Monthly Archives: May 2014

WWW: Sock Knitting Machine, Faroe Islands, Campaign for Wool launches in Canada

Whoever designed this poster didn’t knit socks – those are straight needles!

I enjoyed this short documentary on the role of the sock knitting machine in the First World War. In two parts, on Youtube. Part one. Part two.  A bit of history of socks, and a fun demo of a century-old sock knitting machine in action.

You can still find these machines for sale, at speciality dealers. Brenna, a teacher at Lettuce Knit, has one, and her holiday gift knitting is taken care of very very quickly…

Debbie Bliss has launched a new range of knitterly products, including the best tea towels and mugs in the entire world. I am not joking.

I follow the activities of The Campaign for Wool education program in the UK and elsewhere with interest; I was very pleased to hear that its Patron, Prince Charles, has just launched it in Canada. The objective of the campaign is to educate as many people as possible about the incredible benefits and versatility of wool in fashion, furnishings and everyday life. Visit the website for more info, or follow them on Twitter for all sorts of woolly goodness.

Ok, so let’s add the Faroe Islands to the itinerary for the Grand Knitting Tour. Sounds absolutely wonderful.

The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ontario, has announced details of its summer camp programs. The Museum has teamed up with the Almonte Potters’ Guild to offer two “mixed media” camps, with sessions on pottery and textile crafts. In the first sessions, July 21 to July 25, participants will enjoy mask making, wheel throwing, building fairy houses, and a tallest pot contest at the Potters’ Guild, followed by weaving, tie dyeing and other textile crafts at the Museum. The second camp runs from August 11 to August 15, and will feature animal making, wheel throwing and making your own set of dishes in the morning and tie dyeing, felting, and other crafts in the afternoon. The program is open to children ages 6 to 12. Call the Textile Museum at 613 256-3754 or the Potters’ Guild at 613 256-5556 for more info. I wish I could go – it sounds absolutely fantastic.

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Jillian’s Spinning: When Will I Learn to Keep Track?

This past weekend I had another lesson in why I need to keep track while I’m spinning. I need to spin a 2-ply woolen yarn and a 2-ply worsted yarn from the same fiber for my next Knittyspin column. I spun four bobbins, 2 of woolen singles and 2 of worsted singles. I was sure I could keep track of which was which, even though it was night and I was watching the second season of Game of Thrones. (I hope the sound effects person for GoT wins awards, because it wouldn’t be so visceral and gross without all of those squishy fighting sounds.)

I matched up bobbins and plied. And what did I get? Two 2-ply samples of WoolenandWorsted.

Woolenandworsted, d'oh.

WoolenandWorsted, d’oh.

You can really tell looking closer. There’s a section of pink and blue – one ply smooth, one ply fuzzy. It’s Corriedale.

WnW closer

WnW closer

I could have unplied and replied, but what a mess. I respun. This time I spun two singles and plied straight away, instead of having four bobbins sitting around, tempting fate. Much better.

Worsted, top and woolen, bottom.

Worsted, top and woolen, bottom.

I sincerely hope that one day I will learn not to rush and to mark my yarns within a micron of their fuzzy little hearts .

Did any of your learn any hard spinning lessons this weekend?


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Magnificently Silly Knitting Project of the Week: Miko and Robbie’s Farm Sweaters

Miko, co-owner of Amy’s LYS, The Purple Purl, loves an interesting knitting project. And boy, her latest one definitely qualifies!


The original pattern and concept.

Meet “The Farm Sweater”. Based on the “Pastoral Pullover” pattern from the 1979  knitting book “Wild Knitting“, it’s a sculpture more than a garment.


It started simply enough….

Many knitters got involved, making pom-poms, i-cord and other embellishments to complete the scene.



Not one to be outdone, friend of The Purple Purl Robbie decided to get in on the game, too. He wanted a sweater, too!

When they were complete, Miko and Robbie visited local Riverdale Farm for an appropriately-themed photoshoot.  It’s worth clicking through to see the details… the sweaters have fields complete with crops, little dolls to represent the farmers, forests – and, naturally, sheep.






