Buffalo Knitting Guild Presentation, 2016

I want to capture, in writing, some of my thoughts from this last week when I was invited to speak to the Buffalo Knitting Guild’s Membership and be the first of its programming for the 2016/2017 season.  The talk was advertised as such:

Presented by Marja Coons-Torn, Holly Olmstead

Our Guild President and Vice President introduce the theme “Grow” for this year’s Knitting Guild Season with a program to help you grow your skills through photography and technology. We’ll learn tonight how to photograph our knits beautifully and stylishly, just like the top designers do! And we’ll go on an interactive journey into new technology that the Guild will be incorporating this season. 

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Blue Skies Trench

First and foremost in choosing a project, that project must be wearable in my lifestyle and go with the existing pieces I have in my wardrobe.  Of course, I am always looking at new trends in fashion, as I would like to think that even in retirement, I can continue on this quest of always looking fashion-forward.  But, what I have realized is that not all the pieces I intended on knitting are appropriate to wear in retirement and that I need to tweak my intentions for better purpose once knitted.   In an effort to get my yarn and pattern stash aligned to my lifestyle of retirement, I’ve had to do some reconsidering of patterns and re-shifting of yarns.  This has encouraged me to catalog remnants into their respective weights.  The more I play with my yarn, the more ideas I am getting and the more possibilities I seem to muster.   While this is exciting and certainly mindful of utilizing all of the materials I have here at home, I continuously need to remind myself to have patience and that I will eventually be able to act on many of these ideas.

This process has me researching in places I didn’t even know patterns existed.  Such places as VogueKnitting.com > free pattern tab or LionBrand.com > free  patterns.   Maybe, most yarn companies with websites have free pattern availability.  A function on Ravelry that has become most helpful is the pattern tab and its settings on the left-hand margin with specific criteria, being able to drill down to what you are looking for thus making pattern research more expedient.  Also, the function on Ravelry called queue has never been as helpful to me as it is right now as I can keep my pattern ideas listed there so as not to forget.   Well, one thing led to another and pretty much this is how I found ‘Trench Coat’ by Wilma Peers, a pattern from Vogue Knitting’s online pattern store.  Not a free pattern, but on sale.  I literally paid pennies.

I am drawn to the unexpected when knitting.  Or the juxtaposition of opposites which oftentimes leads to the unexpected.  For example a cardigan that can be flipped upside down or right side up or glamorous yarn knitted into a hoodie, or pleats in super bulky weight yarn.    When I think of a trench coat, I think of rain or wind and in a twill type of fabric.  So, the fact that this pattern was suggesting knitting a Trench Coat was highly interesting to me.  Hmm. . . I thought.  A trench coat for blue skies!  Complete with lapels and pocket flaps and what appeared to be a beautiful contrast edging, I had to go for it.

Then I noticed the suggested yarn.  Acrylic.  100% acrylic.  Oh, boy my mind began racing with all the thoughts of what could go wrong with this project in this yarn.  On the other hand, being so inexpensive I thought I would give it a try and when all fails, simply start over with yarn I knew more about.

So, I began and learned the half linen stitch.  This half linen stitch, formed with slip stitches and yarn carried on the outside of the work, creates a woven looking fabric.  Being of bulky weight (by title only as the yarn itself is as light as a feather), knitting the pieces really just motored along.  No button holes, no pockets (what you see are just flaps added on at the end),  this was really a breeze  to knit.  5 pattern pieces (back, 2 fronts, 2 sleeves, and the collar which is picked up from the neck and knitted) and it was time for my favorite part of any project, the finishing touches.   Bands were fairly easy to knit up the front however I had to readjust the number of stitches I picked up (way less than what was called).  And, for some unknown reason, the side seams were not cooperating as I felt they should.  A minor bit of blocking helped that matter and truthfully I was surprised acrylic even responded to blocking.  The collar edging as well as the flap edging was downright fun to do.  One has to pick up the stitches neatly as when the lapel is wide open flips to the front with the raw edge to the outside.

Well, I kept waiting for epic fail of this project.  I got to the end and to my surprise, I have what I think, is a beautiful, trendy trench that can easily be worn with today’s shapes underneath.

