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This week is First Friday

I always look forward to June First Friday - it really kicks off the summer season. This month we're featuring our own pattern, Cherry Twist, in beautiful Tandem from Tahki Stacy Charles. It's a lovely fiber with a short color repeat and a subtle shimmer. It's important to know how yarn color repeats work because they make a huge difference in your fabric. There are short, medium, and long color repeats, and they behave very differently depending on what you're making.

A long color repeat, like those you find in Noro yarns or in Mille Colori Baby,  are created by dying the roving and spinning a big chunk of one color at a time. This process gives the yarn large swaths of color with a gradient effect.

Medium color repeats are created by dyeing white yarn after it has been spun. The yarn is wound into a loop and tied in preparation for dyeing. Think of it sort of as the reverse of what we do when we put the yarn on the swift and wind it into a skein for you. Hand-dyers immerse the yarn in the dye pot one area at a time, repeating until the entire loop of yarn is dyed. Since all the strands of yarn in one area are dyed, that color repeats as you work the yarn. This technique gives you a striped effect that can change as you work you project. This is the technique you find in Manos del Uruguay, Malabrigo, and Blue Heron.

As you knit, a color can sometimes pool, which gives your fabric a large section of just one color. While it can be planned out for a striking pattern, pooling is usually something we like to avoid.

Short color repeat yarns are created in the same way as medium color repeat yarns, except the colors are typically painted on by hand in much smaller areas.  As you knit, there might be just a couple of stitches in a color. Hand painting in short color repeats is more labor intensive, and requires a deft hand to ensure that the color effect is not garish. The knitted effect is an all-over coloration that typically doesn't pool. Prism Yarns, Claudia's Hand Paints, and Koigu. While Tandem is not a hand-dyed yarn, the quick change in both color and texture gives the fabric a beautiful all-over effect with no pooling. 

It's a gorgeous fabric, and this picture doesn't really do it justice.  Come see the sample in real life at the shop, and join us First Friday to get started on your own. It's a quick, easy top you'll enjoy now and all summer long. 

I look forward to seeing you in the shop and around the table First Friday and every day.  You are always welcome here. 

 Back to newsletter for 2 June 2015

If you're interested in learning more about how hand-dyed yarns behave, and how to make the most of them in your knitting, there is no better resourse than Laura Bryant's book Artful Color, Mindful Knits which you can order below. It's a great resource for anyone who loves multicolored yarns. 

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Summer sweaters and curling stockinette

I love summer time -- it's so relaxed.  Dinner is usually something on the grill, tossed salad, and sliced tomatoes.  Everything is light and casual.  The cooking is easy, the clean-up is easier, and everyone is happy - especially me! 

Summer sweaters are much the same - light fibers, relaxed fit, and easy construction with minimal finishing.  Lots of summer tops are designed with an un-finished edge that curls slightly. Look at the Nauset Tee above by Hannah Fettig for Quince & Co.   It's a very J-Crew look, and it works with summer sweaters.  Not just because summer looks are relaxed, but because summer yarns allow it.

Here's why.  Stockinette fabric curls.  It's a fact of life knitters learn early on.  All stockinette curls, but not to the same degree.  Lots of factors govern how much your fabric will curl, but two of the main factors are the bounciness of the yarn and the knitted gauge. 

Wool yarns are very bouncy - it's why wool is so nice to knit and so nice to wear.  But it will roll up into a tight little tube without substantial borders of ribbing or seed stitch.  Summer yarns, on the other hand, have very little inherent stretch.  Cotton, linen, hemp, and rayon are notoriously inelastic, so there is not such a strong tendency to curl.  Don't get me wrong, these fabrics do curl a bit, but nothing like fabric knit with wool.  They don't need heavy elaborate borders to keep them flat, so they can be lighter and less constructed.

