This time of year, I sometimes have a creativity slump. This is especially true this year since I released a book recently and am partway through another with the design work mostly finished. I have poured it all out and wait expectantly for inspiration. When it doesn’t come quickly I get frustrated. I have knit all the wintery garments I’d been dreaming about and Spring knitting feels out of place since there is still snow on the ground. Cabin fever and agitation are the order for the day. I’m thinking about Spring cleaning and being outside in the sunshine and the garden not wool. The catalogs piled up in the mailbox feed the angst with beautiful pictures of warmer weather…. a tease. I have been through these feelings so many times I know the internal pressure building up will yield a slew of creativity. The fog will clear and out of it will come clarity and a creative surge. It’s time to switch to lighter yarns like cottons and silks. They feel like old friends I haven’t seen in a long long time. Welcome back. Let’s plan something really fun!
What’s a Wellie?
I wonder if Arthur Wellesly, the 1st Duke of Wellington, would be shocked or amused to know he started a trend that has had global reaches, inspired songs, T.V. shows, and was even used by slave labor to communicate with each other. The first “Wellington Boot” was a modification of a Hessian boot and was made of leather. They became very popular with Cavalry riders for their versatility to go from battle fields to in-town for evenings. It didn’t take long to be scooped up by the fashion industry as men wanted to emulate the war heroes.
In 1852 Hiram Hutchinson and Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanization for rubber. Goodyear used this process to make tires and Hutchinson to make footwear. The market for rubber boots skyrocketed and by the time of World War One they were the go to boot for the army. The British army alone purchased nearly 1.2 million pairs. By the end of World War 2; men, women, and children were wearing them. They quickly became a necessity in areas with long stretches of wet weather, in industry, in mining, on farms, for fisherman, and on and on. While the traditional boots were green or black, now a days the rubber boots come in innumerable patterns and flowers and in every color of the rainbow. Some of the nick names are “Wellies”, “Gummies”, “Gum Boots”, “Gumbies”, “Rain Boots”, Rubber Boots”, “Billy Boots”, “Top Boots”, “Water Boots” and the list goes on.
So how does this belong in a Knitting Blog? All these boots need socks and liners and cuffs. My love of rubber boots is wound up in what I love to do in them which is spend time in the barn with my horses. I have always used them as a utilitarian necessity so the popularity of rubber boots as a fashion statement became rather amusing. As such, I designed a collection of 14 knitting patterns that can each be knit as boot socks, liners, and cuffs in the book “Wellie Toppers” as a fun expression of the place these boots have in our lives and hearts. Check it out!
It's O' dark thirty and I am wondering what possesed me to drink so much tea before bed. By the third time I was out of bed before 1 am, I was swearing I'd never have tea again (Like I could make that stick). So when I was awakened at 2:00am, by the slow rythmic woof of my barking dog asking to go out, I felt the need to tell her how her popularity polls were at an alltime low. Needless to say, by now I was a grump and exhausted, but my mind was wide awake and not about to sleep. I tried meditation with little luck. Each time I started to drift off I was reawoken by something or other. In the half awake half asleep half meditative trance, I found some peace. My mind wondered through the creative fragments of various thoughts and current projects. Slowly totally unrelated ideas began to overlap and morph into one new fresh exciting thought. While I didn't get much if any real sleep last night I did come away with the outline for a new book.
Often our waking lives are so busy and driven by overburdened schedules we forget the need to be still and listen to what is already there in our minds. To let ourselves dream and look at life with a childlike wonder is so important for our wellbeing. Without taking the time to recharge creative energy dries up and fast. The night has often been a place of solice where my innner self finds its voice and the good it speaks spills over into the day. However tonight, I really hope I sleep.
While Spring is swiftly passing by, I hope you have had time to kick back and pick up your needles. Small projects are great for taking along to Spring sporting events and soon on your Summer travels. They are an excellent way to try something new. In the Spring, I trade I n my heavy yarns for cottons and silks and lace knitting. When you are tackling a new technique, choose a pattern with one new element. This should be a small part of a larger pattern in which the rest of the pattern is comfortably in your ability range. An example of this would be an edging or a band in a sweater pattern. Another option is that the new element can be a bigger part of a small project. Excellent options for this are things like pillows, socks, baby items, hats, or bags. They can easily fit in your purse or carry-on bag and only require a ball or two of yarn. I always recommend using a light colored, non-splitting, smoothly textured yarn for learning new techniques. This will allow you to see the stitches more clearly and "read" the pattern as you are knitting it more easily. So go on and try something new! Happy Knitting!
Oh That Gauge!
If you’re like most knitters, the gauge is the bane of your existence. It's annoying, at best, to waste time and yarn on a little square. Yet without it you are playing yarn-ball roulette and risking the resulting sweater will come out too little or too large. So let’s take a minute to unravel (sorry couldn't resist) the mystery of the almighty gauge.
