Self-striping yarns: the rabbit hole of fibres

I have a thing about self-striping yarns. There’s something fascinating and mesmerizing and magical about watching the colours change. Even the simplest of patterns is transformed into something beautiful and exciting to knit.

Self-striping yarn projects

Self-striping yarns create all the impact of a multi-coloured project without having to deal with the hassle of alternating skeins (linear stripes) or creating bobbins (intarsia) or mastering the tension of the float (stranded knitting).

Just for the record, I detest stranded knitting 😉

Despite my uneven tension, these mitts have been well-loved!

Despite my uneven tension, these mitts have been well-loved!

Remember the Noro striped scarf that everyone was knitting three winters ago?

Both are knit in Noro Silk Garden. I gave the other two away.

Both are knit in Noro Silk Garden. I gave the other two away.

I not only knit four of them, I fell utterly and hopelessly down the rabbit hole and knit an entire blanket in 1 by 1 rib.

Yes. An. Entire. 5′ by 5′. Blanket. (Not that I’d encourage anybody to follow in my footsteps, but here’s the link to the pattern 😉 ).


I literally could not put my needles down, compelled to knit ‘just until I reached the next colour, honey’, often into the wee hours of the night.

Alas, I feel like I’m falling again.

This came home with me from Knit City. A lovely blend of merino, cashmere and nylon (70/20/10)  in the rich, jewel-tones that I crave this time of year.

You can find this yarn at This is the MCN Fingering 'shawl striping' yarn. It comes in 'sock striping' too!

You can find this yarn at This is the MCN Fingering ‘shawl striping’ yarn. It comes in ‘sock striping’ too!

It’s going to be a Boneyard Shawl.

While I love triangular shawls, I do find that the wider, narrower versions are inherently more wearable. Thankfully, Stephen West has published a modified version of the original pattern that’s exactly the shape I prefer (you can find the modified pattern here).

It’s an easy, almost-beginner pattern that can be knit with two different skeins or a single self-striping skein. All you need to know is how to cast on and off, knit, purl, YO (yarn-over) and M1L/M1R (make left and right-leaning stitches; the pattern tells you exactly how to do these last two).

Boneyard Shawl Version 2.0

Wondering if I can drag my Facebook knitting group down the rabbit hole with me… (if you’re new to knitting and want to join us on our adventures, just click on the link above and request an invite; we’d love to have you!)

Here’s hoping my three current WIP’s (works-in-progress) will forgive me for stepping out on them…

How many WIP’s do you have on the needles?

What’s your favourite multi-colour knitting technique?

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An ode to stash

Confession. I have a large stash. A very, very, very large stash.

One of 6 tubs just as overflowing as this one...

One of 6 tubs just as overflowing as this one…

As in, if I never purchased another skein of yarn again, I’d have enough to keep on knitting well into my 80’s.

But because the women in my family tend to be long-lived and my healthy lifestyle suggests that I may well make it to 100, I haven’t completely given up on yarn buying just yet…

This is what followed me home from Knit City last weekend. Two skeins of Madelintosh DK for a pair of leg warmers; one skein of Sweet Georgia Worsted for a child's hat; one skein of CaterpillarGreen for a BoneYard Shawl and one impulse skein of Sweet Fibre Cashmerino because it's like crack for knitters

This is what followed me home from Knit City last weekend. Two skeins of Madelintosh DK for a pair of leg warmers; one skein of Sweet Georgia Worsted for a child’s hat; one skein of CaterpillarGreen for a BoneYard Shawl and one impulse skein of Sweet Fibre Cashmerino because it’s like crack for knitters

When I buy yarn, I don’t always have a project in mind. Collecting yarn and knitting said yarn are two different hobbies you know.

Much of my stash consists of single skeins of sock yarn. Almost all are hand-dyed with a fibre content that’s at least 80% merino wool. I also like silk and cashmere. Um, who doesn’t?

Not only is sock yarn great for making socks (duh), it’s also perfect for other carry-in-your-purse projects like scarves, triangular shawls, fingerless gloves and baby clothes.

Plus, a single skein of high-quality fingering weight yarn’ll only set you back $20-$30. Given that it takes me 10-12 hours to knit these types of projects, I consider that great bang-for-your-knitting-buck. 

