Transformed, by Felting








I love the process of felting because your work is literally transformed in the washer.  After felting, your piece is smaller in size, thicker and has a tighter weave.  Do you ever wonder what is actually taking place in the washer?

Felting works on animal fibers that have tiny scales.  Wool is the classic fiber used for felting.  When you get the piece wet, the scales open up slightly.  Then, when you apply heat and agitation, the scales irreversibly bind the fibers together.  Superwash wool has been treated to prevent the felting process.  Therefore, if your goal is felting, you want to avoid superwash products.

So how exactly do you felt?

I place my finished object in a lingerie bag.  I put it in the washer with a pair of old jeans.  The jeans add additional agitation to help the felting process.  You can also use a tennis ball for this purpose.  Then I run my washer with hot water and high agitation, checking the item frequently until it has felted  adequately.  I then roll up my item in a towel to collect most of the moisture, then set it out to dry.  For tote bags, I place polyester fiberfill in a plastic grocery bag and place the filled plastic grocery bag inside the tote bag.  Then I set the tote bag out to dry overnight.   I add or remove fiberfill as needed until my tote bag assumes the shape I want.   And Voila! I have a beautiful, sturdy felted piece.

When planning to make a felted piece, you need to think about shrinkage.  A felted gauge swatch is critical.  Most felted pieces will shrink more in height than width.  Also, the looser the texture of your piece, the more mobile the fibers are, and the more felting that will take place.  If you are making a flat piece, you can always knit bigger, and the cut out the final shape after felting.

Once you start felting, you may not be able to stop.  It is such a thrill to see your piece transformed in the felting process.  If you havent’ tried felting, go ahead, give it a try!

Knitting in the Round

I was helping a friend cast on for an icelandic sweater this weekend.  She is an experienced knitter,  but has not been knitting for the past couple of years.  I was surprised to learn that she has never used a circular needle to knit in the round.  As I was expressing all the reasons I prefer circular needles for almost all my knitting, it occurred to me that some of you may not be aware of the benefits of using circular needles and knitting in the round.  Listed below are the reasons I love using circular needles and knitting in the round.

  1. I never have to worry about stopping in the middle of a row.  I am always knitting when I have a free moment.  I will pick up my knitting even if I only have 2 or 3 spare minutes.  On straight needles, it’s hard to put your knitting down except after completing a row.   When knitting in the round, I’m essentially never in the middle of a row where I have to worry about my stitches coming off the needle.  I can stop and restart at any point in the round without worrying about losing stitches.
  2. My needles don’t stick out so far to the side.  This feature is especially important when I’m knitting in close quarters, like on an airplane.  Straight needles tend to poke out farther laterally than a circular needle.  I’ve also found circular needles work better in a cozy recliner where the straight needles often hit the cushion on the side of the chair.
  3. You’re always knitting on the right side.  That means in stockinette stitch, every stitch is knit.  I don’t mind purling , but my tension is never perfectly matched between knit and purl stitches.  When I knit stockinette in the round, I find the tension is more consistent.  Always knitting on the right side also helps me spot and correct errors more quickly as I can constantly see my evolving project from the right side as I knit.
  4. I don’t have to keep track of the nonworking needle.  Have you ever had your nonworking needle fall out of your bag?  I have, and it’s a very frustrating situation.  I’ve always been able to find the needle (usually in my car) but sometimes can’t continue my knitting right away until I locate the missing needle.

I hope my friend, and some of you, will give come to enjoy circular needles like I do.

Class Review: Mastering Lace Shawls

I am so pleased with this Craftsy Class I purchased.  ” Mastering Lace Shawls”  with Laura Nelkin has been a lot of fun.  I didn’t know much about the class when I purchased it.  When I started the class, I realized that you actually knit 2 shawls during the class.  Thus, the purchase price of the class also includes 2 shawl patterns.

It has been so helpful to knit with Laura step by step.    She goes over all the basic techniques for knitting lace.  She covers yarn choice, and actually shows an example of a shawl knit with a beautiful yarn, but one that detracts from the beauty of the lace pattern.  She covers placing and removing lifelines.  She also instructs on fixing errors in lace.  She shows you how to read a lace chart.  She also goes through each different section of the shawl in detail.

Her shawl design is clever.  The first shawl is “Skywalker”.  Each section adds additional or more complicated elements to lace knitting.  By the end of each section I find myself comfortable and ready to move on to a greater challenge.

Laura Nelkin is practical and funny.   She often wears her own knit shawls during the class and it’s fun to see the different ways she wears them.  At the end of the class she will cover how to wear your handmade shawls.  I haven’t gotten to that section yet but am really looking forward to it.

