Pics or it didn’t happen

Hello blog.

I have a confession to make. Well, more of an issue. Possibly a challenge to be dealt with.

I have a mental block when it comes to blogging. You see, I am stuck on the idea that there really isn’t any reason to blog if I don’t have pretty pictures to post. The problem is that this becomes a self defeating proposition.

When working on my computer I tell myself that I should write a blog post. I want to write a blog post. If you had ever interacted with me in person you would know that I almost always have something to say. Once I had a friend who had never met my husband and functioned under the assumption that we were one of those “chatty partner/taciturn partner” dynamics. When she finally went out to dinner with the both of us her reaction was “I don’t know how either of you get a word in edgewise.”

We are a chatty family. My son is chatty, just ask him. “Eman, why did you get non-satisfactory on your behavior report?” “I was too chatty today Mom.”

The upshot is that I do not have a lack of stuff to say, but I often lack anything to show. Which has led me to this experiment. What do y’all think about non-photo posts. Will you read if I am just yammering along? I promise that I will predominantly yammer about knitting. Really, I can talk about knitting for eons.

Right now I am pondering speckle yarns. Have y’all seen this kinda new phenomenon coming out of hand-dyers? It is hand-dyed variegated yarn, but with a very different technique and results. If you remember Gale of Gale’s Art she does some speckle dying and has had quite a hit with a color called Graffiti and Asphalt. And with apologies for linking to a whole bunch of stuff you can’t buy, Skein out of Australia has some amazing speckle dyed yarn here. Just so you can get an idea.

I am guessing that this style of yarn is going to present its own set of design challenges. It looks fantastic simply knit up in stockinette or garter, but as with other variegated yarn more complex patterns can get lost. There is going to be some serious swatching going on in the near future, once I get my hands on more of this yarn!

So there. An entire post without photos. Will this post fall into the black hole of the internet? Only time will tell. I leave you with a question. Would you enjoy more frequent posts regardless of the photographic content or should I stick to posting when I have something pretty for you to look at? I would love to know.

An Interview with Aimee Alexander

Participating in the Indie Gift a Long is a really fun experience for me. I always love chatting with knitters about projects & yarn and the threads offer the perfect venue for that. But there are parts of it that push me outside of my comfort zone and that is always a good thing.

One thing that we were asked is if we would want to interview another participating designer and blog about it. Well, that had never occurred to me as a thing to do – but why not? And by saying yes I also became an interviewee (who me?) I was interview on the awesome blog (that I happened to already follow) StringGeekery – if you want to take a peek at my babbling check it out here.

I, in turn, had the pleasure of interviewing Aimee Alexander (getknitty on Ravelry). If you would like to check out her designs click here. She is a double threat in that she is a designer extraordinaire and the owner of a yarn shop in Montana called Knit ‘n Needle Yarn Shoppe – a little fact that drove some of my nosy questions. ;)


Q. I think it is possible that to many knitters out there you seem to be “Living the dream” being the owner of a yarn store. Having worked at an LYS, I know it isn’t all sitting around sipping lattes and knitting. How do you end up being a Store owner and designer?

A. Well, while it isn’t all as you say “sitting around knitting and sipping lattes”, I do feel like I am living the dream. I love most aspects of my job, from working with customers, to going to trade shows, and designing knitting patterns. Throughout the 11 years we’ve been open, we’ve reinvented ourselves a couple of times to keep things exciting. Our most recent endeavor, of course, was launching our own hand-dyed yarn line: Polka Dot Sheep Yarns.

Q. You are surrounded by yarn all day, which must make you itch to get your pattern ideas worked out and into the world. How do you balance your design work with your store responsibilities?

A. I work full time, for sure. Many of the day to day tasks of running the LYS are taken over by my wonderful staff. I have a social media specialist who runs our blog, Twitter, Facebook, and the back end of our webpage. I have a great team of moderators that keep our Ravelry groups (we have three: Knit ‘n Needle Yarn Shoppe, Polka Dot Sheep Publications, and Polka Dot Sheep Yarns) fun and active. And, I have excellent sales clerks at the shoppe, some of whom have been with me over 5 years. All this help frees up some time that I use to focus on design, which I can do from home while spending time with my children.

Q. Looking at your patterns, you seem to have a soft spot for cables. Do you have any favorite stitches/techniques that you find yourself revisiting or using as a “go to” in your designs?

