Ves, a shawl inspired

I am going to go out on a limb and say that most knitters (who would be reading this blog) are familiar with the concept of a “yarn club”. You know, when a great indie dyer gives knitters the opportunity to “subscribe” to a series of exclusive yarn colors that are delivered over the course of many months? That kind of club. Frequently the yarn arrives with a pattern designed specifically with & for that special yarn.

Going on the assumption that there is already some familiarity with this concept, I now ask you if you have ever heard of the Miss Babs Knitting Tour version of this concept? The lucky knitters that join this club are “armchair travelers” and they receive 4 shipments in the year. During the planning stage the wonderful people at Miss Babs (including the namesake) select four destinations and provide them to the featured designers so that they can draw from them for inspiration.

This time last year I was tickled beyond words to receive an invitation from Miss Babs to participate in the 2015 tour. My shipment ended up being the first (March). It took great restraint, but I didn’t blog about it because, along with the exclusivity of the yarn, the pattern was unavailable to the general public for 6 months after the “travelers” received their packages.

Guess what? Six months is up!

Ves, a two color Mosaic Lace Shawl by Barbara BensonGet your own copy of Ves!

The inspiration destination for my leg of the tour was Sri Lanka! Like any dedicated artist, once I learned that I immediately booked a flight to Sri Lanka to do research!

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I wish. I totally Googled it.

Ves, a two color Mosaic Lace shawl by Barbara Benson

And if you are looking to see piles and piles of beautiful art, landscape, and architecture I recommend you do the same. There were many things that caught my attention, but in the end I drew my ideas from traditional Sri Lankan dance. Specifically, the costumes of Kandyan dancers which are referred to as Ves. If you want to see some of the pictures that grabbed my attention here is a link to a Google image search. The intricately embossed metal pieces led me to creating an intricate and deeply textured lace pattern that evoked the shape of the points of the headdresses.

Ves, a two color Mosaic Lace shawl by Barbara Benson

The technique used in this shawl is Mosaic Lace like Golden Lion Throne and Love Child, with a complexity falling somewhere between the two. Close to 50 Armchair Travelers finished the shawl within the allotted -a long period so if you want to see finished shawls you can check out the Ves project page. The two sets of colors that Miss Babs made for the shawl are gorgeous, but I cannot wait to see what colors other knitters match up!

Ves, a two color Mosaic Lace shawl by Barbara Benson

So, if exotic travel isn’t in your budget … at least you can do some exotic knitting from the comfort of your own home. And you get a great souvenir! ;)

Summer Knitting

As summer begins to wind down I have found myself thinking about the concept of “summer knitting”. Common wisdom says that what and how people knit changes during the summer. All of the wool gets packed away and out come the cottons and linens. Sweaters, hats, mittens and blankets go into the WIP pile and everyone starts knitting shawls and, well other small lacey things?

For me, this is never the case. But of course I am not a typical knitter. The stuff I am working on now might not be seen for 2 or 3 seasons – so I don’t really count. This led me to pose the question to the members of my Ravelry group about what affect the summer has on their knitting choices.

The specific question I asked was: Does the fact that it is summer (when it is summer for you – I totally know it is not summer in 1/2 of the world) change your knitting habits? Do you choose different projects, yarns, etc … or do you knit whatever you feel like year round? Bonus question – what are you working on right now? (All names are Ravelry handles.)


Djaquette, Georgia: I always have 3-4 projects going with many more started. Sometimes I knit more cotton and linen items during the summer, but I still knit smaller wool projects. I just finished Sister Bay Shawl in Fibra Natura Flax … I’m currently freeform knitting a shrug from Algarve Fashion Color fingering weight cotton.

Maryscottrph, Virginia: I work on anything I please; so far this month, I have completed a hat as well as the scarf, and I plan to finish sock 2 by this weekend and cast on a shawl…am I nuts? Quite possibly!

