TKGA, Right In My Own Backyard!

I know a huge percentage of the knitting world is at Sock Summit this weekend, and I sort of wish I were there, too!  I think what Steph and Tina have created is absolutely amazing, and the more established knitting conventions would do well to study the success of this new event!

I definitely want to throw my hat in the hopper to teach some classes next time – I’d hesitated to apply because I’m not really known for socks (hillbilly that I am, I rarely even wear them…)

MTM statue in Minneapolis & my bike

But I’m not in Portland – I’m here in Minnesota, working on some new projects, and drowning some of my missing-sock-summit-sorrows by attending TKGA market and participating in Steven B’s Fiber Fest

I’m teaching 2 new lace classes this week –

  • Lace for Absolute Beginners on Thursday at 4pm
  • Lace Principles/Chart Your Own Lace on Tuesday at 4pm

at Steven’s Minneapolis location.  I wonder if Rhoda & Mary knitted?

So although I’m missing seeing some good friends out in Portland, dinner with full-out belly laughs with Lily Chin, a lovely short visit and good hug from Vicky Howell, reconnecting with so many friends from local yarn shops and a nice sit down visit with Shannon from Shibaguyz made everything better.

Most exciting was having a chance to show off the new dvd I’d worked up for Claudia of YarnSisters, the US distributor for Zealana yarn.

I’ve been working on some videos for this company, combining “how-to” segments with shots of the yarn in action, tidbits about the feel and usage of the yarn, etc.

I’m releasing the first video today, because Claudia said I could (she loved it!)

That is, she said I could releasre it right after
I corrected the company name in the video.  D’oh! 

I hope you like it!

Lovely Left Decreases by Annie Modesitt
Are you tired of left decreases that don’t quite live up to the expectations of their right leaning siblings? Here’s a great way to create balanced, good-looking left decreases!

Ride, Hot Girl, Ride

The Mississippi - our own muddy 'Seine'

Best of all was my ride to the convention center this morning.  I love to do the West River Parkway route, along the Mississippi.  There’s a wonderful downhill coast, but of course I have to pay for it by riding (walking) my bike back up the hill on the other side of the university.

Tough on a hot, humid day – but not so bad this morning because I went early!

I got home in time to rest up a bit before two friends stopped by for yet ANOTHER bike ride (this time a short one down to St. Thomas University) 

These two friends are folks I met in Rome last year – the happened to sit next to a few of us at an outdoor table at a cafe and it turned out they were from St. Paul and love to bike!   But it’s taken us almost a year to actually GET OUT AND BIKE TOGETHER!

I feel awkward biking with other folks because my asthma can be so bad on a hot, humid day.  I know I’m trying hard, I know my own limitations, but going at someone else’s pace can leave me red-faced (for lack of oxygen and embarrassment) When I ride alone I can coast when I need to – which may not be when someone else needs to.

But this was a short ride, a lovely ride, and it’s always good to see friends!


So it’s going to be one of THOSE days…

…you know, the kind of day when EVERYTHING I do turns into a treatise?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 By Rick Levine

(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

Your ruling planet Mercury conjuncts grandiose Jupiter, mischievously turning every little thought into a long treatise. It may not be easy to keep your ideas in perspective or your words to a minimum.

Unintentionally, you can turn the simplest task into a complicated project that becomes very inefficient. Your day doesn’t have to run out of control if you remember to keep bringing your message back down to earth.

Okay, to keep myself sane I’ll eat my oatmeal and get back to work!


Work today involves swatching up a magnificent new project (not for a mag, just for me!) with some of the loveliest yarn I’ve EVERY touched.  It’s Jared Flood’s Shelter and I didn’t want to love it as much as I do.  Why?  Because the boy is a friggin’ GENIUS and I am feeling very jealous.

Or maybe I mean envious?  I’m usually not a jealous type,
but everything JF does is so beautiful and I would love to be so gifted!
But, jealousy aside, this yarn is a revelation and a dream.

The color, the feel, the weight – it’s all there, kids, and if you are able to work with wool you NEED to touch this.  If you visit your LYS, mention this to them because it needs to be where folks can fondle it.  If you trust me, go ahead and order some online.  It’s magnificent.


For years I had eschewed the humble garter stitch.  I prefer stockinette stitch, and I am afraid that I looked down on garter.