Cape as Finished Project / knitting notes

If you are a reader of Hollyknits, you know I’ve been talking about a wedding cape I recently made for a daughter of a friend.  Also, a former student of mine!  Since it is a high risk thing to knit for another,  I share tips on how to do so, here.   I talk about details of gift giving, here. This post, while on the same project is moving away from the event and focusing on the knitting of the cape, itself.

It is kind of funny how I am so opinionated about capes and shawls.  Some people interchange these words in identification.  I see such vast differences in them.  To me, a cape has coat-like qualities typically with closures, sometimes with slits for arms, sometimes as pullovers.  Shawls I see are more like a scarf, typically in a geometric shape like a triangle or rectangle and meant to be wrapped around a body.  Truthfully,  I have such a vast like of one and dislike of the other.  This is a picture that Mom, bride, and I initially saw of the cabled cape wanted for this wedding.

Designed by Michael Kors and found in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2007.  It is a pattern that is worked from the ribbing at the bottom up to the neckline decreasing along the way at key points along the raglan seams in both front and back.  All of us loved the pattern especially the cable texture and I particularly liked the double breasted closure.  I appreciate the detail of stockinette stitch around the neckline below the ribbed collar.  The ribbed collar, k1p1 is wider in back and is shaped using short rows.  The short row method I find easiest is called the short row shadow wraps.  Directions can be found, here.   The bride wanted a single row of buttons along the edge.  She knew she wanted the cape in navy blue.

The beautiful part about knitting a cape is that there are minimal measurements needed.  In fact, the pattern did not even have a schematic. When I perused the other finished projects utilizing this pattern in Ravelry, I noticed a wide assortment of yarn that was used from sport weight to aran.  This would significantly change the fabric, weight, and could change the size of the garment if you didn’t alter the stitch count.  The yarn that is used to knit the example in the image above was no longer available, however looking at the content of the yarn, considering the size garment we wanted, and the venue in which it would be worn, we decided upon this lovely DK, a blend of merino, silk, and cashmere.

I used as large a needle as I dared with a sport weight to create springy and stretchy qualities while maintaining a luxurious cabled fabric.  Being that I was fitting another, I felt the elasticity of the fabric would lend itself some leeway in fit.  Also, by being elastic, I felt the fabric might hold position better around the shoulders and be more comfortable for movement sake.

The pattern has a mistake regarding the placement of the markers.  When you become familiar with the cable pattern, you can see that the double decreases need to happen outside of the middle p2k2p2.   In other words, you need to place the markers differently than indicated in the pattern.  This is of utmost importance as all of the shaping occurs at the markers and the pattern of cables and ribs follow.

Minor alterations for a better fit was made for the bride.  Buttons were purchased by Mom, sewn on by me.  We discussed the ease of removing the pearl buttons and changing to a different button to give a more casual look for future wear.  I did use the one row buttonhole method and I did sew a snap at the collar and just above the rib along the bottom to hold the overlap of fabric in place and purposely secure to not dangle below the hemline.

My saga now ends, fulfilling in every way and clearly the bride and groom are off to a very happy start!

photo credit to Amy Paulson/photography

It’s Not Just About the Sweater

Part of why I write a journal is to reflect upon my knitting.  I find thinking about a finished project quite satisfying and informative.  It helps me to improve my knitting skills to think what went right as well as what went wrong with either the process and/or the finished project.  Viewing photographs of me in my knitting is also helpful to know what styles and designs look best on my shape and to compare what I see with how I feel about a particular garment.  This also drives future pattern decisions.  The reason why I write online is to share these thoughts thinking/hoping readers may learn from these experiences, as well.

Another reason why I write is to reflect upon the sites hubby and I travel to for our photo shoots.   There have been many.  I catalog these places on a page I call Fashionscape, here in The Blog.  Since this particular photo shoot also served as a trip down memory lane, I am writing about it here, too.  We continue to choose places that hold some kind of significance to us and this last photo shoot was no different.  Here we are at Chautauqua Institution, the furthest we have traveled yet for a photo shoot, officially closed for the season, however open for travelers who want to walk the grounds during the day.  Many of the cottages were covered in tarps, construction workers dotted the place doing off-season repairs, and you could see evidence of changes that are being made to the main structures of the institute.  In fact, you really needed to watch your step due to fallen debris of repair work.

