LYS: Purl Soho Warehouse

Having visited the Purl Soho website any number of times and for the most part held back from going wild, I was excited to find their warehouse in a search of LA-area yarn shops. At home, I have a copy of their Botanical Yoke pullover waiting to hit the needles, all queued up in my Ravelry 2019 Challenge list.

A rack of beautiful project bags, including Purl Soho signature bags.

Perhaps the Purl Soho Warehouse is not technically an LYS? I assume they do a lot of order fulfillment for the Purl Soho online business. Somehow I convinced my brother to take me there on my first full day in town, before we set off on a whale watch from Dana Point.

Gratuitous terrible photo of what is actually a giant pod of Risso dolphins

This storefront in Irvine, CA doesn’t even have a sign hanging out front to announce its presence, but it was open for business as promised by Google maps! Upon entry, there was a lovely table adorned with suggestive samples that begged to be stroked.

A few shelves bordered the entryway, making the front area feel like a retail establishment. But beyond – oh, my – there were shelves and shelves of gorgeous textures and colors to explore.

Basically everything you’ve ever drooled over on their website (and more) was available here. The yarn is organized by weight, and then within that I’m sure there is some clever color or number system. Much of it appeared to be pleasingly gradient- or rainbow-oriented. All of their luscious kits were also available here (of course), including throw blanket kit colorways I didn’t even see advertised online.

One serious weakness I have is Liberty of London Tana Lawn cotton fabric. It’s amazing that I even still have money in the bank and haven’t purchased yards of every single print they have ever produced. Astonishingly, the Purl Soho warehouse has a very complete and up-to-date collection – in fact, this is the most variety of Tana Lawn I’ve ever personally seen in one place, perhaps with the exception of Lil Weasel in Paris, but I suspect not.

My not-so-effective willpower has held out against spending down my retirement funds many times, and in particular I have not purchased any colorways of William Morris’ Strawberry Thief print approximately 137 times. That may be an underestimate. Guess what – you’re right. I gave in this time. Only one colorway was available at PSW, but it was the right one – such gorgeous rich blue hues and complementary jewel tones.

While I was tempted to pick up the eggplant/ecru manta ray print (!!), or the ecru/greys lovely sailing rope motif, my brother voted for this one as I held each one up to my face. (Who knew he’d be such a good shopping companion? He also had a number of perceptive fiber-related questions as we explored, including regarding an alphabet worth of cute embroidered animal kits.)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attracted to unusual (for me) colors, and my selections from PWS were in line with this left turn. While I doubt I will be saturated with speckles or space-dyes any time soon, I relished the opportunity to bask in some of their brighter and deeper solids, keeping in mind that there are some burgeoning textured designs in my mind that require some silky fluff as well as plush drape.

My final yarn selection included two colorways of Posy (sw merino, cashmere, nylon) and two colorways of Tussock (mohair and silk).

Now if only my day job included knitwear design…

More about gauge

Last month, I had some thoughts about a post on gauge by Kate Davies. My general feeling is that even though some of us are accomplished knitters, we still like a hint of where to start on needle size. We must acknowledge that not everyone automatically knows how to get eight stitches to the inch in fingering weight, or 4-5 stitches to the inch in worsted. Perhaps I could figure that out if I thought about it, but it’s not automatic, I also know that humans are lazy.

For a new design I’m developing with Biscotte DK Pure, because I can’t be lazy, I started with the recommended needle size on the yarn label. Three swatches later, I have retained the smallest needle size as one of the two for my pattern, but I sized up twice to get the fabric feel from this yarn that I wanted.

This take-home message is important: although there may be a recommended needle size, and although you may always “get gauge,” the designer has figured out what the best fabric is for her design, and set the gauge there. I admit that I am notorious for going straight for the needle and casting on without swatching, but this is a strong reason to avoid my typical approach.

What I appreciated about Kate Davies’ post was her comment that in Milarrochy Heids, designers all used the same yarn, but not only had varying tension, they also created different fabrics.  If I were designing mittens, I would size down at least twice in the Biscotte yarn, because I want a tougher, more water- and windproof fabric. For a baby sweater, I want something more supple and welcoming, with some stretch to accommodate baby’s growth if you’re lucky enough to get more than one season out of the garment.

