Friday, July 28, 2017

Heels, Vol. I: German Short Rows

The German short row heel!

One of the things I hope to do on this blog is an exploration of different sock heels. Knitters (me included) tend to have very strong feelings about sock heels, which makes sense as heel choices involve a couple different emotionally-fraught subjects: aesthetics, fit, tradition, longevity -- you get the idea.

My plan is to wade into this argument by knitting up samples of an assortment of different heel styles. I'll think about how they fit (for me), ease of construction (for me), how they look (in my opinion), and anything else that occurs to me.

To start us off, here is my standard sock heel: the German short row heel. I generally prefer short row heels to heel flaps, because, if we're being honest, I just think they're prettier.


This heel is worked over half the stitches. It's a pretty standard short-row shape, where you first make a wedge that gets narrower each row, then a wedge that gets wider each row until you're back to the original half-the-stitches width. The things that distinguish the German short row heel are the doppelmaschen (double stitches) used to close the holes at the end of the short rows, and the boomerang rows.

There's always holes to deal with at the end of short rows -- here is an excellent explanation of why -- and there are a million ways to deal with them. The way it's done in German short rows is by slipping the final stitch of the row and tugging the yarn over the needle to make a "double stitch", or doppelmasche. There's a lovely tutorial on making the doppelmaschen here. Eventually I'll have to do a comparison of different short row techniques specifically, but I like German short rows because I find them easy to work, easy to see when I'm ready to knit them later, but very discreet in the finished item, on both the inside and the outside.

The boomerang rows are an extra set of rows between the two heel wedges, which basically serve to eat up the doppelmaschen (or whatever funny stitches you used to close your short-row holes) that you made on the first wedge before you make some more on the second wedge. It makes it a lot easier to see where you are, since there's only one wedge's worth of doppelmaschen going on at a time. The boomerang rows are not, I think, strictly necessary for a German short row heel, but I see them more often than not.

Here's a diagram  of what's going on in the German short row heel. Imagine you've sliced your sock down the center front and spread it out, cutting out the separate pieces of the heel and laying them out. This is what you would see. On top is the part of the sock that goes around the ankle -- just a tube. Then we get the first heel wedge, which starts at half the width of the sock and narrows to a quarter of the sock. Then we get the boomerang rows, and then the other wedge, starting from a quarter of the width of the sock back up to half the width. Then, we're down to the foot part of the sock, and back up to the full width. This is pretty much what any short row heel will look like in this exploded view -- the wedges might be wider or narrower, shorter or taller, there might or might not be boomerang rows, but they'll all have these same general parts.

Finally, thoughts on fit. First off, let me say that I've never had a problem with the way short row heels fit in general. Die-hard heel flap fans often complain about the fit of short row heels, and, who knows, maybe I'll see the light when I try one here in a bit. But I've never had an issue. The main fit issue I tend to have with hand-knit socks is that they're super hard to get on over my heel, even if they fit great once they're on. I think this is because I have a pretty narrow forefoot -- a lot of sock recipes have you measure around the ball of your foot to choose your size, but since my foot is narrower than they're expecting there I end up with a sock that's too tight to go over my heel. This is a new theory, though -- we'll see how it plays out.
Cameo appearance by Jack

One thing I do notice on seeing this heel in isolation, so to speak, is that there seems to be quite a bit of extra fabric over the top of my ankle, opposite the heel. It's not apparent when my foot is pointed, like in the first picture, but when it's flat it's quite noticeable. I'll keep an eye on this in future heel installments and see if I see any patterns.

If you want to make some German short row heels yourself, here is a nice tutorial!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cast-On: Simple Half-Hitch

My Cast-On adventure begins with one of the simplest cast-on techniques... The Simple Half Hitch Cast-on  (also known as: Thumb cast on or Backward's loop cast on).

The experiment:
For every technique I will make at least 2 swatches, a stockinette and a k2,p2 rib, and if a specific use is recommended for the technique, I will include a swatch that represents that technique as well. In this case the, being that I had read that one of the 'better' uses for the simple half hitch is lace, I made a 3rd swatch using the vine lace pattern from

The results:
I did not like any of the final swatches. The simple half-hitch cast on resulted in an edge that was:
  • Very unstable (loose) with absolutely no structure. 
  • Very stretchy.
  • Very unattractive especially with stockinette (slightly nicer on rib).
Notice all the very's? To me that implies it is an extreme, and I can probably find a better cast-on stitch for a given situation. That being said, I would consider it for two conditions... 

...teaching someone to knit. The simple half hitch is so simple to learn and makes the beginning knitter feel as if they could get going on their own. I would absolutely use this technique to get them started, then as they build confidence in their knitting show them something more attractive. ad hoc provisional cast-on, but knowing how to do a 'proper' provisional cast on I don't see why I would us it, other than it is super easy.




