Here are most of the lovely and plentiful projects & patterns shared at the April meeting. If you missed sending in your pictures, and it’s not available on Ravelry, feel free to email me and I will be happy to update!
Here are most of the lovely and plentiful projects & patterns shared at the April meeting. If you missed sending in your pictures, and it’s not available on Ravelry, feel free to email me and I will be happy to update!
In April, Yarn Club welcomed one of its members, Katherine Matthews, the artist and designer behind Purl Diving, the Guelph-based and -inspired yarn line.
For the meeting, Katherine designed and dyed a custom colourway based on Emily Carr’s painting Big Raven, based on a Yarn Club member vote of Canadian paintings.
To achieve the colourway that she was satisfied with, Katherine went through many iterations, fine tuning her colours with each new batch:
During her talk, Katherine shared some great online resources for finding your own colour inspirations, and becoming more adept at interpreting and working with colour:
In Part 1 I gave a brief overview and resources dealing with colour theory and how to use it effectively in your yarn craft.
When I think about colour, however, the theory of the choices we make only accounts for half of the colour equation. I believe that, in order to get a fuller picture of colour and how it motivates us, we should also consider how we perceive colour, physically, as well as emotionally and culturally. Regardless of what the theory tells us is “right” in terms of schemes and contrast balance, colour choice is ultimately subject to an individual’s preferences, and that can have a myriad of influences, beginning with how colour is physically processed by our eyes.
Human eyes contain three types of cone photoreceptors located centrally on the retina in an area called the fovea. Each cone type is sensitive to different wavelengths of light (i.e. different colours). The cone cells transduce the light information from our environment into electrical signals which are transmitted to the visual cortex via the optic nerve. Colour blindness occurs when certain types of cone cells are inactive or missing in the eye. Interestingly, the spread of cone cells in the eye is not even amongst the different types. The vast majority – 64% – of cones respond most strongly to red light, 33% to green, and 3% to blue. Also interesting is that this sensitivity corresponds to the order in which most languages have developed words to describe different colours, with red coming first, green following, and blue usually coming last.
Radiolab has a fascinating podcast about colour perception that deals further with cone cells in humans (could you be a tetrachromat?), as well as other species; the development of colour perception in ancient cultures; and why the colour blue is so elusive. (However, be forearmed with a grain of salt: the study they referenced about the Himba tribe of Namibia turns out to be something made up for a BBC documentary.)
So that’s how we see colour physically, but it doesn’t account for how we react to colour personally. Why do some colours jump out at us more readily than others? How do we arrive at a “favourite” colour, and further, can we direct our colour preferences if we understand them better?
Some other factors to consider:
Now that we have a fuller picture of both sides of the colour experience, here are some ideas for expanding your colour language. Try one or two, and observe how you respond to the visual:
Colour choice is incredibly important to every fibre crafter I know. When you are working from a pattern, for example, your colour choice is the central most important element of your interpretation of the work. Will you replicate the scheme exactly? Or choose your own colour adventure?
As yarn-users, unless we are lucky enough to have the skills to dye our own, or know someone who can, we are limited to the palette set out by yarn manufacturers. It’s a different reality from that enjoyed by painters, and other artists with the freedom to create their own unique colours by mixing.
That said, colour theory still has a place in what we do. Even though our colours are pre-determined, how we combine them is still something that we can practice – because like anything else it does get easier the more you work at it.
This month, I’ve delved into colour theory on one hand, and the perception of colour on the other hand (covered in Part 2), in the hopes of inspiring you to deepen your understanding of colour and its use.
Colour theory always begins here, with the colour wheel:
The basic colour wheel combines Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colours. Primary colours = Red, Blue, Yellow. Secondary colours are the combinations of Primaries = Violet, Green, Orange. Tertiary colours are the combinations of Primaries and Secondaries where they meet on the wheel = Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange.
For more in-depth colour wheel info, as well as great examples of colour theory expressed in yarn, see Lacie Lynnae’s The Ultimate Guide to Colour Theory for Sweater Knitters Part 1: The Colour Wheel.
The colour wheel is the basis for all colour possibilities, and combinations. By varying, the tint (amount of white in a colour) or shade (amount of black) and the proportions of different hues (eg. red and blue) contained in a colour, you can arrive at any colour imaginable. By understanding how colours interact with each other on the wheel, how they relate in terms of contrast and similarity (i.e. how much they overlap in hue content – for example, red and purple both contain red, and so are related), you can create striking and well-balanced colour schemes.
