With the cuffs finished, my needles were empty (cough, mostly, cough), and I found myself in need of a project.  I’d had an idea bubbling away in the back of my mind for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect time to play with it.  It required two yarns though, so I knew there would be a fair amount of swatching.

So first came this.  high contrastOh, then this.

low contrastUm, and then a little of this.

really high contrastAnd none of those are quite right.  Which is fine, they’re swatches.  They’re there to teach me things, not to be perfect.  And they’ve taught me quite a lot of things, so they’ve done their jobs well, even if they have all since gone to the great swatch pile in the sky.

They’ve actually taught me enough that I may have just sent a cable on the secret designers’ wire service to one of my favorite yarn folks to see if we can hatch a little plot.  Because this will require just the right yarn, and that’s too good an opportunity to pass up!

Math…please don’t be scared

There I sat, admiring my swatch.  Loving it really.  The drape, the gauge, the yarn, the color, all was well.  Look at that red thing (details of said swatch intentionally and shamelessly obscured in the interest of secrecy preservation).


It’s Blue Sky Alpacas’ Alpaca Silk in Crabapple and it’s filling me with glee.  The other thing it was filling me was doubt.  Had I let my swatching fever take too strong a hold?  Was I going to run out of yarn because I’d knit such a nice big swatch?  I’m a swatch keeper.  I’ll rip them out if I have to, but especially for book projects (where the full project is usually knit by someone else), I really like to keep them if I can.

So I did what seemed reasonable…I did math.

As I was doing this, I realized this was the single most useful bit of math I do, and I do it often.  I wondered if I could write it up in a way that might help someone who shies away from math.  I know math aversion runs deep in some folks, but this is so useful it might be worth trying.  Let’s see, shall we?

First, the set up.  I had a swatch.  It had 1,470 stitches in it (we can talk about estimating stitch counts later if folks are interested, for now just take my word for it), and it weighed 10.2 grams.  I had 90 grams of yarn leftover to use for the project.  I wanted to know how big a project I could make.  So if you write that out in numbers instead of words, it looks like this:

1,470 stitches / 10.2 grams = X stitches / 90 grams

So to say that in words again, I made 1,470 stitches with 10.2 grams of yarn, so I can make X stitches with 90 grams of yarn…what’s X?

Now, if you recall your first algebra class, you’ll remember that you can generally do the same thing to both sides of an equation and it stays the same.  So for this question, you can multiply both sides by 90 grams, and something neat happens.  See how X had been divided by 90 grams to start with?  Well if you then multiply it by 90 grams, X (our mystery answer) gets left there all alone (which is what we want).

(1,470 stitches / 10.2 grams) * 90 grams = X stitches
X = 12,970 stitches

So now I know my project can have up to 12,970 stitches.  Now, to be safe (because maybe my tension will change or maybe my scale was off or maybe the bind off will be a yarn hog), I’ll round that down a bit to give myself a safety factor, but this is hugely useful.  It tells me (thanks to a bit more math used to see how many stitches would be in the size I want the finished piece to be) that I’ve got plenty of yarn for my plan for this project.

But, here’s the useful thing, you don’t just do this for stitch counts, you can do it any time you have a known relationship and you want to know about a specific example.  So if you know that your ball of yarn weighs 50 grams and is 200 yards long (there’s your known relationship), and you know your hat weighs 43 grams (there’s your specific example), you can figure out how much yarn it used. For that, you’d set it up like this:

200 yards / 50 grams = X yards / 43 grams
(200 yards / 50 grams) * 43 grams = X yards
X = 172 yards

So you multiplied each side by 43 grams and found out your hat took 172 yards.

It’s always the same approach, the only thing you have to do is pay attention to the units.

So you’ve got three parts: your known relationship  (that can be yards per gram from the ball band, or stitches per gram from a calculation like we did above, or most any other thing you want), your mystery answer, and your specific example.  Write it down so that your known relationship is on one side, and be sure that the thing that has the same units as your mystery answer is on top.  So see how we were interested in stitches in the first example, and we put stitches first?  And see how we were interested in yards in the second example and we put yards first?  Be sure you write it that way.  That’s equal to your mystery answer divided by your specific example.  All you have to do then is that one little bit of multiplication, and you’ve got your answer.

