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Next Stitches

September 10, 2020
green and teal handspun raglan sweater in progress with yarn cake

Alexa and I are continually learning – as people, as designers, as storytellers, and as parents – and this year sure has brought its share of changes to learn from. The adjustments in our day-to-day lives and the psychological impacts of frightening circumstances have led us to question many things we took for granted, and to wonder what our next steps should be in these uncertain times.

When it comes to moving forward, all you ever do – all you ever CAN do – is take the next step and knit the next stitch. I believe this is something knitting can teach you, as you patiently invest hour after hour, gradually forming fabric from loop after loop of string. With that in mind, the theme that emerged for us is Next Stitches. This is especially fitting because we have some exciting updates on the horizon. We are currently working feverishly to launch a new and improved Tin Can Knits website by the end of 2020, and we are preparing to re-release The Simple Collection this autumn. We have some surprises in store for the new year, too!

At the same time, Alexa and I are carrying the ‘next stitches’ theme into all areas of life. Here’s what that means for each of us personally.

Emily’s next stitches

For me, ‘next stitches’ has two meanings: cultivating day-to-day happiness and continuing to learn and grow.

In the middle of a pandemic, sometimes simply knitting that next stitch is all I can do – just answering the next email, giving my kid an extra-long hug, calling a loved one, or casting on a simple project that will let me knit, knit, knit around without too much thought. In this sense, ‘next stitches’ simply means continuing to find daily pleasure and beauty in the very small and repeated actions that make up my life.

Secondly, ‘next stitches’ is about learning – learning that ‘next stitch’ or establishing a new habit that can keep me healthy and whole, improve my family’s life, respect the earth just a little bit more, and integrate me further into the community I find here in Edinburgh. The ‘next stitches’ I’m making in my personal life focus on continuing to learn and practice anti-racism, studying colonial history, mejorando mi Español, enseñándoselo a mis niños, and working on being more present and kind in my relationships, both with myself and with others. In my creative work, I’m learning more about yarn, fibre, and construction as I practice hand spinning, and I’m always experimenting with and deepening my knowledge of colour, too!

Alexa’s next stitches

For me, ‘next stitches’ represents adventure. I love the feeling of sitting down with yarn and needles, ready to try something new. This excitement is what draws me to both knitting and design work, as well as learning of all kinds. And the ‘new thing’ doesn’t have to be complicated. When it comes to knitting, it can be something simple, like a new, small technique or a new colour palette, but I always enjoy the adventure.

Like Emily, I’m also always interested in learning. For the ‘next stitches’ in my own personal growth, I am looking forward to continuing anti-racism work with Ravideep Kaur and taking this Indigenous Canada course from the University of Alberta. I’m also doing some weight lifting at the gym and getting outside with the kiddos more.

‘Next stitches,’ for me, is also a bit about tracking the craft of knitting backwards. I think this is a common knitter’s journey; you begin with one thing, and you work your way back. Starting with knitting, I plan to work backwards to learn about materials, the properties of a yarn, where it comes from, and how it’s made. While I’m not looking to take up spinning like Emily (at least I don’t think so…), I am interested in the provenance and creation of yarns. It’s definitely one of my next learning steps.

Your next stitches

What ‘next stitches’ do you have in mind for the coming year? Do prefer bite-sized pieces, or are you inspired by setting bold and audacious plans in knitting and in life? We all have different situations, so the scope of what we’re drawn to take on will most certainly be different.

Some next stitches inspiration

If you’re looking to take up some ‘next stitches’ in your knitting, we have a project and tutorial for your next step. Whether it’s sweaters, colourwork, cables, lace, or the basics, we’ve got you covered.

green and teal handspun raglan sweater in progress with yarn cake
Is garment knitting next on your learning list? Check out our FREE Flax pattern and our full project tutorial, too!
fluffy pink yoke of a sweater with lace
Are you inspired to try some lace knitting? Perhaps you’re interested in learning more about laying with mohair, or maybe you’d like to knit up a Love Note sweater. Click the links for helpful tutorials on each topic!
one bonnet and one bonnet in progress with yarn ball attached
If your ‘next stitches’ plan includes knitting for little ones, or perhaps trying out some German short rows, check out our Beloved bonnet tutorial here.
the yoke of a colourwork sweater pinned to a blocking board
If your next steps include honing your colour palette skills, check our our tutorial here. If you’re ready to dive in and design your own colourwork yoke, check out our Strange Brew series here.
hands holding a grey hat in progress with a cable in it
Is it a new technique you desire? Learn to cable here and get started on a Northward hat or an Antler toque!

