Newly finished lace shawl.

Knitting Lace: Lessons Learned

Newly finished lace shawl.

Newly finished lace shawl.

I love the items I make with lace yarn – they are incredibly versatile. I went to a Science Fiction convention last year in the hottest part of summer and my lace knitting was a my savior. When I was inside and got cold from the air conditioner, I could put the item around my shoulders and be the perfect temperature. And when I went outside, I could either wrap it around my waist and use the shawl as a belt, or stuff it in my bag and have it take up very little room. Plus, I felt so pretty in my lace!

I also absolutely LOVE to knit and crochet lace – especially in the summer when its too warm to have something heavy on my lap. I love working with the super fine yarn and I love to see how different the project looks after you block it from how it looked on the needles. Recently I finished a shawl I’ve been looking forward to working on for months: the Sheherazade Beaded Lace Shawl (details on my Ravelry page). I knit several lace shawls last year as well for my wedding, so I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at lace – enough so that I don’t even use lifelines any more.

A scrumptious alpaca lace yarn. I kept petting it until I finally got to knit with it.

A scrumptious alpaca lace yarn. I kept petting it until I finally got to knit with it.

Things I Learned to Make Lace Knitting Easier

  • It is really helpful to have pictures of the finished the project. Sometimes I’m not sure if I missed a stitch or not but the project might just seem wrong. I can refer to the picture and see how the project is supposed to look and that often helps me sort it out. I especially like detailed pictures, so look for those when you pick out a project.
  • The most common mistake I make is to leave out a yarn over. It’s very easy to do. Luckily, it’s also very easy to fix. So if your stitches don’t seem to be coming out right, check to see if you are missing a yarn over.
  • I prefer to have very little color variation in my yarn when I work with lace. It makes it so much easier to see the pattern emerge.
  • If you can’t decide which color beads to use, just pick one. I had a piece I was working on and I swatched it with 3 colors of beads. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best but what I didn’t realize is that meant I liked them all. I took a poll of my knitting group and they all voted for different ones. So, I decided that meant there was no wrong answer.
  • Unless you are using lifelines, it is not a good idea to try to unravel lace by taking out the needles and pulling on the yarn. Because of all the yarn overs and decrease stitches, you will likely NOT be able to recover from this. Instead, tink back (or unknit) to the point where you made the mistake. I will do this even if I have to do multiple rows. However, if I’m near the beginning I’ll just pull the whole thing out and start over.

Do you like to knit lace? Crochet it? Let me know in the comments.

Knitting a Living Room Rug

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I just recently moved into a new house and I’m in the process of unpacking and decorating. I actually picked the colors of my living room based on a Knitpicks.com Swish kit which was recently on sale – plum (blackberry), silver and grey were the colors of the kit in a superwash wool, bulky weight. I figured I’d make an afghan for myself, since the GroovyGhan (see the header of the blog) is going downstairs to the living room down there. I ordered plum paint for an accent wall (it is currently brown) and I put tons of plum and silver decorations in my Amazon wish list, hoping I might get some of them for Christmas.

Then I started shopping for rugs. I saw rugs near the size I want – 7 ft by 5 ft – on Pottery Barn’s web site for almost $1000! Sure they are wool and I’m sure they are great quality, but I started thinking – couldn’t I knit a rug a lot less expensively? AND have it match my walls and afghan perfectly? Plus, since the rug is going on a carpeted floor, I won’t have to worry about it sliding around as it would on hard wood.

So I did some research online trying to determine how much yarn I would need to make a rug that was the size I want. I found a site which showed the average amount of yarn needed per square inch of each yarn weight. I have no idea how accurate that is, but I needed a place to start. Next I created a spreadsheet to help me do the math and I plugged in my desired size – 7 ft by 5 ft – and converted it to the number of yards of yarn I needed. It should be 2100 yards if my math is correct. I found that I could get a 100% wool yarn (not superwash) from Knit Picks (Wool of the Andes) and the whole price of the project would be less than $100. So, I ordered the yarn and I’m going to give it a try.

I plan to knit the rug in strips of stockinette and then graft the strips together. This is mostly because I don’t have any 5 foot long knitting needles. I’ll knit it to 6 ft x 4 ft and graft it together, then I’ll knit or crochet a border around the entire thing which will be first light grey and then purple. Hopefully it will look great and wear well. I guess if it doesn’t I can always use it as another afghan!

One concern which my Mom broached – what if someone walks on it in high heels? That’s not something that happens often in my house but I’m hoping if it does it won’t be a problem. I guess it will depend on the heels! I had thought that if I felt the yarn it won’t be an issue. But then the rug will have to be even bigger to allow for shrinkage so… no.