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Fretwork but Fret Not (1 of 2)

If you were to read the notes of knitters who have tackled this project, Fretwork designed by Shiri Mor, you would be struck by a few common strands of thinking.  The first common thread is one of curiosity over the sweater’s construction.  I was no different.  In viewing the pattern, you can see how initially it looks like a cabled sweater but then looking more closely you see detached cords that are woven so of course, curiosity sets in as you wonder how in the world does one knit that?

And, then the conversations take a turn to the fit of this garment.   Some say to knit a size with “negative ease” while others suggested knitting a size larger.  Others were frankly honest about their end product not fitting at all.  Well, I do not know what negative ease is and I can’t take a chance on randomly knitting a size up.  Why would you not knit your size?  What I mostly made of these comments was that it was of utmost importance to pay particular attention to the finished size of this garment and that how it fit was quite relevant to the happiness in the end.  The pattern did say “close fitting”, so that was the start point for me.

I set my mind into motion wondering what the designer’s concept of close fitting was (everyone has a different idea) and how close fitting did I want mine?  I know from experience that if a garment is in any way pulling or hugging tightly to my body, I will not wear it.  On the other hand, if the measurement is too loose fitting, will the woven cords droop?  I did consider dropping the idea of knitting this altogether as another aspect of this project, a basic crewneck, is not a shape I prefer for my body type and truthfully is not exciting enough for me to pour my energies into.  However, there was this knitting/weaving combo thing and we go back to the inquisitive nature of knitters.

In the meantime, I just happened to purchase a book entitled Good Measure, Knit a Perfect Fit Every Time by Deborah Newton.

I am very much a fan of hers, her patterns and techniques are specific and thoughtful and this book is as comprehensive regarding construction, fit, and design of a garment as her other books have been on their topics.  Wow, perfect timing I thought.  And, there it was, pg. 51, a definition for close-fit:  “a close-fitting sweater can be slightly smaller, the same as, or up to 2 ” larger than the body measurements, depending on the thickness of the fabric and the elasticity of the pattern stitch.  A close-fitting sweater often has shaping to conform to the body’s dimensions, but does not cling.”   OK, now I have something to work with and immediately I knew the size I wanted mine.  And, of course the size I wanted was not one that was written in the pattern.

Not all is lost when you know about gauge.  I know that this is always a sure fire way to get the size garment you want.   ok, I noticed the front and back were pieced or constructed in 3 parts, 2 sides and the center panel.  So, I began knitting a side panel with the recommended needle size to work up a swatch.  I knitted quite a ways up as I’ve learned a more accurate gauge can be gotten with a larger swatch.   I might have learned that from Deborah Newton, as well.  Also, it gave me practice in  cord weaving.  According to the schematic, my swatch measured no where near even the smallest size!  It measured much, much smaller or narrower.  Oddly so.  So, narrow was my swatch that I changed to the next larger needle and cast on the number of stitches for the medium or the 41″ size  given in the pattern.   When I measured this second swatch, I noticed I was getting gauge for the smallest size or the size 34″.  ok, I thought . . . getting closer but I wanted 36″ (up to 2″ larger than body measurements and not clingy).  What to do . . . So, I studied the pattern to see where the designer worked in the stitches for the larger sizes.  I noticed that she increased the number of stitches on the side panels.  So, I thought if I added 4 stitches or another grouping of 2k2p on each side panel, that when sewn together would give me the added 2 inches, 36″ from 34″, I wanted while keeping the design elements of the sweater in tact especially the lovely woven cables that edge the sides of the sweater.  I love the way those woven cables just edge the set-in sleeve seam.

I knitted the entire garment making those changes.  Imagine the size my sweater would have been if I had not taken the careful and necessary time to knit several gauges and figure that out!

Other than measuring and re-measuring along the way making sure my gauge was staying consistent and that I had not made a mathematical error, the knitting of this was not so bad at all.   Process and Tips here!  The shape, a basic crew neck, did not pose any further challenge.

I love the color,  it fits exactly as planned, and will be a very practical comfortable addition to my wardrobe.  I do need to work on finding a shirt that will stay in place underneath, however.