Snow Ghost Hat

Snow Ghost Hat (c) Polka Dot Sheep

A. If I create a stitch pattern or motif that I’m particularly fond of, I will often write it up in more than one design. The Snow Ghost Collection is an example. I have used the motif in mittens, two hats, and I’m now working it into a cowl. I do like the idea of matching sets.


Snow Ghost Mittens (c) Polka Dot Sheep


I can’t say for sure what type of knitting I like best: lace, cables, or color work. My passion for each tends to ebb and flow. But one thing I do like and you will see in many of my designs is the knit-in-hem. I like the firmness and stability it creates for brims of hats, cuffs of mittens, and you will even find it on the edging of my Sea of Dreams baby blanket.

Q. As a corollary to question 3, do you have a preferred weight of yarn that you consistently reach for?

A. No. I like all weights equally. For me, it’s about choosing the correct weight for the stitch pattern. For example, when I was first toying with ideas with the Sea of Dreams stitch pattern, I was working with DK yarn. It didn’t take long to discover that the larger stitch repeat required a lighter weight yarn. Likewise, a bulkier weigh yarn needs a motif with less repeats. Sugar Pine Hat, for example, is a multiple of 4, and it really works with a heavy yarn.

Q. As an LYS owner and a designer, you are in a great position to keep really good tabs on what knitters are actually knitting and want to knit. Do you see any new trends coming down the pike as far as what kind of accessories or garments you will be designing to keep knitters happy and coming back for more?

A. Initially I dabbled in designing simply because I couldn’t find the patterns my customers were asking for. (This, of course, was long before the Ravelry In-Store sales program which has been a tremendous resource for our yarn shoppe). My first few successes were simple patterns that a beginner could easily create. Bobbles for the Whole Family (written in 2006) was big local hit for me. To this day, I can still walk downtown certain to see a Bobbles on the head of a happy toddler.

I still enjoy creating simple patterns, like my Tenderfoot Socks. While the sock design is not ingenious, it serves a purpose and sells well in shops. I have found as a LYS owner that customers need and want basic patterns that they can return to time and again. But, thanks to Ravelry, I’ve found a larger market for more complex designs.


Tenderfoot Socks (c) Polka Dot Sheep


All in all, trends do come and go. Remember felted bags and purses? Ruffle scarfs? But mittens, hats, cowls, scarves, baby blankets, toys, and garments are always popular. And, with Ravelry, in-store sales it’s so very easy for us to find in vogue patterns for our customers and be inspired.

Thus ends my very first blog interview! Who knew being nosy could be so rewarding? Which brings up another question – one for y’all … Are interviews something you would like to see more of on this blog? It was kinda fun and as I said, a bit of a leap for me. If indeed you would like more interviews – who would you (reasonably) like me to interview?

Indie Designer Gift-a-long 2014

Things have been crazy busy! I have been knitting up a storm on projects that had to be sent off to others and will be coming out on their own schedules (which I have no influence upon). Then, this past weekend, I attended the Wine & Wool knitting retreat and taught a couple of classes which I have been preparing. Finally I have been working on the behind the scenes planning for this year’s Gift-a-long which started up this past Thursday.

What is this Gift-a-long thing you may ask? Well, it is a group effort by a bunch (and by a bunch I mean almost 300) of independent knit and crochet designers to have a bit of fun with our fellow crafters. It is being run in a forum on Ravlery which you can find by clicking on this link. Each designer has selected a range of patterns from their catalog to offer for 25% off for the sale portion of the -a long. These patterns went on sale on Thursday the 13th and will be on sale until this Friday the 21st.

Knitting pattens from Barbara Benson designs.

These are the patterns I picked

But the -a long doesn’t stop with the sale. There are threads that are a hoppin’ with chat and inspiration. You check into the thread that reflects what you are knitting (or threads – you can knit all kinds of stuff) and let the mods know what you want to knit. When you finish it you post a picture in the FO thread and you are officially entered to win one of the dozens of physical prizes or thousands of digital pattern downloads.

Prizes are also being awarded randomly based on participation and in fun games. To recap, we have a sale on thousands of patterns, physical and electronic prizes and encouragement to get some of your holiday gift knitting done (for others or for yourself – we aren’t picky). It really is a win, win for everybody involved. Please come in and join us. I am part of the moderating team for the Scarves, Cowls and Neck Thingies thread – so if something like that is on your list then I would love to see you jump in. I spy in the other threads to cheer on anyone knitting my patterns – so make sure to magic link me if you post something.

