Monday, May 6, 2013

Custom Fit Knit Patterns? What if.... and a Survey

I'm back!  And this is a glimpse into what has been happening in my little knitting world since I last posted (yes, gasp, 10 months ago!!).  

I wince every time I read a thread that discusses fit issues and sizing demands for knit patterns. As a tech editor, I am fully aware of the array of sizes publishers desire in order to reach the largest audience possible. And, having edited a bazillion patterns, I can practically resize/alter in my sleep. But I know this is not something that is intuitive to everyone, and most knitters would prefer to sit down and enjoy knitting a pattern that will actually fit without altering it themselves. After all, who is really 100% standard size? Certainly not me.  

So, what if.... ??? What if I took what I know about sizing and resizing and converted it to a scripting language? Could I produce custom fit knitting patterns? The answer is yes!! First, I had to figure out how to convert the formulas used in grading patterns into the scripting language - no small task since I had to learn the language. But I managed. 

So began the process of developing a web site to put it all together. Here is the basic proposal: on a web page, you view a design. Eureka!! You like it and you want to knit it! But, oh no, you have long arms or are short-waisted, or... whatever... you would need to alter the pattern. Not a problem. Go ahead and select that design. It's free to peruse.

The next step has everything to do with those 2 dirty little words in the knitting world: Gauge swatch. Ack! I know... they laugh at me and roll their eyes when I dare mention them at my LYS, but they are totally necessary to collect the data needed to customize a garment pattern. You want it to fit, right? Why not spend a little time on the front end before knitting for countless hours, only to find it doesn't fit? It's not like ready-to-wear; you can't return it after you knit it! All that wasted time and money. I sigh. We are better than that! I am well aware of the fact that many knitters don't take the time to work a gauge swatch before beginning a pattern. That's okay for most dishcloths, afghans, scarves, or shawls. Not so for fitted garments.

Meanwhile, back on the pattern page, basic pattern info indicates the yarn and needle size used in the photographed model, gauge achieved, and what, if any, variations from the original stitch gauge are acceptable. (Yes, it's possible for your gauge to vary from the design, but in order for your pattern to fit, I'll need to know exactly what YOUR gauge is!)

Choose a yarn - the same as used in the model or something similar. 

Then swatch.  You must use the same exact yarn that you will use to work the full pattern (a different color is okay, but otherwise, the.very.same.yarn).  I can't stress how critical this is. Often, comparable yarns might match stitch gauge, but not row gauge. It's important to know gauge in both directions for the yarn you are planning to use. If you intend to use a yarn that you don't own, maybe a friend has scraps in their stash that you could use (knitters are nice like that, you know). Or, you could purchase a single skein for swatching. Ultimately, instead of you having to match a pattern's gauge, the pattern will be customized to fit your gauge and measurements with the amount of ease you want.

Specific instructions are listed to work the swatch for the design, not necessarily the standard 4 inch/10 cm square. This includes pre-measuring a length of yarn. Don't skip this step! (Sorry! But another little inconvenience is necessary to calculate the right amount of yarn to make that perfect garment that will fit! And yes, your custom pattern will include your custom yarn requirements, too.) 

Work the swatch, cut the yarn, then measure the length from the cut to the pre-measured distance. The pre-measured length minus the leftover (from cut to pre-measured length) is the amount of yarn used in the swatch. Record this number somewhere.

Wash and dry the swatch in the same manner you will wash your finished garment. Again, this is critical, especially if your yarn contains plant fiber. (Ask me about cotton that lost 15% of its length when washed.) When your swatch is dry, measure carefully per the given instructions. 

If you don't like something about your swatch (how it feels, how it drapes, how the pattern stitch shows up), now is the time to choose a different yarn or needle size and start over. Tell yourself this was time well spent (it really was).

Once you are happy with your swatch, go back to the web page and enter your data on the design page. 

In this sample, it is not necessary to have waist shaping at all, and the bust and hip don't have to be the same measurement.  Sleeve can be 3/4 length, if desired. The possibilities are endless!
Then, enter your desired finished measurements as indicated on the schematic and submit.  

