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Pattern Writing for the Uninitiated

Have you ever wondered what goes into writing a pattern?   Here is my process, mostly.

Get inspired!  Pick up yarn and start knitting.  Maybe make sketches first, maybe not.

Get really excited as things come together nicely, making notes as you go.

OR,

Get really frustrated and rip things out that just refuse to work.  At all.  No matter which way you try.  Cross out notes as you go.

Finish the really exciting garment, then realize that the yarn you used from your stash isn’t widely available and also isn’t a standard aran weight, even though it says “Aran.”

Buy more yarn.  Tell yourself it’s a “business expense.”

Knit a proper sample, realizing that now all your pattern notes will have to be slightly modified to fit the new gauge.

Knit another sample because you guessed wrong and your adult-sized hat turned out to be child sized.  Also, realize that maybe bubblegum pink isn’t the best colour for showing how great the pattern looks on both men and women, no matter how much you personally love bright pink.

Attempt to take really gorgeous photos of the garment sample(s) on reluctant husband and on self.  Load the photos on the computer and realize that they are a) blurry, or b) weird, or c) showing the beautiful half-dead bouquet of flowers you received from your brother’s girlfriend at Thanksgiving in the background, or d) poorly lit because you were too excited to wait until day time.

For every good photo you see, there are about 4x more terrible ones at home on my hard drive. I apparently have dead flowers growing out of my blurry head, and you can barely even see the hat here.

Find a willing model on a gorgeous day and take lots of pictures.  Hopefully, some of them will turn out.

They did!  They did turn out!  Even the one of the willing model’s reluctant-yet-willing teenaged son, who came to ask his mom a question and found himself roped into being a model.  (Regret that you had to run off to find your two-year-old instead of getting more shots of a cool teenager wearing your design.)

Pick your favourite pictures of the garment from the photo shoot.   This might take an hour since it’s hard to differentiate between which photos make your garment look great, and which just make your model look great.  Narrow it down while sipping some coffee and ignoring your family.   Be thankful for indulgent spouse.

Crop photos.  Export photos.  Make sure you saved photos properly.

Open up a new file and start to arrange the photos.  Format the page.  Start adding the heading, sidebars, and text.  Think you’re almost done!  Realize that you still need to make a proper gauge swatch in stockinette.  Take a break to knit said swatch.

Debate on the merits of buying charting software or creating charts yourself from thin air.  Convince yourself that a table is like a chart, that your illustrating abilities are sufficient for drawing in cable symbols, and spend days creating charts that could have been made in less than an hour for the low, low price of $99.  Consider just spending the money on the darn software, then discard the idea because finances are tight even though it would be a “business expense.”

Decide that since people seem to love having both charted AND written directions, your pattern should have no less.  Even though you prefer charts.  Even though it will add a couple extra hours to the pattern writing.  Even though it will mean excellent proofreading is necessary.  Wonder if your excellent-at-proofreading sister will mind helping you out.  Again.

Confuse yourself with the changes between the hand-written chart and the final, computer-y version while you translate the chart into written directions.  Imagine all the confused emails you’ll get if the written directions are wrong and how embarrassed you’ll be at having published a sub-par pattern.

Realize that your eyes are blurring from staring at the computer screen for so long.  Instead of taking a break from the computer, take a break from pattern writing to write a blog post about pattern writing.

Make some more coffee as Go, Diego, Go! plays in the background.  Thank God for Netflix, for completed homeschooling lessons, for a napping two-year-old.   Add cinnamon to the coffee to make it more special because you need it.  Take a real break, get the kids a snack, and wish you had a magical sushi snack bar in the fridge.  Eat a bowl of cereal instead.

Get back to work.  Go to post office, park, and library with kids.  Realize at park that the p.o. box keys are not in your pocket.  Go back and find them still in the p.o. box.

Get home and make dinner.  Plan to get back to work later.

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Cozy Fall, Cozy Knitting

There’s a chill in the air around here, and the leaves have been turning rusty shades of sun-kissed orange and red, and a switch has flipped in my brain.  I’m knitting cables.