This is obviously the back side – the sweater is all but finished now, and I’ve gotten some nice compliments from the knitting guild, which has seen it in progress. More photos to come soon!

Aran redux

Back in October, I stayed with friends that live near Rhinebeck, and fested with them along with exploring other fun stuff in the area.  Apparently both of them are lapsed knitters, T having had much more experience than J, and J surprising me because, well, he’s a guy.  I hate to say that I was surprised, but I was.  T’s excuse for not knitting these past almost 15 years is her cat.  She of course waited until she got a new kitten, four months old in October, before deciding to pull out the old stash again.  During my trip, I was predictably collecting new stash myself, and was constantly warned not to leave wool around the cats.  They were right, of course, but we had none of the predicted disasters, and eventually, with appropriate training, I’ve found cats will just leave you alone with your knitting if it’s not fun for them.  This is not to say that I haven’t come home to the occasional ball of yarn that’s been run in circles around the entire apartment, but hey. 

The inspiration for us to sit down and knit together was this YouTube video, which is a must-see as far as I’m concerned, yes, all the way to the end.  J practiced casting on again, and although I recommended stopping at 40 stitches for a scarf, he went on to 80 or more and then couldn’t figure out why his first row took so long.  I think we finally got it sorted, but once he had the first row done, he was off and running with no help from me, activating his latent knitter skills acquired at some younger age. 

T, on the other hand, pulled out a book and what looked to be the beginning of a scarf, asking for help, and calling her scarf “brioche stitch.”  I can’t remember, I hope she started over?  Because NO.  Whatever that was, it was not brioche stitch!  I remember teaching myself to knit that stitch using directions from a Weekend Knitting pattern, long before it reached the apex of popularity.  And I had had the same problem – something to do with neglecting to knit the yarnover together with the stitch on the appropriate row.

But, this is not what I meant to tell you about!  During this knitting session, T pulled out a huge boxy moss-stitch sweater with a cable down the front.  She is a tiny person, but prefers the leggings/jeans and tunic look – the boxier, the better.  This sweater has been well-worn and had a hole in the elbow to prove it.  The ask was not to mend the elbow, but to make a new one.  

I love this sort of challenge.  We went shopping at Rhinebeck and found some reasonably priced Romney wool from a local farm in Connecticut, and decided that it would work doubled.  The original sweater had only 130 stitches at its widest point and a gauge of around 3 stitches to the inch.  This wool, while not the best for stitch definition perhaps, will make a great replica that isn’t too heavy to wear.  Since it’s a new rendition, we pored through my stitch books to identify fun cables to incorporate: one for the front, and a simpler braided motif for the top of each sleeve.  I’m working it from the top down, as the original one was knitted.  We took all the relevant measures in advance and she sent me home with a basic schematic. 

The trickiest part so far has been working with cable stitch patterns whose width exceeds the initial front and sleeve stitch counts.  Fortunately those motifs have been able to accommodate the raglan increases without having to change the cables.  I’m almost in the clear, at a point at which I can simply incorporate the raglan increases into the background moss stitch. 

I’ll have to come back to this project now that my holiday knitting and sewing is complete – but I am looking forward to seeing how it materializes!

Have you ever tried to design and knit something from a model garment?

LYS: Les Tricoteurs Volants, Paris

Last month I ran around Paris for 24 hours on a stopover from a work trip. I realized that on previous trips, I had mainly focused on visiting La Droguerie, which I have no recollection of discovering, but with which I’ve had a love affair for years. So this time I branched out and searched for other shops, many of which are newer (as in the past 10+ years).

One of my finds was Les Tricoteurs Volants, which was a lovely experience. I mean, just look at these fantastic Christmas windows!

While I was there, a couple other clients came in, and in Paris, a couple of clients makes for a full shop in these cozy boutiques. But I had plenty of time to chat with Enrico Castronovo, the shop’s owner. He told me that his approach is to focus on yarns that other shops in the city aren’t carrying, and based on my additional yarn shop research, I can say that he’s successful in that endeavor. There were several lines I hadn’t seen before, and the colors were sumptuous.

