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Fair Isle Friday: Swatch Cowl

November 17, 2017

So as well as being #FairIsleFriday, today is also #FinishingFriday, and I have just bound off a piece that has languished for at least a year. I’ve got a LARGE pile of project that have been hibernating, and part of what I hope to learn through my month-long novel project (NaNoWriMo) is to finish things. Starting in January, I aim to be working on only 1-3 knits at a time. So as this year closes, I will be putting some old projects to bed so new ones can begin!

When I started this I imagined it would become a baby sweater. But I kept getting pulled away from it to other projects. So I decided this 120 stitch baby sweater body was about the right size for a cowl for me. I added one final pattern repeat, the ribbed edge and it was done. It’s 11.5″ tall and 20.5″ around.

Project Details:

Pattern: Strange Brew Swatch Cowl (Mine is 120 sts around rather than the 108 called for in the pattern)
Yarn: Rainbow Heirloom Sweater in various delicious colours (listed below)
Needles: 3.5mm for ribbing, 4.0mm for colourwork

Let’s just say I have a pretty significant stash of Rainbow Heirloom Sweater, and Nina Davies, the dyer at Rainbow Heirloom, is one of my BFFs (best fiber friends) here in Edinburgh, so my stash is ever-growing despite my best attempts to keep it in control! I used the following colours:

Reds from dark to light: black cherry, young temptress, fighting fish, and cardinal feather
Deep blues: wicked pacific, navy boy
Light blues: jewel sea, blue collar, granite pool

I absolutely love the combination of deep reds with hotter reds, and reddy oranges with teal blues. So this cowl is essentially my happy place when it comes to a colourwork palette. The stripes I like best of all are the tone-on-tone ones; the deep red + orange, and the deep teal + bright teal. But all the slight variations make for a complex and interesting whole.

Charts: If you want to knit the cowl as I did, I worked chart A, B, C, B, A, B, C, B, D with 1″ 2×2 ribbed hems at the start and end.

The truth is I really like using LOADS of colours in my multi-colour pieces. This isn’t always the most practical from a design standpoint (I understand that knitters buying yarns specifically for a given design might balk at buying 12 colours, where 3-4 seems slightly more reasonable!). But what I suggest is that you can build up palettes from your existing stash and scraps, rather than buying all of the yarns you’ll need for a colourwork project all at once. Keeping a collection of scraps, organized by yarn weight, can really unlock the colourwork goddess within.

If you haven’t already tried out the swatch hat & cowl pattern included with our Strange Brew sweater recipe, perhaps now is the time!

We’re running a KAL that ends December 11th, if you’d like to knit along with us and share your explorations on the Facebook Group. And we’ve just put together a complete Week of Colour to help you choose a palette that works for you.

Are you ready to get started?

More Colourful from TCK:


Waves Mittens

November 16, 2017

A summer sunrise at the beach across the road from my childhood home on Vancouver Island.

I was born on Vancouver Island, where I grew up across the road from the ocean. My family spent summers and holidays on our sail boat, exploring the islands and bays of Desolation Sound. The landscape of my childhood marked me with a strong affinity for water, wind, and waves, and for this reason I’ve always loved Japanese wave motifs. I painted my bedroom wall with a large-scale version of this design, collected dishes that feature it, and have made a number of swatches inspired by it.

waves mittens

Finally, after a lot of tinkering, this motif found its way into a knit design: the Waves mittens. The delicate design looks fabulous in two colours – I used the most obvious of pairings, blue and white like the china. This pattern was originally published in the beautiful Making Magazine Dots issue, and is now also available singly, get your copy here!

Worked in Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight, at a fairly compact gauge, the fabric makes an excellent lightweight mitten. To create a thicker mitten, you could knit a smaller size in heavier yarn (try sport weight), or knit a lining mitten for inside.

speedy swatching for mitten size

One quick way to swatch for mitten size and check your colour combo is to cast on the number of stitches that your size will have at the hand, then work for 10-20 rounds in the colourwork pattern. Pop this little tube on around your hand and see how it fits (you can take the needles out). If it’s just about right to fit around your hand at the widest point above the thumb, then you have chosen the correct pattern size and needles. If not, then either change mitten sizes or needle sizes to adjust the gauge you’re working at. If it’s too small, choose larger needles or a larger mitten size, and if it’s too big, try smaller needles or a smaller mitten size.