And finally, in a twinkling, your custom fit, totally personalized pdf pattern appears in your inbox. Ahhhh, the sweater with sleeve shaping that is properly spaced to fit you... ooooohhh, the hips and the bust both fit with just the right amount of ease. Knitting nirvana! How great it is to have a pattern that eliminates the confusion of all the numbers for the 6-8 sizes you are not interested in!

Is this for real? It can be!! But before I spend any more time on it, I need some input. Basically, I need to know I am not nuts and that this is something that would be beneficial to knitters. To that end, I have created a short survey. I hope you'll take the time to answer. The survey will remain active through 6/9/13. And I promise to report results in less than 10 months!

Thanks in advance for taking the time to respond.  And please, please, please feel free to share this link with all your knitting friends, but only respond once! 

Best,  ~~Joan

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whirlwind of TNNA

One of the hats I get to wear is that of tech editor of Petite Purls online magazine. In that capacity, I was able to attend the summer TNNA (needlearts trade show) in Columbus, OH, and hang out with co-editors Brandy and Allegra. For yarnies like us, it was perfect sensory overload. In truth, though, I most enjoyed meeting fellow yarnaholics from across the nation and across the pond, many of whom I had interacted with on Ravelry and through Petite Purls. I won't even try to name everyone. I was totally impressed with the overwhelming support all the designers have for each other. 

I came away with a bit of swag.
  • The yarn cake is Juniper Moon Farms Sabine, and I will be playing with it in terms of future designs. It took 3 swatches for me to get gauge, but the yarn is very soft and easy to work with. Yep, I do like it! The wheels in this fiber-clogged brain are churning. 
  • The pale blue hank is Lace Weight XL from Alisha Goes Around. I kept bumping into Alisha (no, not literally) as I wandered up and down aisles. One time when we crossed paths, she was dragging an I-don't-want-to-take-it-home suitcase of her yarn to give away. I am mulling over just what I want to do with this yarn.
  •  There are scads of business cards and buttons from yarnie peeps from all over the place.
  • I got a knook from my friends at Leisure Arts, and Sarah patiently tutored me in the technique. I have a tendency to wrap backwards...oops!
  • Do you see the Ribband bracelet kit from Laura Nelkin, someone I have "known" over the internet for years? Her booth was abuzz all day long. It was a treat to finally meet her in person.

Maybe my favorite thing that I brought home was my personal copy of Phoebe's Birthday, written by the kind and talented Joanna Johnson and illustrated by her also-very-talented hubby, Eric. This is their 3rd book together, all featuring a sweet story that somehow involves knitted and/or sewn items, incredible illustrations like the one above, and the patterns to make your own items from the story. The first 2 books are Freddy's Blanket and Phoebe's Sweater. My nieces will love Phoebe's Birthday, but I think I will have to get them their own copy! (Can't give up the copy inscribed personally to me!  ~~Thanks again, Joanna) Phoebe's Birthday also has a quilt pattern and a sewn mermaid doll pattern. What a great way for a crafter to connect with a child! 

Finally, look what Made in America yarns was giving away... wildflower seeds. How fun! I can scatter them in my current wildflower garden and hope the heat doesn't ruin them. Color is good!

The one blip of the weekend? A flight attendant told me to put my knitting away for takeoff and landing. That was a first! I was tempted to tell her to wait until the end of my row (almost 300 sts), but I refrained. : )

I hope you are finding time for summer knitting and that you are not affected by floods or fires. The heat... well it's summer and we have to deal with it!

From Alisha's yarn label, "Knit Happy, Knit Healthy, Knit Early, Knit Often" -- I like her mantra!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A New and Healthy Respect

It's no secret that I love yarn. Most of my yarn comes from my awesome LYS, and I always like to buy souvenir yarn when I visit new places. Not being a spinner, I have never given a lot of thought to how yarn is made.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a 'field trip' with the Central Kansas Knitters Guild to Phillipsburg, KS, to visit Shepherds Mill, a small fiber processing plant in north/west central Kansas, w-a-y up on the Nebraska border. Many people consider this part of the rural US as 'fly-over' country, but there are wonderful people and special surprises in the towns that sporadically dot the landscape. Shepherds Mill is one of those places, and Sally, the owner, is one of those people. A busload of giddy knitters arrived on a Saturday during harvest season, and even with two newly-adopted preschoolers at home, she still opened the mill to accommodate us. Yay, Sally!