Try working through a few examples yourself and see if you can get the hang of it.  It’s how you do things like figure out ‘I have part of a ball left, how many yards is that?’ or ‘how many yards did this pair of socks actually need’ and it really will make your knitting life much easier.

Popping back in later in the day to add that I have this scale, and I love it. It is cheap and accurate (and, you know, tiny and cute, which is always good), and it comes in handy for measuring yarn on at least a weekly basis.

In The Grip

I got the nicest note from someone the other day saying they were sorry I wasn’t knitting much these days.  I had to do a bit of a double take.  I sort of feel like I’ve been knitting like a mad woman.  That cramp in my neck and the twinge just above my right elbow also seem to indicate that I’ve been knitting rather a lot.

What I’ve not been doing is showing you my knitting.  That is in large part because most of what I’m knitting at the moment is swatches.  Piles and piles and piles of swatches.  See?  And yes, yes that green thing is freaking delicious.


I am, in fact, rather besotted and quite firmly in the grip of my current obsession.  These are all swatches for that new project I mentioned the other day.  The one that sprung forth like Athena, fully formed, and has been laying claim to my every waking moment since its inception.  The project that really needs a secret code name so I can talk about it with you for the next little while without giving away any secret info.  Any ideas?

So while I may not be finishing many completed projects these days, rest assured that I am knitting.  I will try and do a better job of sharing what’s on my needles, even if it is just in swatch form at the moment.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find at least four more yarns…possibly seven more.  I’ve already made plans for all the ones I have, and I desperately need more yarn so I can make more swatches.  Any current yarn favorites?  Most any weight is good, heavy lace right on up through worsted…my current obsession is nothing if not versatile!

Pin Me Down

So let’s talk about blocking. You know those stitches that just, by their nature, don’t want to lie flat?  The ones that have a bit of ripple and curve to them?  Yeah.  There are a few ways you can go with them.  You can force them flat when you block, or you can exaggerate the the waves.  I think both can be fun, but what about you guys.  Would you freak out if the blocking instructions wanted you to do this?

You’d need either several (oh, maybe 12?) straight needles or a set of blocking wires or some super skinny dowels from the craft store or the snipped off bottom parts of some coated wire coat hangers or some other clever thing I’m sure I’m just overlooking.

Or what about something like this?

That’s the same swatch, just held in place with some tiny binder clips.  Clothes pins or even hair clips could work too.

The point is that you’d likely need to do some creative scavenging to block  this way, but it wouldn’t be all that hard.  And if you did need to buy something like dowels or binder clips, you could get what you needed for less than five bucks.

Would you be willing to try blocking something that way?  Or is that just too much to ask?  What if blocking it that way was presented as an alternative option…you could block it flat if you were feeling like it, but you had another option if you were feeling a bit more adventurous?


I am a firm believer in order of operations.  Having a set of steps (and then following them) helps ensure things get done the right ways and that things don’t get missed.  Given that, it should come as no surprise that the books (or at least the patterns for the books) follow a set process.

Step 1 is picking the yarn. Step 2 is swatching like a fiend. Step 3 is making myself a page of charts and notes (on graph paper, it has to be graph paper, I don’t know how anyone writes on lined paper) for each pattern.  Step 4 is chaining myself to the desk and transferring those pages and pages of notes into the rather stylized language of patterns.  Steps 5-78 involve getting those patterns polished, knit, edited, photographed, laid out, and out in the world.

Can you guess which stage I’m on now?

And just to give you a sense of the timeline, these are all for the book that will be coming out next year around this time.  It really does take that long to go from ‘excellent, I have the ideas all sorted out’ to ‘and here they are, on the printed page, ready for others to use.’  I’m working on speeding that up, but so far, it’s stubbornly resistant to my pleas to happen faster.