(Remember the above number if you ever think about commissioning me to knit you socks. Most non-knitters are horrified at the thought of spending that much on just the material for hand knit socks, let alone factoring in the cost of my time 😉 ).

I tend to go on colour ‘jags’ and can date my stash by hue. Kind of like dating rocks by looking at their mineral content.

Like most artists, I’ve had a ‘blue’ phase…

Just a few of my favourite blues…

I was heavily drawn to pinks two winters ago…

Pretty in pink!

And these days, can’t get enough purple (can you believe how many different shades of purple there are? At least as many as there are Shades of Grey 😉 )

My husband calls many of these pink. We agree to disagree...

My husband calls many of these pink. We agree to disagree…

Having a large stash gives you the opportunity to carefully match patterns to yarns, without the limitation of the few brands that your local yarn store carries. Not to mention the importance of finding just the right colour for your project.

Your stash is fun to visit on rainy days. Remembering when I purchased special skeins (I regularly purchase ‘souvenir’ yarn when on holidays) and dreaming about what they’ll eventually become is a favourite leisure activity of mine. Almost as zen as yoga.

The best thing about having a large stash?

Regardless of when I’m overcome by the urge to start a New Project (like after a late-night Ravelry binge…), chances are I’ll have exactly the yarn I need already on hand. No more loitering at my local yarn shop door waiting for them to open (and then realizing, they’re not open Mondays…) before I can cast on.

What’s your stash look like?

Do you buy on impulse or always with a project in mind?




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Time is relative when you’re knitting sleeves

I am in sleeve purgatory.

sleeve purgatory

It’s only the beautiful colours and the promise of a lovely finished object that’s keeping me going…

When I knit sweaters, I usually choose sleeveless or cap-sleeve patterns. In part, because I’m at a time in my life where I frequently overheat and the thought of wearing wool on my arms makes me immediately start to sweat.

But also because knitting sleeves just isn’t any fun.

They’re longer than the body of the sweater. There’s very little interesting shaping to be done. And when you knit top-down (my favourite construction technique because it saves one from having to seam the pieces together later), sooner or later there won’t be enough stitches on your needles to allow for knitting with a single, circular needle. (Yes, I’ve tried those itty bitty circulars. There’s so little needle on them that my fingers cramp up before I’ve managed even half an inch of knitting.)

My all-time favourite yarn; Enya hand-dyed by SaffronDyeworks

While I love my double points for socks, knitting sleeves with them is torturous. What with the entire body of the sweater having to be whipped round and round ever other row and the sleeve itself never seeming to grow despite the hours spent in knitting it.

And to top it all off, there are two of them. Two sleeves that need to be exactly the same length, turning otherwise mindless television knitting into a constant attempt to remember which row you’re on. (Does your family like to yell random numbers at you when they know you’re counting stitches or rows?)

You can tell how much I hate knitting sleeves just by looking at my next planned project. Look ma, no sleeves!

Cranberry Capelet by Thea Colman

The pattern is Cranberry Capelet by Thea Colman. Click on the photo above to go directly to the pattern page on Ravelry.

Of course, the excitement of starting something new is probably distorting my view of how long I’ve been knitting these sleeves.

Because, of course, time is relative when you’re knitting sleeves…

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Don’t skip the swatch

Let me start with a confession. I don’t always swatch.

When I’m knitting a scarf or shawl or baby blanket or a pair of socks for myself with the same yarn, needles and pattern that I always use, I simply wind my yarn and go.

Socks that Rock plain vanilla sock

Cast on 68 stitches to 2.25 mm needles and I’m ready to hit the open road

Note that I have 40 odd years of knitting experience under my belt, so I can usually tell whether this was a bad idea or not within the first inch or two of knitting…

Swatch-skipping is to be avoided, however, if;

  • you’re a new-ish knitter
  • you’re knitting a garment that you want to fit properly
  • you’re using yarn that you’ve never knit with before

The purpose of the swatch is to see if you can match the gauge on the pattern you’re knitting with the yarn and needles chosen. You know, the number of stitches and rows per inch the pattern tells you you need to get in order for the finished product to look like it does in the pictures.

