Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Overdyeing A Finished Knit

Even after just a few years of knitting or crocheting, you're bound to have some finished projects lying around that never get worn or used. After 10+ years of crafting, I have more than just "some" or "a few"....and with my ongoing quest to declutter my house this year, I've become obsessed with going through these forlorn projects and making some Big Decisions.

Sometimes, they are perfectly fine and just need a new and loving home. Other projects may have not turned out quite right: there might have been some mistakes in the knitting that I thought I could live with, or the yarn was gorgeous but not well-matched to the pattern, or my  taste has drastically changed since I finished making the any case, why on earth did I keep knitting?! Who knows, but I don't feel good about gifting anything that falls into this category to someone else. These projects have been relegated to the "frog pile" (or should I say, frog pond?), to be unknit on those days when I really feel like wrestling with some yarn (believe it or not, it's not unheard of!!).

Most of my unused knits fall into the above categories, but there are a few projects that don't. These are projects that turned out beautifully, with one major flaw: I don't like the color of the yarn I used. It's really a shame when you have a beautifully knit sweater in a great yarn that fits you well...but you STILL don't want to wear it!

Over the holiday weekend, I decided to dust off my dyeing equipment to overdye one such project, the Clavdia Cardigan by Nadya Stallings, which appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Pom Pom Quarterly. I'd used 3 skeins of Sincere Sheep Tenacious in the St. Bart's colorway - a beautiful sky blue shaded solid that looked so pretty in the stitch pattern...

...unfortunately, I don't wear sky blue, or pretty much any color as a general rule. My closet is filled with black and grey clothes because it's just easier to get dressed in the morning! Anyway, after finishing this project in July of 2013, I'm pretty sure that the only time I wore it was for the photos I took for this blog. But isn't it super cute? The open style is extremely forgiving and it's really the perfect summer cardigan!

After digging around in my dyestuffs, I decided to overdye this sweater Navy. Now, I could have tested the color with the swatch, but I felt pretty confident about my ability to get the desired results - and if it ended up being too light, I could always overdye it again! So, I went for it, and spent an overcast afternoon trying to turn this cardigan into something I would enjoy wearing.

Get Ready To Dye! 
If you are new to dyeing, there are some great everything-you-need-starter kits out there. I used the Gaywool Dyes Lanaset Starter Kit, which is a little tough to find in stores (here's an Etsy shop that currently carries it). This come with complete instructions, a nice selection of dye colors, citric acid, and glaubers salts, plus a respirator mask and gloves.

In addition to the dye kit, you'll need:
  • An enamel or stainless steel dyepot that you DO NOT/WILL NOT use for cooking
  • Cups and measuring spoons that you DO NOT/WILL NOT use for cooking
  • A scale
And that's about it, you're ready to go! 

Here are the basic steps you will follow:

1. Fill the dyepot with water and begin to heat it up to a simmer. If I'm dyeing indoors on my stove, I always crank my exhaust fan as high as it'll go to make sure that any fumes are sucked out of the air during this process. 

2. Wet the yarn, fiber, or finished kit in warm water and add a tiny bit of dish soap. 

3. Measure your dye as recommended by the manufacturer, dissolve it in boiling water in a container and stir. I prefer to mix my dye outside because even though you can't see the fine powder dye with the naked eye, I'm not thrilled at the idea of those particles getting into the air I breathe. Which reminds me....make sure you absolutely are wearing your respirator mask before you start this step. Safety first! 

4. Measure your auxiliaries (a fancy term for the Citric Acid and Glaubers salts, which will help set the dye). I used two separate cups I have reserved for dyestuffs to make it easy to measure, which you can see in the photo below.              

5. Add the dye to the dye auxiliaries and stir, then add it to the dyepot. 

6. Remove your yarn, fiber or finished knit from the warm water soak and squeeze to remove excess water. Then add it to the dyebath! I like to use some old salad tongs I inherited from my grandparents to work the dye through, and reposition whatever I'm dyeing as needed (I'm sure they would approve of this use). Just make sure not to agitate too much, as wool will felt, especially when it is in very hot water! 