Starting with the basics?

Whatever your ‘next stitch’ might be, our Simple Collection is an excellent resource. And stay tuned…useful updates to this set of free patterns and tutorials are coming soon!

~Emily and Alexa

Stripes and Other Hacks for the Flax Sweater

August 27, 2020
tags:
The yoke of a striped sweater in purple, pale blue, and golden yellow
The yoke of a striped sweater in purple, pale blue, and golden yellow

I hope you are holding up, managing day by day the impacts that the pandemic continues to have on work, family, and community life. Personally, I chant to myself almost daily, ‘The kids are fine. The kids are happy. The kids are safe.’ And ‘John and I will manage; we will adapt.’ This mantra usually keeps me calm, but as the losses mount up, my sadness about what won’t be possible this year threatens to overwhelm me.

Those who follow us know that the uncertainty of the times put me in the mood to knit everything simple – lovely, easy things that would keep my hands busy and my mind occupied. So the handspun skeins were pulled out to make Beloved bonnets because there’s just nothing cuter.

Handspun skeins in deep blues and purples, pale blue, and buttery yellow
Beloved Handspun Bonnet Blog Post
I think my daughter Neve was two when she wore this bonnet. Two years later, she’s still just as square-cheeked and mischievous – just a lot taller!

Even after knitting a number of bonnets, I still had some significant leftovers, and I wanted to get them out of boxes and on to the needles. This little lovely for Neve was the result.

Little kid in a striped raglan sweater in purple, pale teal, gold and green, sitting on a log.

This project was my way of not only staying busy, but also using up ‘every last drop’ of a couple handspun skeins that I loved to bits. I bought this yarn a while back during a particularly difficult time, so it felt like a major luxury – a pick-me-up treat for myself. (So of course, it got stuffed into plastic boxes and hidden from the world like the rest of my precious stash!)

A striped raglan sweater in purple, pale teal, gold and green laid flat on a yellow quilt

Pattern modifications

I got started on this simple-but-satisfying project using our free Flax sweater pattern, but I made some minor modifications. First, I striped it to make the precious handpun stretch further, working three rounds of handspun yard and then two rounds of mill-spun yarn. I also used a few more hacks along the way:

  • I worked with slightly lighter-weight yarns, so I followed the stitch counts for the 6-8 year size. At my smaller gauge, the sweater came out measuring 24″ around (not 26″), and it will fit my four-year-old for a year or two. (Read our tutorial on How to Knit a Garment at a Different Gauge for more info on this technique.)
  • I skipped the garter stitch panels at the sleeves.
  • Instead of kfb increases at the raglan lines, I knit ‘under the bar’ – an increase that creates tiny holes in the work that aren’t as large as yarn-overs.

You can make a cute, stripey sweater like Neve’s by downloading our free Flax sweater or free Flax Light sweater patterns. Either pattern will serve as an excellent ‘blank canvas’ for trying out a design idea.

More Flax hacks

This is not the first time our Flax pattern has been hacked! Check out some others below…

Lace Flax Hack Blog Post
This lace panel sweater was knit using the Flax pattern with a little lace added!
Flax Sweater Cable Hack Blog Post
Alexa used the free Flax pattern as a base to make this cute little cable panel sweater.
Smiling baby in a sweater with bright and deep red stripes.
Clearly I love stripes! This little Flax sweater got a lot of play when Max and Neve were babies.

Soft, colourful, and ‘made just for her,’ this new, stripey number has become Neve’s go-to sweater this summer. Here in Edinburgh, it can get pretty chilly, even in the middle of summer, so we don’t go out without a jumper just in case!

A child holds a flower in small hands, the cuffs of her sweater are striped gold and pale teal.
I ran out of handspun on the last part of the sleeves, so I just striped the two mill-spun yarns.
Child smiles up at the camera, framed by green underbrush wearing a striped sweater.
A child, ponytail swinging, runs along a forest path wearing a striped sweater.

This, too, shall pass

This sweater, for me personally, has a number of bittersweet memories knit into it. I cast on feverishly and knit away, anxious and uncertain as lockdown here in Edinburgh was just beginning. I photographed it on Neve’s 4th birthday, when we enjoyed a family outing to a nearby park, instead of the party with friends we had hoped for.