Miko and Robbie, we love you, your sweaters and your willingness to have fun.

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WWW: Saving Animals, Sculpture, Mending

I know a beagle mix who is those colors, too.

We’re animal lovers here at Knitty, and we were very amused and happy to see the launch of the new “Woof” yarn collection from Ancient Arts Fiber. The dyer, Caroline, loves animals too, and Woof is her second series of fundraiser yarns. Her first series, the Meow yarns, are colorways inspired by cats – there’s a black and white for the tuxedo cat, a lovely Russian blue, a terrific grey tabby colorway, and then an adorable pink “Kitten Nose”. A portion of the proceeds is donated to benefit stray and abandoned cats. In the USA donations are made to Best Friends Animal Society, in Canada and internationally donations are made to The Meow Foundation.

The new line has eight colors inspired by dogs. There’s Chocolate Lab and Weimeraner and German Shepherd and Golden Retriever and Scottie Dog, and a number of others. Again, a portion of hte proceeds will be donated to the Best Friends Animal Society, to benefit stray and abandoned dogs. The Saint Bernard colorway looks a lot like my boy Dexter, a former stray himself. You can fully expect to see me knitting with it in the near future…

Speaking of animal rescue, an organization in Australia has put out a call for crafters to make knitted or sewn pouches to help care for injured and abandoned wildlife.

Many of Australia’s native fauna species, such as kangaroos, gliders and wombats spend a significant part of their early development in their mothers’ pouches, and the organization is calling on people to donate knitted pouches made from natural fibres to help replicate that environment.

(You must see the picture that accompanies this article. Cutest thing ever.)

” the work looks at and comments on reductive modernist sculpture and figurative sculpture”

I enjoyed this interview with artist Andrew MacDonald. He’s a sculptor who works predominantly with knitted textiles, either as coverings for more conventional sculptures, or on their own, as “stuffed” sculptures.

In his words,

Textiles, as I use them reference the body and its frailties, physical and mental. The knitted “skins” that operate as the covering of my work, are like veils that are stretched over a variety of forms.

This line of  art began with the impluse purchase of a “crazy” machine-knitted sweater at a local Value Village. The sweater sat in his studio for weeks, and another impulse – pulling the sweater over an upside down garbage can – opened up a whole new direction in his work. Although at first he relied on buying sweaters and other knit fabrics, he eventually bought his own knitting machine so he could create his own shapes and fabrics.

Tom van Deijnen – “Wear your darn like a badge of honour”. Photograph: Tom van Deijnen

The Guardian newspaper in the UK has started a series on mending garments, starting with a lesson on how to sew on a button. The art of mending – with a view to extending the life of your clothes – was in danger of being lost, but the recent rise in popularity of sewing is bringing these important skills back.


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Inspiration of the Week: Eileen Scrivani

Eileen Scrivani is an excellent knitter. She’s knitted all sorts of things since she took up the craft seriously in the early 1990s: blankets, hats, shawls and socks. She enjoys cables, and like many of us, a little bit of simple lace knitting. When I asked her what sort of project she enjoys most, she said “For me, a sweater — plain or more detailed — is the epitome of knitting.

Like many knitters, Eileen prefers one-piece garments, with limited seaming. She admits to feeling less than confident in her finishing skills.

We recently chatted by email, and Eileen sent me this picture of herself, proudly modelling her Tri-Aran-Angle shawl.

EILEEN WEARING Knitty TRI ARRAN jagger spun merino red SHAWL


The other thing you should know about Eileen: she’s visually impaired. To be more specific, she is completely blind. She was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at the age of five, and by her high-school graduation, complications of the illness had taken her vision.

Other than that small detail, her knitting story is much like my own: although she first learned to knit when a child, she didn’t take it up in earnest until she’d finished college, and was looking for a creative outlet for her evenings after long days spent working in the technology industry. I laughed a little when I read her words in a recent email message “Being a girly-girl I always loved clothing and I had it in my head that it would be a Great thing if I could make, or more specifically, knit my own sweaters.” These could be my words!

