tolt icelandic wool month: skógafjall

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This year marks the third year in a row that Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington has celebrated Tolt Icelandic Wool Month for the month of March. Back in 2015, I released my hat pattern Moon Sprites in conjunction with Tolt’s first celebration, last year Tolt released the beautiful Blaer cardigan by Beatrice Perron Dahlen of Thread & Ladle, and this year I’m pleased as punch to once again be contributing to this celebration of Icelandic wool. This year, I’ve designed Skógafjall, a bottom-up round yoke pullover knit up in Léttlopi (which is probably my favorite weight of Lopi).

For the vast majority of us, choosing Icelandic wool doesn’t mean choosing local wool (the two most obvious exceptions being people who live in Iceland, or people outside of Iceland who raise Icelandic sheep). But it does mean supporting the yarn industry of Iceland, a country whose population is smaller than most cities I’ve lived in – and that means a lot. And the wool itself is reason enough for me to choose it, since it both affordable and adaptable, suitable to many different types of winter (and sometimes summer) climates. It’s definitely suitable to my current northern Norwegian climate, and that is part of how I arrived at the design that became Skógafjall. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ties between Icelandic and Norwegian wools, and the historical genetic links between the heritage sheep breeds found in these two countries – and all of that led me to want to design a sweater that pointed at that shared heritage in some way.

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So while it uses Icelandic wool, this sweater is inspired by my local Norwegian landscape and the verdant mountains I’m surrounded by in the summer months. The geology of Norway is quite different than Iceland’s – Iceland straddles two continental plates and its geothermal activity means it’s made up of cooled lava fields and volcanic rock, whereas Norway’s rocky landscape is largely sedimentary. The deep green body of Skógafjall gives way to lighter greenery in the yoke and finally a heathery grey at the neck, which mimicks the rocky mountaintops of my immediate surroundings – and they’re easy to see when the tree line is as low as it is in Tromsø.

The yoke pattern is equally evocative of the local landscape around western Washington, which makes it feel like a fantastic fit for Tolt and this annual celebration. The name Skógafjall can be translated as “forest mountain,” more or less – though we’ve dubbed it “a sweater for exploring the forest, mountain, city or sea,” and I think it would be just as at home in all of those places.

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You can find Skógafjall on Ravelry here, or on the Tolt website here. Huge thanks to the whole Tolt team for letting me be a part of Icelandic Wool Month once again, and making sure this pattern got done in time while dealing with my grad school schedule – Anna, Clare, Karen (who knit the beautiful sample!), Kim (who modeled it so beautifully in these photos), and everyone else. You’re all the best. And I can’t forget to mention that Narangkar Glover did a lovely illustration of Skógafjall for a new Tolt project bag, too! It’s available in the Tolt shop here.

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I have Iceland-related knitting plans lined up for this month, although my yarn choice is a little unorthodox – but I’ll save that for another post.

Related posts from previous years:

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The daylight walks continue to be lovely. On clear days, the colors are unreal. The photo above was taken from Telegrafbukta, the park on the southwest side of Tromsøya. It continues to be one of my favorite places, and at this time of year it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset. (I also finally saw the sun again on Friday! Momentous. Glorious. The days are growing longer at a fast clip now – this is the fun part.)

School is already busy, but that’s no shocker. In my downtime I’m managing to get a bit of knitting done. I finished my Toatie Hottie (no photos yet, though) and I’ve been working on several other projects, but most of those are the kind I can’t show you yet (aka future patterns). So in lieu of that, here’s some things I’d love to be joining in on if I had the time:

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Bang Out a Sweater over at Mason Dixon Knitting – Kay and Ann are leading a KAL of Mary Jane Mucklestone‘s Stopover, a beautiful lopapeysa. Cast on is tomorrow (February 1st), and it’s probably a good thing I don’t have time to join in, because I don’t think “new lopapeysa” is really one of my pressing needs at the moment.

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I’d also love to join in on the Anna Vest KAL hosted by Fringe, starting February 15th. This is one of my favorite patterns from Farm to Needle and while I’m not sure a vest/waistcoat like this would be a perfect fit for my wardrobe, I’d still love to knit it someday (perhaps I could add sleeves, since I am in need of cardigans?). I’m really looking forward to the versions that come out of this knitalong – I’m expecting to see some cool yarn and color choices and I’ll definitely be following along on social media.

Both the Stopover and Anna Vest photos are by Kathy Cadigan.

aspen socks & legwarmers: making modifications & try on as you go

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My own copy of Farm to Needle came in the mail a week or so ago and I am blown away at how beautiful it is in person. I can’t say thank you enough to Anna and everyone who made this book happen, and I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of it. I’m also completely in love with this Aspen legwarmer FO by Instagram user mandalu_who, knit in Snoqualmie Valley Yarn dyed with cabbage (and I’m amazed at how quickly she knit them up!). I can’t wait to see more FOs, and to that end, this is a post I hope will be helpful for some knitters as they get ready to cast on for Aspen.

