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  • trapping long floats in stranded colorwork

    One of the questions I get most often from students or knitters working from my patterns is how to trap floats in stranded colorwork. I thought it would be a good idea to finally address this issue!

    Firstly: what is a float, and why would I need to “trap” it?

    “Float” is a common term for the strand of yarn that runs across the back of colorwork fabric - the strand that makes colorwork stranded. This distinguishes it from other colorwork methods like mosaic knitting or intarsia. Typical stranded colorwork motifs are worked with two different colors per round, with the colors changes happening often (this keeps the floats short). Some motifs, however, involve longer floats - and long floats are exceptionally good at catching on fingers, jewelry, or other things that can work their way between the knitted fabric and the float. So for knitted fabric that’s likely to come into things that may catch on floats, like fingers and toes, we must trap or catch long floats to anchor them to the fabric. 

    Here’s a visual for you:

    In the swatch pictured above, there are two long floats where the blue yarn is stranding across twelve stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. The long float pictured at the top of the swatch is trapped twice so that the blue float never carries across more than four stitches (it looks like three shorter floats instead). The long float pictured at the bottom of the swatch isn't trapped at all, so it's floating across all twelve stitches. You can see how much easier it is to catch a finger (or a toe, or a hand) on the open, un-trapped float:

    So, if I’m knitting a piece that has long floats, how often should I trap them? I get this question a lot, and it’s a tricky one to answer. Some teachers use hard-and-fast rules, like “never carry a float more than five stitches without trapping it.” Some teachers tell you not to go more than three stitches. Personally, I don’t like this approach. It may sound precise at first, but when you think about it, gauge makes this an incredibly imprecise way to go about it. A float carried across five stitches in fingering weight is a much shorter float than one carried across five stitches in bulky yarn. If you must use a general rule, going by length in inches or cm is a better way to go (e.g. making sure no floats are longer than 1” or something similar). 

    That being said, if a rule doesn’t jive with your personal preferences, that’s perfectly fine! I don’t enjoy trapping floats very much, as it slows down my knitting and can affect the look of my knitted fabric, and I’ll avoid it if I can get away with it. The most important thing is to consider what kind of item you’re knitting, and who’s going to be wearing/using it. A pattern like Pine Bough Cowl is worked in a tube and then grafted together, so the floats on the inside of the tube will never be exposed one it’s finished - there’s really nothing they can get caught on. No need to trap floats there. A baby sweater or a pair of mittens, however, will provide ample opportunity for fingers to catch on floats, so trapping those floats is a good idea. There’s a big difference between a knitted bag you’ll sew a lining into and a pair of mittens or socks. Use your best judgment and go with what you’re comfortable with! 

    Now that we’ve covered when it’s a good idea to trap floats - how do we actually do it? In reality, there are a few different methods, but I’ll be demonstrating what I think is the most common below. Because I’m a continental knitter and I carry both yarns in my left hand, that series of photos is first, but if you scroll down you’ll also find a series of photos demonstrating the same technique in the two-handed method, with one yarn carried in each hand.

    I’ll be using my Hearth Slippers to demonstrate in the photos, as this pattern involves a very long float the first time you work Chart C. I’m working the Large size, and the float is carried across 21 stitches. The charcoal grey is the working yarn for that length, while the light blue yarn is being carried across the back (the “floating” yarn). In this example, the dominant yarn is the floating yarn, while the background yarn is the working yarn. (Wondering what the “dominant yarn” is? You can read about color dominance here.)

    CARRYING BOTH YARNS IN THE LEFT HAND 

    I’m trapping my float every 6th stitch as I work across the span of charcoal grey, but you could trap every 5th or 4th stitch as well. You can see in the photo above that I’ve worked the first 5 stitches of my 21-stitch span.

    Insert your right-hand needle into the next stitch, but don’t wrap your working yarn around the needle yet.

      

    Slide your right-hand needle underneath the floating strand (blue), then wrap the working yarn (charcoal) around your needle to knit the stitch.

     

    If you stop here and look at your float, you’ll see that it’s caught in the space between the stitch you just knit and the previous stitch. You’ve effectively trapped the float already!

    Go ahead and knit the next stitch normally. When carrying both yarns in the left hand, you may need to use your thumb to hold the floating yarn (blue) out of the way. After knitting this stitch, I have 7 stitches of my 21-stitch span knit. My blue floating yarn is trapped on either side of the 6th stitch. This is a very secure way to trap the float.

