Skills beyond the Knit and Purl

Please note – when pattern names are linked with quote marks around them, they are linked to Ravelry site pages. If there are no quote marks, they are links to previous blog posts or elsewhere on the internet.

For over a week, I’ve watched conversations take place on Social Media about yarns, substitutions, and recommended yarns for a pattern. Mostly, I’ve been following along on Twitter, watching as designers and those who are far more knowledgeable at knitting than I delve into the topic. Watching it unfold got me thinking about the skills we learn along the way as knitters.

The first skill you learn, I would argue before the knit and purl is the cast on, at least, that was what I learned first. I taught myself how to knit using YouTube videos, and if I wanted to get to knitting, I needed to know how to cast on. After that, I learned how to knit, then I learned how to purl. My very first project was an e-reader cozy, and working on that project taught me how to recognise the Right Side of a project versus the Wrong Side – this cozy, for example, was never meant to have random garter ridges. Those ‘design features’ came from my inability to recognize right from wrong. But I learned.

Other technical skills came along the way – how to read a pattern, how to cable, how to work in the round (from which I’ve never looked back), how to read a pattern chart, the importance of making your gauge swatch. Heck, I’m still learning skills almost a decade later.

One valuable skill I’ve learned through the years, and I would argue is never FULLY mastered, is understanding yarn weights, fingering vs. worsted vs. DK, etc., what they mean for a pattern, and how to substitute yarns for patterns. As a newbie, it is confusing. Some skeins say weight name, like worsted or sock, some give the 1-6 number, some might give Wraps Per Inch (perhaps the one true standard), some might give gauge stitches, and some might not say anything at all. If you’re just starting out trying to understand all of this when there are so many different ways yarn can be classified is confusing and overwhelming. I can certainly see the appeal of simply using the yarn recommended by a designer.

Very rarely, however, have I knit a pattern with the designer recommended yarn – My Blue Brick Samwise Cowl is a notable exception (wanting a pattern that would best highlight this gradient yarn), as are the Briggs and Little Thrummed Mittens. My usual MO is looking at the weight of the yarn that the designer uses and finding my own yarn to suit the project. If they’ve used a fingering yarn, I’ll find my own fingering yarn that suits my tastes and budget. It took far longer than I care to admit to grasp the differences in weights, what it means, and how to choose the best yarn for a project, and even my understandings aren’t always 100% on the money.

As an example – my “Le Pouf” cardigan by Beata Jezek. I have a habit of buying single skeins at fibre festivals. They are pretty, and buying one or two at a festival is better for my budget than buying a sweater lot when I go. After a number of years, I realized a few of these one-off skeins all looked really good together, and I wanted some faded pattern to show them off together. The pattern calls for Hedgehog Fibres Sock to be used, a fingering weight, and here I had six skeins of fingering weight yarn. I knew that the yarn I had on hand could be substituted for the yarn being called for by the designer. I swatched, I got gauge, I cast on, and I knit.

One feature of Ravelry that I’ve found to be very helpful is that it tells you what weight of yarn the pattern is calling for; if you use the stash, you can know what weight your yarn is; you can take a look at others who have made the pattern to see what yarns they have used; you can use your stash to see pattern recommendations based on what others have made. These features of Ravelry helped me understand yarn weights and how to best use my stash – what I’ve bought with my budget. I can’t always use the yarns the designer recommends – perhaps it doesn’t fit in my budget, or perhaps it isn’t available in my corner of Canada. At this time, I’m not sure of other websites that offer such a feature and database of yarns.

If you’re unsure, your Local Yarn Shop is a great place to start. Owners understand yarns and can recommend a yarn that will suit your project. Many shops have a variety of yarns that can suit almost any budget. I made my Chateau sweater using yarn recommended by my LYS owner. I had the pattern, but using a super bulky alpaca yarn just wasn’t in my budget. With Tina’s help, she recommended the James C Brett Marble Chunky and gave me the guidance needed to make this sweater work with this yarn.

Let’s also not forget that LYS owners WANT you to succeed! They are small businesses in your community, and they want you to become the best knitter you can be. They will give you advise, many will offer lessons, and many, like I said, have a wide selection of yarn including the basic workhorse yarns to specialty hand dyed skeins of awesomeness. They want you to succeed because they want you to love the craft. They will support you because they want your support back.

Knitting skills start with casting on, knitting, purling, and casting off. However, knitting skills and knitting knowledge goes far beyond these basics. As a knitter, I’m always looking to learn, to expand my capabilities, helping me continue to make the lovely pieces I want to keep creating.

Seeking Ravenclaw

I just couldn’t find the right yarn, so I dyed my own. My co-worker asked me to make a pair of socks for her daughter for Christmas, made in the colours of her Hogwarts House, Ravenclaw.  I was heading to Toronto last week and thought, since I’m on Queen Street, I’ll take a trip to Romni. Surely, they should have some self-striping yarn in blue and grey/silver. Romni has rows upon rows of yarn, but I couldn’t find the right yarn.  I found something close, though:

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This is Regia 4-fädig, and I think it was part of a sports-team/college colours line, but it was a blue (check) self striping (check) sock yarn (check). It just wasn’t grey.  Halfway between buying it and walking to my car, I thought it could be fun to try and dye it, making the white grey and hopefully making the blue a little deeper.  If it works, awesome! If not, it was an experiment and I’d have a blue and something self-striping yarn that could become socks sometime down the line.