A one-size pattern is difficult to pull off. It can be frustrating for knitters who need to hit measurements that differ from the schematic as written – and when it comes to legs, that’s most of us. So perhaps Tolt and I were a bit crazy to publish a one-size pattern for high knee socks, but I spent a lot of time in the planning stages of Aspen considering the fact that this was a pattern that some people would need to modify. I did my best to construct the pattern in a way that would make it easier to tinker with, and I thought I’d outline a few of the things specifically designed with modifications in mind for any of you out there who need a hand with that step. I also drew up a quick sketch (very quick) to help with visualization.

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Customizable length: while I generally prefer to knit socks top-down, I decided Aspen should be toe-up (or bottom-up for the legwarmer version) so that the length was easy to customize. “Over the knee” for me, standing at six feet tall, is a longer sock than it is for someone who’s five feet tall. A toe-up sock means that you can start the ribbing at the top of the sock wherever you want – mid-calf, below the knee, over the knee, wherever! The tubular bind off gives it a nice stretchy edge that should work for any length. Because the tubular bind off creates a reversible edge, the ribbing can be worn folded over, as well.

Calf shaping: Both versions of Aspen feature a calf gusset that begins a few inches above the ankle. In order to create a gusset that would fit the widest range of sizes possible, I decided to work it in a 1×1 rib, so it would have a lot of give. If you find that the increase rate of the gusset as written isn’t working for you, however, it’s possible to adjust that, too. For a larger gusset, you can add extra repeats of the increase rounds – for a smaller one, you can omit one or more repeats. As written, the rate of increases corresponds to the diamond motif chart, but you can work increase rounds more often for a sharper increase angle, or less often for a gentler increase slope. Because the socks go over the knee, the gusset doesn’t contain any decreases so as to fit over the lower thigh, but if the difference in circumference between your calf, your knee, and your lower thigh looks more like an hourglass, it’s possible to add decreases to the calf gusset as well.

How to try-on-as-you-go with an afterthought heel: The sock version of Aspen is written for an afterthought heel, which means that the heel stitches are the last thing worked. Because waste yarn stitches are worked across the stitches where the heel will be placed, this typically means that the sock can’t be tried on as you’re knitting it. With a quick and simple trick, though, it is possible to try on a sock with an afterthought heel as you go.

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The two photos above show a sock in progress with a view of the sole of the foot/back of the leg. You can see a row of contrasting waste yarn stitches holding the place of the heel.

The waste yarn stitches when working an afterthought heel act like a knitted in stitch holder. If you place the stitches in the rows direcly above and below the waste yarn on a new stitch holder, you can remove the original waste yarn and open up the heel. I like to use a new length of contrasting yarn to hold the stitches, since the yarn will remain flexible and it will be easier to actually try the sock on. Smooth yarns work best, particularly if you’re knitting your socks with a grabby wooly wool.

First, thread the new length of waste yarn onto a tapestry needle (the new waste yarn is shown in red in the photos). The yarn should be long enough to go around both sides of the heel opening with extra length at the ends in case you want to tie a knot to secure the yarn.

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Beginning with the stitches on the sole of the foot (in plain stockinette), find the rightmost stitch knit in the original waste yarn – it should be in the form of a V. The sock yarn in the row below will have a stitch directly below this waste yarn stitch; thread the needle under the right leg of the V-shaped stitch.

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Skip over the left leg of the first stitch and thread the needle under the right leg of the next stitch to the left. Continue in this manner, working across the row. Picking up the right legs of the stitches will mean your stitches are oriented properly when it’s time to work the heel and the stitches are put on needles.

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I like to thread the needle through a chunk of stitches and pull the yarn through – going in smaller chunks is easier than trying to pull the new waste yarn through the whole row at once. Make sure to leave a long enough tail at the end opposite the needle to be able to secure the waste yarn.

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The photo above shows you what it looks like when you’ve pulled the new waste yarn through all of the stitches on the sole of the foot. At this point, turn the sock 180 degrees so that the sole of the foot is farther away from you and the patterned leg is closer to you, as in the following photo:

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Now you can see that I have the new waste yarn coming from the right side, with my needle still threaded, ready to pick up the stitches from the leg side of the heel.

This side is a little bit trickier, because when you begin knitting the heel, you’ll be changing the direction of the knitting. It’s a bit like picking up stitches from a provisional cast on to knit in the other direction. Don’t worry too much if you wind up with an extra stitch or two on this side; you can always use a k2tog decrease on the first heel round to get back to the right stitch count (and it might even help you avoid holes).

