Blanket Thoughts

Blankets have been on my mind for a while. The concept of knitting and/or crocheting them appeals to me, but I’ve found I stall when trying to make them. Why this happens is varied — I don’t have enough of a yarn or color, seaming requires paying attention, general boredom on the repetitive task, and very often all of the above.

I know that modular construction, also know as join-as-you-go works better for me. I’ve been crocheting a granny-hexagon blanket for several years now out of my fingering weight leftovers. At the start I decided to join-as-I-go and weave in the ends whenever the mood struck me. To my surprise the cats don’t seem bothered by the unfinished state. It’s Dot’s favourite blanket and we snuggle on it most afternoons.

Tuxedo cat napping near a crocheted blanket
Dot loves to snuggle this blanket … and me.

A few weeks ago I realized I needed something mindless to work on while watching TV. I decided to combine two strands of my leftovers and knit a blanket in garter stitch stripes, joining as I go. It’s definitely something I can knit without thinking about, however I wish I’d been more mindful of the overall look before I jumped in. It definitely looks … scrappy.

a knit blanket in progress laying on a small dark blue couch
After the first rainbow stripe, I’ve been knitting whatever I grab from the scraps bin. It shows!

I probably won’t rip it out, but it got me thinking about what resources existed to help me design a better designed modular blanket.

I borrowed several books from the library including one very new publication. Three of the titles focus specifically on modular knitting techniques, the fourth is a collection of blankets. Every title offers insight to various knitting techniques — shapes and construction and also ideas on construction. They differ in what area they chose to focus on and how they approach describing the techniques.


book cover - Domino Knitting

Domino Knitting

by Vivian Høxbro
Published in 2000
Author website: viv.dk

I first read this classic in 2006, I remember standing in NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan library — it was next door to the office I worked at and I would spend most of my lunch hour reading. My jaw dropped and I couldn’t get to the circulation desk fast enough. Sadly, at the time I only wanted to knit popular patterns. It took a while to understand which books were more useful long-term. This title was never added to my shelves nor did I work my way through much of it — I didn’t understand the value of swatching as play. Fifteen years later my initial take that it’s “easy to understand” still holds true.

Today I can say this title is useful beyond teaching the domino technique, there’s super clear line drawings showing the knitted cast-on, weaving in ends, icord borders, and how to count ridges. One detail I also love is that it shares how Høxbro first learned the technique from Horst Schulz in 1993 and also shares her research on other sources of the technique, such as Virginia Woods Bellamy’s 1952 title Number Knitting.

While many of the projects may look dated it’s a tiny book packed full with the details to one fundamental approach to modular knitting.

book cover - Module Magic

Module Magic: Creative Projects to Knit One Block at a Time

by Ginger Luters
Published in 2004

This title shares details on building and combining different shapes in countless configurations. I believe I passed over it years ago because the designs didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t take time to read and recognize the depth of technique that’s covered within the pages.

Each section covers a new shape (squares, rectangles, triangles, miters, stripes, bias, and more) and introduces the basic idea. It then shares how to create variations on the theme, different stitches and colors can have a significant impact. There are many helpful tips for creating successful modules of many different shapes. I was delighted to discover the solution to a challenge I had in a non-modular design! You never know where you might find that one tip that will fix your problem!(It relates to triangles knit in a stockinette versus garter stitch.) after each shape is introduced there are several patterns (mostly garments) showcasing how they can be used. While they may look dated I think it would be straightforward to bring them to a more modern style.

I also appreciate that Luters shares where she’s learned much of her methods, Horst Schulz has a rich knitting legacy! While I don’t see myself knitting any of the garments, Module Magic, definitely sparked my design fire.

book cover - no pattern knits

No Pattern Knits: Simple Modular Techniques for Making Wonderful Garments

by Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer
Published in 2006
Author website: woollythoughts.com
available in the UK as Modular Knitting

I don’t know how I’d never come across this title by the matheknitician duo of Ashforth and Plummer. This is why libraries (and interlibrary loans) are important — you will discover something you never knew existed before!

The first part of the book shares their techniques, often with step-by-step photos tutorials. There are charts to help you get the right number of stitches to join edges and diagonals successfully. It also includes the basic shapes — squares and triangles — then branches to trapezoids, parallelograms, hexagons.