He suggested I take a look at One More Row Press‘s I Knit Paris, which is the second in a “Knit Like a Local” series, and was just published back in September. It combines new patterns with shop owner / designer interviews and information on where to find all the prominent yarn shops in the City of Light. The book includes Paris-inspired designs, including a lovely shawl by himself.

What I left with was a handful of colors by Aurinkokehrä: Aurinkokehrä Fingering Naturally Dyed Yarn, which comes from Finland. This is what Ravelry has to say about the yarn:

Aurinkokehrä is a worsted spun, hand-dyed, fingering weight yarn made entirely from Finnish wool, of which at least 70% is from the Finnsheep breed. The Finnsheep is unusual amongst northern European short-tail breeds in that its wool is particularly soft, with a well-defined crimp and a lustre usually only found in longwool breeds. The Finnsheep can vary in colour from white right through to black, and the range of natural shades create the base for the Aurinkokehrä colour palette. All the dyes used in the production of this yarn are ethically and ecologically produced by a company in France, and most of them are GOTS certified. Dyes are fixed using alum, a non-toxic mordant. 

(See link above.)

These colors are not my usual palette, but for some reason I’ve been into the roses, peaches, even mauves, which is highly unusual for me. I think I’ve been anti-mauve for several decades. But the gradients always hit a harmonious chord in my brain, and this one incorporates a couple of pinks on the slightly cooler sides, bookended by the warmer, more orange tones. I’m not sure about this yarn’s destiny – while I like the patterns in my I Knit Paris book, these yarns said “hap shawl” to me.

One of the other things I appreciate about this shopping experience is the tote bag with the logo from Les Tricoteurs Volants. One other yarn shop sent me away with their branded bag, as did Ovelha Negra in Porto, Portugal. Now that they have set the bar, I find that I am disappointed when I don’t get this souvenir at other shops! It seems like a small thing, but clearly has made an impression on me. Enrique’s tote is unusual in that the colors are grey and lavender – I have a couple other totes that are printed on the basic undyed ecru color muslin-type cloth. So his really stands out in a crowd.

BSJ and (non)austerity

I just love Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket. For years, I had heard people talking about it and never attempted one myself – maybe it was in the days when I wasn’t as enamored of garter stitch. But as I’ve advanced in knitting skills over time, I’ve also realized that I love the simple things in life, one of which is the zen feeling that comes over me when I can breeze along through a pattern and not have to consider the directions too much. Sometimes a challenge is what’s called for, and sometimes we just need to zoom along unfettered but knowing we’re creating.

This time, with my recipient in mind, I chose a fun striping acrylic. Knitting with acrylic is anathema to everything I believe about my personal knitting, but babies often make people dramatically change their habits. Knitting for my friends’ and relatives’ babies has been no exception, despite EZ’s penchant for wool. Do you think that in her day, people were much more accustomed to hand washing? I can think of few people in my immediate circle that have mentioned hand washing or drying their clothing on a drying rack. I know one man that is a fanatical shirt iron-er, and I appreciate that sort of fastidiousness. Maybe in our time of Walmart and disposable fashion, people do not see the need. If I were not such a ridiculous consumer of knitting and sewing material, I might attempt one of these projects that channels WWII austerity and see what I come up with. The truth is that as time has passed, I think I consume less new clothing. I haven’t taken to shopping exclusively at thrift stores, but I find that I retain clothing for a very long time. That said, there is no reason I could not spend 2019 knitting and sewing exclusively from stash. A few years ago when I thought I would make a real go of an Etsy shop, I purchased flannel for baby blankets, cotton for aprons, yarn for sweaters and accessories; and working internationally, I have developed a rather large stash of African fabric. There is also the collection of bins that came from my aunt and grandmother, including some gorgeous plaids and Liberty cottons, as well as some rug braiding material – enough to keep me occupied for years.