This was wrong of me, and to make up for it I’m doing an entire KIMONO in garter for Interweave Knits.  It’s a modular piece, worked so that it is put together like a puzzle (but with – hopefully – no seams)

The yarn is lovely (BSA alpaca silk), but thinner than I’d hoped so the knitting is going on forever.  And the deadline is shortBut I am tall, so I can do it. With my Signature Needles, it really is flying by.

I can’t show you much about the piece since it’s for a magazine, but here’s a process photo showing the first step of the garment – the collar/placket piece upon which the entire garment is built.

I’m hoping to make it a universal pattern, meaning it can be made in ANY size by adjusting the number of rows in this first step.  That may be wishful thinking…


I freeze bricks of oatmeal on Sundays

My favorite breakfast of all time is oatmeal.  Almost a year ago our family trip to Ireland (the best vacation decision we ever made!) introduced us to good, honest steel cut oatmeal, and I’ve been a convert ever since. 

Microwave brick for 2 minutes on high

Rolled oats, I love you for baking – but for eating I am loving Irish or Scottish cut oats.

I am becoming an oatmeal connoisseur, and have dreams of attending the Golden Spurtle someday.

Add sugar, nuts & raisins & microwave 2 more minutes

But who has time to cook oatmeal each morning.

Well, actually, I do – I work at home – but I don’t do it daily.

Mix well

I make a HUGE batch on Sundays, then pour it into a loaf pan and when it sets up I cut it into slices, wrap each in press n’ seal (it doesn’t stick to the oats) and freeze it.

Add milk and mix again

It takes about 5 minutes to warm up each morning, and it’s the best use of 5 minutes I can think of!

This, and a cup of Lady Grey tea, and I’m ready to take on the world (or a multi directional kimono on size 5 needles…)

The Process

I tell my classes that I love to swatch, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! (does anyone use that expression anymore?)

Like Clara Parkes, swatching is a large percentage of my job, it’s more than just getting gauge – for me it’s sketching in yarn.

When I get an idea for a sweater or new piece, it doesn’t entirely complete itself in my mind until I can work up a bit of the concept in fiber.

The times that I sit and swatch feel like I’m being lazy and not working.  I enjoy these days, I love the swatching, and I can’t help but feel a little guilty that I’m having so much fun.  Yesterday I re-knit one swatch over 10 times (in various yarns) but another swatch just popped out in 20 minutes, fully formed.

Of course, it all has to turn into something for my swatching to pan out, and here’s how I work with my swatches.

1. Ideas come to me in various ways, I’m often inspired by an existing garment, or by an idea for a cool stitch motif.

2. If I’m working from a swatch, the first step is to get it to work well, which may mean re-knitting it many times.

original swatch

3. Once the swatch is finished I need to record it.  I like scanning the swatches because it makes the image more usable.  For a while I was photographing swatches, but this can be inexact with iffy results depending on the lighting, distance from the camera, etc.

I use my trusty scanner, to which I’ve applied some measuring tape (to the left in the image) so I can easily record my gauge as I scan.

"trued" swatch

4. Once the swatch is scanned I ‘true it up’ using photoshop so that it’s squared (or rectangled) and can become a repeating pattern.

save as pattern

5. I isolate, and reduce the size of, the repeating area, then I save it as a “pattern”

6. Now I’m ready to use this as “fill” in sections of my sketch.

When I’m working off of a schematic (I do this sometimes for unusually shaped garments) the fill is pretty easy to use.  When I’m working off of a sketch I have to fiddle with the different sections of the design so the fill makes sense.

divided sketch

7. I divide the sketch and align the parts so the direction of the pattern will be the same.  Also, if there’s a point at which the patterns must match (in this case, the underarm point) I align those, too.

fill tool

8. Then I fill all the areas with the pattern I’ve created using the fill tool.

And I have a reasonable fascimile of what my actual garment may look like.  I’ve actually found these measured, filled sketches to be pretty right on target when compared to the final garment, which is gratifying!

Finished 'sketch'

While I’m Otherwise Occupied

I’m working through a few rather large projects right now, two of which will be discussed further along this week.