I love the knit-along format of the class that goes totally at my own pace.  I often knit at odd times and in many different places.  I love that I can do this knit-along when and where I have time.   I am about half way through the first shawl and already feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth on this class.  I have no link to Craftsy, therefore, I feel I can be unbiased in saying I can highly recommend this class.  This is the fourth Craftsy online class I have taken and I have been totally satisfied with all of them.  Craftsy has frequent class sales so you can get a good deal if you’d like to take a class.

Weaving in Yarn Tails in Garter Stitch

I feel much more confident giving my hand knit items as gifts now that I know a better method for weaving in yarn tails.  Ideally, you want yarn tails to be secure, yet invisible.  You also want to avoid affecting the stretch of the fabric with your yarn tails.  Following, is the method I use for weaving in yarn tails in garter stitch.  I used a red yarn tail for illustration purposes.

On the wrong side of the fabric, find a purl bump.  Bring your yarn tail through the hole on the right side of the purl bump.  The needle is under the purl bump in this picture just to illustrate the bump I am talking about.







Next, bring the yarn down on the other side of the purl bump and insert into the purl bump one garter ridge below.








Next, insert yarn onto left side of lower purl bump, and then underneath the same upper purl bump you started on.








Continue in the same fashion using the purl bumps to guide your stitches.








The final result, is two sets of purl ridges that lie on top of purl ridges that are already there.  Therefore, the stitches are hidden and should have minimal effect on the stretch of the fabric since they follow stitches that are already present.

Love Lopi

My friend and colleague recently brought me back some Lopi yarn from Iceland.   My officemates could not understand why I was so excited about this yarn.  I thought I would share some of the finer attributes of Lopi with you, the knitting community.  Lopi yarn comes exclusively from Icelandic sheep.  This breed of sheep is old and pure or “unaltered”.  This breed is hearty and has done so well in the past due to 3 main attributes:  Excellent fiber,  milk and meat.  I am not fan of lamb to eat, but I do love cheese and of course, I love fiber.






The Icelandic sheep have a double coat.  The outer coat, or Tog is long, wavy and water repellent.  The inner coat, or Thel is soft, fine and warm.  The Thel lends the loft to Lopi yarn.  Lopi yarn is created when fibers from both the inner and outer coats are spun together.  The resulting fiber is warm, light and water resistant.  Lopi yarn is also wonderful for felting.  The two main types of Lopi are Alafoss (bulky weight) or Lett lopi, or lopi light (aran weight).   Lopi performs very well in stranded color work which is part of the traditional Icelandic sweater.  Traditional colors are natural, gray, brown and black.  However, Lopi is now available from venders abroad and in the U.S. and in a wide range of colors.

My friend also brought back some Icelandic wool/thai silk combination yarn and asked me to knit her Drachenfels.  I am improvising a bit since her total yardage is correct but she supplied 5 colors instead of 3.  As I work the yarn,  I find it a bit scratchy, but very light and warm as it sits on my lap.  I can’t wait to plan out the project for my Lett Lopi yarn.   I also hope some day to  travel to Iceland myself to explore the Icelandic sheep and fiber first hand



Best Project Bag Ever

My friend gave me the best knitting project bag I have ever used.  The truly unique feature of this bag is the plastic window that allows me to see which project is in the bag without opening it.  I never have just a single knitting project going at one time.  Sometimes I lose track of which project is in each bag.  This bag eliminates this problem.  The craftsmanship of the bag is excellent.  I love the zipper with pulls at each end at the top of the bag.  The bottom of the bag is constructed so that the bag remains upright even when empty.  There is also a detachable wristlet strap to make it easier to carry when travelling and an internal pocket to hold your notions.  This bag is sold at my friends Etsy shop.  She makes all the bags herself.  She designed this bag for another knitter friend who used to carry her projects around in transparent plastic bags.  These bags are available for sale at her Etsy shop at www.etsy/shop/

Tips for Working with Stranded Colorwork Charts

As you can see, I’m making a second Latvian Christmas stocking.  This time, I’m trying to keep the color work pattern consistent around the heel  of the stocking.  I thought I would share some simple tips for working with stranded color work charts.  The tips are very basic, but make a world of difference in the ease of your knitting.

Tip # 1: Place stitch markers after every repeat of the pattern.  In this stocking, the stitch markers change from time to time.  Some pattern repeats consist of 12 stitches, others consist of 6 or 8 stitches.  I move the stitch markers as needed when the number of stitches per repeat changes.  The stitch markers allow you to easily recheck your work and figure out where you are in the pattern at all times.

Tip # 2 Cover the line on the chart ABOVE the row you are working.  When I first started using charts. I would cover the rows already worked and leave my current row and the rows above uncovered.  It makes more sense to cover the rows above the one you are working.  By viewing the rows already worked, you can check your work as you knit your current row and see the evolving pattern.  It is much easier to spot errors and correct them immediately when you are viewing your current row as part of the developing pattern.