KathyInGeorgia (self-explanatory, eh?): I knit anything, any time. I use whatever yarn is right for the project. About the only concession I make to the temperature is that I try to avoid huge blankets in warm weather,. … I’m working on a Baby Surprise Jacket for a friend in London. I’m knitting a six- to twelve-month size (hoping for winter wear) for a baby born six weeks ago.

Waningestrogen, Washington: I live in the PacNW and have all my life. I like things on the cooler side, so the unlikely heatwave we’re having this year has me wilting when it hits 80 or better. When it’s hot, I still want to knit, but I’ll do socks or hats for small projects, and if I should get sucked in by a shawl, only laceweight will do. I don’t work on baby blankets or other large projects in the summer.

Catmagnet, Georgia: With the miracle of air conditioning, I pretty much knit whatever I want all year long. I alternate between small projects and large ones just because I may be bored or have a deadline – lately there’s been a lot more of having a deadline. I rarely knit on yarn heavier than worsted, preferring fingering weight most of the time, so the weather doesn’t have much influence on my knitting. I use wool all year long because I like it, and right now I’ve just started on a Love Child.

Cascadienne, Washington: It never used to matter to me because of AC. Now, living in the Pacific Northwest, with generally mild summers, I feel lucky to be able to knit pretty much whatever I feel like knitting. We even get chilly enough mornings and evenings that I’ll pull out my crocheted blanket of doom and work a row or two. If we get into a heat wave … I’ve discovered that I’m more apt to go for cotton or linen to use in smaller projects. I also crochet more in summer and have no explanation for that. Current WIPs: Love Child in Malabrigo Lace (Bergamota and Sunset), Barbara’s triangular scarf in a bulky weight, and Sandshore in Rowan Pure Linen (Gobi).

Joseybug, Indiana: My only real seasonal change is not working on heavy sweaters or blankets in the summer. It’s more of a general guideline, as I’ve done blankets and sweaters in the summer, I just try not to. I tend to try and actually do smaller, portable projects (usually socks or hats) in the spring and fall – during our heavy farming season – when there’s a high probability I’m going to be sitting in a truck or a tractor and helping my husband moving equipment and bringing seed/supplies and food. Right now, I’m working on a pair of socks and a shawlette.

Chassell, Georgia: I always have several projects going, big and small, more complicated and those I can grab for a wait in the doctor’s office waiting room or wherever. Living in the Atlanta area does make me think about fiber for such weather. So I always seem to do at least one or two projects from cotton (although I’ve decided that’s too hot) and, better, linen or linen/cotton blends or bamboo blends. So I made a tee this summer. But, I love wool, so I’ve got merino socks on needles, as well.


I hope that y’all found these answers as interesting as I. There seems to be some truth in changing knitting habits for the summer, but what I am getting is that if a knitter really wants to knit something – a piddling thing like weather isn’t going to stop them. ;) It does seem that summer is a great time for doing portable projects, which is good to know.


Does the summer season effect your knitting habits? Feel free to let me know in the comments. And a big thank you to all of the awesome knitters in my Rav group who helped feed my curiosity. I did edit the answers a wee bit for space, if you want to read the full responses you can pop over to the thread in Ravelry and continue the conversation there too!

Cowls and Scarves

Recently I have found myself on a bit of a scarf tangent. I have found that I love both designing & knitting them. I decided to write this post to find out if I have any compatriots out there. How do you, gentle reader, feel about scarves?

Do you like them long or short? Skinny or wide? Warming or decorative? YES PLEASE to all is how I feel, but I know that there might be dissent and I would love to hear it.

So far I have not published many “traditional” scarves (I define traditional as long rectangles). No. Mr Bond I Expect You to Die, Ziggurat, and Gyre and Gimble fall into that category.

Captive by Barbara Benson

Captive is traditionally shaped as well

For non-traditional scarves I think I would branch out to include Curiosity as well as …and Curiouser. Hmmmm, maybe I have created more scarves than I initially surmised? Possibly this is not a new infatuation but simply a dawning realization? This could take some pondering …

Oh well, onward & upward. ;) Considering that cowls are frequently referred to as “infinity scarves” and that they serve the same purpose I tend to lump them into the same category and I have many of the same questions.

