Coffee Shop Knitting

A lot of the photography for this blog has taken place on the front steps of our apartment, partly because that space has good lighting and some good framing devices, but also because it’s a favorite knitting space for me in particular. Since the weather in this season is highly unreliable, though, and because I missed the conjoined activities of knitting while people-watching, I’ve been taking time a few mornings a week to bring my knitting to a coffee shop for a few hours. So far, it’s been excellent.

Knitting in public does a number of good things, both personal and in general. Personally, I can get a boost in productivity and focus on nearly any project when I introduce occasional changes in setting, and knitting is no different. I blew through the end of one project and got a lot of physical and mathematical work done on another. Almost more importantly, though, knitting in public means that I am being seen.


A nearly-finished baby vest – just needs buttons!

It’s pretty much a constant wherever I knit (except the front step – students passing my home on the sidewalk stick to friendly nods or waves at most) that someone – usually of my parents’ generation or older – stops to comment on the knitting with something along the lines of “my mother/grandmother used to do that, I’ve no idea how, it’s a lost art, good for you.” I find it almost sad how universal that experience seems to be for a lot of people, but by being seen knitting, we can directly challenge the idea that the arts of fiber crafting are lost or inaccessible. Knitting isn’t dead – it’s right here, happening in front of you, in a startling variety of styles and colors, and if you chat long enough and show enough interest we’ll probably share our favorite online tutorials.

This week, I met one man who couldn’t tell my knitting from crochet but still thought it was beautiful, one middle-aged professional who talked enthusiastically with me about having just started learning to knit this winter, one lady who’d never seen a circular shawl before, and one entire friend group of older women who oo’d and ah’d over the lace charts in my notebook. I made half a dozen temporary friends, and got some encouragement about the value and skill of my work – and that never would have happened if I hadn’t taken my knitting out of my nest.


My current commission project is going spectacularly so far, although I’m beginning to get into the longer and longer rows as circumference grows on this circular shawl.

I’ll look forward to front-step knitting as the weather continues to get warmer (and may even steal a few hours out there this afternoon if sunshine doesn’t turn to rain), but I think I’ve found another excellent public-knitting place this week- and what’s more, it’s not dependent on the capriciousness of April showers. I’ll be back, project bags in hand and a latte at the ready, and see how much work – knitting and being seen knitting – I can get done this time.



WIP Wednesday: Liara-Rose

I said I’d be back to talk about my continuing lace adventures and here I am, with yet another complex lace shawl in my lap. I’ve talked before in multiple posts about how much I love lace, and it holds true; as I expand my knitting into a profession instead of just a hobby, it’s even more important to me to have one or three “selfish knitting” projects aside that I do just for my own pleasure… and the most pleasurable thing for me to knit, at least at this stage in my life, is shawl-sized sprawls of lace.


Plushy comfort knitting is one thing (like the bit you can see on my hands) but delicate lace is its own entire art.

This particular example of that class is yet another new challenge for me. Liara-Rose is the very first circular shawl I’ve cast on. Circular shawls involve an entirely different construction method – unlike the triangle shawls in our Etsy store, or the crescent shawl shapes of some of my previous shawl posts, I cast this on in the center of the finished object instead of on one edge. The knitting spirals outward from a bare nine stitches to a finished circumference (before the knit-on edging) of 576 stitches. The pattern-writer’s test shawl blocked to be 42 inches in diameter, but since I’m using a slightly heavier yarn and correspondingly larger needles, I’m expecting this to end up notably wider.

Why use heavier yarn and needles? I’m still working around chronic pain and repetitive stress injuries in my hands. Knitting has been the best physical therapy for my problems so far, but I still have to be careful – maybe someday I’ll be recovered enough to knit tiny, delicate, ‘wedding-ring lace’ shawls, but for now, I’ll keep leveling up my skills with needles of a size I can comfortably grip.


US size 6 needles, or the size I’m holding here, is still the smallest I can comfortably knit with for any length of time. As of a year ago, though, my comfort stopped at size 8, so I’ll probably keep gently expanding my range smaller as I increase finger strength and stretch old injuries. 

Regardless of it’s slightly oversized nature, I’m still deeply in love with this project so far. Circular shawl construction is turning out to be a blast, and I love the way the pattern is slowly blooming outward along my needles. I chose this pattern in particular for my first circular shawl partly because it seemed sensibly written and aesthetically pleasing, but also partly because the pattern itself is named after one of my favorite video game characters; I chose the yarn for similar reasons (although it’s not necessarily obvious from just the one listing, Alpaca Cloud colorways have a fairly obvious Jane Austen theme to them when read as a group.) With one of my favorite literary characters and one of my favorite video game romances referenced, I get a little (perhaps silly) sentimentality added to an already unique project.