What did I learn? I have a new appreciation for spinners and mills! A lot of hard and dirty work goes into making pretty yarn. It was really fascinating to see the process of turning fiber into yarn.

The fiber arrives from small farms all over the country - lots of it, mostly alpaca. Sally and her employees make sure that the fiber each farmer sends is bagged and tagged and eventually spun to their specification and returned to them.

The fiber gets washed and dried and the fibers get pulled apart. Some anti static gets sprayed on it. 

The machine that pulls the fibers apart ejects the output
into this 'closet'.  Anti-static is sprayed here.

It gets 'shaken down' to get as many of the impurities out as possible. 

This shows black fiber floating into the
white box from the shaker machine.
At this point, the fibers are really fine.
It was literally like a black cloud floating down!

Eventually the fiber becomes roving.

Yes, it felt as soft as it looks!
Finally, the roving is spun into the yarn that the fiber owner requested. Sally threaded this machine lickety-split and played around with tension to get just the right result. This makes threading a sewing machine look like child's play.

This is definitely an abridged version of how the fiber is processed. 

From the spools, the yarn is measured and wound into hanks and shipped back to the farmers. It must be really rewarding to these folks to stitch and weave with fiber from their own flocks. 

My appreciation of fiber processing in no way makes me want to own alpacas or sheep, shear my animals, and have yarn personally spun! Instead, I have a much better understanding of all the work that goes into a skein of great yarn and why yarn can be so pricey.  

As with most mills, there is a mill store...

She added another armload of GREEN
yarn (her trademark color), before it was all over!
 This is where we do damage to our wallets, but of course there were great deals on mill ends! 

Big smiles for big armloads of yarn!

If you are ever driving through Kansas on I-70, Phillipsburg is about an hour north of Hays. ....and from Phillipsburg, it's only another 3 hours to the Brown Sheep Mill in Mitchell, NE.... that's one I will work into another trip someday!

Happy stitching!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Welcome to Summer

Hello Summer, Hello Scrappiness!

I welcome the long warm days this time of year brings. It means more time on the porch and in the yard. It means cooking out and ice that melts way too fast. It means school is out and there will be the happy noises of kids playing outside. And it means colorful flowers and waking up early to get them watered!

Introducing Scrappiness, a flowery, colorful, join-as-you-go crocheted 18" (46 cm) pillow cover. Add color to your outdoor space with no watering required!! What better for summer than a relatively small, portable, cool project that can ease your stash of scraps? 

The pillow is equally perfect for a porch or yard chair or inside on a couch or bed. I worked mine in SMC Catania (100% cotton), but I think it could also be worked in scraps of sock yarn. 

The fun little texture in the center of the flowers and along the edging is simply alternating single crochet and treble crochet stitches, then forcing the excess height of the treble crochets to the front of the work to create a little bump. Nothing difficult about it!

The 'filler' rings are ¾ inch (2 cm) curtain rings (available at fabric stores) that are covered with single crochets.

This pillow would be a fun crochet-themed party - gather with your crochet friends and have everyone bring their scraps... mix, match, trade, and see what combinations you come up with. 

 The pattern includes both written and charted instructions, so it's doubly easy to follow.

Portable comfort!

Enjoy your summer!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Avoiding the Dreaded P2togtbl!

I've been swatching a bit. I have something in mind that I want to be very open, and that requires yarnovers and decreases on the right and wrong sides of my fabric. 

I worked on this swatch a bit last night.... I liked the columns of yarnovers, but I don't like doing so many p2togtbl (purl 2 together through back loops). Okay, 1 or 2 here and there are tolerable, but not every other row, all the way across the row. Too tedious and knitting should be relaxing and fun!