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Begin picking up the right leg of each stitch as you did on the other side of the heel. It’s a bit harder to see on this side, because the leg stitches are patterned in a mix of knits and purls, but as long as you get the needle through one leg of each stitch, you’ll be okay. If any stitches wind up twisted when they’re transferred to a needle, that’s a simple enough fix.

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Once again, I like to pull the new waste yarn through periodically as I work my way across. At this point, it’s easy to see why using two different colored waste yarns that contrast with each other can be super helpful – it’s much easier to make sure I’ve actually threaded a stitch onto the new waste yarn (red) when it stands out so much from the original knitted-in waste yarn (blue).

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And here’s what the heel section looks like after I’ve threaded all of the heel stitches onto the new waste yarn. You can see that the old waste yarn is completely surrounded by the new.

At this point, we’re ready to start pulling out the old waste yarn stitches, because the stitches in the rows above and below are secure.

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At this stage, I think slow and steady wins the race. I like to use the tapestry needle to unpick each old waste yarn stitch, one at a time. Going slow and paying attention means you’ll be able to see if any of the heel stitches didn’t make it onto the new waste yarn (if that’s the case, pop a locking stitch marker or safety pin on the stitch so it doesn’t drop).

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As you work your way across the old waste yarn stitches, the heel starts to open up. It’s easy to see now  on the open section how the new waste yarn acts like a stitch holder.

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When all of the old waste yarn stitches have been removed, the heel is completely open and the new waste yarn can be secured. I like to tie both strands together in a slip knot, which is easy to undo later on without scissors.

Now that the heel is open, you can try on your sock-in-progress!

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When it’s time to work the heel, you simply take the stitches on hold, slip them onto the needles, and remove the waste yarn acting as stitch holder. It’s one of my favorite tricks!

aspen socks & legwarmers: the inspiration

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The days seem to be flying by at an alarming rate these days – I can’t believe it’s already mid-November. But the good news is that means last weekend Tolt Yarn and Wool celebrated their second anniversary with a big party! (A party, I should mention, that I was very sad not to be attending.) In conjunction with the anniversary, Tolt’s new book Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool was finally released! Excited cheers all around! As I mentioned earlier this fall, I had the great honor of designing a pattern for this special book alongside some really talented folks, who can be seen in this fantastic photo taken by Anna’s husband Greg (if you look closely, you may also spot my face in 2D, thanks to the creative genius of Anna and Lara). This was an incredibly interesting project to work on – they usually are, when Anna’s involved – and so I thought it’d be nice to write a little bit about the process of designing my pattern, Aspen.

When Anna approached me this spring about the book, she asked if I’d be interested in designing a pair of cozy over-the-knee socks (with a legwarmer option) in Tolt’s own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. One of the best things about working with the Tolt team is that Anna often already has a great idea to start with, and instead of building something from scratch, I get to build off of her idea and her vision. I love Tolt and I’d been wanting to work with Snoqualmie Valley Yarn since it had first been released, so saying yes was a no brainer (even though I had an international move on the near horizon). Once I had the yarn in hand, however – all five skeins of it – I realized that I’d signed myself up for a challenge.

Anna sent over a few mood boards after I’d signed on: one to give a feel for the book as a whole, and one specifically filled with inspiration for my pattern assignment. It was full of beautiful pictures of all kinds of socks and legwarmers, most of which were textured in some way with cables or lace, all in neutral colors. It was beautiful, and I was excited to get working, but… colorwork is my muse. And here I was, with five skeins of undyed creamy white yarn, wondering where on earth to start.

From the beginning the pattern was going to be written for one size. Because of this, I really wanted to keep things simple, initially. I wanted to. But once I started swatching, I realized my muse had other plans. I did more swatching for this design than I’ve done for any other pattern I’ve done, I think. I swatched all sorts of stitch patterns and combinations. I swatched cables – at the beginning I was so sure this design would have cables. The whole process got hung up for a little while during the swatching phase.

In the midst of this phase, I realized that tall textured socks made of undyed wool reminded me of something very specific – bunad strømper. Strømper is the Norwegian word for stockings, and the bunad is the national folk costume (which varies from region to region). The men’s bunad typically features knitted stockings tucked into a pair of breeches.

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While they’re not always this off-white color (the stockings for my region are black and white), many of them are, and as I started swatching I couldn’t help but think about bunad stockings (which also bear a notable resemblance to Scottish kilt hose, right down to the sock bands tucked into the breeches). I enjoyed perusing this pamphlet from yarn-maker Rauma Garn:

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Bunad Strømper og Luer (“Bunad stockings and caps”)

Even before I started filling my brain with Norwegian stockings, the motif I kept coming back to was one of the first I swatched: the eight-pointed star that features on the front of the Aspen pattern.