7. Let soak for 10-15 minutes, then raise the temperature to boiling. Hold there for 15-20 minutes, keeping a close eye to make sure that it doesn't felt or boil over. That wouldn't be good! 

8. Check the dyebath - if the water is clear, that means the dye is exhausted (i.e., it has transferred from the bath onto your yarn, fiber or finished knit!). You can now take it out of the dyebath, remove the excess water, and allow to dry. I like to wait until the dyebath is completely cooled before I handle the items I'm dyeing, that way I don't burn my fingers through the gloves, plus I also avoid "shocking" the fibers by removing them from the hot water into whatever room temperature happens to be that day. 


For an added bonus, I threw in another swatch in Lhasa Wilderness, a yak and bamboo blend of yarn from Bijou Basin Ranch. I have been thinking about overdyeing my Comfort Fade Cardigan, which is knit with this yarn, but I am not sure that I have the right dyes to handle the bamboo component of the yarn. So, I thought this would be a no-risk way to test things out, and see if I can successfully overdye the swatch before I attempt the actual garment. After allowing the swatch to dry, I stuck it right back into some water and fiber wash and let it sit for a good hour to see what happens. I'm pleased to report that there was absolutely NO crocking, so I can absolutely overdye this project using this same dye method. Oh joy!

I hope you found this blog post useful - if you did, please share the link with a friend or use the graphic below to pin it on Pinterest!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Basics of Brioche Knitting

Last week, I shared a Brioche Cowl I recently knit in a new yarn called Boca Chica Fingering. This week, I'm sharing the basics of brioche knitting with you so that you can give this fun knitting technique a try!

Getting Started
There are tons of fabulous (free!) patterns on Ravelry to help you master the basics of brioche knitting. Here are a few to try while you practice this technique:


As I said last week, if you can yarn over and knit or purl two stitches together, you absolutely CAN knit a gorgeous brioche project! You'll just need to familiarize yourself with the terminology commonly used in brioche knitting patterns. Here are the 3 most important terms to know for brioche knitting:

The Brioche Knit Stitch (BRK): knit the stitch that was slipped in the previous row/round together with the yarnover stitch.

The Brioche Purl Stitch (BRP): purl the stitch that was slipped in the previous row/round together with the yarnover stitch.

Sl 1 yo: this is where you slip a stitch at the same time that you work a yarnover stitch, allowing you to work the slipped stitch and yarnover stitch in the following row or round.

While some of the abbreviations will vary from pattern to pattern, the technique remains the same - you're just making yarnovers over slipped stitches which will then be knitted or purled together on the following row or round!

Keeping Track of Where You Are
Whether you're working flat or in the round using just one color or two, there are a few ways you can "read" your stitches to make sure you are following the right set of instructions at any given time, This is easier to do when working with two colors in the round, because you only have 2 rows (rounds) of pattern instructions to keep track of, rather than 4 if you were working flat.

For two-color brioche, the yarnover in the round you just worked will be "paired" with the stitch in the color you will be working next.

If you are only using one color, you will need to pay close attention to the slipped stitch that is paired with the yarnover in the round you just worked - is it knitted or purled? This will help you match it up to the set of instructions you need to follow. That means that a knit stitch which is paired with a yarnover will use the BRK instructions, and a purl stitch that is paired with a yarnover will use the BRP instructions.

Even if you are working flat, the yarnover trick mentioned above still works, but you will need to be mindful of which set of instructions (right side or wrong side) you are working on.

