Teaching Tips: Recommending the Next Project

Teaching Tips: Recommending the Next Project

When you teach a knitting class, students often ask what pattern they should work on next.  Your answer should depend on the student’s goals.

If the student wants to practice the skills they have learned in the class they just finished, then suggest a pattern that has mostly or completely the same skills.  Prior to teaching a class, check the shop samples for patterns with similar skills you can recommend and/or make a short list of patterns from Ravelry that you can suggest.

If the student is working to increase skills with each project, then you should suggest a pattern with one or two new techniques.  That way the student can both practice the previous skills (important for retention) and try something new!  Again, look at shop samples for possibilities and also your shop’s class list for appropriate next step classes.  If you are using my Teacher Packs, the lessons can be taught in the order they are presented for a smooth progression of added skills.  Make sure students know where they can get help if they are working independently.

Of course, there will always be the knitter who after taking one or two classes, jumps in with both needles into a complex knitting pattern.  The best way to support these students is to help them step by step through each section of the pattern.  Don’t discourage them, we all learn differently, but give them the resources they need if they get stuck.  Think of these students as the type who loved taking four week summer courses that covered a semester’s work in college rather than pace it out over 16 weeks of a normal term.  These students will benefit from private lessons or from drop in troubleshooting classes.

Counting Your Stitches

Counting Your Stitches

There are a lot of tools out there for counting your stitches on a gauge swatch.  Here are three that I like and use regularly.

My good ol’ Susan Bates ruler:  Gauge rulers like this come in many variations, but the all involve an L-shaped hole in some kind of rigid material.  Lay it over your swatch, line up the L to a horizontal and vertical line of stitches and count away. Double the number you get to find your gauge over 4″ (10 cm).

The Gauge Grabber: These are designed to be one time use and may even be intended to keep on your swatch permanently, but I tend to use them several times until the sticky stops sticking.  What I like about these is that it’s a bit easier to count partial stitches than the opaque tools like my Susan Bates ruler above, because you can see the partial stitch on either side of the dividing line, making it easier to tell if that partial stitch is a 1/2 stitch or closer to a 1/4 stitch.  I also like that once they are stuck to the swatch, the stitches underneath don’t shift or move about, so they help keep me honest and make it harder to just give that little tug to make the gauge work out.

The Akerworks Swatch Gauge:  To use this ruler, you need to have a good sized swatch– ideally about 6″ (15 cm) square, really.  Gripping feet on four sides of the ruler keep your swatch from moving while you count.  And the semi-translucent plastic helps you judge the actual size of those partial stitches.  It has the widest counting space of the tools I’ve talked about, and the more inches you count, the more accurate your numbers will be.  4″ (10 cm) is the standard used in most patterns, so you can make a direct comparison to what’s written in your pattern.

No matter what ruler I use, I often count my stitches in several places on the swatch, just to see if there is any variation (and if there is, I go with the average).  On smaller projects, or ones where I’m familiar with the yarn, or ones where gauge won’t make a difference in wearability, I might just cast on and check gauge as I go because it’s not much work to frog a small project and a shawl that’s an inch or two larger or smaller won’t bother me.  If I’m making something where fit counts, it’s a new yarn, and/or it has more than a skein of yarn involved, I make a good sized gauge swatch worked flat or in the round as the pattern will be worked and I play with needle sizes till I get what I want.

On the Needles in July

On the Needles in July

In June I got a new set of needles– 150 to be exact– in the form of an LK-150 mid gauge knitting machine.  About 17 years ago I acquired a 1960’s era standard gauge Brother knitting machine in a silent auction where I was the only bidder.  I played around with it for a bit and made the parts to a drop shoulder baby sweater that was only recently completed.  I’ve become a big fan of Amy Herzog’s Custom Fit program and recently stumbled across a post from someone doing a lot of the work on a knitting machine and finishing by hand.  It seemed like a brilliant way to work through a lot of stockinette in a short amount of time.  Just by chance, someone was selling an LK-150 in my area on Craigslist.  It’s a much newer machine that can work with yarns from fingering to worsted.  (The Brother is best for yarns lace to fingering.)  I completed two projects on it in June:

 

First, I finished my Featherweight Cardigan.  Although it’s laceweight yarn, it was started on US 6 needles, so it worked best with the LK-150.  It took me about five days to complete with the help of the knitting machine.  I made and washed a swatch to match my hand knit gauge, hung and finished the back I’d been working on, knit the ribbing for the fronts and sleeves by hand, then hung and knit them up.  The final two days of the five were spent knitting the wide ribbed collar and buttonbands.  I am very pleased with the results and am now able to wear this lightweight sweater as a morning layer.