Other knitters have made beautiful versions of these mittens in other colour pairs (check them out here). You can also browse a number of other effective monochrome and two-colour pairs on our Pinterest board here for inspiration.

Waves waves waves and trees trees trees!

The free Estuary Shawl pattern features two different wave lace patterns.

Waves are just one of our obsessions. If you look at our designs, it’s not too difficult to guess where we’re from! The landscapes of Canada’s west coast inspires us, and this shines through in our knits.

Alexa recently knit a subtle version of the North Shore sweater in greys with just a pop of teal. North Shore was one of our very first joint designs and water, waves, and trees feature heavily! Since then we’ve also taken to the forest, with our Banff hat and mitten designs.

The Banff Hat (Photo © Tolt Yarn and Wool)

The Banff Mittens (Photo © Tolt Yarn and Wool)

What motifs inspire you?

We recently checked out Andrea Rangel’s new book, Alterknits, as part of our Colourwork Bibliography. Alterknits includes hundreds of unique motifs, all shown in 2 colours. It also includes a template pattern for mittens which allow you to fill in your own chosen charts (very cool!). If you fancy a chance to win a copy of Alterknits, join in our Strange Brew (and Dog Star) KAL – it’s one of the great prizes!

More TCK knits inspired by the wild west coast:

Clayoquot CardiganEstuary by Tin Can Knits

Knitting Hack: the provisional cast on

November 10, 2017

Sometimes when you start a project you haven’t made all of the decisions, but really want to get moving anyway. This happens to me quite often, especially with design work, and so I have become very good friends with the provisional cast on. When is this useful you might ask? Quite often when it comes to designing your own Fair Isle sweater!

Since the Strange Brew KAL is running right now I thought I would share a few purls of wisdom on knitting your sweater out of order.

For Hunter’s North Shore sweater I added the waves chart to the cuffs and hem.

 Case 1: details at the cuff and hem

When starting a bottom-up sweater you may be unsure if you want to add patterning at the cuff and/or hem. Perhaps you haven’t decided on your yoke pattern, and want to choose motifs from the yoke to bring into the other details later. If this is the case you can use a provisional cast on and get going on the body and sleeves!

Remember as you will be adding a motif and ribbing you don’t want to knit your body and sleeves to their full length. You may decide you don’t want to add patterning after all and that’s okay too, you can unpick your provisional cast on and simply knit a few rounds before working the ribbing. This is also a good method to use if you’re a little unsure how far your yarn will stretch!

Strange Brew is knit bottom-up…but sometimes you want to do the yoke first!

Case 2: I wanna knit a yoke first!

Do you want to eat dessert before dinner? Want to get going on that yoke first thing? You can provisionally cast on for your yoke, knit and design to your heart’s content.

Once the yoke is complete, you will unpick the provisional cast-on, exposing the live stitches. Then you can work downward, reversing the body and sleeve instructions. Or alternatively you can knit your body and sleeves from hem and cuffs upward, then use the Kitchener stitch to join it all together. Warning: while you CAN do it, working Kitchener stitch on a really large number of stitches like this is kind of annoying.

Case 3: I like my sleeves last

I sometimes like to knit my sleeves last. I often cast on the body of a sweater first to get the biggest chunk of knitting done, but by the time the body is done I’m ready to get moving on my yoke! And so, when following the instructions for the yoke join, I provisionally cast on the number that would be ‘held sts from sleeves’.

When you are finished with the yoke, unpick your cast on and place the live sts on the needles. You will also place the held underarm sts from the body on the needles. The beginning of the round is in the middle of those underarm sts. Then you can work the sleeve in reverse, working a couple of inches without decreases, then decreasing rather than increasing down the rest of the sleeve. Or if you feel the need to knit those sleeves from cuffs upward, you can do that, then graft the sleeves to the body using Kitchener stitch once they are complete.

So, if you are feeling the need to knit your sweater out of order, provisional cast on is your friend! We have a full tutorial on my personal favourite, the hook and needle method here. Or if that one doesn’t suit you, Emily’s favourite is the crochet chain provisional cast on. And another that you might like to try is Judy’s Magic Cast-on.