Tutorials & Resources For Further Learning
This blog post is meant as a jumping-off point, because there are already tons of excellent tutorials and resources available if you know where to look! Here are a few of my favorites:
Of course, you can't beat hands-on learning, so don't forget to ask your Local Yarn Store (LYS) if they will be offering classes, or check for classes at upcoming yarn festivals and events near you. For more brioche knitting patterns (free and paid) and links to my favorite brioche resources, check out my Brioche Knitting Pinterest board here!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Brioche Knitting Obsession

There's no need to be intimidated by brioche knitting: this technique is actually quite simple, once you get the hang of the somewhat-wacky abbreviations (brk? brp? what??) found in most patterns. If you can yarn over and knit or purl two stitches together, you absolutely CAN knit a gorgeous brioche project!

Brioche knitting produces a wonderfully squishy fabric that looks especially cool when you use two colors of yarn. Believe it or not, two-color brioche is actually a bit easier than single-color brioche because it helps you see where you are in the pattern. And here's another surprising fact about brioche: it's actually easier to work in the round, rather than flat!

Here's why: when working flat, you typically work two right-side rows followed by two wrong-side rows, which means that you work the first right side row, then slide your work back to the other end of your circular needle so that you can work the second right side row across all of the same stitches, then repeat for both of the wrong side rows. For a beginner, that can be a little confusing! However, when you're working in the round, all you need to do is alternate between two rounds of instructions, which are worked similar to stripes if you are using 2 colors of yarn.

There are a lot of great (free!) patterns out there, but one I keep returning to is Emma Galati's Brioche for Beginners. It's easy to follow along and while it doesn't use the "traditional" brioche abbreviations, it explains the technique well (I've knit it several times at this point!).

Recently, I got a chance to try out a brand new yarn called Boca Chica Fingering, which is available exclusively at A Good Yarn (a yarn shop in Sarasota, FL). Each skein is hand-dyed in a color inspired by the Florida keys, and I used a skein of Tarpon and Gator to knit this lovely cowl using the free pattern linked above!

Next week, I will share a photo tutorial to walk you through the basics of Brioche knitting. See you then!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New (Old) Favorites: Duplicate Stitch & Colorwork Knitting

I used to think of duplicate stitch simply as a way to avoid intarsia, but it's also a great technique for weaving in your ends invisibly, especially in colorwork projects. Earlier in the year, I knit the Very Important Villager hat in two naturally-dyed colors of Rambouillet yarn from Shepherd's Lamb. This breed-specific wool yarn has great stitch definition and lends itself well to colorwork:

Fun fact: if you consistently hold one color below the other as you work, the colorwork motif will look crisper (this is known as color dominance). Plus, the wrong side will look just as lovely as the right!

If you're new to duplicate stitch, here is a great tutorial video from Very Pink Knits. I think of it as a 3-step process: you start by bringing your yarn up in the middle of the stitch BELOW the one you want to duplicate, then behind both bars of the stitch ABOVE the stitch you are duplicating. You return the yarn through to the wrong side the same way you started (in the middle of the stitch BELOW the one you want to duplicate).

This technique can also be used to fix mis-cross cables, as shown in this YouTube video - how cool is that?! 

How are you using the duplicate stitch technique in your knitting projects? Let me know in the comments!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Going Paperless with the knitCompanion App

It's been over a year since I did my reader survey, and believe it or not, I am still getting around to writing about some of the suggested topics! Knitting-related apps were requested by several readers, and after looking over all of my previous app reviews, it's become clear that this is a topic that is worth revisiting. Nearly all of those reviews were written before I switched from Android to iPhone (and that happened over 5 years ago!).

Obviously, I'm not an early adopter. In fact, you could say I'm pretty old school: I still don't own a microwave, and I never stopped buying vinyl (in fact, the number of records in our house far outnumbers the amount of CDs we still own). And when it comes to knitting, I have always preferred print copies of patterns, even the ones I buy digitally.

