Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a warm and merry Christmas. Thank you all for the joy you bring to my life. Many happy returns to you and yours!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Boy, have I been busy!

Hello, everyone!

I confess I've been almost completely absent from blog-land for a little while. Some things have come up in our home life that have taken precedent over pretty much everything else, and sadly that includes blogging and catching up on all my favorite blogs... and you know that takes some time! :) Don't worry, there is nothing wrong—in fact, I hope it ends up being the beginning of something fantastic for us (and no, before anyone asks, we're not having a baby, lol). That's all I'm willing to say about it right now.

But what it all boils down to is that I'm quite distracted from all my normal hobbies and activities such as sewing, knitting, fun vintage things, and blogging. We're going to a Christmas party tomorrow and it'll be the first time I've set my hair in weeks (shameful!). At the same time, I'm also having some arm and shoulder problems so I've been trying to not knit for some days now to give myself a rest. What does this mean for those of you following the VKC? Well, it may progress pretty slowly for awhile. I'm truly sorry, but with so much extra craziness going on and not being able to knit right now, it makes it hard to keep up with the schedule I had in my head. If you're eager to get started or have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me by email or on Ravelry.

But fear not, I'm not going anywhere! I just may be around less than normal for the foreseeable future and be less chatty when I am around. By no means will that be a permanent thing!

So I'll leave you today with one of my favorite ornaments from our Christmas tree, a little vintage elf. Isn't he the cutest?!

Friday, December 9, 2011

VKC: Charts & vintage stranded knitting patterns

Hi everyone! Let's talk about stranded knitting and charts.

A bit about charts and stranded knitting

Modern stranded knitting pattern use charts to convey the colorwork part of the pattern. Sometimes they'll use multiple colors in a colored chart, sometimes just shades of gray, or different shapes to represent different colors, or some combination thereof. Here are a couple of examples.

{Source: charts from Ogiku beret and Olympic Reindeer hat}

If there's anything particularly complicated in the chart, there is usually a key or legend.

{Source: legend from Ogiku beret}

The good news: Many vintage stranded/fair isle patterns have colorwork charted, too!

The bad news: Some vintage stranded/fair isle patterns do not have colorwork charted. Boo, hiss.

How do you knit with vintage stranded patterns with no chart?

When there's no chart, you read every single row individually, following along with written explanations on when to change color. And it looks like this.

Each capital letter represents a color. Say R is red, M is maroon. (Your pattern will indicate what letter represents each color.)  * k 2 R, 1 M, 1 R, repeat from *  would mean k2 in red, k1 in maroon, k1 in red, and repeat until the end of the row. You follow each individual row as you would for any pattern that's written out row-by-row, just making sure to change colors when it tells you to.

Personally, I would never be able to knit this way. It's just too tedious for me. So I prefer to make my own chart for a pattern. You certainly don't have to! Even if you only use it to plan out your colors and you prefer to follow the pattern as written, it's a useful resource and a good exercise. (And I dare say kind of fun, but I'm a geek, what can I say.)

How to chart out a stranded pattern with no original chart

You can do it by hand with graph paper and colored pencils, or with spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel (that's what I use), Google Docs (a bit clunky for this purpose), or OpenOffice (free). I prefer to use the computer because when you start off, you may find you need to move things around a lot to get them lined up right. Copying and pasting is easier than erasing and cursing.

The goal is to chart one repeat of the pattern. Not every single stitch in the pattern, just what's repeated, i.e. the stuff between the asterisks or parentheses. So you may find that your chart ends up 16 stitches wide, or 8 stitches wide, or maybe 30 stitches wide.

These are just some general steps. Of course every single pattern is different, so consider this a guideline. Your mileage may vary. :)

Step 1. Setup a chart that's around 30 or 40 cells wide by about the same number of cells tall, and put a black border around those cells. This is an arbitrary size, you can add rows or columns as you go along. I just give myself a little more room than I think I'll need. I like to make the cells small. Knit stitches are slightly shorter than they are wide, so I usually do the same on the chart.

Number the right-hand column of the chart. It helps you keep track of what row you just charted when you're flipping back and forth between the chart and the written pattern.

Step 2. Begin with the first colored row for either the instructions for the back or the front (if it's a cardigan I select the back). Read past any ribbing instructions until you get to the part where the colorwork starts. Start on the right-hand most cell of the chart in Row 1, working right to left. Read the row in your pattern, and chart it out stitch by stitch. In this case, the row was just one color. An easy way to start.