Did you play with, or are you familiar with the Simple Half Hitch Cast-on? What are your favourite uses for this technique?  Do you like it, not like it? I'd love to hear what you have to say, so please comment with your thoughts!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cast On: Introduction

The original idea for this blog was that we would work our way through The Principles of Knitting (think Julie and Julia circa 2009), and of course it grew from there to include knitting/spinning/woolly projects and adventures (which has been the primary focus so far in our writing). Well, last night, as I was dreaming up ways to knit Cara (the beautiful yarn I purchased from Prado de Lana), I realized it was time for me to begin exploring the structures and features of different cast-on's.

Cara, is a 2 ply, DK weight, worsted spun Romney long wool. Being worsted spun long wool she has a nice drape about her, being Romney she is plumper and softer than other long wool's, being 2 ply DK weight she would work best in 'open' stitch patterns where stitch definition is not important. She also has this beautiful twist in her spin that I don't want to lose in rows and rows of stockinette so... I imagined her as a warming caplet to be used on cool summer/fall evenings.

I drew up a few ideas for the body structure and found some flattering stitch designs for texture. Then I asked myself how should I begin and I realized I didn't know where to begin, literally...

...and so my Cast On exploration began...

Over the next few weeks I will be knitting a number of swatches (hopefully) covering all the cast on's mentioned in The Principles of Knitting. I will do 2 - 3 swatches for each method, a stockinette, a rib, and a recommended appropriate use. From this I hope to gain an appreciation for the different cast on methods and how I might best use them in the future. I encourage you to do the same and work with me through this process, comment your thoughts/ideas/recommendations. (I will end each post with what the next cast on method will be as well as a link to a video tutorial I've found somewhere on the interweb).

Next Cast On: Simple Half-Hitch (video by Get to it Girl)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Visit to Prado de Lana Sheep Farm

A month or so back I mentioned that I met Amanda and Alberto Barcenas of Prado de Lana Sheep Farm at the CNY Fiber Festival, and that I would eventually have more to say about them and their operation. Well.... Last weekend my mother and I took my nieces for a visit to their farm in Chester Co. PA (my parents live less than an hour away from them, lucky me!).

I had really enjoyed meeting and talking with them at the festival and hoped for an opportunity to meet again. Since hoping only gets you so far, I sent them an email and asked if they would be up for a visit. (I also expressed that I would pay for their time of course, the farm life never ends and time spent socializing is time away from all the work that has to be done to keep all the fuzzy critters happy and healthy)! They were more than happy to oblige.

We arrived at 10 am on a Sunday morning, Alberto met us at the car and walked us around back to where Amanda, her daughter Noelia and son Sammy, were waiting with a feeding bottle at the ready. We were going to feed the lambs!!! As soon as Sammy opened the gate Casey (a CVM/Romney mix) came running, ready to be fed.

While my nieces and I were feeding Casey, Amanda told us all about the breeds that they have at Prado de Lana: Romney, Lincoln, & CVM's (California Variegated Mutant), of which the CVM's and Lincoln's are rare breeds. Their original intention was to solely have the Romney and Lincoln (long-wool breeds), but they found themselves, through a series of unexpected events, adopting the (short and fine wool) CVM's along the way. 

They started 3 years ago with just three sheep. Amanda, at the time, was still teaching, but as the flock grew, her time grew short. Just a a year or two in she gave up teaching and began to tend the farm (and their two children) full time. Prado de Lana is now a farm of ~66 sheep, including a handful of rams. Working with a small scale PA fiber mill they produce an array of yarns in a variety of natural colors and weights. (They had a beautiful table set out that I regret not taking a photo of, but you can look around and get a taste here.) They also sell core spun rug yarn, roving and beautiful curly Lincoln locks!

Amanda and Alberto have kept busy attending fiber festivals all over Eastern US including: 
  • Vogue Knitting Live, NYC
  • CNY Fiber Festival
  • Waynesburg Sheep and Fiber Festival
  • Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet
  • Delmarva Wool and Fiber Festival name a few, and have their eyes set on attending some of the larger festivals in the near future.

I ended up leaving with two skeins of 100% Romney wool, 2-ply DK weight, worsted spun. On every tag they includ the name of the sheep the yarn originated from. While I don't remember meeting Cara, I know I met her sisters and am excited to turn her wool into something warm and soothing, and full of memories (made and to be made).

By the time we were preparing to leave we had gotten the grand tour of Prado de Lana Sheep Farm: We had wandered the pastures, feed the weening lambs, sunk our fingers into the Hazel's deep coat, sat in the dirt and talked about sheep and knitting and plans of sheep and knitting, gazed at gardens full of color (both in bloom and in dye), ogled at yarns and woolly stuffs, and made some new friends. A great morning, with great people, in a beautiful place that they get to call home.