In the name of baby fashion and slight austerity, I used most of the remainder of my two cakes of $3.99 acrylic to make “Stay-On Socks,” but as the pattern was intended for newborns, I had to adapt it for the 8-month old recipient. His parents don’t seem to believe in socks – coupled with a strong belief that M doesn’t “like” socks and tends to pull them off. He is currently a helmet-wearing baby which probably contributes substantially to retaining body heat. But we live in a cold winter climate, and – SOCKS! It remains to be seen whether he’ll get any use out of them, but they do fit, and I successfully upgraded my pattern on the fly to accommodate his now-substantial calves. Instead of knitting them the same or all in one stripe color, I alternated rows, resulting in very thin stripes. The socks are still fraternal twins, but they coordinate with the sweater.

I just haven’t figured out what to do with the pompoms!

Have you knit any Baby Surprise Jackets?

Holiday knitting swap

Last week, our knitting group had a Yankee swap with about 15 participants. I wish I had taken photos of some of the delightful items that people brought, which were amazing considering our $10 limit. One person knit a gorgeous lavender colored slouchy hat with a braided brim; another made a knitted ball ornament with sheep on a grassy green background. Some people brought knitting notions and tools, and one found a copy of Alice Starmore’s Glamourie when it was at bargain basement sale prices on Amazon.

I haven’t participated in a swap in a while, the last time being with my family, and they did not implement the “steal or take a gift rule;” rather, they implemented the “open a gift and then steal if you want” rule. This time, we instead had to decide whether to steal first, or take a new gift from the pile. I ended up with these absolutely gorgeous handmade stitch markers, all in blue beads, and blue is my favorite color. Nobody tried to steal these from me, which is just fine!

The Glamourie book was the hot-ticket item, and got stolen three times, which was the limit according to our rules: then it gets “frozen,” or taken out of the running, and the third stealer gets to keep it.

The gift I brought also got stolen twice, which felt good – especially since nobody selected it from the pile at first. Again, I neglected to take photos! How did that happen? Well – here are some images to give you an idea. First, I found these lovely yarns at La Droguerie and thought they would make fine mittens.

Then, I made a simple drawstring project bag out of this flannel. If you hit Joann at the right time, you can find this stuff for as low as $2/yard, so this was about $0.50 of fabric.

Lastly, I searched for a free pattern from Ravelry that would give a nice suggestion of mittens that could be knit from this yarn. Although I tried to find one that wouldn’t require adding any yarn, I’m not sure I succeeded. In the end, I think the recipient will use a background neutral to show off these lovely colors. If you’re looking for a free holiday-like mitten pattern, this is the one I chose: Jorid’s Christmas Heart mittens.

I love this kind of experience, which is focused on fun and creative giving, rather than acquisition. Way back in the day in Girl Scouts, we were challenged to design a package that suited our Secret Santa recipient, with a $1 or $5 gift inside. Obviously that made an impression, as over 25 years later I still recall creating that gift.

What have your holiday swap or Secret Santa experiences been like?

Rainbow throw #2

It is pouring rain out today, diminishing our chances of a white Christmas, and I think the weather forecast is the same for tomorrow. If we’re lucky, the sun will come out and give us a rainbow or two, but I am not confident the grey skies will fade.

Over the past week, I’ve cranked out 80% of one of my remaining holiday gifts on the knitted gift list, and shipped out gifts to family members out west possibly even on time. The only reason I’ve been able to make so much knitting progress is that I’ve been suffering from what I’ve been calling the Sinus Plague, which has also been affecting my brain. Since there always seems to be a natural slow-down at work around this time, I’ve taken advantage of my sick leave bank to care for my slow brain. All it seems to be able to handle is this repetition, and sometimes not even that!

On the left is the original throw. On the right is the new one, approaching the finish line – one color block left to go.

Ravelry page for this throw: Rainbow Throw

The yarn is originally from Ward Brook Farm in Candia, New Hampshire. My mother used to go on the annual Wool Tour around New England each fall, but now she’s moved out west. I’m fairly certain my mom’s cousin purchased this yarn the year that I went with them, and I still have a large quantity of natural brown wool that I had knitted up into a potato sack like sweater before deciding it wasn’t a flattering silhouette. My mom’s cousin willed me a lot of yarn when her rheumatoid arthritis began to seriously interfere with her knitting, these beautiful colors among them, so she is the intended recipient of this throw.

