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. ;)

Queen of Mapes

During the Gift-a-long I posted an interview with one of the other participants of the event and had a lot of fun. It got me to thinking that there are so very many interesting people in the knitting community that I should do more interviews. Then I got to thinking about who I should interview. The obvious thing to do would be other designers and dyers and so forth – which I totally plan to do – but it occurred to me that many of the people I would like to know more about are the knitters.

People like you, gentle reader. ;)

And immediately someone popped into my mind. You see, there is a wonderful knitter on Ravelry (who I have never actually met) who has made one of my patterns 10 times. She is the undisputed Queen of Mapes As someone who can barely manage to knit the same pattern twice (hence becoming a designer in the first place) I am completely floored by someone wanting to knit one of my patterns more than once. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

A collage of 10 shawls all knit from the same pattern named Mapes.

Here are 9 of the 10 Mapes

So I would like you to meet Judy (perseph43 on Ravelry). She graciously agreed to answer my nosey questions and I am super excited to share them with y’all. I did a bit of snooping on her Ravelry profile to develop some questions and she was kind enough to elaborate even more.

Before we get into the interview, here is a little background on Judy from Judy:

In my prior (to retirement) life I ran my own home based cottage industry business designing and manufacturing clothing for women’s specialty shops. I employed two full time seamstresses, several home based pieceworkers, and a sales rep. Our kids also worked on part of the process when the spirit moved them to do so. We had a big old house and the room to do this but most importantly, I was a stay-at-home-mom.

For fourteen years I had a quilting group of “old ladies” who came to our house every Thursday for the day. The youngest one was 74 when we began. As they became unable to drive a girlfriend and I would go around and pick them up. We made so many quilts – all hand pieced. We always had at least two quilts in the works – one on the table for quilting and one in pieces that the ladies would take home to work on. We took turns being the recipient of the finished quilts.

Everyone brought their own lunch including the two seamstresses upstairs – we all ate together and it was much fun. A side benefit of that quilting club is that my children enjoy and are comfortable with the elderly. Now that I’m in that category myself we are reaping some rewards – ha!

After the kids were grown and gone I designed and maintained websites for organizations and several businesses.

And now, the questions:

Q: Moving from Minnesota to New Mexico is a huge shift in culture and climate. What prompted you to make such a huge move and how much does where you live influence what you choose to knit (and knit with)?

A: What prompted us to move was Minnesota ice and the endless winters. Las Cruces is high desert at the foot of the Organ Mountains about 40 miles north of El Paso. We do have winter but the coldest it gets at night is perhaps 20 degrees. Beautiful bulky knits are not an option here, but mid-weight garments are perfect and those with a rustic flavor always get my attention.

Q: Looking through your projects, knitting something for yourself seems to be the exception among beautiful gifts. What are your favorite gifts to knit?

A: It’s getting harder and harder to part with my treasures but mitts, cowls and scarves are nice to have in my gift drawer. Shawls are good gifts but only if I am certain of color or shape for a particular recipient.

Q: Of course, the thing that brought you to my attention (among my nosey Ravelry snooping) is your apparent affection for my pattern Mapes. Why do you like this particular pattern?

A: Mapes! What can I say? It’s the perfect pattern and project. It is portable, easy enough that I can carry on conversation or follow a TV show and has such a relaxing rhythm to it that I’m always thinking of the next one while I knit. It curves around the shoulders and stays on! But also it’s a blank canvas –

Q: When I wrote Mapes it was with hope that people would find it easy to customize and make their own. You seem to have caught on to that intention. What are the modifications that you have made and which are your most successful? Is there anything you tried that just didn’t work?

Knitted shawl Mapes with beaded ruffle.

Can you believe that ruffle?

A: I have added one extra stitch in the cast-on to give me an odd stitch count rather than even when I wanted to incorporate a centered pattern and this worked well. I tried to incorporate beads into that very pretty line of holes which start at the neck and wrap around over the shoulder and hang down the front. That was a flop but I’m still thinking about that one. It’s simmering on a back burner in my brain. (This is something that I had to make happen too, see Caladan).

Q: What are some of your other favorite patterns? (it is OK if they are from other designers)

A: Amiga by Mags Kandis. Amiga is another blank canvas open to all kinds of interpretation and I love it. Although it was written for flake cotton and summer it works equally well in heavier weight yarn for cooler weather. I love top-down cardigans because it’s so much easier to control the fit. You don’t finish all the knitting only to discover that the fit is horrible and fixing it would require massive frogging. (Except I managed to do just that on one top-down sweater)

Martina Behm’s 22.5 Degrees because the formula for the shaping renders a triangle shawl which is more shallow and longer.

Q: On your Ravelry profile you paint a lovely picture of knitting with your Grandmother and her friends, it sounds like a wonderful memory. Could you tell us about that here? And in this vein, have you taught (or considered teaching) any of your grandchildren to knit?

A: I was my grandma’s first grandchild and she called me Honey. So I, in turn, called HER Honey. The name stuck and all the future grandchildren called her Honey. What was so lovely about being with Honey and her friends was that I felt like a grown-up while I was with them. My verbal contributions to their conversation were accepted and the flow continued. We would have lunch on plates which also held a teacup and hold them in our lap.

I have six grandchildren – five boys and one girl. I taught one grandson to knit when he was about 8 or 9 and now he is a senior in high school. He is very creative and artistic so maybe knitting is something he will come back to later in his life. My granddaughter was not interested as a child but she says she has taken up knitting recently. She is back in Minnesota and maybe when we go back to our cabin next summer we can compare notes

Q: Finally, I am always curious how other Ravelers use Ravelry. What role does Ravelry play in your knitting life? Do you use it mostly for finding patterns, planning projects, keeping records? Do you make use of the social aspects of the site? What is your favorite feature?

A: I could not believe my good fortune when I stumbled upon Ravelry! I’m a ‘puter nerd and actually built several of my own in the nineties. So it took me no time at all to appreciate the complexity of the Ravelry site. What a resource! It’s wonderful to see what other knitters are creating and their interpretations of a pattern or their use of a particular yarn. It’s so stimulating – the brain cells feel like they’re statically charged! :) Keeping track of stash is wonderful – although, I confess to having some not listed. Being able to go back and see what size needle you used on a project or how many yards were used is priceless to me. I’m sometimes disappointed when people leave out some of the critical info on their project pages.

Another invaluable tool for me is the listing of my personal library. My goodness, to be able to get a look at all the cardigan patterns in my library and see what magazine or book they are located in? It boggles the mind

It never would have occurred to me without Ravelry to mix yarns to create unique fabrics. Now I love mixing yarns and kinds of fiber together. I like adding silk to a garment to get that lovely drape. Rayon does the same thing and I like adding that. When I invest in stash now it is with the idea that it will be blended with something else.

Oh – and let’s not forget dyeing! That too has become addictive – all the info you need right on Ravelry.


As suspected a fascinating person was behind all of that knitting. It is possible that knitters are the coolest people ever. I hope that y’all enjoyed this as much as I did, because I plan on more interviews. Is there any one in particular you would like to hear from? Feel free to comment away!