I know ‘this, too, shall pass.’ There will be more happy birthdays to celebrate and fun summers to soak in. But I’d be lying if I said this ‘new normal’ we’re all experiencing hasn’t been a daily challenge; I often find myself feeling like I just can’t keep up. So I do what I can do. I focus on today, juggling work and family as best I can. I call a friend. I cast on something simple and joyful – and I get to bed early, so I can wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

~ Emily

Smiling child looks up into the camera

A Long, Long Time Ago

August 13, 2020

Once upon a time, there were two knitters, both working at their local yarn shop. The pair became fast friends and quickly discovered that they both wanted to design knitting patterns together. The rest, my dear knitters, is history.

Emily and Alexa are standing near a cliff in hand knit sweaters. They are smiling with arms around each other. Emily's sweater is a deep maroon with a bright red colourwork yoke, Alexa's sweater is a warm dark green with pops of navy, bright teal, and chartreuse at the yoke.
Our latest adventure in Iceland.

A fateful trip

The year was 2010. I had just finished my teaching degree with no job in sight. (Fun fact: I was almost a high school social studies teacher!) When I met Emily, she was living in Vancouver but soon moved back home to Courtenay, where she was working in architecture. We were two close friends separated by a ferry ride, so we decided to take a weekend away. I hopped on the ferry, and we headed to one of our favourite places: Tofino.

Tofino is an absolutely wonderful spot on the western shore of Vancouver Island. It’s located on the current and traditional territory of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, and we recognize the responsibility that came with our presence on their sacred land. We have so much respect for this beautiful area, with its lush rain forests and iconic beaches. Standing on the sand and looking out onto the Pacific Ocean feels like standing at the edge of the entire world! Tofino holds a special place in our hearts, and it was inspiring to experience a land we both deeply love together.

This trip was so inspiring, in fact, that it led us to start a partnership that would change our lives forever. As we wandered the damp forests, visited the local art gallery, sipped coffee at the hipster bakery, and relaxed on the beach, we began to chat about our big ideas. Sitting in the sand, under the stars, Emily suggested we might design a pattern together, but I said no – we should write a book. And that was the beginning of our Tin Can Knits journey. It was that little kernel that grew into our very first book, 9 Months of Knitting.

Emily is standing on the beach looking out at the ocean. Waves are rolling in.
Em looks out over the vast Pacific.
A close up of Emily wearing sunglasses and gazing into the distance. Beach and forest blurred in the background.
Looking cool on the beach.
A moody photo of little rocky islands in the ocean. Clouds pass overhead.
The view from beautiful Uclulet.
Alexa is standing on a dock in a red sweater, scarf, and jeans. She looks a bit chilly and the wind is blowing her pony tail.
It was March, so it was a little on the chilly side!

Life is a journey

You never really know where life will take you. That brief weekend adventure led to a partnership that’s still going strong 10 years later. Emily and I have published over 170 patterns and nine books. We’ve taught classes, attended knitting shows, and participated in countless community events. We’ve written hundreds of blog posts and taken hundreds of thousands of pictures. And best of all, we’ve done it all together.

All of our books! 9 Months of Knitting, Pacific Knits, Handmade in the UK, Road Trip, Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe, Great White North, Mad Colour, The Simple Collection, and Strange Brew.

Since our professional partnership started, our personal lives have changed drastically as well. One transatlantic move and five TCK kids have come along, and our work life has ebbed and flowed around these life changes. I’ll always remember that one year we each had a baby six weeks apart. It was interesting to say the least!

a small Hunter is on Gary's shoulders, decked out in a knit sweater and hat. Gary is wearing a coordinated hat too as they tromp through the woods.
Hunter was the inspiration for 9 Months of Knitting and our very first knitwear model.
Gary and Jones in matching hand knit colourwork yoke sweaters. They stand against a backdrop of snow and mossy rocks.
Our joint family adventure to Iceland was the trip of a lifetime.
John is holding Max and Neve and they are all gleefully laughing.
These three have added so much joy to our knitwear design. Emily is finally as excited as I am about kid knits!
4 adults and 5 kids all holding hands in a row on a bright evening on the beach. They are all wearing hand knit sweaters and facing away from the camera.
The TCK families have grown over the years.
Max and Bodhi are about 6 months old lying on a wool blanket. They are wearing matching colourwork vests and chewing on wooden blocks.
Emily’s Max and Alexa’s Bodhi came along in 2014, only six weeks apart.

Through it all, we’ve remained dedicated partners, and I don’t think I would have done half of the things we’ve done together on my own. Each of us brings different strengths (and weaknesses) to the partnership, and we are truly better as one whole than as two halves. I’m sometimes asked why we wouldn’t rather go it alone, and I laugh a little. Some might find it hard to imagine sharing a business, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Emily and Alexa are sitting on the sidewalk with a vivid blue building behind them. They are each knitting. Emily is looking down at her knitting and Alexa is smiling at the camera.
Doing what we love, together.