I have a few other projects to finish up before I get started on the rug, but I just received the yarn today (16 skeins of blackberry and 3 of silver). I’ll let you all know how it goes. I may even post a pattern at some point in the future.

What do you think? Will it work?

Gauge Swatch: When Can You Skip It?

I have noticed a few things about gauge swatches which I find interesting:

  1. It seems like the newer and more inexperienced a knitter/crocheter is, the less they want to make gauge swatches.
  2. Pretty much every “how to” resource you read really stresses the importance of gauge swatches.

And yet, I still hate to do them myself. You should swatch every time. And yet, there are circumstances under which I will just just skip the swatch. Every time I do I take a risk that the finished product won’t be the correct size and that I’ll run out of yarn. However, sometimes choosing not to make a swatch is a calculated risk I’m willing to take. If all three of these criteria are met, I will sometimes skip a gauge swatch:

  1. If I making something that doesn’t have a “fit”: blankets, shawls, curtains, etc.
  2. If the pattern is by an established publisher
  3. If the yarn is made of fibers I’ve worked with before

Items that don’t have to fit

If an item has a size, you need to do a gauge swatch every time. There really isn’t any getting around this. If you don’t, you will probably end up doing a lot more work in the long run than you would have just doing the darn swatch.  So, if you are going to put it on someone’s body, swatch.

Established Publishers

I have come to find that if I am making something with a pattern by an established publisher – something from a book or a magazine or a really well established designer on Ravelry – I can count on the gauge being pretty reasonable most of the time. There have been exceptions – like a sweater I made once that I had great difficulty even getting the gauge no matter how small of needles I used – but usually established designers seem to have a pretty consistent gauge. On the other hand, the person who has a free pattern up on Ravelry or a web site whom you’ve never heard of before is more likely to have a messed up gauge.

Yarn Fibers

When the fibers are those I’ve worked with before I generally know how they will behave. If its something new or rare to me, I gauge to take out the uncertainty.

When do you skip the gauge swatch? Do you hate to swatch?

How to Make the Perfect Sock Knitting Kit

A stitch counter & a variety of markers. Note how some of the markers open and some do not.

A stitch counter & a variety of markers. Note how some of the markers open and some do not.

As I mentioned in my last post, I really enjoy knitting socks. As I know you will, too, I thought I’d share with you the contents of my sock knitting kit. This is something that has evolved over the last year of knitting socks and now it has everything I need to knit socks most of the time.

First off, start with a bag which is made of cloth. I know, you’d think you want a knit or crocheted bag but the needles for socks are so small they will constantly stick out of anything that has holes. So I have a cloth drawstring bag (I got mine from Knit Picks) to hold all my sock materials. It’s big enough to hold 2 balls of sock yarn and 2 pairs of socks, but that’s only about 6″ x 10″ or so.

Obviously your kit then stats with the yarn, pattern and needles for your socks. After you have that, add:

  1. A tape measure
  2. A few colors of sock weight yarn in small amounts. This comes in handy whenever your pattern calls for scrap yarn (like for an afterthought heel).
  3. A small crochet hook. You can use this to help you pick up tiny dropped stitches. I like a C size, personally.
  4. At least one stitch marker. Almost every pair of socks wants you to mark the beginning of the row with a stitch marker. If you have a few (5 or so) you’ll be prepared for most patterns.
  5. A pencil to mark your pattern as needed.
  6. A pair of scissors which won’t stab you. You can do a pair of folding scissors, a pair with a sheath or a pair with rounded tips. Mine are on a cord so I can wear them around my neck.
  7. A row counter of some kind. I have a small one attached to the cord for my folding scissors. You can also use your phone to count stiches, in which case you can skip this.
  8. If you are knitting on DPNs, you may want a holder so that your stitches don’t come off the needles.

That’s it! If you build a kit with all those things, you’ll be prepared for almost any sock making contingency.

Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments what you keep in your sock making kit.

Toe-up socks with self-striping yarn

6 Reasons You Should Try Knitting Socks

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Toe-Up Socks with Self-Striping Yarn

Knitting socks will make you a better knitter!

Ever since I knit my first pair of socks, I’ve almost constantly had a pair of socks on my needles. I resisted sock knitting for a really long time, partly because they look hard but mostly because I figured that was a lot of work for something that would only be on my feet and not seen very much. But now that I’ve knit a few pairs, I love to knit socks!