And then, in a stroke of genius, it hit me! I was doing k2tog (right leaning decreases) on the right side rows and the finicky p2togtbl (left leaning decreases) on the wrong side rows. I switched to this: I worked left leaning decreases on right side rows as ssk, and on wrong side rows I worked simple p2tog. D'uh! Why didn't I think of this last night? 

In the photo, the portion above the pink yarn is worked the new way, and I think the decreases look just the same as the portion below.  If this grows up to be a design, it will be MUCH easier to knit the latter way. 

I know this is nothing new. I've known about left and right leaning decreases forever - putting theory into practice is all it took!

That's it, just thought I would share. Have a good weekend!

P.S. The yarn is Firefly by Classic Elite in the Sour Apple #7781 colorway, a linen/viscose blend. I looked at it for 3 weeks before I caved and bought it. Love it! It is a little bit slubby, but very lightweight. It will be perfect for this summer knitting project. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Catching Up

Another lapse in time.... lots of big events. High time for me to catch up!

Starting most recently, this past weekend was the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, held annually on the first weekend in May at the Howard County Fairgrounds outside of Baltimore. This is the first time I have been to this kind of fiber fest, but it won't be the last! 

Conveniently, my sister lives only 2 exits down the interstate, so I made this a dual purpose trip. She and her preschool daughters joined me on Saturday and we oooooed and ahhhhhed over all the sheep and alpacas and laughed at their funny haircuts. 

This guy reminds me of the old dog food commercial: "Tastes great! What's it look like?"

It was so much fun for me to finally meet people that I have conversed and worked with electronically and put faces with names and emails!!

I spent most of the afternoon with Brandy, co-editor of Petite Purls, and someone I have talked with numerous times as the tech editor for the e-mag, but had never actually met in person. I was also happy to meet Marie Grace, another indy designer that I had previously only 'met' via email. She had some of her kids with her, and it was so fun to see the little faces that I had seen on her blog.  I feel like I have watched them grow in pictures over the last few years.

So, aside from sheep and shearing and shepherding, fiber festivals are really all about shop until you drop yarn shopping. I traveled lightly this trip, leaving enough room in my suitcase for 'souvenirs'. 

My weekend haul: The black and purple single hanks on the left are a superwash worsted merino dyed by Creatively Dyed Yarns that are destined to become a hat (or maybe 2). I chose these colors because they are my son's school colors and I have something funky and fun planned for him.  I hope he cooperates (he doesn't know yet).  The giant variegated hanks are also superwash worsted, and they are hand-painted Yowza Whatta Skein! by Miss Babs in the Deep Sea Jellyfish colorway. I found the fuschia buttons at the Bergschultz Buttons booth to go with the Miss Babs, and then I added some new needles to try. I am intrigued by the cable on the Chiaogoo needles. 

First time out of the package and it had no tendency to curl up. I think I am going to like them! 

I chose the Miss Babs because I had previously worked a project in a very similar colorway that I had really liked. 

The small cake is leftover Ella Rae Merino Lace and the colors are very similar to the Deep Sea Jellyfish, don'tcha think?! Ideas for the Miss Babs are spinning around in my head. I can't wait to get started, but I have to finish up some other projects first.

I collected lots of business cards for other yarn and accessories that I would love to have.

Going further back in time only 2 more weeks will explain much of my absence.  

April 21st in St Louis was a beautiful day for a wedding.

My daughter.
My nieces, the 'wedding girls'.

The nuptials.

My younger daughter, the Maid of Honor.
My new son-in-law, going for the garter!
I can only hope that everyone's wedding experiences with their children are as joyous as ours! We are totally blessed to have a wonderful new son-in-law.

Back to reality, I'm home for a few weeks. Next trip will be to TNNA, and that promises to be exciting - looking forward to meeting more cyber friends in person.

I am working on building an SSKnits facebook page, so be looking for that.  In the meantime, keep your needles clicking. I have many patterns to tech edit, so my actual knitting time is limited, but I am always 3 or 4 projects ahead in my mind.

Happy Spring!  ~~J

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And the Winner Is....


And I think I know what his reward of choice is. There were actually 417 little candies in the jar.... but alas, they are all gone. Eaten. But I had help with that.