Thank you

Emily and I wouldn’t be where we are today without the wonderful people who support us. We work with two amazing tech editors, Karen Butler and Laura Chau, to keep our pattern math on track. And this year, we added our excellent new editor, Sarah Beams of Word Lodge, who helps us keep our exclamation-point enthusiasm in check. Over the years, we also have relied on friends and family to model for us, bringing our knits to life. We’re so happy to have these magnificent folks on our team.

So what does the future hold for Tin Can Knits? What will life look like in another 10 years? We can’t really say, but we do know that there will be a lot more knitting… that we can promise you!

~Alexa

Stash Buster Colour Play

July 30, 2020
Tunisian crochet blanket in shades of blue and yellow on a bed

I made my first Tunisian crochet Stash Buster Blanket a few years ago, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s a colourful, cozy throw that folds over the armchair or couch, and then gets dragged all over the place to become the roof of a ‘den’ or a ‘seashore’ in the kids’ ‘fairy land.’ I love cuddling underneath this blanket, but a more profound enjoyment comes from looking carefully at the colours and seeing how they interact and combine.

Edge of Tunisian crochet blanket in shades of blue and yellow, with woman's hand
The pattern is worked using three colour ‘bundles’ at once.

Recently I found my big, wooden Tunisian hook – this baby is 19mm! I was stress-knitting my way through a dozen simple projects and decided it was a good moment to begin another Stash Buster Blanket. The pattern by Stitch Diva Studios contained all the information I needed to have LOADS of fun. The simple Tunisian crochet stitch pattern, when worked with colour changes, makes an exquisite fabric.

Tunisian crochet blanket in progress on wooden hook
Worked on a 19mm Tunisian crochet hook, the Stash Buster eats through yarn at a rapid rate. On the left-hand side of the image, you can see the bumpy back side of the blanket. On the right, you can see the woven effect on front.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this project is having enough stash that you’re ready to part with. This one is perhaps most suitable for those who work in the yarn industry and find themselves drowning in single skeins and leftovers. (The queen-sized version I just finished weighs 6 lbs/2.75kg!) Hand-dyers, yarn shop owners, and fellow knit designers: if you have a stash-overgrowth problem, this project is sure to help!

Stash Buster Blanket post
My first Stash Buster Blanket.

If you’ve determined that you have enough stash to throw at this big bad boy, the only other problem to tackle is colour selection. My first Stash Buster Blanket used greys throughout as one of the strands, though the greys I chose began with blacks and charcoals and transitioned to light grey. Against this base strand, I worked the other two in blocks of navy, teal, and sky blue, and then wine, bright red, and a variety of oranges.

Tunisian crochet blanket in shades of blue and yellow on a bed
Aiming for the right size to top my queen bed, I made my new Stash Buster 96 sts wide, but it turned out a bit narrow. I suspect should have worked 112 or 120 sts wide (argh!), but perhaps it will stretch out with wear and time.

For my new blanket, I followed a similar strategy – this time using deep blues throughout as one of the three strands. Against this, I worked blocks of light blue, deep blue, yellow, and gold.

I decided to use dark navy blues for the deepest tones this time around because, years ago, I heard colour master Kaffe Fassett say that black, grey, and white don’t add life to colourwork. He suggested using other colours instead. Although I find it easy to make colours work with neutrals like grey and black, I’ve kept this tip in mind over the years and wanted to challenge myself with it for this project.

Boxes of yellow, blue, brown yarns and Tunisian crochet blanket in progress
Keeping all the yarns straight can be tricky. I found cardboard boxes work best – one for each of the colour bundles.

Making these blankets is definitely an investment in my colour knowledge – an opportunity to sharpen my colour appreciation and intuition. It allows me to see the effects of different colours on each other, in many different combinations. In this case, I see how lovely it is when a crisp, golden fleck emerges among cool grey-blues and deep, purply navies. I see how a single strand of yellow adds interest and vividness to a field of blues on blues. And I see the way a subtle string of purple enlivens the entire palette even further.

A playful project like this one allows me to discover colour combinations that make me a little delirious with excitement, knowing that each one could be the beginning of a colourwork palette for a new knit. Alexa and I have thought and written about colour often, so if you’d like to deepen your knowledge, check out the posts below.

See our Week of Colour Series for an in-depth exploration of how to select a colourwork palette, from simple monochrome pairs to Fair-Isle style blending.

Learn how to apply colour to stranded knitting motifs in our in-depth study with dozens of examples.

