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

On Charity Knitting; Too Many Penguin Sweaters?

Boing Boing puts it best: The Internet may be producing an excess of penguin sweaters.

If you do want to do some charity knitting, consult local organizations in your area to see what they need… women’s shelters often take children’s items; animal shelters often take blankets and comfort items; hospitals, particularly those with neonatal ICUs, often accept items for tiny newborns; homeless shelters often take winter accessories like hats and scarves.

We all have the impulse to use our power for good – let’s just make sure we direct it in a way that it’s of most benefit.

Jillian’s Spinning: Handspun Stitching on Handspun Knitting

I’ve been making progress on spinning yarn that I can stitch with, take a look:

Front to back: tencel, alpaca/silk, merino/silk - all Lisa Souza fiber
Front to back: tencel, alpaca/silk, merino/silk – all Lisa Souza fiber. All yarns are 2-ply

The blue Merino/silk is about 18 wpi, the green alpaca/silk is 24 wpi and the tencel is 28 wpi. Regular 6 strand DMC embroidery floss is 22 wpi. I feel really good about these yarns. Of course there are different things I want to try and I want to spin finer, but that is why I keep spinning ,to keep learning!

I stitched with handspun on handspun. First I did a little feather stitch with a dk singles on a 2-ply chunky stockinette swatch.

Feather stitch
Feather stitch

This took about a second and was fun and satisfying. I immediately realized I couldn’t pull so hard with embroidery on knitting. The embroidery floats on the top.When I pulled tightly it sunk into the knitted fabric and disappeared.  I was a little disappointed that yarn that is variegated for knitting isn’t variegated for stitching. I need much shorter color runs for my yarn. More fun to ponder.

Then I used my freshly spun yarns. A little flower on a cabled swatch.

Blue Flower
Blue Flower

The yarns behaved beautifully (win!) and didn’t fuzz much with repeated pulling out and restitching. I like this as a first go at stitching on textured knitting. I am curious about different ways to stitch on already textured fabric. There is lots to sample and stitch in this realm.

I’m loving this so much I have to remind myself to go back to my regular work. It’s exciting to have something new – the embroidery and something old – spinning to pair up. It’s great to have a new technique to dig into with spinning – spinning fine. This is exactly why I never say never when it comes to craft. I didn’t want to spin fine in the past becasue I didn’t want to knit or weave with it, but now that I want to stitch with handspun, spinning fine is at the top of my spinning to-do list.

Uke 101 for the holidays! (updated for 2013)

a little purple Mahalo started it all

I wrote this post a few years ago, and thankfully, interest in the ukulele is still strong! So I share again at the holidays for those interested in gifting or receiving a uke. My best tips are below with links that all work, and new gift tips for those looking for a uke-themed gift for a friend. Enjoy!

Ukuleles are experiencing a resurgence not seen since the 1950s, with movies like The Mighty Uke showing to packed houses, and musicians from Train to Amanda Palmer to Eddie Vedder reclaming the little 4-stringed wonder. I’ve been playing the uke since 2008, when I traded a skein of yarn for a purple Mahalo. It was this video that made me want to learn how to play the uke. [aside: yes, that’s Bret of Flight of the Conchords, 2nd from the left.] I have been very fortunate to find a ukulele community that meets and plays together weekly, and thanks to these sessions, I’m getting better all the time.

But what is the point of this post? It’s to tell you that you can do it too. The ukulele is absolutely the friendliest, easiest instrument to learn on this planet. Easy to learn, hard to master, sure. But you can learn 3 or 4 chords, and be playing along with a group in less than an hour. And with a little practise, your repertoire of chords will grow, just like mine did. With the uke, I have found it’s about enjoying music, not about being a kickass performer. It’s about F.U.N.

People ask me what kind of uke to start with, so that’s really the point of this post. This is my best advice for those starting out with the uke with zero experience. There’s no way to know if you’ll like the uke until you play one for a while. So I recommend you choose one of the colored Mahalo soprano ukes, like the purple one shown above, at a cost of around $30.