Do you prefer long or short cowls? Tall  or short? Decorative or functional? Inquiring minds want to know. I have designed both close-to-the-neck pieces and long dangly things. Most recently the shorter ones have been occupying my imagination (see Oh Bother and McClanahan) but perhaps I should revisit the long/super long version? For some reason I have only designed two in this style, Code Breaker and Rollercoaster. Both of which I still love.

I mean look at this:

Rollercoaster, long infinity scarf by Barbara Benson

She’s all like BAM!

It makes me smile whenever I see it. The photo is so much fun and so is the cowl … but what is the perfect length for a “long” cowl like this? For that matter, what is the perfect length for a short one? These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night. Silly, I know.

I would love to hear thoughts from y’all on these weighty subjects. Please feel free to let me know what’s what in the comments!

Dr. StrangeGauge


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Swatch.

I know. I design mostly shawls and other things that don’t really “fit”. The general opinion is that you don’t need to swatch for such items, but I would like to try and convince you that you do.

First off, let’s talk about Drape. Drape is how the knitted fabric hangs and moves. In the dictionary we are talking about the definition number 10 as opposed to the things out of which Scarlett (or Carol Burnett) made her dress.

I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist it.

I saw it in the window and just couldn’t resist it.

It is stiff or flowy? When something is said to have “good” drape that means that it flows, moves and forms to whatever it is hanging over. The opposite is a fabric that has body and can hold its own shape. Note I didn’t say that this is “bad” drape. In my opinion “good” drape should be the drape that you want for a particular piece. If you are trying to make a pair of felted slippers then flow-y isn’t exactly the drape you are going for.

The gauge (as in number of stitches per inch on a certain sized needle) that is given on a ball band is not necessarily the drape you (or the designer of your pattern) are looking for. The ball band gauge given for sock or fingering weight yarn is usually developed with the assumption that you are making socks. The fabric the yarn company is going for is one that can stand up to the wear and tear of being worn on the foot and usually has very little drape.

But how many patterns have you seen that call for using fingering or sock weight yarn in something other than a sock? Like, maybe, I don’t know … a shawl? A fingering weight shawl pattern can call for needles in the range of 5 (3.75 mm) – 7 (4.5 mm) as opposed to the typical 0 (2 mm) – 2 (2.75) range that you are going to find on  your typical ball band. The designer has chosen the needle (and therefore gauge) that provides the appropriate drape for their vision.

In Uffish Thought - a shawl by Barbara Benson

If you want your piece to move like this – swatch!

Unfortunately your needle combined with your yarn and your needle size might not produce the same results as the original knitter. Every knitter has different tension so even if you are using the exact same yarn and the exact same needles – your gauge might be different. Which is why you need to swatch. You need to match the gauge the pattern calls for to the best of your ability if you want your results to match the original piece. And by knit a swatch I mean you need to knit a swatch that is around 4 x 4 inches (10 x 10 cm), 5 x 5 (13 x 13) is preferable – but I do try to be realistic.

When I am swatching I look at however many stitches per inch the pattern calls for and multiply that by 4 or 5 and then add 4 stitches (for a garter selvedge). I then work it 4 or 5 times the row gauge per inch. If I were knitting something that needed to really fit I would then  wash and block the swatch, but for a shawl I do cheat and simply pin it out the way I think I will the final piece. Often without taking it off of the needles. That cable works just like a blocking wire!

So as you can see, I have serious opinions about drape. My second point is much simpler to explain. You simply have to ask yourself a question:

Do I like running out of yarn before I run out of pattern?

If the answer to that question is no then you need to swatch. The yardage called for by a pattern is based on the assumption that you will be knitting to a certain gauge. If your gauge is off you might end up using more yarn and poof you suddenly need to buy another skein of yarn. If you can find it.