Triangular silk lace shawl from Barbara Benson

There is Water at the Bottom of the Ocean

A final note – you might have noticed that There is Water at the Bottom of the Ocean is in my collage. A happy coincidence occurred that the pattern rights opened up at the same time as the exclusivity expired – so it is now available for purchase. I cannot wait to see people knitting it up! Expect to see another blog post on it soon because it has been almost impossible for me to keep mum about it!

Love Child – a shawl

Here are words that I never thought would ever come out of my mouth: I love Yak!

Yak fiber that is.

Meeting a new fiber is always an exciting experience, but it doesn’t always end well. Luckily this is a love story. This yarn from Gale’s Art is a blend of Merino, Yak and Silk and it is a treat to knit. The name is more descriptive than fanciful, MYS622 – but it tells you what it is, a 60/20/20 blend of the aforementioned fibers. In a way it is similar to the cashmere blends with comparable blends, but the Yak is decidedly different than the cashmere. It is wonderfully soft, but it has a weight to it that cashmere lacks. The yarn also has a … coolness … to it, in the hand it feels almost like it is slightly damp – but it isn’t. Now that could be the high silk content? I am afraid I am not a fiber expert, but what I do know is that it knits wonderfully and has fantastic drape. The yarn itself feels heavy in the ball but the finished shawl is remarkably light weight (yet warm at the same time). Plus, it comes in absolutely glowing deep colors.

When we started talking about working on a piece together I absolutely knew I had to do color work. Gale was looking to put together a kit for the upcoming Fall fiber festival season – and I was pleased as punch to be a part of the project.

Love Child, a two color shawl with lace and slipped stitches by Barbara Benson

Hello lovely

Presenting Love Child. The name? Well it is a bit silly (but when am I not?) but it comes from my attempting to describe the idea over the phone. I believe what I said was “It is as if In Uffish Thought and Captive got together and had a two color Love Child.”  A few hours later I received a text message cursing politely thanking me for getting the song stuck in her head. And the title stuck as well.

Love Child - a two color lace shawl with slipped stitches, by Barbara Benson

You know me and swoops.

If you have been playing along at home you probably recognize this shape. I have become enamored of it. The side to side construction makes me happy because it allows the knitter to adjust easily to their yardage and desired size of project. It retains the curved neckline of a crescent that allows it to hug the shoulders and wear comfortably, but its hybrid triangular shape makes it deeper down the back and provides more styling options. The slight asymmetry shifts the “point” to one side to eliminate the dreaded “arrow pointing at butt” effect that so many dislike about triangular shawls … all in all I think the shape has a great deal going for it.

Love Child, an asymmetrical shawl worked in two colors with slipped stitches and lace by Barbara Benson

This shape just wears in so many ways

For this version I have eliminated the lower edge “trim” that you find on In Uffish Thought and BitterBlue. It streamlines the shawl and takes it into a more casual and functional piece. It is also the result of a whole pile of math to create shaping that is of an every other row style as opposed to the binding off some stitches style. Both have merits and I thought I would play to see what I could come up with. I wonder what would happen if I did both …. hmmmmmmm?

Love Child, a tow color lace shawl with slipped stitches, by Barbara Benson

Are you ready for fall?

My end result was a shawl that is remarkably easy to knit. I memorized it without really trying and truly enjoyed the knitting process. It has some easy lace and a very repetitive rhythm, there is one fancy stitch for the leading edge increase – but you will soon get the hang of it.  It is also easily adjustable (as I said, one of the pluses of this shape) both in size and the possibilities for customization. I chose to have the striping pattern produce regularly spaced bands of color – but one could also muck about with the color changes and create one’s own banding pattern that suits one’s fancy! As is typical, I thought about how I could change up the colors as I was knitting it – but relied on discipline to stay the course.

Love Child, lace combined with two colors and slipped stitches create this knitted shawl by Barbara Benson

Yet another way to wrap.

The photo shoot went beautifully and I had a very hard time narrowing down the shots.  I also almost fell into a stream. Fatimah said “Fall with the camera in the air.”, because she totally knows what is important! The shawl itself will be traveling to New York Sheep and Wool (Rhinebeck) with Gale and she will be offering the pattern in a kit with her stunning yarn. If you are going please stop by and say hi! I also believe that she will have the kits at Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) – which I will be attending! If you are going give me a holler and maybe we could say hi!

I would love to hear your thoughts on shawl shapes in the comments. Likes, dislikes, suggestions? Please speak up!


