In Praise of the Handmade Sweater

On the whole, I'm anti-resolution because to be honest, life is just too short to setting myself up for disappointment as an annual event. However, if you were thinking about taking up a new hobby, perhaps leaning towards a little crafting, may I make a strong case here for knitting yourself a sweater?

Read More

An Invitation on a Knitting Adventure

Sometimes the best feedback we receive is when it comes from people we truly admire.

(c) 6 Bits Storybooks

(c) 6 Bits Storybooks

This happened a couple of months ago when Mel invited me to be a creative part of 6 Bits Storybooks. I've long admired the positive energy that Mel puts out into the world and I've shared a few of her designs here with you all before. She has a mindfulness that I find really inspiring and have been trying to include into my own daily routine. When she asked if I would be a regular story teller, I was nervous and unsure. With a little hand holding though I have stepped forward and now the words are pouring out thick and fast. 

I can't wait to share them with you.

(c) 6 Bits Storybooks

(c) 6 Bits Storybooks

6 Bits is an exciting innovation in knitting publications from the journey of story tellers: knitters, photographers, writers, designers, friends and nature. 6 Bits is a digital quarterly for knitters who love to immerse themselves deeply in their knitting experience, inviting both readers and contributors to make new discoveries and meaningful connections with yarn providers, designers, writers and the creative community around them, paying close attention to the origin of all the elements that are integral parts.

If you visit 6 Bits Storybooks today, you will be able to read a little insight into how my love for storytelling first began. I'm so honoured to be a part of this gathering of women who want to open up and share their individual knit journeys with you. 

I hope you will join us. Subscriptions are already available and the first issue, Unearth, is released on 15th October 2015. 

Sockupied Spring 2015

Do you love knitting socks?

I've always been a knitted sock fan so when Amy Palmer, editor of Knitccene and Sockupied issued a call out for reviews of Sockupied, I waved my hand enthusiastically. I'd been vaguely aware of the existence of this sock loving publication but hadn't really got to grips with it. Amy sent through the Spring 2015 edition and asked me what I thought. Here's what I found:

The Highlights:

A good balance of patterns and articles (5 socks, 2 articles and a couple of other fun things). The images are really supportive so you get plenty of sock pictures where you can see the construction and stitch patterns. 

This is a digital only publication. Previously, you downloaded an app on your ipad or straight onto your desktop to keep the file. Now it's gone PDF which means you can have it on whatever device you want. This is much better for knitters on the go and those of us who don't want paper patterns cluttering our already fit to burst houses. 

Mill Ends Socks  by M K Nance

Mill Ends Socks by M K Nance

The Patterns:

I liked the mix of skills I would need to make any of these socks. Each had a range of sizing and written as well as charted instructions. I was glad to see names I know like Rachel Coopey and Kate Atherley but also be introduced to less familiar to me designers like Mone Drager. This is for the sock enthusiast- plenty of techniques to work through and explore. 

Chain Socks  by Mone Drager

Chain Socks by Mone Drager

I also particularly liked the fact that there was a good mix of commercial versus independent hand dyed yarn. I know I go for crazy variegated for my feet because it's fun but I like to have a mixture to look at and see how something looks in a solid tone versus a self striping for example. It's good to see a bigger company like Interweave champion hand dyers. It can be hard to support with non repeatable colours but I feel like sock knitters are particularly drawn to hand dyers for their wild colours and fun. It was a good fit. 

The Articles:

I loved Kate Atherley's in depth look at how to modify knee high socks. I am now sorely tempted as I made one pair that sagged woefully and deemed them too much effort. Her clear explanation and the fact the supporting pattern is in speedier sport weight has me tempted, I won't lie. 

Kate Atherley's  Washington State Knee Socks

I wasn't as sure about the designer feature initially as it began with a very familiar format: introduce the designer (Coopknits), summarise their publications but then...? There was an insight into her favourite cocktails and shoes she likes to wear to showcase her socks; I really liked this! I tend to find I want something really in depth about a designer that goes deeper than a summary of their work or something different. This hit the spot. 

Laith Socks  by Rachel Coopey

Laith Socks by Rachel Coopey

Food For Thought:

I wasn't sold on the cut out and keep graphics on the final page. It seemed printer heavy to me even if it was meant as a bit of fun (the idea was a bit like a paper doll where you dressed a pair of feet with the socks from the publication). 

If you're a sock fan and want to get your download of Sockupied Spring 2015, you can do so at the Interweave store

Tune in this weekend for a sock based podcast and an interview from Amy Palmer, the editor of Sockupied!