More sweaters to knit out of order:




November 2, 2017

I know, I know, so many Fair Isle hats! We are COMPLETELY obsessed. Emily first designed the Twisp hat for Stranded Magazine’s Mild Weather issue in 2016, and as soon as I saw it I was excited to cast on. That’s what usually happens when Em designs something; I immediately want to knit it three times and photograph it on the big and little people in my life… so I did!

While I usually knit my accessories in a heavier weight, there is something so lovely and light about sport and fingering weight yarns! We used Quince and Co Chickadee and it was a real treat. There are so many colours (making Chickadee perfect for Fair Isle) and the yarn is bouncy and woolly and oh-so-soft. I definitely need a Strange Brew sweater in this yarn!

The best part of this hat, in my humble opinion, is the doubled brim. I love the detail of the two colours, and the finished hat is always a perfect fit, just fold that brim more or less! Bodhi didn’t want to take it off.

I had a lot of fun working with different combos, but I think this blue and gold is my absolute fave.

For our photoshoot we went to the cutest little coffee shop in Abbotsford, Old Hand Coffee. While I intended to take adorable shots of these two sipping their hot chocolates and reading vintage childrens books, they had other ideas! It’s funny how they look cuter in pictures the more disastrous the photoshoot… On the way home the two of them were quiet and well behaved in the back seat and when we arrived home we found out why: that luscious gold pompom is no more and I’ll be finding little pieces of golden wool in the car forever! Lols. It’s always an adventure.

Twisp Pattern Info:

Pattern: Twisp

baby (toddler, child, adult S, adult L)
to fit head: 16 (18, 19, 21, 23)” around

fingering/sport weight yarn
MC: 80 (90, 110, 130, 150) yards
CC1: 60 (70, 80, 100, 120) yards
CC2: 20 (20, 30, 30, 35) yards
(samples shown in Quince & Co Chickadee in ‘bird’s egg’, ‘egret’, and ‘honey’; ‘belize’, ‘egret’, and ‘malbec’; ‘aleutian’, ‘honey’, and ‘slate’)

US #2 / 2.75mm 16” circular
US #4 / 3.5mm 16” circular and DPNs
(or as required to meet gauge)

More (and more) Fair Isle hats from TCK:




NaKniSweMo – National Knit a Sweater Month

October 29, 2017

Have you ever taken on a really big project?
Like knitting a sweater?
Or writing a novel?

Tenderheart from Heart on my Sleeve, a perfect sweater for NaKniSweMo!

These types of projects can seem overwhelming, especially the first time! How do you get started?! Do you find a yarn you love and a pattern to match? The other way around? One way to start is to set yourself a deadline to finish. Deadlines can be like rocket fuel for creatives!

A deadline can be that push that gets you from a sad WIP (work in progress) languishing in a dark closet, awaiting moth attack, to a stunning sweater sauntering around the city, enjoying the December sunshine on its exquisite stitches.

NaKniSweMo (na-ni-sway-mo: national knit a sweater in a month) is a month-long challenge. This challenge was inspired the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in which folk write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. This year I’m going to attempt a novel (while probably knitting a sweater or two as well…). But since you’re reading the Tin Can Knits blog, you’re probably knitter so I wanted to introduce you to a similar challenge for knitters.

If you were already planning to participate in our Strange Brew / Dog Star KAL, but haven’t quite gotten around to casting on yet, perhaps you could participate in both? The challenge is to complete a sweater of at least 50,000 stitches from start to finish in the month of November! The KAL group on Ravelry is here, and their FAQ is here. And surf the tags for some very inspiring #nakniswemo projects on Instagram.

Alexa and Emily Read’s September Sweaters are a great example of a sweater with a deadline! The first set took an extra year to finish, but these ones (they are on the blocking boards as I type) are only a month behind schedule. Not bad for so many sweaters!

How many stitches are in a sweater?

By quick calculations, if you’re working the Strange Brew or Dog Star patterns, the women’s S is +/- 48,000 stitches, and +/- SM is 55,000 sts. My calculations are pretty rough, though, so women’s S may in fact break the 50,000 barrier.