Tip # 3: Knit the charted pattern from right to left, bottom to top.  Since stranded knitting is almost always knit in the round, each row on the charted pattern will be read in the same direction, from right to left.  Charts for flat knitting are different in that the odd rows are usually knitted right to left, and the even rows are knitted left to right.  Charts are generally read from bottom to top (the same direction as your knitting) and row numbers are usually indicated on the side of the chart.

Tip # 4: Have fun!!  There are few things in knitting that I find more rewarding then working stranded rows involving only 2 colors per row and watching a beautiful pattern emerge.


Lessons in tension

I learned a lesson on tension from my latest project, this Latvian Christmas Stocking.  This stocking called for size 2 double point needles.  Since I am more comfortable with a circular needle, I started with a size 2, 12 inch circular needle.  I knew eventually I would need to change to double point needles as I decreased stitches in the lower stocking.  I made sure my circular and double points were the same size, material and brand to avoid any size differences.   Despite this forethought, the bottom of the stocking turned out too small for the top.  This picture was taken after blocking, so the size discrepancy isn’t as obvious.  However, you can still see where I changed to the double points just below the second row of large red flowers.  My children, who are always brutally honest about my knitting, immediately asked if the foot of the stocking wasn’t too small.  I started to wonder, “Why did this happen?”

The answer is in the tension.

The very reason I wanted to use a circular needle is because I am more comfortable with circular needles than with double points.  In my knitting (and many other things in life too) more comfortable=less tension, or looser tension.  When I changed to the double points, even though the needles were exactly the same size, the knitting seemed more difficult to me and my tension became tighter.  This tighter tension resulted in the lower stocking and foot, being disproportionately small compared to the upper stocking.

This stocking was slated to be my last knitting project before Christmas.  However, I am now determined to make another stocking with more even tension.  The solution to my problem is to use double pointed needles for the whole project.  I will let you know how it turns out.

What is Superwash Wool?

Superwash wool is one of my favorite yarns to use for gifts, especially for babies.  I love all the properties of wool but I worry about damage to my hand knit items during washing.   Super wash wool is more resistant to damage during washing.  What makes superwash wool so special?

Wool fibers have scales.  With extremes in temperature and/or agitation, the scales bind the fibers together, resulting in felted wool.  Sometimes this effect is desired, but many times it is not.  The process of creating superwash yarn removes the scales with chemicals, or coats them with resin to prevent the scales from binding fibers together during washing.  Inactiviation of these scales also results in the stretching sometimes seen when washing superwash items.  The scales on the wool fibers that can cause felting, also help the final piece return to normal shape after wetting.  Some superwash fibers do better when put in the dryer after washing.  These fibers need the dryer heat to return  the piece to its prewashed size.  It’s best to check the yarn ball band for specific recommendations for your yarn.  It is also best to make and block a gauge swatch when superwash wool.  Since superwash wools tend to stretch during blocking/washing, you want to account for that stretch in your final knitted item.  If your superwash fiber was created with resin, regular detergent can wash the resin away resulting in a felted wool piece.  It is difficult to discover which process was used to create a specific superwash product.  Therefore, it’s best to avoid regular detergent and use a wool wash in the washing machine even with superwash wool.  I tend to still wash my superwash items by hand.  However, I feel confident giving items made from superwash wool as gifts, knowing they won’t be ruined if they are run through the washing machine.

Gauge Adjustments

I usually knit to a gauge that is similar to most of the patterns I have knit.  Seldom, when using the recommended yarn weight, have I had to change more than a needle size.  Recently, I knit  patterns by 2 different designers in which my gauge was way off.  For each of these patterns I went up 3 needle sizes from the recommended needle size in the pattern.  That process started me thinking about the effects on your final fabric and yardage requirement when making such a significant change in needle size.  There are 3 main points to consider when adjusting needle size to get gauge.

  1. Changing the needle size will change the appearance of your knitted fabric.  A larger needle size results in larger stitches with more open space in the stitches.  The resulting fabric will be less dense and more airy.  If the recommended needle is too small to get gauge, but you don’t like the more open appearance of the fabric with a larger needle, you may need to undertake the more complicated process of using the smaller needle and adding additional stitches to make up for the difference in gauge.  This process can be simple for a cowl or a blanket, but becomes more complicated for a piece knit in parts (like a sweater).
  2. Changing the needle size may impact your yardage requirement.  If you go up in needle size, you may need less yardage.  That’s because the fabric will be less dense.  More importantly, if you go down in needle size, you may need more yardage.  Make sure to account for yardage adjustments when changing needle sizes.
  3. Sometimes gauge doesn’t matter.  If you are making a baby blanket, and the exact size of the finished blanket is not critical, it may not be necessary to knit to a specific gauge.  Some patterns will actually note that gauge is not important, but final yardage requirement may need to be adjusted to attain the stated size of the finished piece if your gauge is off.