The yarn is also a new experience! I’d never worked with alpaca fiber before, but I wanted to try something different, and winter luxury yarn sales are a definite weakness of mine. I’m finding this loosely spun fiber pleasantly soft, and so far the circle of shawl finished is quite warm. All the “loft,” or loose air-filled structure of the fabric, traps heat quite well for being extremely lightweight.


And a warm lapful of lofty alpaca fiber is perfect – even on unseasonably warm days like this, the shade and the breeze can get chilly when you’re holding still and knitting!

It’ll still be a ways to go, but hopefully I can be modeling this shawl (knit-on edging, beads, and all) by this autumn at the latest. Until then, I’ll definitely enjoy some stolen minutes of “selfish knitting” on this project as often as I dare!


Finished: Duskwings

So it’s not a Friday, but I couldn’t wait any longer: I needed to talk about my pride and joy, my graduation-to-next-level-lace-knitting, my biggest knitting triumph of the year so far. I finally, after one week shy of a year, finished the Duskwings shawl, just in time to gift it to my wife for our legal-wedding anniversary.

This exceedingly mild spring is perfect for layering a worsted-weight shawl like this over light, cute tops that have been languishing in drawers all winter.

I ended up using all but the tiniest leftover bit of the 630 yards of yarn I’d bought, and I literally knitted one of the tips I picked up just for this shawl nearly into pieces. I also had quite the adventure when it came time to block this beautiful monstrosity. For those unfamiliar with the term, blocking is the process of using moisture, pins, and a large flat surface to coax natural fibers (especially wool) to reset their “default” positions to your ideal. It’s especially important with lace, and with garments; before this shawl was blocked, all the feathertips curled up dramatically, and it was easily almost a foot shorter in length from the cast-on edge to the bind-off. I’m glad I blocked it… but I definitely had to completely rearrange a closet in order to spread the shawl out over sheets covering the entire walk-in-closet floor to pin it out to the appropriate size!

Closeup views of the lace patterns: first the long flight feathers along one ‘wing,’ then the smaller feathers up at the shoulder.

Once I had the shawl blocked, it was much easier to see all the mistakes I’d made. After carefully securing one dropped stitch I hadn’t caught in the knitting process, I spent a lot of time staring at the ‘shoulder feathers,’ or the primary lace motif for the first third of the shawl’s length. As I talked about in my WIP entry for this shawl, I struggled a lot with that lace motif… and it shows. Going back to review other people’s shawls knitted to the same pattern, it became fairly obvious that the original design intended to produce regular, even diamond shapes before breaking into the long feathers. The Duskwings have irregular, organic lines faintly hinting at diamond-like organization, chains of yarnovers (the open spaces in lace) trailing off and doubling along each other like mussed, overlapped contour feathers. As it turns out, Kai vastly prefers the chaotic imperfection I accidentally introduced to the design – it does rather suit her personality and approach to life. (Now if only I knew how to vary the design intentionally…)

Wings are ideal for hugging little pumpkins, and suit Kai’s style perfectly.

I feel so relieved to have finally finished something that was such a massive challenge, and, in the end, such a massive success. Of course, this means I have to dive in headfirst into new challenges in my favorite niche of the knitting world: keep your eyes peeled for a post coming soon about my newest attempt at stretching my lace skills. And, of course, like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t already bright-gold yarn waiting in the background for me to be ready to cast on this pattern once again, and see how much better I can do the next time around. A different fiber, a slightly different needle size, and a very different skill level should make the same pattern into a perfect complementary set of wings for myself.



Following Instructions

My very first knitting project was improvised – as were several of the follow-up projects. I referenced some patterns for those early ideas, but for the most part, I wanted to see what I could figure out with the skills I’d picked up. I knit from patterns somewhat more frequently now, but I will often add tweaks of my own, whether it’s just recopying the instructions in a format that’s more intuitive for me to read, or adjusting the construction of the finished item, or even lifting a lace or color motif from one item to place it in another finished object.

That said, it’s hard to say whether or not I have a favorite pattern or designer. I own two patterns by Nim Teasdale, which is to date the most money I’ve spent on a single designer – her mix-and-match approach to lace charts appeals to my need for improvisation, and her instructions and charts are incredibly well-written. I also adore the Universal Toe-Up Sock Formula. It does what I like to do with a pattern in my head, breaking down the basic architecture of a knitted item into a series of if-then decisions to make infinitely customizable finished objects (in this case, socks). I’m always finding new things to favorite or add to my library on Ravelry, though, so we’ll have to see – maybe in 2017 I’ll really fall in love with a pattern or a designer once and for all.



