September 01, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

Hello September! If you grew up in Edinburgh you'll know that summer officially comes to an end not when the schools go back but with the fireworks that mark the end of the festival. Those were last night, and I had a delightful time watching them from close to the orchestra, complete with a picnic that involved both gin and hot chocolate. Even the rain held off until the spectacular finale. 

New jotters (what we called our school notebooks, I couldn't resist buying myself one last week), reading lists, crisp apples, flannel shirts, snuggling under blankets. I'm excited about all of those things at this turning point in the seasons where I'm still able to forget about the reality of the sun setting at 4pm. The really exciting thing is that knitting season is beginning.

And what better way to celebrate that than with a new collection? One that will last until the days are short, brighten up your Mondays (I know how many of you enjoyed that aspect of the Follow Your Arrow kal) and celebrate keeping those you love warm. 

The Knitworthy collection features 8 patterns intended to make good gifts for everyone on your knitworthy list (because life's too short to knit for anyone who doesn't love what you make). 

The first pattern, Bronntanas, will be available to download immediately and each of the remaining patterns will arrive as a surprise in your inbox every fortnight, on Mondays. 

Bronntanas features a very simple honeycomb cable pattern on a garter stitch background that highlights subtle hand dyed yarns beautifully. Cables and slipped stitches create a three dimensional pattern with shadowed areas that make it look much more complicated than it really is. The vast majority of rounds are simply knit or purl, perfect for last minute gifts or movie watching. 

Pattern delivery schedule:

15 September

29 September

13 October

27 October

10 November

24 November

8 December

Look out for fun extras on the off weeks too. My Whimsical Little Knits collections should give you a good idea of the types of projects to expect. All of the designs are intended to be fun and relaxing with an excellent return of impact for effort put in — there's nothing horrifically complicated coming up. The schedule is clearly timed to lead up to the holidays but there's nothing themed to a specific one (if you were hoping for an ugly Christmas jumper I'm afraid you'll be disappointed but your loved ones will probably be relieved!).

The patterns will be exclusive to Knitworthy until the entire collection has been released. 

I'll be hosting kal threads for each pattern in my kal group on Ravelry and I do hope you'll join us there.

Want one of your friends to join in? Celebrate gifting by winning a copy of the collection for one of your friends. Leave a comment sharing your best story about gifting a handknit and I'll pick my favourite one where the recipient proved themselves truly knitworthy and on where they got themselves struck off the list forever. Comments will close on Friday the 6th of September and I'll post the winners next Monday. 


August 28, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

As this extract from one of Barbara Walker's classic stitch dictionaries shows it's usual to describe a stitch pattern by the number of stitches required to work one repeat (a multiple of 15 in this case) and the number of additional stitches required to create a balanced pattern (in this case 4). This allows you to calculate how many stitches to cast on — the pattern will work out perfectly over any number of stitches that is a multiple of 15, plus 4. Eg. 34, 49, 64, etc...

Looking at the directions you can see that the 4 balancing stitches are worked first and then the pattern is repeated in blocks of 15 until there are no stitches left.

There are a few different ways to phrase directions that you need to work more than once, and it can get a bit confusing — especially as we use 'repeat' as a noun and a verb in knitting patterns. 

As a verb repeat means that after working through a set of directions you need to go back and do it again the specified number of times. 

As a noun repeat means the total number of sets of the phrase that are worked.

In the Fan Shell pattern above if I cast on 64 stitches I would go back and repeat the section 3 times and I'd have a total of 4 repeats. 

Parenthesis vs asterisks

A repeated phrase can be marked in a couple of different ways. Here is the same pattern phrased in two different ways. Parenthesis can be used to bookend the beginning and end of the part that is repeated

or an asterisk can be used to show where the repeated section begins, it will then be referred back to. 

Whether parenthesis or brackets are used is often the designer's personal preference. I prefer to use parenthesis where the phrase is short, as in this example, and the asterisk format for a longer set of directions where you wouldn't be able to visually track the whole repeat at once. 

This round could also be written a little differently. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing when the beginning and end of a repeated phrase combine to create a longer section of the same stitch. In this case you'll be working 'k2' between each set of cables. It could be re-written like this to make that more obvious: 


How many repeats are worked?