But my recent craft room #konmari excercise was eye-opening: I discovered a huge pile of printed PDFs I've amassed over the years. Some were pristine and clearly never used; others looked like they'd been through a horrible experience (i.e. spending some time in my knitting bag!). Seeing them all together made me realize what a waste of paper and ink that really is...surely there is a better way, right?!
This is only a small fraction of the printed patterns I've amassed over the years.
Enter knitCompanion, an app that makes working from any pattern both portable and easy on your iPhone or iPad (there is also an Android version). Ironically, some folks have recommended it to be before, giving it high praise, but I never gave it a try until the developer of knitCompanion offered me a free one-year trial of the Setup+Essentials subscription.

I have to be 100% honest here: now that I've given it a try, I don't think I can live without this app!

Their tagline is "knit more, frog less," and that is exactly what each feature is designed to do. For example, if you have a huge chart or a complex set of instructions, you can use the custom tools to help you stay on track as you work through the chart or instructions. There is a bit of learning curve with some of the advanced features, but once you get the hang of it, you're golden.

In the free version, you can start an unlimited number of projects, connect your Ravelry and Dropbox accounts, and use several simple features to help you keep track of what you're working on. The Essentials upgrade is $9.99 yearly and offers greater options for customizing row counters, highlights and notes, plus MKAL support, and the ability to embed videos and row counters. With Setup+Essentials ($14.99 yearly), there are even more ways to customize your patterns to make them easier to work from. Here is a handy chart which outlines all of the features available for each level:

Getting set up was super easy, and all I had to do was connect my Ravelry and Dropbox account so that I could start importing all of my pattern PDFs into the app. The basic process of starting projects and working from patterns within the app is fairly intuitive; I was able to figure out how to use the simple row counters on my own, and they offer some tutorials on their YouTube channel for you visual learners out there. 

Plus, you don't need a wifi connection to access your projects - so no worrying about blowing through your data plan when knitting on the go. 

I have been using this app exclusively since I downloaded it...basically,  I am obsessed with it! I've even scanned some of my paper patterns which I don't have digitally so that I can use them in the app.

When I think about all of the money I've spent on paper and ink over the years or even in just one calendar year, $9.99 or even $14.99 seems quite affordable. I don't think I'll even print another pattern again, to be honest. Obviously the money I'll save on printer ink and paper will just go towards more yarn, right?!

If you have been thinking about going paperless (or even if you weren't!), I hope you'll give knitCompanion a try. Also, if you have used this app previously but haven't opened it in the last year or two, it sounds like they've streamlined and simplified things to improve the user experience. It might be worth your while to give knitCompanion another try!

Click here to learn more on the knitCompanion website.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Is Sample or Test Knitting Right For You?

I've been test and sample knitting for several years, and most recently one of my samples made the front cover of the collection - I have to admit, I was elated! Since I always get a few questions when I share photos of my samples, I thought a blog post talking about the ins and outs of test and sample knitting would be a handy reference for anyone curious about this aspect of the yarn industry.

Also, please know that there is also a need for test and sample crocheting, too! I just don't feel like I have strong enough crochet skills to engage in that type of work, and writing "test and sample knitting and crocheting" every time seems like overkill. I hope you'll forgive the shorthand used for the remainder of this post.
That's my sample on the cover of the Radiance collection from KnitPicks!

Sample Knitting VS. Test Knitting
First, let's talk about the differences between sample knitting and test knitting - and please note, sometimes you will be doing both at the same time!

In sample knitting, you are making a sample for display or photography. this could be a re-knit of a previously published pattern, or an all-new pattern which may or may not have been test knitted or tech edited before you work from it.

Test knitting is the process of knitting a pattern to make sure instructions are clear and error-free; unless otherwise stated, you will get to keep the finished project.

The Process
This will vary widely among designers and yarn companies, but generally it works like this: a call for testers or sample knitters is put out (I'll cover some of the common spots for those later in the post),  or an email request is sent to you with a description of the project and the proposed timeline. If this is your first time working with them, they may ask for some examples of your work; this ranges from an informal "send me a link to your Ravelry notebook" to an actual application that you fill out.