    Here’s a closer look at what that looks like from the wrong side of the fabric:

    You can see how the float is trapped at the sixth charcoal grey stitch.

    And you can see these steps in action here:

    trapping long floats - carrying both yarns in your left hand from Dianna on Vimeo.

    CARRYING YARNS WITH THE TWO-HANDED METHOD

    In this example, the dominant color, carried in my left hand, is the contrasting color (blue), while the background color, carried in my right hand, is the main color (charcoal). The background color/main color is also my working yarn here, while the dominant/contrasting color is being carried across the wrong side of the work.

    I’m trapping my float every 6th stitch as I work across the span of charcoal grey, but you could trap every 5th or 4th stitch as well. You can see in the photo above that I’ve worked the first 5 stitches of my 21-stitch span.

    Insert your right-hand needle into the next stitch, but don’t wrap your working yarn around the needle yet.

    Slide your right-hand needle underneath the floating strand (blue), then wrap the working yarn (charcoal) around your needle to knit the stitch.

    If you stop here and look at your float, you’ll see that it’s caught in the space between the stitch you just knit and the previous stitch. You’ve effectively trapped the float already!

    Go ahead and knit the next stitch normally. After knitting this stitch, I have 7 stitches of my 21-stitch span knit. My blue floating yarn is trapped on either side of the 6th stitch. This is a very secure way to trap the float.

    Here’s a closer look at what that looks like from the wrong side of the fabric:

    You can see how the float is trapped at the sixth charcoal grey stitch.

    And you can see these steps in action here:

    trapping long floats while using the two-handed stranded colorwork method from Dianna on Vimeo.

    --

    There are other ways to trap floats, but in my experience, this is the most common (and it's a pretty simple way to trap floats as you're working, so there's less finishing after the fact). If you finish knitting something and only then realize that you should have trapped the long floats - don't worry! It's possible to trap those long floats as you're weaving in ends after the fact (and if there isn't a long end to weave in where you need to trap a float, you can take a spare bit of leftover yarn and just weave it into the wrong side of the fabric as if it were an end, trapping the floats as you go).

    Feel free to post questions in the comments, or share other tips or methods you know of!

  • moon sprites & icelandic wool month at tolt

    After releasing my F/W13 collection, I decided I wanted to knit something special as a thank you for the folks in Carnation who had helped make the photoshoot possible - Anna from Tolt Yarn and Wool and her friends and neighbors Shelley and Janya. Moon Pulls was already a collection favorite and I thought it'd be fun to knit each of them a hat inspired by Moon Pulls - and so I did!

    While I decided early on that I wanted to write the pattern for the hats, it took a little while for that plan to come to fruition. I had made two different versions of the hat when I knit the prototypes for Anna, Shelley, and Janya, and I had an idea for a third version I wanted to include as well. Deciding how best to incorporate three "views" (in the way a sewing patterns often include different views) into one knitting pattern took me some time, and actually sitting down and knitting different versions took a little bit of time, too. While the hat itself is a pretty quick knit, I had to fit in the knitting of the samples around many other projects.

    I knit the first three samples while in Iceland last spring during DesignMarch. Shopping for Lopi at the Handknitting Association's store in central Reykjavík convinced me that I shouldn't stop at three samples - one for each view - but rather I should knit at least two per view, in order to showcase different color combinations. There's such an immense opportunity for creativity with the wide palette of colors Ístex offers. In the end, I knit eight, all of which are featured in the pattern's pages to give you ideas for color pairings.

    Finally, a year after knitting the first pattern sample, Moon Sprites is available! Here's an overview of the three different pattern views:

    View A - three colors, colorblocked. This matches up with the sleeves on Moon Pulls.

    View B - three colors, without colorblocking. This matches up with the bottom of the body on Moon Pulls.

    View C - two colors only, colorblocked. 

    This pattern is absolutely fantastic at using up leftovers of Létt-Lopi (or any other aran-weight yarn, for that matter). It makes a great gauge swatch if you're planning to knit Moon Pulls. And with only a little bit of colorwork (seven rounds in total), it's also ideal for colorwork beginners. I love how much possibility is packed into one little hat pattern and I can't wait to see what beautiful versions knitters come up with!