At its most basic, it refers to the number of stitches or rows it takes to go an inch. It sounds simple enough but the first key to finding a reliable gauge is to work a 4" by 4" square. By working over 4”any partial stitches will be forced to come out of hiding. If you think your gauge is 4 stitches per inch but over a larger test square it is actually 4.25 stitches to the inch, then we need to address it or your garment will come out too large. All those quarter stitches add up and quickly! For your horizontal gauge, if you have too many stitches per inch then increase your needle size. If you have too few stitches per inch then decrease your needle size. There are different styles of gauge tools but one of the most common is shown here. In this case you'll place it over the swatch and line up the window with both the vertical and horizontal rows. ( Using the ruler by the window edge count out the number of stitches per inch) Count it out over 4 inches then divide by 4 to get the gauge.
Most of the time, you will likely concern yourself only with the horizontal count. However, if you are knitting from a chart of a carefully choreographed pattern then the vertical gauge will be important. If the horizontal gauge is correct but the vertical is too short, use a larger needle on the knit rows only. Likewise, if the vertical gauge is too long use a smaller needle for the knit rows only. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes you knit with two different sized needles.
The second main point in knitting your test square is that you must knit it in the same pattern the garment will be knit in. Generally this will be stockinet but there are many times your swatch will be a lace pattern or ribbing (which you will stretch slightly when measuring) or cables. If the pattern is really complicated and the gauge changes across the row due to cabling, the pattern will sometimes direct you to knit the swatch in stockinet. If the right side is too complicated to clearly read the stitches, try turning the swatch over and measure the other side.
The picture below shows the proper placement of the gauge tool if you are knitting garder stitch.
Up-cycling Blog Post
Whether you’re into recycling for the environment or for saving money, the up-cycling craze has hit. A new idea? No, but a useful one. The idea of dismantling things and creating something new and useful takes a little creativity and ingenuity. Once upon a time, outgrown or worn sweaters were unraveled to reuse the good parts of the yarn. If you have ever spun yarn by hand, you appreciate the amount of work that went into making just a small amount of yarn. Who would throw that away? Good yarn is expensive, why waste it? Thinking of other expensive things that might have a little life left in them, are you a Dansko fan? What do Danksos have to do with yarn? Well if you’re like me, I love all things knitted including all those cute tall knitted boots that I see adorning department store shelves. I, however, am devoutly bonded to my Danskos. Well, I started thinking about some of my Dansko sandals in which the tops wore out before the soles. You get the idea. I just had to up-cycle! I used new wool but you could just as easily use recycled yarn. I am now the proud wearer of Pink cabled knitted boots! How did I do it?
Materials: 500 yards worsted weight yarn
U.S. Size 8 needles, cable needle
2, 14" zippers
2/3 yard of lightweight fleece for lining
The soles from one pair of Danskos(c) or other soles
You will need to measure the height of your lower leg to just below your knee and the circumference around the top of your lower leg below the knee. It is possible to adapt a sock pattern by eliminating knitting the sole of the sock. I recommend you make your own design though. Do a sample stitch gauge in a desired pattern and apply it to your measurements. You can knit it as a tube or flat and add side gussets and a zipper as I did. You will also want to line the inside to give it some structure. The boot will need to fit tightly over the top of your foot so it will stay securely and safely on your foot. If it comes out too loose, you can always add a strap to the boot across the top of your foot. Hiding a piece of leather inside the lining will give it structure if needed. For that matter you can always leave the sandal intact and attach the boot over the top. In this case, I lightly felted the boot (a good reason to use wool) to make it fit snuggly enough. Other shoe brands of soles will also work as long as they have a thick dense sole that you can staple into. If you don't have a staple gun, no worries. Using thumb tacks or upholstery nail heads would also have an appealing effect. Let your imagination go!!! Enjoy your one of a kind, uniquely you, up-cycled boots!!!
I love yarn....all yarn. There is a purpose for every type of yarn created. Some purposes are more obvious than others and some certainly more practical. You wouldn't use a gorgeous cashmere or silk to knit dishcloths nor would you waste your precious knitting time using a 2 cent acrylic to knit eveningwear. Selecting the right yarn for the purpose is vital to a great outcome. While most patterns promote a specific yarn, it's not always possible or economical to use it. If you know what to look for, it will be easy to substitute others yarns. You will need to pay close attention to the yarn weight and gauge, texture, and quantity. The first quality, yarn weight, is crucial so that the resulting garment will be knit in the correct gauge and therefore correct garment size. This can be tricky but the easiest way to tell the weight compatibility is to look at the yarn label. It will tell you how many stitches and rows it takes on a certain size needle to equal four inches. If you can match the gauge information on another yarn label you have a winner. The second crucial quality for a good substitution is the yarn's texture. If you want the garment you are knitting to closely resemble the one in the pattern, you will need to use a yarn with a similar texture. Knitting in a nubbly or fluffy yarn, when a smooth one is recommended, will totally alter the outcome of the garment. Be consistent. If multiple colors are called for, be certain they are of the same weight so the gauge and resulting texture will be consistent. The third aspect to consider is the yardage. There can be a wide variety of yardage in skeins with the same weight. Provided the gauge matches the substituted yarn, purchase enough yardage in the same dye lot to complete your project. With the freedom to substitute, your chance to create a unique garment is in your power.