So there we go. My argument for embracing the swatch. Honestly I sometimes feel I spend more time swatching out my ideas than I do actually knitting finished pieces and really it makes no difference to me. I love knitting. I love the process of knitting and it doesn’t matter if it is a swatch or a shawl I am still knitting!

Have I convinced you? Were you already die hard swatcher? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Oh Bother

I had to search my own blog. I remember talking about it but couldn’t for the life of me recall when. And then I was like, did I just write that blog post in my head? But I did indeed write it. Speckle dyed yarn, a bit of an obsession for me really. It is an awesome looking dye technique that has been showing up recently from the yarn artists (dyers) I follow. Swatching to deal with the yarns idiosyncrasies took place a while ago and a pattern has been in development. Today is the day that I have unleashed it upon the world (BWAHAHAHAHA – man, I should probably lay off of the Phineas & Ferb – channeling a wee bit of Dr. Doofenschmirtz).

Can yarn look as good in knitting as it does in a skein? Yes!

Yarn in skein, yarn in pattern – do they match?

Honeycomb style stitch —> Honey —> Winnie the Pooh —> Oh Bother. Because that is the way my brain works, I have no real excuse. But this isn’t your average honeycomb stitch, can I ever leave well enough alone? Don’t answer that. By tinkering around a bit and adding some slipped stitches I was able to cause the honeycomb effect to kinda scrunch down into an almost brioche like effect. The resulting fabric is deeply smooshy with a three dimensional element. It actually has a thickness to it without a whole bunch of needle gymnastics.

Oh Bother cowl from Barbara Benson, easy to knit in DK to show off speckle yarn.

While I was knitting the cowl I kept trying it on to make sure that it was as I liked. Specifically I was going for a “close to the neck” style. Which meant that I had to slide it over my big ole head. Sometimes I would start pulling and then get distracted and end up with the cowl on my head. It felt good there. I looked at it in a mirror and it looked good there – so obviously I had to do a hat too. Luckily Gale from Gale’s Art has several colors that I lust over. The cowl that started it all is in Meadow, which makes me inordinately happy. It just makes me feel Spring in my heart. But the hat? The hat is Goth Girl which has everything I love all blended together and yet somehow still working.

Oh Bother hat, easy to work deep texture that shows off colorful yarn. By Barbara Benson.

And the hat!

And the stitch is so easy that I was able to provide instructions for sizing up the hat; Adult, Youth, Toddler, and Newborn are all included. The hats are worn with almost 3 inches of negative ease, so they will definitely grow with a child’s head. I don’t have any pictures of a kid wearing one – but hopefully y’all knitters will fill in that gap!

Reversible Cable Moebius Cowl

I have been cheating. I admit it. I should tattle on myself to the teacher but I haven’t.

Each year as the holiday approaches I come to the realization that I need to get knitting on something for my son’s teacher. But I cheat, or double dip if you will. If I am going to be spending time knitting on a gift I might as well get a new pattern out of it, right? So when I say that this new pattern is good for gift knitting, I really mean it because it was designed and knit as a gift!

When it is cold and you are out corralling about a million second graders on the playground do you need to be fiddling with the ends of a scarf? I am gonna go with no on that one. So a cowl it was to be. For naming ease I used the recipient’s last name. So meet McClanahan.

McClanahan, a reversible cable Moebius cowl in worsted, aran, and chunky weights. By Barbara Benson.

I may have mentioned that I am in the throes of a minor obsession with Moebius construction, this is the pattern that started the whole thing. But because of timing and stuff it is only now getting released. After I finished knitting the prototype I decided I wanted to work it up in multiple different weights of yarn – to give the pattern more bang for the buck. Thinking about what yarn to use I remembered how much I enjoyed working with Dream in Color Classy for Cables are Cool and I thought I would see what the color geniuses over there might have in stock in the chunky / aran  yarn weight range.