The other factor influencing  curl is knitted gauge.  The tighter the fabric, the more it will curl.  Winter garments are knitted tightly to be warm, but summer garments can be knitted a little more loosely, and they will curl less.  They will also be lighter and more comfortable.  Bottom line is that you can get away with minimal edging on summer tops.  A single row of garter stitch is often enough.  To me, it feels like it It all works out, the way nature intended.  Like summer food cooked outside.  

Come let us help you choose a relaxed summer top to knit.  I look forward to seeing you in the shop and around the table.  You are always welcome here.

 Back to 26 May newsletter

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Butter and silk

I am not a Paula Deen fan, but she and I do agree on one thing:  Butter makes everything better.  It enriches bread dough, thickens sauces, and elevates plain old powdered sugar to decadent buttercream.   It really is kind of magic.  In the knitting world, Silk is the butter of fibers.  A little silk thrown into the mix improves nearly anything  in the carding drum.  When you start with lovely fibers like Merino wool or pima cotton, the addition of silk takes them to another level entirely. 

Silk is a perfect partner, bringing luster and deeply saturated colors to the pairing.  An extremely absorbent fiber, it drinks up the dye, but what makes silk shine, literally, is that silk fibers have a triangular cross section.  Think of a strand of silk like a long skinny prism, taking light in and reflecting it back in all different directions.  Silk is generous with that characteristic too, sharing it freely with its fiber neighbors.  Even a fairly minimal amount of silk gives a yarn an instantly recognizable luster and appeal. 

Fibers blended with silk get the most oohs and aahs in the shop.  A perfect example is Fyberspates Scrumptious, a sport weight blend of 45% silk 55% wool.  This yarn is so lustrous that you can't help but reach out and touch it.  When you do, it's all over.  Buttery soft and deliciously silky, your only thought is what to make with it. 

Another effective pairing is Noro's new Tokonatsu, a luscious blend of cotton and silk.  It's basically a solid single ply cotton blend with a generous addition of silk.  Although Tokonatsu is a typically earthy Noro-type yarn, you can see the silk working its magic in the silky texture and rich colors.

I was thinking about how nice Tokonatus is as I swatched for a new design, but I digress...

Come by and see all the gorgeous ways silk has worked its magic in different fibers.  There are lots on the table you can play with and swatch.  I look forward to seeing you in shop and around the table.  You are always welcome here.

Ellen

Back to 19 May 2015 Newsletter

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Summer sun -- summer colors

We all know what summer colors are - they're bright, and juicy -- like the fruits of the season.  We've been stocking the shelves with summer yarns since February.  I love brilliant colors, but I have to admit,  at first all those summer colors seemed a little intense.  In early spring, the sun is low in the sky, and the light it shines is soft and gentle.  That's why spring colors are soft pastels.  Mother Nature knows this and paints the world with the pale muted palette of Lenten Roses. 

Come summer, though, the sun is a completely different animal.  Even now in early May, the sun is hot and bright, shining with nearly full intensity as we approach the summer solstice in just 6 weeks.  Those delicate spring shades seem a little drab against the summer sun.  Areas near the equator - Central and South America, Africa, and South Asia - where the sun shines at straight down all year long, are famous for bright red, orange, and yellows.  Softer tones would be completely washed out.  In very northern areas like Great Britain the sun's rays hit the earth at a greater angle, making the light much less intense, even in summer time.  The colors of those areas, affectionately referred to in the shop as "Rowan colors," are muted and soft. 

Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, our summer sun is even more intense than in the equatorial regions.  We need those bright colors to stand up to the light.  We crave those hot colors that symbolize sun and sand and surf.  Even if we spend our days inside at home or in the office, sunny colors are happy.  They're summer in a skein, and just knitting with them will make you as happy as a day at the beach.

Come see the brilliant colors of Tandem, Hempathy, Zooey, Modern Cotton, and Tandem.  Knit them up now to wear all summer!

