Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Gift for You!

Happy Holidays All!

I am so excited to give you a little gift--our first Mirth photo tutorial pattern. It's the Learn to Crochet Cowl!
We don't even have the pattern on the Mirth site yet, but if you are on Ravelry, the link above will send you to the pattern page. If you're not on Ravelry, you should join!

That's the lovely Sophie modeling one of the cowls made with MacKintosh Iona in Submerged. Another yarn that makes a comfy LTC Cowl is Malabrigo Merino Worsted. So soft!
Even if you already know how to crochet, you'll love this project. It works up fast! I am going to accompany the pattern with blog posts of the process, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday and hug all your lovies!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Dexter Orville Alford was my mom's father. He was one of the most interesting characters I have ever been privileged to know--and I got to spend quite a lot of time with him when I was growing up, thank goodness. It's hard to believe that he's been gone for 17 years.
Here is my mom's assessment of him in her blog post from this past summer. He was an offhand occasional singer, as mom says, and the one song I remember the most was "Take Me out to the Ballgame" (especially the peanuts and Cracker Jacks part--I love peanuts and Cracker Jacks, because that's a double dose of peanuts, right?) That's why when this knitted ball cap came together, I knew it had to bear Granddaddy's name. Since one of my grandsons, Malcolm Dexter, has been gifted with Granddaddy's first name as his middle name (and so there will be a Dexter design at some point, because there already is a Malcolm), I decided to use his middle name. Whew--convoluted, I know, but I thought I'd let you into the maze that is my brain...just a little. Not too much, or I'd scare you away!

The first part of the hat that popped in my head was the front panel. I knew I wanted to do this horizontally corrugated panel flanked by 4-stitch cables. The rest of the hat just naturally followed as a vertical match to that. The widened "garter" front panel has a purl stitch every four rounds and the sides and back of the cap have a twisted knit stitch every four stitches--like a backward mirror effect.

Okay, come on back (light facial slap)! Here we go with the more interesting part. At first I just whipped up the hat, not knowing it would eventually have a bill. When it came out like this, however...
...I knew that front section needed something. It had a little lift just waiting for another part. A bill!! Yea! So I went in search of how to add the bill. I have several books with knitted ball caps, as it happens, so after perusing them all I decided to make it easy. Well, what I really did was just look at pictures and then I set about to wing it. Luckily, the first method I tried actually worked.

The bill is worked as an attached flat piece around a moon-shaped plastic canvas section for which I have included a template in the pattern. (This orange hat is made with Quince & Co Puffin in Nasturtium on size 11 needles. Fun yarn to knit!)

At first my rib on the bill wasn't coming out very symmetrical so I had to tweak that...a bunch. I ended up making about half a dozen of these caps to get it right--that and the decreases and such. Grandsons Preston and Declan each have one because last time I saw them we were taking family pictures and I asked them to try them on. They didn't want to take them off, so I let them keep them. That was great! Approval from rough and ready little boys is a boost!

Here's Emily modeling one I made a little differently by accident because I ran out of yarn. This Fuchsia Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky Orville only has the first half of the brim and with no canvas. That's where the yarn ran out. I think it's okay and provides another option--in case you run out of yarn, too! Just bind off when the bill decreases down to 14 stitches.

After that I decided to try one more option and cast on for the extra large size with worsted weight yarn instead of bulky to see if it would make a baby cap. The first one I made was for Lucy with Quince & Co Lark in Dogwood on size 7 needles, but the yarn is more of a DK so it came out a little small. Then I tried one for Malcolm in Claudia Hand Painted Yarns Worsted in Navy Olive on size 8 needles. Here he is wearing it. It fits perfectly! Lucy and Malcolm are just over six months old in this picture to give you an idea of fit.

(Yes, they are gorgeous, aren't they? And yes, Malcolm is wearing a Sean.)
Here is Lucy in her more well-fitted Orville made with Claudia Hand Painted Yarns Worsted in Peony. I think it should be named Strawberry Cake, but I'll allow Peony, Claudia.
(Yes, Lucy is super jaunty in her pink onesie and pink heart leg warmers and pink Orville Cap!)
Last but not least I give you a sample of the Orville made with BS Lamb's Pride Bulky in Persian Peacock on a wonderful statue that we found for a model in Wright Park here in Tacoma. The sculpture is "The Leaf" by Larry Andersen. This guy looks a little like my grandaddy, as a matter of fact.