    You can find Moon Sprites as a digital download on Ravelry, on Etsy, or on Kollabora, and the printed version is going to press as I type (they should be available at Tolt starting mid-week next week; if you're a store interested in carrying hard copies, email me at the address listed on the about page).

    Special thanks to Kathy Cadigan for the beautiful pattern photos!

    --

    To bring this whole thank-you-hat thing full circle, this month is Icelandic Wool Month at Tolt Yarn and Wool! The Tolt community is celebrating Icelandic wool and its wonderful properties, and you can share your Lopi projects on social media with the hashtag #tolticelandicwoolmonth. It's worth noting here that Tolt carries Einband, Létt-Lopi, Álafoss Lopi, and now Plötulopi, so you can get your Lopi fix in a variety of weights. Be sure to stop by Tolt if you can to check out Moon Pulls and Moon Sprites in person

    Anna and I were pretty excited when we realized the release of Moon Sprites would coincide with Icelandic Wool Month at Tolt. When she asked if I'd be willing to be one of this month's guest bloggers, I gladly said yes - so today I'm on the Tolt blog waxing poetic about Iceland! Thanks so much to Anna for inviting me to share!

  • vintage knits

    I enjoyed Karen's post that went up today over at Fringe about the vintage sweater booklets sent to her by a friend. I had to smile to myself, because yesterday I'd pulled out what is probably my oldest piece of knitting paraphernalia - and I was largely inspired to do that because of the waistcoat Karen's currently knitting from a vintage pattern.

    The booklet I pulled out to look at again was published Bear Brand & Bucilla in 1922 - it belonged to my great grandmother, who taught my mother to knit, and was passed down to me by my mother, who thought I'd enjoy it (and she was right). Like the Jack Frost booklets Karen wrote about, the booklet's near falling apart (in fact, the cover is completely detached) and there's ancient yellowed tape holding together pages that were torn long ago.

    I don't know much about Bear Brand or Bucilla yarns, but apparently they were both under the umbrella of the Bernhard Ulmann Co. As you can see, my booklet is volume 41. I love that this was early enough they were spelling it "yarnkraft" (cursory Google searches seem to indicate that this later became "yarncraft," as we would now expect).

    I also love how very twenties this whole booklet is. There's a heavy focus on sportswear, with scenes of golf, skiing, and bathing at the beach worked in, but I think a lot of the pieces included are absolutely wearable today. Designs for women, men, and children are included (and there's even a dog sweater), in both knit and crochet. Here's a sampling:

    (click this one to make it larger)

    How contemporary is that beautiful striped pullover? I adore it.

    Knitters of the twenties would appreciate my current obsession with garter stitch, I think.

    But perhaps my favorite piece in the whole booklet is:

    "A practical sweater which successfully meets the demand for both sport and general wear," with optional shawl collar version. Practical indeed.

    I've never actually knit from a vintage pattern but I'd love to someday, regardless of the challenges they present for the modern knitter (how to substitute yarns, how to make sense of terminology and abbreviations that may have changed over the decades, how to achieve the right size, etc.). I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Karen's finished waistcoat, and I'd love to see any projects you all might have knit or crocheted using vintage patterns.

  • stash less & thoughtful crafting

    A month or two ago I discovered The Craft Sessions via the Woolful podcast, and it didn't take long once I'd wandered over to the website for me to add the blog to my blog reader. Felicia lives in Melbourne, Australia, and founded The Craft Sessions as a way to provide opportunities for craft and fiber retreats in the Australian craft community. I found myself reading backwards through the archives, and I definitely found myself drawn to a concept Felicia started writing about a few months ago: Stash Less. She also talked about Stash Less in the podcast, so here's a link to that episode if you haven't heard it.

    The Stash Less concept comes from a desire to be more thoughtful about what we make and why we craft. It's about intentional making. This quote from the post that introduced Stash Less really struck a chord with me:

    "'In the presence of good materials, hopes grow and possibilities multiply.' And I truly believe that is so so true. But I also think that there can be too much of a good thing. And that maybe that is where I am."

    I tend not to voice my own concerns with the materialism and consumption involved in the craft community too loudly - after all, I sell patterns, which also help to sell yarn, which helps local yarn stores and indie dyers and needle makers and all other sorts of folk in this beautiful web in a mutually beneficial way, and above all it helps encourage others to take up the needles and share this craft with more of the world. But it has not escaped my attention that the encouragement can go a little too far - we can become obsessed with this or that yarn, or dyer, or notions maker, and we can develop a fear of missing out that drives us to purchase things we don't need because we want them and we can probably find a way to use them later. 