Step 3. Move to the next row. Keep in mind, odds are the pattern is written flat. You'll know because every other row will be purled rows in the pattern. If that's the case, you will need to chart Row 2 left to right. All right-side rows are charted right to left, and wrong-side rows are charted left to right. (In the end it won't matter if you knit it flat or in the round, as your chart still needs to look the same.)

See how I highlighted the border on the first and last stitch in pink? You can see in this pattern, each row starts off with a stitch before the repeat (the part in the parentheses). In row 2, that's "P 1 R" below (purl one in red). So I highlight that as a reminder to myself, so I don't forget about it.

Step 4. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you've finished charting the colorwork. You'll know you've finished the chart because it will say something like "These X rows comprise the pattern". Eventually with some tweaking, you'll find you've charted one or two repeats of the pattern, like this.

Step 5. The last step is to make sure you only have one repeat of the pattern charted. This makes it much easier to knit with the pattern, and easier to use the smallest number the pattern is divisible over if you'd like to change the size or gauge of the pattern.

Eyeball the chart until you can see where it begins to repeat itself. Below, what is not grayed out is the repeat.

So I'll cut out the other cells, and be left with the pattern repeat to knit with! Now I can print this, or look at it on my iPad.


If the pattern has shaping in it, keep that in mind in the beginning of the rows. You're not trying to chart every stitch in the entire sweater, just the repeat, so don't include increase stitches in the body.

Pay attention if the pattern has you finish off a repeat of the chart with slightly less stitches. If you don't notice it you'll start to realize your chart isn't looking quite right because you're one or two stitches mis-aligned every other row. Look out for rows that end with "...until the last 7 stitches" or start with " the first 7 stitches". Sometimes this is done when there is shaping in a pattern, because then not every row has a full repeat at the sides. It may sound confusing now, but it will make more sense when you sit down with a pattern and try it out yourself.

Aren't sure if what you have is a full repeat? Make a bigger chart, and copy and paste the repeat directly next to itself, so you have two side-by-side. You'll see if it lines up, or if it doesn't.

You can tell the one below looks funky in the middle. Clearly the pattern doesn't line up, so I would need to play with it a bit more, or see if I accidentally skipped a column when I selected the stitches I thought formed the repeat.

Compare it to the below chart, which is correct. This would confirm for me that I'd created the chart right and was well on my way to knitting.

Don't get frustrated, and remember this isn't a precise science. Refer to the pattern picture frequently, and if you're not quite sure or want to change it slightly for some reason, use your creative freedom to tweak it a bit.

When you like what you see, you're done!

    A few final thoughts on charted patterns

    Even though many vintage stranded patterns are charted, I still take the time to re-chart them if they have multiple colors. Partially because it's so much easier to work with a colored chart than trying to distinguish different colors in different rows represented by simply shades of gray or black and while.

    But I also do it because it's way easier to play around with color schemes when you can simply click a few buttons to fill little squares with whatever color you'd like to see.

    Bestway 82, the pattern I'm knitting, is actually charted. Consider the below a sample of what we'll talk about in my next VKC post... playing around with colors and yarn. Depending on your perspective and a bit of luck, that can be the most frustrating or the most fun part! ;)

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Fake a good hair day with a beret (on a windy day)

    Today I'm finally sharing a little tutorial I've thought about all autumn, as I've lazily enjoyed wearing berets quite frequently. I love berets (tams, tammys... call them what you will). They are my favorite hat to wear, and my favorite hat to knit, too. You can knit cabled ones, fair isle ones, slouchy ones, you name it. And finding vintage berets isn't usually too difficult, either. As an added bonus, felt berets haven't changed much over the years, so you can buy modern ones that look just as vintage.

    One of the reasons I love berets is that not only can they keep your noggin warm, but you can use them for lazy or bad hair days, to hide all or a good portion of your hair. So that's what this tutorial is about, being lazy while looking put-together and fetching at the same time! I'll show you one simple way to fake a good hair day with a little 1940s-style front roll and a beret. It's also great for blustery autumn and winter days, as you won't have to worry about your pretty hair turning into a bird's nest in the wind. So it's a two-for-the-price-of-one hairstyle. :)

    You can use any kind of beret—vintage, modern or hand-knit—but you'll only be able to do the little shaping trick I do with the brim with a knit beret. If you're using a felt beret, just skip that step when you get to it.

