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!
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