Second, I played with a variety of methods for working Fair Isle on the LK-150 using this resource.  I used the Christmas Stocking pattern from Faye Kennington and re-engineered it a bit to be made top down on the knitting machine with a hand knit heel and toe.  That little stocking took me five days as well as I had to frog a lot of mistakes (the birds got knit upside down the first time, for instance).  But by the end, I felt pretty confident I could work Fair Isle on the machine.

My hand knitting has been making a lot of progress despite my distraction with my new toy!

My yarn arrived and I finished my new shawl design.  My hat is off to Anzula for their quality control on their colorways.  I was prepared to blend in the new skein as it would be from a different dye lot, but the match was so good, I didn’t actually need to do that.  Here’s a sneak peek.  It will be up for test knitting soon in my Ravelry GroupSign up to be a test knitter if you’d like to hear about this opportunity.

I also made a lot of progress on my On a Whim pullover.  I’ll continue to work it by hand.  I’ve finished the body of the sweater and am working the sleeve cap decreases on the first sleeve.  One sleeve to go and it will be ready to sew together!

My first Fidget sock is complete and the toe is started on the second sock.

I also started a new knit along project with my friend in Kansas.  We are making the Star Wars Double Knit Scarf.  This one requires a lot of concentration.  I think it will be on the needles for a while.

Finally, I spent a lot of time swatching for some possible third party submissions.  I love swatching, to tell the truth.  My swatches are fairly large but much smaller than a garment and I love having that canvas to explore ideas.

The Personal Side of Knitting

The Personal Side of Knitting


Today I wanted to post a bit about my personal life and how knitting has fit into it.  I’m currently at the age where my body is changing from motherhood to crone-hood– in other words, I’m going through menopause.  A stereotypical view of menopause (or perimenopause as it’s more correctly called) is that it’s a time where women get hot flashes, have irregular periods, and suffer from empty nest syndrome.  Although these things are true (except the empty nest– many of us started our families later and I still have three teens at home), there are some symptoms that we fail to hear about in the popular media that are much more challenging than hot flashes.  Things like depression.  Memory loss.  Brain fog.  For a Type A person like me, who prides herself on getting things done and lots of them, these things are much more daunting than having to throw the covers off several times a night.

For the last year or two, I’ve solved this problem by taking a lot of estrogen to replace what my body isn’t making.  I kept asking my doctor to up the dose until I felt like myself again.  At the same time, I started using more checklists, more reminders, more alarms, more routines, and more notes to myself to remind myself of what I might forget later.  Now, as I approach the age where I have to balance my risk of heart attack or stroke with my day to day health, I’m weaning off the estrogen again.  And I’m having “flat” days, days where I don’t feel particularly… well, I don’t feel much of anything.  I have trouble making a plan for the day sometimes.  I have trouble following through to the next step.

This is where knitting comes in.  I have several bags or baskets of knitting around the house.  A sock by my bed.  A stockinette sweater by the front door.  A garter blanket by the couch.  I’ve made myself detailed step by step lists of how to make several kinds of sock on my sock machine.  So even when I’m feeling flat and unable to face even sorting and folding laundry, I can pick up a knitting project and make a few rows or rounds.  These projects grow, even when I’m feeling stagnant.  The softness of the yarn and the feel of the needles soothes me and awakens my spirit at least a tiny bit.  It helps me keep a wee chink of light open against the gray.

Knitting has also kept me connected to other women of all ages.  It was my knitting group who encouraged me to go to the doctor to get that added estrogen in the first place.  My knitting group has sympathized and empathized and reassured me that this is not me alone.  Their constancy, their wisdom, and their kindness have helped to keep me afloat as I’ve navigated this challenging time in my life.

I wanted to write about this because the mood and memory effects of menopause aren’t commonly talked about, and I think many of us struggle alone.  As I’ve been working through this process, I’ve realized that as uncomfortable as it is, I need to talk about it.  Getting through will be worth more if I can know that I helped someone know they aren’t the only one.  My knitting helped me discover that.

 

Teaching Tips: Building in Practice

Teaching Tips: Building in Practice

Some of my Teaching Packs build in practice before students begin the actual project.  For instance, in the Learn to Knit Lace pack, the teacher notes instruct the teacher to have students cast on a swatch and practice the yarn over and the different types of decreases in a swatch before they cast on the actual headband pattern.

Why build in practice on a swatch first?  Well, in this case, making left-leaning and double decreases requires some stitch manipulation that will be new to many students.  By starting with a swatch, students only have to worry about one thing– making the stitch properly.  They don’t have to worry about following the chart or written directions.  They don’t have to worry about getting the right tension.  They only have to worry about manipulating the stitches correctly.

