Archive for the ‘Knitting’ Category

Simple Knitting by Erika Knight

August 11, 2012

At the library, my eyes are always way too big for my strength and free time. My armload of books on one recent visit included Erika Knight’s book Simple Knitting: A Complete How-to-Knit Workshop with 20 Projects published in 2011The classic knitted designs made with gorgeous yarns, beautiful photographs by Yuki Sugiura, the simple but clear illustrations, legible typefaces, the paper the book is printed on, and the text all combine to create this feeling of calm – definitely not the vibe I typically give off when knitting – and simplicity.

Great photographs and descriptions of individual stitch patterns.

As a big fan of Eileen Fisher clothing (but an owner of few pieces) and cardigan sweaters, this sweater really spoke to me … I might just knit this sweater over winter.

Make sure to click on the links above for more inspiration from Erika Knight (her blog is here) and Yuki Sugiura.

Happy sewing, knitting, making!

There’s Still Time to Knit This Scarf

December 21, 2010

I don’t generally commit to knitting deadlines, let alone one that is four days away, but this scarf pattern is so quick and I am half-way there that I think I can make it.  You can find the pattern, “Easy Mistake Stitch Scarf,” here at The PurlBee. I altered it a bit by casting on just 27 stitches onto size 10 needles – since it is going to a younger person – and chose CascadeYarns’ 128 Superwash (2 skeins), a 100% merino wool. It will definitely need blocking, so tonight it’s Mad Men (courtesy of Netflix) and knitting. Then, to avoid gifting a damp, soggy scarf, I will block it tomorrow.

Happy knitting!

A Family Gift: Sharing a Craft and a Lot More

December 16, 2010

We all know the holiday season is more about the giving than the getting, but I have a family gift that will soon be wrapped and waiting under the tree for Christmas morning that is a bit of both. This year, well more likely next year, the entire family is going to learn to knit and we are going to do so by knitting a scarf for another family member. I am going to wrap up four balls of yarn and each person will choose one package from the bag. Then, together we will open them up. I’ve made it simple: the scarves will all use just one stitch, the garter stitch; the yarns are user friendly; needle sizes range from size 9 to 11; and the finished scarf can not measure more than 72 inches unless the knitter is completely agreeable to the idea of making it longer. Oh, and yes there is a deadline, we have to finish by Valentine’s Day.

I love the idea that a new skill is being learned by my husband and son – my daughter knits a little – and that we are making something for someone else. It will require patience – students and teacher alike – but I am hoping that 12 months from now, everyone will pick up another ball of yarn to knit a scarf or something else for another person in their life. I’m also hoping for some funny memories to stash away and tell in the years to come!

What Makes a Great Teacher?

April 22, 2010

While quilting is my main passion, I do like to play in other sandboxes, so to speak. Taking a class now and then in embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, gardening or some other area that focuses on design principles and/or new techniques is inspirational and often leads to new ideas for my quilts. Soooo, when a local shop announced they would be hosting a day-long workshop a few blocks from my home with a world-renowned craftsperson, I was one of the first to sign up and pay my $90. I then purchased my supplies ($97.02, excluding tax) and counted down on the calendar. It felt like Christmas in a way and as I thought about the upcoming class, my expectations about what I might make with my newfound skills grew each day. A side note here: The workshop was to focus on teaching about color and two techniques. I had zip experience with the two techniques, but according to the course description, this class required only the basic skills, which I have. I have a fairly good understanding about color, but am primarily self-taught, so I feel there is always room to learn more.

Okay, you know this is not going to turn out the way I envisioned, right?

What I had not anticipated when I walked into the classroom all eager to learn was an instructor who, in my opinion, was far less eager to teach. Teaching is hard whether you are teaching rambunctious first graders or adults with a wide range of experiences and expectations. I have taught many students, colleagues, and clients through the years in my varying roles as a quilter and business consultant; and at the end of a workshop, I am wiped. Teaching in front of large groups does not come naturally to me, but I always give a 110% and make sure the content is on point with participant expectations.

Whether you are teaching a craft or leading a workshop on how to write a business plan, many of the same basic rules apply. Most are common sense, but as I learned several days ago, not always followed. Here are a few I never lose sight of . . .

