Wednesday, December 29, 2010


These past weeks as I was madly churning out knitted Christmas stockings, I began to think about how useful good old duplicate stitch has been to me. There is the obvious application, of course, of embroidering names and dates on the stockings. I actually used to do these with fair isle technique, but switched to duplicate stitch because it looked better, wasted less yarn, and could be easily removed and done over. For a brief tutorial of duplicate stitch, look HERE.

One of my knitting friends actually found herself in the unfortunate circumstance of needing to remove the name of an ex son-in-law from a stocking, and replace it with the name of the new son-in-law. Because the name wasn't done in removable duplicate stitch, there was nothing for it but to chop off the top of the stocking and re-knit. Or maybe marriage counseling.

The way in which I find duplicate stitch most useful, though, is for darning in ends. In this case you sew in S-shaped duplicates on the wrong, bumpy side of your knitting, not biting in too deep with the needle. This hides the end of the yarn securely, invisibly, and most important- it is elastic, so it won't pull out. For a tutorial on this technique, look HERE.

Some other really great ways to use duplicate stitch is for fixing things:

MOTH HOLES: With matching thread, use duplicate stitch to cover over a moth hole. There are two repairs in the photo at right- the darning job on the right hole is not quite so skillful as the one on the left.

COLORWORK MISTAKES: Did you goof up the color of a few stitches? Cover them up with duplicate stitch! Want to add those sparkly blue eyes to Santa's face without having to carry the blue yarn in your tangle of intarsia?-yup, duplicate stitch them in.

CABLE GOOFS: Uh oh, the beautiful cable knit sweater is finished, and then you discover a cable crossed the wrong way! Cover it up with duplicate stitch, and no one will be the wiser. I've used contrasting yarn for this illustration, but matching yarn would be less visible.

Anyone remember this amazing cable goof on the cover of Vogue Knitting Magazine? (Click photo to enlarge) Should have duplicate stitched it up!

Duplicate stitch is awesome!!!!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Art: -the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. (Wikipedia)
-creative work or its principles; making or doing of things that display form, beauty, and unusual perception. (New World dictionary)

Craft: -a branch of a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work (Wikipedia)
-a special skill, art, or dexterity (New World dictionary)

It was January 1979, I was finishing my PhD in Geology at West Virginia University, and at my first job interview for a teaching position at a small college in Minnesota (dressed up in my very best long plaid wool skirt and cowl neck sweater!). After a long day of tours, presentations, interviews, and trudging through deep snow, I was in the college president’s office answering the usual questions. After a thoughtful pause, Mr. President suddenly threw me a curve ball: “What do you see as the relationship between the Arts and the Sciences?” I really have no memory of what answer I managed to cobble together. I had a really good appreciation of Science at the time, but what exactly did he mean by the Arts? I should have known all this because my diploma said “School of Arts and Sciences” at the top! I do remember quite well that while I was struggling to put my thoughts together in a coherent way, Mr. President dropped suddenly to his knees, snatched his binoculars off his desk, and exclaimed excitedly about the hawk that had appeared in the sky! Luckily for me I shared his interest in bird watching and actually knew something about hawks, so I was off the hook for that one!

It came back to haunt me a few months later. A friend of mine who is a successful professional artist showed me a sculpture that she was selling for hundreds of dollars. She had picked up rusted metal and driftwood from the beach, arranged it in an artful way, and hung it from the wall. It was beautiful and interesting! When I moved to a location near the beach and had a new house to decorate, I picked up rusted metal and driftwood, arranged it in an artful way, and hung it on the wall of my house. I thought it was beautiful and interesting! Every person who came into my house, without exception, asked me "Why do you have that trash hanging on the wall?" Eventually I threw it out in despair. Clearly, I needed to work this out!

Once I happened to be in a well known craft store franchise, shopping for yarn. Directly across the street was ANOTHER very similar craft store franchise. As many others had probably done before me, I sympathized to the sales person about the unfortunate (for them) juxtaposition. Her answer was memorable: “Oh, but that store sells only CRAFT yarn”. The implication being, I suppose, that her store sold ART yarn!

It bugged me for years: Is knitting an art or a craft, or something in between? It does take special skill and dexterity for sure, and I’ve known some people to churn out many knitted items (dishcloths) like factories. Definitely craft. But for many knitters it also can be a purely creative outlet. Some knitted items have very little practical use, but are very pleasing to the senses nonetheless. Definitely art. It seems to me that art and craft can overlap a great deal (certainly more than Art and Science!). In my opinion the very best knitted designs are both beautiful and pleasing to the senses, as well as being useful and challenging to make.

The photo above is lace knitted from hand dyed crochet thread. You can purchase the hand dyed crochet thread HERE.