When possible, teachers should look for ways to build in practice on new skills in isolation before applying them to a more complicated project.  When it’s not possible, remind students that it’s just knitting, and if something doesn’t work, we can always pull out the yarn and start again.

New Japanese Knitting Book

New Japanese Knitting Book

 I recently purchased the book Japanese Knitting: Patterns for Sweaters, Scarves and More that has been translated into English and published by Tuttle Publishing.  They also recently published the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible, also a translation.

I have a number of Japanese stitch dictionaries but have shied away from the pattern books in Japanese, feeling concerned that there is too much I’d have to puzzle out.  This book is translated to English from the original Japanese but it keeps the format and style of the original patterns, which are much more brief than modern American patterns.  It also includes a special five page introduction to Japanese knitting patterns for English readers that explains how the patterns are traditionally laid out.  I think those five pages were worth the cost of the book because they have given me more confidence to look at the Japanese language pattern books again next time I am at a Japanese bookstore.

My favorite pattern in the whole book is F Poncho and Cardigan, a garment that can be worn both as a poncho style garment with sleeves or as a circle style cardigan.  It’s one of several two way garments that caught my imagination both as a knitter and as a designer.  I have yarn on the way and hope to start working on this one soon!

Despite being called Japanese Knitting, there are several crochet patterns included that have a very fresh look and interesting surface texture.  I particularly like P Vest and Stole, another two way garment that can be worn both as a long vest or as a wrap.

Many of the garments use simple shapes to make elegant silhouettes and would not be difficult to knit.  The English version helpfully includes cm to inch conversions on each pattern page for the measurements listed for that pattern.  It also includes a chart that gives you more details about the yarns used in the patterns, which are difficult to find outside of Japan, so that you can make effective substitutions.

Overall, I’m happy to be able to add this book to my collection and I hope Tuttle puts out more of these gems!

On the Needles in June

On the Needles in June

The last month has been a time of putting some projects on hold and ramping up others.  Tomorrow I’m planning to publish the sixth in my series of eight teaching packs.  This one will include a pattern for a baby sock and teach students all the basics of knitting a top down sock so they can go on to full sized socks knowing all the basic techniques.  I’ve been working on the pattern for the seventh teaching pack– an introduction to slip stitch knitting.  Look out for a new pattern for the Seetang Cowl that goes along with this pack– it has a great texture that works will with variegated yarns!

My shawl design is on hold as I wait for another skein of yarn to arrive.

So while I wait, I started on the On a Whim sweater I picked out last month.  I am making a lot of progress and am only about 25 rounds from the underarms!  Since it’s an A-line design, that means I’m probably about half way done with the knitting!

I decided to take the Featherweight Cardigan off the knitting belt and start working it in my usual continental style of knitting.  I really like the idea of a knitting belt, but putting it on and taking it off slows me down from picking this project up.  A lightweight sweater like this one is perfect for Santa Cruz weather and I want to get it done, so I’m keeping it on the same needles but using them as straight needles.  I’m not giving up on the knitting belt, but I need to find another project (perhaps in larger yarn) to work on it.  I’ve reached the underarm seams on the back piece and am starting the bind offs.

I have two pairs of socks on the needles.  The Rose City Rollers are in my purse, waiting for down time for me to start the heel flap on the second sock.  And I’ve passed the heel and am on my way up the leg on my first in a pair of Fidget Socks.

Friendship Knitting

Friendship Knitting

This month, my friend Jahna and I got to meet up in San Francisco.  We were wearing the sweaters we made as a friendship knit along.  This was the third project that we’ve done together as a knit along.

The first was the BFF Cowl, which is a completely great friendship project.  You each make two short scarves in different yarn and then you exchange one of them so that you have one that you knit in one color and one your friend knit in another color.  Then you graft the ends together so that they form two interconnected rings.

The second project was a Cheveron Blanket.  Being as they are big and bulky, we’ve never gotten our blankets together.

The sweaters are our most recent project.  For this one, we both picked a sweater from CustomFit, and we picked out yarn from the same indie dyer, but Jahna did hers in a worsted weight yarn and with a longer length and I knit mine in sport weight and a shorter length.  Jahna did some cool color blending on hers as well.

We haven’t decided on our next project, but we are considering a double knit Star Wars scarf!

Looking for some ideas for friendship knitting projects?  One book that we have looked at is Knit the Sky by Lea Redmond.  This book is choke full of interesting possible projects, with a few that are specific to friendship knitting.