 

 

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Why we need classes

I have been trying to fit more exercise into my life, but for some reason, I just can't.  Scratch that.  I just don't.  It's not that I can't, but have not been going to the gym, and heaven knows, I'm not going to do it at home.  I mean, I could do it at home.  I have space.  I have a yoga mat.  I even have Pilates dvds.  I don't want to think that I'm just lazy.  It just seems like everything else in my life takes priority, and I just never have the time.  My friend, Holly, says I need to take classes at the yoga studio, and I think she's probably right.  If I've paid for a class, set the time aside in my schedule to take the class, and there are people there who expect me to show up, then I'm definitely going to do it.  Why wouldn't I?

That's why our Knitting Safari classes are so great.  Could you figure out your knitting on your own and just do it at home?  Probably.  But will you?  Probably not.  When you've committed to a class you just smile and walk out the door saying, "Bye everyone, gotta go -- I have a class."  No one will challenge you or come after you, or accuse you of loafing around -- because you have a class.  It's an obligation.  Try to find 10 minutes of peace and quiet in your house to focus on your project and work through the hard parts.  Good luck with that.  As a mother of 4, ask me how I know this.  But a class.  Well, that's entirely different, isn't it. 

I have done yoga and Pilates for a long time, and I pretty much know the routine, but even so, I find that I am so much more motivated and push myself so much harder in a class.  At home I can do a little bit, get board, and tell myself it's enough for the day, but in class, the teacher has set goals for me, she'll tell me how many sun salutations to do, and I'll do them.  It would never occur to me to decide I'd done enough and just stop in the middle.  Good lord.  I'm going to power through those exercises like I never would at home.  It's crazy, but it's true.

For the Fit and Finish Class on the Misaka Cardigan, Mary I have broken the project down into manageable, if somewhat ambitious goals, but the goals are totally achievable.  When you stay with the schedule, you'll complete your sweater and seam it up by the end of class.  Doing this project on your own at home on your own you'd probably take much longer.  If you got stuck on a spot, you might stuff it in a bag and not think about it again for a long while.  I the class, we'll prepare you for the tricky bits, give you the skills  to handle them, and be right there while you work through them.  You'll come out empowered and confident, and wearing a fabulous new sweater!   So sign up for a project class because you deserve to the time for yourself and your knitting. 

I look forward to seeing you in the Safari, at Fit and Finish, or just inthe shop and around the table.  You are always welcome here.  Back to the newsletter

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Yarn and cheese

On the way home from the retreat Sunday we stopped at Wegman's in Fredericksburg.  I had never been to a Wegman's, but I'd heard all about their fabulous bread and cheese and produce.  I love food and cooking as much as I love yarn and knitting, so I was pretty excited.  I picked up a few things I knew and wandered over to the enormous cheese section.  There were all the standards, and so many other things I knew I wasn't going to see in St. Mary's County. 

Walking around and gazing into the cases, I'm sure I looked totally overwhelmed, which I was.  I love cheese, but I really don't know much about it.  The woman behind the counter spotted me and asked that fateful question: "Do you need help?"  I'm thinking to myself, "Of course I need help.  I am completely lost in this world I so much want to be part of.  I want to buy something really wonderful and delicious.  I want to try something new, but what if I don't like it?  This stuff is expensive, and I don't want to waste my money."  This is the moment of truth.  Do I smile at her kind offer and say, "No thanks, I'm just looking," or do I bare my soul, look like the newbie I am, and take her help? 

I see this scenario play out in the shop all the time.  For new customers, and especially for new knitters, it's very hard to articulate all of one's hopes and dreams and fears.  Good yarn is not cheap, and the whole knitting process represents a significant investment of time and money, not to mention an emotional commitment to the project.  I really, really get that.  That's why it can be intimidating to come into a yarn store.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  Cheese shouldn't be intimidating either, but it was. 

At the counter, I took a deep breath, and bared my soul.  She listened as I told her what I had tried, what I preferred generally.  She suggested some she thought I might like and gave me a taste of lots of different cheeses.  Feeling like a bother, I kept apologizing for taking her time.  She smiled and said, "Honey, this is my job, and I love it.  I want people to taste things and buy cheese.  You're doing both, and you're making my job easier!"  I ended up with a selection of 6 wonderful cheeses and was very happy. 