Blog Week: Thea Colman of BabyCocktails

Tomorrow I will be publishing my answer to the 'beginnings' theme for the Love Your Blog challenge so hopefully see you there for the link drop and new creativity prompt?

Before then, you can enjoy some wonderful blogging inspiration to round off blog week thanks to Thea Colman. Thea is another of those knitting bloggers I discovered pretty early on in my voyage into knitting and the fact she combines her knitting with cocktails? SOLD!

Thea Colman the blogger & designer at BabyCocktails

Thea Colman the blogger & designer at BabyCocktails

"My name is Thea Colman and my blog is BabyCocktails, which is about my world of knitting and the  drinks.   And occasionally on the things that happen outside that in my travels.  To be honest, the blog has narrowed down these days to  mostly the knitting, and has less adventures lately,  probably because I adventure less and knit more these days.  But the drinks haven’t stopped…   

cocktails and yarn

cocktails and yarn

I started blogging for a business idea that never came to be, and just kept going with it.  I lived in a neighbourhood with a great bunch of women about 15 years ago and many of us had first babies and husbands who worked fairly late. By 4 or 5pm, there was always someone on the street who was ready to get together and make a drink and play with another grownup for a bit.  We called those drinks “babycocktails". 

I was knitting back then, and my friend Gabriella loved to sew and we had this idea to make baby clothes where we’d get thrift shop items and add edgings and borders and make them adorable and crafty while having our drinks. Our plan was to name that venture BabyCocktails.  So I got the URL and began blogging to test the waters a little, with the thought that eventually this would be our business website.  

I’m still very good friends with Gabriella, but that idea never took flight.  (The drinks may have gotten in the way of any actual planning or productivity.)  In the meantime, I just kept blogging about my knitting and whatever came to mind. By the time I started designing, the blog had enough of a following to keep the name and go with it.   

As I began designing,  the blog introduced me and connected me to the greater online knitting world.  Knitty had just begun, and other designers were coming out of the woodwork and it was great fun to feel like I was part of something besides my house and home.   And it gave me something to come back to and do each day. Reading other blogs and writing my posts were tasks that had nothing to do with childrearing and that was a great bonus in my day.  Plus, it made my fledgling little design business feel a little bit more real, as I saw page views and comments and felt  in touch with other knitters through the writing. 

The reason for the blog now is more about having a home for my business online.  I have so many Other Things to do, and the writing itself isn’t the a priority it once was, but it’s still fun and I do try to keep at it as best I can. I always use my blog when launching a pattern – it’s the between-pattern times that I need to get back to. 

Bailey's Irish Cream  by Thea Colman

Bailey's Irish Cream by Thea Colman

I focus mostly on my knitting, but I’m a bit chatty in real life – and on paper - so bits about my world always seem to seep in to the posts.  I don’t  walk around now thinking about what I’ll blog about, but usually I get the urge to share when I’ve just begun/finished a project – or when something great arrives in the mail, or I find a great drink.   

The non-knitting things I find bloggable are usually amusing moments  in my day that were vaguely knitting related - like the time  I found out there was a porn star with my name because another mother googled one of my hat patterns and informed me she’d  “found out” .  (The porn star is lovely but she spells Colman with an E, and I don’t think she knits, and she’s NOT me.)  Or the time I burnt an iron mark into the dining room table while blocking a sweater.  This week, I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve added something new to the bad art collection on my office wall. 


The cocktails were not as important in the beginning, but once I started publishing patterns and naming them, I began to include lots of drinks.  So any time I have a new or unusual drink it makes me want to blog – especially if I can get a photo. My family and friends are conditioned not to take a sip of anything until I’ve had the chance to snap a pic. They roll their eyes and sigh sometimes, but they place the glass just so on the table for me and sometimes offer snippets for the post. 

Dark and Stormy  by Thea Colman

Dark and Stormy by Thea Colman

I think blogging showed me that I could put things out there. I’m not exactly shy in person, but I’m not overly confident.  Online, people can be much more black and white about what they want to hear or not, and comments and page views make you face the hard facts that show if people do or don’t care about what you’ve got to say.  It was intimidating.  

The fact that people actually came to my blog and that they were interested in what I was saying and what I was putting out there in terms of design was very empowering and I do think it gave me confidence to put more things out there.  It showed me that I could create something and that people would come for it.  Which was amazing – especially when you spend your days home with a toddler, saying inane things for hours, right?  So for years, I could write stories about my kids and my life and the drinks and the knitting and it made a thing that I was into and people liked.  I found I liked having that little stage, so to speak. 

