We’re really excited about our upcoming workshops with Julie Weisenberger and Takako Ueki. We asked Julie for a few words on the classes she teaches.
“My favorite class to teach is European Tips and Techniques. Everyone learns little tricks they didn’t know before and I love hearing the Ahhs and Ohhs as the class proceeds! Knitting should be fun and relaxing, and the results should be clean and professionallooking. What surprises many people is that often the best results are also the easiest! Much of what I share came from working with European knitters from the ready-to-wear industry where some things are done differently than in the hand-knitting world. Other techniques I have picked up or invented over the years.
“What Not to Knit is always a blast! We get people trying on tons of sweaters, so be sure to wear something basic as a base layer because we’ll get you stripped down and trying on! You might be surprised by sweater shapes you would not have thought to try!
“Seamless Construction is a three-part class. We cover a lot of ground, so whether you use all three concepts in your knitting, or even one or two of these ideas, it will expand your knitting.
“Can’t wait to get to Portland—Knit Purl customers are always fantastic!”
And here’s what a few of Julie’s former students had to say…
After a long winter, the temptation to simply stuff your winter wardrobe away and embrace the sunshine can be overwhelming, but when your favorite pieces are wooly hand-knits, a little extra care is needed while ‘summering’ them in the off-season. I’ll guide you through the steps for making sure your sweaters and accessories are instantly wearable when it’s time to pull them back out this fall.
I like to start by taking inventory. A lot of my sweaters use vintage buttons, so I begin the process by evaluating which buttons can go through the wash (and removing any that can’t, or are too loose and need to be re-sewn.) Any button with metal backing should be taken off, since it could tarnish, or, if it’s a button with a metallic flake coating, it could peel off when wet! Now is also a good time to weave in any ends that are poking out.
The next step is to wash your pieces in a gentle, warm-water bath with some wool wash. We love Eucalan at Knit Purl, and you can get it both scented and unscented (although the lavender scent is great since it can help repel moths!) Let your knits soak until the water is cool, then drain the tub and squish any excess water out. Take advantage of the sunshine outside and hang your knits on drying racks. I love to use these – they’re collapsible for easy storage and portability, and you can find them at almost any chain store.
After your knits are dry, get to removing any pet hair and pills that didn’t come out or off in the wash. I have a deep, abiding love for my Lilly SOS brush, which does both in one easy step. Plus it’s reusable, good for the environment, and unlike my sweater shaver, doesn’t bite into the fibers and damage all my hard work.
On to the final step! Stores that specialize in garment storage (Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ikea and The Container Store) often have sweater boxes available. They’re breathable and have a zipper or lid, and stack easily in closet space. I have to admit that most of the time, I simply wrap my knits in tissue paper (to keep them from rubbing against one another) and stack them in a rubbermaid tub. Pop in a few cedar blocks or lavender sachets if you’ll be storing in your unfinished attic or garage — nothing is worse than finding out your project fed an army of moths over the summer!
The natural world seems an endless source of inspiration–flora, fauna, and stunning landscapes can all contribute to creating a beautiful project, or, in the case of many yarn producers, result in a beautiful yarn. Some hand-dyers take this step further, actually using elements of the natural world to create unique colorways. Sincere Sheep’s Brooke Sinnes took a moment to chat with me about the magic of natural dyeing.
What got you started with using natural dyes?
Initially it was because my spinning teacher was a natural dyer, so a part of taking classes included learning how to dye your yarn and fibers. As time went on, I stuck with natural dyes even though they’re a bit more labor-intensive, because of a few different reasons. One, I just love the palette. Natural dyes result in a beautiful, wearable palette—the colors work well on most people, and combining color is easy since it all comes from the natural world.
I also really love the history behind natural dyeing—it’s this connection to our past, and speaks a lot to the tradition of adornment in various cultures. Creating color isn’t something that is taught a lot in school, but it’s a huge part of history! Many expeditions were based on the allocation of dyes and spices. Cochineal, one of the biggest exports for the Americas was second to silver and had this huge impact on fashion in Europe. Logwood, which creates these stunning grays and blacks, was used to dye the black suits shown in paintings from the 17th century — it’s from Belize. These dyes are important to the history of countries’ development, and you can find similar stories for countries all over the world.
As a modern-day dyer, I also like knowing that my business doesn’t just benefit me or a big chemical company, it benefits agriculture—farmers and dye suppliers based in other countries. I am very careful to work with companies that are conscientious in the trade process, too, so that I know that the harvesting and production is actually helping instead of hurting the environment and agricultural communities.