Living in New York, Eileen had access to a terrific resource: a six-week seminar on knitting at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Before she signed up, she checked to make sure that they could welcome her and her service dog – and soon enough she was on her way to becoming a serious knitter.

Her visual impairment has presented a few challenges along the way, but she persevered. In the late 1990s, the internet allowed to her find other blind knitters, and she started an online listserv, and she credits the participants with helping her improve her knitting. “The group shared tips on what would help a knitter who is blind – things like using a pocket size abacus as a row/stitch counter, where to locate patterns that were in an accessible format, the importance of a needle gauge, where to get tactile measuring tapes, inserting a life line in a complicated knit to save dropped stitches, so on and so on. I learned that a blind knitter can do amazing knitting, using complicated stitch patterns, and using color changing too.”

The biggest challenge for any blind knitter is charts. Written instructions can be easily rendered in Braille. Charts cannot.

The Knitty team first met Eileen when we were contacted by Cathy Scott, the developer of our favourite charting software, StitchMastery. Cathy had met Eileen on Ravelry, and had been helping out by converting some charts to written instructions. Cathy contacted us to ask permission to convert the charts for Lempster to written instructions, on Eileen’s behalf. When I heard from Cathy, I must confess I was quietly astounded. I know of other knitters with limited vision, but I didn’t know any who were taking on such complex projects. I was keen to make Eileen’s acquaintance, and Cathy introduced us.

As a designer and editor, one aspect of our conversation was particularly educational for me: about charts. I’m going to quote her verbatim on this:

My standard gripe is that when it comes to accessible knitting books and patterns, we as blind knitters spend the same amount of dollars on our supplies as sighted knitters, but are not given the same consideration when it comes to accessible materials. For us, and accessible pattern is one that is written out with row-by-row directions. Our computer software (screen readers, A.K.A. JAWS OR Window Eyes) which provides us with computer access cannot translate a chart or graphic into words. In the case where a free pattern on the net or a purchased pattern in a .PDF for download contains charts and it does not give those charts in text, the pattern is instantly rendered inaccessible to a knitter with a visual impairment. Even NLS who will transcribe some knitting books into Braille or audio format will not transcribe knitting books that are heavily charted. And if a book is transcribed into Braille by NLS and it is lightly charted, chances are NLS will only transcribe the skeleton of the pattern and omit the chart! Can you imagine you get all charged up wanting to dive into a pattern and then you find out a main component, like a cable or lace stitch isn’t included! Frustrating, disappointing and it does not motivate people to continue pressing forward with their knitting skills. After all, who wants to just keep knitting the same plain stockinette stitch sweater style time and time again? People blind or sighted need some variety and challenge in their knitting choices.

But this issue aside, Eileen loves knitting, and just like the rest of us, is thrilled with the huge variety of patterns and designs available online. She’s also been learning crochet of late.

I asked Eileen if she had any words of wisdom for those with limited vision who wish to learn knitting… “For a new knitter who is blind, my suggestions would be to start with a worsted weight classic yarn and perhaps wood, or bamboo instead of metal needles (eliminate the slip and slide and tighten up effect). For a new knitter who is blind, I would suggest staying away from the tempting fuzzy stuff because the fibers that might come off from the core can, in the beginning, fool the fingers.” (This is sensible advice for all beginning knitters, in fact!)

Eileen showed me some pictures of her work – I’d be impressed with the number and variety of projects she’s completed, even if she was fully sighted. She’s my new knitting hero.

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WWW: Stories Winner, The Sweater Curse, Colors Before Pantone and An Abandoned Mill

It’s Jillian filling in for Kate while she teaches at the Interweave Knitting Lab.

Our winner of all three volumes of Donna Druchunas’ Stories in Stitches is Kristen from Elkins Arkansas. Congratulations!

Stories in Stitches No 3 , hot off of the press!

Stories in Stitches No 3 , hot off of the press!