Knowing some standard colour schemes will set you up with the tools for manipulating them successfully.
There are even further colour scheme formulas that you can use to ensure that your colour choices are cooperating, but these are a great start. If you’re struggling with a colour combinations, it helps to fall back on techniques that are proven to work. If you’re still having trouble within a prescribed scheme, remember to try varying the value (shade) or saturation (tint) of the colours you’ve chosen, to either add or reduce contrast within the scheme. This can help to calm very loud schemes, or increase the visual interest in schemes where the colours have values that are too similar for good contrast.
Big thank you to Alison Ellett, who took us through crochet diagrams (or charts) last week!
As Alison outlined, there are advantages and disadvantages to crocheting from a chart, but we think the awesomeness outweighs the drawbacks:
Free Japanese hat patterns that you can work from the chart
Simple charted pattern example
Online crochet diagram tutorials
For the visually-inclined, charts can transform the knitting experience and open up new worlds of non-native-tongue pattern collections. As a designer, I find it a particular boon to be fluent in both written and charted instructions as one set often complements (or calls out issues) in the other.
I am a bit unusual in that charts are my first “knitting language.” I started out knitting from stranded colourwork charts, and then at a used book sale in Melbourne many years ago, I picked up this book, which continues to be one of my favourite jumping off points when I’m playing with stitch patterns:
The stitch patterns in this volume are only charted, but since I already had colourwork under my belt, I was already familiar with the “one square = one stitch” concept.
I did, however, spend a lot of time poring over the stitch key. Unfortunately, unlike crochet charts, knitting chart symbols are not universal. There are some common stitch symbols that you will see in familiar shapes across different chart sources, but there are variations. Therefore you always need to start with the key or legend, so that you are sure you know what you’re reading. You’ll notice that the key above includes instructions for both the Right (RS) and Wrong (WS) sides of the work (this key is automatically generated by my charting software, and doesn’t represent what I use in my patterns, to wit the WS instructions for SSK and K2tog are not correct).
To start out slow, I thought about what would be the very simplest chart to read (though it’s not necessarily the easiest chart to knit), and decided on the above. It represents 15 rounds of 10 sts of Stockinette stitch, knit in the round. So essentially a large knit tube. The chart is read from right to left, in the direction of the knitting, and after the 10th stitch of each round, you simply start back at the beginning of the next round.
The wrong side (WS) rows are where many people get confused, and it does require a perspective shift. The chart always repesents the RIGHT SIDE of the work, so it can be a bit of a mental cartwheel when you flip your work to do the WS, and the chart doesn’t come along for the ride. Instead that flip must be performed in your head. WS rows are read from left to right, and stitch you make must be the opposite of whatever the chart shows – i.e., You are working so that whatever shows up at the BACK of what you’re looking at matches the chart. So, for example, above on row 2 (WS) although all the stitches are still empty K squares, when you are working that WS row, you’ll be purling, so that on the RS you’ll have knit stitches showing up.
When you introduce patterning, such as the [K2, P2] rib shown above, you can begin to see how charting can be an excellent visual representation of the work. Of course, no one would ever publish a chart like the one above – it has too many repeats and could be expressed much more simply. In charts, just as in written instructions, knitters are fond of abbreviation. So rather than the long-form chart above, the actual chart might look something like this:
All the extraneous repeats have been removed, and repeat lines have been added to show where the knitter should begin again. In a stitch collection, this stitch pattern might be noted as being a “multiple of 4, plus 2” which means that this pattern can be worked over any number of stitches that is divisible by 4, with an additional 2 stitches added to balance it out (stitches 5 & 6). In written pattern instructions, an indication would be given as to how many times the pattern was to be repeated, both stitch-wise and length- or row-wise.
My love of colourwork runs deep, and it is one place where you really can’t do without the chart. Happily colourwork like this is usually done in the round, so not only is the payoff from chart reading amazing, it’s a great way to ease into the whole world of charted patterns. Some things to note are that some colourwork charts use symbols to represent the colours – you’ll see this in print publications foremost, where colour printing comes at a premium. Also it’s important to note that when you’re finding your place again after having put your knitting down for a period of time (that’s a thing that normal people do, right?) that you should be guided by the stitches that are actually on your needles, rather than the row below.