I find inspiration all over the place – I think that once you get deep into any craft, you see it everywhere.  From sidewalk bricks to tree branches to museum exhibits to shop windows.  Sometimes I take sneaky photos of people on the street because I love That Cable or Her Neckline.   I just deleted 1,200 photos off my phone because I’d used up 8 GB of my storage taking photos of things I was absolutely, positively sure would lead me straight to my next design.   (About 1,100 of them were never glanced at again) but in the moment, I see something and that detail is IT, absolutely IT.   

Mostly, I’m constantly inspired by the industry I’m in – a beautiful yarn can take me down a rabbit hole, or a sweater collection that Brooklyn Tweed puts out can get me thinking about tweedy cables. Every time that Gudrun Johnston publishes a design, I am inspired to do something steeped in history, and every time Joji Locatelli publishes a flowy cardigan, I want to make something drapey with lots of stockinette.  

But I think that answer kind of gets into  my design inspiration – for blogging, my world is focused on the knitting,  and I so wish I could take those perfect photos of folded knits on weathered chairs, and steaming teacups next to skeins of cashmere on a marble countertops.  I’m inspired to work my craft more beautifully when I see those blogs, but I know that in real life, I’m sitting on an exercise ball in my living room or working with a thousand papers piled near the burn mark on my wooden table, and the light is never perfect and that ends up being so much more ME that I guess it’s what I end up talking about instead.  Because, let’s be honest – that’s my actual world, inspiring or not and it’s what I know best."

Blog Week: Susan B Anderson

Here is the first blogger for this week's Blog Love palooza! Susan B Anderson is a knitter and writer whose work I have enjoyed for years. She was one of the first bloggers I discovered and introduced me to a very slippery slope indeed! 

Tune in tomorrow for another inspiring blogger and if you want to join the conversation, you can use the hashtag #loveyourblog for #aninspired2015. I hope you'll enjoy reading this answer from Susan as much as I did!

Susan B Anderson is today's featured blogger to help us Love Our Blogs

Susan B Anderson is today's featured blogger to help us Love Our Blogs

"As far as the knitting stuff goes I have been knitting for just over 30 years. I am self-taught. I started seriously designing about 18 years ago. My first love is my blog. I have been blogging for close to 10 years now at  I have written 5 books with my publisher, Artisan Books, and they are:

Itty-Bitty Hats, Itty-Bitty Nursery, Itty-Bitty Toys, Spud & Chloe at the Farm, and Topsy-Turvy Inside-Out Knit Toys . 

I am working on my 6th book currently that is to be released in the winter of 2015. I have had patterns in magazines such as Parents, Knit Simple, Interweave and the Noro magazine, amongst others.  I also do designing for independent companies like Little Skein, Infinite Twist, and Quince & Co. for example.

I love to teach knitting and I teach workshops all over the U.S. and beyond through Vogue Knitting Live, various retreats, yarn shops and other events. It is one of my favourite parts of my job.  I travel to teach almost every month of the year.

Pattern:  Sweet Sheep  by Susan B Anderson

Pattern: Sweet Sheep by Susan B Anderson

I have two online workshops [affiliate links]: The Not-So-Itty-Bitty Giraffe class and the Wee Ones class.I have recently been added to Alana Dakos list of designers for her NNK Press publications. NNK Press sells beautifully printed pattern lines to yarn shops worldwide. [You can read more about them here].

On a more personal note, I live in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. Madison is a beautiful little city in the heart of the Midwest. I have a husband and 4 children that have grown up quickly, two are in college, one has graduated college and my youngest is still in high school. We have a busy home with lots of activity and kids constantly in and out. It keeps us jumping. I am an avid outdoors-person. I love running, hiking, and biking and I love taking long walks through our many nature conservancies and state parks. I also love to read, sew, embroider, cook, bake and garden. 

The  Prairie Ridge Shawl  by Susan B Anderson

The Prairie Ridge Shawl by Susan B Anderson

I started blogging after I published my first book in 2006. I went on a book tour and people kept asking how they could stay in touch or find out what I was working on next. I decided when I got home from the tour to start my blog and I have been going strong ever since. My reasons for blogging have not changed much through the years. My blog is a place where I can be myself, write about what I like, share ideas, host giveaways, and stay in touch with knitters all over the world. 