    This isn't to say that I think having a stash of yarn or fabric is a bad idea. It's a totally good idea. Not only can it bring inspiration to be surrounded by beautiful materials, but you always have tools on hand when you want to try out something new. But I also believe that life is about balance, and after a period of acquiring a lot more yarn than I actually need, I'm starting to feel the other side of the stash more and more. It's making me want to slow down, pull back, and start to balance the scales. I know I'm not alone in this, but despite having a sizeable stash, I still tend to buy new yarn when I have a very specific project I want to make. This means that some of the stash yarn just sits there for years and years. Once yarn's been in your stash for nearly a decade, it's not likely to be super inspiring anymore, you know? 

    So Felicia's Stash Less concept really spoke to me. I don't feel the need to make it an actual challenge, like she has - or perhaps I'm just setting different parameters for myself - but I have noticed a change in the way I'm thinking about my projects, particularly after I wrote about wanting to take it easier this year. I'm definitely still thinking about the perfect slouchy cardigan I'd like to knit, among several other things I'd love to cast on for, but some time in the last few weeks I decided to make a real effort to finish all my current WIPs before beginning any new purely personal projects. Having 12 WIPs going at once stresses me out, so what's fun about that? I've managed to work my way down to five active personal WIPs since the new year (excluding my Beekeeper's Quilt, which is a leftovers-eater and will likely be going on for quite awhile), and you know what? That feels really amazing. Really amazing.

    I don't know that I'll ever be a totally monogamous knitter again. I'm not sure I can do just one project at a time; I've written before about the balance between having a complex project and a simple project going at the same time, and how it's nice to be able to pick up whichever I'm feeling up for that day. But it does feel extremely good to be working through half-finished projects that have been on the needles for ages, neglected as I distractedly run from one thing to the other, starting new projects with reckless abandon. I thought I'd share one of those projects here on the blog today since it's been a little quiet lately!

    This is the Splitta Genser, or Slitted Sweater, a pattern from the Pickles team (Pickles is a yarn brand/store in Oslo). I fell in love with the pattern right away when I first saw it on the Pickles blog, even though the sample is a vivid Pepto-Bismol-pink (I don't tend to go for pink). I saw potential, and I saw how the silhouette would fill a hole in my handknit wardrobe - namely that I don't have a lot of knits to wear with high-waisted skirts or dresses. I'm thrilled that the final result is exactly the sweater I had in mind when I cast on. Here's a peek at the back:

    The overlapping panels is the detail that really sold me on such a simple knit. I think it's a lovely feature and a little unexpected if you've only seen the sweater from the front. You can read my project notes and details over on Ravelry, and the pattern is available in both Norwegian and English.

    I started this sweater in April of last year, so it's a relief and a joy to finally have it finished, and I'm so happy it fits into my wardrobe in a way that nothing else I've made really does. It's quite in line with the Stash Less philosophy I've been swept up in, so I feel like it's helping me get off to a good start. I've been reorganizing the Paper Tiger studio again, trying to optimize the space to improve my focus and workflow, and I'm working on getting the whole yarn stash more or less into one place, where most of it is visible (see also: episode 11 of knit.fm, "Stash Control"). My hope is that this will help my shift in thinking, and prompt me to think about what I could be making with what I have on hand (and where that overlaps with what my own garment and accessory needs). 

    I'd love to hear about your own efforts at stash control or project planning. How do you keep things from getting out of hand?

  • swedish pancakes (pom pom spring 2015)

    The preview of the spring 2015 issue of Pom Pom Magazine went up today, and I'm thrilled to have a design in this issue! When the call for submissions was first posted, I have to admit I got pretty excited. "Clean lines and shapes and Scandinavian minimalism" were the key words, so I was all over it. I had time to put a couple of submissions together, and fortunately one of them made it in! Here's Swedish Pancakes:

    I'm so happy with how these sweet little mitts turned out. One of my favorite things about working with third parties like Pom Pom or Brooklyn Tweed is that they often push me to work outside my comfort zone with colors (leave it to me and I'll work with blue, grey, and green forever). My swatch for this stitch pattern was worked in white and blue, which is very typical for me, but I think the subtle pink and warm silver are a beautiful combination and I love the effect of the softened colorwork.