Collect your favourite colour combos! Making a ‘colour file’ of your favourite combinations can help with inspiration when working multi-colour projects.

I hope you’re getting a chance to enjoy colourful combinations on your needles, too! What are some of your favourites?

~ Emily

A Precious Blanket Repair

July 16, 2020

Blankets are unreasonable projects

Blanket knitting is a unique thing. They are the biggest knitted item I make. They take forever. They take lots of yarn. They can be a pain to hand wash due to their size. But in spite of all of that, I love them. I especially love to knit them for babies. There’s something about a handmade blanket for a little one that’s so very special. This is the story of one such project:  Bodhi’s baby blanket. 

A blanket made of lace squares in a rainbow of colours is laying over a grey couch.
Bodhi’s original baby blanket.

Something all her own

Bodhi is (and will always be) the baby, so she was destined to have an enviable wardrobe of hand-me-down sweaters from Hunter and Jones. But before I knew who she would become, I wanted to make something for her that would be all her own. 

I quickly decided on a Vivid blanket – it’s been one of my favourites ever since Emily designed it. I went to my collection of Tanis Fiber Arts DK and pulled out a fantastic rainbow of yarns. I adore bright, cheery colours for babies! Stitch by stitch, square by square, I made Bodhi her wee blanket, knitting a little bit of love into every inch. 

When the big day came, I wrapped my new, little bundle in her bright blanket, and she has used it ever since. It has served as a play mat, a bedspread, a dolly swaddle, a fort…you name it! That blanket has received a lot of love and use over the years. 

A little baby Bodhi dressed in a navy and turquoise sweat suit that is a little too big. Laying on her back on her hand knit blanket in a rainbow of squares.
This is Bodhi, only a few hours on the outside.

Disaster 

Last year, to my dismay, I found the much loved blanket under Bodhi’s bed with some mothy little holes in it. Nooooooooooooo! I wasn’t ready to let this piece of her childhood go quite yet. I bagged and froze it to get rid of the pesky beasts, and then it was time to ponder the fix. Some of the squares had small holes in the edging; others had large holes in the lace. 

I am holding a lavender lace balnket square with a big hole in it.
This little lavender square got the worst of it.

In order to fix the blanket, I needed to take it apart. I carefully took out all the whip stitches that held the squares together and assessed each one for damage. I had to re-knit the garter edge on a few squares, and I ended up having to re-knit two squares entirely.

That’s when I decided Bodhi’s baby blanket needed an upgrade. Since I had taken the whole thing apart anyway, it seemed like a good time to make it bigger and more suitable to the needs of a six-year-old. 

A rainbow stack of lace blanket squares.
I’ve been ‘collecting’ Tanis Fiber Arts yarn for about eight years now, and it shows!

When I decided I would make Bodhi’s baby blanket bigger, I assumed it would only take a few more squares. (I swear I’m not usually that bad at math.) When I did the actual calculations, I realized I had a much bigger project on my hands. The original blanket was  4′ x 4′ with a total of 16 squares. Expanding it to 5′ x 6′ would require 30 squares. That’s an additional 14 squares – basically just like knitting a whole new blanket! But since I didn’t do the math before I started, I was totally committed. An additional 14 squares were whipped up.

6-year-old Bodhi is standing with her blanket of rainbow squares wrapped around her. She is looking down at the ground.

Note: I recently noticed that I use the phrase ‘whipped up’ when referring to a piece of knitting. I think this is a personal delusion. Knitting is super slow. Nothing is really ever ‘whipped up.’ Lols.

Bodhi is standing with her arms stretched out, showing off her full blanket of rainbow lace squares.
Bodhi showing off her new and improved big-girl blanket.

Satisfaction

I’m so pleased to have given this blanket a little extra life. It’s now a permanent feature on Bodhi’s bed (and still a popular addition to any blanket fort). It was such a joy to add those extra squares and play with the new colours I had acquired over the last five years. 

It was a decidedly different feeling knitting up squares for a human that was already in the world – a child with her own personality and quirks – someone I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as she becomes herself. As it turns out, my original choice of a bright, cheery spectrum of colours was absolutely perfect for my rainbow-loving Bodhi, who is both bright and cheery herself. This labour of love was well worth the effort, and it brings me great joy to see these two little things I made grow together.

~ Alexa

Bodhi is smiling at the camera wrapped in her colourful vivid square blanket.

Handspun Summer Lovin’

July 2, 2020
yellow, pink, and white two-ply yarn
A skein of yellow, white, pink handspun 2-ply

Spinning is like an old flame I have a hot rendezvous with every few years. It doesn’t fit into my everyday life, but when we get together, sparks fly! In the same way that I love knitting with speckled yarns, knitting with handspun brings me BIG JOY. And spinning the yarn myself? Well, that’s like adding an extra layer of icing on the cake.