Once you master these shapes there’s instructions on combining, mixing, and joining. There are many notes to help you fit shapes together in different ways. There are also helpful formulas to help you size and fit shapes in different combinations. If you’re interested in creating garments, there’s pages devoted to different methods for shaping sleeves and adding pockets, for example.

The authors have also included many tips for combining color not only striped solutions but also how combining yarns creates different marled effects. If all of that weren’t enough there’s tips on creating and working with recycled fabric and plastic! One final note, the patterns included in the fourth section were designed by Luise Roberts.

This is a title I will be adding to my shelf — it checks every box to interest me — they combine math and knitting in delightful ways. As I spend more time with this title, I expect to have more to write about it.

As I was researching links, I came across a blog post by Ashforth specifically showcasing many of their afghans which includes links to purchase many of their patterns from their site as well as Ravelry, Payhip, and Lovecrafts.

book cover - geometric knit blankets

Geometric Knit Blankets : 30 Innovative and Fun-to-Knit Designs

By Margaret Holzmann
Published in 2021
Author website: theknitwit.org

I was delighted to see a current year publication offered by my library system. Geometric Knit Blankets is full of notes, techniques, and 30 patterns. If that weren’t enough, the author has both an extensive section on their website devoted to the patterns.

The design and layout of this book is stunning. The table of contents includes thumbnail illustrations of each design for quick reference. It’s a small detail that makes sense. I’ve seen this at the end of many books, but it makes sense to include it here.

Holzmann begins a very brief list of fundamental skills that are helpful for all the designs. Then you jump straight into the blankets. Further thought to the design of the book as well was the projects is apparent on every page. There is a large clear photo of each blanket on a solid background as well as what I’ll term a life-style photo. The construction roadmaps and illustrations allow you to see at a glance how each blanket is put together and there are often instructions for multiple methods — often sewn and join-as-you-go.

The other detail that I am impressed with is the range of yarns and fibers included. There are hand-dyed indie options as well as a super saver acrylic blanket that is stunning. While I default to natural fibers as often as possible, I know personally that’s not always possible, especially for a blanket!

I do wish that there were blank line drawings that I could color in myself to see how different combinations might work. It’s a minor quibble and my biggest challenge is figuring out which one to work first!


One final blanket and technique I want to mention is Miriam Felton’s Granny Log Cabin (available from the designer). It combines granny squares with knit a log cabin motif and is fun to work up.


As I drafted these reviews for this post I couldn’t stop thinking of ideas. I don’t yet know where this will lead, but I expect my leftover yarns bin will be knit up as I explore.

Book Review: Twisted Stitch Sourcebook

There’s something about twisted knit stitches that I adore. Perhaps it’s because I began my knitting life by unintentionally twisting them. It took my first project in the round (a pair of socks) for me to understand why what I created was different from a store-bought sweater. I love that this stitch can be used with purpose and create beautiful combinations.

A year ago, one of the last books I checked out from my public library before lockdown was Twisted-Stitch Knitting by Maria Erlbacher. I was thrilled to have extra time with this book and a gorgeous hat in Oink Dapper resulted from my study, sketches, and swatches. However, as I worked to translate my scribbled notes into a pattern written to modern conventions, I became stuck on two questions. How to describe the method of twisting the stitches? How to chart them so a modern knitter wouldn’t be faced with a completely new set of symbols?

I set the pattern aside until my brain was able to work through these challenges.

I’m still working on that but have a great helper now in Norah Gaughan’s newest book, Twisted Stitch Sourcebook. The subtitle speaks truth: it as a breakthrough guide to knitting and designing.

How? This book is has three main parts, but before you get there, Gaughan shares techniques for successfully working twisted stitches on both the right and reverse side no matter how you knit. She also helps you figure that out by examining not if you pick or throw, but more importantly how your stitches are arranged on the needle.

There’s also a neat feature here which I believe premiered in her other book, Knitted Cable Sourcebook. It’s called Percentage of Stockinette Stitch, or PSS. This number helps you figure out how much pull a stitch will have on the completed fabric. This is very useful for a garment you may want to have stretch and freedom of movement, such as a hat. It’s also very useful if you want to substitute one stitch with another.

