mind. Delicate shawls, scarves, and even sweaters can become a dizzying prospect when you open the pattern to discover that it’s full of charts, abbreviations, symbols, tables, and more!

Many knitters throw up their hands and search out what is familiar and comfortable—written instructions. But working your way through repeats that read like gibberish is hardly the path to easy lace knitting. While some of you are sure to groan when I say it, a chart is always the answer.

Charts are essentially maps for your knitting. There are some simple rules for reading charts, and none of them are going to make your head spin, I promise!

Read the Legend

The legend, or key, of your chart behaves just like a map’s legend or key. Each symbol appearing on the chart represents a single action that may or may not include multiple stitches. Unlike cable charts (where the action shows how many stitches it occupies), a lace chart often combines several stitches into one square or symbol. A good example of this is the sk2p stitch: slip one, knit 2, pass the slipped stitch over. This combination uses three stitches, but is often represented by this single symbol on the chart. I like to make notes next to complicated stitches so I know what they mean without having to flip back and forth to the abbreviations in the notes (which are often on a different page of the pattern).

lace chart use courtesy of Through the Loops

lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

Read as you Knit

In the US, we read our books left to right, but we knit right to left. Cable charts are read the way you knit—right to left—so don’t get confused by using them the other way around. Because they are a visual map of your stitches, this also makes it easier to see where mistakes are in your work (and move back to correct them).

Stuck on Repeats

Many charts feature a repeat inside of the chart, often designated by a colored outline, area, or box. Stitches that fall outside of this area aren’t repeated. It’s a good idea to always print your charts in color so that you can keep track of the differences, but if you have to print in black and white, use a highlighter to outline the repeated interval.

 

lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

Counting Rows

Keeping track of which row you’re on is important for maintaining a great lace project. Use highlighter tape, magnetic row counters, or a Post-it underneath the row you are working on to keep track.

Of course, there are so many other tips for lace, too. Just like with cables, lifelines, yarn choices, and pattern nuances contribute to your outcome. With lace, there’s also another important element—blocking! Stay tuned for a blog post coming up later in the month talking about why swatching (and blocking those swatches) helps determine the outcome of your projects.

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If you’re like me, the new year is full of promise in the knitting department. If you chose to make gifts last year for friends and family, it can feel like a breath of fresh air after the holidays are over. This is the perfect time of year to begin your slow knitting—knitting that focuses on the meditative craftsmanship of simply making.

While it might be tempting to throw a few simple, small projects on your needles for instant gratification, think instead about tackling something larger. New techniques, detailed lace, cables or textures, applied to grand scale garments are the best medicine for recovering from a season that often feels hurried, rushed, and materialistic.

Consider your fibers carefully. While binge-shopping clearance sales and end-of-year specials may tempt you, think instead about saving for a purchase that will bring you joy with every moment of construction and wear. Do your research start to finish—know the source of your wool, the yarn’s traits, and match it to the perfect pattern to showcase your work and time. Choose colors that can be worn with everything in your wardrobe. Slowly knitted garments are celebrations of time and craftsmanship. Don’t compromise on sub-par materials.

Above all, swatch. Celebrate the swatching and the act of it. Enjoy the feel of testing the new yarn on your favorite needles. Does your pattern call for a stockinette swatch, but feature an intricate lace? Practice that lace motif once through before starting, blocking and all. If things aren’t coming together, don’t despair, but see it instead as an opportunity to perfect the project through a better pattern choice. This is a process not meant to be done hastily.

When everything is aligned, when the yarn and pattern and needles and swatch are all singing to you, take a deep breath, and begin.

 

This is the third piece in our three-part series on cables! Read parts one (choosing the right yarn for cables) and two (cabling with or without a cable needle.)

I am all about cheats, tips, and tricks. Why work harder when you can work smarter? Your knitting should be no exception, especially when tackling cables. Here are some of my favorite tips for mastering cables and working your way towards gorgeous (and impressive) cabled fabrics.

KPChart

Charts are your friend, so embrace them when working with cables. Read from right to left (in the direction that you knit), cable charts at first glance can look like a mess of dashes, dots and loops. Be sure to keep your cable chart key handy—most patterns provide their own—and use highlighter tape, a magnetic guide strip, or a post-it flag to keep track of which row you’ve completed. I often make tally marks in the margins of cable charts to track repeats of each row. Don’t be afraid to blow up a chart larger if you’re having trouble following it. Simply increase the scale in the dialog box on your printer’s pop-up window to a larger one you’re comfortable with, and re-print that page.