My sister found the cutest advent calendar for me this year – I haven’t had one since I was a child, but had been admiring some here and there on my travels. Yesterday’s window revealed the sheep knitting the stocking in the bottom window of the Knitting Supplies store. We visited a cute New England knitting shop in a cute New England town over Labor Day, and this reminds us both of that weekend!

Happy advent!

Holiday knitting

This year I haven’t had a solid gift knitting plan.  I’ve been largely off the grid for a long time, not keeping up too much with all the new patterns coming out and new faces coming on the scene.  So I don’t even have a current “quick gift knits” magazine on hand this year.  

But inevitably someone, at least one someone, will receive a knitted gift. 

As usual, I’ll probably be working up until the last minute, but my knitted items don’t have to go in the mail, so that works in my favor.  I’ll be spending Christmas day with my best friend and her family, including her eight-month old baby.  He got a baby blanket from me when he was born, and now he’s getting a grand striped (and slightly speckled) 100% acrylic (100% fun and machine washable) Baby Surprise Jacket.  

I’m hoping to work up some “stay-on socks” out of the leftovers, but they will definitely be fraternal twin socks, since the stripes are too large.  Although… should I be alternating leftover stripe colors to make fun thin stripes???  Perhaps!  I am working with Caron Cupcake yarn, so each cake came with a pompom.  Those might make cute toe decorations… I’m modifying the pattern a bit because the sizing is for a newborn, so I’m adding another 30% or so stitches to the cast-on.  We’ll see how it goes. 

In other gift knitting, on a stopover in Paris, I picked up some lovely lace wool and coordinating mohair silk for some semi-mindless chevron scarf knitting.  Although this WIP didn’t start out with a recipient in mind, I think I have identified someone. 

I knitted another scarf similar to this one a while back out of Stonehenge Fiber Mill’s Crazy, but it has so far not seen the light of day.  Despite blocking, maybe I’m not quite satisfied with the results.  I knitted up two skeins straight through, but maybe I’d like it more if I had done alternating stripes, one of my favorite ways to spice up a simple knit.

Another item that I suspect will not be finished by the holidays has been languishing in the UFO pile for a while, since, while it is decent TV knitting, it turns out I don’t love knitting multiple feet of stockinette in alpaca-silk laceweight on a size 6 needle.  The idea was to knit two long rectangles in different colors, in this case, silver grey and ecru, and attach them near the center in two places, at the shoulders, leaving a hole for your head to peek through.  The fabric naturally has some curl to it, so it could actually be a duo-tone scarf, and it can be twisted and tied in myriad styles.  The advantage of having two long horizontal rectangles is that it can also be worn in multiple styles as a garment, using knots at the corners, and in some cases even forming sleeves.  I took this idea from a Quebecois designer – my best friend and I chanced by her studio a few years back.  My friend served as the model while the designer showed us all the ways to wear the garment; but now, she doesn’t sell this model any longer.  Since we didn’t pick one up back then, the logical option seemed to be to make one. 
(She is smarter than I, though, using a knitting machine to aid her productivity.)

One last eventual-gift that probably won’t make it under the tree this year is a second rendition of my rainbow throw, since I only used around half the yarn for mine.  My aunt acquired the yarn years ago on a New England wool tour with my mother – and it’s quite likely that it’s the same one I went on with them, which means it was over 20 years ago!  I suspect each color segment of a strong wool and a coordinating mohair was intended as a scarf kit, to create something like this.  But when you have six colors to work with, it is much more exciting to think about something BIG!  I finished this throw a couple of years ago and have used it a lot this past year in the chilly weather.  So the plan is to recreate its twin and give it to my aunt.  She willed me a large amount of stash at one point, and in return I planned to knit her some items.  Her knitting has decreased due to rheumatoid arthritis, and it seems only a fair exchange anyway!  Once this project gets started, it will be a delightfully cozy lap-warming TV-knitting project. 

What holiday knitting are you working on this year?

