Blog Crush: Kate Davies

Blog Crush: Kate Davies

I know I’ve indirectly professed my love for Kate Davies’ blog before, but I want to give it a proper place in the Blog Crush annals, because the longer I follow it, the more my esteem grows and grows. The blog is a mix of personal updates, pattern releases, vintage finds, tutorials and historical perspectives — and she’s good at all of it. She lives in incredibly scenic rural Scotland (having moved from Edinburgh last summer) and has been recovering over the past few years from a stroke, about which she’s been quite candid. She posts generously about the thought process behind each new design she releases. And everything she creates or writes about is infused with her admirable love and knowledge of the history of knitting and textile design. Her posts always leave me feeling like I’ve learned a little something and also that I have a whole bright world of things yet to be learned. So she’s inspiring on all sorts of levels. If you aren’t already reading her blog religiously, add it to your list.


Colorwork patterns for first-timers

Colorwork knitting patterns for first-timers

OK! Picking back up with the Beginning to Knit series, let’s talk about colorwork — specifically, stranded or “fair isle” knitting. (I’m not going into intarsia in this post.) Just like cables, stranded knitting is a great thing to try when you’re still fairly new to knitting. But even or especially if you’ve been knitting a long time and have never done it, it’s time! Both seem really difficult and amazing and impressive but are actually insanely simple. In the case of stranded knitting, it’s just stockinette and it’s almost always done in the round, so you’re only ever working from the right side of the fabric. You can handle knitting in the round, right? There are only two tricks to knitting multi- rather than single-color stockinette:

1) Holding the yarn.
If a pattern row has you knit two white stitches, then two black stitches and repeat that to the end of the row, you could literally knit the two white stitches, drop the yarn, pick up the black yarn and knit two stitches, drop it, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but it would slow you down a bit. Depending on how ambidextrous you are and which hand your normally hold your working yarn in, you could hold both yarns in your left hand, both in your right, or one in each hand. (That’s my preference.) There are copious videos on the web demonstrating all the options.

2) Minding your floats.
Imagine what I described above: putting one yarn down and picking up the next one. On the wrong side of the work, that new yarn has to reach across the two (or however many) stitches you just worked in the other color, and that little bit of yarn carried behind the work is called a float. (You’ve seen floats on the back side of fair isle knitting before, no doubt, but here’s a pic for you.) The reason most people’s stranded work winds up being tighter than single-color work is that their floats are too short and it pulls on the back of the work. So for one thing, you have to be careful to keep your floats even — the same width as the stitches they float behind. And for another, when the floats get very long — longer than a inch or so — you need to “trap” them by simply twisting the two yarns in back.

Sample colorwork chart from Pine Bough Cowl by Dianna Potter WallaThe other key difference is that when you’re working stockinette in the round, the last thing in the world you need is a chart — you’re just knitting every stitch! But for colorwork, you pretty much always need a chart showing you which stitches are worked in which colors. As long as you’re knitting in the round, you read the chart exactly like you knit: from right to left, starting at the bottom and working your way up. If a chart seems daunting, keep in mind that you only knit one row at a time. Block out all but the first (bottom) row on this sample chart and you’ll see that all you need to do is knit 1 green, 1 blue, 1 green, 7 blue, then repeat that 10-stitch sequence to the end of the round. You can do that, right? Then take the next row as it comes. I borrowed this sample chart from Dianna Walla’s free Pine Bough Cowl pattern, which was a huge hit with you all in the big cowls roundup a few months ago — it would be a great introduction to both colorwork and charts for the moderately ambitious among you. (Note that in some cases on a colorwork chart you’ll see black dots in some of the squares. Those dots are just there to emphasize the motif that’s being created — chevrons or triangles or whatever it may be. It’s just a visual aid; you still just knit every stitch.) [See UPDATE below about Dianna and charts.]