    One way to fake a good hair day with a beret (on a windy day)

    Supplies: a bit of laziness, your head of hair, a beret, a few bobby pins, a few bun pins, two hair clips and a little pomade.

    How I do it:

    This is so quick and easy. We're talking 5 minutes, tops.

    Part your hair like you normally do. On the lighter side of your party, twist that half of your hair up onto your head, and secure with a hair clip. If you have longer hair, you will probably need to place the clip higher than I did.

    Do the same thing on the other half of your hair. This time, leave out a front section or long bangs if you have them. That's the hair you will turn into a front roll.

    (In general, twisting your hair up like this may be hard to pull off with hair several inches longer than shoulder-length, but you may be able to make it work with one or two more strategically placed hair clips, or more than two twists of hair. But you don't want it to look like you have a growth coming out of the back of your head, so try and spread out the bulk of your hair as best you can if that's the case.)

    If your hair is prone to flyaways or is ornery, use a few bobby pins anywhere you need them. For me that's behind my ears, and sometimes at the base of my neck now that my hair is shorter.

    Now we're going to work on the front roll. Put a small amount of pomade on the fingertips of one hand.

    Run the pomade along your hair.

    My tip for a good front roll is to keep the hair getting rolled relatively taut while you're rolling. If I relax my arms too much, the hair tends to get floppier and the result is crappy looking. So as you roll, keep slightly pulling on the hair away from your head.

    Start off by pulling the hair in the direction you will tilt your beret. In my case that's away from my part. (No particular reason, just habit.) I don't backcomb this hair first, but if you need a bit of fullness, go right ahead.

    And now, we roll. If you get a few loose bits hanging out like in the middle photo, just tuck them up into it as you go. (Obviously I use two hands to do this, but only am showing one hand so you can see.)

    Once you get it tight to the base of your head, insert a bobby pin into the opening on each side of the roll, securing it to your head. (If you used a larger section of hair, you might need another pin or two.)

    Now it's a roll, yay! But don't get frustrated if it takes you a few tries. And if you just can't get the roll to work, here's a tip from my hair stylist: wet down the section of hair you want to roll first, then put in the pomade, then blow it dry. It changes the texture of the hair somewhat and makes it a bit more stiff, so it's easier to roll.

    Time for the beret. Now a lot of people say berets don't look good on them. I think that's sometimes because they put a beret on and without fiddling with it, immediately declare that it looks bad. The trick is that you need to spend a moment or two orienting it on your head just the way you like it to get it to look good. Because otherwise yeah, it will look bad.

    Put the beret on, making sure all of your hair except the roll gets up into it. (And if you don't want to do a roll you can pull the beret further forward onto your forehead if you'd like). Play around with it until you're happy with how it looks. I often like to tilt it pretty significantly to one side, and pull the brim rather flat and forwards, as I've done here.

    (Oops, my roll looked bad here so I re-did it later.)

    You could consider yourself ready to go here, but I like to add in a couple of extra steps to secure the beret for windy days. (This is the part that won't work with felt berets.)

    If you're wearing a knit beret and have the brim placed the way you like it, you can use one or two bun pins to keep the nice shape. Simply push the pin in and back out just under the edge of the brim, and push it into the part of the beret against your head. Push the pin back away from your face. You won't be able to see it at all.

    For extra wind resistance, I also use a bobby pin above each ear. With a knit beret you can insert the pin through the fabric so only a little bit shows, but you can secure a felt beret this way, too. Just keep in mind the bobby pin will show more on the outside of the beret since you can't poke it through the fabric. (Which is just fine, and perfectly vintage.)

    Now that your beret is on and secured, if you'd like to maneuver your roll a little bit, do so now. You can gently tug on it to move it lower onto your forehead, or further down the side of your head, or widen it (you might need to move a bobby pin or two). Once done, give it a good spritz with hairspray.

    That's all there is to it! Here's the finished results from all angles.

    So that's my quick way to look stylish and put-together while being lazy and dealing with a blustery day. It's great when you don't feel like setting your hair, or maybe your hair needs to be washed, or you just can't stand the thought of wind gusts wreaking havoc with your locks.

    Hope you enjoyed this little tutorial. Now go be lazy, wind-resistant and fetching in your beret, all at the same time!

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    VKC: Tension, puckers & even stranded knitting

    Today, let's talk about how to keep your stranded knitting nice and even looking! I'll cover a few things that tie together to make that happen, and give you my best advice for lovely looking stranded knitting.