    To explain the name of the mitts, we have to turn to the pattern motif. I've wanted to work with this colorwork stitch pattern for quite awhile - it's very directly inspired by the exterior of a building here in Seattle: the Swedish Club. It's a box of a mid century building which was completed in 1961 (around the same time the Space Needle was nearing completion, the year before the Seattle World's Fair in 1962), and situated on the west side of Lake Union with a beautiful view of the lake and city. I first encountered the club when a friend suggested we try out their Swedish pancake breakfast back in 2010. Once there, we learned that the pancake breakfast is a monthly event that brings a thousand people through the doors in the space of a few hours, complete with folk bands and people of all ages, and it's bucketloads of fun. I joined the club that very day. My relationship with the club goes beyond pancake breakfast, though - it's also a pretty special building to me because it's where I got married. If you're in Seattle, I highly encourage you to check out the rather large calendar of events and find an excuse to go to the club. (Seriously - weekly happy hour, fiber arts open studio time, and dinners, movies, Swedish classes, car shows... there's a lot to choose from.)

    The south and east walls of the building feature an exterior layer of metal latticework in a geometric design of overlapping circles. It's one of my favorite things about the building and I'm so happy to finally feature it in a colorwork pattern.

    (photo borrowed from the inimitable Jenny Jimenez)

    You can check out more views of the building on Flickr.

    I also thought it would be fun to share a bit of memoribilia from the club. My husband Chris and I picked up this plate at one of their antiques & great finds sales:

    It's hard to make out in this photo, but I love that the plate features the original signage on the front of the building over the doors.

    We also have a handful of these vintage swizzle sticks, which were handed down by Chris's grandmother:

    Pretty swanky.

    Thanks for indulging my love of this Seattle institution, and I hope you'll feel inspired to check out the spring issue of Pom Pom! It's available for pre-order now from the Pom Pom website, and you can check out the rest of the patterns on Ravelry. (I especially love Joji's hat Vitsippa and the adorable Elske socks by Merrian Holland.)

  • cardigans, or a lack thereof

    Karen's post on cardigans this week has me thinking again about a subject I'm often thinking of these days: the dearth of handknit cardigans in my life. I wear cardigans all the time, but they're mostly store-bought fine gauge knits, and I'd love to change that. While I've knit a few cardigans, none of them make it into totally regular rotation in my wardrobe. My first was this little cropped number, the Hexacomb cardigan by Katie Himmelberg, originally published in Interweave's spring 2008 issue:

    The resulting cardigan was super cute, and I liked my color choices (heck, I still love to wear grey and green all the time), but despite that I rarely wore it. I think I wore it two or three times before deciding to give it away to a friend who commented on really loving it (she ended up wearing it way more than I did, so I'm happy it found a good home). There were a few reasons for this. The body of Hexacomb is knit in one piece, which meant long rows that took me forever to knit, and between having to then knit and seam the sleeves into place and pick up button bands, I procrastinated a lot. This little cardigan took me about ten months to finally finish - it felt like a neverending project! At any rate, it left my wardrobe and took my handknit cardigan total back to zero.

    Other cardigans I've knit for myself include the prototype for Elskling, which was knit for my wedding, my delightfully oversized Michiyo cardigan, my Faire du Vélo bike sweater, and Svalbard. Svalbard is the closest thing to an everyday cozy cardigan, and it gets worn all the time because I love it, but I find myself thinking often these days of something a little more traditional in construction that's perfect for wearing around the house whether I'm working or spending a lazy Sunday reading. A search of my Ravelry favorites yields many potential options, but this time I want to take my time choosing a sweater to knit. Given my history with cardigans, I want to make sure I'm choosing a sweater that I'll want to reach for all the time once it's done - rather than choosing a pattern because I think it's beautiful/intriguing/fun to knit. I think this kind of decision-making can be one of a knitter's greatest challenges.

    So I've been asking myself some questions: what do I want in an everyday wear-around-the-house cardigan? Ideally: something long in length, with button bands and buttons, and in a perfect world, pockets. Here are some options I'm considering:

    Clockwise from top left: Edith by Pam Allen, from her new Home collection; Picea by Andrea Rangel; Aureus by Michele Wang; and Chocolate Stout by Thea Colman.