Will you be in Dallas in May or Edinburgh in August? Grab your knitting and go see The Sweater Curse: A Play by Elaine Liner.

The Sweater Curse

The Sweater Curse

The one-hour monologue explains the old wives’ tale about “the sweater curse,” which says never to knit for lovers, as he or she will leave before the project is finished. Elaine weaves in tales of her own unraveled romances and unfinished sweaters, with detours into great literary knitters like Penelope and Madame DeFarge. She knits onstage and invites the audience to bring their own projects and keep stitching during the play (“a plus for knitters who usually avoid theater because it means two hours without needles in their hands,” says Elaine).

The show runs May 15-25 at the Dallas Solo Festival and August 1-24 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


 Before there was Pantone, artists created their own color books.

The art of color

The art of color

This 898-page watercolor mixing manual from 1692 has been all of the internet this week. If you haven’t been inspired by this meticulous and beautiful work, go take a peek. Book historian Erik Kwakkel has been posting pages on his Tumblr and the whole book and be seen here.


Photographer Dan Circa found inspiration in an abandoned Welsh tweed mill.

Photo by Dan Circa

Photo by Dan Circa

The mill has stood unused since 1980, with all of the machinery and yarn left in place.


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Jillian’s Spinning: Soffsilk and a Saranac Yarn Comparison

I was given a few samples of Soffsilk at TNNA by the lovely ladies at Camaj Fiber Arts.  Soffsilk is a handdyed, cut, mulberry silk fiber that comes in a preparation that is similar to a cloud, puffy, fluffy and soft.

Soffsilk fiber

Soffsilk fiber

It was incredible easy to spin, when I let it do what it wanted to. It makes a textured yarn that can be quite airy.The fiber seems to have been cut and teased open, and I fluffed it even more by hand before I spun it. It would be fantastic blended into batts.  Spinners that need to make very smooth, controlled yarns should probably skip this fiber. Spinning this fiber was absolute potato chip spinning, I couldn’t stop trying things. In the end I made three yarns.

Soffsilk Yarns

Soffsilk Yarns

I spun (top, L to R) a Corespun yarn with a laceweight commercial wool as the core, a lofty textured 2-ply and a spiral ply with a Soffsilk single and Camaj Fiber Arts Boheme, a sari ribbon yarn. Besides the great colors and easy spin, what I found wonderful and unique about Soffsilk is how light the spun yarn is. Something I don’t often find in recycled silk fibers.


A quick Saranac before and after yarn comparison.

Remember my over plied Saranac yarn? I took out some of the ply and am now happily knitting with it. I promised you a few facts and figures about the two yarns this week. First, look at this photo:

Saranac yarns. Left, original over plied yarn; Right, yarn with much of the ply twist remeoved

Saranac yarns. Left, original over plied yarn; Right, yarn with much of the ply twist removed

A huge difference just visually. Here are the stats: Original yarn – Twist Per Inch = 4.5, Twist Angle = 50%, Yards Per Pound = 900. New less plied yarn – Twists Per Inch = 3, Twist Angle = 40%, Yards Per Pound = 1,150. Significant changes to a knitting yarn just with adjusting the ply twist – I love spinning. I wish you could all feel the yarn and knitted fabric too.

I think I am still going to run out of yarn. Thankfully a have stash and samples spun in colors that go along with these. Hooray for sampling!

Have you experimented through sampling or played with any new fibers this week?

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Surprise Projects

We released our issue Surprise about three weeks ago.

(Do you know about our Surprises? About six weeks after the issue goes live, we release a couple of “bonus” patterns. We sometimes save an extra fun or interesting pattern for the Surprise. Sometimes it’s a pattern that’s a little too seasonal, if you see what I mean.)

For our Spring & Summer issue, there were two Surprises, the Neldoreth Socks, and the Fifteen Love pullover.

Now that looks like summer!

Fifteen Love may well be the perfect summer knit. And I don’t know about you, but if I’d seen these pictures in early March I would have been seriously cranky. It’s mid-May and spring has only just arrived here in Toronto.