A phrase can be repeated until there are no stitches left, as in the first example here, or until a certain condition is met, as in the example above where you keep repeating the phrase until 1 stitch remains. 

The phrase can also be repeated a specific number of times. 

The parenthesis style of marking repeats comes from maths, which means that the number of given is the total number of repeats just like multiplication. 

Whereas if the asterisk style is used you work through the directions once and then go back to the asterisk and work from there again, the specified number of times. Both of these examples have the same number of repeats. 

Nested repeats

Having different options for marking repeats becomes really useful for more complicated patterns because it means you can nest on kind within another. In this example a short repeat is marked within parenthesis and that is within two larger repeats marked at beginning and end with asterisks and double asterisks. 


August 22, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

#Tweedback Brooklyn Tweed are running a contest to celebrate kids in handknits - tag your photos on instagram with the hashtag #tweedback before August 25th for a chance to win some great prizes. Read the full rules in their post, and check out all the cute, and sometimes very quirky, retro knits by searching the hashtag. 

Spot the knitwear designer!

Design a shawl that Stevie Knicks will love! It's hard to picture Stevie Nicks on stage without the iconic ponchos and shawls that have become an integral part of her performance and she's running a contest to celebrate the magic of those garments. Most of the chatter I've seen about this on social media led me to believe that the artist was just trying to get fans to make her a shawl so I was thrilled to read in the linked Rolling Stone article that it's much more about encouraging design and craftsmanship with a generous prize package. Respect. 

Killing marine life with crochet - If you're going to yarn bomb things to raise awareness of endangered habitats maybe don't destroy a delicate ecosystem and the creatures that are part of it in the process. And when asked about it, you definitely shouldn't respond like this: "my intentions were positive and that's the most important thing about my work". No, no it really isn't. 


August 21, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

This is definitely just an introduction to the subject, but I've been playing around with using a Shetland knitting belt for a while now and get a lot of questions about it. There's a lot of misinformation about this tool and how it's used floating around on the internet, including this rather curious description from the maker of my belts: 

"The belt, (in dialect “Maakin’” belt) is used to enable one-handed knitting... Whether doing croft work, carrying the peats home, or cooking; they knitted with one hand - the other free to do something else."

I have seen knitting belts recommended to people who are only able to knit one handed, and don't doubt that it is possible to use the belt to support one needle and manipulate the other needle and yarn with the hand on the opposite side. However, I've never seen any evidence that this is how the belts are usually used! It might be quite helpful as a place to quickly tuck your knitting when you need to attend to a pot boiling over or a crying baby (although I'm not sure I'd want to pick up a baby with a bunch of dpns sticking out from my waist!). 

Everyone I've seen using a belt still holds the right needle (and the belt generally goes on the right), but having one end fixed means you can hold it more lightly and swing it back and forth on that pivot. 

The belt

The leather knitting belt is distinctly Shetland but developed from the earlier use of knitting sheafs which were much more widely used. Kate Davies has an interesting post about these sheafs as objects, with some beautifully crafted examples. In shetland the sheafs — or wisps — were made from a bundle of feather quills with a knotted outer casing. The sheaf would be tucked into the wearer's belt and the needle inserted into the tube. 

The leather belt is worn with the pad on the right and the number of holes allows the knitter to find the most comfortable one for that needle length. It also means that different holes can be used for different needle sizes, as Hazel Tindal writes:

"When using bigger needles (eg 4mm) I try to limit the holes used so that I don't stretch too many. The knitting needle shouldn't have room to wiggle about."

I love seeing Hazel's collection of well worn belts, I wish mine were so broken in!

The needles

3 or 4 long double pointed needles are used. I prefer 3, and find the really long ones to be a bit too long. I'm currently using these although I did have one bend and then break so the quality isn't wonderful. Much higher quality ones are made by Inox and are available to order from Jamieson and Smith but I do wish there was a 35cm length. 

How to use it

The right needle is inserted into a hole in the belt at a level that puts the other end in a comfortable place. It's then held under hand and the yarn can be manipulated with either or both hands. I think video's more useful here! 

Apologies for the audio quality, this is actually the second attempt — somehow no combination of recording equipment and location as working well for me today. Huskiness from a horrible cold doesn't help!

