Knitting, crafting, cooking, and motherhood… trying to do it all!

Posts tagged ‘beginner’

Taking the “EEK!” Out of Steeking

STEEKING. It means that you will be cutting stitches that you just spent hours (if not days) knitting. Crazy, right? I had never heard of steeking until I started knitting in January. While watching an instructional video on YouTube, it recommended a steeking video. Curious as to what it was, I watched in amazement as a carefully knit sweater was cut straight down the middle. From that point on, I was fascinated by the concept but did not take the opportunity to try it myself until this month.

Why would you cut your knitting? Steeking was developed by knitters of the Shetland archipelago and is particularly associated with Fair Isle knitting. The idea is that you can knit a cardigan sweater with frequent color changes and never have to turn your work to the back where all the colors are being carried. You essentially knit a tube in the round and make cuts for the front of the sweater and/or arm holes. If you use a particularly sticky wool and change colors correctly, you can cut your sweater without any extra reinforcement. If you are using a fiber that has been processed (such as a superwash), you will need to reinforce your stitches with a line of single crochet or with a sewing machine. After the sweater has been cut, the knitter can pick up stitches down the middle to create a button band to finish the garment.

I have read a lot about steeking and have watched several instructional videos. Elizabeth Zimmermann used steeking quite a bit and describes the process throughout her books. Intrigued, I was determined to try it myself. About a month ago, I received a digital download of the Tin Can Knits book Road Trip, which featured a steeked sweater. After knitting their Caribou sweater pattern (as I mentioned in my post about cables), I decided to try their Clayoquot pattern and experience steeking first-hand.

Clayoquot is a lovely sweater, featuring a Fair Isle design that I really love. I had previously purchased some Cascade 220 Superwash in “Ruby” to make a sweater for my two year old son, Jonathan. Since I had just knit the Caribou sweater for him, I decided to knit Clayoquot in the 6-12 mo size for my baby boy, Christian. I looked at all different colors to use for the Fair Isle patterning, perused project pages of other knitters, and finally decided that I didn’t want to knit with multiple colors. I wanted a simple red sweater. Now, I realize that the beauty of their design is in the patterning, but I wanted a versatile sweater that could go with everything. I loved that the pattern included pockets (my first time knitting them) and I would get the chance to try steeking with a sweater I could knit in just a couple days. I also feel that to become adept at stranded knitting, I need to teach myself how to “flick” the yarn with my right hand so I can knit a color in each hand. While it is on my list of things to learn, I’m still trying to improve my speed with Continental knitting.

If you are trying steeking for the first time (and every knitter SHOULD), I highly recommend reading up on it first. The lovely ladies of Tin Can Knits have an excellent blog post which I read repeatedly before making the first cut (and you get to see pics of a super cute baby!).

Here is a brief shot of my steeking experience: 1. Sweater knit in the round with the middle five stitches prepped for steeking. 2. Two lines of single crochets down the front to protect the stitches. 3. Cut down the middle of the stitches. 4. Steeking is complete.

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Add a button band and some buttons and, voila!

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Christian has a sweet little sweater now and it took just a couple of days. I’m glad I started with something so small, but I now have the confidence to steek in the future. It no longer intimidates me and I love that I can knit it all in stockinette with very little purling. And now a few pics of my own cutie in his newest sweater:

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Crocheting with Boys

My oldest son Roman will be 8 in August.  From the time he was three, he has particularly loved drawing, creating, and crafting.  We used to have “Mommy/Roman Work Time” while his brother Adrian was down for a nap.  We would work in my craft room on various projects.  I was typically designing handmade cards for my side business, while he would use paper scraps to design all sorts of creations.  As Adrian got older, he joined in the fun.

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This past year, both boys received a Rainbow Loom for St. Nicholas Day.  The boys have gone wild watching YouTube videos and learning how to make everything from bracelets, to charms, to animals, and even a mini-bag out of the colored bands!  Roman has become particularly adept and has taken to creating his own loom designs. His animal project for school was completed with a diorama featuring Rainbow Loom raccoons.

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When I was pregnant with my third son back in 2012, I started crocheting quite a bit.  I ended up making three baby blankets and a variety of hats, booties, etc. for the new baby.  Roman and Adrian took quite an interest and loved to sit and watch me work.  They asked me to teach them, but I felt they were still a little young.

