Friday, September 28, 2012

Knitting Lace Shawls

Working on a light weight lacy shawl? You know you're knitting it right if it looks like hell while you're working on it. What I mean is this, if the stitches look loose, undefined, or uneven then you're fine. If the stitches of your lace shawl look good and wearable before you block it then you've probably just wasted a lot of time knitting the piece too tightly and you'll end up with something much smaller than it was intended to be. You want to be creating stitches that will blossom and grow nicely when blocked. Tight stitches won't do that.

The more shawls I design, the more emails I get from people saying their shawls came out too small. When I ask if they checked their gauge before beginning I always get one of two answers. The first is, no, they didn't check their gauge because it's a shawl and figured it didn't matter. This is and isn't true. Sure, a shawl doesn't need to be an exact size, but you do want something around the size you thought you were going to get. The needle size listed on patterns is telling you what the designer used to achieve the necessary gauge. Under the needle size there's always a note (at least on mine and most other patterns) saying "adjust needle size if necessary to achieve correct gauge". Never assume that the number of stitches you get using a size 7 needle is the same as someone else. If your shawl came out too small because you picked the listed needle and just went with it than it's pretty safe to assume you knit tighter than the designer and should have gone with a larger needle.

The second answer I get to the gauge question is yes, they checked their gauge, but the stitches just looked too sloppy using a large needle on fingering weight yarn so instead of using the size 7, 8, or 9 needed to get 4.5 stitches per inch they decided to use a 4 or 5 so the stitches looked better. Not a good idea. Remember, this isn't a sock or sweater we're talking about knitting here. For those items yes, you'd want the stitches to look beautiful and defined right from when you knit them. Shawls don't work like that. Not the lacy kind.

Now the BUT that can throw people off. If you chose a different yarn than listed in the pattern you might not want to knit at the suggested gauge. You do still want to be knitting loosely, but exactly how loose could vary. For instance, if a pattern calls for Socks That Rock medium weight (fingering), but you have a gorgeous skein of Schaefer Anne (also fingering) you might not want to knit the Anne at as loose a gauge as the Socks That Rock (STR) because STR is a much fuller, thicker fingering weight than the Anne is.

The photos below show the Solar Flare shawl knit in 1 skein of Polka fingering weight yarn. I knit it using size 6/4mm needles and getting a pre blocking gauge of 18 stitches to 4 inches (4.5 stitches per inch). In the before photo the shawl measures 49" along the wingspan and about 12" deep. Once it's blocked it measures 72" along the wingspan and 18" deep in the center. The wonders of a good blocking!

Solar Flare before blocking

Solar Flare after blocking

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yarn Giveaway - "Lagoon"

Time for another yarn giveaway!

Up for grabs this time is a skein of Dye-A-Tonic [463 yards; 75% superwash merino/25% nylon; fingering weight]

Here's the deal:
Those of you that follow my designs are probably all familiar with the face of my sister Annalee. She models about 90% of the Fiddle Knits Designs. Well, it's her birthday on October 6 and I let her decide the details for the contest.

In order to enter the giveaway what you have to do is:

  • Guess the age Annalee will be turning on her birthday
  • Leave your guess in a comment on this blog post. Make sure to leave either your Twitter name, Ravelry name, or email so I can contact you
  • At Annalee's birthday dinner on October 6th I'll take all the names of the people with the correct guesses and toss them in a hat. Annalee will pick the winner. 
  • The winner will be announced on October 7th.

The following pictures of Annalee were all taken in the last 2 months. Take a look and submit your guess as to how old she will be turning on October 6! (She'll probably start stalking the blog to check out your answers!)

Modeling the Henrietta Cloche

During a modeling shoot for Sweet Tea mitts

Modeling Solar Flare

Goofing off during the Hypnotic photo shoot

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Learning Experiences

In my last post I mentioned that my mom had decided to learn to knit. Since she's started making shawl pins her interest in knitting started to rise. I asked mom if she might want to be a guest writer on the blog and talk about her experience. She agreed. As her first project (a simple shawl) progresses update thoughts and photos will be posted.

Mom's first knitting project
Words from The Cacklin' Hen (aka Mom):
Sometimes we view learning in somewhat narrow terms: once we're done with formal schooling, we tend to think we're now "too old to learn." It's time to work and make money and be responsible. But continuing to learn is very important. It enriches our lives, keeps us mentally young, gives a sense of accomplishment, brings joy, and helps us grow. Despite knowing that, at my age, I didn't expect to be reinventing myself quite this much. Like many other people these days, I found myself laid off and that my job had become somewhat obsolete. I was struggling with thoughts of what do I do now? Who am I? But, as always, my family jumped in to help. Rick makes beautiful copper bowls, and Erica (Fiddle Knits Designs and author of this blog) designs some gorgeous shawls, amongst other things. As an art major in school, Rick thought I should get back to my creative roots and, seeing my interest in his copper work, he bought me my own tools and some copper wire. Annalee chipped in and bought how-to books. And Erica suggested I combine my new found skill into designing shawl pins. At first I found it hard to slow down and work with the copper. I was used to the hustle of working on a computer, trying to meet deadlines. Eventually, though, I started enjoying the rhythm of twisting and bending the wire, and hammering it certainly helped relieve any tension! I added working with brass and aluminum wires. Each wire is different; some bend easily, some scratch easily, some are incredibly springy. As I continue to work with them I am learning to listen to what they have to say to me, to find my own voice in the shapes I create. I keep refining the process, tightening my focus, so I can find and then offer the shawl pins that reflect who I am. And, also, that will enhance the knitted and crocheted shawls and scarves of those who buy them. Erica also suggested that I join and get active on Ravelry, get to know the people who might be interested in my shawl pins, make some friends. So, okay, I got on Ravelry and looked around. And looked around some more. I posted a few things here and there. I said hi to a few folks. But everyone knits or crochets. I mean, that's the point of Ravelry. Everyone is posting photos of their projects. I felt left out. I've been crocheting for a while, but never finish anything much bigger than a doily or potholder. (I love potholders!) Never felt I had enough time, never mind the patience, to really get elaborate. But the more I read, the more I thought, well, I'm reinventing myself so may as well give knitting a shot. (I'm also learning to do pyrography and burn designs on gourds, and I'm doing the Insanity exercises to lose weight.)

