Best laid schemes

My schemes, they gang aft agley.

I plan out these knitting designs of mine with care. I sketch. And I think. And I walk and think. And I mess around with yarn.

And then I actually knit these things I’ve schemed. And they end up looking completely different from what I had intended.

Case in point: my new Prosecco Hat. Here’s what it was supposed to look like. It was going to have a hem at the bottom, and was to have a two-color bubble motif whose color scheme reversed about halfway up the hat.

Neither one of those things worked out exactly. Problem #1: The internal part of the hem would have had to have been ridiculously long in order to play nicely with the color pattern, so it got jettisoned. Now I was stuck on what to do with the brim of the hat. Plain ribbing seemed dull. Corrugated ribbing is lovely but I feel like it’s almost become a cliche for a color-work hat.

I finally found a slip-stitch pattern (what you see on the finished hat above) that gave the brim of the hat some interest without detracting too much from the bubble pattern I’d worked so hard to chart out. Problem #1 solved.

On to problem #2: I was designing this hat for Malabrigo’s Quickies program. Believe me, that part in and of itself is not a problem. They have been great to work with.

The problem was the yarn. Well… no wait, not really the yarn, because the yarn is the luscious new Arroyo, Malabrigo’s sport-weight, superwash merino. It is scrum-diddly-umptious. No, the problem was that the two colors that I chose (VAA and Arco Iris) didn’t quite contrast with each other as much as I thought they would. Changing the two colors mid-way up the hat, so that the foreground color became the background color and vice versa, just made the hat look garbled and confused. Like a cake that you frosted before it cooled off completely.

So the dark green VAA colorway would now stay the background color all the way up the hat. Not quite as much bubblicious fun as I had originally intended, but still, plenty of colorful fizz to go around.

And then there was the photography. As I fall further down the rabbit hole of professional knitwear design, I’ve realized that I need to at least occasionally hire another pro to do my photography. I’m really only reasonably competent with a camera. I’ve got a LOT to learn.

Recently, I learned that a former student, Carlos Barron, had become a professional photographer, and I loved what I was seeing of his work. Mere days before I needed to get the Prosecco Hat pattern to Malabrigo, Carlos and I were finally able to schedule a photo shoot for this hat and a few other goodies.

And that’s when the entire middle column of the country got besieged with 100 tornados. So we had to postpone the shoot, but I still needed photos, and that meant heading for the trusty brick wall on the side of my house — the backdrop for so many of my knitting photos.

My husband took one of the above photos and my seven-year-old son took the other. See if you can guess who took which. (Hint: look at the angles.) They both did a pretty good job, but… well, none of us is Carlos.

In the end, I’m left with a hat that I really like and photos that I may need to replace. Not a bad outcome, all things considered. Just a little agley.

New hat pattern! or, another way to cable without a cable needle

There are some great tutorials out there about how to make knitted cables without using a cable needle. The hat above represents a completely different way of thinking beyond the cable needle: use colorwork to create a faux cable. The next photo shows the effect even more clearly:

See how the sage green sections look like cables crossing over each other? I think it would be lovely on socks, too. If you have Luise Roberts’ wonderful little colorwork stitch dictionary called 1000 Great Knitting Motifs, you will find this stitch pattern on p. 105.

I just made this hat pattern available on Ravelry, and it will soon be up on the KnitPicks web site as well. It’s a quick knit, so if you’re looking for something last-minute for the holidays, this might just be the ticket.

On an unrelated note, I would just like to note that we here in the Land of the Large Eyebrows do not believe in trimming our eyebrow hair. No, we do not.

New teaching module: magic loop

Teaching is really hard work. I should know — I’ve been doing it for twelve years as a college history professor. Although teaching a knitting class is not nearly the same commitment in terms of time and mental energy, it still requires a great deal of thought and preparation to teach a good class. There may be a class project sample to knit and techniques to learn (or re-learn).

But you also have to think through the whole class through the eyes of different kinds of students. Where is the beginner knitter going to get tripped up? What did I struggle with when I learned how to do this? How can I keep the more advanced knitter engaged? How long will all this really take to teach? Do I want to hurry them along or let them learn at a leisurely pace?