Fall in Review

So many things happened this fall that I left off blogging entirely, despite my newfound commitment to blog a couple times a week.  That was going really well, and then the end of September and October were very busy with the fall fiber festing season and other planned trips on the docket.  Now we are approaching the official opening of winter, although truth be told we’ve been doing winter here for about a month now, and had our first snow almost two months ago.  I’m looking back on everything that happened over the past couple of months, and it’s been a busy season!

Vermont Sheep and Wool

At the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival, I took three workshops, two of which were in fiber arts I’d never attempted before.  The first class was with Jillian Moreno, looking at methods of spinning those beautiful colored fiber braids and in some cases combining them with solid fibers in the plying phase.  The class gave me an excuse to pull out my sadly neglected spinning wheel and envision how to work with some of my braids that have been marinating in my stash for years now.  One interesting observation was that with plying, bright colors get turned down a notch.  Another was that by experimenting with what Jillian calls “clown barf,” you can substitute in or out colors that may not work in a plied situation and come up with something much more appealing. 

I also took a workshop on rug hooking with Stephanie Allen-Krauss, which is quite easy, although I’m sure to do it masterfully takes time as with any craft.  The basic principle is accessible to anyone, though, which I appreciated: I felt as though I made progress in only three hours!  Stephanie recounted a bit of her family’s history in the craft, including her great-grandmother (?) opening a shop in Lowell, MA, at which she would print designs on fabric brought in by clients using a cache of around 500 print blocks she’d acquired from a business in England.  One of these blocks provided the inspiration for our design kits. 

Lastly, I looked into rug braiding, because I have become the repository for some of my aunt’s fabric, including rug wool.  She passed away a few years ago, and I thought that to complete one rug using these materials would be an appropriate tribute to her.  While not quite as straightforward as rug hooking, braiding is manageable as well.  Our teacher provided us with excellent reference materials to follow once we were on our own, and I was proud of myself for the progress I made during the class.  My goal in this craft, as I said, is one finished object, and it may take me some time, but I think it is achievable!

Harrisville Designs

With the idea that one day I will inherit my mother’s floor loom, I took a weaving class at Harrisville Designs.  This class convinced me that if we all have a spark of inherent genius within us, mine is fiber arts.  Once I had the knack of winding on to the warping board, threading the reed and the heddles, and tensioning the warp threads, I was off and running.  I found out halfway through our 5-day week that we were a “slow” beginner class, however, with  many of us running into problems requiring one-on-one attention from our instructor, Tom Jipson.  His patience with us impressed me no end.  We were given a binder with four sections, and I made it halfway through section three – and I was told this is normal.  So I have some work to follow up on at home, with my new-to-me used table loom.  I’m hoping that since it is a four-harness loom, it can accommodate the additional samples I’m supposed to weave. 

Maybe I’m overly ambitious, as I am still obviously a beginner, but having seen a great many samples during the week, what I’d really like to do is weave twill tartan blankets.  Although this won’t be possible with my table loom, at some point with a 36″ loom and eight harnesses, I should be able to do this with a double weaving technique, which will allow me to weave twice the width at once, and then unfold it into a wider fabric once off the loom. 


When I lived down south, I focused on SAFF, the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, which I do miss – and maybe I’ll get back there one of these days.  But since I was within driving distance of Rhinebeck, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about at the New York Sheep and Wool fest.  The main thing I wanted to do was take a workshop on yoke design, but unfortunately the class was canceled at the last minute.  I had a lovely time hanging around downtown Rhinebeck, and discovered the Knitting Garage at the rear of A.L. Stickle’s general store.  I also had a lovely hot chocolate at Oliver Kita Chocolates.  

One of the most fun parts was participating in a Ravelry-initiated stitch marker swap. 

I brought along my two less-fibery friends, and they were super helpful in making the round-robin part of the swap happen on my behalf.  Around 50 people stood in a circle and sent their collection bags around, and we dropped one of our own stitch markers made for the occasion in each bag.  This resulted in the occasional “traffic jam,” which is where my friends came in handy.  Now I have an incredible collection of stitch markers thanks to all those creative Ravelry types!  Here is just a sample:

One of my super fun finds of the fair was a large armful of Peace Fleece DK, which had been put in Harrisville Designs’ Mill Ends pile.  This is a lovely blue-purple combo, and I have enough for at least one sweater. 