I blog about what I love and what I feel passionate about. I never run out of ideas, in fact just the opposite is true. I have lists of things I want to blog about and I can never seem to catch up. I review and give away loads of products, books, and yarn on my blog. I pick and choose carefully what to promote and write about. It has to be things that I really love. I also just write about what I’m up to, my family, nature, but mainly I write about knitting and everything that surrounds knitting. 
Susan has really developed her voice as a knitting blogger

Susan has really developed her voice as a knitting blogger

I have learned so much through blogging. Most importantly, I have learned that I love to write in an environment that is truly mine. My blog feels like home to me. It is a place where I can express myself and talk about things that are important to me. It is a place that is always positive and happy and comfortable.

Susan is the original inspiration for Operation Sock Drawer!

Susan is the original inspiration for Operation Sock Drawer!

I find inspiration through my family members, nature, children’s literature, artwork, illustrations, photography, ceramics, online, from other designers and knitters. The list is really endless. I am always amazed at what people come up with in knitting and design and I aspire to keep designing and contributing and improving with time."

DesignAlong: The Winner!

It's been an incredible month or two of watching budding designers contribute ideas, support and entries for the Designalong. I know that all 3 of the judges found the task of picking just 5 to offer for the final public vote quite daunting!  

We have a winner!

Sarah, located in Canada was a regular contributor to the Designalong chatty thread and contributed 2 possible designs across the competition. The winner is this plaid beauty:

3 Colour plaid Cowl by PrairiePoppin 

3 Colour plaid Cowl by PrairiePoppin 

Sarah impressed the judges with not only her final design but also her carefully thought out colour inspirations, design elements and the clear way she communicated those when she entered. 

We can't wait to chat to Sarah and she's agreed to let me follow her along on her journey to bring this cowl to the point of publishing so stay tuned!


A massive thank you to the Designalong judge and sponsor Kate Atherley, judge and yarn provider Jeni of Fyberspates and every single person who entered, chatted and turned up to vote. It's been such an inspirational start to 2015! 

I will continue to share posts for new knit designers, yarn dyers and creative business owners from time to time (stay tuned for something amazing next week in fact). I also liked the suggestion of leaving the Designalong chatty thread open for further support and have dutifully added useful bits I've found around the internet. 

More soon!




Helpful Resources for Designers- Charting and Layout Software

In this final post for Design Week, I'm sharing an excerpt from Kate Atherley's Book 'Pattern Writing For Knit Designers'. No matter what level of designer you are, how you layout and chart your knitting instructions can be crucial  to the final clarity of your knitting pattern. Here, Kate shares her favourite software knit and crochet design. 

"Pattern Layout Tools
Layout software

Graphic designers go to school for years to learn good layout skills. If your budget permits – or if you’ve got the software and skills yourself – a professional layout job will always look great.

That having been said, with some simple tools and simple guidelines, you can create attractive and usable patterns without hiring a professional. This chapter is not intended to replace graphic design training or the services of an expert, but it should at least give you enough knowledge to talk to a graphic designer, or set you on the way to improving your own skills.

No matter how you achieve it, a tidy, well-thought-out layout is critical. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to look good. Access to computers is pretty much universal, and expectations about pattern quality are higher than they have ever been. Hand-written, hand-drawn or “unformatted” documents are simply not acceptable any more.

Many graphic designers use a layout tool like Adobe InDesign, but even the most mainstream of office suites includes some kind of layout software. Even classic word processors like Microsoft Word offer sufficient functionality to create a nice and tidy pattern. Essentially, all you need is the ability to embed an image, change text fonts and sizes, make text italic and bold, and add a second column.

Google Docs and Open Office are free solutions that are remarkably powerful.

It’s better to stay with a program you know well than to spend a lot of money on software like InDesign and struggle to use it.


Charting Tools

There is a variety of software applications available to create charts, but you can do it perfectly well without special software. I started my career using Microsoft Excel to create charts. (Now that my budget permits, I swear by StitchMastery.)

knitting chart in excel
These two charts show the different between those created in Excel (top) and those created in StitchMastery (bottom). 

These two charts show the different between those created in Excel (top) and those created in StitchMastery (bottom). 

The lowest-cost solution is to (neatly) draw them by hand, and scan the drawing. For a long time, I happily used Aire River’s Knitting Font, a free downloadable font, in conjunction with a spreadsheet program. You can download the font here.

XRX (the publisher of Knitter’s Magazine) has also published a similar font, Knitter’s Symbol Font, available for download here.

Installing a font with knitting symbols allows you to use them in your word processor, spreadsheet or layout software.

Many designers create their own charts in a drawing program like Illustrator, but in many ways a spreadsheet program can be easier: stitches and rows can be automatically created, numbering is automatically handled, and grids are easily added and managed."