The beginning of a universal sock, done with a moss-stitch texture on the top and extra fitting construction details in a worsted-weight yarn.

Pet the Yarn

If you’ve been to our home in the past year or so, you’d know: we really love our yarn here. Em invested in a gigantic set of solid-pine cubbyhole shelving units for the yarn stash at the beginning of last year, and we keep the cubby baskets overflowing. We inherited a lot of yarn from our wonderful mother’s stash she kept for kindergarten crafts – even the older, sometimes a bit loveworn, harsher acrylic blends make awesome pattern-test yarn and an endless supply of provisional cast-ons, thumbhole-holding-stitches, and knitted kitty toys. We also have gotten a lot of yarn as gifts (me on Christmas was a sight to behold, arms overflowing with skeins and pattern books), and of course we keep our eyes peeled for good sales. My personal indulgence this winter sale was to order my first skeins of 100% alpaca yarn, and I’m excited to see how it works up.

If you absolutely must ask what fiber or yarn do you love working with? for today’s challenge question though, I do have one fairly obvious answer. Over the lifespan of our Etsy shop and custom commissions, it’s become pretty clear that I have a blossoming love affair for Cascade Pacific.


It’s turned into my go-to worsted weight yarn for any project, partly because it’s just such a delight to work with – incredibly soft, and available in a stunningly gorgeous range of colors. I’m enjoying collecting up a small rainbow of colors in our store-yarn stash as I finish off lace bags for everyone, and I’m planning on releasing more designs featuring this yarn in the next few months. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s relatively easy to care for while still retaining some of the amazing features of fine merino wool. In short, while I adore collecting all kinds of yarn and will probably never stop, Pacific is shaping up to be an enduring favorite.



Challenge Accepted

Happy new year, readers! It seems fitting to kick it off with the next question on my list: what’s your most challenging project?

Measuring challenge in knitting isn’t always simple, and I thought about this for a long time. Since it’s a new year, though, I’m featuring a new project, one that will probably get a proper WIP Wednesday write-up of its own once it actually makes it onto the needles – a properly fitted, gorgeous emerald green sweater for my wife Kai.


Look at that color! Silk fibers are known for holding dye with an unparalleled depth of color, and this yarn (Lang Yarns Silkmerino) is 38% silk.

Kai has often struggled to find off-the-rack “fitted” garments in feminine styles that are actually comfortable for her to wear. I, of course, took this as a challenge. Armed with what I’ve learned so far on my knitting journey, extensive explanations and diagrams in the “Shaping and Fitting” section of The Knowledgable Knitter, and this unbelievably touchable yarn I picked up for a steal on Love Knitting’s Black Friday sale, I’ve been getting to work.

Which, on a project this challenging and this important, means planning.


Measure twice, knit once. Hopefully.

I’m a bit nervous about this sweater, to be perfectly honest. Margaret Radcliffe gives excellent suggestions and instructions in her book, but I’ve never done fitting before, and trying to adapt a basic top-down raglan pullover so that it is not only flattering but carefully avoids all possible pitfalls (too tight across the bust, restriction of arm movement, front hem riding too high) involves juggling several different shaping techniques in one seamless piece of knitting, and a truly large amount of math. I say “knit once” in my caption above, but I’ll probably end up having to rip back and reknit several sections once I see how they actually sit on Kai’s body as opposed to carefully planned theory.

I’m still really excited about this, though. I feel like it’s a definite stretch of my capabilities, finally designing something intended to not only be comfortable and pretty but tailored to a person. And, of course, I get to play with some gorgeous yarn while I’m doing it.




Today’s question is another surprisingly difficult one: what about my least favorite knitting project?

I tend not to finish knitting projects that are making me truly upset. If I’m not enjoying it even a little bit, even in the “this is a challenge” kind of way, it’s really not worth knitting. I’ve abandoned a lot of truly weird projects, most of which I don’t have any photographs for: an insanely high-tension Scottish terrier amigirumi (tiny knit stuffed animal), a poorly-designed mug cozy, a lace vest I set down to “figure out later” and (spoiler alert) never went back to figure out. In terms of finished projects, there are the million and one incorrect attempts at the Perfect Hat, the socks where I misread a section of the pattern, the collaborative sweater vest I made with Em where my colorwork is crooked and the overall sizing is, um, on the large side.

