Making with Notes

Notes and notebooks are an invaluable part of everything I do. By recording observations, ideas, triumphs, and failures, I’ve created an environment that I can review and learn from. This process enables me to find new patterns (in all senses of that word) and draw different connections to create something new. The process of writing helps me slow down and think about the challenges I’m trying to solve. 

I prefer to scribble on and refer to paper. Yes, electronic options exist – I use them too. However, when I’m trying to solve a problem – be it a design that isn’t working out how I thought, or a bigger idea I need to contemplate — I’ll pick up a notebook and a pen. That’s what works best for me. Something else may be a better fit for you. [Consistency in notes is a topic for other posts, such as this one.]

Writing everything down, pasting ideas, scribbling thoughts and doodling are all part of the process. Nothing comes straight through in its finished format, at least not for me. I will revise and edit until it’s the best I can make it – and my notes along the way help that process. My scribbles are a draft. It’s rare that I share the full details of a page with anyone except maybe the cat. They’re an essential step for me. 

My archives supply a source of both information and inspiration. I still find it much easier to review my paper notebooks than any digital ones I’ve created. 

This week, I’m working to finish a new design that combines simple elements – basic stitches both for regular and Tunisian Crochet. It’s been a struggle to decide on one part of the design. I’ve tried different stitch permutations, and nothing felt quite right.

The other day I pulled three notebooks off the shelf and let them open (somewhat) randomly. They cover a multi-year time period, 2013, 2011, and 2017. There’s no real reason to why I pulled them down other than those were the first three I grabbed. 

a wooden desk strewn with open notebooks and a pink swatch laying on one with a green pen.

A page from June 2013 showed my notes and sketches for an asymmetrical cable top – one that was far in advance of my design ability a decade ago. (I should revisit that!) The movement of my cable sketch made me think of the stitch used in my Autumn Transitions Cowl, one that receives compliments every time I wear it. 

Another open page was a spread from October 2011 when I affixed the actual swatch into the pages (I now photocopy them if I really need the swatch with the notes – it makes for a less bulky notebook). What made me pause here was not the swatch, but the photocopied chart next to it. I pasted that in landscape and when viewed sideways it makes me think differently about the panel it portrays. 

The third book opened to sketches for the still not yet released Transposon design as sketched in 2017. Then as now, random stripes (or ribbing) is what captured my attention and provided me the spark that will work for this project. 

My scribbles as I work out what I may do (still subject to change) read: 

lined rhodia notebook on a wooden desk with a green fountain pen. the left page has notes about a crochet design.
click to open full size
Tunisian + simple crochet -> light drape stripe.
Change to hdc herringbone or dc in sc section?
simple texture? 
alt sc, tc, sc, sc, with a fib[onacci] seq[uence]! 
swatch LB Cotton Ease K/6.5mm

Well, I mostly swatched. Dot loves this discontinued yarn and stole the ball off my desk as I was taking photos. I’ll need to wait for her to nap so I can complete the swatch and finish the design.

Tuxedo Cat on a messy desk with a ball of pink yarn in her mouth.

See also:

Looking for a notebook of your own?

Working with Anzula’s Yarns

I hope this post finds you and yours well as we begin to understand our “new normal.” We adapt. We mourn. We celebrate. We wash our hands.

While I (once again) haven’t been consistent in writing here, I’ve been working with yarn and fiber. Some days I work on designs with intricate details that are unique and make me feel brilliant and creative. On other days I curl up with the comfort of garter stitch or a granny square.

As I try to embrace the slower pace that is everything these days, I’m working on swatches to continue my Anzula Meet the Yarn posts. As our reliance for online and virtual interactions grows, these posts become more important (no pressure!). While I hope you can support your local yarn store, throughout these strange new times, Kalliope Sabrina has opened Anzula’s online store to everyone. You can find it at anzula.myshopify.com.

In this post, I created a summary of the Meet the Yarn posts I’ve written so far. There are many more yarns in the Anzula universe. I hope to swatch them all for you soon!

MCNs – 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Nylon blends

Swatches of Anzula Cloud

Cloud, swatches shown in color Charcoal. 2-ply Light Fingering weight. 114g / 575yd (526m)

Swatches of Anzula Squishy

Squishy, swatches shown in color Aqua. 3-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 385yd (352m) and also available in 25g & 50g combinations.