Once you pass that first stage and agree to an assignment, the pattern is sent your way (and the yarn, if provided). You will need to swatch and confirm that you have gotten the called-for gauge, after which you will need to provide updates and feedback throughout the process. If you encounter anything that may be problematic for knitters (for instance, unclear instructions, sizing errors, typos, etc), you will need to communicate with the yarn company or designer to resolve them. There is no "winging it" or taking broad interpretations of instructions here - your job is to knit the instructions to the letter; if something doesn't seem right to you, it's your job to speak up. That's why they hired you!
I test knit this sample of the Bosco Cardigan for Knitty.
This is one of the few times that my payment was getting to keep the finished sweater - totally worth it!!

The Timeline

Again, this varies widely, but most companies I've worked with have given me ample time to complete the project - I often have 3 months' notice, even for smaller projects. It makes it pretty easy to slot in a test knitting gig alongside whatever other projects I have in progress.

Plus, remember that you can always decline a test knitting proposal if you think there is any chance you won't be able to finish on time. Not finishing the sample or project on time is a huge naughty no-no, and that means that you probably won't be offered work in the future. Remember, they are relying on you to h old up your end of the bargain so that they can launch a new pattern/yarn/ color at a very specific time. Any delays means a loss of income for the yarn company or designer you are working with.

Finally, if you are stressed out by deadlines, this might not be a good fit for you. I admit, sometimes deadline knitting stresses me out, too - I find that calculating how many rows/pattern repeats/sections I need to knit each week in order to meet the deadline is extremely helpful here. Not only does it break things down into manageable chunks, it also helps me see the bigger picture and feel confident that I can meet the set deadline.

My Evora Cowl sample for KnitPicks. 

Not every gig pays, so make sure you discuss compensation up front. Generally, monetary compensation is either a lump sum that is calculated by the yardage (ideally, the complexity of the project will also be factored in here!).

Truthfully, unless you are a speedy knitter, you'll barely make minimum wage if you break it down into hours. My approach is to think of this as supplementary income, because I definitely don't knit fast enough to make enough money to pay the bills, and I physically can't knit enough to do this type of work full-time.

Besides money, compensation may be in the form of free or discounted yarn, free patterns, etc. Again, make sure that you are comfortable with the terms before you sign on!
Leonarda Shawl Sample for the Bijou Basin Ranch booth.

Pros & Cons (Or, Why Do I Test Knit?)

Most people are curious about my own personal reasons for test/sample knitting. Besides the extra cash, getting to make something without having to find a home for it is one of the main reasons I get into test knitting. I have so many scarves/cowls/hats as it is....and while I love knitting those types of projects, I am running out of storage space for everything I make! Sample knitting gives me the joy of making something, without the stress of having to find a recipient when I'm done. Also, it's really satisfying to see your work out in the world - I've had samples on display in booths at various fiber festivals, and photos of my work on websites like KnitPicks!

Some places will let you keep the yarn left over from the project (so, free yarn!), while others ask for it back. Quite honestly, I prefer to send it back because my house is overflowing with yarn as it is. So, weirdly, that is a perk for me!

Another bonus is that sometimes you get to try a new color or yarn before it is released, and it goes without saying that many of the patterns you'll make are not yet released - so you get to be the first to know! Of course, the flipside of that is that you have to keep what you're working on a secret - no posting on Instagram!

Having covered some of the pros of test/sample knitting, I'd be remiss if I didn't cover a few of the cons. Here are my top 3:

  • Some designers are not as easy to work with, and I have had to navigate some fairly messy patterns from time to time.
  • You have to follow the instructions to the letter - absolutely NO mods can be made based on your personal preference. 
  • Expect to spend a lot of time swatching for gauge! I usually have to knit 3 swatches before I get the called-for gauge. Also, most of the designers I've worked with are hugely aggressive blockers, so you may need to adjust your own approach from what you would normally do for yourself.

Modern Toque sample for KnitPicks

So Where Can I Get These Kinds of Gigs?