I first learned to spin on a drop spindle in 2008. In 2017, the desire came back stronger than ever, and I bought piles of fibre and a little e-spinner. Now I’m enjoying another summer of mildly illicit handspun pleasures. Ever since I dug into my Precious Stash, I decided I MUST spin the exquisite batts I’d been hoarding away. Spinning is time-consuming as hell, and it doesn’t make much sense to anybody who hasn’t already caught the bug. But I love it SO HARD.

Transforming fluff into stuff is delicious magic

As a designer and maker, I get really excited about completely transforming materials with my own hands. Spinning yarn out of fluff is all about this. The entire process is a sensual pleasure: the selection of fibre, the process of drafting and watching the twist transform fibre into yarn, and the soaking and finishing process. With spinning, you spend so much time enjoying the material before you even cast-on!

Oh, but this love makes no sense

In a fit of anxiety about spending so much time on my spinning obsession, I mentioned to my husband, “Handspun just makes no sense. It takes SO long to make, and then you still have to knit the sweater!” He literally laughed out loud and said, “Emily, you do knitting for a living. Do you know how much sense that makes?” Point taken.

101 rookie mistakes

Alongside the pleasures of spinning have come plenty of surprises. I’m accustomed to being very competent as a knitter, so when I make the most basic of mistakes spinning, I have to laugh at myself – even when I feel like crying over the mess I’ve made!

Like, how the hell did I switch the twist in the middle of a bobbin?! One day while plying, I realized part way through the process that I’d spun half of one bobbin in one direction, SOMEHOW switched the direction of the twist, and spun the remainder of that same bobbin in the opposite direction. So beyond a certain point, it wouldn’t ply with the other bobbin of singles. WHOOPS! That’s a do-over.

Or, how haven’t I spun NEARLY enough for a small sweater?! I recently started a sweater project with 200g of a lovely green batt, which I spun into singles. To stretch the batt farther, I spun the other ply in a coordinating colour. I figured I could make a cropped sweater with about 400g of yarn. A couple of weeks later when the lot was complete, I measured the yardage and discovered that, while it looked and felt like DK weight, there was only around 750 yards of it! At that point, I realized I should google “how much fibre do you need to spin a sweater?” I quickly learned a pretty basic fact: handspun tends to be denser than comparable mill-spun. OOPS! I’ll need to spin 800g of fibre to have enough yarn for my cropped-sweater project. Time to begin again!

Spinning a sweater is my goal!

Alexa and I both like to have at least a dozen (slightly unreasonable) master plans on the go at any given time. So to add to this year’s impractical list, I plan to to spin and then knit a sweater from handspun.

I’m considering knitting a Flax sweater (it’s a free pattern, so check it out!). Or perhaps a Strange Brew sweater because apparently I just can’t stop experimenting with yoke designs. But I might change my mind and make something with a bit of pretty lace, like Windswept or Ironheart.

Because it’s my first time with this kind of project, I’ll spin the yarn first, and then let it tell me what it wants to be, depending on the gauge it knits to, and the colour and texture of the finished yarn. I might even use it to work up a new design! In any case, I know I’ll enjoy every sensuous minute….until we meet again.

Tell me about your spinning adventures

Being new to spinning, I’m most interested in the spinning tales of others. Are you a long-time spinner, or maybe new to the craft? What are your top tips or pitfalls to avoid?

~ Emily

Three Tips for Using Your Precious Stash

June 25, 2020

Do you have a ‘Precious’ stash? I’m talking about capital ‘P’ precious – that box of yarn, fabric, fibre, or craft supplies that you love so deeply you can’t quite bear to actually use them. You could be working with the most beautiful, sensual, high-pleasure materials that you have carefully squirrelled away. Why aren’t you?

a rainbow of skeins of handspun yarn

With the world feeling more than a little upside down right now, maybe it’s time to crack out your best vintage and really savour the beautiful things you have at hand. Rummage through your stash of precious yarns, fabric, paper or fibre, and get started making with the special materials you love to bits but are reluctant to use.

a stack of floral and graphic printed fabrics
I collected these precious Liberty cotton lawn prints since moving to the UK nearly 10 years ago. Since this photo was taken, I have cut into each and every one of them, but it took guts to make those cuts!