What I CAN tell you right now is that if you’re interested in my new ONLINE KNITTING MILLINERY CLASS, and are one of the first 50 folks to sign up, I’ll send you a FREE copy of the new, revised Knitting Millinery (a $15 value)

Knitting Millinery Class
Add to Cart

The class will be self guided, meaning you will be on your own to work through the videos, handouts and syllabus in the class.  However, I WILL be available for online chats (privately or in a group if more than one person wants to chat at the same time) and I’m ALWAYS available via email for questions and assistance.

As a bit of a come on, here’s a video I’m putting together for the Knitting Millinery Class.

Note: There’s nothing whatsoever about CREATING hats in this video, it’s just a look at some hats through history, to set the tone and get the juices flowing for folks who sign up.  It’s only partially finished, but it will give you a taste of the exposition portion of the class.

Thank You & a Book Review

I was feeling so damned full of self doubt yesterday.  Thank you, dear readers, for your great comments and suggestions.  I feel a bit more like myself today;

  • I’ve showered
    (this is not a small thing during a fibro flare up)
  • I’m dressed
    (there’s a first time for everything)
  • I’m heading out to a sunny place to get some light and interpersonal interaction
    (which I’ve been missing…)

And I turned the corner on my yoked sweater, huzzah!

I figured out the insane math that will allow me to line up the stitch patterns at the shoulder seams.  I think.

As soon as I get it figured out for one size, I discover I’ve screwed up another size.  Matching up variables (different sizes, increase rates, etc.) is satisfying when it goes well, but it’s MURDER when it’s not making sense.

I guess my horoscope today is AMAZINGLY on target:

Friday, December 17, 2010 By Rick Levine

(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You may lose your motivation today if your work has become too routine. The problem is exacerbated by your overactive imagination that makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on the necessary details. Showing your vulnerability can help. If you pretend that you have everything all together then others won’t be able to step in and offer assistance.

Lorna's Pride


I love mixing variegated yarns with solids or semi solids, and I’ve worked out some strategies for figuring out how to blend them, but anything I’ve come up with pales in comparison to the brilliant techniques Lorna Miser writes about in her new book, The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn.

Color Components

This is a very helpful book.

I’ve just finished a project for IK which combines solid & self-striping yarn.  The use of color was a delight to figure out, and I’m so thrilled with the results that I am having the HARDEST time not blogging about it. (Well, that and the fact that I broke my camera so I don’t have great images at my fingertips…) I found having Lorna’s book as I worked up this new project to be quite helpful.

Commercial Mystique

But enough about my IK project – back to the book!

Lorna has become a household name since creating her beautiful yarn line, Lorna’s Laces (the company was later sold to Beth Casey, who runs it magnificently in Chicago!)

Size Matters!

Lorna explains in full detail how to determine whether your yarn has a dye pattern that is “one way” or could be worked from either end of the skein with similar results.

She covers how a yarn can look entirely different depending on the size of the area worked (which is one reason why entrelac is such an interesting proposition with variegated yarn!)

Skein Logic

This may seem like a silly detail, but with this knowledge a knitter can be empowered to better control their knitting and get the color results they desire.   Knowledge is power!

I really like how Lorna took apart skeins to show how the colors repeat, that will help make self striping and variegated yarns make more sense for a lot of folks.

Patterns Too!

Her comparison of different commercial, easily obtained yarns with boutique yarns is also eye opening.  This section of the book alone will make many knitters yearn for a swift (I use a metal umbrella kind) so they can easily unwind & skein purchased balls to figure the dominant color in a skein.

Lorna includes patterns, most of them rather simple (as befit multi-colored yarns), so that her techniques and tips can be tried out and experimented with immediately.

What's Inside?

I can see many yarn shops using this book as a jumping off point to instruct their customers on how to use variegated yarn in the most efficient and targeted way.

For folks (like myself) who like to knit with multi-colored yarns, The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn is incredibly helpful!  This is a very good book to have on the knitting bookshelf, and one that I can see myself returning to again and again for reference.

In Math We Trust

The Universal Mitered Bag

When making a felted bag or even a felted hat, often you just jump in, knit it up (real big!), toss it in the washer and take your chances.

However,  fulling – felting – a larger garment that is suppose to FIT A HUMAN BODY after everything is said and done, involves a leap of faith.  And Math.

Why, here’s a video I made on how I felt my Universal Mitered Handbag (part of my UMH online class) that explains the process quite nicely – and amusingly…


My take on gauge is a bit unorthodox (you were expecting something different?) because I feel that gauge is – for most knitters – a variable rather than a constant.