If you've made it this far and still think "hey, I'd like to give this a try," here are the best ways I know to land yourself a test or sample knitting gig:

  • Any yarn company that releases their own patterns likely needs testers and/or sample knitters. I work regularly with Knit Picks and they have an extremely well-run test/sample knitting program, in my opinion. If there's a yarn company you'd like to work with, reach out to them via their email our contact page on their website to inquire about test or sample knitting opportunities!
  • Follow designers you like on Instagram, because they often post calls for test knitters on their accounts. Some of them also post calls in their Ravelry groups, so make sure to check in regularly to see if there are new testing opportunities posted.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of test and sample knitting, and perhaps even inspires you to give it a try! If you have any questions that I didn't cover here, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I'd also like to hear about your own experiences test and sample knitting! 

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

C2E2 & DIY Ninja Headband Tutorial Using Upcycled T-Shirts

2019 is the 10th year of the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (aka C2E2), and I have been meaning to go pretty much ever since it started. Of course, back when it started, I worked a crappy service industry job and never had the weekends off. Over the years, various excuses have piled up, which ranged from not being in the country during the event (that one time I went to Germany for the H+H Trade Show) to forgetting to buy tickets (oops), and all points in between.

But at long last, I can check this off my list: last Friday, I went to my first ever C2E2!

Technically, I was there on official client business, researching cosplay and trying to make some connections with movers and shakers in the cosplay world. I truly admire those who cosplay, and do it well because that's never been my skill, though I am feeling inspired to give it a try this year. My problem is always coming up with a good idea - the harder I try to think of something, the more my mind blanks out.

But when I was thinking of creative ways to use all of the t-shirts I cleared out of my closet/storage thanks to my ongoing #konmari project, I came up with an idea to make a Ninja headband from one of my favorite anime series, Naruto. I'm not sure if this will become a full-fledged ninja costume or not, but I sure had fun making it, and it was a great way to put one of the many mis-printed t-shirts from the Shalloboi West Coast Tour of 2008 to good use.

Here's how I made my headband:

Using an OLFA rotary cutter, mat and ruler, I cut a 3" wide strip across the bottom of the t-shirt.

Note: If your shirt is long enough, you could make a vertical cut and then you don't have the side seams on the finished headband. They don't actually show up when you're wearing it, but if it bothers you to know they're there, this is a good option to keep in mind.

Next, I cut a 5.5"x2" rectangle of grey felt for the forehead protector and did a Google image search to find a nice traceable image for my preferred village symbol (the hidden leaf). I absolutely can't freestyle my embroidery, so I printed it out and waited for a sunny day to use a window and a fine-line sharpie to trace the symbol on my piece of felt before embroidering it with the floss held double.

Then I used a pair of scissors to cut the corners of the felt to be a bit rounded, and pinned it to the t-shirt, tacking down the top and bottom of the headband at the same time. I opted NOT to seam the rest of the t-shirt fabric, betting that the seam created by sewing on the forehead protector would be enough. When you wear it, you can't really tell the difference, but you could completely seam the top and bottom if you are so inclined. Again, if that's something that bothers you, then it's worth the extra effort!

Once you're done, you can wear with pride! Here I am with my favorite Ninja (Kakashi) and Ninja Tool (an OLFA rotary cutter):

When I was at C2E2, I wore the headband around my neck (some Ninjas do that!), although I have no photographic evidence because I was still getting over a cold and didn't feel photogenic. But here are some general scenes around the show so that you can see what C2E2 is all about!

I bet this Kisame cosplay was even more amazing from the front!

Need a lightsaber?

This just made me laugh.

Was pretty psyched to see some craft brands at the show!

 Caught my pal Heidi of Hands Occupied knitting during a wig talk!
Artist Alley is one of my favorite features of comic cons.

The show floor is huge - comics and nerdery as far as the eye can see!
I'll definitely put C2E2 on my calendar for 2020 - who knows, maybe I'll be there in full cosplay!

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