I picked up a gorgeous skein of Fleece Artist Blue-Faced Leicester Aran on sale at a local yarn shop in the summer.  It’s just brown… but oh! What a brown!  When I finally got around to winding it into a ball (by hand, off the back of a kitchen chair), I discovered that there are depths of warmth and coziness in the colours.  As it ran through my fingers, I fell in love with the texture.  It is soft and squishy and velvety, and I’m in love.

Here’s a little sneak peak of the pattern I’m working on, which, although it was inspired by this yarn, will probably be written for a worsted weight instead.  We’ll see.

 

I find that my favourite designs come out of experimentation, not premeditation.  Maybe that’s weird.  I will sometimes dream and imagine all the things I’d like to knit, but the reality of those dreams doesn’t always work out.  When I sit down and just get started, playing with the yarn as I go, I often end up with something very satisfying.  Cables can be especially lovely for that, since they can travel around at will as I go.  Hats make a great canvas, since they are small and easily re-knit if things go horribly wrong.

Have you ever sat down and played with a hat?  Here’s a glimpse of what I do:  Cast on something in multiples of ten, with appropriate-sized needles for your yarn, and just go for it.  Throw in some evenly spaced cables, then let them travel around when you get bored.  Maybe I’m strange, but I find that to be a fun and stimulating exercise.  The first hat I cast on ended up being too small, so, about halfway through, I ripped it all out.  The second hat was just right (since I had looked at my stitch count on hat number one before ripping it out to see how many more stitches I’d need).  I had some nice, mindless cables at the beginning, then I started to get tired of them.  Where can they go? I wondered.  So I sent them travelling to see what would happen.  I knew from previous experience knitting other peoples’ patterns how to move a cable around (most recently the Knotty gloves, of which I have made three pairs), and I knew I could always rip things out if I had to.

As I decided on one possibility, others were discarded or filed away in my brain for later.  Maybe this will turn into more than one design for a hat, or maybe there will be matching mittens.  Or leg warmers!  (My one love from the 80’s.)  Who knows?  The point is that knitting is fun, and I can go on adventures in my own kitchen, with Yo-Yo Ma playing in the background.  What a great life.

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I’m Zazzle-y

Okay, so I did something that maybe only fellow knitters will understand.

I made yarny phone cases.  I mean, if I had an iPhone, I’d want its case to have yarn on it.  Wouldn’t you?

 

(That particular case is for a Samsung Galaxy S3.  Isn’t it purty?)

Zazzle gives its members the opportunity to create their own little stores with their own quirky designs.  I like yarn, so I designed some yarny things.  Phone cases, Kindle and Nook skins, laptop skins, even key chains and soothers and stickers, oh my!  Yes, you can now purchase all of those items, made by me, covered in woolly goodness.

I made this one as a joke, but it’s kind of growing on me:

 

Yes, it’s a pacifier.  Bahaha!

Anyway, there are so many products on Zazzle, and I’m having fun.  I made my own little Aknitica store, and I have products with black yarn, grey yarn, pink yarn, green yarn, and even a painting I made of yarn.  I hope to have yarny pictures in every colour of the rainbow available eventually.  Since I’m taking pictures of all my favourite, most gorgeous yarn from my stash, I think I have a good chance of finding every colour.

Let me know what you think.  Have I gone crazy?  Maybe…

And if I have, I know the exact reason:  I can’t find my size 1 circular needles!!!!  I have searched all over my house, looked for UFOs hiding in all my knitting nooks and crannies, and I still can’t find my go-to needles.  I’m trying not to hyperventilate.  I wanted to make gloves with them Right. Now.  I hate waiting.

Please cheer me up by commenting below.  Thank you.  That is all.

 

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Arm Warmers of Indecision

When I first started knitting, my mom rolled her eyes at me a lot because I was too stubborn to knit mittens from a pattern.  I wanted her to show me how to increase and decrease and let me figure it out myself.  After a bunch of horrible, disastrous, misshapen attempts, I made mittens.  I still knit them to this day (except now I’ve adapted them for working in the round.)  I don’t think I’ve ever knit mittens from a pattern.

So you see, I have a history of this.  Enter the arm warmers for my sister-in-law.  I want them to be just right for her, and I want to design them myself.  I also want to get them done quickly so she can wear them.  Well, three (no, four.  Drat.) weeks after she requested them, I think we can all agree they’re not getting done quickly.  In sad fact, they are in their third incarnation at this point in time.  But I’m finally feeling optimistic about them.