While lifelines are often considered a lace knitting trick, they can come in handy for cable knitting too. I keep a bobbin of smooth cotton thread or baker’s twine in my knitting tool kit at all times so that I can be ready to thread in a lifeline at a moment’s notice! If your cable chart has a motif that you repeat every so many rows, this is a great way to keep track of your repeats, too.

KPCableBlue

Last but not least, the biggest tip I could possibly give you is perhaps the simplest: take your time. Cable projects aren’t meant to be speedy—don’t be afraid to work on them a little bit for a long while. Don’t expect them to be your late-night television knitting or the project you take with you on the bus (especially if they’re complex). Knit cables for the sake of cables, and be sure to enjoy every stitch!

 

From time to time, a customer will ask me to name my favorite yarn in the store, and I have to admit, I have a tendency to be fickle. One day it’s Får, the next it’s Pebble, closely followed by Swans Island Bulky. With so many amazing yarns to choose from, it’s rare that a frontrunner emerges. For the past several weeks, however, I’ve been able to answer without hesitation, because I’ve been working with Sunday Knits Eden.

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We had been searching for a good, basic sport-weight yarn, and I remembered what high praise Kate Davies had given Sunday Knits. We got a sample, and by the time I’d finished swatching, I was in love. Eden 3-ply is highly consistent in texture—perhaps not surprising when you consider the Italian mill that spins it has had nearly 400 years of practice. In addition, Carol Sunday, the woman behind the yarn, doesn’t believe in including knots in the skeins she sells. This is only one example of her high standards —she also ensures that her fiber is sourced from humanely treated animals.

In the skein, Eden appears fairly thin, and while generally classified as a sport-weight, it could certainly work as a fingering-weight. Once knit up on US 3, 4, or 5 needles and blocked, it blooms into a cohesive, exceptionally lightweight fabric with a velvety softness. The extra-fine merino has enough tooth to hold stitches in place, but I can’t detect a trace of prickle. These qualities make it an excellent candidate for colorwork, so it’s fortunate that Eden’s palette is gorgeous. From the perfectly pure Red to the softly heathered Twig, the colors have a rich, natural sophistication. I’ve already managed to collect about a third of them, and I’m not sure I could be more excited about my plans.

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Carol creates not only yarns, but patterns as well, and I’ve had my eye on her fringed stoles for years. When Knit Purl became one of 15 shops in the world where you can get your hands on Sunday Knits yarn, we made sure to order plenty of Sonoma Stole patterns. This pattern appeals to me on so many levels: I love wearing lightweight, crescent-shaped shawls, I love a pattern with only 6 stitches to cast on and zero ends to weave in, and I love playing with color. While the pattern photography features a stole knit with 17 different colors (available as a kit by special order), Carol encourages Sonoma Stole knitters to develop their own sequence of colorful stripes. I find a project most satisfying when I make it my own, so I took on the challenge.

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I created the Sunrise and Wildwood colorways featured in our kits by gathering every color of Eden on the table in front of me. I then picked a few favorite colors I knew I wanted to include and shuffled the yarn until I found pleasing combinations. The Sonoma Stole requires at least four skeins of Eden, but I’ve been working with eight colors for added depth. For my own stole, I was most drawn to colors in the blue-green range. I love the glowing gradient achieved by using neighbors on the color wheel, and I know I prefer to wear green rather than blue near my face. After mocking up possibilities in Adobe Illustrator, I arrived at my own custom stripe sequence, which I’m calling Aurora.

Aurora

I’m very ready for a sizable, cozy, colorful project for myself, and I plan to cast on any minute now! Judging from the large swatches I’ve already created, I have no doubt this stole will be a joy to knit and to wear. I invite you to follow my progress on Ravelry. My hope is that you might be inspired to try my new favorite yarn yourself.


loomKnit Purl now carries looms! After much research (we were definitely swayed by Knitty’s glowing review) we’ve started stocking 20″ Knitter’s Looms, made in New Zealand by Ashford. I have personally been fascinated with weaving ever since seeing a customer’s scarf created with hand-dyed yarns in my early days at Knit Purl. When I realized that Ravelry has a section full of woven projects, my fascination intensified ten-fold. Though I’ll always love the body-hugging stretch of knit fabric, I welcome the chance to create more stable woven fabric for items like bags, pillows, wraps, and placemats.

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Perhaps the greatest appeal of weaving for me, however, is the opportunity to play with color in a new way. Have you ever been besotted with a variegated yarn in the skein, only to watch it knit up into a blotchy mess? To my eyes, weaving blends and mellows wildly colorful yarns. When warp and weft are strikingly different colors, the fabric can be nearly iridescent. I’ve also seen amazing things done with slow striping yarns like Noro and with pooling warps, which align the colors in a yarn across the width of a piece. Best of all? None of these effects require a huge, complex loom—they’re all perfectly suited to a simple and portable rigid heddle loom like those at Knit Purl. If you’re curious how it all works, Ashford has a video covering the basics. Or come by the store and try our floor model yourself! We’re starting a scarf on our loom (and we’ll be sure to share the results). What will you make?

