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Monday, April 20, 2009

Knitting in a very hot apartment

O.K. I think this must be a test of my devotion to knitting and designing. My little apartment here is getting pretty warm during the day. I mean really warm. I do not even know the correct temperature since the thermostat has only 90 as a highest degree and its hand goes beyond the limit. So, I think it is safe to assume it is more than 90 degrees here.
I am knitting anyway and progressing well with one project that has a close deadline. I guess I am devoted to knitting.
My cat befriended the only fan we have. She was scared of it before, now she is finding a spot right next to it. It is cooler now, so back to knitting.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ethnic Knitting Exploration blog tour. Get the scoop from the author herself.

I am very pleased that I have a chance to chat with Donna Druchunas about her new book. In this book she takes us through three countries: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland full of rich history and traditions. Donna looks at these regions through the eyes of a knitter, designer, and the teacher. She also has a warm spot in her heart for Lithuania because one side of her family came from there.

I always was interested in the history of knitting. I love how Donna mixes together some notes about culture and knitting traditions in the region and the teaching of how to make a sweater, or some other garment using the techniques and the color work. You can read this book or you can study it.

So, here is my conversation with Donna.

FG: Donna, thank you very much for stopping by. Congratulations on your wonderful book. I am looking forward to hear about it. I loved the idea of this book. I especially liked the historic notes about traditions of each country. It is not easy to find much reading on history of knitting. I am sure you did not tell us everything you know. Are there any other facts or stories that are not in this book that you can share with us ?

DD: You're right! It was so challenging to cut the information down. In Ethnic Knitting Discovery and Ethnic Knitting Exploration, the plan was to give readers just a taste of what's available, just a glimpse of the knitting traditions from each region. Books could be written about each individual topic. I am, in fact, working on an entire book about knitting in Lithuania. I had a wonderful time visiting there for 7 weeks last summer. I went to sheep farms and museums, and to visit knitters and spinners, and to a folk-art school. Mostly I learned about the culture and history of Lithuania, and the people and their customs. Even though I am of Lithuanian descent (on my father's side), my grandparents were born in the US, so I am completely American culturally. Knitting wise, I am Eastern European, however. I learned to knit from my Russian grandmother (on my mother's side), who taught me what is often called the "combination method" these days. In one Lithuanian knitting book I have, Megzkime Pačios ("Let's Knit") by O. Jarmulavičienė, I found that the author provides the basic knitting stitches in the way I learned to knit from my grandmother! I'd never seen this presented as the main way to knit in a book before. In this technique, when your purl you wrap the yarn in the opposite direction than is normally done in America. This turns the stitches around so that on the right side, or the knit side of the work, the leading leg of the stitch is in back of the needle. On right-side rows in stockinette stitch, you knit in the back of the stitches so they don't twist.
Here are the illustrations for a knit stitch and a purl stitch.

This confused me so much when I was a teenager and I saw one of my friends knitting garter stitch booties! I never had knitted garter stitch. My grandmother taught me stockinette stitch first. It's really easy to learn for kids in this method. You just remember this: Knit = back/back Purl = front/front. That is, to knit, you hold the working yarn in the back, and you insert the right needle into the back of the stitch. To purl, you hold the working yarn in front, and you insert the right needle into the front of the stitch.
There are actually a lot of books on the history of knitting, but most are about a specific region and technique. Sadly, many are out of print and hard to find. I just had to pay $15 to borrow The History of Knitting Before Mass Production by Irena Turnau on interlibrary loan. I can't even find a used copy for sale, so I will probably photocopy the whole darned thing for my research. Usually it's free to get interlibrary loan books, so you can just borrow them again if you need more info. This question makes me think that maybe I need to create a bibliography on my website with a list of all the books on knitting history that I have collected and borrowed over the years. Good idea, but I have no time to do it right now!

FG: You know, I was taught to knit the same way. This method is used by many people in Russia. It is great for Stockinette Stitch. I had to change my style when I started to do some advanced stitch patterns because my stitches were facing the "wrong" way. But you can still knit with this method and turn the stitch in the right direction when you come to it.
This is all very interesting, Donna.

Was it easy or difficult for you to get people to talk to you about their knitting traditions? Did you have to learn their language?