I was really encouraged on Monday night at my knitting guild.  Natalie Servant was our speaker, and she is so great.  (She showed me how to use my drop spindle!  And lent me a book about drop spindles!  I’ll have to ask her to explain plying to me again, though…)  Anyway, her presentation was great all around, but my absolute favourite part was when she told us about her pile of swatches at home that just didn’t work out.  Thanks goodness!  I thought, I’m not the only one.

And that’s the thing that I often forget, I think, and the reason I get discouraged sometimes:  I’m not the only one whose ideas don’t work out the first time around.  In fact, instant perfection seems to be pretty rare.

So I’ll keep going with these arm warmers, and maybe someday soon, I’ll have a new pattern to show you.  Then again, maybe not.

On another note, Fibrefest was last weekend in Almonte, and I told myself I wasn’t allowed to buy more yarn, since I’m at the point of being years behind in knitting up my stash.   (I blame that on my new favourite place in the world, Unraveled, and her incredible collection of Fleece Artist sock yarns.)  I almost caved in when fondling the yarn in the Turtlepurl booth, especially the sparkly ones, but, in the end, I persevered… and bought myself a yarn bowl instead.  I love pottery.  (Besides, I imagine Turtlepurl will have a booth at my knitting guild’s Vendors’ Night, and I’ll have to get something then.)

Here’s my new clay friend, made by Laura Sheppard of sheppardhandmade, holding the luscious Misti Alpaca that was being magically transformed into an adult-sized Impunity hat.  Isn’t it a pretty shape?

So, in spite of my indecisiveness when it comes to those arm warmers, it’s been a good knitting week.

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Yarn Obsession

Just call me The Compulsive Yarn Photographer.  That’s me.  Lately, I’ve been taking photos of all my new balls of yarn to store in my Ravelry Stash database.  I feel a little silly, but it kind of makes me happy.

Plus, I just love its squishy self.  Yarn, I mean.

Like this ball, which was sitting on my very messy kitchen table, staring at me.  Smiling at me. I had to capture its cuteness.

It’s such a weird, intense, mustard-y colour that for some reason, I like it. Also, it looks awesome alongside my favourite colour, electric blue. I plan to knit that little beauty up into a cowl for a pop of contrast in my usually-blue wardrobe.

It’s also is made of jade. I got it at a yarn swap last night, and I’m exceedingly pleased with it.

I have this theory about yarn and all things knitty and fibre-y. The theory is that when the apocalypse comes, and we all have to fend for ourselves without electricity and government and iPods and Facebook, knitters and spinners will be heroes. What’s that? we’ll say, You’re cold? Your sweaters are all worn out? Well, do you see that sheep over there? I can make something warm and beautiful with it. I know. I’m awesome.

I have another theory. This theory is that if everyone could just find something they love to do as much as I love to squish and photograph and knit yarn, then the whole world would be quite a stunning and happy place. Personally, I think that everyone should like knitting, but maybe others will prefer things like crocheting or roller derby. Whatever.

So, for the rest of you yarnaholics whom I do not know but love already, here’s a little more eye candy.

Misti Alpaca Lace….. *squeeze*
I have a special fondness for sock yarn.

Have a lovely, yarny day!

Amanda

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Tiny Pleasures

My favourite part of homeschooling are the tiny moments of learning and wonder that pop up unexpectedly, like finding an inch worm in the back yard.

This one even had the good manners to show up on a day when he matched the yarn on my needles.

Getting the camera out to snap photos of this little green guy inspired me to finally catch up on some knitting photography.

Here’s a little vest I knit up for a friend’s soon-to-be-born baby. I was aiming for a 6-month-old size so it would fit him in the fall (because who would dress a baby in a sweater vest in hot, humid July?), but I’m afraid that I miscalculated and made it too small. This vest will be put in the “mystery recipient” pile and saved for a gifty emergency.

I decided to get serious with my second try, so I found an actual vest pattern the second time around and just modified it to suit my preferences. I wanted to knit most of it in the round, you see. It’s so much easier to do stripes that way. As it was, there were still more ends to sew in than I liked. But I pulled up my big-girl panties and just did it. I also learned a new cast-off technique just in time to make the neck edge super stretchy. That little opening can stretch out to fit two babies inside, if I so desire. I don’t, but it makes me happy to know I could.