Thanks for inspiring the Orville Cap, Grandaddy! It's fun to make. I'd make one for you if you were still here to wear it. Then we could wear our Orvilles to see a baseball game and have some Cracker Jacks. What good times that would be!
Thanks so much to Natalie and Kelli for doing such superb tests on this pattern to help me get out the kinks!

Monday, December 13, 2010


I love Annie Modesitt's book 1000 Hats. It's so inspiring! I took one statement from her book and ran with it. She said, "Gansey technique isn't seen as often in hats as it should be." I love Ganseys (also called Guernseys) because they are more simple than cabled sweaters but just as intriguing in their own way. The combinations of knit and purl stitches can be surprisingly beautiful, given that they start with such a simple concept.
I first learned about Ganseys from Beth Brown-Reinsel's book Knitting Ganseys. After reading Beth's book I put together the Raibeart for my first grandson Preston (Robert is his first name and Raibeart is the Gaelic translation).
For my youngest daughter Natalie's birthday hat this year I designed a Guernsey hat that features the Tree of Life motif because Nat has a thing for trees. After searching for just the right version of this stitch motif, I settled on the one in Karen Hemingway's Super Stitches Knitting. I only had to tweak it a little to make it work with the Stockinette Stitch Flags panel in the same book and a third little knit/purl panel that I've had my eye on for a while from the book by Gisella Klopper called Beautiful Knitting Patterns (one of my absolute favorites).
I decided to add in a couple more characteristics of Gansey construction--a knitted hem (this one patterned) and the owner's initials.
Here's Natalie modeling the first medium-size sample that I made from the resulting pattern.

And here I am trying to model the large-size one I made for myself.
Both of these samples were knit on size 5 needles with Hazel Knits DK Lively--Nat's with the Evergreen colorway and mine with the Equinox. I love this yarn so much. It's a dream to knit with and produces a gorgeous fabric. Go Wendee!

Here is a closeup of the initials on my hat, situated just inside the knitted brim. The surprise of this hat was that when the brim is hemmed it gives the hat a bit of a cloche quality. The brim section flares out just a bit. It's also a deep hat, just the way I wanted it.

These last two photos are examples of Natalie's photographic skills. It's very nice to have another artist in the family (Jess is an oil painter and Emily is an actress, singer and dancer)--especially when she can take such fabulous pictures of finished knits! You can see lots of her work around the Figheadh and Mirth sites and on the patterns. Obviously I am proud of all three of my very talented daughters!

The N-26 Guernsey Hat is completely charted and written out for both sizes (medium and large) and includes an alphabet chart for adding the initials.

We hope you like it!
Next time I'll be back to talk about my Grandaddy Dexter. Yep, more family lore. Have a great day and stay warm in your wintery neck of the woods!

Thursday, December 09, 2010


You don't have to look for very long on the Figheadh site to know how much I love cables. The problem is, that's like saying "I love candy." What kind of candy? So many kinds! It's the same with cables. So many kinds!

One kind of cables I'm obsessed with is cables emerging from 2/2 rib. There are so many ways to make cables from 2/2 rib that it would honestly keep me busy for years. The Chattahoochee Scarf is made using this technique, as are the Red Rover Socks and the Cable Crest Set, for instance(s).

When I set about to design my daughter Jessica's birthday hat this year, of course I wanted to do it in 2/2 cables. I wanted the cables to have a long repeat row-wise and result in "bubbles," and I wanted two sets of them that would alternate. Simple enough. What wasn't simple was figuring out the crown decrease. This was the first crown I came up with.

Also simple. The problem was that I got all caught up in thinking it was too simple, that I had to make it one of those wham-pow things. Not all things should be wham-pow. Some things should be left alone.

One variation I tried was to let the cables decrease on up into smaller cables around the crown. You can see a little peek of that in this sample I made for Jess in Quince & Co Osprey in Clay...

...and in this other sample I made for Jess with Lamb's Pride Worsted in Sable.

The little cables in the crown just made it too fussy and too deep. I decided to give these to Jess, even though they are not how the pattern eventually got written. I knew these two colors would look great on Jessica. Besides, now she has a truly original design, as far as I know. There's no pattern written for it, so she has the only two made!

Here's a picture of my lovely Natalie (youngest daughter) and I modeling J-28's with the simpler crown. Nat's is in Malabrigo Twist in Tuareg and mine is in Quince & Co Lark in Glacier, but I recommend Osprey for the J-28. The pattern calls for Aran weight, or heavy worsted.