The image of freeform knitting at the top of this post is by Prudence Mapstone, and can be seen in its original location HERE


Monday, November 15, 2010


When I was a toddler, I dragged two things with me everywhere: "La-La", a threadbare toy kitten, and "Cover", a blanket. Cover gave me much more pleasure and comfort than La-La because Cover had a silk binding. When I was drifting asleep or needed comfort, I just rubbed that soft slippery binding between my thumb and finger, and it made me happy inside. Years after Cover fell apart I was doing the same with a lock of my own hair, or the fluffy collie dog I grew up with. Even at my (ahem) rather advanced age I STILL have been known to twiddle my hair on occasion, and I still own a fluffy dog.

I never understood just how much tactile pleasure knitting gave me until I purchased a knitting machine some years ago, a Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine. At the time it seemed like a really great thing to make a sweater or afghan in a week! Even though the machine turned out to have a disappointingly steep learning curve, I finally figured it out, and made plenty of one-week sweaters that looked great.

The funny thing was, much to my surprise, I didn't actually enjoy making them! I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of figuring out HOW to make them. I enjoyed teaching my kids how to run the machine once I set things up (they loved it!). I enjoyed the fast results, even as the successes were often countered by the just-as-fast big messes.

But I really missed the feeling of the soft yarn in my hands! I found the machine strangely unfullfilling. It was sort of like owning a big soft friendly Golden Retriever, but never being allowed to stroke it. Or having a contented warm purring cat in your lap, and only looking at it.

Alas, the knitting machine is put away, and I have gone back to the excruciatingly slow but SO comforting hand knitting. As you can probably guess, my favorite yarns are soft fibers like merino wool, angora, cashmere, alpaca, and (if only I could afford it!) quiviut, made from the soft undercoat of musk oxen. (In fact, if I thought for a single minute that a musk ox might be happy here in South Carolina, I would go up to Alaska and capture one, and bring it home for a pet. No alpaca is safe around me either, for that matter!)

The reason that I am longing for soft fibers at the moment is because I am being paid to knit something out of (choke!) ACRYLIC fiber. While I do admit that some plastic yarns are maybe sort of OK, this particular project is using one of the cheapest, stiffest, and scratchiest ones. I am not enjoying it. The only thing that makes it bearable is the thought of spending the money I am making on some really beautiful alpaca, and holding that delicious softness to my cheek while purring and drooling!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'm not sure how the tradition began, but back in the 1950's (when some of us were born, but I'm not saying exactly who) there were lots of patterns and kits available to make knitted Christmas stockings. It seemed as though it was almost a birthright to have a relative make you a stocking with your name and sometimes birth date too. The patterns were not easy! The maker of the stocking had to know how to do some pretty tricky color intarsia techniques, darn in millions of yarn ends, and how to turn the heel of a sock. The directions in the old patterns were also extremely cryptic.

Fast forward about 50 years, and now these stocking-children are becoming grandparents. It seems that many of them don't know how to perform these advanced knitting techniques, but they want to have identical stockings for the newest generation. So they hire me to copy the old ones!!! It takes me about a week or ten days to make one, and I can get $100 per stocking. I do enjoy making them (for a while), but have to admit that I get awfully sick of knitting with red, white, and green by December.

The photos show a mixture of traditional and my own patterns (click to embiggen). My favorite original pattern is the Christmas argyle shown at right.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I love knitting lace! I love finishing a lace project, but the best part is blocking it! Blocking transforms a lumpy, crumply, uneven scarf or shawl into an object of shimmering breathtaking beauty!

I just finished the Swirl Shawl by Lijuan Jing. I used Jojoland Melody Superwash in purply-red-blues. It's pretty unblocked, but kind of lumpy looking and stiff.

Here it is pinned on the blocking board. (It didn't quite fit, so I had to do the ends separately). There are many blocking techniques, but my favorite for lace wool yarn is to dampen a large piece of light cotton fabric, cover the lace, and gently steam iron.

The results are definitely worth it!!

You don't have to buy a blocking board!! You can pin your work on a bed or clean carpet, so long as you can keep out the dogs, cats, and children. A blocking board is nice to have in a crowded house like mine because you can stand it on edge, out of harm's way, overnight. If you would like to have your own inexpensive blocking board, here is how I made mine:


4 x 8 foot sheet of one inch thick styrofoam home insulation from Home Depot (<$10)
Yardstick and marker
Sharp bread knife or small saw
Old worn out bed sheet or other fabric for padding
5 x 5’ piece of plaid flannel (fabric store)
Duct tape, glue, and/or staple gun

With the yardstick and marker, draw a line on the insulation board that divides it into two 4 x 4 foot pieces. Using a sharp bread knife or small saw, cut the home insulation board in half (you may have to do this in the parking lot of the building supply store so that it fits in your car!). Tape the two pieces together with duct tape, completely sealing the raw edges so that they don’t crumble. Cover one side of the insulation board with the bed sheet (doubled), and top with the flannel. Secure the fabric edges on the back side with glue, staples, or more duct tape. You can store this ungainly but very practical blocking board behind the headboard of a bed, under the bed, or behind a door.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