  1. Write a clear and accurate workshop description that can be communicated to participants beforehand. This is what participants are going to read to decide whether a class is worth their time and money. If this is a workshop where something will be produced (e.g., a quilt top, a sweater), show a picture. Keep this description close at hand as you outline the content since the description and content should match.
  2. Know your content. If you are not comfortable with or don’t have the depth to talk expertly about a topic, it should not be part of the agenda. Content should never be dumbed down because of the instructor’s lack of knowledge/curiosity, and the work of others who do view it seriously should not be discounted.
  3. Refresh your content. Who wants to be teaching the same class year after year. If you are bored with the content, it will not take long for that to become evident to your students.
  4. Think through the supplies list in any crafts class. Would it be more beneficial, from a cost and/or learning standpoint, for participants to buy a kit (possibly choosing from several color options) or to assemble the items themselves? Being mindful of students’ budgets can go a long way in building strong relationships, with the instructor and the local shop sponsoring the event.
  5. Hand out an agenda. Everyone wants to know where they are going throughout the day and what time parameters have been set for each item on the agenda. The course description should be reiterated here.
  6. Start the workshop with introductions, beginning with yourself. Participants should introduce themselves and state what they hope to learn. Write down these learning goals on a flipchart.  As the instructor, this is where you need to manage expectations and amend the content – if everyone wants to learn a particular technique, show them, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. If you skip the introductions or do them half-way through, you’ve missed an opportunity to manage expectations and it implies that you really don’t care who they are or what they want to learn. Revisit the goals periodically throughout the day to make sure you are working through the list.
  7. Lay out the ground rules about food and beverages during the workshop and apply it to all. As a coffee addict, I love being able to drink and sew, but only in my own studio where there is one cup of coffee and one person’s fabric stash to consider. Participants have invested in their supplies and to risk ruining them with a cup of coffee is simply disrespectful. In the class I took, the instructor’s coffee cup went flying at one point and spilled coffee everywhere. Luckily, it did not hit anyone’s supplies. However, the tone was set for what was allowed. When I moved a fellow student’s “filled to the brim with no top on” coffee cup to an empty table about 20 feet away from where people were working, she was slightly miffed.  It had been sitting on the floor within inches of hundreds of dollars worth of her fellow students’ supplies!
  8. Make use of visual aids, including handouts and slideshows. This will help to reinforce the content and give participants something to take away and look at when they are at home. And, certainly don’t tell them to buy the book to learn the technique that they are supposed to be learning in the workshop.
  9. As an instructor, never be defensive or snappy. We’ve all heard it, “there is no such thing as a bad question,” and as the instructor you have to reinforce this.
  10. Wrap it up at the end of the day. Summarize key techniques and anything else you want to reinforce, check the list of key learning goals to make sure what you set out to accomplish has indeed been accomplished. Share participant’s work with classmates for one final learning opportunity. You may have done this on an ad hoc basis throughout the day, but do it a bit more formally now, giving constructive feedback by pointing out why something really works or does not work in the projects.
  11. Collect feedback on the workshop. When you are teaching, you need this feedback to know where you need to tweak content and make adjustments to your delivery. As a student, there are many times when you want to give feedback about what the instructor is doing right and where they could improve. It is especially frustrating when there is no means of giving this feedback after an experience that did not meet expectations.

These are just a few ideas of what makes a great teacher – student experience in a workshop setting. What do you think makes for a great workshop? What makes a great teacher?

One More Day of Winter Please

March 15, 2010

What kind of crazy request is that? Well, this weekend I pulled out some yarn that I bought several years ago at Knitche in Downers Grove, Illinois, and knit up a scarf that I want to wear one time before it is stowed away till next winter.

I wanted to knit a scarf on autopilot, but something other than a simple garter stitch. After looking through several knitting books, I came across the “hurdle rib” in Nicky Epstein’s Knitting on the Edge and decided to knit the entire scarf in this stitch pattern. In the sample swatch in the book, it almost has a cross-stitch effect. This effect was pretty much lost in my scarf, I think, because of the bulky, variegated yarn used. No matter because the scarf still, in my opinion, looks pretty darn good. The yarn is essentially two strands of different colors twisted together; of the two skeins used, there were only several color combinations that repeated.

The hurdle rib should be used with an even number of stitches. Knit the first two rows and then knit 1, purl 1 for the next two rows; just repeat this four-row pattern until you reach the desired length.

I wish I knew more about the yarn, but the tag had limited information: “Hand-plyed, natural dyed 70% merino/30% angora worsted/heavy worsted.” The gauge listed was 3 to 3.5 stitches per inch on U.S. needles sizes 9 – 11. I used two skeins of yarn and cast on 22 stitches on size 11 needles. The finished scarf measures 42 inches long.

