New Favorites: Kanoko

New Favorites: Kanoko

On the morning of our first full day at Squam a few weeks back, my friend and cabin mate Mary Jane Mucklestone popped out of her room, declared that she was ready to go, and proceeded to make pretty much every single person at the retreat fall in love with her. In her effortlessly MJ way, she was wearing a sort of prim, navy, polka-dotted shirtdress with her Kanoko Socks and a pair of black Doc Martens boots, and nobody has ever looked cooler tromping around the woods of New Hampshire. (I couldn’t take a photo that did the outfit justice.) This adorable spotted socks pattern of hers had been among my favorites of the many stunning projects in the third issue of Making, the Dots issue, from the moment it arrived, but that was the day I went from admiring them to coveting them, and I may have to knit them, even if I’ll never be as cool as MJM.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Summer sweaters






My First Sweater: Mary Jane Mucklestone

My First Sweater: Mary Jane Mucklestone

My First Sweater: Mary Jane Mucklestone

When I was first musing about this My First Sweater series, I started thinking about all the truly brilliant knitters I know and trying to imagine where they began — what was their first sweater, and how long ago? I knew instantly I would have to ask Mary Jane Mucklestone, because not only is she a truly astonishing knitter (and teacher — don’t miss out on any opportunity to take one of her classes) but she’s also one of the funniest and loveliest people in the trade. And she did not disappoint! MJM’s first sweater was long enough ago that she no longer has it — and certainly doesn’t have an old snap on her iPhone. In fact, the only surviving photos turned out to be in the possession of her old friend Barb, who very kindly mailed these to me so I could use them for this post! (Thank you, Barb! They’re on their way back!) Of course, you can’t see the sweater at all, but how darling is young Mary Jane? So she also graciously sent me this highly informative pencil sketch of how she remembers it! Below is the colorful tale of this imperiled ’80s drop-shouldered wonder.

For more from Mary Jane, follow her on Instagram, check out her patterns on Ravelry, and she also happens to also be the most recent guest on Woolful! Thanks, MJM—

. . .

How long had you been knitting when you cast on your first sweater? What drove you to it?

I had a very spotty knitting past up until the point I made my first sweater. I’d learned when I was really young, kindergarten or before, from my super cool teenaged next-door neighbor, who had a flip hairdo. No one in my family knit. The thing was, she taught me how to knit and I quickly knit up a blanket for my troll doll, but she didn’t tell me how to get it off the needle. I had to wait for her to come home from school … then she admired my work but ripped it out.

Next time was after high school. My best friend had returned from a Folk School in Sweden knitting continental style, and I wanted to look as cool as her. The yarn shop (upstairs at Scandia Imports on the Ave in Seattle, the same store where we bought our clogs) suggested I knit a scarf. Big yawn. I didn’t really want to make a scarf, so I made it wider than they told me to in the handwritten instructions, which of course made the yarn run out before it was long enough, resulting in a rectangle too wide and short for a scarf and too small for a baby blanket. Besides, I didn’t know any babies.

That was all the knitting I did for years …

1984 (sound cue Bowie 1984) After art school in Brooklyn, I worked in the fashion and advertising industries in the city for a few years, mostly doing recurring gigs that would be seasonal in nature — like hand-painting caftans for the haute couture Oscar de la Renta spring and resort collections, for instance. Or working as a studio assistant to rug weaver Elizabeth Eakins. But I became homesick for the west coast. I moved to Santa Barbara for a year, for the sun! Next door to the boutique where I worked was a yarn shop, Woolies, where I used go just to stare at the wall of colored yarn — this gorgeous floor to ceiling visual wonder of color and texture. One day the owner Katie said, “For all the time you hang around in the store doing nothing you could’ve knit a sweater.”

How did you choose the pattern, if there was one?

I had no clue how to go about starting anything, let alone a sweater. I just said “fix me up.” Katie said “choose a color,” pointing to the huge array of Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb. I grabbed a bright true blue, and she picked out a complicated asymmetric-stitch patterned pullover, very oversized — this was the ’80s — from the French company Pingouin. They had the coolest pattern booklets at that time, and she knew I liked them and understood the power of the photograph — I wanted to be like those French women in the pictures — so it wouldn’t occur to me that the knitting might be challenging.

And was it? What were the challenges or hurdles or thrills?

I think the pattern was really pretty difficult, but since I didn’t know that I just went ahead and knit the thing … all wrong. I read the chart symbols backwards. When Katie noticed, said “never mind, just keep doing what you’re doing.” Since it was knit flat it didn’t matter — when I was done I could just flip the piece. My right side was actually the wrong side. At the time I didn’t really understand any of this; it’s only looking back that I get it.

I loved the physical activity of knitting. I could recognize some mistakes, like dropping a stitch. I dutifully returned to Woolies, where there was a little group of knitters sitting around knitting and chatting — the first time I’d encountered this phenomena. I explained my problem, and my sweater was handed off to an older woman who Katie said was a “knitting celebrity” — a preposterous idea in my mind. Yeah whatever, can she fix my knitting was my only thought. She scolded me for having such a long tail on my cast-on edge, telling me that it was wasteful.

And was it a success — did you wear it ever, a lot, for a long time?