This blog entry isn't about knitting. I wish it could have been, but my life took a decided turn in a different direction for the past month or so. My "knitting" hat got laid aside for a while. I have been wearing my "horse" hat more and more lately, and almost exclusively for the past week. It even temporarily displaced the "Mom" hat for a few days. Now that it's over I can tell you what it is was all about. Now I can wear the "Mom" hat until I catch up with my kids, and then the "knitting" hat now and again. (Just as soon as I get past an orchestra concert this weekend, because I must wear the "cello" hat a little bit more until then).

In June of last year my daughter and I became the owners of a wonderful bay Arabian Andalusian crossbred mare, "Fae". Fae was abandoned by her owner, and rescued by our farrier, who sold her to us for practically nothing. Fae was about four, and not broken in at the time. I have quite a bit of horse experience from my high school years (long distant), but had always wanted to break in a horse, so this was my chance. Fae has turned out to be a remarkable horse to train because of her athleticism and intelligence, but breaking her in was not without, um, challenges! Over the year we also acquired a little grey pony who was almost starved to death from neglect, and rescued by a friend. "Cloud" has turned out to be a great driving pony. But I digress.

Fae and Cloud were good enough reasons to get involved with horse rescue, but I have even deeper reasons than that, reasons that go back decades, and that involve deeply buried pain. Fae and Cloud have helped me to face that pain, and have helped me to heal. I decided that I wanted to do something to help promote horse rescue: I volunteered to organize and host a competitive trail challenge for the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) website HERE. People bring their horses from all over the country to these competitve trail challenges, and have what amounts to a trail ride with obstacles that are judged and scored. It involves big money and big prizes. Some of the proceeds go back to ACTHA, and the rest are awarded to the affiliate (me). So to get back to why this blog isn't about knitting, I hosted the "Mullet Hall Competitive Trail Challenge" for ACTHA on October 16th. It kind of took over my life. It was really really challenging and stressful to organize and run, but now that it's over it was SO MUCH FUN!!

And we made $660 which will go to South Carolina Awareness and Rescue for Equines (SCARE website HERE)!!!!

The granite socks (previous blog entry) became the third prize in one of the divisions. The recipient was delighted, and I hope they keep her feet warm inside her riding boots all winter!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I am not generally a fan of Patons Kroy sock yarn, but I saw these colors in the store and fell in love. This is color 1003, "Cameo Colors". To me they are a dead ringer for a common rock known as granite. Now I can have feet that look like rocks (this is actually a thrill for me as a former professional geologist). In fact, entire mountain ranges are made out of this stuff, so it must be pretty important, right?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


FINISHED!! NHM #9 from Selbuvotter by Terri Shea.

Nothing like warm bomb proof mittens in July- just in time for the worst heat wave of the year!

For the background on these mittens in an earlier post, click HERE.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Here is the latest manifestation of my random bobble madness. I used my simple sock pattern (Colorwave Socks, pattern available HERE) and worked random bobbles. Whenever I came to a certain color (magenta on one sock, aqua on the other) I made a bobble with it. It’s really cool how isolating one color in the bobbles changed the overall tone of the sock.

Click to enlarge the photos.

I do prefer my socks to be fraternal, rather than identical twins!

The yarn is Interlacements Little Toes that I found in the attic. The colors of this yarn are a dead ringer for a betta fish I once had. Maybe that’s why I bought it. Little Toes is no longer available, but you can still get this color (221) in its close relative, Toasty Toes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I’ve got it bad. I just can’t stop making bobbles. They are so cool! I just finished two Random Bobble Hats. The pattern is for sale HERE.

Coming soon: the random bobble socks below!!!


Sunday, July 11, 2010


This past week I had the privilege of teaching six girls ages 10-12 how to knit at a local knitting “camp”. In years past the camp was set up for much younger girls, ages 7-8. Trying to teach twelve seven year olds how to knit is a formula for disaster! Even with a lot of help, I was lucky to get a few of them actually knitting by the end of the week. Most of them just gave up or just pretended, and I ended up re-thinking of the camp as “fun games with yarn, plus a lot of running around outside” rather than knitting. I did teach them how to make twisted cord with the electric mixer (a big hit!), tassels, finger knitting, wooden knitting needles from dowels (another big hit), and crocheted chains. But last year I read the camp director the riot act about upping the age, and swore I’d never come back unless she limited the age to at least ten-year-olds. It worked, and this year it was a much happier experience for everybody.