So, in my mind, the ideal projects for first-timers are those that A) are knitted in the round, B) never use more than two colors within a single row and C) don’t involve any long floats. Some suggestions, pictured above:

left: Dessau Cowl by Carrie Bostick Hoge — super-simple triangles pattern, maybe slightly long floats (See also: Flying Geese Cowl, Tolt Hat and Mitts)
center: Netty Cowl by Ien Sie — polka dots worked in a tube and grafted into a loop (See also: Herrington and Empire State)
right: Amira pullover by Andrea Rangel — just a little colorwork around the circular yoke (See also: Willard, Stasis, slightly more intricate Skydottir, or the Altair hat)

left: Harpa scarf by Cirilia Rose — tube scarf with long ribbed ends
center: Muckle Mitts by Mary Jane Mucklestone — my first colorwork project, includes both 2- and 3- color versions (either way just two colors per round) (See also: the more ambitious Seasons hat)
right: Vega hat by Alexis Winslow

left: Gloaming Mittens by Leila Raabe — there’s a slight chance there may be some 3-color rounds in here but I don’t think so
center: Selbu Modern hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn — like delicate Art Nouveau wallpaper for your head (free pattern)
right: Funchal Moebius by Kate Davies — clever play with lights and darks in a tube that’s grafted into a moebius (or a loop if you like)


I personally put off trying colorwork for two years, and then decided to take Mary Jane Mucklestone’s beginner class to get me off my duff and so I’d be sure to learn good habits right from the start. If you’re at all nervous about trying stranded knitting, then by all means sign up for a class. As I always say, you never know what else you might learn.


UPDATE: Dianna Walla left a comment below about her chart. She just did a post on her blog about working from colorwork charts, which you should definitely take a look at. See also her recent post about color dominance.

All star crowns

All star crowns

It seems to me that one of the most interesting — and potentially fun — challenges in all of knitting is designing the crown of a hat. That is: taking whatever stitch pattern you’ve used for the tube portion of the hat and figuring out how to get it to artfully narrow to nothing within the few inches of the crown. Loads of hats avoid the issue altogether by having you, the knitter, simply stop whatever interesting thing you’ve been doing and switch to stockinette for the crown. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m always wowed by designers who step up to the challenge — often making the crown the most beautiful and interesting part of the whole hat. These four great examples have floated across my screen lately, all of which happen to take a “star” approach, so I just wanted to take a moment to point at them and clap.

TOP: Tea Jenny by Kate Davies (who’s always good at crowns)
MIDDLE LEFT: Lowbrow Hat by Thao Nguyen (to go with your fave from the cowls roundup)
MIDDLE RIGHT: Gwyneth by Leah McGlone (I’m dying to knit this!)
BOTTOM: Fjordland by Dianna Walla (from Pom Pom 7)

I’m sure you’ve all got loads more examples of outstanding crowns, and I hope you’ll share them in the comments.


ICYMI this week is more (gift-worthy) beanies: Beautifully textured hats.

Knit the Look: An emerald scarf-shawl

How to make a knitted version of this silk scarf-shawl

I remember once seeing a knitter tweeting about finishing a triangular shawl and wondering whether only knitters wear shawls. I think the answer is pretty much yes. But there’s so much potential there! I am completely in love with this girl with her giant silk paisley scarf folded into a triangle and worn as a shawl with faded jeans. I love the emerald — color of the year or not — and it sent me in search of something I never imagined wanting: a colorwork shawl, in the realm of a scarf print. Or better yet, a square lap blanket that can be worn folded like this, such as Kate Davies’ Tír Chonaill — ideally converted to fingering weight, and knitted with something like Valley Yarns BFL Hand Dyed in Hemlock for the varying yellow-greens, paired with a natural. To give it that classic scarf edge, knit a thin border in the natural, followed by a wide one in a matching solid green. (And hey, for the socks, have you seen the new Petit Fours pattern at Quince and Co? A near-perfect match.)

See Vanessa’s recommendations for the rest of the outfit.

Unrelated: This week’s ICYMI post is Blog Crush: Karen Barbé, who never ceases to wow me.


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

From Kate Davies’ ephemera files

kate davies knitting ephemera series

I really like Kate Davies’ blog and will probably write a proper Blog Crush about it at some point, but right now I just want to tell you about this new series of posts she’s started doing, in case you aren’t already following along. Like a lot of people (especially recovering graphic designers), I’m a sucker for ephemera as a window into history, so I’m easy prey for this one. She doesn’t seem to have given it a formal name or created a tag for it (although all of her History-tagged content is worth a browse), but what she’s doing is dipping into her presumably amazing collection of vintage prints and postcards, and writing about them with characteristic insight and perspective. The first installment was Images of Knitting #1, followed by A Kiss from France. I can’t do justice to her manner of writing about these things, so you’ll just have to go read. Go go go.