Following are some more photos of our morning...

(The Rams)

(Keeping cool on a hot day)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A little break because of this...

(At the Museum of the Earth)

These two girls are my amazing nieces, who I only get to see once a year (usually). They live in Italy, now Milan, previously Rome, and before that Fermo  (a beautiful old Roman city on the Adriatic Coast). My sister, their mother, completed her studies in Scotland where she met a nice Italian man. After they got married they moved to Italy to start their family... Yes I know it sounds fantastic, and in some ways you are right, in other ways... not so much (remember I only get to see my nieces ~once a year). It hasn't always been that way, once upon a time travelling was affordable, and therefore frequent. Oh how times have changed. (Shameless plug, my sister and her husband rent their beautiful home in Fermo via AirBnB).

This year, I was lucky enough to host my nieces in Ithaca for a week. I have to admit, I was equally nervous as I was excited... TWO KIDS for ONE WEEK!?!?!?! I made an entire schedule, with back up activities just in case, and you can bet knitting was one of the many past-times I had planned.

Having never taught kids how to knit before, I did my research and came across an article by Tin Can Knits from 2015, Teaching Kids to Knit. While the article was primarily about her teaching her daughter Hunter how to knit, and not all too informative, she did share a great little ditty to sing while knitting:

In the front door
around the back
out the window
and off jumps Jack

Too which I added a little tug-tug at the end to take care of the lack of tension.

I was so excited to share my love of knitting with my nieces, and was surprised I never thought to do so before. In preparing I asked Katie at SewGreen Ithaca (a veteran knitting teacher) if she had any advice. She recommended a needle size between 7-10 (anything larger is clumsy, and anything smaller too ornery). So I picked up some US size 9 10" straight needles and some Sugar n' Cream cotton yarn (while I have been told not to start with cotton as it is unforgiving I figured a dish cloth is a great beginner project and unforgiving or forgiving who cares, it is a first project and mistakes will be made... we're not going for perfect we're going for fun). I cast-on and knit the first 3 rows in garter stitch, after they have to do is knit until a dish-cloth appears!

It worked!!!! (Well half worked, Greta had been taught to knit already by her Nona and had no interest but... Gracie loved it)!!! She brought it with her everywhere, and every morning she would wake up and ask me if we could knit together. 💙💚💜 While she needed help with dropped stitches, and would get upset every time it happened, she didn't give up. She even asked me how she can do this in Italy (I said 'Nona of course'). 

I cannot put into words how amazing it is to share something I love so much with someone I love so much only to have them be as excited about it as I am.

Man, Italy is far...

Here are a few more photos of our activities while they visited.
(With my sister Karyn at Robert Treman State Park)

(Raspberry picking at Indian Creek Farm)

(Camping in the Finger Lakes National Forest)

(A wander around Cornell University, Greta's dream school)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Off the needles: Socks from Dana's Handspun

Hello from Tennessee! These socks have been done for a while, but since our wireless router is in a box on a truck somewhere between Ithaca and Oak Ridge, I haven't posted about them yet.

Yarn: Dana's handspun, from Malabrigo Nube, colorway "Diana"
Pattern: Texture pattern from Hermione's Everyday Socks, plugged into my standard sock recipe (toe-up, short-row toe, short-row heel, 1x1 twisted rib cuff until I run out of yarn)
Needles: US No.1 DPNs, two sets of four needles each

Firsts for this project include German short rows and doing my socks two-at-a-time on two sets of DPNs (rather than a single long circular, Magic Loop style).

German short rows are my new favorite way to do short rows --  they are very quick and simple and look very clean when finished. I'll have to do a more detailed comparison in my sock heel study, coming soon!

DPN-style two-at-a-time was a big success as well. I learned Magic Loop two-at-a-time from Dana earlier this year, and I liked it a lot -- finally, I could actually make sock #2 the same as sock #1 -- but I was getting increasingly frustrated navigating the last few stitches before the fold on each sock, which seemed to get impossibly tight no matter what I did. So I decided to go back to DPNs, but keep the two-at-a-time format. Now I just switch back and forth from one sock to the other after a few rows or a pattern repeat.

The only problem I discovered is with the cast-on. I usually use Judy's Magic Cast-on and cast on the full number of foot stitches (58 here) over two needles, then immediately make a short-row toe over half the stitches before joining in the round for the foot. This works great when you can scoot those extra stitches-in-waiting onto the cable of a circular needle, but when they're stuck on an extremely rigid DPN right next to where you're working the toe, it's nearly impossible to maneuver. I ended up casting on over a DPN and a circular so I could slide those stitches onto the cable, but it would be nice to find a way to do the cast-on that doesn't require a matching circular needle. More experimentation is needed!