55,000 / 30 days = 1833 sts / day – I’d suggest rounding up to 2000 stitches per day in order to ensure you complete the challenge, with a bit of spare time to weave in ends and block your sweater so you can wear it on December 1st!

Working on the body of an adult SM (37”), which is 204 sts around, you only need to work 10 rounds (or 1.5”) per day. Or say you’re on the sleeve, where there’s a maximum stitch count of 70 sts, you’d have to work 28 rounds (or 3.75”) rounds to achieve the same 2000 stitches in a day.

Speaking of deadlines…..I actually knit this Campfire sweater in 3 days for a photoshoot deadline. I knit pretty much around the clock and had to knit the collar twice!

This sounds entirely possible to me, how about you?

The great thing about a bottom up or top down seamless pullover (we’ve designed a few!) is that you will have VERY LITTLE finishing left to do after you bind off the collar.

What’s the point?

Well, first of all, what’s the point of knitting anyways?! When you can buy a sweater for so much less money and so much less time… Yeah, we’ve all heard that common refrain! And we all knit anyway, so surely you have your own answer to this one.

The point of the 30-day challenge, for me, is the concept of working away on a thing bit by bit, stitch by stitch, having broken it into achievable bits. Most of my life I have been a terrible procrastinator who proceeds by fits and starts, with bouts of intense creative energy and late-night catch-up sessions separated by doldrums of procrastination and relative inactivity. I hold the daily practice of consistent creative work up as a lofty goal for myself, always hopeful that it might be possible!

Personally, it’s not so much the sweater (or the novel, which I fully expect to be a steaming pile) that I’m as interested in as the PRACTICE of breaking a big project up into manageable pieces and churning through, taking daily action toward the goal.

How about you? Does the idea of a creative marathon excite and thrill the knitter (or writer) inside you? If so join right in!

get the deadline into your calendar!

Join the NaKniSweMo group and plan to cast on Wednesday, November 1st! And while you’re at it, you could join our Strange Brew KAL, and if you want to go crazy, knit it in Tanis Fiber Arts yarn and join her Fall Colourwork KAL at the same time! So much fun! So much support!

May we suggest:

Flax Light by Tin Can KnitsStrange Brew





Bibliography for Stranded Colourwork

October 26, 2017

Stranded colourwork is complex. There are many things to consider, and a wealth of experimentation and practice to gain some knowledge. But don’t allow the complexity to put you off getting started! Every stitch can be pleasure, and you really don’t need to know much beyond the knit stitch to get started playing with colour. We’ve got a ‘how to knit fair isle’ post with a free hat pattern here, if you want to cast on right away.

Having knit your first colourwork project, you find yourself on the slippery slope to addiction! Each round reveals a little bit more of the pattern, and it’s hard to put your needles down! As you plan the next (and the next) project, make sure to review our Week Of Colour for many helpful strategies for choosing a palette for your next project.

To deepen your knowledge, there’s nothing like a good book! Alexa and I stick to the design side of things more than the research side, but there are many excellent resources on colourwork knitting, and we’d like to recommend a few of our favourites. If you’re at all like us, these books will bring you pleasure, knowledge and inspiration that you can apply to your colourwork knitting.

200 Fair Isle Designs – Mary Jane Mucklestone

This book is a treasure trove of immediate practical relevance if you’d like to knit and design your own stranded projects. Mucklestone’s explanation of how to choose a palette is concise, practical and forms the basis for the method of fair-isle blending explained in our Fair Isle Friday post.

200 motifs are illustrated, knit up in colour combinations that inspire you to cast on immediately!

We place it first on the list, because I find it the most accessible and practical for getting started with stranded colourwork.

The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting – Shiela McGregor

This book tells the history of the development of stranded colourwork patterns and style in Fair Isle, and more broadly in Shetland. It tells the story of knitting as a cottage industry in Shetland up to the 1980’s, when the book was published. What most fascinated me about the story was the way Shetland is placed, historically, as a crossroads within a maritime trading network. This allowed influences from the Baltic and Nordic neighbours to be the seeds for the Fair Isle tradition. The history highlights how Fair Isle knitting is (then as now) an organic, living tradition which involves a dynamic flow of ideas, motifs, and techniques.