If you like the simplicity of the J-28 Cable Cap, give it a try. It's easy enough--even if you've never knit cables before. The pattern explains all the techniques.

I leave you with this beautiful image of Emily in her E-30, Jess in one of the J-28's and Malcolm in a (not baby size, obviously) version of the Orville, which I'll tell you about time after next.
Yes, Malcolm's manly enough to wear pink.
(Man, I love these people!)

Monday, December 06, 2010

E-30 Cap

Fred and I used to wake up at 4:45 every morning to grab some coffee before suiting up for a walk along the waterfront. The walkway along Commencement Bay is a 4 mile round trip from one end to the other and back. Although flat, it is a good workout, not to mention the nice views. Every morning we would smile and say "Good Morning" to all the other early birds doing the same thing. One particularly friendly lady often wore an entire outfit of lemon yellow, which included a fine-knit lattice stitch cap with a 1/1 rib fold-up brim. I loved that hat and vowed to one day adapt it for a Figheadh pattern.
This year I decided to work up hat designs for each of my daughters' birthdays and I knew this lattice cap would be perfect for Emily--mostly because the red mohair yarn I'd saved for it was just the thing for her. You see, my Emily is a girly girl and a real child of the 80's. She was born smack dab in the middle of 1980 and spent her formative years listening to Abba and NKOTB and wearing too much fluorescent pink and side ponytails with scrunchies.
The first iteration of the cap was with a lattice stitch with an extra twist at the junctures (seen below left). That was a little too fussy (and increased the hat depth), so I changed to a more simple twist (seen below right). I also made two hats of different depths so Emily could wear one as a slouch hat and one as a beanie.
I sent the hats off to Emily and then began trying samples of it in other yarns. First was Cloud 9 from Cascade. Loved the yarn, but the transition from the rib to the lattice pattern bugged me. The k2 just awkwardly ceased every other time. Not pretty.

The entire rest of the hat made sense. I loved how the crown decrease naturally began from the last C2B (1/1 right cross) and continued up to make a big flower shape on the top.

After I worked in a little twist of the offending alternating k2's of the rib to correspond to the ones at the beginnings of the lattice diamonds, the whole hat made a lot of sense, from cast on to closing the hole at the top. This last sample is made with Aslan Trends Invernal #3752, which is really a DK weight, but I used size 8 needles to make gauge. I wanted a pretty angora blend and this yarn is just that. So soft and pretty.

Emily likes her hats--even the slouch! I hope you like it too. The E-30 Twist Stitch Cap pattern is available as a PDF download and is stocked in a very few shops at the moment. I hope you like it enough to try it!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I Love Blocking

Yes, you've heard this before. Remember this post? That was a little over a year ago and now I can tell you that I was working on a chapter for a book. DRG/House of White Birches actually let me write an entire chapter about blocking. Crazy, right? Take a look at any of your finishing books on the shelf and see how much space each one of them devotes to this subject. I dare you to find anything over a page and a half.

Friends, there is now a finishing book with an entire chapter--six pages--with photographs galore, all about the glory of blocking. And I got to write it. Man, this is the best thing to happen to me in a while, especially in a year with some trip-ups, let me tell you. When Kara Gott Warner put out the call for submissions to this book, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I give you The Perfect Finish, edited by the fabulous Kara herself.
I highly recommend this book to you knitters, and not only for my blocking chapter. So much fantastic information! Five cute projects! Lots of pictures! (end cheesy promo)

Seriously, I had a blast working on this project. I got to knit up two baby sweaters with Mission Falls 136 Superwash Merino (so soft!), one assembled and one in pieces, to show blocking both ways. I also made some swatches--lace and cables--to show the effect of blocking on these kinds of stitch patterns. Even the research was fun as I perused every book and Web site I could get my hands on to get a wide spread of knowledge on this subject. Over and over again it appalled me how little space and time has been spent on this very valuable subject.

Hear me now and believe me later (nod to Hanz and Franz). Block your knits! So many great knitting projects never get to the finish because this one step is ignored. In one of my many fantasies of being not a nice girl, I wield a big Block It! stamp to brand many, many images of mangled up, wrinkly so-called FO's...because it's not finished until it's blocked.

Yes, there are a very few exceptions, but I can safely say that about 99% of the time, you should block. Yes, even socks.

If you want to know exactly why and how, buy the book.
Thank you.