Coping with change is difficult at any age, and the number of changes and transitions I just experienced was almost overwhelming, but I found that the world of fiber artists is a very welcoming one. All the knitters and crocheters and spinners I have recently met are extraordinarily friendly and encouraging. I'm excited about designing shawl pins and am intrigued by all the possibilities. I love being creative again. And I'm pretty determined to learn to knit, even if I only continue to do one skein projects. At the moment, Erica has cast on some of her lovely hand dyed yarn for me and has me attempting a very simply shawl pattern. I have completed all of 16 rows (I just started yesterday!), concentrating intensely as I do each stitch. Probably drooling and going cross-eyed, too. I have my instructions written down -- in longhand -- which I refer to at the beginning of each row since I am not confident yet to trust my memory. Amazing how I can forget so fast how to do a knit vs. a purl stitch! Erica showed me both sides over and over, grilling me on the difference, alternately sighing or laughing over my ineptness. I plan on photographing this first attempt later, though, so I can go on Ravelry and proudly show off. I am slow, and watching me is probably painful. But, perhaps, in learning to knit I will also discover what makes for a good shawl pin. Everything is intertwined. Either way, I will have found some new friends and I will be continuing to learn.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The Hypnotic Loop – $4.00 PDF

Time for a new pattern release! This one is part of the Pick Your Poison Collection: Light Weight selection. It's worked using 1 skein of my Etude Lace yarn in the Hypnotic colorway. (The colorway is new for Fall 2012 and you can find some sock yarn dyed this color in my Etsy shop as well.)

The pattern for Hypnotic is written for lace or fingering/sock weight yarns. If you're up for a small gauge swatch, a little (very little) math, and can count by tens then you can easily rework this design to use any weight yarn you'd like. I'm quite tempted to do another one myself using DK or worsted weight yarn. As simple as it is I know that's not going to happen though. For me it's on to the next design so I can keep 'em coming!

To wear Hypnotic you can pull it over your shoulders (as shown in the first two photos) or wear it as a more traditional cowl. I like it both ways. If you're going to wear it as a traditional cowl (shown in photo number 3) then you'll probably want to make the smallest size (as shown). But if you're planning on pulling it over your shoulders then grab a tape measure and determine your size. Then make the finished size that's a few inches smaller than your measurement. The size shown measures 32 inches after blocking. The model (Annalee) is 36 inches around the shoulders. Negative ease is key in keeping the piece snuggly around you. Otherwise it'll slip and slid down your arms.

And just in case you think it's all seriousness behind the scenes around here.....

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Fantasia: Mystery KAL 2012
I can't believe it's over! This project pretty much covered my entire Summer. With designing it, planning the details of the KAL, opening the registration, dyeing the yarn for the KAL participants (it was A LOT of yarn! and I had so much fun!), then releasing the clues, doing the photos and layout... Now it's September and there's so many pretty finished Fantasia shawls turning up on Ravelry. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see so many people so happy with their finished projects.

If you haven't already, I highly suggest you go browse through the photos on Ravelry. Some folks got gorgeous pics of their shawl and they even make me jealous and I find myself thinking, "I should have used that color!" or "Wow, their photos are amazing!" It's a good feeling. And sometimes it's funny to realize I may have designed and knit something first, but I'm not the one with the best finished object. And that's fine with me. I love, love, love seeing other people's finished pieces of my designs. It's so rewarding.
Shawl pin by The Cacklin' Hen

My Mom, aka the Cacklin' Hen, offered a 10% discount on her shawl pins to everyone that participated in the KAL. I scored one to use for the photo shoot as well (see close up at right). If you were a member of the KAL you can find the discount code in the Ravelry group thread. It's still active and can be used during checkout in my Mom's Etsy shop. (Also, Mom's started to learn how to knit! In an upcoming blog she'll be talking about why and how it's going.)

I'm so happy with how this knit-a-long turned out. All that ripping out and starting over was worth it. I tried two different ideas before I even got going on this one. Neither made me happy enough for a mystery shawl. When I finally got the first section done to my satisfaction I had a heck of a time deciding where to go from there. Clue/section 2 got ripped out maybe 3 times. The third part pretty much flowed. But then the last section. Yikes! I *knit, ripped; rep from * another 4 times! Finally I settled on something I thought I liked and left it alone. The KAL was in motion and everything was looking good. Everyone seemed to really be liking the design. (Yes!) And then I got sick and the shawl was sitting across the room from me. As I lay there without energy to focus on anything else (for 2 horrible weeks). I decided that the last part wasn't good enough for the rest of the shawl. There were more leaves and more purls and the more time passed the more it just looked too sloppy and messy to me. So I ripped it out and reknit it and finished with the new section 4 a mere 2 days before it was to get released. A little last minute, yes. However, I'm much happier with it and judging by the comments on Ravelry everyone else is pretty satisfied too. And now you know my secret!