    There are a lot of features I'm interested in here: length, pockets, buttons. In all cases there are modifications I would make, but then, freedom to make modifications is the beauty of knitting something yourself! Still, as great as these options are, and against my better judgment, I can't stop thinking about this number:

    You may remember it from the Fred Perry controversy of 2013. Even though the "pattern" isn't truly a viable pattern, I'm still in love with this sweater. Given the incompleteness of the pattern file and its lack of sleeves (interestingly, the PDFs are all still accessible on the Fred Perry server), this would involve drawing out some charts for myself and doing a lot of math - basically reverse-engineering the thing. In a way, that's a little bit appealing; it would be a way to put my designer brain to work without having to come up with a cardigan design on my own, and I could use a little hand-holding in what seems to be a difficult area for me (cardigans). But it also seems a little crazy when there are so many wonderful cardigan patterns out there. I'd like to sit on it a little bit and see if my interest is holding - I think my fixation on it has something to do with the Amanda KAL that Fringe has been putting on for the last several months (aka the #fringeandfriendsknitalong).

    What about you? Is there an obvious hole in your handknit wardrobe? How do you tackle that?

  • combatting tight colorwork

    Happy Monday, everyone! This post took a little bit longer to put together than I wanted, but it's finally ready to go! It's a lot to read through, but I hope you find it helpful and please let me know if you still have questions about this topic by the end.

    One of the most common problems knitters encounter when starting to knit in stranded colorwork is tight knitting. There are a few reasons for this, but the big one is that colorwork fabric by its very nature is less elastic than normal stockinette. This is due to the strands being carried across the back of the work (the "floats") - unlike knit stitches, these strands don't really stretch that much, so the stretch of the overall fabric you're creating is much less.

    That being said, there's a great deal of variation in how stretchy colorwork fabric is from knitter to knitter. In fact, for a single knitter, there's variation in how stretchy their colorwork fabric can be, depending on:

    • what type of yarn the knitter is using
    • how the knitter is holding/carrying the yarns
    • how much space the knitter leaves between stitches
    • whether the knitter is working on DPNs or circular needles

    It's important to consider the elasticity of your colorwork fabric, and to remember that it won't necessarily correspond with your gauge - since gauge is measured with the fabric "resting" (i.e. not stretched out), there's no indication of whether or not your knitting will be stretchy. This means you can "get gauge" for a pattern like Hearth Slippers but still have trouble with the fit if your fabric is too inelastic.

    My first tip to help knitters keep their colorwork tension easy and even is always to stretch out the stitches that were just worked along the right needle as you're working on your project. This gives you a chance to check your floats - are they too long? too short? - and it also allows you to evenly space out your stitches. You want there to be just as much space between stitches of two different colors as there is between stitches of the same color. This helps increase the elasticity. If you're working on DPNs, you can do this at the end of each needle; if you're working with circs (or over a large circumference, like a sweater yoke) you may want to check it at even intervals: every 8 stitches or so (or 6 stitches, or 10 stitches; whatever works for you!). You'll be better able to adjust your tension as you go along, and you'll catch things that need fixing without having to work backwards too far. (Side note: it's always better to have floats that are a little long than a little short - you can always draw in the slack when you're weaving in ends, but you can't make a short float longer.)

    Stitches just knit spaced out along the right needle.

    If you've tried this out and you still think your colorwork is coming out too tight, roll up your sleeves and get ready to try a few different methods, keeping in mind that some things may work for you and some may not; there's a lot of trial and error in knitting! Here are some things to consider:

    Smoother yarns are closer to the top of the list, while stickier wools are towards the bottom.