In cable charts, the stitch key is once again king. Here the symbols get more involved and can be difficult to parse for the beginning knitter. The biggest hurdle I’ve run into teaching this type of chart to others is keeping in mind that cable “stitches” often involve more than one individual stitch:
If I enlarge this cable chart, you can see that symbols like the one outlined in green actually encompass FOUR squares. Because one square always equals one stitch, the number of stitches involved in this symbol is 4. From the arrows on the symbol you can surmise that the two stitches on the left are meant to travel over the two stitches on the right, making this a symbol for a 4-stitch right-leaning cable: sl 2 sts to a cable needle (or if you’re me, and you’re lazy, grab them off the needle with your fingers), hold them in back, knit 2 stitches, then knit the 2 sts from the cable needle (or put them back on the left-hand needle and knit them).
Lace charts can either be extremely straightforward to chart (as above) or extremely difficult. When they are balanced, and the YOs in each row equal the decreases, the stitch count remains the same and they don’t have to end up looking like this:
Now I realize that this is a chart that has the potential to send charting newbies screaming for the hills, and I agree that it is not a thing of beauty and requires a certain amount of faith to begin, but bear with me; because all those blank dark grey spaces aren’t as scary as they look. I’ll come back to them. First a last word on lace chart variations:
Because most lace patterns have identical WS rows (sometimes referred to as resting rows), which are usually entirely purled, some designers prefer to remove the WS rows from lace charts entirely. The argument is that the foreshortened chart is a closer visual representation of the actual resulting lace. As a graphic designer however, I appreciate the presence of a little breathing room in my visuals, and I find this type of chart cramped and disorienting, so I don’t omit the WS rows.
Now back to those blacked out stitches. When a stitch count alters, the blacked out (or in other charts, simply disappearing) stitches represent that change. It means, literally, that there is no longer a stitch there. But while it leaves a gap in your chart, you do not need to replicate this gap in your knitting. In fact, please, please don’t. The way to treat these ghosted stitches is to simply pretend they don’t exist (because… they don’t) and skip over them to the next real stitch.
Finally, for those who want to take their charting adventure to the next level and start creating their own, some suggestions. Obviously the easiest place to start is with graph paper. I have heard some designers praising Rhodia graph paper for having lines that showed up well with scans or photocopying:
If you’re not yet ready to dive into the world of dedicated software, there are some good tutorials online for using Excel to chart, including this one from local designer AnnieBee.
I use Intwined Pattern Studio to chart. It has certain limitations, which I overcome with Illustrator, but I know not everyone is lucky enough to have that option. I like it because it’s inexpensive, it was simple to learn, and over the years I’ve installed it on successive machines without issues (and without paying for it again). In two words, it is robust and uncomplicated.
I know many other designers use Stitchmastery very happily, and its charts are certainly more attractive than the ones I’m able to generate. Sadly Stitchmastery hasn’t kept up with the Mac operating system, so unless you’re willing to install several work arounds to get it to run, you’re (I’m) out of luck on that platform.
Happy charting everyone, and if you have anything to add, please do so below!
We had SO MANY wonderful mittens and other yarny things brought to Yarn Club in January. Just look at our mitten table:
Look at all the beautiful mittens that we assembled for #yarnclub last night! Beautiful work and beautiful stories behind every pair ❤ #knitting #knittersofinstagram #knittersoftheworld #crochet #crochetersofinstagram #knittingaddict #knitstagram #knittersofig #mittens #knitlove #knitwear #guelph #ontario
Alison brought in the following:
Kris brought in the following:
Jo brought in the following:
Roxann brought in her Snow Drops Shawl:
Victoria brought in the following:
There were even more projects shown and stories shared – if I’ve missed anyone please let me know so I can update. Thanks again for our most prolific show & share ever!
Jan Brett reads her illustrated version of an old Ukrainian folktale about the adventures of a lost white mitten.
As I delved into the topic of mittens for this month’s Yarn Club meeting, an interesting theme jumped out at me and began to bounce around in my head. Mittens, arguably, are the most knitted item in history, with socks probably a close second. Every textile tradition includes its own variation, techniques, customs, and even, as in the example above, mythology surrounding the mitten. (I’m unaware of any sock or stocking folklore, but I’m already thinking that our study of mittens requires a companion sock edition.) As I thought about this fascinating, overwhelming mitten truth, a parallel began to form in my head between the varied mitten incarnations, and the different incarnations that deities, legends and fairytales take on across different cultures. Could mittens be the knitter’s (read, yarn crafter’s, please, my dear crocheting friends) mythology? When you make a new pair after your old ones have finally given out (never to be thrown away, but tucked somewhere safe and sacred as a Pyramid), are you adding the next chapter to your maker’s testament? When I tested this parallel in my own life, and took my pile of mittens to join those of the Yarn Club members at last week’s meeting, I was delighted with the narratives that emerged: Cherished baby mittens made for people now grown; mittens made because of a change in lifestyle, a move to a new location, a new job. And more craft-specific, mittens made at previous levels of proficiency (witness the mittens I worked flat in stranded colourwork – I know, I know – and then seamed up with sewing thread, at age 15), that now attest to the miles we’ve come in mastering our techniques (and all the wonderful miles yet to go).