Oh, but it’s too ‘Precious’ to actually use

Sometimes I will bring home a yarn, fabric, or fibre that seems too precious – too beautiful or unique to risk damaging, to dare to take it into my hands and transform it. There’s always risk in making – the risk that your skills won’t be up to the material, that you won’t do it justice.

skeins of handpun on rocky ground
Handspun yarn is very precious to me, so I find it difficult to get started using it. These skeins were a special gift to myself during a difficult moment three years ago. Eventually, I did make one of these skeins into a Beloved bonnet for my little one.

Before I began designing knits professionally, the cost of some supplies made them a luxury for me, and I was nervous about ‘wasting’ or ruining them. Now that I design knits for a living, I literally must cast on for my livelihood. Even so, I still find myself hesitating to use precious items. But to do my work, I need to use all my materials and accept that mistakes are part of the creative process. Skeins may be ‘wasted,’ but the time I spend learning to work with them is never a waste. And whenever I make the leap of confidence and cast on, the joy flows freely!

children running away along a forest path, one wearing a dress in striped and floral fabrics
Fabric brings me so much more joy when it’s used and worn than it does hidden away in boxes.

So what are you waiting for?

I often get stalled by uncertainty, feeling that I’m not quite ‘ready’ enough to dip into my precious stash. But over the years, I’ve found a few tricks that help me cast on or make that first cut.

1. Realize it’s wasted in storage, where it can’t bring you pleasure or improve your life

I like to remind myself of this often, so it feels like I have a responsibility to get my most precious materials out of plastic bags and into daily use.

Smiling kid in a striped sweater in the forest
Now that these precious materials are out of boxes and onto the wriggly body of my kid, I get to enjoy their beauty often! All project details can be found here.

During my recent wave of comfort knitting, I made a Flax sweater (free pattern!) for my little one, Neve. I combined the leftovers of a handspun yarn with coordinating mill-spun and hand-dyed colours. It was such a joy to work with this precious yarn!

2. Recognize that every project teaches you

I have to remember that I’m actually doing myself a disservice when I avoid working with my precious stash. I tell myself: ‘If you don’t cut into that stack of wool tweeds you’ve been collecting since you moved to Scotland, or if you don’t get started knitting with that sweater’s amount of single-ply Noro yarn that you bought on Vancouver Island back in 2016, you’ll just never learn how best to use those materials.’

stack of woollen tweed fabrics in earthy tones
I really love woollen fabrics and have collected them over the years, with various bag, trouser, and jacket projects in mind. While I did make lovely tweed jackets for my kids, I haven’t yet had the courage to cut out a project for myself. But I must learn to take my own advice!

I also try to remember that when I make a mess of something on my first try, I am likely to learn a lot and be more prepared for my second, third, and fourth attempts.

Fluffy batts in deep greens and soft yellow and pinks
These lovely batts languished in my attic for three years, waiting for me to feel ‘ready’ to do them justice. Finally I pulled out the wheel and spun them up, and I haven’t had so much fun making (and learning) in years!
a pink, golden, yellow two-ply yarn

3. Remember that the point is pleasure!

The primary purpose of the hobbies I do with my hands is my own pleasure. After all, there are less expensive ways to get things. There are easier ways to give gifts. There are more practical ways to clothe myself and my loved ones. But if you’re like me, making beautiful creations with your own hands is what brings you pleasure – and working with precious materials makes it even better!

~ Emily

two child shirts hanging on a wall
These darling children’s’ shirts were made from fabrics I consider precious. I was resistant to getting started, but they are ultra-adorable on my little ones. This pattern is from an excellent book called Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids, by Ruriko Yamada.
Two smiling kids in kilts and button-down shirts


How to Knit a Love Note Sweater

June 18, 2020

This step-by-step tutorial explains how to knit the Love Note sweater: a top-down pullover with a pretty lace pattern at the yoke. Ready to get started? Get your copy of the Love Note pattern here and follow along!

What you’ll learn in this tutorial

We’ve broken the Love Note tutorial into 6 parts. Start at the beginning and work your way through – or just jump to the technique you need help with!

  1. Yarn choice and sizing: How to choose a fabulous yarn combination and find the right size for you.
  2. Construction: An overview of the process and how the sweater is constructed.
  3. Yoke: How to work the provisional cast-on, lace pattern, and raglan increases.
  4. Body and sleeves: Creating the high-low hem and picking up the sleeves.
  5. Neckline: How to pick up stitches from the unzipped, provisional cast-on, plus tips for ensuring the perfect fit.
  6. Finishing: How to finish off your beautiful sweater!

New to knitting lingo? You can find definitions for any abbreviations here.