I consider this book a treasure especially as it includes a very extensive stitch pattern library, and instructions for garment design and project planning alongside its historical contextualization.

Fair Isle Knitting – Alice Starmore

Starmore’s book is the most complete reference book for Fair Isle that I have found. It covers the history of the style and includes an extensive compilation of stitch patterns. The book explores methods for applying colour to the patterns and suggests drawing inspiration from the world around you to develop palettes, something I do in my own work!

Starmore includes an in-depth explanation of the techniques involved, includes several patterns, and a section on designing your own colourwork garments and accessories.

Published in 1988, you may find the style of some of the designs dated, but there is a wealth of practical knowledge and beautiful ideas to inspire you!

KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – Felicity Ford

For a designer, this book is a delight! I was completely engaged by Ford’s method for designing your own fair isle patterns, starting with everyday inspirations. It is a long and exciting jaunt into a creative space that blends pattern and colour.

Ford says: “The highlight of the KNITSONIK System is the knitting. It enables patterns and shading schemes to be developed and advanced through trial and error. Once an initial pattern and shading scheme have been trialed, they can be revised and modified. This approach means that instead of trying to work out everything before you begin, it is possible to gather answers along the way and to form creative responses to problems.”

This mirrors my own experience of colourwork knitting. After defining an initial concept, you get started knitting, and discover on the needles what will (and won’t) work. Your questions are answered by the knitting itself. I believe this is a critical attitude to take when knitting colourwork; accepting and taking pleasure in the the trial-and-error nature of the beast will bring you joy throughout the process. If you’re interested in developing your own motifs from scratch and developing your artist’s skills of perception, this book is a beautiful, playful and inspiring one to study.

Alterknits Stitch Dictionary – Andrea Rangel

When I saw that Andrea Rangel was publishing a book on stranded knitting and motifs I knew I had to get it. She is a designer whose style I admire and her thinking about knitting (much like my own) is always a mix of a nostalgic love of the traditional blended with a modern touch. It may seem like too much of a juxtaposition to enjoy both the classic and the modern (sometimes in the same garment!), but it is her reverence for the past that keeps her modern designs both fresh and timeless.

The Alterknits Stitch Dictionary was created by Rangel and her husband, a great duo when it comes to motif design! There are fabulous geometric shapes along with some tongue-in-cheek motifs (I’m loving the racoons and garbage cans!). This book is a great resource for original motifs to add to your Strange Brew hats, cowls, or sweaters. Alterknits also includes techniques and a number of pretty and adaptable designs.

Are you ready to tackle colour? We’re currently running a Strange Brew Knitalong – join us and design your own colourwork yoke sweater! All the details are here!

Do you have a favourite book on colour?

Colour is one of those things that many knitters find very difficult. Practice makes perfect, and we find knitting colourwork patterns HIGHLY addictive! You can’t help but knit just one more round to see how it will look. It’s a delicious adventure. Click the links below to share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. And invite your friends to join in our Strange Brew KAL too!

Fair Isle from TCK:






























October 20, 2017

During our Week of Colour we have explored 5 colour strategies and shared many more than 5 knits. We’ve had a blast playing with colour and sharing some of our findings with you!

In order to create these knits, we used the swatch hat and cowl pattern from Strange Brew to try our wacky and wonderful combinations. Of course, I saved the best for last and this is Fair Isle Friday!

What is Fair Isle knitting?

Fair Isle is one of the islands in Shetland, an archipelago northeast of the Scottish mainland. A colourful style of stranded knitting was developed there in the 1800s which spread quickly to the rest of Shetland. It was taken up both as a craft and cottage industry, which has grown and developed to the current day.

The hallmarks of the Fair Isle style are:

  • Use of patterns that are symmetrical – often both vertically and horizontally.
  • All-over garments and accessories typically combine little patterns of up to 7 rows (called peeries), with mid-size patterns of 9-13 rows (called border patterns) and larger patterns.
  • Patterns use two colours at a time in a given row, and employ shading, where both background and foreground colours are changed (typically in a symmetrical manner) over the rounds of the pattern.
  • Often the centre row is given special attention with a brilliant or high-contrast colour or combination.