Part I covers 126 stitches and they are grouped by type, beginning with basic diagonals and progress through different combinations that build upon the prior section (chapter): small, horizontal, vertical, compass (all directions at once), eyelets (open up twisted stitches); finally taking it to the extreme where there are twisted stitches on every row — much easier when worked in the round. Gaughan also shares how to work polygons of twisted stitches.

Each stitch explains how it was created, and if it builds upon a prior stitch (or stitches) and what some characteristics of the fabric are. There is a clear photo of each swatch. The instructions are provided in both charted and written form. Each swatch includes both the PSS and information about the repeat. Most swatches are condensed to one page so there is no flipping to continue instruction. I am in love with the sketch stitch (number 115). I have yarn wound to work up a practical swatch (aka a cowl).

Part II shares fifteen patterns. I mostly skipped over these for now as I’m still in the basic swatching stage. When I look to create something more complex, then I will review this section to see how the parts play together.

With that in mind, I’d love to work up the Sketch Coat, but I’d change the instructions to work it in the round with steeks. I’ve been trying to work this swatch flat and working twisted stitches on the wrong side isn’t something my brain likes to do.

Part III helps you learn how to design your own twisted stitches. This section is where you can learn how to put together different elements on a knitter’s grid (twisted states are shorter than they are wide), this will help you visualize how the chart will appear knit up. There are also other grid patterns that will help you shape the designs with use of diagonal grids. There’s even a blank chart that can help you design a yoke, hat, or hexagon. The final chapter includes the gem of this book, ten lessons of tricks Gaughan learned while putting together this amazing stitch dictionary and the designs.

Where this volume differs from Erlbacher (I think, I borrowed it from the library and can’t find my notes) and the Japanese stitch dictionaries is these twisted stitches don’t increase or decrease. Garments that require shaping ask you to work affected stitches with basic shaping methods and stockinette instead.

Overall, this is a delightful volume that would do well as part of any knitter’s stitch dictionary shelf.


Book cover for Norah Gaughan’s Twisted Stitch Sourcebook

Norah Gaughan’s Twisted Stitch Sourcebook: A Breakthrough Guide to Knitting and Designing
By Norah Gaughan
Abrams Books, Published January 12, 2021
Availability: Bookshop.org | Indiebound.org | Worldcat.org

Swatch Library Project Update & Stitch Dictionary Review

Today as I work on new swatches and tidy up my notes, I am refining how I organize my information. I have a stack of stitch dictionaries and a large mug of tea to help me prepare for future swatches. This post covers two topics. It includes an update to the Swatch Library Project and a review to a comprehensive stitch dictionary.

Array of stitch dictionaries, swatch, swatch worksheet arranged on a desk, and the tail of a sleeping black cat peeking out from behind a window curtian

Swatch Library Update

Over the past few months as I worked on my swatch library, I realized there are some details I want to know at a glance. Specifically, what was my purpose while creating the swatch? Was my intent to learn about the yarn, evaluate a stitch, practice a technique (which one), is it a repeat of another swatch with a needle or yarn change, is it a gauge swatch, or is it some combination thereof?

With that in mind, I added this quick categorization to my free worksheet. It is the only change to the document and the new version is now 2021-01-01. If you missed the introductory post, it is Swatch Library Project, First Steps. I’m continuing to refine the overall project and hope to release more updates soon.

First page of the swatch library project worksheet printed and folded in half. Details are Yarn Over New York Yarn in Brookyln Bridge (Worsted weight), Queen Bee color. The yarn is $26 a skein and 100g are 199m/218yd. This is a 4ply 100% superwash merino. The swatch is to learn about the yarn, evaluate a stitch, and work a technique. Paper is a pale yellow and the swatch is a rich honey gold with tons of tiny speckles in warm browns and reds.

I don’t often match my printer paper to my swatch, but it’s a nice touch.

Stitch Dictionary Review

Book cover - 1000 Japanese Knitting & Crochet Stitches

If you are looking for one stitch dictionary that covers a range of knitting and crochet stitches to help you build your stitch library, I highly recommend 1000 Japanese Knitting & Crochet Stitches. It is published in Japan by Nihon Vogue and in the US by Tuttle Publishing and translated by Gayle Roehm.