I am proud to say that all of my ten year olds actually learned to knit this time around. A large percentage learned to purl as well, and some even learned basic shaping. Some of them made dishcloths (um, we call them baby doll blankets). We all made the afore-mentioned easy stuff as fun but related diversions. The best part was, after the third day they started talking. Now I love knitting for the intellectual and creative challenges as much as anybody, but the social aspects are definitely a bonus. The girls were too self conscious and shy to talk much the first two days, but after that they started endlessly yakking about movies, dreams, horses, braces, broken collarbones, school, other camp experiences, family vacations, and you name it. Ten year olds are such a hoot!
I love that age because most aren’t really yet too concerned about what other people think of them, and they are just happy to be kids and let life wash over them. They were also in deep awe of my rather-quiet-and-bookish-and-not-used-to-being-movie-star-popular fifteen year old daughter, who helped me with the class, and I think she rather liked it!

For information on the print at the top of this post, click HERE.


Thursday, July 8, 2010



This is a whimsical variation of “Grandmother’s Favorite”. Whenever you begin to knit with a certain color, make a bobble with it. It’s kind of fun to see where they end up! The effect sort of reminds me of popcorn spilled on a carpet.

The idea is to make the bobble just big enough to use up the color. It takes about 16 inches of yarn to make the big bobble (right photo, click to embiggen), and about 10 inches to make the small bobble (left photo, click to embiggen). Figure out how much length of one color your yarn has, and choose the bobble size accordingly.

GAUGE: not critical

SIZE: Makes a dishcloth about 8 inches square. If you made it a lot bigger, wouldn't it be an awesome baby blanket?

MATERIALS: One ball cotton yarn. I used some Peaches & Creme in "Winterberry" for the grey and white, and Lion Cotton in "Sherbet Swirl" for the pastels.
Knitting needles size 6.

Big Bobble (right side):
Row 1: Knit, YO, and knit into the same stitch, turn
Row 2: Purl 3, turn
Row 3: K1, M1K (pick up the purl bump behind the next stitch and knit it), K1, M1K, K1, turn
Row 4: Purl 5, turn
Row 5: SSK, K1, K2tog, turn
Row 6: Purl 3, turn
Row 7: Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO (pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch). Do not turn.

Big Bobble (wrong side):
Row 1: Purl, YO, and Purl into the same stitch, turn
Row 2: Knit 3, turn
Row 3: P1, M1P (pick up the purl bump in front of the next stitch and purl it), P1, M1P, P1, turn
Row 4: Knit 5, turn
Row 5: P2tog, P1, P2tog through the back loops, turn
Row 6: Knit 3, turn
Row 7: Slip 1, P2tog, PSSO (pass the slipped stitch over the purl stitch). Do not turn.

Small Bobble (right side):
Row 1: Knit, YO, and knit into the same stitch, turn
Row 2: Purl 3, turn
Row 3: K3, turn
Row 4: Purl 3, turn
Row 5: Slip 1, K2tog, PSSO (pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch). Do not turn.

Small Bobble (wrong side):
Row 1: Purl, YO, and Purl into the same stitch, turn
Row 2: Knit 3, turn
Row 3: P3, turn
Row 4: Knit 3, turn
Row 5: Slip 1, P2tog, PSSO (pass the slipped stitch over the purl stitch). Do not turn.

Cast on 4 stitches, knit one row.

Increasing rows: Knit 2, YO, knit to end of row. Make a bobble whenever you come to your chosen color. Be careful to keep track of your right and wrong sides and make the bobble accordingly, so that they all end up on the same side. Try to avoid making a bobble closer than three stitches to the edge. Keep going with the increasing rows until your dishcloth edge is about eight inches. I stopped increasing and turned the corner at 50 stitches, but your mileage may vary.

Decreasing rows: K1, K2tog, YO, K2tog, knit to end. Keep decreasing until four stitches remain, and bind off.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010



Herringbone stitch makes a very attractive fabric. It does tend to pull together, so be sure to go up a needle size or two.

GAUGE: not critical

SIZE: Makes a dishcloth about 8 inches square. For a larger or smaller size, just cast on more or fewer stitches- any even number will work.

MATERIALS: One ball cotton yarn. Knitting needles size 10½.

FIRMLY cast on 46 stitches (or any even number).

Row 1: *Slip one stitch, knit one stitch, pull the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch, but before you let it go, knit the slipped stitch through the back loop*. Repeat between the * to end of row.

Row 2: Purl one. *Purl two stitches together, but before you pull them off the left hand needle, purl the first one again, and pull both off*. Repeat between the * to end, and purl the last stitch.

Repeat these two rows until the dishcloth is square, ending by finishing row 2.

To bind off, SSK the first two stitches (slip one as if to knit, slip the next, insert the left needle into the front loops of the slipped stitches and knit them together from this position), *SSK the third and fourth stitches, then pull the first new stitch on the right hand needle over the second (bind off one stitch)*. Repeat between the * to end.