The amigirumi was definitely the most painful knitting project I’d ever attempted, but looking at my list of projects on Ravelry, the project I genuinely like the least was this ill-fated attempt at a baby poncho. I foolishly decided to just throw together a mix of yarns that really didn’t work well for the design. Then, when I sat down to knit, the pattern was almost incomprehensible – I ended up recruiting Em’s help “translating” the pattern into a readable set of instructions. As I knit, I found myself highly skeptical – was this fabric really even wearable? It was far too stiff and rough, not baby-friendly at all. When even the translated instructions came out crooked and I was struggling to figure out how to juggle the scraps of different colorways of yarn to cover the full length of the poncho, I abandoned it. Maybe someday I’ll go back, armed with better yarns and a thrice-proofread pattern, but not today. Today I have the last dash of Christmas knits to do, and a years-end inventory to plan.


Favorite Creations

Well, it has been a while! Sorry for disappearing for a bit there – the holiday craziness set in hard around here, and between car troubles, yarn shipment troubles, and weather troubles, writing had to take a backseat to making sure life kept trucking. I’m back to finish out the knit-blogging challenge, though, and I’m going to pick up where we left off with the next question: what is your favorite piece that you’ve knit?

That is a really hard question for me to answer, as I like a lot of the things I’ve made. There’s a few duds, and honestly the projects I’m most excited about right now are mostly still works in progress and/or those delightfully secret holiday gifts. In terms of finished works, though… I have to declare a tie.

The Baby Avocado sweater fills me with glee every time I see the product photos. It also fills the little pumpkin with glee – he likes to hold the bottom hem out from his body to admire it and giggle every time I’ve seen him in it. But the finished project still in my possession that I wear the most and adore the most is probably the shawl I named Brigid’s Arms.


Me modeling the newly finished shawl, sometime March 2016.

It’s an incredibly simple pattern, one I’d knit once before and have made again one and a half times since then (and one that we knit for sale in our Etsy shop!), but it’s very soothing to knit, and the finished shawl is just… perfect for me. I resized this particular piece to fit my narrow, sloped shoulders comfortably, and I adore how the gentle color shifts played out over the body of the shawl. It’s the first large project I finished solely for myself, and even though I’m making much more complex knits now, this one will always hold a special place in my heart.


How Time Flies (And Also Needles)

How long did it take from the time you learned how to knit to finish your first project?

Well, since Em talked me into making just a simple bracelet, it only took me a few hours from casting on to bind off and seam the simple strip of garter-stitch fabric. I also experimented with a couple of mug cozies and headbands of rather similar design (strips of varying ribbed fabrics, held together around a mug with simple threaded ribbon ties or seamed with basic sewing skills) before I embarked on what I’d call my first real project.

I feel like doing a bunch of small projects first definitely helped me gain confidence in the basics; if I’d jumped straight to a scarf (or two, or the two hats after that, or the shawl after that) I might’ve gotten bored, frustrated, or just burned-out before I really fell in love with knitting. Instead, I have a small collection of adorably weird strips of yarn to remind me of when making sure I remembered how a knit stitch worked was the biggest of my technical concerns.



Learning Never Ends

Today’s question, How did you learn how to knit?, was addressed in an earlier post on the blog. However, I was telling more of an ‘origin story’ at that point: it’s not very helpful for anyone who wants to learn to knit themselves.

I’m lucky enough that I live with someone who learned to knit before me! Having someone on hand to teach is extremely valuable in many ways – not only do you have a model there to watch you and help correct mistakes, but an in-person teacher can help you with techniques that you just don’t have the dexterity or eyes to figure out just yet. Em did casting on for me for my first few projects, troubleshot my weird errors as I got the hang of the basics, and fixed mistakes (while teaching me some of the tips and tricks as we went.)


Your knitting teacher can also encourage your slightly weird beginner projects by posing for goofy photos!

A good chunk of my learning, however, was self-driven. Em and I have ended up specializing in very different sub-categories of knitting technique, and most things I know about lace and everything I know about colorwork, I taught myself. First and foremost, there are excellent YouTube videos for every technique under the sun (that is most of how Em learned to knit, in fact.) The website also has a lot of excellently categorized articles. A lot of beginner patterns on Ravelry contain tutorials for the techniques needed to complete the pattern.Finally, the knitting blogosphere has an endless supply of tips, tricks, articles, videos, and gifsets for anything you’d need to know – we’ve collected some of the ones we like on the ‘techniques’ tag on our connected Tumblr blog.


Yes, we do have a Tumblr! We mostly use it to collect inspiration, patterns, and techiques, although we do cross-post what we write here as well.

I’m still learning a lot. I picked up a new texture stitch for one of my Christmas projects, did a really zany colorwork brim technique I’d never seen before, and I’m planning to cast on an entirely new shawl construction method as my present to myself after the holidays. And I’m teaching – my wife has expressed interest in at least picking up the basics, and Em has started making curious noises about possibly picking up some very fine-weight stranded colorwork after all. The fun of learning never really ends… not when there’s a deep history of a craft, and an endless future of projects. And that’s exactly the way I like it.