Swatches of Anzula Ava

Ava, swatches shown in color Misfit. 3-ply Sport weight. 114g / 330yd (302m)

Swatches of Anzula For Better or Worsted

For Better or Worsted, swatches shown in color Keola. 4-ply Worsted weight. 114g / 200yd (183m)

Cashmere & Cashmere blends

Pile of Anzula Serenity swatches

Serenity, swatches shown in a color similar to Orchid. 4-ply Fingering weight. 100% Cashmere. 50g / 185yd (169m)

Pile of Anzula Dreamy swatches

Dreamy, swatches shown in color Dark Matter. 3-ply Fingering weight. 75% Superwash Merino, 15% Cashmere, 10% Silk. 114g / 385yd (352m)

50% Tussah Silk, 50% Superwash Merino blends

Pile of Anzula's It Could be Worsted swatches

It Could Be Worsted, swatches shown in color Nimbus. 4-ply Worsted weight. 114g / 190yd (174m)

Pile of Anzula's Luster swatches

Luster, swatches shown in color Safforn. 3-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 405yd (370m)

Pile of Anzula's Silken swatches

Silken, swatches shown in color Dany. 2-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 370yd (338m)

Sparkles – blends with Stellina

Pile of Anzula's Lunaris swatches

Lunaris, swatches shown in color Chiva. 3-ply Fingering weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Sparkling Stellina. 114g / 425yd (389m)

Pile of Anzula's Nebula swatches

Nebula, swatches shown in color Dusty Rose. 3-ply Fingering weight. 86% Superwash Merino, 14% Sparkling Stellina. 114g / 400yd (366m)

Pile of Anzula's lucero swatches

Lucero, swatches shown in color Sophia. 3-ply DK weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Sparkling Stellina. 50g / 250yd (229m)

Other fiber blends

Pile of Anzula's Dottie swatches

Dottie, swatches shown in color Teal. 3-ply Fingering weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 17% Acrylic, 3% Polyester. 114g / 420yd (384m)

Pile of Anzula's Katara swatches

Katara, swatches shown in color Boysenberry. 3-ply DK weight. 50% Superwash Meirno, 50% brown yak fiber. 50g / 98yd (89m)

Pile of Anzula's Gerty

Gerty, swatches shown in color Mariana. 3-ply Fingering weight. 100% Targhee Wool. 100g / 390yd (357m)

Pile of Anzula's Milkyway swatches

Milkyway, swatches shown in color Seaside. 4-ply Light Fingering weight. 80% Milk Protein, 20% Superwash Merino. 114g / 500yd (457m)

Pile of Anzula's Meridian swatches

Meridian, swatches shown in color Sexy. 4-ply Lace weight. 55% Tencel, 35% Alpaca, 10% Nylon. 114g / 811yd (742m)

Please know there are even more Anzula yarns that I’ve not yet written about! I hope this post entices you to work with Anzula’s many wonderful yarns! Looking to purchase some? Kalliope Sabrina has opened Anzula’s online store to everyone, find it at anzula.myshopify.com. As always, thank you to the entire Anzula team for supporting this project.

Singer sewing machine on wooden table top with 13 sewn masks in front. Masks are in a rainbow of prints, all cotton fabric.
a selection of the 36 masks I’ve sewn to-date.

One other thing I’ve worked on, like many others over the past few weeks, is sewing masks. I’m focused on two local nonprofits, Cluster Community Services which, among other programs, provides mental health services and the Humane Society of Westchester at New Rochelle. I’m waiting on a delivery of elastic as I exhausted my supply of ties with the first batch of masks. In the meantime I’m preparing fabric so I can be ready to go. For this second batch I’m changing the pattern I use; I’ve found the Tom Bihn Mask pattern a great one for production sewing.

swatching & schedule

Instead of writing here, the time that I normally set aside for this has been devoted instead to swatching.

Here’s the resulting pile of some of what I’ve worked up over the past several weeks:

This includes yarns from Anzula, Artyarns, Lorna’s Laces, Oink Pigments, and Yarn Over New York.

What will these swatches become?

A few are for articles. Most of the swatches are in preparation of new designs and samples.

I’ve reworked my schedule and hope that I’ve now designated a better time to focus on my writing here and still dedicate time to swatch. I hope that next month there will even be a newsletter!

swatching, storage

Now that my September Swatch Project has ended, the problem to solve is: how do I store them? It’s a problem I need to find an answer to. I’m not thrilled with my current solution for the Anzula swatches.

First some personal background and my swatch storage history. My academic background is in computer science as well as information and archive management. That means I love to find order in data and objects, even if I’m not the tidiest person in my daily life. I also need to keep in mind my feline overlords, both Shadow and Dot love yarn. That means swatches can’t stay out without becoming impromptu cat toys.

Historically I’ve stored swatches for specific projects in my notebooks, either the actual swatch or a photocopy. I have a storage box for the swatches, most with a label tied on.

From the beginning, the Anzula swatches lived in their own storage box. They recently outgrew it and I gave them a second one. The boxes are stored next to my photography area (which is tucked into the boiler room). Ideal? No. Does it do the minimum? Yes.