Reversible cable Moebius cowl by Barbara Benson, three yarn weights in Dream in Color.

Mammoth in Rio Verde Blue

It must have been in the stars because their response was that they were in the finishing stages of introducing both a new Chunky and a new Aran weight yarn. Get OUT of here! So I got my grubby little mitts on Mammoth and Canyon and rounded out the plan with their lovely worsted weight single Calm. I asked them to pick out some awesome colors that would go well together because I had this vision of a photograph with a squooshy pile of cables. And they did not disappoint.


Reversible cable Moebius cowl by Barbara Benson, three yarn weights in Dream in Color.

The Yellow/Green is Calm in Prickly Pear.

Back to the pattern (I can talk about yarn all day), since you always see both sides of a Moebius I went with reversible cables. Essentially the whole thing is ribbed. The cast on is seriously the most complicated part of the whole pattern. Once the stitches are on you have some knits & purls and a cable once every couple of rows. As my son would say “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.” I think that one came from last year’s teacher (For her I designed I Can’t Control my Fingers).

I have provided the cast on and instructions for all three weights and the circumference of the respective cowls are inversely proportional to the weight of the yarn. And what I mean by that is the chunkier the yarn the closer to the neck the cowl will sit. The worsted weight (skinniest yarn) has the largest circumference. I tailored it to fit the yardage. If you wanted a looser cowl you could use the cast on for one of the other sizes, but then you would need additional yarn. Which, two skeins isn’t that bad is it?

A reversible cabled cowl worked in Moebius by Barbara Benson in Dream in Color aran weight yarn.

This is Canyon in Goblin Valley

To finish up the pattern I had some awesome test knitters take a whack at knitting it up and I tried something different. Usually I have a “secret” place to do the testing, but this time I decided to do it in “public”. If you are a Ravelry member and want to see the growing pains in all of their glory check out the testing thread. You can see what the testers thought of the pattern and how they helped me to whip it into shape. Once they were done it took a turn with my awesome Tech Editor and now it is available for you.

I would love to hear what you think in the comments.

Social Media

Considering that you are reading this here blog I am going to go out on a limb and say that you engage in some form of Social Media. I feel like that should be in all caps SOCIAL MEDIA. What about all caps and italics? SOCIAL MEDIA! As something that is spoken about as if it has a life of its own it feels quite intimidating to me.

I don’t know if y’all know it but I have quite a few of these Social Media-ing things happening. I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter thingie, and a Pinterest page. I also have a Google+ account but it gets about as much action as my bunnies do (they are neutered).

I think I pretty much have the idea of Facebook down and I am starting to get a feel for Instagram. Pinterest had me on day one and I don’t think I have gone a day since without checking in. I am curious to see how the service evolves. There is talk about being able to sell directly through them and that could be a huge shift in the internet.

Twitter? I just cannot seem to get the hang of what precisely is going on there. How to really interact with people via Twitter mystifies me. I feel like I am sitting off to the side in a coffee shop listening to a mix of really interesting and completely mundane conversations. I hesitate to jump in because it would be all like BAM, now I am in your convo and I am worried that the people would be all like “Where did you come from and who invited you to this party?”

Google+, well I wish it had more action but it just seems to be a bit forced. I signed up for that Ello thing but haven’t been back there since setting up my profile. On the plus side I know no one is going to snake my username.

All of this babbling is as a lead in to asking you what kind of social media you use? Specifically, where do you interact with other knitters and where do you go to find your knitting fix? I know that there is more knitting on Facebook than I have found. Do you have any groups there that you frequent and would recommend? Please leave any ideas you have in the comments for me to explore!.

Obviously the number one answer will be Ravelry, is there a specific group that I should check out? According to my profile I am “in” 144 groups. Holy cow that is a bunch!

If you have one of the above mentioned social media dohickeys and we aren’t yet friends/followers give me a shout out or send a friend request or whatever the platform allows you to do. I would love to add you to my collection. ;)