There are some great projects underway.

There’s Clellybobus’s terrific red Neldoreth socks.

I think the “foot in half-knit sock” is my favourite category of WIP picture. I do this all the time!

And WillyG’s version is showing lots of promise… love the colorway chosen.

Oooh yeah… Love the blue-green.

And as for Fifteen Love, I think Eirny‘s choice of color combo is just fantastic.

Reminds me of a popsicle!

And this is brilliant:

Helping choose a color combo!

Milanpink built herself an illustration to help her choose her favourite color combo.  Next time I’m doing a multi-color project I have to do this myself.

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Uncharacteristically personal post from Amy

Life has gotten hard and complicated over the last while, and just after the New Year, something happened that I think it’s time I shared with you all. The husband and I decided we shouldn’t be married any more.

We’ve been together for more than 2 decades, so this decision was a hard one to make. But it’s the right one for us both.

As a result, you won’t be surprised to hear, I’ve been trying to get through the challenges this has presented. Life will continue to be complicated and challenging for a while longer, but I’m fine and want you all to know that. I’ll be staying in Toronto and moving to my own place shortly, with one very large box of ukuleles and two cranky rabbits. Excited for my new future.

I’m turning off comments because I know you’ll send love and I appreciate it. And that’s enough. I have some wonderful friends and am so grateful for their support.

If I’m slower than usual in answering email, my apologies. I’ve also decided that my already booked teaching gigs in 2014 are all that I’ll be taking on, and won’t be looking for new gigs until 2015.

I hope you understand that my current state is a temporary one and I’ll be fully back on the horse as soon as I can. Knitty will continue to be my primary professional focus and I’m grateful for the work, and the loving and supportive community that has arisen around Jillian, Kate, Ashley, Ruth and I. We all love you.

Thanks to you all,

p.s. Should you know of an amazing east-end (Leslieville would be ideal) 2 bedroom condo, apartment or part of a house to rent, please let me know. If it’s elsewhere but still amazing, I’d love to hear about it too. Tweet me @knittydotcom

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WWW: Yellow Submarines & British Socks

The very lucky winner of the Offhand bag giveway is Irene M of Staten Island, NY. Enjoy the bag!

On designer/historian Kate Davies’ lovely blog, “A Brief History of British Socks“. If you knit – or heck, wear! – socks, this is a fascinating read.

Well-equipped for an Antarctic voyage. This would also be useful for dog walking in a Polar Vortext.

Speaking of history, love this: Artlab Australia, the South Australian Museum and the Adelaide City Council have just launched the ‘Sir Douglas Mawson Balaclava Knitting Pattern.

Scientist and adventurer Douglas Mawson’s is well-known in Australia for this epic adventures in the Antarctic in the early 20th Century. His ongoing contribution to science in South Australia have ensured his place in the history books. There is an iconic image of Mawson wearing a knitted balaclava, and it was used on the first Australian $100 note. The original balaclava is now part of the collection of the South Australian Museum. It’s hand-knit….

and is clearly a one-off, hand knitted from a variety of different colours of grey and blue flecked wools, the crown even featuring a small amount of pink mixed. The stripes are random and without pattern – such as you might expect if you were using up scraps from your wool bag – and although it follows the general shape of many of the balaclava patterns available before WWII the ribbing is an unusual 7 stitches wide.

The Holbrook submarine, HMS Otway. Can’t wait to see it all dressed up.

And to celebrate two historical milestones – the 100th year of submarines in Australia and the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ visit down under – the Murray Arts Centre in Holbrook, New South Wales, Australia is yarnbombing a submarine. In yellow. Of course.

And then just went you thought it couldn’t get any better, the article explains that when the yarnbombing is taken down, the pieces are going to be donated to a local dog shelter to be used for dog blankets.

Terrific eye-candy: online vintage shopping site has listed some 1930s vintage knitting pattern booklets for sale. Whether you’re shopping or not, the photos are excellent.

Lovely little illustrated story about an intrepid girl and the sweater her aunt knits for her.

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