This is the second post in our series about cables! Be sure to read the first one here.

Success with cables can rely partially on your personal arsenal of techniques and tools. Cable needles, which help you cross the stitches over each other, are often bent or U-shaped to help manipulate the stitches. Choose a cable needle close to or larger than the needles used in your project, as this will help the stitches retain their size and your gauge look even throughout. You can also use a short straight DPN or a Lantern Moon cable needle (it has awesome ridges for keeping your stitches from slipping).

KPCable1Here, I’m using an aluminum, U-shaped cable needle. Cables are often designated in a pattern by a special abbreviation. Be sure to check out your pattern’s legend to see which cable abbreviations mean which. The cable I’m showing (knit here on Stonehedge Fiber Mill’s Shepherd’s Wool Worsted) is a simple crossed cable over four stitches, with a left lean. It might be abbreviated as C2F (cable two front). This means that you slip two stitches to the cable needle and hold the needle in front. Then you knit the next two stitches with your standard needle—then knit the stitches from the cable needle to make the cross.

KPCable2

KPCable3I usually prefer to cable without a cable needle, as I tend to find the addition of even a short double-point distracting and fiddly. This technique, originally popularized by this blog’s tutorial, is especially handy on smaller cables that cross one to four stitches. If you’re knitting larger cables, a cable needle is generally a better choice to keep you from dropping moving stitches.

To cable without a cable needle, you want to have sharp tipped needles, so that you can slide the stitches around easily. If your tips are too blunt you’re going to spend a lot of time poking at stitches, trying to get them back on the needle. (This is also relative to your yarn choice and the cables’ complexity. I am using a slightly blunter needle, but I’m also using a worsted weight yarn.) Here’s how to do a C2F cable without a cable needle:

KPCable4First, you’ll knit up to the cable. My cable is flanked by two purl stitches, so I moved the yarn to the back of the work to prep for the cable. Since typically the next two stitches would be held on the cable needle, just skip them, and knit the next two stitches.

KPCable5This is where it gets a little tricky. You need to move the stitches around to make the cross, using both needles. Using the left-hand needle, come in front to put both of the held stitches (the ones that have not been knit) onto the left needle.

KPCable6Then, gently slip the two stitches that are on the right-hand needle off, allowing the held stitches to properly align (giving them a little room). Put them back on so that you can now knit the two stitches on the left-hand needle, completing the cross:

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KPCable8

 

KPCable9For a C2B (cable two back), the process is similar, but the yarn indicates which stitches are held a little easier. You will skip the stitches like before, but keep the yarn in front. Knit the next two stitches as normal.

KPCable10Then, move your left-hand needle around to the back and pick up the two held stitches with the left-hand needle.

KPCable11Slide the right hand needle out of those stitches and the already-worked ones, then put the already-worked stitches back on the right hand needle.

KPCable12You can now knit the two unworked stitches on the left-hand needle as usual, completing the C2B cross.

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KPCable14While this might seem trickier at first, it saves you time when working large cable motifs like sweaters. You can follow along on your chart without needing extra tools for those smaller cables (like those featured on the front of the Brooklyn Tweed Crosby pullover!). Practice makes perfect, so if you find yourself needing extra help, check out some of these sources:

Knitting Help – Cables without a Cable Needle

Ysolda – Technique Thursday, Cables without a Cable Needle

 

 

The Exeter cardigan is a stunning example of cables!

The Exeter cardigan is a stunning example of cables!

Whether they’re found stalking the runways, adorning an actress, or climbing along the edge of a sock, cables seem to be everywhere season after season. Cable knitting, one of the most instantly recognizable and visually impressive techniques for knitters to learn, is much easier than it seems. If you’re able to follow a chart, count, and have a fairly good grip on your needles, you can do it. Especially armed with a few facts, tips, and tricks for easy cable execution.

Before we start talking about how to make cables, let’s talk about the why and how of these intertwined design elements. Believed to have developed somewhere around the 20th century in Ireland, cable knitting was a way to adorn sweaters with notes about the person wearing them. (See this interesting wikipedia entry for more notes on aran sweaters, a fascinating knitting history subject!) Originally, many of these sweaters were made in lanolized wools that would help keep out the cold and wet of the sea while fishing and trading. Now, you’ll see aran and cable patterns adorning garments of all sizes and varieties. That said, yarn choice is important to the overall look of your cable pattern. Here are some examples of how a yarn choice might influence your pattern.