First thing, replace the crappy strings it’s wearing with a set of Aquila Nylgut strings. This will make a world of difference. If you’re new to stringed instruments like I was, don’t be surprised that the strings don’t hold their tuning for long. They’re plastic and they will stretch for a while until they settle in.

Next, download a chord chart, and learn some basic chords. C, F, G will get you a long way. Add A, D and E7 and you’ve got a lot to play with. Visit Chordie and type in some song names, and you’ll find things to start playing!

I’ll skip the part about playing as much as you can, because if you like the uke, you will do that. I’ll also skip the part about googling and finding [hopefully] a uke group near you. If you don’t find one, you can always start one, right? Think of it like a musical S&B night.

I meet my Pono Tenor at the now-closed Music Guy Mic’s…and fall in love at first sight.

You love the uke and are ready to upgrade? The next place to start looking is the $100-350 range. You can go up into thousands of dollars with ukes, but to get something really playable for a relative novice, you don’t need to spend more than $300ish.

Brands I recommend are Kala, Ohana, Pono. Kala is most affordable and has some fun models, if aesthetics are your thing [I like this plaid model]. Ohana is a factory-made uke with good quality control and really nice acoustics [my first really good-sounding uke was this Ohana Sopranino, which — because it’s so tiny — often travels with me]. Pono is the factory-made (but hand-finished) offshoot of the Ko’olau brand of Hawaiian ukes, and I love their quality. I have a Pono Tenor that I play all the time lately.

thanks to ukuleletricks.com for this great image

Who should you buy from? I recommend a uke-focused seller, because they will usually check and adjust the uke before they sell it to you. I have personally dealt with and would recommend the online sellers Mim’s Ukes and Uke Republic.

When in doubt, put your hands on the uke you want to buy and play it first. Does it feel good? Do you like the sound of it? That’s what matters. That’s what happened to me in the pic above. I had planned to JUST LOOK in the shop [stop laughing] and after a few strums, I was lost. I played a lot of ukes that day, most more expensive than this one, but this one felt just right in my hands and made sounds that made me happy.

image via Lamorinda Music (thanks!)

What about all the sizes? How do you choose? This is easy: play them all. Ukes come [from smallest to largest] in Sopranino, Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone sizes. Baritone uses the same tuning as a guitar and has a really deep sound, but still just 4 strings. The others use either GCEA tuning [my preferred] or ADF#B tuning, and sound like you imagine: the smaller ukes have higher-pitched voices. The most important point, in my opinion, is how the fretboard feels under your fingers. Some are made wide or thick, some are thin and flat, and every model feels different. The one that feels best to you is the right one. It’s as personal a choice as the kind of knitting needle you like best.

Lamorinda Music has a great explanation of the different sizes of ukes here.

KoAloha Soprano ukulele, in solid koa. Ahhh.

If I had an unlimited budget, what ukulele brand would I buy? KoAloha, hands down. The sound these beautiful hand-made Hawaiian ukes produce is warm, like a tropical hug. There are more expensive ukes, but I don’t like them as well as I do the KoAlohas, and I’m not alone.

Gift ideas for your uke-obsessed friends:

One more thing: there are tons of online ukulele resources to help you along on your journey. I’ve spent a lot of time at the Ukulele Underground forums, reading back posts and asking questions when a google wouldn’t suffice. Lots of helpful people there. There are tons more places to explore. Some of my favorites:

Ukulele Hunt | Ukulele in the Classroom | Uke groups of North America |

Hana Hou!

What should you carry it in? Well, we’ve got a great pattern for a knitted/felted ukulele case, designed by the awesome Wendy Bernard!

Remember: ukes are happier in bunches. If you find you love the uke, teach someone else. Pass it on. Don’t be shy.

Jillian’s Obsession Thursday: How I Know a New Thing Is Going to Stick

You may have noticed that I love to learn new things.

I never know what’s going to set me off, something in a class, something I’ve read or saw someone else do.

My latest fibery pursuit, embroidery, started with a spinning class with Sarah Swett in May. They I discovered Rebecca Ringquist and her beginning sampler class on CreativeBug.