What kind of yarn can I use for Fair Isle designs?

In Shetland, yarns are dyed and blended into a truly VAST array of shades, which support the sophisticated blending seen in contemporary Fair Isle design. The 4-ply ranges of Jamieson’s of Shetland include over 220 colours, and Jamieson & Smith have around 100 colours. This makes for an extravagant painter’s palette of colours that really work well together.

By contrast, many yarn lines that you may find at your local shop have in the range of 10-25 colours (so you won’t have 14 different greens to choose from!). For this reason, and for the simple practicality of using what I have in stash, I like to combine yarns across brands and types.

The hat that I made uses:

Zealana Heron in ‘dark brown’ (worsted weight)
John Arbon Viola in ‘cinnamon’ (DK weight)
Madelinetosh Tosh DK in ‘nassau blue’ (DK weight)
Baa Ram Ewe Dovestone DK in ‘parkin’ (DK weight)
Madelinetosh Tosh Sport in ‘button jar blue’ (sport weight)
Ginger’s Hand Dyed Sheepish DK in ‘curry night’ (DK weight)
Madelinetosh Tosh DK in ‘candlewick’ (DK weight)

We used a sport weight and a worsted weight in combination with the DK yarns and the hat came out just fine! And as you can see from the detailed photo of the yarns, the yarns are also of different types in terms of construction. So we encourage you to experiment with yarn combinations!

What we want to focus on is not the ‘rules’ of Fair Isle, but the way that a combination of both foreground and background colours can be used to develop a complex ‘blendy’ palette which is rich and fascinating!

How do you create a Fair Isle style blend?

Well, first I pulled out all my DK weight yarns (and some worsted and sport weight too!).

Next I chose the colourwork pattern I wanted to work on the hat.

Without any colour, this stitch pattern looks somewhat boring! It’s the colours that really bring it to life!

Then I chose two basic colour families / tonal families (the background vs. the foreground).

For this hat, I decided to use a dark brown main colour. This background blend would shift from brown to golden to bright yellow. Against this chose to work a foreground blend of teals. When you choose your foreground and background palettes, it is important that you have sufficient contrast between colours that are worked alongside one another. Value (relative lightness or darkness of a colour) can be more important than hue (the colour of the yarn) in creating this contrast.

I had initially planned to use 3 different teals. However, as I was working, when I got to the point where I would have changed to the brightest of the 3 teals, I knit with it for awhile, but decided it didn’t ‘pop’ as strongly as I wanted to, and so I worked a brighter yellow in the centre instead.

Some other palettes that might work well:

A blend of reds / pinks and greys with a POP of bright yellow (or another colour) would work beautifully. This is an example of working (mostly) a single hue against a neutral colour. You could swap out the reds/pinks for another hue, for example blue, yellow or green, and the palette would still work.

A purple hat with yellow and golden patterning would be striking. This is an example of complementary colours working well together.

Using greens and blues together is an example of an analogous colour palette, because green and blue are next to each other on the colour wheel. The central rows of the motif (rows 7-15) are worked in the more bright and saturated tones to call attention to the centreline of the pattern.

What can our example teach you?

It is useful to get started with a set of assumptions, but be ready to shift course once your pattern is on the needles. While our Week of Colour posts can give you a set of strategies and rules of thumb for developing effective colour combos, you will really learn how the colours and yarns interact when you have them on the needles together.

This uncertainty is both the most inspiring and most frustrating aspect of colourwork knitting! In a sense, every colourwork knit you create is your own design, as you’ve made a creative set of decisions (and often design trials) to arrive at the finished piece. For example, each of the hats above was made using the same pattern, but they are all quite different in finished appearance, because I chose different stitch patterns and colour palettes!

The Fair Isle blend colour strategy possibly requires the most experimentation, learning, and thought of all 5 we’ve discussed during the Week of Colour. But in a way, this strategy is no more difficult… assuming you’ve got a lot of yarn in hand, or some time to meditate on colour at your local yarn shop!

Are you ready to get started with your own colourwork adventure? Join us for an exciting Knit-along that runs from now until December 11!

Fair Isle inspired knits:

Clayoquot CardiganStrange Brew







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