Speaking of environmental impact, there’s a common misconception that natural dyes can actually be harder on the environment than synthetics, since they use metals in the dyeing process. How accurate is this?
Most of the concern does surround the mordants, yes, but it’s more about individual health concerns that environmental ones. Mordant is a metal-salt, there are various options to choose from (chrome, copper, tin, iron). Different metals can result in different colors, sometimes too. The most commonly used mordant is alum, which is aluminum sulfate. You can buy it at the grocery store—people use it for pickling, and I also use food-grade alum for my dyeing. It’s not completely benign, but it isn’t a scary product, either—it’s moderately safe. Some people are using more harsh metals, but I mostly use alum, sometimes iron as a modifier (since it gets different colors). Copper, tin and chrome especially can be hard on the body, with lots of negative side effects, so it’s important for natural dyers to be judicious and careful. I wear a respirator, gloves, and re-use dye and mordant baths as much as possible to limit water usage (a big deal here in California). It’s also important to note that many synthetic dyes also contain metals and are a byproduct of oil.
In addition to alum, what materials do you use to create color on your yarns?
I predominantly use plant-based dyes, although I do have two insect-based dyes—cochineal and lac. These insects are scale insects, parasites that feed off of plants. Cochineal feeds on the Nopal cactus, and will kill the plant if not culled and harvested. Lac is from India and southeast Asia. Both produce beautiful shades of reds and purples. There aren’t many reds available to us as natural dyers, so these are very valuable.
I use madder root and osage for orange-red tones, and weld, a plant easily grown in a home garden, for this bright highlighter yellow. A lot of colors come from trees—Logwood, for dark purples and grays, Sustic, for yellows, and Quebracho, for a pink color. Indigo comes in several varieties and I use it for blues, greens, teals—you can get so many color combinations.
I’ve heard of people using beets and onion skins — do you use any food based dyes?
Not really—because they aren’t as light-fast as some of the other dyes available to us. Onion skins will give you a really pretty golden color, and it’s great if you want to experiment at home. Berries are popular but they’re stains, not dyes, and will fade or even turn brown after they’ve been on the fabric awhile. I try to use natural dyes that won’t fade, since customers have this thought that natural dyes don’t have good ‘staying’ power—but it’s simply not true. There are old tapestries, a good example is the Unicorn Tapestry made in 1500. Some of the yellows have faded but for the most part it’s still really beautiful, and it was dyed completely with natural dyes. They’re just as durable as synthetics as long as you take care of them!
Do you feel that working with natural dyes limits your options or guides colorways for you?
One thing that can be hard about natural dyeing is that you’re not working with pure pigments, so you aren’t just mixing red and blue and getting purple—a little more chemistry has to go into it. You can’t fight the chemistry aspect, especially with finicky dyes like indigo. Each plant has multiple colors in it already. People tend to think there’s a magic involved, and there kind of is—it’s not 100% science all the time though. A lot of it is patience and knowledge you build about the process over time. Year to year, even the most reliable colors can change due to growing season, drought, or even what’s in the water the plants consume. You definitely learn to be flexible.
What kind of setup do you have?
All my dyeing is done outside and my winding and prep station is in the side yard and garage. I have a lot of friends who are dyers and we are always amused at what we do with such small spaces—very few dyers are working out of anything bigger than the average garage. Occasionally someone has the most perfect space, and we all get jealous!
My new cowl pattern, debuting tomorrow, was inspired by a bagel chip. But let me back up. It’s now very clear to me why creative inspiration is often described as a spark. A new creation can burst forth in what seems like an instant. Looking back, you realize you’ve been collecting ideas—like kindling—for months.
I had been thinking about the ocean. On some level, I’m usually thinking about the ocean. After spending my twenties on the Pacific coast—Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Arcata, San Francisco—its rocky, foggy beaches feel like home. Not having a car, I spend nearly all my time within Portland’s city limits, but I can feel the ocean’s pull from here.
One thing Portland does have is a thriving foodie culture. I visited The Meadow for the first time this year. Their Fleur de Sel de Noirmoutier forced me to reconsider what I thought was a simple mineral. It also made my buttered toast twice as tasty.
Add to this Portland’s unusually snowy winter. In February, after a long, delightful day of exploring neighborhoods transformed by snow, my husband and I—both California kids—stood in our front yard and tried not to squeal as we watched perfect little crystals of ice land on our coat sleeves.
