Category Archives: Knitting & Ravelry

Sisterhood of Knitters

It’s International Women’s Day (and my birthday) this week and in honor of that, Spoonflower’s Design Challenge was “Sisterhood Around the World”. I thought this one was really hard and I nearly skipped the week. I really struggled to come up with something that fit the theme and was interesting. I really like to make sure that my designs have a life that is beyond the theme of the challenge because I look at design challenges as a way to help build up my body of work. Having a deadline is great motivation and sometimes having a topic (like Kilim) or colors that I would never choose is a great creative challenge.

So I tried to think about “sisterhood” and I was just bored with the idea of a bunch of little girls in cultural costumes (which was the first thing that came to my mind.) I don’t like to draw people. I was tempted to do an abstract design to represent me and my two sisters and I thought about that for a while but it just wasn’t clicking. Then while in the car driving to a meeting, I had the idea of a sisterhood of knitters. (I absolutely get my best ideas while driving. Something about occupying the active part of your brain so the creative part can wander.)

I take knitting with me a lot when I am out in the world. I knit while waiting for meetings and at appointments. I knit during meetings sometimes. I knit in the evening after a stressful day. I meet friends for coffee and we knit together. I knit while waiting around for my husband’s band concerts to start. I make small projects like mittens and hats. I don’t like anything too complex but I do like beautiful yarn.

There is something about knitting in public that creates conversation. If I were to sit at all of these places and stare at my phone, no one would even make eye contact with me. But when I knit, it’s somehow like giving permission to interact. Someone will watch me knit and smile. Or sometimes they watch me knit and look at me like I am bonkers; it depends on the crowd. Someone will ask me what I am working on. Other knitters will ask me about the yarn or the stitch pattern. Little kids will stare and sometimes, if they are brave, will come over and feel how soft the yarn is. Someone within earshot will tell their friend that I am crocheting or will say “my mom does that”. At conferences, I have been the topic of a whole series of tweets: “Did u see that someone was sitting in that session and knitting?! She wasn’t even looking at it.” I had a delightful conversation with a guy at an airport once when I was making a pair of mittens with dpns. (If you’ve never seen someone working with dpns, it vaguely resembles wrestling a porcupine.) He’d seen little old ladies knitting sedately, but whatever I was doing with all of those spikes sticking out made it look pretty badass.

The best way to learn to knit (I think) is to have a friend show you, one-on-one. That’s how I learned. My first knitting lesson was with my friend Berit (a family friend) when I was about 11 years old. She told me that she was teaching me the Norwegian way to knit (continental) and that people might think it was odd, but it was much better than the American way. I didn’t understand what she meant until I was much older, but I thought it was something special. My first project was a tiny hoodie cardigan sweater for my tiny Steiff teddy bear, knit on size 3s or so with baby yarn. White with little rainbow tweed flecks. Then she taught me how to make cables. I didn’t know that I “shouldn’t be able to” do those things as a beginner, because no one told me it was hard.

I taught a beginning knitting class the last two weeks to some highschool students. Eight Somali girls who chattered through class half in English and half in Somali. I wish I had thought to ask them if there was a Somali word for knitting. One girl wanted to know why there were no boys in class and didn’t believe us when we said there were boys who knit, just maybe not as many of them as girls. I told her about the knitter that did a bunch of costume pieces for the Black Panther movie being a boy and although she was still skeptical, we had a great conversation about the costumes in that movie. That somehow made it cooler. By the end of class, everyone was making knit stitches. Some with needles, some with fingers. One of the girls asked at the end of class, “Can I say I am a knitter now?” Absolutely! She’s part of the sisterhood.

So my sisterhood design is knitters working side-by-side, celebrating that community of knitters. Their silhouettes have long hair and short hair, hijabs and ponytails. You might even see a certain Princess you recognize. There are straight needles, dpns and circulars. And lots of knitting.

The voting for this design challenge doesn’t open until tomorrow, but I was really excited about talking about this today. (If you want to give me a little present for my birthday, go vote for it tomorrow. That would be awesome.) Edited: Here is the link to vote. Open through March 13.

Are you a knitter? Has knitting in public ever been a fun conversation starter for you?

Dyeing Wool Yarn with Easter Egg Dye (A tutorial)

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When you are an artist, nearly everything has the potential to be an art material. We dyed some easter eggs on Saturday and there was some leftover dye. Which was obviously a great excuse to dye some yarn.

These are 100% wool yarn, dyed using a basic set of PAAS easter egg tablets made up according to instructions: 1/2 c warm water and a tablespoon of vinegar. You can use them following the same basic formula as dyeing with koolaid or food coloring: color + acid + heat.  After we finished dyeing a dozen eggs, I dropped these mini skeins into the coffee cups full of dye and microwaved each one for 2 minutes. I know that wool needs more heat than eggs would be happy with in order to make that dye permanent.

After you microwave it, let them sit on the counter until the liquid is room temperature and the dye is exhausted (ie the water is clear). Don’t skip the heat step, or these colors will be much more likely to fade and bleed. No stirring or playing with the fibers when they are hot, if you don’t want it to felt. And this will only work with yarn that is wool or another protein fiber: silk, alpaca, llama etc.

These are super saturated colors because I had a lot of dye and not very much yarn. I estimate that you could dye up to .5 oz of yarn with 1 tablet and get colors this intense. The more yarn you add, the more pastel the color will be.

For a few, I mixed the colors just to see what else I could get. The top 6 colors are the plain tablet, the bottom four are a 50/50 mix of two colors, which I poured into an extra coffee cup. Interestingly, the green was an aqua turquoise color on my eggs, but true emerald green on the yarn.