But I do know when a new interest is going to stick and become part of my life for a bit.

It’s not the new stuff, though I love accumulating and researching tools and supplies.

Here’s my embroidery stash:

Lots of embroidery supplies can fit in a small space.
Lots of embroidery supplies can fit in a small space.

It’s the books.

Not just books from the library, though it always starts that way. Then I buy the most popular and interesting looking ones for my library.

I know I’m going to be doing whatever my new thing is for more than just a short time when I start buying older and out of print books. Older craft books tend to be more focused on techniques than projects and that is exactly what I want when I’m learning something new.

Here are my first embroidery acquisitions:

My (so far) modest stash of out of print embroidery books.
My (so far) modest stash of out of print embroidery books.


And I have a book coming from England any time now, publication date? 1901.


Art in Needlework by Lewis F. Day
Art in Needlework by Lewis F. Day

How do you know when a new obsession or interest will become part of your life?

Jillian’s Spinning: How I’m Getting Through the Holidaze This Year

This year has been especially crazy for me, nothing traumatic,  just extra busy.

I have found a way to make this year’s gift giving  holidays less stressful for me – no handmade gifts. Yep, send out the craft police. I’m not making any presents.

Over the years I have paired down the number of handmade gifts to one or two per year, rotating through the people who really love and appreciate the work that goes into handmade things.

This year it started as an accident – the planning never made it onto my radar. When I realized, I first felt crappy about it. I love knitting and making and I love all of my people, surely this means I’m a bad crafter. Then I became resigned to it. Then I had my Grinch moment, no one else measures my love in handmade gifts, why should I?

I may make some things for people I love this winter, but in a more organic way, not under a stress fest of a deadline.

Right now I am spinning just to spin.

December in Michigan where I live is so grey it’s like living inside of a Tupperware bowl with the lid on.

So I pulled this out of my stash

Dyeabolical merino/bamboo in Blood Orange
Dyeabolical merino/bamboo in Blood Orange

It makes my eyes dance with delight and it is so soft.

I spun it into a woolen 3-ply, about 12 WPI. It will be a simple cowl in moss stitch or a simple slip stitch. Maybe, I’ll end up giving it away this winter.

Blood Orange yarn.
Blood Orange yarn.

How are all of you staying sane this crazy time of year?



Knitting Mondays: A SweaterBabe Giveaway Redux

A SweaterBabe Pattern Giveaway

A few months ago we tried to have a SweaterBabe giveaway and something went very wrong with my computer and it ate all of the comments. So let’s try it again!

Spring is trying hard where I live in Michigan, green flower shoots are nestled in snow and hail. The sunshine is a little less watery and the sky is trying for blue.

Katherine Lee a.k.a SweaterBabe has given us some of her lovely patterns as a giveaway, I’m thinking they will help Spring bloom.

SweaterBabe Patterns!

Three winners will get to choose three PDFs each from the SweaterBabe pattern library!

Prize value: $12.00-$24.00

More SweaterBabe Patterns!

You know how it works: leave a comment on this post between now and midnight eastern time, Wednesday April 17th. Three comments will be chosen at random to answer a skill testing question. If the commenter answers correctly they will win the prize. If you have already won a prize from us in the past year, please do give other knitters a chance.

Jillian’s Spinning: New Knittyspin Column and Rhinebeck!

The new Spring+Summer Knitty is live!

I have a new column, called Knittyspin. I’ll be writing about spinning yarn for knitting. The first column is about why I knit with handspun and all of the things I think about when I make yarn to knit with. I’ve gotten many big email hugs from spinners who’ve read it. I have to say it feels wonderful. I was nervous. I think a lot about spinning and knitting, sometimes too much. I was worried I was rehashing things all spinners knew already or just twirling in mental circles. Whew! Now I can start working on the next column.

Yarnhollow BFL - spun 7 ways
Yarnhollow BFL, colorway Chai – spun 7 ways


I have big news – I’m teaching at Rhinebeck this year!