This past year, I was pregnant with my fourth boy.  In January, I taught myself to knit.  Once again, my older boys took an interest and asked me to teach them to knit.  I laughed, saying that I was just learning myself.  I did tell them, however, that I would teach them to crochet.  With more than 20 years of crocheting experience and having taught a number of people how to crochet, I felt that they were ready.

Traditionally, knit and crochet are thought of as a feminine activity.  There are plenty of men out there who do one or both, but they are in the minority.  I don’t have any daughters and with four kids already, I don’t plan to have one.  Instead, I was blessed with four amazing boys.  If my boys are interested in learning a skill that will improve their fine-motor abilities, then I am not going to hesitate to teach them!  Maybe they will lose interest as they get older, or maybe one of their friends will tell them it’s too “girly,” but I can say for certain that I am not going to be the one to pigeonhole my boys.

About a month and a half ago, I sat down and showed both Roman and Adrian how to make a chain stitch.  Adrian was content with that knowledge and didn’t feel the need to go any farther in his crochet lessons.  Roman, on the other hand, grew bored of the chain stitch very quickly and so we moved on to a granny square.  Having taught other children to crochet, I feel that a basic granny square is the best way to learn.  You do not have to go into individual stitches very often, which can be challenging to a beginner.  The double crochet, while being slightly trickier than a single crochet, is easier to identify among other stitches, even if it’s made tightly.  Most importantly, at the end of a short lesson, you’re left with a lacy square that actually looks like you accomplished something.

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Roman made his first granny square that night.  He didn’t pick up the hook and yarn again until last night, after purchasing some yarn and hooks from a friend’s yard sale.  To my surprise, he didn’t even need a refresher course, he started right up and made a granny square with minimal help.  His squares aren’t perfect, but he is improving his skill with each one.

After I put the two little ones to bed, I found Roman sitting in my bed working.  I sat down next to him and I knit while he crocheted.  We chatted together while we worked, just like old friends.  After a while, he asked, “Can we do this every night?”  I can’t even tell you how happy this made me.  My heart feels incredibly full to have a child that loves working with yarn as much as I do.

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This morning, both boys started crocheting the minute they got up and have worked on it throughout the day.  Adrian is becoming more comfortable holding the hook and yarn and is making a rather long “snake” out of a crochet chain. (It works out quite nicely that he has been obsessed with snakes for the past few months.)

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They may not want to crochet forever, and that’s totally fine with me.  For now, I’m enjoying sharing a skill that is so dear to my heart with two of the boys I love most in this world.

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Designing a Pattern

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I had a baby in April and I finished the adult sweater for myself soon after.  It’s been almost two months since my last post, but it has been a BUSY two months.  I have a new baby who needs constant attention during the day, three additional boys (all finished with school for the summer), and a husband who was out of the country for part of the time.  To top it all off, I had surgery and spent some time recovering while family helped with the kids.

Nevertheless, hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t picked up my knitting.  In fact, I’ve been working on my largest knitting project to date… designing a pattern that will be tested, edited, and ultimately sold through ravelry.  If all goes well, it should be up by the beginning of August!  This post is to tell a little about my process.

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Before I finished my Right as Rainbow Sweater, I started looking for my next project.  As any mom of young boys knows, sweater vests are one of the most popular dress items.  Hardly a Christmas or Easter goes by that I don’t spend money on sweater vests for my boys.  This seemed like a relatively easy thing to knit, so I started searching the patterns on ravelry.  Unfortunately, the selection I found was somewhat lacking, particularly when I narrowed the fields to children’s sizes and unisex/boys.  There was a selection of vests that came from a publication but were not available for purchase online.  There were a few sloppy looking vests with uneven proportions and armhole ribbing that stuck out from the sweater.  There were girly looking vests.  There were a couple of halfway decent patterns, but there was only one I would even consider buying, and it wasn’t even sized to fit all my boys.  (I’m a sucker for matching/coordinating outfits!)

I was shocked.  How could a clothing item that is so popular in the stores and so (seemingly) easy to knit be so lacking in patterns?  Searches for “socks” or “hats” or “cardigans” give hundreds, if not thousands of results when the field is narrowed to children. My mission became clear– to knit a sweater vest that would look good and allow me to create coordinated looks for all my boys.