Sample gauge instructions provided in most knitting patterns

Sample gauge instructions provided in most knitting patterns

Translation: a 4 by 4 inch blocked square knit in stockinette (or stocking) stitch on 5 mm needles should be 17 1/2 stitches across and 22 rows high. [Note that some patterns use ‘stitches per inch’ in their gauge instructions. Simply multiply those numbers by four to get the gauge required for a standard 4 by 4 inch swatch.]

Ideally, you’ll have chosen an appropriate weight yarn for your project and needles conducive to knitting with that weight. (Let me know if I need to write a blog post on this topic in the comments below; it’s a crucial first step to a successful finished object (FO)).

How I swatch (others may do it differently):

1. Using the needles suggested in the pattern, cast on the number of stitches required to get gauge over a 4 by 4 inch swatch. Cast on 50% more. Having too few ‘edge’ stitches will distort the swatch, rendering your estimate of gauge inaccurate. For the above example, that’s about 25 stitches.

2. Knit according to the pattern’s gauge directions (most often in stockinette stitch, but sometimes in the pattern’s more prominent stitch pattern) until you’ve got a swatch that’s approximately 5-6 inches in length. Again, having two few ‘edge’ rows will distort the swatch, rendering your estimate of gauge inaccurate.

3. Cast off all stitches loosely.

4. Wash swatch according to directions on yarn ball label (usually by hand and in cold or room temperature water). Press excess water out of swatch by rolling it up in a thick towel (I like to step on the towel-wrapped-swatch until no more water comes out).

5. Flatten swatch and pin out corners, taking care not to over- or under-stretch the fabric. Ideally, you’ll pin your swatch out to a size at which the fabric’s density appeals to you and is in keeping with the type of project you’re knitting.

pinned out swatch; Yarn is Enya by Saffron Dyeworks

6. Let swatch dry completely.

7. Without unpinning, measure out a 4 by 4 inch grid in the centre of your swatch. I use a contrasting yarn, pinning out the ends in the corners of my grid. Make sure that your contrast yarn is placed directly along a row and following a vertical row of stitches (look for the ‘V’s).

about-to-be-measured swatch

8. Count the number of stitches across both the top and bottom vertical lines. Ideally, you’ll get the same number for both. This is your ‘stitch’ gauge.

9. Count the number of stitches across both the left and right horizontal lines. Again, it’s nice if you get the same number on each side. This is your ‘row’ gauge.

10. Compare your measured ‘stitch’ and ‘row’ gauges to those indicated on the pattern. If they match, you win and get to start knitting immediately. If they’re off by more than 1/2 stitch or 2-3 rows, keep reading…

For most projects, ‘stitch’ gauge is more critical than ‘row’ gauge. (Warning, knitting requires that you’re comfortable doing a bit of math…)

Just think about it. If you’re knitting a sweater whose back is 100 stitches wide and supposed to measure 20 inches across (plus an extra 3/4 inch for side seams), you’d better be darn sure you’re getting a stitch gauge of exactly 5 stitches per inch (20 stitches over 4 inches).

If you’re off by even a single stitch, you’ll end up with a sweater back that’ll be either much too large (25 inches wide for a stitch gauge of 4 stitches per inch) or on the smallish side (16.7 wide for a stitch gauge of 6 stitches per inch). Not something you want to have happen when you’ve spent $100 or more on yarn…

Row gauge isn’t quite as important. You can adjust the length of a garment while you’re knitting it by paying careful attention to the measurements between instructions in the pattern. But width is harder to adjust. Particularly if there’s a stitch pattern in the knitting and you’re a novice knitter.

Didn’t get stitch gauge? Never fear. Make another swatch with a different size needle.

If you had too many stitches per inch in the first swatch, your needle size was too small (or your tension too tight) for the yarn and pattern combo you’ve chosen. Try a bigger needle. Go up a half or full size and repeat the above 10 steps.

If you had too few stitches per inch in the first swatch, your needle was too big (or your tension too tight). Try a smaller needle. Go down a half or full size and swatch again.

I always make sure to buy an extra skein or ball of yarn when planning my projects. That way I don’t worry about running out of yarn before I’m finished swatching!

stashed yarn

Kitty says “never, ever run out of yarn”

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