While originally published in 1992, this collection of stitches is timeless and classic. Now fully translated into English, you no longer need to puzzle through the Japanese to figure out complex stitches. I’ve had my eye on this book for years and am thankful for Roehm’s work to make it accessible to English readers.

About Japanese Stitch dictionaries

For the uninitiated, most Japanese chart symbols are standardized. Complex stitches build upon the simple ones which makes them easier to read. One thing to be aware is that most charts include a symbol for every knit ([ | ]) and purl ([ – ]). This can make the charts look more complex than what many of us are used to. Crocheters are likely be more familiar with the symbols used as their use due to the wide adoption of this style of stitch diagrams. Please note that other than in the technique review section, there are few written instructions, each stitch is provided only as a chart.

Inside this volume

In this dictionary, you will find a collection of 700 knitting stitches including combinations of knits and purls, twisted stitches, lace, cables, color-work motifs, and more. If that weren’t enough, there’s no need for a separate crochet dictionary! There are 300 different crochet patterns covering grids, textures, colors, and edgings. If you aren’t sure how a stitch works up, there are many clear line drawings which step through and illustrate common techniques. Additional information is also provided to improve your interpretation of variations to these basic stitches. For each stitch you will find a clear color photo, the stitches and rows for the repeat is clear, and the chart is next to the photo, no need to hunt or flip pages. Some of the designs will be familiar if you have other Nihon Vogue stitch dictionaries. The advantage is they are all here in one book.

Ask your favorite bookseller or yarn store if they can help you buy a copy. It’s also available to libraries digitally through hoopla and OverDrive.


As a bonus for today, here’s a picture of my cat Shadow, snoring while I edited this post! There’s a wall heater directly below him so it’s a very cozy windowsill.

Photo of black cat, named Shadow stretched out on window sill mostly behind a curtain. there is a wire running across the upper part of the frame, it extends the FM radio antenna.

3 Book Reviews: Natural Colors & Customized Shawls

I read voraciously and love when I read books in groups that create possibilities I hadn’t expected when I started each title. That’s the case with these three books. First, I’ll provide short thoughts on each title of the trio and then how they could be combined for exciting new possibilities.

Book: Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter

Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter

by Kate Atherley and Kim McBrien Evans

Find your copy:

Quick Thoughts

Custom Shawls helps knitters systematically understand requirements of different shapes of shawls and how color can affect outcome. It also provides tools, through the form of wonderful charts and clear formulas to answer questions of how do I make a shawl shaped like x, and what if I combined that element x with y? The charts and formulae are what caught my attention the most, they cover a range of topics from gauge and yardage to the math for the surface area of different shapes. There are also several patterns to help you understand the concepts before you jump into the endless design possibilities unleashed by this book.

Book cover: Journeys in Natural Dyeing

Journeys in Natural Dyeing: Techniques for Creating Color at Home

by Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez

Find your copy:

Quick Thoughts

Beautifully written as part travel memoir and part dyeing handbook, Journeys in Natural Dyeing, has me eager to try and see what will happen with locally sourced dye materials (from my kitchen — avocado pits, and from my backyard — acorns!). There are recipes and discussion of adapting from larger scale dyeing to a more approachable kitchen set-up. What I appreciate most isn’t actually related to the process of creating and using dyes. Throughout the book there is a reminder to take notes and observe. I found the shade cards absolutely stunning and their accompanying dye chart incredibly valuable. You, the reader, are basically being handed a natural dye recipe book with samples. Yes, it is imperative to try the dyes on your fibers and make your own notes on process, however you are handed a wealth of knowledge in one book.

book cover: true colors

True Colors: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments

by Keith Recker

Find your copy:

Quick Thoughts

If you enjoyed reading Journeys in Natural Dyeing and wanted to learn more about how different artists embrace it, this is a beautiful and different natural color journey. This is not a story of yarn; the artists dye a multitude of materials. It doesn’t romanticize the hard work involved and showcases the vast and complex knowledge and traditions of natural dyers around the globe.