When you share your Love Note, be sure to use the hashtag #LoveNoteSweater! Surf the #LoveNoteSweater hashtag on Instagram and check out the projects on Ravelry.com to help you decide what colour, yarn, size, and fit will suit you best.

If you’re not already getting our emails, join our list to stay in the loop!

Love Note Sweater: Yarn Choice and Sizing (1/6)

June 18, 2020

This post is step #1 of the Love Note Tutorial series. Other posts in this series include:

  1. Yarn choice and sizing (this post): How to choose a fabulous yarn combination and find the right size for you.
  2. Construction: An overview of the process and how the sweater is constructed.
  3. Yoke: How to work the provisional cast-on, lace pattern, and raglan increases.
  4. Body and sleeves: Creating the high-low hem and picking up the sleeves.
  5. Neckline: How to pick up stitches from the unzipped, provisional cast-on, plus tips for ensuring the perfect fit.
  6. Finishing: How to finish off your beautiful sweater!

Selecting yarns

Here comes the first fun part: choosing a yarn combination! Our Love Note samples for this tutorial were knit holding a single-ply sock-weight yarn, along with a strand of lace-weight mohair and silk. We used Rainbow Heirloom and La Bien Aimee. (See our in-depth tutorial on mixing mohair lace and sock-weight yarns.) If you’d rather not use mohair, you could hold together a sock with a different sort of lace-weight yarn – or just use a DK weight yarn. Worsted or aran-weight yarn will work, too, but the fabric will be heavier, giving the garment a significantly different drape.

skeins of green yarn and a partially knit item
Layering with mohair adds a beautiful depth of colour. This is La Bien Aimee Singles and Mohair, both in the colourway ‘Shire.’

Yardage note: Our sizing and yardage table lists yarn requirements for combined yarn, so if your size calls for 600 yds, it will require 600 yds of both the sock-weight yarn and 600 yds of lace-weight mohair yarn.

When it comes to sizing, we’ve designed the Love Note to include plenty of positive ease – we recommend between 4″ and 12″. This sweater has a relaxed fit, and the loosely knit fabric is fabulously drapey!

What is positive ease? This means the finished sweater will measure 4″-12″ more than your actual chest measurement. For more information on ease and choosing a sweater size, check out our sizing post here.

Nina (left) is wearing Love Note size M with 7.5″ of positive ease; this means the sweater is 7.5″ larger than her actual bust measurement. Aimee is wearing size XL-XXL with 10″ of positive ease.

Once you’ve chosen your yarn and desired size – and knit a gauge swatch to confirm that you’re achieving the pattern gauge of 16 sts & 24 rounds / 4” in stockinette stitch – you’re ready to cast on!

If you use Ravelry.com, add this project to your Projects page, so you can keep all your notes in one place for easy reference… and so we can see your sweater when it’s done!

Next step

The next post in this series is about the Construction of the Love Note Sweater. Head there now!

Love Note Sweater: Construction (2/6)

June 18, 2020

This post is step #2 of the Love Note Tutorial series. Other posts in this series include:

  1. Yarn choice and sizing: How to choose a fabulous yarn combination and find the right size for you.
  2. Construction (this post): An overview of the process and how the sweater is constructed.
  3. Yoke: How to work the provisional cast-on, lace pattern, and raglan increases.
  4. Body and sleeves: Creating the high-low hem and picking up the sleeves.
  5. Neckline: How to pick up stitches from the unzipped, provisional cast-on, plus tips for ensuring the perfect fit.
  6. Finishing: How to finish off your beautiful sweater!

Love Note garment construction

The Love Note sweater has a ‘top-down’ construction. This means that it starts at the neckline and is knit down to the hem and cuffs. It’s also knit ‘in the round,’ which means you’ll knit around and around, rather than knitting back and forth in rows and then sewing the pieces together at the end. The result is a seamless sweater.

The yoke is knit first – from the neckline, down through the lace band and a small section of raglan increases – to the point where the yoke separates for the body and sleeves.

The body is also knit in the round, downwards, with a section of short rows that adds length to the back body section. This creates the ‘high-low’ hem detail. Note: the high-low hem is optional, and step #4 will guide you through it.

Sleeves are worked from the underarm in rounds, down to the cuffs. They aren’t shaped until you reach the cuff, where stitches are decreased for a gentle gather detail. Lastly, the collar is picked up, a decrease round is worked, and ribbing is added.

illustration of lace yoke being knit top down.
illustration of lace yoke being knit top down through body.

illustration of lace yoke being knit top down through body and sleeves.

Next step:

Now that you have your road map, it’s time to cast on! The next step in this series is the yoke. Head there now!

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