Learning (like any new style) mostly requires fussing — with position, needle length and number of needles — and lots of practice. The most difficult part of learning to knit with the belt for me was the realisation that I didn't need to change my knitting style that much — I spent a lot of time trying not to hold the right needle or attempting to keep it stiller than necessary. 

Here's how I wrap the yarn on each hand when knitting English and Continental in case it's helpful. 


August 18, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

You may have noticed that Wee Melia and the little beret to match Wee Liesl went live on Friday. These complete the Wee Ones ebook which contains a total of 7 patterns for babies and pre-schoolers. If you've already purchased one or more of the patterns you can upgrade to the ebook at the following prices until the end of August: 

1 pattern purchased = £6.90

2 patterns purchased = £2.96

3 patterns purchased = free (this will not be sent as an automatic update, you will have to add the book to your cart). 

The ebook itself is £10.95, which I hope will work for those of you who were interested in a few of these but couldn't afford all of the ones you wanted. The slightly weird discount amounts are because we had to use whole number percentages to create the promotion. 

When I released the first of these baby sweaters I priced it at the same point as my adult sweaters. They were slightly less work to produce than an adult garment with similar patterning — fewer sizes, simpler shaping — but not that much, and certainly more than something like a hat. I've always had a couple of different price points, roughly matching up to the amount of work that goes into producing them, but that's never going to be a very exact science. You just need to glance at the most frequently recurring topics on the designers' groups on Ravelry to see how difficult I think everyone finds pricing.

Pricing hand made products is hard enough when you can work out the costs that go into producing each item you sell. When you have no idea how many of those items there will be in the end it becomes much harder. 

There are several more or less fixed costs, some of which might be the designer's time, and some of which will be paid (usually upfront) to others. For most patterns these will be: preparatory knitting, knitting the sample, photography, tech editing, layout, admin in uploading. For every one of my patterns a minimum of four separate people have put many, many hours into producing it. All of those people have to eat, pay their mortgages, etc, and I firmly believe in paying them as fairly as I'm able. 

It's not even true that these are the only costs so that you can set a minimum number that you need to sell to break even. Although the numbers undeniably work out better the more popular a design is, there are also costs that rise. I have no actual data but I do think that the more popular a design is then the greater the proportion of people who make it who'll need some support becomes. That makes sense — more popular designs tend to end up on the radar of people with either less experience or who are less immersed in the knitting community with fewer resources to find their own answers. Don't get me wrong, we are always happy to help if you don't understand something, but I do pay Rebecca for the time she spends on that! 

While trying to make sure that my patterns are priced at a point, and that that they sell well enough, to cover all of their costs (and make a profit, I like eating too!) I'm also trying to avoid making them too expensive. The last few years have been tough for everyone except the super rich (if that's you and you'd like to put a pile of gold to good use and buy everyone else one of my patterns please get in touch!) and I don't want a knitting pattern to be the thing that makes you feel the strain on a tight budget. 

At the same time, knitting patterns have historically been priced artificially low. Whether being published directly by yarn companies or indirectly subsidised by them in magazines the whole point of the pattern was to motivate yarn sales. That's changed, but the subconscious reactions to pattern pricing rooted in that history hasn't — just look at the difference between sewing and knitting pdf pattern prices.

Sewing patterns have mostly been published by companies that did only that, and even the majority of sewing pattern magazines I know of aren't supported by ads. They were also priced at different points depending, essentially, on the amount of pattern making time that went into them. A complex pattern with many pieces and a more refined fit, and possibly a well known designer, would have been priced much higher than an easy sew day dress. As far as I'm aware that kind of intentional variation in price points never happened in the knitting world, at least not in such an organised fashion. 

We're currently storing bags of yarn on the floor of the studio because all of the yarn drawers are full, a third of my wardrobe is taken up with 'future clothing' in the form of length of cloth, and I read every craft related book in the library when I was a kid. Believe me when I say I understand the joy to be found in planning projects and collecting materials even for things that you intellectually know you don't have time for. On the one hand, it's good for business if people buy more than they need (and oh isn't that the entire history of marketing), but sometimes it doesn't feel good in the long term.