With this in mind, I am gradually developing a set of teaching modules for knitting teachers. These modules are guides that walk a teacher through the whole process of preparing for and teaching a knitting class. I tell the teacher what to prepare, give a detailed lesson plan, provide a pattern that students can knit as a class project, and a handout that students can take home to help them remember what they learned.

I posted a module on “How to Teach Stranded Knitting” previously, and now “How to Teach Magic Loop” is available, both in my Etsy shop. The magic loop module includes the pattern for the pixie baby hat above.

If you’d like to see some testimonials from people who bought my stranded knitting module, you can find them here.

If you have taught a knitting class before, what was the most difficult part about it for you?

Sheltered: Introducing Modern Tartan

c Meg Kelly 2010

Hello, all. I hope you are each encased in human and yarny love today. Here in Austin, it’s 55 degrees and pouring rain, but tomorrow we’re headed to Baltimore from a more traditional winter wonderland.

I got an extra Christmas present this year: today, Hill Country Weavers released its pattern line featuring Shelter yarn: and the men’s sweater pictured above is my contribution. Hill Country Weavers is the big local yarn store here in Austin, and is one of nine flagship stores carrying Shelter, the beautiful new yarn designed by Jared Flood, aka Brooklyn Tweed.

Jared, of course, has his own beautiful line of patterns for his yarn. A group of designers here in Austin decided to try our own hand at the yarn, seeing what it would do under an Austin influence, thanks to some prompting from HCW’s owner, Suzanne Middlebrooks. The whole pattern line is gorgeous — and gorgeously photographed.

c Meg Rice 2010

This men’s pullover, called Modern Tartan, looks complicated, but is actually quite simple to knit. Not just simple, but also fun, since you start at the top and knit down, leaving very little seaming. You do have to cut a little — that zippered neck there comes from a steek that you cut down from the collar. But do not fear the steek, dear knitter — especially when the steek is to be cut into such a lovely, sticky wool like this one. This yarn wants to hang onto itself like so much velcro.

There is another way that the yarn and design marry well together: Shelter is so lofty in its construction that the sweater stays quite light — a good feature for the average hot-blooded male.

Design-wise, the trickiest thing to figure out on this sweater was how to make the raglan increases play nicely with the stranded color work. I finally landed on an easy explanation for how to do the increases that I think makes the final product look much more polished.

c Meg Kelly 2010

If a men’s sweater in five different colors of Shelter is too spendy for you, there are certainly viable alternatives. The wool you use needs to be worsted-weight, pretty sheepy (no super-softy, drapey wools), and relatively light. Berroco’s Blackstone Tweed or – even cheaper – Shepherd’s Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill would be great alternate choices.

Really, most classic worsted-weight wools would work — like Cascade 220 (ooh, I’d love to see this in a bunch of their tweed colors) — but just be advised that those heavier wools would make a warmer sweater. Seriously warm and toasty might be just the sort of thing you’re looking for right now.

Merry Christmas, and warmest wishes to everyone, whether this is your holiday or no.

Color palette generators

Oh boy, has the beginning of the school year kicked my butt with a vengeance. My first-year seminar began last Monday; regular classes began today; and I just taught my first knitting class at the Knitting Nest. Then I have at least five patterns to write between now and mid-October. Not to mention my two classes at Fiber College in a couple of weeks….

All of those knitting classes are new classes, by the way. Classes that I have never taught before and that therefore need planning.

Ha ha. Ha hahahahahahaha.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…. KABLOOEY! (Splat.)

That was the sound of my brain exploding approximately two minutes from now. Could somebody please grab a mop?

But enough about my organ failure. Let’s get back to design tips and tools!

The tool that I’m going to discuss today, I found a couple of years ago. And then promptly forgot about it until just recently. I’m talking about color palette generators. These are free programs online that will take one of your favorite photographs (which you either upload or link to its web address) and generate a palette of colors from it. In other words, it pulls colors out of the photograph, spreads them out in distinct color swatches, and sometimes even gives you the Pantone number for it.

As an example, here is a photo that I took in March of some crocuses peeking out of the North Carolina woods, along with the palette the site generated:

There are many uses for this device, but among them is designing color work for knitting. Many people complain that they have trouble putting together different colored yarns for color work such as fair isle. This helps you out of the jam. You know you like this photograph. Now you can distill some of what works about this photograph to a palette that you can then use in a sweater or other garment.

Now go play!