We’ve all experienced the situation where we do a quick gauge swatch (usually in the yarn shop) buy the yarn and go home only to discover that the gauge on the actual garment is markedly different.  Or the gauge is different from section to section on the garment.

This is hand knitting, folks, this is going to happen.  Unless we’re machines or dieties (and we’re neither) our gauge is affected by many things – not least of which is our mental state as we’re knitting.

Gauge happens.

This is one reason that LARGE gauge swatches are very important (I don’t make gauge swatches smaller than 9″ square, usually more like 15″ square).

It’s also a reason that it’s vital to swatch using the same needles you’ll be using on the project, and knitting in the same method you’ll be using (if the garment is to be knit in the round, SWATCH it in the round!)

Gauge & Felting

When felting gauge is a changeable thing.

We all know that our stitch and row gauge is usually different, and I tell folks that unless they’re knitting a sweater from cuff to cuff the stitch gauge is more important than the row gauge.  But when you felt something the stitch and row gauge changes even MORE.

It’s necessary to take this into account when figuring the final size of the garment – the rows and stitches will shrink in different proportions, the % of the shrinkage will be different.

Section of Woman In Red Jacket, Tissot

And this means that the actual non-felted garment may look rather bizarre when knit up, before felting.

Circular Logic

I’ve just finished working up a felted circular garment (I did the felting live in real time via Twitter, it was very exciting…) based on a painting by Tissot.

I worked it up using Imperial Ranch Pencil Roving, which – until you get used to it –  is kind of a bear to knit with (you have to treat it GENTLY –  it becomes easier!)

This yarn felts better than just about anything I’ve knit with, though, so it’s well worth the learning curve!

Since the garment was to be knit in the round, I worked my swatch in the round.  This gave me a better understanding of what the pre vs. post felted measurements would be, and how to figure my shrinkage percentages.

Because the row and stitch gauge changes during felting, the whole pi thing (diameter x pi = circumference) can get a little surreal – but it actually DOES work!

This garment had the extra, bonus wrinkle of a cabled edging which was not worked in the round, but worked along the edge of the circle.  THAT was bit of a headache, and I’m not entirely sure I have it perfect, but I’m happy with it.  I’ve tweaked it in the test pattern so I’ll see if my tweak garners the correct results.

This garment required TWO feltings, I’ve found that’s the case with a lot of items.  The first pass shrunk it up nicely, but it didn’t have the compactness that I was looking for.

Tissot At Night

So I felted it a second time, then I attacked it with my steamer (a steam iron would work well, too) and manipulated the hot, wet wool into the shape I needed.

Most of the steam block shaping took place at the armhole opening (forcing the top of the sleeve a bit wider) and at the cuffs and edges (making the cables look nicer, the edge smoother and the bobbles a bit rounder)

I can’t deny this was a fun knit.  Now that I’ve worked it up AND I see that my math works, I definitely want to make one in my size for me.

It’s a long knit, and you have to pay attention (there are two different short row passes to create the oval garment with the bust shaping) but with stitch markers all things are possible…

I didn’t need to do this…


My mind has NOT been as clear as I would have liked – which actually may have been a good thing as it forced me to take copious notes of every step of the process as I worked.  The sleeve cuff openings are placed along the center back line of the sleeve, and I placed my first one correctly.

Then I rode my bike to have coffee with a friend and convinced myself that I’d put the opening in the wrong place, so I cut the sleeve apart and kitchner stitched it back together.  And I worked the other sleeve to match.

THEN I finished the garment and placed it on the mannequin and saw that – yes – I was right in the first place.  Dang.

So I cut the sleeves off AGAIN and kitchner stitched them back on.  After the felting it’s not terribly apparent, but it IS noticeable.

I would NOT suggest that this is the route anyone else takes in the working up of this garment.  And don’t make decisions about a garment after biking 8 miles on a cold day.

I also wasn’t happy with the bobble placement – that’s why they disappeared in the photo above.  I cut them off when re-stitching the sleeve, tossed them in the washer so they’d felt, too, and have yet to sew them back on.  I’ve tweaked this in the pattern so the bobbles fall higher up the sleeve, so I think this will resolve this issue.