It makes sense. Mittens are such workhorse items, such important parts of our cold weather wardrobe, because they protect a pretty important asset – especially to us makers. In fact they’re often the only line of defence between our fingers and the elements. That’s a position of great honour and responsibility! Is it any wonder they play such an important role in our work, our lives, and the traditions that have sprung up around their creation?
So, what is your mitten story? And what chapter are you going to create next?
More mitten reading and resources:
Folk Mittens by Macia Lewandowski – my personal favourite
Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis
Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg
~ or ~
The Best Way to Block Your Fibre Projects and Why You Should
There are as many ways to block as there are fibre types. And maybe that sentence, right there, is why so many people eschew the process altogether. Because there is no quick answer to the question “How do I block this?” Add to that the fact that most patterns end with the truly illuminating “To finish, weave in ends and block,” and you’re left with a sense that this “blocking” thing is only for those in-the-know.
Well, allow me to initiate you.
Almost everything I’ve read about blocking begins with the author’s pre-revelation story. Something along the lines of, “I used to think blocking was a waste of time…”. I’ve got one of those stories, too. Every born-again blocker does. So let’s skip that part and get right to the point.
Why you should block your fibre projects
Because it makes them look better. That is all. I don’t think it should need any more justification than that really. But okay: it can also make them fit, and feel better too.
If you’re still on the fence, I will tell you what I tell my 5 year old when he doesn’t want to try a new food: You can’t say you don’t like something (or in this case, you don’t find something necessary), unless you have tried it first.
There. That is why you should block your knitting/crochet/weaving/etc., or at least why you should try. Because if you haven’t tried it, if you are still shrugging it off, you are no better than a little kid turning his nose up at his mom’s homemade mac and cheese with truffle oil. I know, right?
Think about blocking as a set of techniques to be learned and then combined to uniquely suit each project; much in the way that knitting, crochet, or weaving is a set of techniques which you combine differently each time you make a new project.
Also, just as you develop a way of making your projects that is unique to you, you should also embrace the techniques of blocking that work best for you and develop your own blocking “sense.” I say this because the information on “how to block” that you’ll find out there on the world wide knitting web (and I’ve listed some of them at the end of this post) is as varied as the authors themselves. Each person brings their own experience to bear on the techniques they describe. So I encourage you not to take anything you read as gospel (including these words), and rather take the tools you find and make them your own. Again, try is the catchword here.
First of all, what is blocking?
Blocking is a process by which moisture (and sometimes heat) are used to straighten, smooth, and set fibre into its final shape.
I like to think about blocking techniques in 3 levels of intensity. This has to do with how deeply into the fibre you are permitting the moisture to penetrate. The deeper the the moisture gets in, the greater the effect on the fabric. Steam blocking (level 1) uses the least amount of moisture, but the greatest amount of heat. Wet blocking (level 2) introduces more moisture, but no heat. Washing (level 3) involves adding a mild detergent to the process. The detergent allows the water to permeate as deeply as possible, particularly for fibres such as wool which naturally repel water (my thanks to Donna of Wellington Fibres for explaining this during the Yarn Club meeting much better than I could have).
Steam blocking is my favourite, particularly since I was gifted a second-hand pro steamer earlier this year. When I steam block something, I put the item on my ironing board and use the steam from my iron or steamer (or spritz it with a spray bottle if my iron’s steam function is acting up again) to straighten out the stitches. I rarely pin the item, because for me steam blocking is not about setting shape. If I want to block something to a certain shape or measurement, I wet block. Steaming is about achieving even stitches and beautiful smooth fabric with perfect drape. To this end, I often “finish” my finishing by steam blocking an item that I have already wet blocked to the proper shape. I also steam block items that are going to be worn with negative ease, such as hats and socks, because in those cases the shape will be provided by the body part.
As you will see further down in the post, not all approaches are appropriate for every fibre type. Steam blocking shouldn’t be used on acrylic and other man-made fibres because the heat could ruin it (melty, yikes!). On the other hand, cotton is ideally suited to steam blocking.