The photo shoot was at historic Chautauqua Institute.   I wore walking shoes (this is the exact location I broke a bone in my foot a few years, back wearing non-walking shoes).   I wanted to change into the heels that are in the bag I’m holding but hubby encouraged otherwise.  And, while I’m talking shoe wear, can you believe I ran across these?   I have not purchased them….. yet.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for schematics

In looking through the lens of a knitter, a schematic is a diagram of the fabric’s shape you are creating.  A thorough schematic  has measurements included in both horizontal and vertical directions, otherwise known as width and length at key ‘fit’ points of the garment.   Those measurements on a schematic are typically posted in inches as well as centimeters.  These measurements inform how the garment will ultimately fit in the eyes of the designer.  Also, the schematic is meant to match the written directions of the pattern.  The purpose of a schematic is to clarify those directions for the knitter.  A schematic also serves well when one surfs knitting patterns.  One look at a schematic immediately forecasts the shape of the garment.  It is hard to believe that there continues to be patterns without these informative diagrams.  I have been both challenged as well as successful in the making of a project due to the schematic of a pattern.

The schematics below are from five different projects of mine from the past few years.  These schematics range from “WHAT! You’ve got to be kidding” to “WOW, I’m impressed!”  Stop for a moment and see if you can see what is wrong or really great about each of these:


Problem:  The measurements say centimeters, however along the hem, are in inches.  Every measurement should be in BOTH inches and centimeters.  This caused minor angst in the time it took to figure that out and, of course, some unit converting.  The result is below.

More Here on this Project


Problem:  No measurement for the circumference of the neckline.  I was pretty happy with this schematic, although minimal in content, until I had difficulty with the stitch count around the neck.  I could not pick up the number of stitches the pattern recommended.  If there had been a measurement on the schematic, I could have used that measure to better understand how many stitches I should pick up in accordance with my gauge.  I ended up guessing and hopefully the little cardigan will fit the baby comfortably.

More Here on this Project


Problem:  No measurement for the armhole or shoulder or neckline or width of sleeve at hem.  All of these measurements really matter.  A garment too tight in the armholes will sit on the shelf in my wardrobe and not be worn.  I solved this by knowing from past projects how wide I wanted my sleeve to be and knitted that sleeve width, accordingly.  My experience solved the problem where the schematic fell short.

More Here on this Project


WOW is all I can say!  This is the most thorough schematic I have ever seen!  Almost overkill!  The knitting of this project was smooth sailing.

More Here on this Project


This is also a very thorough schematic and is likely what has inspired me to write this blog post.  In this case, the pattern’s directions did not match this diagram.  Without the schematic and my ability to re-create a life size pattern, I would not have known how to proceed with the project.  The schematic was the sole key to the fit and success of this project.

More Here on this Project

These hand knits actually are my wardrobe, as well as part of my heart and soul,  as early as the point of yarn purchase.   So, the expectation of success at the end is of the utmost.

In looking through the lens of a (potential) knitwear designer, I will remember the importance of a thorough and accurate schematic in the planning and writing of a pattern.

Almonds? Nipples? They are Short Rows!

Sock yarn, miles and miles of stockinette, short rows, pattern directions about 12 pages long, and an odd shaping of the garment are the hallmarks of this project, designed by the talented Atelier-alfa from Ravelry.  And, when you think you are finally getting somewhere, you hold up your beautiful project and notice OH, NOOO!  My sweater has nipples!

Let me go step by step and explain.  Sock yarn.  That means you use yarn that typically is used in knitting socks … gauge of 25 sts and 36 rows stockinette = 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm).

yarn bands

Well, this garment is 30 inches from side seam to side seam (meaning 60″ around total) and hangs fairly long in the back which leads me its odd shaping.  It’s almost more poncho-like in shape with something like 64 stitches at first around the neck with a continual increase along the shoulders to near 600 stitches in ONE round as you work towards the hemline.  And, then there are these skinny sleeves sticking out done in rib with an interesting detail along the side.  You would think you would die with all that stockinette, but the striping and the very fun short rows keep you engaged, or at the very least, entertained.  And, with the garment being so boxy, you don’t need to be so fussy with the gauge.  It is the technique of short rows that gives you the decorative color patterning of the stripes.  If you’ve ever researched or have taken on short rows, there are a myriad of different directions on the how-to.  This pattern gives a website with a variety of those ways and I must admit, contains the easiest way I’ve tried, yet.  Easy because you are accomplishing all of the steps of the short row in ONE row, rather than in two.  The technique worked beautifully and will be my way of short row from now on.   Website:  http://www.socktopus.co.uk/2011/02/short-rows-shadow-wraps/