It was a grand success! I was so proud of it and myself. It was comfy like a sweatshirt and I wore it all the time. In the New Mexico Salt Dam picture you can just see it under my suitably ’80s oversized indigo cotton jacket. That was a great trip — one of the best I’ve ever had. The sky at times was as blue as my sweater!

Tragedy struck, however, in the form of a devilish Weimaraner puppy who ate a hole in it. I was devastated. Beyond words. Fortunately my friend’s mom knew someone who could perform sweater surgery. I had the leftover yarn, and this amazing woman rebuilt the missing sections. She was so expert that you almost couldn’t see where it was mended. That really stayed with me, that you can always fix things.

I hope the puppy was cute. How long was it after that before you cast on your next sweater? And what was it?

Later that year I was with friends in Portland Oregon who were getting married and we decided I should make the bride a sweater as my wedding present. We went across the river to a yarn shop housed in an old Victorian home. Martha chose grey yarn and an amazing pattern, allover large cables and really oversized. This one I think was from Rebecca — the lively, fashion-forward, German pattern book. I followed the pattern carefully — even made a swatch, which I didn’t really understand. The finished sweater was not as successful as my first — too narrow and the cables were sqwunched — but you know what? I think it’s because I didn’t block it. Really block it, I mean. I only steamed it with an iron. I think if I had known to get it soaking wet and stretch it to the size I wanted before seaming it, it would have been perfect. I wish I could do it now.


PREVIOUSLY in My First Sweater: Marlee Grace

Best new hat patterns

Best new hat patterns

There have been so many outstanding hat patterns published in the last few months, I thought it was time to highlight my favorites. I’m crazy about all of these:

1. Fractals Hat by Olga Buraya-Kefelian — striking geometry and a great crown

2. Hickory Cap by Veronik Avery — great pillbox shape, clever construction

3. Boyfriend Hat from the Purl Bee — a total classic (free pattern)

4. Magnolia beanie by Maria Socha — simple lace-stitch chart, fantastic crown (free pattern)

5. Wissahickon beanie by Meghan Kelly — top-down and all about the crown

6. Garter Ear Flap Hat by Purl Bee — sized for the whole family (free pattern)

7. Walsh head scarf by Julie Hoover — I want it as is and also at kerchief or shawl size

8. Lara’s Hat by Susan Ashcroft — previously mentioned, now available (free pattern)

9. Muckle Toque by Mary Jane Mucklestone — the hat version of her great Muckle Mitts

10. Quadrifurcus beanie by Rililie — great woven texture and shaped back/ribbing


SHOP NOTE: So pleased to report that the sold-out buttons have been restocked!


MORE GREAT HATS: A hat for every head / Beautifully textured hats / All star crowns

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.

Q for You: How do you weave in your ends?

Muckle Mitts knitted by karentempler

OK, so fair-isle knitting is an extreme example to use as the art for this Q for You, but I also really want to show you how my first colorwork project turned out! (Am I awesome or what? They’re Muckle Mitts, and the yarn is that Kenzie that Skacel sent me, and here they are on Ravelry. I love these from top to bottom.) But for real, the Q is: How do you weave in your ends?

(This is obviously another good one for the Beginning to Knit page, and I have a closely related one coming up next time.)

Like most things with knitting, everyone has a different favorite method, or a new one every month, or the answer is “It depends.” For me, the perfect project, in this context, is anything that starts and ends with ribbing and has no other loose tails in between! That’s because any time I’ve got a tail at the edge of some ribbing, I just run it down one side of a stack of knit stitches on the wrong side, then back up the other side of those same stitches. (Pictured below.) Give a tug to even out the tension, and snip! Done. I have no idea if this is an officially sanctioned method — I’ve just always done it, and it is so so simple. But if there’s no ribbing or seam to hide the ends in, I either use the duplicate stitch method or, if it’s a reasonably sticky yarn, I just weave them in a couple of zigzagging lines through the purl bumps on the wrong side. What about you?

How to weave in ends in ribbing

PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you prefer your patterns written or charted?


Look ma, three colors!

My first colorwork

The universe has sent me several signs in the past month that it’s time for me to learn fair isle knitting. (Tell you about them when I can.) What the universe apparently missed is that I had already signed up for a class! Which is where I spent my Sunday morning: learning proper habits and smart tips from the highly revered and totally charming Mary Jane Mucklestone. She not only bowled me over with her deep historical knowledge and her mountain of jaw-dropping colorwork swatches — each of them roughly twelve by twenty-four inches! — but also with her red clogs, literally the best clogs I have ever laid eyes on. I didn’t get very far on this hat-to-be, but I have totally got this.

[MISSED CONNECTION: Your name was Denise and you loaned me a stitch marker. Didn’t mean to swipe it. Will pay you back in spades if you’ll only tell me how to contact you!]

The Knitting Lab market was high quality but tiny compared to similar events I’ve attended, so I managed to escape with only one skein of yarn — a really deliciously hairy, naturally pewter, alpaca and mohair blend from Toots le Blanc, at half price. And Friday evening I got to eat at a hilarious little Japanese place with two of the very loveliest yarn people. Pretty brilliant weekend.


ICYMI this week is quite recent but highly relevant, here in gift-knitting season: Scarves to start now.


The yarn is Kenzie, sent to me by Skacel.