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I thought a lot about how to knit exactly what I wanted.  I knew I wanted to incorporate stripes and I knew I wanted it knit in the round with worsted weight yarn.  Some of the patterns I found knit the vest in several pieces and then seamed them together.  Seaming is my LEAST favorite part of knitting, so I wanted to figure out a way to seam the sweater only at the shoulders.  I scoured the internet for similar patterns and checked out books from the local library.  I made notes about elements I liked in various patterns and thought carefully about how to turn those elements into a vest.  Then I began to knit.

Having purchased a variety of colors of the Cascade Sierra yarn, I knew I wanted to incorporate lots of colors.  While the sweater for myself included various shades of blue and gray, I wanted to use different colors for the boys.  I settled on five colors: Tangerine, Deep Turquoise, Aqua, Moth, and Forest Green.  I used Excel to help visualize the pattern I wanted to create.

I began with Jonathan’s sweater, knitting a size 3T guided by a size chart I found online.  The sweater worked up quickly, but I soon realized that my original pattern was not going to look good as a final product.  I tore the rows apart and went to a more basic ABCDE pattern.

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I finished the vest (minus the ribbing) in about a week and tried it on Jonathan.  It fit, but just barely.  I became nervous that it would not fit once I completed the neck ribbing.  I wish this instinct was wrong, but unfortunately it was right.  The vest would not go over his head once the neck ribbing was complete.  Luckily I had not yet started the arm hole ribbing.  I decided to keep the top half intact so I could refer back to it and I cut the vest nearly in half along the thin green line of stitches underneath the neck opening. *sigh*

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This is what goes into designing: lots of trial and error!  I tried again, adding length, more decreases, and using a stretchy bind off.  I was holding my breath as I tried the finished product on my toddler.  It fit!  Not only that, it looked GOOD.  And I had created it.  Completely from scratch and without a pattern.  This was a HUGE moment for me!

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When it comes to crafting, I am a *bit* of a perfectionist.  Okay, I’m just a perfectionist.  And when it comes to putting out a pattern that I’ve created, I want it to be perfect.  Even though I was going to have my pattern tested, I wanted to test it myself and work out all the kinks.  So I made two more versions.  I made a size 6 for my son Adrian and a size 8 for my son Roman.  With each vest, I made little changes to help improve the quality of the pattern.  I used the same colors for all the sweaters, but used them in different band widths and different sequences.  I was surprised and pleased at how different (yet similar) they all turned out.

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After writing up the pattern, my friend Stephanie helped me photograph the boys in their vests.  We got some great shots and I spent a lot of time editing them and putting together a visually appealing pattern to send out for testing.  I sent the pattern to three different people for proofreading and feedback.  Last night I posted the pattern on ravelry to get testers.  I have two testers that have already started and I’m hoping to get 5 more.  I’m so proud of this pattern and proud that I was able to knit such stylish looks for my boys.  It is frustrating to me that so many of the adorable knitting patterns available are only for girls, so I am excited to contribute one for the boys.  Of course, this pattern would also look adorable on a girl.  I will list it as a unisex pattern, but I’m keeping my title: Band of Brothers Sweater Vest.

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Continuing Cables and Creating a Pattern

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that at this point I had created a lot of samples and a newborn hat, but nothing for myself.  It was time to change that.  I was on day 4 of learning to knit when I decided to make some fingerless mittens.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I wanted to create a flat panel similar to my sample cable pattern that could be seamed along the side.  While seaming, I would leave a hole for my thumb and I would have a fingerless mitten!  It sounds easy enough, and it actually was.

First, I took the cable sample I had already created.  I planned to use the same needles and yarn type, so this swatch was the perfect gauge.  I held it up against my hand and figured out how many ribs, cables, and garter stitches I would need.  I wanted a rib stitch border along both the top and bottom, approximately 1 inch long.  I also wanted ribs along the side of the cables and, most importantly, I wanted the mitten to be symmetrical.  I knew that making ribs would allow some stretch to the mitten, but I didn’t want it to be too stretchy or too tight.

Here is my first original knit pattern completed:

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And the palm side:

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So, at this point I had created an original pattern.  Did I write up the pattern?  No.  Somewhere in my house I have a notebook with some chicken-scratch notes that allowed me to come up with this creation.  Now that I am hoping to post patterns that I have created on ravelry.com, I need to find that notebook and figure out how to turn it into a pattern that is legible to other knitters.  I plan to make another pair with pictures detailing the complicated steps so that even a beginner could follow the pattern.  Until then, at least my hands are staying warm!