Unfortunately, grey is a really challenging colour to achieve with food dyes as most grey/black colours are comprised of many different colours to look black.  Example, when I dyed yarn for my Captain America shawl, they grey looks great in the slow cooker, but when it dried, it became obvious the colours broke, giving a variegated purple/green look.

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It was pretty, and it looks great in the finished shawl, but this certainly wasn’t what I was trying to achieve.

As the Regia soaked, I experimented with a few colour combos. Ultimately, I was happiest with the look of Americolor Soft Gel Paste in ‘Slate.’  You can test your dye by dipping paper towels into what you’ve prepared.  All the Wilton tests were giving off too much green, but this one looked like it would be a muted grey with a hint of green/blue halo. I held my breath, added the dye to the slow cooker, and walked away, lest I compulsively checked the crock pot every three minutes or so.

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To prepare the dye, I used 1 cup of water, 2 tbsp of vinegar, and about 1/4 tsp of the Americolor gel (fun fact, I had to type ‘color’ about four times to spell it the American way). Ultimately, I prepared the dye twice, so it had about 1/2 tsp of the colour added.

The finished skein?

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I am rather pleased! There’s only the hint of a green hue, but overall, it’s grey and blue and oh-so-Ravenclaw!

Heat Wave

I’d like to know who is propagating the myth that Canada is a cold country, because for the last week or two, southern Ontario has been hit with a heat wave. Temperatures are in the 30sC and feeling like 40sC (which, thanks to a handy conversion online, I can tell you is high 80s/90s in Fahrenheit). It’s hot. It’s especially hot for someone who doesn’t have air conditioning, and while I was able to fare quite well in the first few days, I very quickly lost the battle in trying to keep my house at a normal, comfortable living temperature.  New fans have been purchased, I relish my time at work with AC, and I’ve gone to a movie or two to escape the heat.  It was also quite lucky that we got a reprieve over the weekend and it cooled off somewhat, but summer has most certainly arrived, and she’s come with a vengeance!

This heat has also affected my knitting behaviours. My Doodler shawl, made with wool blend yarns, had to be put aside because working the the fibres was like a strange form of cruelty to myself.  Instead, I’m gravitating towards cottons. My Boxy sweater has come along with me to a few movies.  It’s knit in the round over what feels like a bazillion stitches, and right now I’m working towards almost a foot and a half in plain stockinette. It’s a perfect movie project, being worked in Berroco’s Weekend.  Also getting some attention as of late is my Sanibel Cowl, worked in Cascade’s Ultra Pima Paints.  I’m so in love with these colours, which is why I bought the skein to begin with.  I also adore how soft Ultra Pima feels, with excellent drape.  I’m looking forward to finishing this project, although I have a feeling wearing it won’t be possible until the first few autumnal days.


So, to that person who goes around asking Canadians if they live in igloos and take their dog sled to work, please, come visit the Greater Toronto Area. Not an igloo in sight, although one would be a welcome relief from the heat.

Happy knitting!

My Perfect Cowl

I have a new favourite knitting project, and I think I’m a wee bit obsessed.  Since delving into this knitting obsession hobby, I’ve become a big fan of shawls, scarves and any other neck accessory (neck-cessory?).  The problem with shawls is that throughout the day, they shift, they slouch, they constantly need to be adjusted.

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Enter the bandana cowl. Guys, they are, in my very humble opinion, the perfect cowl. They have interest with the shape – they look like a shawl, but without the fuss of constantly fiddling with the ends.  If you choose a simple pattern, the yarn can shine, like with my Escarpment Cowl.  The yarn was the fabulous Mineville Wool Project Merino DK Single, named in honour of the Ontario Science Centre, and the colours were truly the star with the rich blues and greens.  The simplicity of the pattern, designed by Shireen Nadir of Blue Brick Yarns, truly showcases the yarns.  It was designed in mind for her Blue Brick gradients – if you haven’t checked out this indie Canadian dyer yet, please head over to her website.  My apologies in advance to your bank account.


Even with a more intricate pattern, like Tipsoo Cowl by britt schmiesing, which somehow just FLEW off my needles a few weeks ago, the yarn still can be the star is naturally is (it’s Indigodragonfly, because I know you were curious) and yet the pattern allows for texture difference and adds interest to a knitter who may not always like the appeal of endless rounds of simple stockinette.

I’ve been endlessly searching Ravelry for more patterns of this structure.  I’m hoping to become comfortable enough with the construction of this accessory to perhaps experience to with my own designs. I end up wearing most shawls wrapped around my neck.  These bandana cowls allow for the same look of a shawl without the bulk and without the fuss.  Like I said, my perfect cowl.