I also took some random, vague knitty photos for those frustrating occasions when I need a photo, but don’t have one. You never know when generic knitting photos might come in handy. 😉

My two favourite pleasures: yarn and coffee.

Happy knitting!

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Meeting Cat Bordhi

I must admit, I was so nervous the morning I woke up to go to my first Cat Bordhi class.  I had already read her book New Pathways for Sock Knitters cover to cover; in fact, that was the book I picked up when I wanted to learn how to knit socks for the first time.  (And if you know me, you might suspect that I didn’t just want a book full of patterns; I wanted a book that would explain the different parts of a sock to me — one that would allow me to understand their construction so I could make them up on my own.  New Pathways was that book for me.)

You see, I became a better knitter from reading New Pathways.  Cat didn’t just write a book full of sock patterns.  She wrote a book full of knitting tips disguised as a sock-knitting book.

Would the real Cat Bordhi, I wondered that morning, be nice?  Would she like me?  I want to be a designer like her someday… Would she see anything special in me, or would I be just another student?  

Well, I don’t know how she saw me, but I sure enjoyed meeting her.  She seems to be a teacher to the core, and a good one, at that.  I believe that she really gets excited by encouraging other people.  She wants her students to excel.  She wanted us to come up with new ideas that we could turn into our own patterns, and she cheered us on through the whole process.

In short, I had a great time.  

And now, the top ten things I learned from Cat Bordhi, in no particular order:

  1. Persevere; new ideas come from the strangest of places;
  2. Play with the yarn;
  3. Use other brilliant people’s awesome techniques, and give them full credit (think Judy’s Magic Cast On and Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off and Cat’s two-circ method for knitting in the round);
  4. Do good work;
  5. Come at problems from new angles to find solutions;
  6. Knitting can always get better;
  7. Any technique can be tweaked, especially if you’re determined;
  8. Knitting builds community; LYS’s are an important part of that;
  9. Good yarn is worth the money;
  10. Knitting will always be fun.  (I already knew this last one, but I love seeing it in other people, too.  It makes me happy.)

 

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I Took a Class with Cat Bordhi and…

What a great weekend I just had!  (Okay, it was two weekends ago now.  I wrote this post last week, but wanted to “tweak” it… Thanks to this post by Crunchy Betty, I have more confidence in posting today.)

Anyway, I took two classes with Cat Bordhi, organized by my local knitting guild.  The first:  Cat’s Sweet Tomato Heel.  The second: Finding the Fountain of Fresh Knitting Ideas.

Oh my!  And what a fountain.  Whether or not some of our crazy brainstorming results in some new patterns from me is yet to be seen. My brainstorming partner and I got pretty carried away, and the things we came up with are much more complex than any of my other patterns to date.  But I might be up for the challenge…

I have some other things to think over, too.  I think it was Sally Mellville who mentioned, in passing, during our guild meeting, about a woman who taught pregnant women on bed rest to knit.  Cat’s topic at the meeting (since she was our main speaker — Sally just happened to have some extra input for us during the discussion time) was twofold:  the relaxing attributes of knitting, and the importance of supporting local yarn shops.  Imagine the therapeutic potential of knitting while going through tough times!  We all know it works; it’s why we do what we do.  (As for the LYS topic, we can talk more about that later maybe.)

The idea of teaching people stuck in hospitals to knit has caught my attention.  I have a soft spot for hospital families, since ours was one for a while, and one of my best friends’ is one right now.  I wonder if the moms of kids in the local childrens’ hospital would like to learn to knit.  I wonder if the teenage patients would like to learn to knit.  I wonder if the little kids would like to learn to knit.

I sat with my kids this morning, taking turns with each one on my lap, teaching them to finger knit.  Again, I was inspired by Cat last night, who talked about her classes of middle school students knitting while she taught them; she talked about how it calmed them and helped them focus; how it broke down social tiers; how it gave the kids with less-obvious skills something to excel at.  The more I thought on the calming and focusing aspects of knitting, the more I wanted to teach my kids to knit; and my motives are no longer as selfish, wanting them to knit just because I think it’s awesome and therefore everyone should do it.