KPCables

Alpaca and alpaca blends, like the swatch above knit in Shibui Maai, often blur or soften cables with the slightly raised fibers, making complex stitch patterns disappear in their halo. That said, alpaca naturally has a lot of drape, and Maai is a cabled yarn, which lends some definition that standard alpaca would not have and creates a lofty, luxurious fabric. Since cable-adorned fabrics do not easily stretch (due to the crossing-over of stitches used to form them), drapier fibers can rely on cables for structure.

In contrast, the other swatch is knit with Sincere Sheep Equity Fingering, a two-ply Rambouillet merino yarn. The extra ply and simple structure with this yarn, combined with the lack of halo, creates a rustic and bouncy cable that will help complex patterns shine.

Compare these two with the third pattern, knit in Stonehedge Fiber Mill’s Shepherd’s Wool, which shows off the cable in even, clear stitches. Smooth yarns like Shepherd’s Wool are wonderful for a variety of cable patterns, even the more complex ones.

Will your cables be soft and luxurious? Precise and exact? Or somewhere in between? Join us as we move through some notes, tips, and techniques about cables in this short blog series, next time tackling how to cable with — and without — a cable needle.

 

KPTut_SR_1There are so many methods for shaping knit fabrics, and designers seem to use them all! Short rows, perhaps one of the most common ways to create three-dimensional shape in a knitted fabric, are found in patterns for everything from hats to shawls to sweaters. While there are many methods for making short rows, perhaps the most frequently used is a method involving wrapped stitches that are then picked up later in the work.

“Wrap & turn” is a phrase that strikes fear into many a knitterly heart, but it doesn’t have to be! Understanding how short rows work and how to make them easily and effectively can help this multi-step process go more pleasantly, and we’re here to help with a quick tutorial. I cast on with some Shibui Staccato as the base color, and will be using some Shibui Pebble to illustrate how short rows create curves in fabric. First, I knit a few inches in simple stockinette stitch.

KPTut_SR_2Most short rows use a numbered spacing method—with the same or a similar number of stitches between each “gap” or pair of turned stitches. For my short rows, I will be grouping the stitches in pairs and working the short rows on only the wrong side of the fabric. First, I start by purling all of the stitches across until I only have three left on the left-hand needle. One will be my “wrapped” stitch, and the other two will not be worked.

KPTut_SR_3When purling, the yarn is in the front of the work. To wrap the stitch, I move the yarn to the back of the work, as if I was going to knit the next stitch:

KPTut_SR_4KPTut_SR_5But instead of knitting, I slip the next stitch (I slip purlwise, generally), and then turn the work completely around. This is the “turn” part of the wrap & turn—the wrap part occurs when you bring the yarn back to the back of the work to begin knitting the stitches. You’ll see the green strand of Pebble “wrapping” the Ivory Staccato, and you can see an example of the Staccato wrapping the Pebble below it.

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KPTut_SR_7The next part is easy. You see how in the image above, gaps and pairs start to form? These will help you figure out which stitches you’ve worked, even when using all one color (and not stripes, like in these pictures.) Keep mind of your gaps and pairs, and you’ll never get lost in short rows. You can even count them to determine how many wraps & turns you’ve performed:

KPTut_SR_8After you’ve worked all your short rows, it’s time to go back and pick up the wraps. You always pick up a wrap on the same side of the fabric that you were on when you made it. That means we’ll be picking up our wraps on the purl side.

Work the stitches until you come to your first wrapped stitch. You’ll see where it is because the “bump” surrounding the purl stitch will be slightly large, and if you lift that bump you’ll see that the stitch looks like it has two bumps stacked, like in the left stitch in this green wrap & turn pair (see how it is wrapped with Staccato?)

KPTut_SR_9Next, you’re going to pick up the wrap and work it! You do this by inserting the right-hand needle into the wrap:

KPTut_SR_10And then lifting it onto the left-hand needle, where you’ll purl it together with the original stitch!

KPTut_SR_11Do this all the way to the end of your row, and watch how the fabric forms a curved shape caused by the short rows.

KPTut_SR_12Sometimes wrap & turn short rows aren’t the prettiest choice for colorwork because they show the lifted stitches on the front; but in a solid fabric they’re quite invisible, especially after a few rows of fabric or an edging are added on.

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Ready to get going on some wraps & turns of your own? How about starting with Jet Stream, a pattern from Heidi Kirrmaier –  it would be lovely in Alpha B Sexy B! I’m partial to Teal Me, myself.