Wet blocking involves saturating the item with water in some way and pinning it out into shape. It gives a bit more control over the final look of the item, and can fix things like rolling edges or the length of a sleeve.
Within the level 2 of wet blocking there are 3 degrees of saturation: spraying, wherein you pin your item out to the desired dimensions and then spray it down until it’s wet (I sometimes pat it down as I go to encourage the moisture not to just cling to the top of fibres like wool); wet-wrapping, wherein you soak a towel in water and then wrap the item in the towel to transfer moisture to it, then pin out the item to the proper dimensions; and immersion, wherein you actually dunk the item in a bucket or sink full of water and get it really wet, then extract the excess water either by putting it in you washing machine on spin or rolling it up in a dry towel and giving it a good squish, and again pinning it out to shape. You then let the item dry completely, still pinned.
Wait, what am I pinning it to? Oh, right. You can pin it to any flat surface that the pins can stick into and that you aren’t going to mind getting a bit wet. In the photo above you can see my Eramosa Vest sample pinned out on top of two big beach towels on the heavy duty carpeting that covers the floor in my workroom. I also pin things to my ironing board if they will fit. I have also seen people pinning things to their mattresses, as well as some excellent DIY blocking boards, and store bought options.
Above I noted that I like to follow up wet blocking with a little steam if the fibre permits, which is particularly useful for getting out the inevitable pin marks that result from wet blocking.
Wet blocking is suitable for most projects in some form or another, though it’s important to note that in the case of most fibres moisture can weaken them, so the more moisture you add the more careful you have to be when working with it wet. Read on for fibre specific guidelines.
Washing, as I mentioned above, is essentially adding detergent to your immersion wet blocking situation to increase the saturation of the fibre. This is an extreme blocking scenario that rarely comes up for me, but it’s good to know it’s an option if you’re in dire straights. I have also heard of people using detergent to try to soften their handmade fabric, or to fuzz it up a bit if that’s the desired effect. If you don’t want to spring for a dedicated wool wash, you can use baby shampoo, or something equally mild (now that’s knitting without tears!).
A note on swatches
I’m always tempted to just give my swatches a good steam and be done with it, they’re just squares after all. But in order to really get a sense of how your finished fabric is going to behave, you should block the swatch as you plan to block the finished object.
As I’ve touched on already, different fibres demand different treatment. You can let the project guide your hand somewhat when you’re making your blocking decisions, but if you’re unsure about a special fibre, I’ve made a little cheat sheet below (click the image to load a larger version). Some of the resources I’ve listed below also address the specific fibre issue in more detail.
One exception to the wool blocking guidelines is superwash wool. Because superwash has had its cuticle chemically stripped to stop it from felting, it has also lost its ability to bounce back into shape the way you might expect untreated wool to do. For this reason I avoid doing much more than pinning and spraying superwash initially, especially for larger items where the weight of the water could stretch things out more than I’d like. Once I do start putting my kids’ superwash stuff in the washing machine, I never hang it to dry, unless I want their sweater cuffs to hang to their knees.
There are some special blocking scenarios that are worth mentioning because they need a little extra special “technique” beyond what I’ve already described. The ones that come up most frequently for me are lace and stranded colourwork.
My dear friend and tech editor extraordinaire, Alison, refers to lace blocking as “aggressive blocking” because of the tendency to block lace within an inch of its life. You do this to maximize the visibility of the lace pattern, adding extra space to your yarn overs. If your lace is a symmetrical shape, such as a triangular shawl, you also want to block it evenly (no scalenes here!), so it’s helpful to measure and mark out your dimensions on your blocking surface. Lace blocking is where many of the specialty blocking tools such as wires and demarcated blocking mats do their best work.
Be prepared to also re-block lace after a period of use. Depending on the fibre, lace will begin to relax and will need a refresher course from time to time.
I do a lot of stranded knitting, and so my blocking technique for these projects has evolved from experience. I find that colourwork requires a bit more manipulation to settle the stitches in their happiest positions. Once I’ve introduced the moisture, be it from my steamer or my sink, I tug the piece this way and that to even out the tension of the stitches and the carries on the back of the work. When I’m satisfied that everyone is playing nicely, I reshape the item, pin it out if necessary, and once it’s dry I finesse it with the steamer or iron.
There is a lot of great experience-based information out there to draw on when you’re looking to dive into or expand your repertoire of blocking. Here are some that I found helpful:
Anything I should add to this guide? I’d love to hear your blocking experience. Thanks for joining the party!