    You may or may not find that your tension changes from knitting with one color to knitting with two colors. Many people say your tension tightens up when you knit stranded (producing more stitches per inch than when you knit with one color), or that you get more relaxed as you go. You won't really know until you try it out for yourself.

    Using the same yarn, my gauge is pretty much consistent whether I'm knitting with one color or two. What's this all mean? That you will need to do a gauge swatch for a stranded knitting project. Period, end of story. It's okay though, because you'll want to do one anyway to make sure you like how your colors play together. (We'll cover that in another post soon!)

    Floats and puckers

    When you work in stranded knitting, only one color is being used in a stitch at a time, obviously. So the other color waits for you at the back of the work, to get knit with the next time it's needed. That strand of yarn between the stitches of a given color is often referred to as a 'float'.

    So each little float is what makes up the stranding, when you talk about stranded knitting or fair isle. It's that stranding on the wrong side of your knitting that gives stranded items that particularly squooshy feeling and makes stranded knits thicker than normal knits.

    You want to make sure that your floats are not too tight. I can't emphasize that enough.

    How? When you stop using color A and start using color B, do not tug tightly on that strand of yarn or you'll pull your float too tight. If you do that, your work will end up puckered. You can block some of this out, but you simply can't beat your knitting into submission, much as you may try.

    When you go to knit with the next color in your pattern, knit that stitch but don't yank on the yarn to tighten it up, just keep it nice and loose. That will help keep the float loose at the back of the work, ultimately leading to nice and even colorwork. Because it's worth repeating: you want the yarn at the back of your work to be carried along loosely. You can always tighten up a stitch or two here and there but it's almost impossible to loosen up floats that are too tight. Really!

    I pulled out an old work-in-progress to show you a comparison. This isn't an extreme example, but you can kind of see the puckered part from the strands between the red and black colors being pulled too tightly as I knit. (This project was on double-pointed needles, not my favorite way to do stranded knitting. Hence this being a WIP a few years later.)

    Now, don't panic—your work may be a little puckery looking as you knit it. That's okay, and will block out. (Actually the above might even block out, but it's best to not chance it.)

    Take a look.

    But if your work is severely puckered, it's time to relax a bit and loosen things up.

    My secret to even stranded knitting

    I've been thinking for weeks about what I do to keep my stranding nice and even, and I've really only come up with one little trick, but it's the best tip I can give. It's so easy, too!

    I think some people have a tendency to scrunch up all the stitches close together on the needle when they do stranded knitting. Here's what that looks like, with the stitches on the needle in my right hand scrunched up together, i.e. the stitches that just got knit.

    Don't do this.

    Instead, when you're knitting, keep the stitches on your right-hand needle slightly spaced apart. Give them some breathing room.

    It's easy to do with a little motion of your right hand or fingers every so often to keep things spaced apart a bit. It helps give extra room for your floats and it helps keep you from pulling too tight. If you find you don't have enough space on your knitting needle to do this, switch to a slightly longer needle.

    When you get to the next color in your row, make sure those stitches on your right-hand needle are nice and spaced apart.

    You can see the difference in how the floats (strands at the back of the work) look when you do that, too.

    This also must be done when you go from one needle to the next when knitting with double-pointed needles (DPNs), or knitting with 2 circular needles. Your floats between the needles must be kept loose, otherwise you'll get a pucker between each needle.

    And that's my main advice for lovely and even stranded knitting. Don't knit it with a vice grip, and make sure your stitches are nice and spaced apart, especially between color changes. And remember, all the small puckers and wrinkles will smooth out once you block your knitting. Keep these tips in mind and you'll churn out beautiful stranded knitting projects.

    In my next post (which will be very soon!), I'll talk about dealing with vintage stranded patterns that do not have charts, how to chart them to save yourself oodles of time and frustration, and how to work with charts easily. Then we'll talk a little bit about colors and yarn, and swatching!

    Now do you have tips for what keeps your stranded knitting looking great? Please share in the comments!

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    My lovely stranded cardigan!

    Hi everyone, I'm back home! I have massive catching up to do on my feed reader. My, how everyone's been posting like a maniac!

    We had a lovely, albeit somewhat brief, trip to my mom's outside of Washington, D.C. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet up with any D.C. bloggers, however with Thanksgiving and a family party, and my best friend from college visiting too for part of the trip, time was very limited.