Life Throws a Curve Ball

February 7, 2010

Life threw a little curve ball a few weeks ago when my father had a heart attack, despite scoring relatively low on the risk factors. I am grateful to report, though, that his healthy eating and exercise habits before the heart attack are aiding in his recovery now.

Since I needed a small, portable project at the hospital, I turned to knitting and started this scarf, a project that could easily and quickly be tucked into my purse if doctors came by, etc.  I am loving how the basketweave pattern looks with this yarn, Ty-Dy Wool by Knit One Crochet Too, a soft 100% wool yarn.  The look reminds me a of classic wool cardigan, the kind you might wear on a fall hike when the temperatures edge towards the lower end of the thermometer.  I used size 8 needles and cast on 30 stitches.  The scarf will definitely need to be blocked when it is finished.

The pattern can be found at purlbee, a wonderful place to go for inspiration, ideas, and patterns.  This is one site I routinely visit, intending to look for “just a few minutes” and before I know it, a half hour has passed.

With life a bit more calm now, I will take the cover off my sewing machine and get back to test driving those books I mentioned in my last post.

Wear in Good Health – Beanies for Newborns and other Community Projects

November 12, 2009

“Handcrafts belong to an earlier world, the slower pace of pre-industrial life where one had the leisure to sink deeply and profoundly into the rhythms of nature within and without and to feel a connection with the earth as a living spiritual entity . . . Handcrafts throughout history have often been fashioned with the aid of prayer, one prayer for each bead or each stitch, while keeping good thoughts to enhance the spiritual purpose of the object.”   The Knitting Sutra:  Craft as a Spiritual Practice by Susan Gordon Lydon.


As I sit in the late evening knitting these little beanies for an unknown wearer, I am imagining a happy, healthy life for each baby and infusing each hat with good thoughts.  A woman in a local knitting guild will take these hats along with others knit by members and deliver them to local hospitals and other places that have expressed a need.

I used to think that if I was going to have any impact at all, I had to make many of whatever.  I now realize that whether I donate one hat or a dozen, each one will help someone and that is what is important. My friend Paula uses leftover yarn from the purses she designs and makes to crochet colorful lap-sized afghans for residents of the senior citizen center on her street – she delivers each one as it is completed.  Some months she delivers a half a dozen, other months she delivers one, but each is much appreciated.

If you are looking for places to donate handmade items to, look around your community or region.  In addition, several recent books tell the inspiring stories of organizations that collect handmade items for specific causes and provide project directions.  These books include:

  • Knitting for Good!  A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch by Betsy Greer
  • Knitting for Peace:  Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time by Betty Christiansen
  • Quilting for Peace:  Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time by Katherine Bell

In talking with friends recently about their community knitting projects, several mentioned that the charities they contribute to are always short of items for older children and teenagers.  This is something to inquire about when you are donating items that are sized for a specific age group.

A Side Note

The classic hat pictured above is from a pattern in Erika Knight’s Simple Knits for Cherished Babies; each one takes slightly more than one hour to complete.

Expand Your Knitting Repertoire

November 4, 2009


Halloween is behind us and winter is in the air on these chilly mornings here in the Midwest.  This is the time of year when I pull out the yarn and knitting needles and start knitting scarves — one or two to keep, the others to give away as gifts.  Last year I walked into the local knit shop, Knitche, and saw this totally fun scarf on display and immediately signed up for the class.  The free pattern, “Latifa”, is designed by Jillian Moreno and is available here on  The entire scarf is worked in a garter stitch; when you are finished knitting the scarf, you go back and add the ruffle.

I have knit for years but have to admit I still feel somewhat like a beginner — if I’m knitting anything more complex than a garter stitch I need the room quiet.  What I discovered in this class, however, is that the details, like the ruffle here, can make whatever you are knitting look a lot more difficult than it actually is.  Scarves or blocks (that can later be stitched together for an afgan) are perfect for  learning these techniques without becoming overwhelmed by the size of the project.   I may never knit a Kaffe Fassett sweater, but I will build a repertoire of  interesting stitches and details to use when knitting all of those scarves.  A couple of other great resources for expanding your knitting knowledge are Nicky Epstein’s books, such as Knitting on the Edge, and Lesley Stanfield’s 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet (great fruit, too!).

A quick note about my scarf versus the one on Knitty.  This was such a simple scarf to knit that I went on autopilot; it was not until I put it on that I realized the scarf was four squares shorter than the pattern!  I ended up liking the length just fine, so decided not to go back and add to it.