Deeper thoughts on the 3 books

There’s the simple way to explore with these books. Take a book-based adventure cross referencing Journeys in Natural Colors with True Colors and use those dye elements to then create a custom shawl.

I’m planning something a bit more unique. I’ll look around my local spaces (kitchen and yard) and learn how things I find there can create dye. I’ll explore different dye techniques and experiment on any material I can find with different methods, years ago I read Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking. I have many ideas. When I experiment with yarn, I’ll also look into color combinations and shawl shapes I may not turn to by default. I’m intrigued by the shapes and curious how some dyes might combine and how they may react to different materials.

book review – Vanishing Fleece

Clara Parkes has a new book out, Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool. While I was able to secure an advanced reader copy through Netgalley, it took a rainy Monday afternoon a week after the book’s official publication date for me to curl up and enjoy her journey.


In Vanishing Fleece, Clara Parkes’ love song to American wool, follow the journey of her “Great White Bale” project. The tale follows her 676 pound bale of Saxon Merino wool from Eugene’s sheep farm in Goshen, NY. Parkes’ clear and beautiful writing shows us why the domestic yarn industry deserves our support.

It’s a book you’ll want to linger over and savor, however you may find yourself like Parkes, jumping in and seeing where the bale takes her next. I devoured this book in one sitting on a rainy afternoon.

Do you need to be a knitter to enjoy VANISHING FLEECE? No. Parkes writing is approachable and comfortable. This is a book for those who care about what they put in their bodies, and what they put on them. It is for those skeptical that you can find good, affordable, domestically processed wool, or that one should.

book cover: vanishing fleece

Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool
by Clara Parkes
Abrams Press
Published 01 October 2019

I received an eARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for a review. The FTC wants you to know.

book review – Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits by Barbara Benson

Barbara Benson has a new book out, Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits.

Cover: Big Yarn Beautiful Lace by Barbara BensonI admit, I was skeptical about this book, I’m a knitter who loves tiny needles and fine yarns. Would I like a book on chunky lace knits?

Yes.

Why? Barbara Benson loves to ask, “What if?” Her newest book, Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits is the result of experiments and exploration into knitting lace, not with the delicate fine yarns traditionally chosen, but with big bulky yarns. Included are twenty designs that answer what if this was knit in bulky.

For those new to lace knitting, the Getting Started with Lace section at the start of the book will be beneficial. Here, Benson explains what lace knitting is, how to read a chart, two different methods of blocking and why one is better than the other, and some words on gauge. Do you need to read this section if you are comfortable knitting lace? No, but I think you should. This introduction is well written! At the end of the book, the techniques are detailed. Why at the end? It helps you get to the projects quicker and not everyone needs a step-by-step on how to work a circular cast on. If you do need to learn, or want a refresher, the instructions are clear with lots of photographs to help. At this part of the book is also where you’ll find a list of abbreviations. One small touch I like is the visual index!

The twenty designs explore different techniques and accessories. While there are the expected shawls, there are also scarves, cowls, fingerless mitts, hats, a throw, and a vest.

The instructions are both written and charted. Where necessary, a schematic is included. Gail Zucker‘s photography is stunning too. The project yarns cover an array from those found in big box stores to what is found on a shelf in a local yarn store. Many of the projects include notes for modification, as most projects are one size, these notes will help make a project fit a larger or smaller recipient. For example, a stockinette section on a poncho may be worked over fewer stitches before the lace panel, making it shorter.

Most designs in the book caught my eye. Shoot the Moon for its simplicity, em>Asymmetrical Balance because it’s something that isn’t overly feminine. The em>Coefficient of Modulation, as this cowl is worked in a technique Benson explored in her first book, Mosaic Lace. Giant Elves made me stop and giggle for the mental image it portrays. The Hearts in Chains poncho also looks like a nice knit, the large stockinette section is calming and the lace motif section easy to read. Avasarala made me pause because of its unique and versatile shape. You can learn more about the book and see the designs at www.tumpedduck.com.

This is a stunning collection that shows that the answer to “What if Lace is writ large?” is “Many delightful possibilities!”

What would you knit?

I received an eARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for a review. The FTC wants you to know.