I’d like to make the swatches less… messy and chaotic. Being able to pull them out and reference them without undoing the entire box would make them more useful.

My Ideas for Swatch Storage

It’s crossed my mind to make a swatch sample book, stitching each one onto muslin, and turning it into a reference book.

A simpler option is to make icord loops and tie each bundle together with the yarn info and toss them all into a bigger box. Why not just use leftover yarn ends? I’d like to be intentional about the bundle and making a loop would provide that structure.

I’ve also thought about making a swatch blanket, like Kristin Nicholas did. Perhaps stitching fabric labels onto the reverse.

Your Ideas for swatch storage

Do one of these ideas strike you as a really good one? Do you have suggestions for how I could store these swatches? Please, let me know!

You can read all of my Meet the Yarn posts at anzula.com including my newest one about Katara, a lovely 3-ply DK weight Yak/Merino blend.

swatching, tips for planning

This September Swatch Project isn’t my first large swatch project. It’s unlikely to be my last. Over the years I’ve developed methods for keeping a project of this size organized and consistent.

Today I’m sharing a bit of my process from a blank page to a plan. We’ll start first by reviewing a current plan, then explore parts of a plan in progress.

Active Project Plan

Here’s an example of the plan, aka the chart, showing my progress on my Anzula Meet the Yarn swatches. (Please click to make the photo larger.)

chart of anzula yarn swatches pasted into notebook

This chart has undergone several iterations in the year and a half since I began the project. While this current format isn’t my ideal, it keeps track of the key basics — the yarn, colourway, and what needle and/or hook size I use. It’ll stay in this format until I migrate to the next notebook.

todo list of anzula swatchesKeeping track of actual completion of each task (as a binary complete or not) is the responsibility of an online todo list app. I wrote a small script that automates generating task items for each swatch in a specific yarn, it also creates reminders to block & photograph, and write the blog post. This format provides me the satisfaction of crossing each swatch off a list, confidence that I won’t forget to make one as a program creates the list, and it keeps my notebook free of clutter. (Please click to make the list larger.)

Creating a Plan

inventory list of oink pigment swatches handwritten in notebookI’m still gearing up for the Oink Pigments swatches. When I received the first skeins of yarn, that night I recorded it as a simple list in my notebook. (Please click to make the photo larger.)

I’ve not yet determined exactly how it will differ from the other swatch project so my chart and task items havn’t been generated yet. In order to track what I’m working on this month, I wrote up this quick chart in my planner grid.

planning grid for oink pigment swatches

Once the stitches and format are better defined, I’ll print up a chart and paste it in my logbook to update as the swatches progress.


Do you struggle to organize projects of this scale? This part is easy and enjoyable for me. Next week I’ll share how my storage of the physical swatches is another matter entirely.

swatching, tips for choosing tools

There are two parts to every swatch, ok, three. The yarn, the tool used to manipulate the yarn, and the individual doing the work.

How do I choose the tool? Which knitting needles or hooks do I want to use for my swatches? The answer is (as always), it depends.

When swatching for fun I often use different needles and hooks than I use when working a swatch for gauge or for the actual item.

Sometimes I want extreme portability. A small circular and ball of yarn can fit into my Tom Bihn Side Kick.

For other swatches, I want to see what effect a needle type will have on the yarn and resulting fabric. Sometimes it’s easier to work on a longer needle than I generally find comfortable.

I have favourite needles and hooks. Some of my swatches are worked for the same reasons you may curl up in a cozy sweater with a mug of hot cocoa and a favourite book. I’ll grab what feels most comfortable in my hand and get to work.

Then there’s the needles and hooks I try because they have buzz. These are sometimes the most fun because I’ll be pairing two unknowns (yarn and needle) and don’t quite know what the result will be.

array of sswatches and projects, knitting needles and crochet hooks on wooden surface.

Pictured are some projects and swatches with a variety of yarns, needles, and hooks.

This photograph provided an unexpected benefit in that it helped me discover that some needles are missing. I’ve been rearranging my studio over the past few months and it’s very easy to misplace things.

Tips for choosing tools for swatching

  • Are you working the swatch to simply get to know the yarn?

    In that case choose a favourite needle/hook.

  • Is this swatch to explore a particular stitch with the long-term intent of a project?

    Then choose the needle/hook you think you will use for the project. I often purposely go a size up or down than I think I’ll need because I’ve been surprised before by pushing at my expectations.

  • If you are knitting or crocheting a swatch for gauge?

    If so, make it larger than you think necessary and use the exact needle, hook, and if it’s an interchangeable set cable you plan for the project.

I’ve written about my tools and choices in the past. Here are a few of those posts:
knitting needles on white surface