The other exciting take was a couple pounds of Romney wool from a farm in Connecticut, which my friend purchased in anticipation of our designing a large somewhat-Aran-style sweater to replace one she’s been wearing, and wearing out, for years.  I’ve since swatched and cast on for this project, which involves a couple of challenging cables, but overall looks to be a fun knit. 

[I admit that I did leave with a load of Miss Babs yarn as well – I just couldn’t help myself.  When it’s all there in front of you screaming that it needs a home… But I did not leave with a Rhinebeck colorway yarn.  It was so crowded at the fest anyway, the main complaint of many festers, that I couldn’t see standing in line for something like that.  A few years ago I picked up a couple skeins of their special SAFF colorway, and it was fun to play with, but in the end… there’s so much more out there to see!]

Colorado visit

The most interesting part of my short time in Colorado was discovering a local yarn co-op.  At some point, the quilting and yarn shop in Cortez (which I had never visited) went out of business.  A group of women got together and opened a co-op, which also includes spinning fiber and other related items.  It functions like a cross between a shop and an artist’s co-op, with members volunteering time behind the register.  I didn’t ask, but I assume they sell some of their stock, particularly that of indie dyers, for example, on consignment.  I just love this idea, and if I didn’t have a full time job already, I would consider starting one in my community!  I picked up one lovely skein of sock yarn and some local undyed wool to experiment with. 

Up in arms about Gauge

Not Milarrochy Tweed, in case you were wondering

Such a seemingly innocuous topic can apparently generate very strong feelings.  I just read Kate Davies’ recent post, in which she discusses gauge, in relation to designing and pattern publishing, and specifically in relation to her new book, Milarrochy Heids, which is a compilation of hat designs all using the same yarn but featuring different designers.

Different designers obviously will produce different gauges, so there was much discussion about whether to recommend a needle size or not, and much emphasis in the final product on swatching for gauge and using your own gauge-size needle, i.e., the needle required to achieve the gauge intended by the designer.  This makes sense, particularly in a situation in which there are multiple designers and techniques, working to achieve potentially different quality of fabrics despite the uniform yarn choice.

But the big question is, do you indicate a suggested needle size, or not?

The feedback was that knitters wanted a needle size indicated.  The danger is that people then did not swatch, and then have had problems achieving the appropriate fit.  However, there have been fewer problems with fit since indicating that swatching is essential, and that the needle size is only a recommendation.

I admit, generally speaking I am that knitter that wants a recommended needle size, and will cast on willy-nilly not paying attention to gauge, particularly on something like a hat.  I typically am able to achieve the gauge recommended by the designer, leading to further laziness in this regard.  I am not alone in this tendency: apparently many of us are willing to throw caution to the wind and not swatch, particularly for accessories.

But here is the main issue, in my opinion: as knitters, even if we consider ourselves technically proficient, many of us do not actually know what our gauge ranges are, given certain needle sizes and types of yarn.  If we had a matrix of some sort that we’d already worked out, perfect: at least we would know where to begin.  Although I can tell you what weight + needle size I would use to knit a [fill in garment here] off the top of my head, or I’d be able to estimate how many stitches to cast on if you simply handed me a ball of yarn and needles, I haven’t internalized a series of gauges in my mind.  So when someone tells me, you want 30 stitches and 36 rows per 10 centimeters, sure, I know that I am not going to start with a size 5 or 7 US needle, but beyond that, I haven’t quite nailed it down.  I don’t necessarily want to have to guess between a 1 and a 3 or any of the half-sizes in between.

I will say that I appreciate the compromise that the team producing Milarrochy Heids came to, and yes, I will begin with the recommended needle size, and yes, I will swatch!  The post has definitely influenced me in this regard, particularly with the observation that across their designers, they identified a seven-stitch difference in a four-inch swatch using the same needle size and clearly the same yarn.

What are your feelings about gauge and recommended needle size?