    Just before we left for our trip, I finished up my latest sweater! I'm over the moon about it. The pattern is Bestway B2637, called Fair Isle Cardigan. You can purchase the .pdf here, and find it on Ravelry here. I don't have an exact date, but the pattern is from the 1940s.

    You can see I didn't stray very far from the original pattern colors. I liked the color scheme so well I didn't see a need to go in a different direction. Lately I've been more inclined to do that with vintage colorwork patterns, because I like the original so much.

    While I kept the color scheme about the same, I made a few other changes. The first change was gauge. The pattern was knit at 9 stitches per inch in fingering weight yarn. As someone who loves vintage styles, I knit a lot with fingering weight. However 9 stitches an inch is generally a bit more dense than I like to knit sweaters. I prefer to knit fingering weight on somewhere between 7 to 8 stitches per inch for a sweater, obviously depending upon the yarn and pattern. So this pattern I knit at 7.5 spi, though in the end I blocked it closer to 7 spi.

    Changing the gauge as I did, I also had to tweak the sizing a bit. The final width around the bust is 1" larger than my full bust. While it looks like there is shaping to the body, there isn't. The ribbing is knit on about 10% fewer stitches than the body, then in the first body row I increased to the full number of stitches that was knit with all the way up to the bust.

    (Oh yes, here's the new haircut too! Only this isn't representative of how it looks after a fresh set, but is how it looks the day after if I don't put rollers back in at night, except for my bangs. So they are much softer curls.)

    The complicating factor about changing the sizing of an allover colorwork pattern is making sure the colorwork lines up the way you'd like it to. That took a little bit of doing. I started by charting out the pattern, so I knew it was 16 stitches across for one pattern repeat. I decided where I wanted the center stitch across the back to be, and worked around to the front from there.

    I knit this with a combination of yarns. Mostly St-Denis Boreale, with a bit of Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift and KnitPicks Palette. I knew the Shetland yarn was stickier than the other two, but it was just the right gold I was looking for and all the yarns played well together.

    Because I changed the sizing in the pattern, I had to change the sleeve cap. I wanted the rows of the pattern to match up from the sleeve to the shoulder, so I had to make sure the sleeve cap was two things: 1) exactly the same number of rows as the upper body of the sweater (from armhole to shoulder shaping), and 2) started at exactly the same row on the chart as on the body after the armholes. The excess ease could not be worked in along the pattern, otherwise it would throw off the row-to-row seaming. So I gathered the sleeve caps at the top when setting in the sleeves, which I did with mattress stitch.

    The chart doesn't flow from the sleeve to the body (even I'm not that anal!), but the rows line up quite nicely. The gathered cap works great with this style, too.

    This project was steeked. A steek is a bridge of extra stitches knit where you would like an opening to be. You later cut through the steek, leaving the opening. One major benefit of steeks when used in stranded knitting is not having to slow down to purl in a stranded pattern, as well as being able to cut away all loose ends so you don't have to weave them in.

    In the body of this sweater, the front of the cardigan and the armholes were steeked. I also knit the two sleeves together separated by steeks for the length of the sleeves, then for the sleeve caps. Once they were cut, I seamed up the sleeve seams. I could have knit them separately, but it ensured they were perfectly matched and I didn't have to weave in any ends.

    I reinforced the steeks with sturdy hand stitches prior to cutting. This wasn't really necessary with the wool I was using, as it's grabby enough not to ravel, however it leaves a very neat and tidy edge inside. I didn't even bother to tack down my steeks. (Incidentally, these are all topics I'll cover in the long term in Colorwork: 101! But I'll be writing up more posts about basics, first. I did post a number of photos with explanations on my Ravelry project page, if you'd like to see more.)

    The lumpy bits you see at the top of the shoulder in the below photo is from the end of the sleeve cap steek and the gathering of the top of the cap. This actually worked a little bit like sewing in a shoulder pad, so I didn't need to make any!

    I'm just in love with this cardigan. The fit is perfect and I love the design and colors. I've worn it several times since I finished it, and I only finished it last Monday. Even though I have a million other projects planned, it makes me want to run right out and knit one just like it, but with another colorwork chart. I had a couple of people yesterday on Ravelry say it reminded them of the 1940s Shetland fair isle cardigan that knitwear designer Kate Davies posted about on her blog, which is a huge compliment to me.

    I hope my sweater looks as good in 70 years as a real hand-knit one from the 1940s does now!

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