    1. Yarn choice. Because of the physical nature of wool, wool fibers like to grab other wool fibers (this is what causes felting when wool is exposed to heat/agitation). Some wools are "grabby" or "sticky" and some are much smoother (the method used to spin the yarn also affects this - worsted spun yarns are much smoother than woolen spun yarns). This always affects the knitted fabric you're creating, but it affects colorwork even more. Some wools that are known for colorwork are very sticky wools, like Shetland wool or Lopi. This is also part of why steeking is so common in these places - sticky wools are unlikely to unravel when the stitches are cut. But because sticky wools are more likely to stay in place and the yarn is less likely to slide smoothly past other strands, the finished fabric is generally less elastic than it would be with smooth wools (and it can be tricky for colorwork beginners to achieve smooth results without puckering). Conversely, depending on the knitter, a very smooth yarn can also cause less elastic knitting because it will be easy to pull your stitches tight without meaning to as the smooth yarn fibers slide right past each other. The amount of elasticity you can achieve will also depend on how the yarn was spun and how many plies it has. A yarn like Quince & Co. Chickadee is smooth and springy, because it's worsted spun with three plies. Lopi, on the other hand, is typically woolen spun and a single ply, which means it just won't stretch as much. Some knitters will have an easier time with smooth wools while others will have an easier time with sticky ones. If you're having trouble with tight colorwork you may want to try working with a different type of yarn or wool than you've used before to see if that makes a difference.

    2. Needle type and needle material. If you've listened to episode one of the knit.fm podcast, you know that needle type can affect gauge. Needle material (e.g. wood, metal, plastic) and needle type (e.g. circular needles, double pointed needles) can make a great difference in colorwork - wood, metal, and plastic all have different levels of resistance, and gauge often differs between circular needles and double pointed needles (in general, knitters tend to end up with a tighter gauge on DPNs). Every knitter is different, so while some people knit tighter on wooden needles, others knit tighter on metal needles. Play around with different needle types if you're not sure which category you fit into. If you've tried working colorwork on DPNs and found it to be too tight, try knitting a swatch on circular needles (either two circs or with the magic loop method) to see if that changes your gauge or elasticity. You can always try going up a needle size, as well - many people need to adjust needle size between stockinette sections and colorwork sections when using the same yarn.

    To demonstrate the difference that needle type can make, I have two swatches that I knit: both are unblocked, but both were knit with the exact same yarn on the exact same needle sizes:

    While the difference isn't huge at first glance, and these measurements are pretty quick-and-dirty rather than precise, the swatch on top is noticeably narrower than the swatch on the bottom when both are measured flat. The swatch on top was knit on bamboo DPNs, while the swatch on the bottom was worked on two metal circular needles. The bottom swatch will definitely block out to the 8" circumference I'm aiming for, but the top swatch will likely be too small. Knit a few small swatches with different needle types/materials and see if it makes a difference for you!

    3. Carrying yarn. There are several different ways to manage carrying multiple yarns for colorwork knitting - carrying both yarns in the left hand, carrying both in the right hand, holding one yarn in each hand, carrying one yarn at a time, using a stranding guide, and the list goes on! If there's one thing I've learned from my students, it's that knitters are all over the map as far as which method works best for them. Many folks swear by the two-handed method while others prefer to carry both yarns in one hand (with or without a stranding guide). If you haven't tried more than one method, you may not have found your perfect match yet! Remember that there are no rules here and experimentation is key - trying a new method often feels awkward at first, and your gauge may shift as you settle into it, but until you've given it a shot, how can you say it won't work?

    Plastic and metal stranding guides

    4. Knitting inside out. It may sound crazy, but many folks solve the tight colorwork issue by working their colorwork tubes inside out! The reason for this is that the outer circumference of a tube is larger than the inner circumference - perhaps not by much, but with the thickness of colorwork fabric, you'd be surprised - and turning your work inside out positions the floats on the outside of the tube (i.e. the larger circumference). This is more likely to keep them long, and it also keeps them visible, so you can constantly check your tension as you're working. It can be tricky to visualize, but with the work turned inside out, you're working on the far side of the tube, rather than the near side. It may take some trial and error to get the hang of it, but I've seen this method yield results for several people.

    Here's a bird's eye view to help you visualize the difference between normal (right side out) circular knitting and inside out circular knitting. You can see where the working yarns meet the needles:

    The biggest thing to remember is to be patient with yourself! If you're tense, your knitting often shows it. Try out some of these techniques in the evening with a glass of wine or whatever else relaxes you. And keep in mind that mistakes are an important part of the process: we can learn from them.

    If you have any other tips for easing up tight colorwork, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

    Further reading / listening / watching:

    If you want to explore this issue in further depth, I recommend checking out some of the following links to blog posts, videos, and books. (If you're on a budget, don't forget you can always check your local library for books.)