Edited to answer request in the comments:

I know I say it, everyone blogger says it – but I love comments. Without comments it is kinda like throwing pennies into a wishing well and never finding out if your dream comes true. Unless I receive feedback I don’t know if I am giving y’all the information that you want/need/enjoy. So when I saw the specific request from shoelaceswitcher in the comments I was all like “A schematic?” it had never occurred to me to put that in a blog post. It took a little fiddling to convert the file I have from the pattern into a JPG that I can put on the web – but it wasn’t anything too exciting.

So, here it is! I hope it gives you the info you need.

Schematic of shawl

Schematic of shawl

Cables are Cool

Cables are Cooool <<<click for pattern page on Ravelry

First off, you have to say the title of this hat in the correct way. You have to use your best number 11 (Matt Smith) Dr. Who voice. (link is to video). It is a subtle reference, but hey, I like to amuse myself.

Cables are Cool: A two color cable hat featuring slipped stitch color work by Barbara Benson

Cables are Cool

Now – you probably know I have a weakness for slipped stitch/mosaic style color work. I keep dreaming up ways to incorporate it into other knitting techniques to try and do something a wee bit novel. And it avoids stranding. I don’t like stranding. I mean I can totally do it if I really want to, and I might yet design a stranded pattern, but for now I am having too much fun with slipped stitches.

Cables are Cool: A two color cable hat featuring slipped stitch color work by Barbara Benson

This is the smaller version

Which led to this hat. My newest victims are cables. How to create a cable that looks like two different color cables that weave in and out of each other. I think I managed the effect quite well. Now, this isn’t a beginner level pattern. I had to create my own cable nomenclature (which might give you a clue to why these two posts came about) and fiddle about with the charting software a bit. But I think I ended up with something that makes logical sense.

Cables are Cool: a two color, slouchy cable hat with slipped stitch color work by Barbara Benson

I love it when I catch Fatimah laughing

And then there was the matter of yarn. I wanted to use something that had a wide palate of colors that people could choose from and that was a joy to knit with. Luckily I was able to work with the amazing color minds at Dream in Color and they provided their luscious new revamp of their worsted base Classy. Super soft and easy to work with, I am thinking it will become my go-to for when I want a plied worsted yarn. Nice and floofy and in a bajillion colors, I just couldn’t go wrong.

Cables are Cool: a two color, slouchy cable hat with slipped stitch color work by Barbara Benson

I like the brim and think I could have gone even bigger.

For shape I wanted to go with a nice slouch, mostly because it allowed me to repeat the cables more – because more cables = good. I decided to end the cables before I really got into the crown decrease because really, who wants to fiddle with the decreases and the cables at the same time? The fun thing with this technique is that it allowed me to have this cool stripey pattern on the top. If you wanted you could switch to knitting in solid after you finish the last cable and have a solid top.

Cables are Cool: a two color cabled hat featuring slipped stitch color work by Barbara Benson

See, laughing

After finishing the first hat I had a ton of yarn left over and I decided to go ahead and knit a smaller version. The Adult/Large is a very loose fitting hat. It stays on but does not bind the head. Because of that people with heads on the smaller end of the spectrum might find it a bit too big. Hence a smaller size. But it is for quite small heads and will therefore also be appropriate for your bigger youths (tweens/teens). While knitting the smaller hat I also tried out a brim variation because – well, why not? Because it is just ribbing you could make it as long as you want to have a big fold-over brim. I went with four inches total for a 2 inch brim when folded.


Between the different sizes, brim options and color choices – you can really make this hat your own. I cannot wait to see what people knit up? What do you think your preferences would be?



BitterBlue – the reveal

It started innocently enough. One of my fabulous testers for In Uffish Thought sent me a note with her progress. She mentioned, off-hand, that she had to resist the urge to put a bead at the tip of each point.

I could have named this shawl Cascade Effect, I might keep that name for the future. But its name is BitterBlue.

Lace shawl worked in gradient yarn with gradient beads by Barbara Benson.

One last tease

The process of knitting my sample for Uffish was quite enjoyable, I really like the shape and the knit was pretty simple. In the past I have explored different designs with the same shaping – why not with this shape? Of course, Uffish features the teeniest of cables, so the logical next step was lace (for me at least).

Beads and lace play so nicely together.

BitterBlue - a lace shawl knit in gradient yarn with gradient beads, by Barbara Benson.

An alternate color scheme “Magic Carpet”

And if a few beads are good then more are better, right? Then the gradient yarn idea hit me and I thought to myself “Would it be possible to do a gradient in beads? What if the gradient in the beads went in opposition to the gradient in the yarn?” Yes, this is how my brain works.

BitterBlue - a lace shawl in gradient yarn with gradient beads, by Barbara Benson.