And then there’s the fact that I’ve now spent the better part of three years immersed in the colors and textures of Knit Purl, contemplating patterns like Encadré, Song of the Sea, 100 Diamonds, and Cold Mountain. The store needed a new lace pattern, and I took on the task, aiming for something inspired by nature, yet fresh and unexpected. I had glimmers of ideas, but nothing grabbed me, and I prepared for a long slog through possibilities.
It turned out all I needed was a snack. I found myself standing in my sunlit kitchen about to eat a bagel chip studded with salt. Not flecks of table salt—tiny hollow pyramids of sea salt. They filled me with visions of the coast, of the harvesting process, of those snowflakes on my sleeve, and of all the exquisite little forms coalescing and disintegrating around me. I knew I wanted to knit a delicate loop that would speak to these cycles, and I knew that elegant salt-like squares would form the basis of my design. As I worked out the details¹, I had the privilege of working with Hand Maiden to develop the perfect coastal color, on a yarn that contains seaweed, no less. The finished Sea Salt Cowl is light, cool, and shimmery, almost like a soft necklace. I sincerely hope you enjoy making it and wearing it as much as I enjoyed dreaming it up.
Nature’s microcosms provide a wealth of inspiration for stitch patterns. Simply looking at some of the tiniest plants and creatures in the natural world can spur the desire to translate these visual wonders into something we can wear and carry with us. Lichen, fungi and mosses provide interesting idea sources, their structures diverse and repetitive, much like stitches on a knitting needle.
When looking at lichens, my thoughts immediately look for something slightly tweedy, in a variety of rich green tones. Brooklyn Tweed’s Loft seemed like an ideal yarn to swatch with — the Sap colorway is the same bright yellow-green found in these lichens, photographed by Michiel Thomas. The woolen, rustic texture of this yarn also calls to mind the world in which these lichens are found. A damp forest with cool humidity is just the right place to wear something made in water-resistant, warm wool!
The stitch I chose is called “Eye of the Lynx” in the 1960s stitch dictionary I referenced. It’s a sort of eyelet faux-cable, worked on a base of garter stitch. This makes the finished texture pretty similar to a mossy forest floor, or the indents of the lichens. While I worked my swatch up without any sort of flanking stitch border, I think it would look really lovely with a bank of garter stitches on either side of the motif.
I could see this swatch leading to a truly beautiful scarf — perhaps with an ombre effect, fading from one of the tweedy Brooklyn Tweed tones to the next? Or maybe I would use a variety of different fingering-weight yarns to further reflect the texture mixture of these tiny growths. Whatever I choose, I can rest assured that it will remind me of mossy, tiny worlds whenever I wear it.
How to do this stitch: Eye of the Lynx (from the Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary of 900 Stitches & Patterns)
You will need a multiple of 8 + 6
Rows 1, 3 & 11: Purl
Rows 2, 10 & 12: Knit
Row 4: P5, *p1, sl2pwise, p5* p1
Row 5: K1, *k5, sl2pwise, k1* k5
Row 6: P5, *p1, sl2, p5*p1
Row 7: K1, *sl1, k1, psso, m1, k2tog, k1, sl2, k1* sl1, k1, psso, m1, k2tog, k1.
Row 8: P2, p into front and back of made stitch, p1 *p1, sl2pwise, p2, pfb into made stitch, p1* p1.
Row 9: K1 *k5, sl2, k1* k5
Row 13: K1 *k1, sl2, k5* k1, sl 2, k2
Row 14: P2, sl2, p1 *p5, sl 2, p1* p1
Row 15: K1 *k1, sl 2, k5* k1, sl 2, k2.
Row 16: P2, sl 2, p1 *p2tog, m1, p next stitch and put back on lh needle, pass next stitch on lh needle over st to the right, replace st on rh needle, p1, sl 2, p1* p1
Row 17: K1 *k1, sl 2, k 2, kfb of made stitch, k1* k1, sl 2, k2
Row 18: P2, sl 2, p1 *p5, sl 2, p1* p1
Welcome to our new feature, in which we share customer stories with the world at large. Our first customer interview is with Stacie Martin. Stacie, who is legally blind, also recently gave birth. At the time of this interview, she was 38 weeks pregnant.
KP: How did you learn to knit?
SH: My friend Seyong taught me. Back in the second trimester or so [of my pregnancy] I posted, “Hey! I want to learn how to knit or crochet” on Facebook and everybody offered free knitting tutorials. Currently I am working on an Aran-weight baby blanket, 159 stitches—it was supposed to be 160, but one was dropped along the way.
So, just about a little over a month ago I learned how to knit and I have been going steady ever since. Though I am in here often asking for help. You know, it’s terrifying when you come across a dropped stitch for the first couple times.