Also, these socks were done just in time for my sister-in-law to wear to Knoxville's Pride parade -- she needed some rainbows!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On (and Off) my Needles, June 2017

I've been posting a lot about my fiber adventures lately, and I realize it looks like I spend a lot of time adventuring and little time making. I'd like to rectify that by beginning a monthly post about what is on (and recently off) my needles (or drop spindle!).

Off My Needles, Alex the Mouse:

I've been doing my best to follow along with A Year of Techniques, presented by Mason-Dixon Knitting and A-C Knitwear. Every month a new knitting technique is introduced with a new project. May's technique was the pin-hole cast on with the Alex the Mouse by Ella Austin. I didn't get started until mid-May, and I completed my Alex in the first week of June. (There were a few times I had to frog due to color-work tension, and I lost count of the number of rows in the legs, so they were a little uneven and I frogged there too*), but I am so happy with how Alex turned out. June's Project is the Talmadge Cloche by Romi Hill, the technique is knitted edging (instead of casting off the 'traditional' way you do a decorative edge). It is late June and I have only now gotten all the goods together for the cloche, but I don't mind. I first want to get a few things off my needles before I start another project.
(*See below for a neat way to keep track of rows) 

I knit Alex in Coop Knits Socks Yeah ( I loved this sock yarn, great stitch definition and so soft, I would definitely purchase it again. It has a nice heather-y look to it).

The yarn I have for the Talmadge Cloche is a Madeline Tosh Sock in the Well Water colorway from my stash, it has been waiting for a good use and I know this is a perfect match! (Now I just got to find me some pretty buttons)...


Works in Progress # 1, Always a sock:

I've mentioned before I knit while walking to campus (okay I knit while walking most anywhere), but in order to do so I have to have a 'brainless' knit to work on, enter stockinette stitch socks!!!! In other words I'm one of the many who commonly have socks on the needles. 

I have been wanting to knit socks with Zauberball Sock, by Skacel, since the first time I came across it! A month or so back I found it on sale  and jumped at the chance to purchase a skein. I purchased the 1564 colorway. For these socks I am doing a short row toe and after thought heel. I recently learned that after thought heels are great for keeping the stripy pattern consistent in self-striping yarn (with a heel flap and gusset self striping yarn may end up with a zig-zag around the heel and ankle). Between that and having never done and after thought heel before I thought 'why not'? 

My thoughts on short row toes (and maybe on the after thought heel when I get there, since i believe it is short row as well). This has been a lesson on how knitting in the round may result in a different gauge than flat knitting. This is mainly attributed to tension differences between knitting and purling. This is absolutely true for me, as evidenced by my loose toe bed and immediate (very noticeable) gauge change from the toe to the foot. I don't mind so much in this case being that they are socks, but I would like very much to figure out how to get a nicer/cleaner transition in the future.

One last comment on these socks, but applicable to any project where keeping track of rows is important. Freya, from one of my favourite video podcasts, Freya Spins, at one point mentioned a way she keeps track of rows with scrap yarn and a tapestry needle. I thought I'd try it and I love it! I've been counting every 5 rows and simply stitch the scrap yarn between knit stitches to mark my progress.


Works in Progress # 2, Stole Print-o-the-wave by Eunny Jang:

So, this project has been 'on my needles' for quite some time now (It languished in the corner while Alex was being worked on, and ignored while I knitted a pair of socks from hand-dyed). Mostly I can blame this on my being a one project person up until recently, by recently I mean a week or two. I am so happy I have found my way to having multiple projects going at once, in large part because this beautiful print-o-the-wave stole by Eunny Jang, is finally being worked on again!!!

I can comfortable say I am about 65% of the way. I had a few challenges to overcome in the beginning that were fixed using a life-line and stitch markers. (I don't know if I'd ever attempt lace with out these techniques now). The body is made of two mirrored panels with a provisional cast on in between. The pattern is a pretty simple 12 row repeat, and 16 stitch repeat BUT it  definitely requires attention. So I turn on the telly or some you tube and knit away. After the body is complete there is a knitted edging to be done before finishing. 

I knit this stole using Juniper Moon Farm lace Yarn in the Findley colorway.


On the Spindle, Home dyed colorway - 'Spring Highway':

I like to say 'Spring Highway" like Jack, from Will & Grace, does 'jazz hands'. I was returning home from a weekend visit with my parents, and it was a perfect NE spring day. That young green, and that spring yellow filling in whatever spaces it could find. The sky was that perfect sky blue with cotton ball white clouds. For some reason I thought to myself "I must create a colorway from this!!!!" So I did.

I am so proud of this colorway, not because it is beautiful (it's not), but because I imagined it, and I created it, and it really has turned out how I envisioned it (though the yarn bloomed more in the setting than I had expected). The initial intention was to make a pair of socks from this (I have grey reinforcing thread), and maybe I still will. For now I have one more skein to spin and then... we'll see!