Do any of you have software you can't live without? Let me know and I'll be sure to get pinning those resources on the Making It Work Pinterest board for others to find too!

If you've enjoyed the DesignWeek posts, I hope you've thought about entering the Designalong where you can win tech editing from Kate, yarn support from Fyberspates and business and marketing advice from me. 


Next week? Get ready to get Skilled Up as I announce the first theme for An Inspired 2015. I can't wait to share it with you either- I have so many goodies lined up!




Focus on Design: Designer Inspirations

Today in the final designer inspiration feature, I have words, sounds and COLOUR inspiration from Felicity Ford aka Knitsonik. I've loved asking all 4 of these designers the same questions and seeing their responses for Design Week and hope you have enjoyed the posts too. 

What inspires you to design?
"I feel great affection for the mucky everyday stuff of life and think it deserves to be celebrated. I've worked with this idea for many years in my sound art practice and in my photography but the advantage of working with yarn is that inspiration sourced in daily life can be returned to that life in the form of useful, warming garments. For me it's all about celebrating overlooked details and finding hidden wonders in everyday things. I hate housework but feel OK about hand-washing a pair of socks full of memories of a familiar place; and preparing veg suddenly becomes fun when an amazing pattern appears in the peelings and cooking turns into a messy photoshoot. 

For me the designing process is about deepening my appreciation for an inspiration source. Time spent exploring any context is an investment of imagination, and I've found I can never look at things in the same way again after I have studied them for colours and patterns for my knitting. Since publishing my book quite a few folk have asked me which swatch is my favourite and the one I keep thinking of is the one based on my digital sound recorder - EDDIE; I adore my little bashed up recorder for its functions but studying it for the production of stranded colourwork has really deepened the love. Every time I get EDDIE out for a spot of recording I think of the swatch and it makes me smile. 

EDDIE (and a fabulous swatch inspired by Felicity's trusted companion)

EDDIE (and a fabulous swatch inspired by Felicity's trusted companion)

Investing time studying and exploring aspects of the world around me makes me profoundly happy and I am learning to design because I want to share the joy of that with other knitters. 

What key skills have you developed as a designer?
I'm getting better at writing down things as I go rather than just knitting them up and then wondering how on earth I did it. I'm also working hard on my writing. I like writing long, reflective pieces but really succinct and precise technical language is something that comes less naturally. In working on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook I developed some skills around describing creative process clearly and neatening my instructions and I keep working on that. 

KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

Any tools you can't live without when you design or pattern write?
I can't live without my comrades and their feedback and am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by very skilled, inspiring, generous folks. My buddies are the cornerstone of my designing work and I couldn't be KNITSONIK without their input and support.

On a more nuts-and-bolts level I have RSI and residual damage in my wrists from when my arthritis was very active in my early twenties. Therefore I use a sideways mouse and ergonomic keyboard, I perch my computer on a box of franking labels, and I constantly switch my needles around between square steel needles, bamboo square needles, circulars and DPNs of different lengths. I find that varying the tools I use reduces strain on my wrists which is fairly essential if one is pursuing a career where knitting and typing are the main tasks. Other than that, my main tools are a scrappy old exercise book and whichever pen or pencil is to hand.

When it comes to committing designs to paper, how do you start that process? 
With a swatch! A lovely big tasty swatch full of ideas is usually my starting point, followed by some usually very messy instructions in biro. I'm imagining a different process for a design I'm about to start, though; I think it would simplify things if I had a rough pattern written out beforehand and then tweaked this as I went so that the designing process is more about test-knitting a pattern than just picking up the needles and hitting GO. 

Excerpt from the Sourcebook reveals all Felicity's favourite tools for action!

Excerpt from the Sourcebook reveals all Felicity's favourite tools for action!

My LISTENING TUNIK was a fantastic design experience, I was swatching for days and days before I found the motif I wanted. Once I had that and understood the gauge I just went for it. I was thrilled to bust out a sweater like this but then trying to work out exactly what I'd done was a bit of a forensics exercise and I'm still not wholly satisfied with how the neckline sits on me. 

What advice would you give designers developing their design and pattern writing skills?

Find the right people to work with, get feedback from trusted comrades and look after your wrists!"

With thanks to Felicity for taking the time to share some insights into her design process. If the Sourcebook really spoke to you, I'll be hosting a very special give away on my next podcast episode so please tune in next Saturday!

If you're inspired to get designing, please do join us for the Designalong

The final Design Week blog post will be tomorrow and is a helpful round up of tools of the trade- specifically, charting! If you're enjoying design week here on the blog, you can catch up with the posts here