DD: I haven't traveled to all of the places I've written about. I did a lot of "armchair travel" research for this series. I have been spending time in Lithuania, however. I have been studying the Lithuanian language and I've found it to be very helpful. Although knitters everywhere are very generous and happy to share their knowledge, it is a little easier to get by when you know the language! In the big cities in Lithuania a lot of people speak English, especially the young people. But a lot of the older people, particularly in rural areas, who grew up in the Soviet era, speak only Lithuanian and Russian. I know Nancy Bush, who has been studying Estonian knitting for years, does not speak Estonian at all. I can't imagine that for myself. I have found that learning Lithuanian has helped me understand the Lithuanian people and culture in a way I could never have grasped without any understanding of the language.

FG: Can you name one thing that you have never seen in knitting techniques before you went on this trip?

DD: Well, I only went to Lithuania. I would love to go to Iceland and Ireland some day, but I don't know when that will happen. I've been reading about different knitting techniques for a long time. I go overboard in just about everything I do, and knitting is no exception. I learned a lot about the patterns and fibers and dyes that were used traditionally in the Lithuanian National Costume on my trip, and I discovered a very interesting scalloped cuff for mittens and socks that I had never seen before. It turns out that this type of cuff is also knit in a region of Latvia. I couldn't find anyone to show me how to make this while I was in Lithuania (I will try again this summer), but I found a picture of a similar cuff on Beth Brown-Reinsel's website, and Beth told me that there are instructions for a very similar design in the book Latvian Mittens by by Lizbeth Upitis. So, sorry I am talking about Lithuania so much and not about Ireland and Iceland! I love the designs from those regions as much or more than the knitting from Lithuania (sorry Lithuanians!). I am TOTALLY in love with cables and have been ever since I was a child. The first thing I remember knitting was a swatch of yellow honeycomb cable, and that stitch has been one of my favorites ever since. That's why I featured it so prominently in the Aran chapter of Ethnic Knitting Exploration (it's also a very classic Aran motif). The memory of knitting that swatch was basically the inspiration for the garments in that chapter, and for this yellow poncho that was made using the project plan in Ethnic Knitting Exploration.

FG: In your book, you are teaching your reader to design a sweater with very easy and clear instructions. I think it is a great way to teach.
Do you have any suggestions to a person who is branching out for the first time from a fully-written pattern?

DD: Don't be afraid. Remember that knitting is not written in stone. You can always rip and start over if you don't like what you get on your first attempt. I used to think that ripping was terrible (and it's still not my favorite thing to do), but then I heard Sally Melville say, "What are you going to do after you finish this project? Knit more! So just rip if you make a mistake and then you get more knitting out of the same yarn!" I thought that was great. And so true.

FG: Are there any other trips planned for research purposes? Are there more books in works for you?

DD: I'm going back to Lithuania this summer to continue to work on a future book. As a long term project, I would like to travel to many other countries in Eastern Europe, especially those that are not in the EU, and learn about the knitting and textile traditions there. I could see this as a future book, but I have to find out what information is available first. This is a project that will probably take me at least ten years to explore and develop. Wish me luck!

FG: I am looking forward to more of your books, Donna. I think you are doing a great service for all of us who would love to know more about knitting traditions of other countries in the world. I cannot say I feel sorry for you that you have to travel so much :)
Thank you so much for stopping by and giving us a glimpse of what is in your book. I wish you could stay longer and tell us more, but we will follow you on your blog tour. Tomorrow you will be talking with Shannon Okey and we will hear more.

DD: Thanks for being part of my blog tour. It's been a pleasure talking with you. Best of luck on all of your own future knitting adventures as well!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Every great sweater begins with the great swatch.

I know that some people think that to knit a swatch is a chore, nuisance, or even some ancient thing that nobody needs since the pattern tells you how many stitches you need to cast on. Well, how about if I give you some scenarios what happened to “Martha” and you decide if making a swatch is worth her time. (Sorry, cannot help myself. My teaching techniques coming through:))

Scenario #1: The usual.
Martha has a pattern for a nice sweater. She got the exact yarn that was used in the pattern, the right size of needles, and all other materials. She is set to knit. It is going to be her favorite sweater. Martha is very excited and cannot wait to start. She thinks: “What size do I choose from this pattern? I think it has to be M (medium) since I always buy clothes of that size at the store.” The pattern tells her to cast on a certain number of stitches and follow step-by-step instructions. We do not see Martha for some time. Next time we see her we are very concerned. She looks upset. She tells us that she chose the wrong pattern. She says: “ It is a bad pattern. I followed the instructions and my sweater came out too small around and too short. I wasted the time, the yarn, and I have no sweater.”