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I am sure the PAAS tablets are on clearance at the grocery store today, so I am planning a walk over there to stock up on a few more boxes.  Just because this is fun.  The same thing goes for yarn dyed this way as I said in my yarn dye/food coloring tutorial: Your colorfastness may vary. I wouldn’t make an heirloom knit with yarn dyed this way, but it is super fun for a hat or mittens that will get you through a few winter seasons.

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Mini Mitten Ornaments: A free knitting pattern

mittens2I originally posted these several years ago, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had better get moving if I wanted to get some holiday crafting finished and that all of you might be in the same boat.  These are a really fun way to use up scrap yarn and they go fast.  In fact if you have taken one of my Handpainted Skeins or Intro to Dyes classes, these are perfect for the mini skeins you dyed.  They are also super cute knit as pairs of mittens and attached together with a string. So if you need a little gift for someone or a little holiday decor of your own, here you go.  And happy knitting!


I wanted to knit some tiny mitten ornaments and although I found all kinds of cute patterns using sock weight and other tiny yarn, I didn’t come up with anything for worsted weight, which I have oodles of scraps of.  These mittens knit up in about 15 minutes and are simple enough that you can add stripes and some simple patterns if you are so inclined.  The finished mitten is about 3 inches long.

Materials: Worsted weight yarn scraps, four size 3 DPN, yarn darning needle

CO 12 stitches. (I like them divided evenly on 3 needles.)

K1 P1 ribbing for 6 rows.

K1 P1 KFB P.  Repeat 2 more times.  You now have 15 stitches.

Knit 8 rows.

K2tog, K 3.  Repeat 2 more times.  (12 stitches)

Knit 1 round.

K2tog, K2.  Repeat 2 more times.  (9 stitches)

Knit 1 round.

K2tog, K1.  Repeat 2 more times.  (6 stitches)

Cut your yarn.  Thread the end through a yarn needle.  Pass the yarn end through the last 6 stitches.  Pull tight and then pull the end to the inside of the mitten.  (I don’t weave in ends on this, I just stuff the yarn tails to the inside of the mitten.)

To make the thumb, you will do a short section of i-cord.

CO 3 stitches.  Knit 4 rows of i-cord.

K2tog, Knit 1.  Cast off, leaving about a 6 inch tail.

Thread the end of the yarn through your needle.  Slip the yarn end down through the center of the i cord and use the end to stitch the thumb in to place. A couple of stitches will do it.  I put the bottom (cast on) edge of the i-cord even with the top of the ribbing.

Bury all the ends of yarn inside the mitten.

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Upcoming Class: Handpainted Skeins

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These are snapshots of the student’s work in progress from the last time I taught this class (plus some finished yarn balls).  On Sunday October 25, I am teaching “Handpainted Skeins” for the Weavers Guild of MN.  We are going to focus on dyeing yarns made from animal fibers: wool, alpaca etc and some nylon. I teach how to dye several styles of skeins in this class.  Semi-solids are basically one color but have variations of light and dark.  Self-striping are divided up and dyed in sections so that you can get a striped effect when you knit it up.  Confetti skeins have lots of different colors but can read as one color from a distance.  We will also talk about some techniques for overdyeing, both starting with yarns that aren’t white and learning to overdye as a way of creating a cohesive colorway.  It is a fun fun class and you will leave with several mini-skeins (which we use to practice technique and test out colors) and then you will have time to dye 1-2 of your own skeins.  Class will be held at the Weavers Guild.  (It’s past the deadline to register online, but you can call and still get in!)

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“Stuck in a rut” or “Variations on a theme”?

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I have had scissors on the brain lately.  Maybe because there are always several pairs of them on the dining room table.  (And yet, never any when you go to look for them.  But that’s a rant for another post.)

I started drawing this set of scissors to make earrings.  I do a set of fiber art related jewelry for a local shop.  Button earrings, zipper earrings, earring made from snaps.  And I wanted to add something new to the collection.  I love making laser cut doo-dads and I had a brainstorm to make little tiny scissors from mirrored acrylic that look like Gingher sewing shears.

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Those were so much fun that I also drew some little embroidery scissors and stork embroidery scissors.  I did all the artwork in Adobe Illustrator because I was making vector shapes.  That’s what you need for laser cutting.  But the cool thing about vectors is that once you get them drawn, you can scale them up and down without anything getting rough and jaggedy.  So then I thought, since I have these scissors I should also make a fabric design.  So that’s the design at the top.  Which I think will make really great project bags and I might even make a t-shirt.  Why not?

So then I made it in another colorway.  And then I got on a roll and did a knitting design to match the style of those scissors.  And then a design for lacemakers with bobbin lace and tatting.  (I get a lot of requests for lacemaking buttons through my Etsy shop, so I know they are out there looking for things!)  And then when I showed off these designs to a friend at Textile Center, they gave me a hard time about not having a design for crochet and weavers, so those are in the works.  I’m even considering a skirt design all made of scissors shapes.

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So one drawing of one pair of scissors has now turned into 9 different designs and more in the works.  Stuck in a rut?  I don’t think so. By taking the time to draw those vector shapes, I have now added them to my toolbox.  It’s like finding a new color in the crayon box.  I did the tedious work of making the vector shapes but now I can just drop them in anywhere and play with them.  I am sure that I will get tired of them at some point, but for now the variations seem to just keep coming.

Before and after: hand spun yarn

I bought myself a present of a pretty skein of handspun yarn at the Weavers Guild fiber fair…

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I started knitting it at a band concert…

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And I finished it last night. Pattern is Multnomah.  The yarn is by a local spinner (who seems to not have an online presence) and it’s merino.  It blocked out really nice and smooth and just barely fit on my dining room table.

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