This is in the namesake color BitterBlue

There had to be enough beads to make the gradient visible as a “thing” but I didn’t want to overkill. The final product is the result of a delicate balance of my personal desire for the sparkle and my desire to not be beading anymore. Because beading is time consuming – but oh so worth it.
BitterBlue, a lace shawl worked in gradient yarn with gradient beads, by Barbara Benson.

This is the full size and shape

As I mentioned in my teaser post, this project represents the creative efforts of not just myself, but a couple of other very talented ladies. Kelly from The Unique Sheep and Ellen from Earthfaire contributed their amazing abilities in their respective fields to create this end result – which I think is the perfect meeting of yarn, beads & knitting. They have put together kits of these two color schemes and there are a few that will be available here if you missed out on the pre-order.
The pattern itself is fairly straightforward knitting. Knits, purls, yarn overs and basic decreases with some slipped stitches thrown in for good measure. I am not gonna lie, the beading slows you down – but it isn’t difficult. Just bust out your wee crochet hook and you are on your way. As with In Uffish Thought, the pattern is worked from one pointy end towards a long bind off (which naturally I beaded) and is therefore fairly flexible in sizing & yardage.
BitterBlue- a textured lace shawl knit in gradient yarn with gradient beads, by Barbara Benson.

So many ways to wear this shawl!

Earthfaire is hosting a KAL for the shawl in September in their Ravelry group and I will definitely be there to answer questions and provide cheer-leading. But mostly to ooh & ahhh at the pretties. ;) I could post about a dozen more pictures, but I think it better to go ahead and release the post into the wild. Hope you love it!
To wrap things up I wanted to send out an enormous Thank You to Lois. Lois is the reason why there is a sample in both of the colors, while I knit the original in the BitterBlue, I did not have the time to do the Magic Carpet version. Lois applied her experience with both beading and The Unique Sheep gradiances and produced the beauty that you see up there!


Pondering Patterns

Remember way back in May when I went to TNNA? I know, it seems like forever ago … but it has been fresh in my mind. Immersing myself in the world of knitting and yarn was a fantastic if exhausting experience. My primary goal for the trip was simply networking. I figured that I had (and have) a whole industry to learn and my best bet was going to be doing more listening than talking and trying to learn as much as possible. All in all the trip was an overwhelming success for me.

But, I also had a secondary, you know – just in case it happens – goal. I wanted to investigate the idea of getting my patterns out there into local yarn stores in hard copy. Why you might ask? Well, believe it or not, there are knitters who are not on Ravelry. Heck, there are knitters who aren’t even on-line (much). And while I personally prefer the more direct contact I get with knitters that direct digital sales provides, I would like to reach those knitters that prefer to have a printed copy of the pattern in their hands.

I understand, I don’t like reading books on an e-device and I am sure it is a similar thing.

As is happens, the stars aligned, one thing led to another and I ended up talking with the amazingly talented Heather Zoppetti who is the one woman force of nature behind Stitch Sprouts. The impetus behind writing this post was a new blog post on the Stitch Sprouts blog announcing the New Designers. I am totally excited, and frankly slightly stunned to be included among all of the talented designers at Stitch Sprouts. Many of them I met and got to know at TNNA (hurrah for the break down team!) and I wish I could have them all living around me so that we could plot and scheme constantly. But alas, designing is a relatively solitary pursuit.

I now have my very own page on the Stitch Sprouts site – here is a screen grab for proof:

Stitch Sprouts designer, Barbara Benson

A snap shot of the website.

The upshot of all of this is that your local yarn store can now carry my patterns! All they have to do is go on the Stitch Sprouts site and sign up for the upcoming catalog. And really, I think it will be well worth it. There is such a great variety of patterns in both knit and crochet that, even if they don’t like my stuff, they are sure to find something that will be a hit in their store.

Along with the patterns, Heather also carries some absolutely lovely yarns and some really fun stitch markers. My favorite of the stitch markers are these:

Stitch Sprouts paper stitch markers

The weigh pretty much nothing

Do you know what these are made out of? Paper! And where did the paper come from? Old Stitch Sprouts catalogs! Isn’t that brilliant? They take the old catalogs and instead of chucking them in a landfill they get torn into wee strips and turned into beads. Heather then turns the paper beads into snag-less stitch markers et voila! Upcycled. Totally one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments when I found out.

Big news to round out the Summer, eh? If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask. And if you think that your LYS would like to carry my patterns, please pass the info along. Thanks!