As I sat with my second-youngest on my lap — the one who is slightly behind, the one who I worry about the most when I choose to worry — I felt tears of amazement gather behind my eyes.  He and I sat, with fingers overlapping, chanting “in front, behind, in front, behind,” then repeating “up and over, up and over, up and over.”  He loved the rhythm of it all, the repetition, the growth of the “snake” down the back of his hand.  His little fingers, awkward at first, became adept at pulling the loops up and over his finger tips.  Then he, in the two minutes I turned away to help another son, wound the yarn around his own fingers, whispering “in front, behind, in front, behind” to himself.  He did it perfectly.

There really is something wonderful about knitting, isn’t there?

More on my inspirations from Cat in later posts…  Her Sweet Tomato Heel is really something wonderful.  You can find the how-to video here.

Have you taught kids to knit?  How did it go?  I’d love to hear from you.

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From Scratch

In a world of knitting, I still have to eat.  (Don’t you ever just get so annoyed that you have to stop the stitches in order to make the food?  What a nuisance.  That’s why I like making bread.  I can knit while it rises.)

The thing about us knitters is that, well, we like to make things from scratch that can easily be bought in a store.  Socks?  I’d rather spend $20 on a ball of luscious yarn and take a week to make them, thankyouverymuch.  Sweaters?  I can totally make a nicer one than that cabled one in the store that’s on sale for $10.  

Sourdough bread?  I think I’ll grow my own wild yeast and wait a week for it to get all bubbly… at least once in my life, anyway.  Kind of like my vague goal of someday knitting my own lace curtains, from my own pattern.  

It turns out that sourdough starter is much easier to make than lace curtains, though.  I pulled out my trusty, clunky copy of The Joy of Cooking (much like the newly re-released Principles of Knitting that’s the biggest reference book on knitting I’ve ever seen, TJoC is a huge, fat book full of everything I could ever think to do in a kitchen, including make three different kinds of sourdough starter).  I chose the simple one: mix 1/2 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of lukewarm water, then let it colonize itself from the wild yeasts in the air.  

Is that not the coolest things you’ve ever heard?  I mean really:  wild yeast?  Who knew!?

I’ve been feeding my little blob every day, twice a day, for about 4 or 5 days now.  At first, it just sat there, looking all doughy and cute.  But each time I fed it the same, boring meal (1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup water), it changed a little.  It got looser, and fatter, and it started to bubble.  And now, it looks like this:

Image

I think it has enough leavening power in there to make some bread soon!  I’m pretty excited.  I’ve been feeding it and loving it, and soon I will be eating it.  I think I will name it Jennifer and keep it forever.  In small pieces, at least.  It’s big enough now that I could easily take 2 cups out and still have more left to feed and love.  Maybe I should knit it a sweater and a little matching hat, just to show my appreciation for its bubbly-ness.  What exactly does sourdough like to wear?  Fair isle?  Or simple garter stitch?

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Fall Flowers

Here’s a little update to show you what I’m working on right now. I have a couple hats in the planning/knitting/writing stages, and I hope you’ll like them as much as I do!

The first is a bigger version of the Tulip Preemie Hat, sized for little girls. I like to test knit my patterns to be sure they’re actually what I think they are, so it’s taking me a lot longer to get this pattern re-written than I’d expected. Let’s just say that by the time this pattern is published, I’ll have knit it in every size, and quite unintentionally. I keep casting on, meaning to make a small size, but it ends up being enough stitches for a bigger size. This stitch is quite unpredictable. Either that or I just need to think more before casting on. Anyway, here’s a preview of it in the fingering-weight yarn. (There will be a dk version, too.)

I’ve also noticed that the cast-on technique makes a difference with this pattern. I used the long-tail cast-on for that version, and I don’t like it. It pulls up the tulip petals until they’re practically gone! Boo hoo. So I’m still tweaking.

And what a shame, too! I took such nice pictures of that darned hat. Like this one:

If you like the flower theme, I’ve got another idea brewing along those same lines. It’s been sitting on the back burner (or, more accurately, the shelf in my knitting room) for at least a year now, but I think I’ll give it a chance to …bloom.

Yes. I do love puns.