Can you tell us about your background in art?
Sure. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking from PSU in 2010. Took me about eight years to get there—but that’s because I started off in theoretical physics, string theory, membrane theory—think quantum mechanics. I’m originally from Bend, and I moved up here two years ago to finish my degree.
I am a professional artist here in town, I have a studio off of Broadway, in Old Town. I’m currently working on a tech-based series of mixed media pieces and a mobile. It’s a nod to my husband’s profession. He deals with the back end of websites, so I learned a little bit of Ruby script and incorporated it into the work.
What is your favorite place to treat yourself downtown?
It depends on my mood, If I am in a doughnut frame of mind, Blue Star. Tea Zone is also an excellent shop and their scones are true proper British Scones. Friends of mine and I were studying abroad in England and we pooled all of our money together for tea at a hoity-toity type of place and that’s why I became addicted to scones.
There is something beautiful and soothing about the simplicity of grayscale — the gradient of non-color that lives softly between the stark realms of black and white. Different levels of gray can invoke memories or moods. A bright, almost-white reminds me of skies promising pure snow, while a dark, rolling gray creates apprehension. Grays that lay between can comfort or calm, their non-abrasive nature creating a field of restful nothingness.
It is no wonder, perhaps, that there are so many different levels of gray used in artwork. Simple graphite pencil can yield an impressive variety, simply by the pressure put upon each stroke. A painter can create a vast array of monochromatic values by adding light or dark. It’s as if playing in grayscale is almost the same as playing with light itself. Jasper Johns, an accomplished collage artist and painter, recently featured an entire body of work at the MoMA titled Regrets/Jasper Johns. His expert use of grayscale is used to convey his emotional and physical responses to things he has used, through a variety of traditional and non-traditional art media. (You can read about the show here.)
In knitting, gray is a subtle and soft color through which stitch patterns and simple shapes can shine. By choosing your weight of yarn, in a way, you also choose your line weight — the visual weight of an object. Darker and heavier yarn create a sweater that has visual and physical structure (like this Form sweater and Shibui Merino Alpaca,) while a pale gray in fingering or lace weight yarn produce an airy, light layer (as seen in this Ridge pullover and Madelinetosh Prairie yarn.)
Perhaps the best part about grayscale knits is that they fit effortlessly into almost any wardrobe — and leave plenty of space for your skills and stitches to shine. Like an artist turns a humble pencil into a tool to create something beautiful, we do the same with yarns. Our advantage? The materials themselves are already works of art.
I never use metal needles! I never use bamboo needles! I never use circular needles!
This is the response I get from customers when I’m helping them find needles in the store. A preference to a certain style of needle is expected. They can be pricey, and not wanting to try new ones every project if you don’t have to is understandable. However, I have found over my many years of knitting that I base my needle choice on ease and enjoyment of the process, as well as getting a finished product that I love.
For me personally, I have chosen to solely use circular needles. They fit my style of knitting really well and I can use them for in-the-round or flat projects. But fiber is the biggest influence on what needles I choose.
Wool and Cotton — When I knit wool or cotton I always grab my Addi Turbos. Wool tends to stick to bamboo needles, as does cotton. That keeps my speed down and affects having an even gauge. I want to knit fast and consistently, so bamboo on wool is a no for me. The same is true for lace needles. Even though they are more slick than a bamboo needle they still are not as smooth as my go-to Turbos.
Silk and Linen — Silk and linen tend to be extra slippery on needles. This is great for speed, but not after having to pick up a row that slid right off your needles. Bamboo still tends to stick too much for the same reasons mentioned above, but I do want some ease of movement on my needles. This is when I grab my Addi Lace needles. They have a nice point to grab my stitches and they have some movement—but not so much that I’m constantly losing stitches or having to pick up dropped stitches repeatedly.
Mohair (or anything fine and unruly) — I knit my sister a lace shawl out of Mohair about 8 years ago. I was in my “I never use bamboo needles” phase. I starting the shawl over about 5 times because the mohair kept zooming off my Turbos and I had no idea how to pick up stitches from a charted row. I was loosing my mind! I finally listened to some advice and used bamboo needles. The rest of the shawl was a breeze! In fact, I enjoyed it and was sad to bind it off the needles.
The process of knitting is supposed to be enjoyable. Even when it’s a challenging technique or a stitch you’ve never tried…the one thing you can control is the way your stitches feel on your needles. So next time you hear yourself saying “I NEVER,” look back and see if this project is ready for a needle outside your comfort zone.