Any thoughts on what went wrong?
Scenario # 2. Somewhat frequent
Martha has a beautiful yarn in her stash. She wants to use it for a sweater pattern she just bought. Martha told her friend (an advanced knitter): “I do not think it is a big difference in the yarn. I will be fine. It looks the same to me. I am going to start it tonight. I have the needles that pattern calls for.”

What do you think her friend said to her?

Scenario #3. Periodic
Martha learned the hard way that she has to start her project with a gauge swatch. She confesses: “I always skipped that part in the introduction of a pattern. This is the first time I knitted my swatch. The gauge in the pattern is 5 sts = 1 in and I am very happy to report that mine is VERY close. It is 4.5 sts = 1 in. I got it the first time. Yay! I am all set.”

Is Martha going to have a well-fitted sweater?

Answers to
Scenario #1: She did not knit a gauge swatch and she did not measure herself or a well-fitted sweater.

Scenario #2: You have to knit a gauge swatch. Even different colors of the same yarn can give you a different gauge on the same needles.

Scenario #3: No, she did not get her gauge. If she did a little math…
Let’s do it for her.
Her gauge is 4.5 sts = 1 in
Patt gauge is 5.0 sts = 1 in
Sweater measures 40 in at the hip
With her gauge: 40 in x 4.5 sts per in = 180 sts needed for CO
With the patt gauge: 40 in x 5 sts per in = 200 sts needed for CO (that is the number she sees in the instructions)

The difference is: 200 sts – 180 sts = 20 sts around the hip area.
In inches it will be (with her gauge) 20 sts / 4.5 sts = 4.44 in (that how much she is adding to the circumference of hips).
My opinion: She is NOT going to be happy with this sweater.

Solution: Martha needs to make another swatch with needles of the next size down. Hopefully this will bring her to the right gauge.

Is this convincing enough? There are many more scenarios that lead to the same conclusion: If we want not to waste our precious time, beautiful yarn, and be very happy and satisfied with the result, WE MUST KNIT A GAUGE SWATCH.

The Facts

  • The number of sts (often with decimals) packed into one inch or cm is called the "knitting gauge". It shows the density of obtained fabric. A fingering weight yarn packs more sts in one inch than worsted, bulky, or chunky weight can. In other words, the more stitches you have that make 1 inch length, the thinner your yarn is.
  • The yarn label gives you suggested gauge and needle size.
  • The yarn label gives you gauge after blocking.
  • The dye changes the gauge. Even the same color of the same brand, but different dye lot can produce different gauge.
  • The gauge is effected by the way we hold needles, by the knitting method we use (I have different gauges when I knit using Continental or English methods), by stress level (Do not continue knitting an important big project when your stress level is suddenly very high. You will see the difference. You can start a new project instead.), and many other factors.
  • A designer uses her/his gauge to write the pattern. You are responsible for getting as close as you can to that stitch and row gauge. Only then you can be sure that your finished product will look like you see it on the model.

Do The Right Thing

  • Take your time. Make a good-size swatch. I recommend the size of not less than 6x6 inches. It pays off.
  • Use the yarn intended for the project.
  • Start with suggested needles.
  • Knit the swatch for the main stitch pattern (not always Stockinette Stitch) using appropriate needle size.
  • If there are a few stitch patterns in the main body, make a swatch for each.
  • Follow (if you wish) this example.
  • Study the stitch pattern. You can choose any pattern you wish instead. My pattern has a multiple of 8 sts. I wanted to see at least 5 repeats, so I can comprehend the look of a garment.
  • Cast on enough sts for 5 repeats plus 4 or 5 sts for a border. I have 48 sts.
  • Begin with a few rows of Garter stitch for stability of fabric.
  • Follow with the main pattern for about 4 or 5 rows. Keep 4 or 5 sts on each side in Garter stitch.
  • Take a tapestry needle with some contrasting thread or yarn (the length is about a yard).
  • Next right side row: with that thread mark about 10th st from the right edge (stitches at the very edge can be distorted), mark every 5th st after that until you have about 10 sts left. Leave enough thread on the first and the last marked stitches to go up and across the last row. The thread is going to hang for now.
  • Knit 10 rows following the set pattern.
  • Mark the first and the last stitches only.
  • Repeat last two steps 2-4 times.
  • Mark across the last row every 5th stitch as you did on the first marked row. You will form a rectangle. Pull marking thread a little, so it is straight, but not disturbing the fabric.