Reasons Socks are Great to Knit

  1. Knitting socks will make you a better knitter! Knitting socks is a great way to learn a variety of intermediate & advanced knitting techniques fairly easily. Sure you could knit a sweater, but that’s a big investment in time AND yarn if  it doesn’t turn out well. With socks, you can learn to do short rows, increases, decreases, cables, ribbing, lace knitting… pretty much any technique. And its a lot less investment than a sweater.
  2. They are very portable. I can stick a pair of socks in my purse and take them with me anywhere. Most people I knit with have a small project as their “purse knitting” and socks make a great choice.
  3. They don’t take very long. I can usually finish a pair of socks in a few weeks if I work on them as my main project.
  4. Hand made socks are soooo comfortable.
  5. You can make them exactly like you want them – plain, fancy, lacy, striped, fuzzy, multicolored… whatever makes your perfect sock you can knit for yourself.
  6. They aren’t as hard as they look. And there are TONS of resources online to help you get started.

Please share your sock knitting experiences in the comments. Do you have a favorite yarn? Favorite sock designer? I’d love to hear about it.

10 Extremely Useful Knitting Resources

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Below are 10 of the most useful knitting resources I’ve found lately. I thought you all might get some benefit from there:

  1. How to Weave in Ends
  2. How to Hide Your Ends AS YOU KNIT
  3. Video: How to Block a Sweater
  4. Counting rows when knitting cables
  5. Video: How to Knit 2 Socks at a Time On Circular Needles
  6. Double knitting tutorial
  7. How to Mend Holes in Woolens
  8. How to Darn Socks
  9. How to Bind Off When Your Out of Yarn
  10. How to Add an Afterthought Thumb to Mitts

What are your favorite resources online?

Here is a close up view of the lace wrap.

My First Lace Knit

Project Log: “Romantic Moments Lace Wrap”

My newly finished lace wrap. I also made a hat to match for my Derby Party.

I feel like my knitting skills have advanced an amazing amount since the start of this year. At the end of last year, I made some fingerless gloves for people at a Christmas present and I didn’t even know how to knit in the round or leave a thumb gusset. And now I just finished a beautiful lace shawl – my most challenging project to date.

I started this back on March 9 and finished it May 1, so it didn’t take all that long to complete. But it was VERY challenging – probably the most difficult thing I’ve made so far. And it was very rewarding as well.

Pattern: Romantic Moments Lace Wrap and Garter

Here is a close up view of the lace wrap.

Yarn: Mountain Colors Winter Lace in the Harmony Rose colorway

Lessons Learned:

  • Use lifelines when you knit lace.
  • How to block. I used my new blocking wires and kit from Joann for this project and that’s really why it looks so amazing. Before blocking it was a LOT less impressive. I followed all the directions on the blocking wires kit and it came out beautifully!
  • Stitch markers can be invaluable when your knitting lace. They helped me to stay on track and, more importantly, to realize when I was OFF track. I counted pretty much every stitch of every row on this and that, combined with the stitch markers, helped me to find any mistakes while they were still easy to fix.

Getting Started in Crochet

The patterns shown here are easy and a great way to get started.

There are a lot of resources out there to get started in Crochet, including a variety of books. But there are lots of free resources, too – especially YouTube vidoes. So I took the time to review several of these videos to find the very best. I looked for easy-to-follow instructions, clear pictures, and all the info you need to get started in one place.

I didn’t find any videos that meet all these criteria and also cover yarn selection, hook selection and give a pattern. So, here’s my suggestion to get started without having to buy any books:

  1. Yarn: Review my post on selecting yarn. I recommend you start with an even, smooth, lighter colored worsted weight yarn. You might want to go to the craft store to pick your first one out so you can feel the yarns and see the exact color. If you are making the dish cloth pattern below, you will want your yarn to be absorbent so select one that has a high amount of cotton in it. Acrylic yarns are cheaper, but they won’t really soak up water. And cotton yarns aren’t going to shrink or otherwise change if exposed to hot water.
  2. Hook: The pattern you select will specify the hook to use, which will also be based on the size of yarn you select. Smaller yarns generally require smaller hooks & vice versa.  If you have the funds, you might want to get a kit of inexpensive hooks to start. That gives you several sizes to work with. You probably will end up liking a different style of hook better, but these will work and give you the flexibility to do many different projects without having to buy more hooks. If you don’t have the funds, the patterns I have selected below all don’t have a gauge that matters, so you can buy an H sized hook (probably the most commonly used with worsted weight yarn) and have a minimal investment to start with.
  3. Technique: Then check out this series of YouTube videos – they are the best and most comprehensive I found.
  4. Patterns: Once you have the basic techniques, here are a few great free patterns for a beginner. You do NOT have to use the yarn brand or color suggested in the pattern. You can, but any worsted weight (size 4) yarn will work. You will need a free account on Lion Brand yarns to view these patterns. But, trust me, its well worth your while to sign up for a free account on their site.