    On different yarn types:
    Knit.fm episode 5: Yarn [podcast]
    Knit.fm episode 6: More Yarn [podcast]
    Sue Blacker on Woollen vs Worsted mill spinning on wovember.com
    The Knitter's Book of Yarn and The Knitter's Book of Wool by Clara Parkes
    "Part Seven: Materials" from The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt

    On working in stranded colorwork:
    "Part Three: Decorative Techniques" from The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt, particularly pp. 256-266 (2012 edition)
    Colorwork knitting inside out for socks from Melissa B [video]
    Tips, Tricks and Treats from Eunny Jang

    On gauge:
    Knit.fm episode 1: Gauge [podcast]
    How to Measure Your Gauge in Knitting from Craftsy.com

  • business-ing

    It never fails to amaze me how much work it is to run a business by yourself. I am so immensely grateful for the support and advice of friends and family, and I am eternally grateful to my perpetually patient and encouraging spouse (for letting me destroy our basement as I reconfigured the Paper tiger studio last week), because running Paper Tiger would be impossible without that support. I think a lot of businesses like mine (especially in the craft and "lifestyle" industry) often try to make our work look effortless - you come here for fun, after all, not to read about the office-job side of running a creative business. We're about celebrating the beauty. But the truth is there's a ton of work - so much work - that goes on behind and the scenes and so much of it is very, very business-y. January has brought a lot of that to the forefront this year - from filing business taxes, which I do every January, to new challenges like adjusting to the new EU VAT rules which went into effect on the first of the year.

    I think I'm almost out of the admin black hole, but a few relevant updates:

    - I've configured Paper Tiger pattern sales to EU customers via Ravelry with the system that Casey has so wonderfully set up with Loveknitting. EU customers, please let me know if you run into any issues trying to purchase patterns!

    - Paper Tiger has joined Kollabora, and I'm in the process of getting all the Paper Tiger knitting patterns up. I love that it's an all-around creative community! You can find the Paper Tiger page here.

    - I've started working on my pattern release schedule for the late winter/spring. I have a bunch of stuff that's been simmering on the back burner and I'm looking forward to getting it out!

    - I've also put together my preliminary schedule for tutorial posts. I'm hoping to start posting tutorials once a week, beginning next week with tips for combatting tight colorwork.

    All that said, 2015 is off to a fantastic start around here and I hope the same goes for you!

  • north x west

    I'm starting to get back into the Pacific Northwest vibe now that I'm home. It's been a typical PNW winter since we returned last week, with lots of clouds and drizzle, but that makes the sunny days all the more beautiful. It's a good excuse to get out and go for a walk (especially in the middle of doing business taxes.)

    With days in the upper-40s Fahrenheit (~10ºC), it feels positively balmy after spending new year's in Montreal. I hope those of you on the east coast of the States and Canada are bundling up and staying warm in your sub-freezing temperatures!

  • project prioritization: managing WIPs

    With both Jen and Karen writing about handmade wardrobe planning in the last week, I can't help but find myself thinking about the things I'm wanting/planning to make as well. I have fabric and patterns ready to go for a Deer and Doe Chardon skirt and a Grainline Linden sweatshirt, and the list of sweaters I want to cast on for right now is only getting longer (I'm also seriously thinking about joining in on Andi's Selfish Sweater KAL, because I really want a Chuck, not to mention the cabled fisherman's cardigan I'm dreaming of knitting with Snoqualmie Valley Yarn, neither of which I actually have the yarn for, but let's stop while we're ahead...).

    Still, having just finished a pretty serious Paper Tiger studio overhaul in which rearranging the space became a catalyst for some serious and necessary organization and sorting/purging, I also find myself wanting to set more practical and useful goals for the coming months.

    I posted over a year ago about wanting to finally finish some long-suffering WIPs, and while five of the six projects I posted there are actually finished now (hooray!), my habit of having way too many projects going at once has only gotten worse. Last year I hovered around 12 projects going at once for most of the year. I think I'm finally under ten (personal, not work) projects, which feels huge, but having so many hibernating projects is really starting to get to me. While there are many things I'd like to be knitting and sewing for my own wardrobe right now, I think my own to-knit list should really involve prioritizing these WIPs, so I can get back to focusing on just a few projects at once. 

    I'd love to hear any advice about managing projects and WIPs. Do you have a system? Do you put a moratorium on casting on for a certain amount of time? Do you ever end up just ripping anything out? I'm all ears!