Workshops aren’t up yet, but here’s a list of what I’ll be teaching:

  • Yarnitecture: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want
  • Color Play: Stress-free Ways to Spin with Color
  • Square Peg in a Round Hole: Using Your Handspun for Knitting Patterns Written for Commercial Yarn
  • The Difference a Ply Makes: Choosing the Right Ply for Your Knitting Project
  • Straw into Gold: Knitting with Handspun
  • I Like Big Yarn and I Cannot Lie : Spinning Big Lofty Yarn

I hope I get to meet a bunch of you in person!


My Hansen miniSpinner and I are getting to know each other. I spent a while just spinning little bits of a lot of things in a bunch of different ways. It was my version of opening all of my birthday presents all at once – fiber flying everywhere, spinning woolen, worsted, fat, skinny, thick and thin all only for a yard or two. It was a blast.

First miniSpinner spun yarn.
First miniSpinner spun yarn.

What are you spinning this week?

Knitty Friday: Franklin’s Contest – One Month to Go!

There’s only one month left to submit your design to Franklin’s Templeton Square contest.

Rev up your needles and your creative ideas, we need your designs knit up, photographed and sent in by March 15, 2013, midnight, EST.

For all of the details, keep reading. We can’t wait to see see what you come up with!

Templeton Squares
Templeton Squares

Contest Time: Square Off with Knitty


Here’s what you’re gonna do:

Use the Templeton Square pattern  as the basis for a finished project. It can be anything at all: a coverlet, a piece of home decor, a garment, a party tent — the type of project is up to you. The only requirement is that the Templeton Square must be a prominent and essential piece of it.

Send us glorious photos of your creation, as many as you want, but three must be:

  • a full shot of your design
  • a flat shot of your design
  • a detail shot of your design

The judges will be judging from your photos so make sure they are lovely and in perfect focus, no smaller than 750 pixels wide.

Include a short paragraph describing your piece, including your inspiration.

Tell us your name, email address and what yarn was used for the project.

Deadline for entry: March 15, 2013, midnight, EST

And here is what will happen:

Our World Famous Panel of Judges:

  • Ysolda Teague
  • Brooke Nico
  • Fiona Ellis
  • Shannon Dunbabin (of Cascade Yarns)

…will choose one winner in each of three categories:

  • Best in Show
  • Most Creative
  • Most Ambitious

Winners will be contacted by email by April 10, 2013
Winners will be announced in the Surprise for the Spring+Summer Issue of Knitty in mid-April, 2013.

Here’s what you could win:

  • Best in Show: Original Franklin Habit illustration, prize value $500, plus 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110, total prize value $610
  • Most Creative: 1 set of Addi Turbo Lace Clicks, prize value $169.95 plus 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110, total prize value $279.95
  • Most Ambitious: 10 skeins of Cascade Sierra yarn (your choice of in stock color), prize value $110
Are you feeling inspired?
What will you make?

Spinning Tuesdays: It’s a Party (Mix)

Julia Farwell-Clay designed a spectacular sweater especially for handspun for this issue of Knittyspin.

Party Mix – All handspun

Party Mix is a lovely sweater and could be the ultimate stash busting sweater. Especially since most spinners buy dyed fiber in similar colorways. I know I do – anyone need purple/brown colored fiber?

Party Mix was an instant hit, lots of spinners are making it. Even non-spinners are knitting it. Two of my spinning gang started it last week, and I’m plotting one.

Party Mix – handspun plus Cascade 220

Julia wrote about her spinning and design process on her blog, Moth Heaven.  I love how her brain works when she writes about design. I also love that she gave us two versions of the sweater, all Spunky Eclectic handspun and handspun plus Cascade 220.

I know my stash holds the makings of a gorgeous Party Mix , I have to finish something (anything) before I start on my Party Mix. I do know I’ll be making it into a cardigan and don’t know yet if it will be all handspun or handspun and millspun. So many options!

Have you started your Party Mix? All handspun or handspun+millspun? Planning one? Finished already and wearing it to Rhinebeck?