Interestingly, it was not the pattern that caught my attention to knit this.  My inspiration came  from Stacy, a fellow knitter whose project is below and I think is so pretty.

I fell so much in love with her color scheme that I knew I needed to use a bit of that neon in mine.

tipped in neon

When the body and sleeves were complete, I thought whew… done!  What is there to a neckline and hem?  So, I picked up the stitches for the recommended i-cord bind off…. neck way too loose.  Rip and repeat.  Too tight.  And, I also noticed that on both occasions, the neckline was not symmetrical.  Where the short row “almond” was, the knit fabric was pulling.  Problem.  And, when I think problem, that means shelf space  rather than wardrobe (not worn).  What could I do?

So, rather than i-cord, I picked up the number of stitches between the number of stitches that was too loose and the number that was too tight and believe it or not, continued in stockinette.  By doing this, when the knitted fabric came off the needles, it would curl naturally looking like the i-cord but would also naturally fill in and create the symmetrical neckline I so wanted.  Perfect.  The hem had the same issue so I resolved it in the same way… rolled stockinette and the knitted fabric now naturally flows where there might have been a gap making it hang and look symmetrical to the eye.

Certainly this piece needed to be photographed in a place to show off its coolness.  And, if you’ve seen my Fashionscape, you know that I am always looking for just-right places around town.  Staying in tune with local newspapers gives us location ideas.

Following such a tip, we scouted out this fabulous op-art wall alongside a coffee shop that we never knew existed in a nearby town.  Just look how the graphic lines in the sweater and hemline curve as do the lines in the mural.  Even hubby was excited during this photo shoot.

We loved the wall!

So perfect for this garment

So perfect for this garment.

I want a cup of coffee with the photographer!  OH, and the nipples?  When the sweater was finished, I laid it between two damp towels, flattened the knit carefully, and they blocked right out.

Knitting, Nicky, and New

In keeping with the theme of “new possibilities” at this time of rebirth, aka retirement, I am excited to say there is more to report!  Actually, a few new things.  Odd as it may seem, I have never belonged to an established knitting group.  I felt what little time I had for knitting during the child-rearing and employment years could best be spent with actual knitting rather than traveling to do the same.  There are a few exceptions as I recall a year or two where a few of us colleagues met about 1x/month, rotated to each other’s homes and attempted to knit.  Attempted, I say because we were so busy chatting about school life as school life doesn’t allow time for such chit chat, the knitting needles barely came out.  And, then there were the sessions with the lovely neighbor who, to this day, I credit for my inspiration to knit.  Her beautiful stockinette suits with picot raglan sleeves and straight skirts sent me into a love affair I still have today.  Aside from these two experiences, it’s been a quiet existence creating my hand knits.

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Two Shout Outs

As a soon-to-be retiree, I am beginning to open my ears and eyes to life after employment.  When I spotted this opportunity with Deborah Newton, I just had to write about it.  I am so in love with her as a knitter due to her pristine attention to detail, especially in the finishing touches of a garment.  And, you see these touches written up in her patterns.  So, when following her advice, your finished garment has an air of professionalism that you do not see in every design and you notice in the fit and wearing. Following her over the years, both with knitting patterns and as an author, I highly recommend this destination experience, above. Continue reading

VKL 2015 – More than a Fashion Show

Vogue Knitting Live,  2015  was not all runway glitz and glamour but offered us, participants much more.

Upon arriving to the fifth annual VKL (Vogue Knitting Live) conference in NYC, I learned that my room at the Marriott Marquis was on the twentieth floor.  I thought the view was outstanding and certainly provided the city ambience for the event, however I was glad I left hubby at home with his squeamish fear of heights.

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