 

Teaching Tips: Should I correct stitch mount?

Teaching Tips: Should I correct stitch mount?

When I’m teaching knitting classes, one thing that comes up occasionally is stitch mount.

For most English speaking knitters, the stitches on their needles have the right leg to the front and the left leg to the back as shown on the left-hand needle in this drawing (Western method knitters).  However, some knitters mount their stitches with the right leg to the back and the left leg to the front as shown on the right-hand needle in this drawing (Eastern Method knitters).  Or they might work knit stitches one way and purl stitches another way (Combination method knitters).

If one enters the stitch on the right-hand needle by trying to insert the needle to the left side of that front leg, it will twist the stitch.  Many of the knitters I’ve met who mount their stitches this way, know to enter the stitch from the right side of that front leg, so the stitch doesn’t twist.  The only problems come in when these knitters try to follow directions for certain increases and decreases that assume the stitches will be mounted with the right leg to the front.

Here’s my philosophy: there is no wrong way to knit if you get the fabric you want.  I never try to change the way an established knitter forms their stitches in my class if they are getting the fabric they want and working at a satisfying speed.  I do help them convert English directions to make increases and decreases work as the pattern expects them to work.  For a great resource on this, check out this handy chart.

On the other hand, I do encourage brand new knitters who will be using primarily English language patterns to adjust their stitch mount to fit the expected norm for those patterns– the Western method.  I explain my reasoning (simplifying reading patterns as their skills develop), but I also explain that not changing means they just have to be conscious of their desired results and when they need to diverge from the written directions.

For links to purchase my teaching packs for beginning knitting classes click here.  For a great explanation of different knitting styles and methods, check out this tutorial.  And if you aren’t familiar with knitting in a variety of methods, I highly recommend Patty Lyons’ Craftsy class called Improve Your Knitting, which includes basic instruction for a variety of styles and methods.

Crochet Water Balloons for Summer

Crochet Water Balloons for Summer

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article about crocheted water balloons.  The idea was to make a balloon shape out of Bernet Blanket yarn and then soak them in a bucket to throw instead of a traditional water balloon.  The yarn is very absorbent so they soak up a lot of water and make a pretty satisfying splat!

Advantages: reusable, machine washable, don’t leave bits of plastic all over your yarn for birds and wild animals to get, easy to “fill,” fast to make.

Disadvantages: don’t make quite the same explosive splash as a traditional water balloon and they are made of synthetic yarn so you haven’t gotten totally away from the plastic problem.

All the patterns I found online worked in rounds with a chain up instead of working in a spiral, and of course I felt many weren’t quite round enough or had enough of a balloon looking top.  Many patterns called for a magic loop start, which I think is hard in this yarn because it is so grippy.  So in the end, I designed my own pattern!

If you are local to Santa Cruz, CA, I’ll be teaching a class on how to make these at Knit Sew Make.    If not, or if you are already comfortable with crochet, here’s the pattern so you can make your own!

Materials Needed:

  • Size 9mm crochet hook (US size M)
  • Bernet Blanket Yarn (or other super bulky chenille style yarn)
  • Removable Stitch Marker

Note: Balloons are worked in a continuous spiral.  To keep track of where the rounds begin, place a removable stitch marker in the first stitch of the round and move it up after each round is completed.

Small Balloon

Round 1: Ch 2, 6 sc in second ch from the hook, do not join. (6 sts)

Round 2:  2 sc in each st around (12 sts)

Rounds 3-4: Sc 12.

Round 5: [Sc 4, sc 2 tog) twice. (10 sts)

Round 6: [Sc 3, sc 2 tog] twice. (8 sts)

Round 7: Sc 2 tog four times. (4 sts)

Round 8: Sc 4.

Round 9: [Sc 1, 2 sc in next st] twice, join to beginning of round with slip stitch. (6 sc).

Fasten off.  Use a piece of yarn to tie the neck of the balloon and push all ends to the inside of the balloon.

 

Large Balloon

Round 1: Ch 2, 8 sc in second ch from the hook, do not join. (8 sts)

Round 2: [Sc 1, 2 sc in next sc] four times. (12 sts)

Round 3: [Sc 2, 2 sc in the next sc] four times. (16 sts)

Round 4-7: Sc 16.

Round 8: Sc 2 tog eight times.  (8 sts)

Round 9: Sc 8.

Round 10: Sc 2 tog four times.  (4 sts)

Round 11: Sc 4.

Round 12: 2 sc in each stitch around, join to beginning of round with slip stitch. (8 sts)

Fasten off.  Use a piece of yarn to tie the neck of the balloon and push all ends to the inside of the balloon.