I want to sell enough to keep my business sustainable, but I also want the people who buy my patterns to use them, to be excited to cast on, to share what they make, to fall in love and make the same hat for every new baby that comes along. If the price point makes you pause on an impulse purchase that will be forgotten in a collection and wait until you know that that pattern is really the one you want to make, maybe that's ok? 

Do you know how most patterns are priced in this industry? We can talk round and round about how to work out the costs and how many might sell, but the truth is most decisions are made by looking around at what else is out there. I'm very conscious of the fact that my prices will be looked at in this way by other designers. This is also made difficult by an international market and the complex fluctuations of currencies — it matters a great deal how my prices compare to others in US dollars but since they're priced in Sterling that's not something I can control directly (if I could predict changes in exchange rates I guess I'd be earning a lot more but my job would be a lot duller!). Currently the pound is fairly strong against the dollar and my prices seem rather high in comparison. 

There are a lot of people currently designing knitting patterns, which makes me so excited about the development of this craft I love so dearly. There are almost as many models for what being a knitting pattern designer is as there are individual designers but I think one thing is clear: the number of people who would like to develop it into a full time career vastly outnumbers the number of people who have actually done that. Of course that's true to a certain extent of everything, not everyone will succeed for all kinds of reasons. But I don't want one of the reasons that only a few people can succeed to be that the acceptable price point for a pattern requires selling a number of copies that most will not achieve just to break even.

As it's become easier to self publish patterns it's also become harder to make a living doing commisioned design work (fees haven't risen in the last 20-30 years), I honestly can't think of a single designer who makes a living only from commisioned work. I don't know if those two things are simply correlated but they both make me wonder about the future of designing. Are we trying to divide a fixed amount spent on patterns into smaller and smaller chunks, is that amount really fixed or could it rise? I'm not pretending to have any answers here, but I think these are questions worth discussing. 

All of that background about the challenges of pattern pricing was really just to say that I am trying to balance the costs with feedback from customers. Consequently I've decided to lower some of the wee ones patterns so that all six sweaters can be purchased individually for £4. I went back on forth on whether that would be fair to those of you who had already bought them, although of course prices do change all the time. However, I've decided to offer you the chance to buy the ebook at a discounted price or, if you'd rather not buy the ebook but would like something else you can:

use the name of the pattern that you bought (eg. 'wee liesl') as a coupon code to receive a discount of £1 on anything else, valid until the end of August. 

I do hope you'll feel like that's a fair way of doing things! 


August 14, 2014 by Ysolda Teague

A formula for evenly distributing increases or decreases.

It's not really magic. It's algebra but maths is rather magical, especially when designing (or even altering) patterns means it's way more useful than you ever believed in high school. 

Sometimes the number of decreases (or increases) you want to do divides neatly into the number of rows you have available. And sometimes it doesn't. In that case you have to do the decreases at two different rates (one higher and one lower than the average) or end up with a long straight section instead of a smooth diagonal. 

Of course you can figure out how to distribute your shaping via trial and error or by plotting things out on graph paper. The problem with both of those methods is that they're time consuming, especially when you're grading a pattern for several sizes. 

I've seen a simpler version of this formula in a few places. I think I first came across it in Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English (an excellent resource if you have any interest in designing).

The problem was that it only worked if the difference between your two rates was 2. That will often be the case, but I found myself trying to something closer to a curve and for some sizes the optimum shaping was achieved by decreasing every row and every 4th row. I wanted a formula that would work whatever the difference between the rates was.

There was also a niggling line in Righetti's book: 

"I'm not enough of a mathematician to know why you divide by 2. Just take my word for it that you do!" (p.179)

Oh I took her word for it, but I wanted to know why. And I figured that if I knew why maybe I could work out whether you could change the formula to work with different rates. 

It turns out that you can alter the formula to work in all cases and in case you also want to know why it works I made a video:

Don't care about the why? Just plug your numbers into this formula. It will work as long as your lower rate of shaping is lower than the average rate and the higher rate is higher (within reason!). 

A formula for evenly distributing increases or decreases.

And just the version with words rather than references.

A formula for evenly distributing increases or decreases.

I use this all the time when calculating patterns in a spreadsheet. It's fairly simple to write a formula that will take your available rows and required shaping and work out what the rates of shaping should be and how many times each should be worked. No more trial and error!


technique thursday