If none of the patterns I’ve suggested are to you liking, try doing a search for Beginner patterns on their site or on Ravelry and you will find all sorts of choices.

I’d love to hear how these resources worked for you! Please let me know in the comments.

WIP: How Many Projects Can One Girl Have?

I’ve been really busy with knitting lately and haven’t crocheted much at all. I’ve got several projects going at the same time and then some queued up already for later. Here’s my work in progress (WIP).

  1. I’m working on a lace wrap for myself.I know its going to be just beautiful. I love the yarn – it’s a hot pink yarn that has subtle color variations from an orange-ish pink to a purple-ish pink. It’s especially beautiful in the sunlight. The yarn is 50/50 wool and silk and has a beautiful sheen and is very soft. I had a goal to finish it buy the end of May for ConQuest, but now I’m hoping to finish it in time for my Derby Party since it will go beautifully with my Derby Hat. It takes a lot of concentration, but now that I’ve repeated the pattern 17 times (I have to do it 33), I’m starting to get the hang of it enough to work on it during TV watching.
  2. The parts & pieces I’m going to use to make my Derby Hat.

    I’m making a Derby Hat. This is a hat I got on sale at Joann’s. It’s a pink and white sun hat and I’m going to add a glittery pink ribbon, some flowers (roses & dogwoods) and some white feathers. I think it will be just “too too” (as my Mom would say).

  3. I decided I should have some socks of my own. I’ve had some yarn around for a while now that is beautifully self-striping in purple and white. I’m really happy with how these socks are turning out. They are my first toe-up socks so I’ll be writing a blog post about them later. I decided to go with a toe-up sock because it would be new but also so I could use up ALL my yarn. The pattern is a heavily modified Rock the STARS socks pattern. This project doesn’t have a deadline so I work on it when I don’t have the ability to concentrate on my knitting completely (like at Nebraska Knit & Crochet Guild night).
  4. I’m working on another half-moon cape in white. This will be a project to sell and I’m very close to finished with it. My deadline is ConQuest.
  5. I have a shawl I’ve been half-heartedly crocheting. It’s a pretty boring pattern and I started it before I started my lace shawl. The lace shawl is going to be so much prettier that I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the project. But I’ll finish it eventually.

Projects in my Queue

  • New sock yarn from Knit Picks

    Socks for a mystery person (as a present). I got this beautiful yarn from Knit Picks. It’s super soft and I can’t wait to work with it.

  • A vest for one of my very favorite people – my Aunt Myra. It’s going to be a lot of stockinette in a DK yarn so it will probably not going very quickly. But I have until Christmas to finish it.
  • A new tunic for myself for summer. I’m going to use this pattern from Interweave. I’m either going to make it with the exact same yarn in the same color, or I’m going to save myself $20 and make it in a similar yarn in pink.
  • I downloaded about 4 other patterns from Interweave yesterday. They were having a sale!! So that will keep me busy for quite some time.

What are you working on right now? Let me know in the comments.

Here is an example. I started a pair of socks & then decided to frog them. The yarn I frogged is on the tube you see next to the ball.

How To Keep Your Frogged Yarn from Tangling

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Here is an example. I started a pair of socks & then decided to frog them. The yarn I frogged is on the tube you see next to the ball.

It’s happened to most knitters & crocheters: you start on a pattern and part way through you realize you did something wrong or you don’t like the pattern. So you have to frog your work. But when you do so, you end up with a big tangled mess that is a pain to work with until you get back to the ball of yarn you were working with. Well, here’s how you can keep that yarn from tangling up while you rework it.

As you frog your work, wrap the yarn around a smooth tube. I used the my Sock Knitting Needle Holders from KnitPicks.com for this example, but a used toilet paper tube or a travel toothbrush holder would work as well. You just want something tubular in shape and smooth in texture. Start wrapping at one end of the tube and just keep wrapping moving gradually toward the other end. Its okay if your yarn overlaps itself, but for best results, you don’t want it to go back and forth on the tube much.

Now start working again from the tube. One end of the tube will probably raise off the surface, which is ideal. Your yarn will come off smoothly and without knots and, if more comes off the ball on accident after you start, you can just wind it around the other end (being careful not to cover any of the yarn already on the tube). When all the yarn on the tube is used, start working from the ball as normal.

Happy crafting!