There are No Mistakes Only Creativity
Let me reassure you, there are no mistakes in knitting, only creativity. Yes, you heard that right! There are no mistakes in knitting. Many of the techniques in knitting were developed through an unintended consequence. Maybe your unintended consequence will be the next big trend in knitting. Did you rip it out?
As a small child, my first project was an eight stitch wide doll scarf. My second project?.....a doll sweater. Why because nobody told me I couldn't do it. I'm not talking about the sort of pattern your mother hunts through books to find a suitably simple pattern. I'm talking about the one's that come from your heart and you figure it out as go. It was a white boat neck pullover with a garder stitch edging, stockinette stitch body and a green stripe at chest level. From that sweater I learned that most sweaters are basically 4 rectangles, how to change colors, how to purl and change stitches. I learned that people expect children to knit scarves and are shocked to see a sweater no matter how small. I learned that what was in my heart could be represented by what they yarn could become.
Over the years, I have had many instances where the item I started out knitting morphed into something totally different by the end. There was the toddler sweater that came out twice as wide as high. Mom's don't have time to rip and re- knit so use your creativity and figure out how it can become what you intend. Solution? I hand stitched vertical pintucks across the sweater to take up width and created a design impact. The sweater was better than it would have been without its unintended consequence. There are no mistakes, only creativity. When I was learning the art of cabling, I began with a sweater pattern I liked but by the time I was halfway up, I was bored. I redesigned the top, sleeves, and neck of the sweater. With the design changes there was a area on the front where I couldn't make the curve of the mini cable blend into the sleeve the way I wanted. The Solution was to create the short curve of the mini cable with a made-up top stitched mini cable. It turned out to be one of my most favorite sweaters. I wore it until it literally unraveled in the washing machine more than a decade later. Mistake? There are no mistakes, only creativity. Now, I know what you’re thinking, what about those pesky holes that surreptitiously appear. On hats or sweaters, I have used those occasions to cover the hole with a ribbon flower or butterfly. It's not a failure to deviate from someone else's pattern. Be brave and make it your own. I'm not afraid of doing something unexpected. I have learned so many more techniques working my way out of unintended consequences than I would have had I stuck to the plan. There are innumerable ways to redesign completed garments. What would you do if you weren't afraid of making a mistake?
Sometimes in life we just have to make a leap. That leap may be to try a new receipe or learn a new knitting technique or it may be something that becomes life altering. For me the leap was to publish my first and yes my second book within weeks of each other. I actually started the first book "Learn to Knit Doll Clothes: a Wardrobe to Fit 18" Dolls" about 10 years ago when my daughter was learning to knit. It wasn't until last year that I realized it was time to "Jump Now"! After a lot of work researching the market, publishers, publishing, marketing, copyrights, photography techniques and yes learning to sculpt dolls (since you cannot photograph dolls without violating a copyright) the book finally debuted last week at Stitches East! I certainly am excited about the book and that it was well received was icing on the cake! This book is based on the way I learned to knit which is by knitting doll clothes. I included 43 patterns with everything from socks and panties to wintercoats, dresses, and pants. I know those are things I tried to figure out how to knit when I was little. To my surprise there were many adults buying the book for there own use and not just for girls. All the things in the book are knittable by girls and I have used many of them in teaching.
The second book is a knitting humor book based on the knitisms and truths we knitters (and those who love us) experience in the world of knitting. LiLi (lee-lee) Knits is probably more autobiographical than I woould like to admit. At Stitches East, I was thrilled that those who purchased the book tended to purchase multiple copies. Thank You Connecticut for the warm reception and helping me "Jump" into a knew endeavor. Humor is so subjective. I was tickled to hear person after person pick up the book and chuckle or nudge the person next to them and say "This is you."
As in all new endeavors, confronting ourselves is the first step. What would you do if you "jumped"? How could it change your life? What are you waiting for?
The knitting of our lives
I’m sitting here on a Monday morning with the teens still asleep. In the silence, I can actually hear the thoughts in my head. Over the last two weeks, cluttered with parties and jubilations over the high school graduations of not one but two seniors, I have scarcely had time to reflect. It seems fitting for a knitting blog to consider the role of knitting in my children’s lives. Knitters know that most of the time it costs more to knit an item rather than buy one. We generally don’t knit for practicality these days. We knit to show someone how much they mean to us. We slave over yarn selection and patterns and try to design something totally personal. We spend countless hours knitting each stitch with love. Stitches that are cursed at are ripped out. Carefully, precisely we knit cloaks of love. From the coming home outfits I designed while dreaming of the baby that would one day wear them to the now juice stain toddler sweaters covered with colorful animals to the lace dresses and the cabled pullovers of teens, each is a perfect representation of who they were at the time and the love I tried to shield them with. As they go off to college, of course I’ll be knitting new cloaks of love. Though I can’t shield them from everything or really much of anything, I know that my love for them will be as close to them as that sweater they might actually wear.
Knitting is the way my soul sings so lets make a beautiful song together.....and knit!