In my swatch I marked 30 sts and 30 rows.
  • Continue for a few rows in pattern and finish with 4-5 rows of Garter stitch. Bind off.
You do not have to cut the yarn off, if you think you are limited with yarn. At the end the yarn from this gauge can be used for seaming and other things. Just secure the last stitch by going with the ball through the loop.
  • Block the swatch. “The rule of a Thumb”: treat this swatch in exact way you are going to treat your finished garment. I used steam to block it. I am very careful with stitches in the middle. I never touch them even with the professional steamer plastic head. I can touch the edges to make them flat. I do flatten the middle with my hand lightly.
  • Let the swatch rest and cool. Leave it be for a few hours.
  • Measure a few times across .

and a few times vertically. Usually there is a little difference in measurements.

Write them down and take an average for each direction.
  • Divide the number of stitches by number of inches (decimals included to two places) and number of rows by number of inches (decimals included to two places). In my swatch I had : 30 sts = 5 in (no decimals, my luck). My stitch gauge is 30/5=6 sts in one inch 30 rows = 4.19 inch (3/16 of an inch =0.19). My row gauge is 30/4.19 = 7.4 rows If I followed the pattern that said 4.5 sts = 1 in, I will change the needle size to the next up to pack less sts in one inch. The row gauge is harder to manage. If I got the exact stitch gauge and my row gauge is a little off, I will more likely rely on my measuring tape to get me where I am. I am sure in this case the difference is minimal.
You are done. Start your project.

I hope this helps you to overcome that negative feeling about making the swatch. In fact, I hope that you will love making it from now on. Think about it. It gives you the confidence that you are not going to end up with a different size of your garment and you can check if the yarn and the pattern look to your liking. There is another benefit in case of a difficult stitch pattern- you are learning it as you are working on the gauge.

If you want to read more about the gauge swatch, there are many different articles on this topic. There are two that I see on
1. By Jenna Wilson.
2. By Marilyn A Roberts.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ethnic Knitting Exploration Blog Tour announcement

Donna Druchunas has launched yet another book. I am happy to participate in her blog tour. My day is April 12th. Do not miss the opportunity to learn about this book and Donna going through these fabulous blogs:

April 1___Theresa Walunas of The Keyboard Biologis

April 2___Lorraine Ehrlinger of Lorrieknitsandsews

April 3___Jean Clement of Desert Rose Designs

April 4___Lynn Hershberger of ColorJoy

April 5___Katherine Vaughan of Knit with KT

April 6___Amy O'Neill Houck of The Hook and I

April 7___Wannietta Prescod of What’s Wannietta Knitting Today?

April 8___Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten of The Fiber Forum

April 9___Peggy Gaffney of Kanine Knits

April 10__Deb Robson of The Independent Stitch

April 11__Joanne Conklin of Rhythm Of The Needles

April 12__Faina Goberstein (You are here with me)

April 13__Shannon Okey of

April 14__Leanne Dyck of Designer's Note

April 15__Kat Coyle of Coiled

April 16__Daniel Yuhas of Tatting My Doilies

April 17__Kristi Geraci of Knitters Anonymous

April 18__Karin Maag-Tanchak of Knitting &

April 19__Carol Sulcoski of Go Knit In Your Hat

April 20__Cindy Moore of fitterknitter

April 21__Margit Sage of Fiber Fiend

April 22__Audrey Knight of AudKnits

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Since I came from my trip, I am working on many projects at the same time and each of them has a deadline... They are all fun, though. For my upcoming workshop at Green Planet Yarn, I am making some samples from Casual Elegant Knits using these beautiful yarns that are available at that shop. For example, this plate will turn into this scarf:

Now, this scarf will be coming from this delicious plate:

On this plate you see the yarn that will very soon turn into one of my favorite designs - this beautiful lacy scarf:The last plate (not the last project) is a mystery projects plate, but these are such beautiful yarns, that I had to show them to you. It is from Claudia Hand Painted Yarns .

So, you can see that I am having fun here.
I have two more plates filled with great yarns, but I think you had enough for today, right?