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Given my proclivity for colorwork, it’s really not shocking that this is the motif I kept returning to. Using this as the main motif would mean the whole pattern got a little more complicated than I initially planned on, but in the end I realized it was going to be this motif or it was going to be a pattern I wasn’t actually that stoked on. So I gave in. And I’m so glad I did!

After I decided to start with this motif, I was able to choose a secondary motif to wrap around the back of the leg on either side, working in a calf gusset at the very back of the leg where the two secondary motifs met. Knowing that this pattern would only be one size, I designed it with modifications in mind, and I’m putting together a post that will give an overview of some of the ways you can modify the pattern if you find that you need to make changes. Look for that soon!

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farm to needle: stories of wool

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If you’re familiar with Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, Washington, you can probably imagine how I felt when I received an email from Anna Dianich earlier this year … there was a book project she was putting together, and would I like to be involved? It was a no brainer, of course – YES, I said, even though I knew I had an international move on the horizon and a pretty packed to-do list. Some things are easy to make time for.

Anna described her idea for the book – a focus on yarns with that could be traced to the source, made from American grown wool, spun and dyed at American mills, often coming from single flocks. I’ve come to know some of these yarns through visits to Tolt and I’m so excited for the stories of who makes them to be shared in book form. I think many knitters have become increasingly interested in yarns from smaller producers over the last several years as they begin to ask where their fiber is actually coming from, a trend that parallels the farm-to-table trend in the food industry. When Tolt began producing their own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn (whose wool comes from a single flock of BFL/Clun Forest sheep), it was fitting that the labels said “farm to needle.” To me, this book project feels like such a natural extension of what Tolt does as a yarn store and as the core of a community. And appropriately the book itself, which will be released around Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7, is titled Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool.

Here’s a short blurb from farmtoneedlebook.com:

“When we pick up our needles, cast on the first stitch, we become part of something much bigger than the project at hand. Farmers, shearers, spinners and dyers are working hard not only to produce the yarn we love, but to preserve a way of life that is at real risk of being lost. Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool invites you to join us on a journey; to peek behind the scenes of some of our favorite producers and gain a deeper understanding of the people, places, and animals at work. Discover Aspen Hollow Farm, Green Mountain Spinnery, Imperial Stock Ranch, Thirteen Mile Farm, YOTH, Saco River Dye House, and Twirl through patterns by Dianna Walla, Tif Fussell, Veronika Jobe, Ashley Yousling & Annie Rowden, Karen Templer, and Andrea Rangel. Photography by Kathleen Cadigan.”

I can’t tell you how thrilled and honored I am to be part of such a stellar lineup. We’re all looking forward to sharing more of the book with you in the near future – I’m quite proud of my pattern and I can’t wait for you to see it (it is, unsurprisingly, Norwegian-inspired, but that’s all I’ll tell you for now!). Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool is available to pre-order now at farmtoneedlebook.com and I hope some of you will be able to attend Tolt’s second anniversary party on November 7!

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in the queue: simple knits

It’s been wool weather off and on since I arrived in Tromsø, so there’s been a lot of wearing of hats, scarves/cowls, and fingerless mitts. I have a lot of beautifully patterned accessories – textured knits or pieces featuring colorwork – and I love those, but I’ve realized I’m craving simple accessories at the moment. Pieces that are a single color and either plain stockinette or ribbing keep drawing my eye. I’ve updated my queue to reflect that, so here’s what I’m currently daydreaming about casting on for:

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Fure by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. These were part of the first collection for Woolfolk yarn, and I’ve had it queued for awhile. I have the necessary yarn in my stash: two beautiful skeins of Tynd, in Pewter. I have a feeling these are going to be a tedious knit (the length plus the twisted rib pattern make for repetitive and fiddly knitting) but I love the end result so much. The length of these is especially appealing, too – the ability to wear them long, bunch them up, or fold over the top makes them really versatile. I’m hoping to pair them up with this cardigan, which has bracelet-length sleeves and has become a little bit of a uniform these days, but I expect by the time I actually get these knit I’ll be needing heavier layers.

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Middle Fork by Veronika Jobe. This hat was released over the summer as part of the Camp Tolt collection and I even have one of the little leather sheep patches that can be sewn on (as seen here). Middle Fork feels like a perfect basic ribbed beanie and I love the FOs I’ve seen. The pattern calls for Green Mountain Spinnery Mewesic, a yarn I do not have on hand, but I thought one of the skeins of the Norwegian pelsull from Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk pictured above might make an excellent substitute. The pelsull was actually my first yarn purchase post-move, so I’d love to use it for something that’s going to get a lot of wear. Now the only question is: which color?

Do you have simple staples in your handknit wardrobe or do you tend toward more complicated knits? Or maybe you have a good mix of both? I’d love to hear about your favorite patterns for simple knits in the comments!