It's the same in the shop.  Our goal is to help you find something beautiful that will delight you.  We want you to find a project that suits your knitting preferences and a yarn that works with your project.  So we ask a lot of questions and try to see where you are.  It's a delicate balance, giving the right amount of help - not assuming too much knowledge with a beginner or insulting an experienced knitter.  That's why I usually ask new customers what kind of yarn they like and what kind of things they like to knit.  But these questions only help us so much.  If you want a really great experience in the yarn shop, please open up to us.  Tell us if you're on a budget, or you hate fingering weight yarn, or this is your first yarn-buying trip outside of Michaels and you haven't a clue what "dk weight" means.  We'll be able to tailor our help to meet your needs and preferences.  So please, please ask, and don't be embarrassed. We love to talk about yarn, and we want to help you learn about yarn.  Because the more you know, the more success you'll have, the more confident you'll be, and the more happy knitters there will be in the world.  Which is what we're all after anyway.

So come and pet the yarn.  Ask to see samples of it knit up.  See if there's a skein of it you can knit on or if there's a yarn tasting coming up.  I look forward to having you in the shop seeing, touching, knitting, learning, or buying -- you are always welcome here. 

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Trust the process

Sometimes you just have to trust the process even if you don't fully understand it. Even if it is a scary thing, with which you have zero experience. _Especially_ then. I remember 23 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. I had read every book on what to expect and blah blah blah. I was not scared to be pregnant. No caffeine, no alcohol, no problem. It was fine. More than fine. It was fun - cruising right along.

However, as my due date approached, I started to worry about the end game -- that transition between being pregnant and being not pregnant. Rationally, I knew that women have been birthing babies for millennia. But that didn't make it any less frightening for me. The pictures in the crunchy granola books I'd seen - tender images carefully sketched -- helped not at all. In fact, they terrified me even more. A baby's head is how big, you say? Um. Words like dilation and effacement should have appealed to my logical side, but honestly, it just did not make intuitive sense. Too late to reconsider. This train had already left the station. Not much for me to do but trust my doctor and do as I was told.

Knitting socks is kind of the same. You're going along working in the round on double pointed needles. That's kind of new and fun - not too different from what you already know how to do. Just around and around. And then it's time to work the heel. Wait. I thought we were working around and around. Um. Slip which way? Why that way? What? Decrease here? In the middle? Why? Okay. Knit which ones? Why those? Pick up where? Why there? How many? Why that many? Yeah. Charts that try to explain the process are as scary as those birth sketches. Who in the heck thought this would be helpful?

Good grief. At some point, after banging your head against the wall trying to understand and visualize the process, you realize, it's better to simply follow the instructions and do as you're told. People have been knitting socks since the 4th century. Trust the process, trust your instructor, and it'll be fine. You'll see. That first time is definitely a leap of faith, but the more you do, the better you'll understand.

If you'd like to take that leap of faith and knit your first pair of socks, join us for our Beginning Sock class. Beginning Socks is a three session class, and the first class in our Sock University program. You'll be working with worsted weight yarn which knits up quickly and makes it much easier to learn the techniques. To ensure your success in this class, you should be able to cast on, work k1p1 ribbing, knit in the round, work k2tog, and ssk basic decreases. If you can do those things, you can knit socks.  Check out our class list for dates, times, and details!  

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5 things great patterns share

Continuing our February theme of what we love, I want to talk about designers I love. There are plenty of folks out there posting patterns for spectacular sweaters, hats, cowls, and more, but not all designers are created equal. In my book, certain designers enjoy Rockstar status. What makes a designer a Rocktar? You might be surprised, because it's definitely not how many favorites or how many projects their designs enjoy on Ravelry.

Here are 5 things that Rockstar designers' patterns have

  1. Gorgeous garments that you would buy in the store. Sometimes we choose patterns because they look easy and fun to knit, but if you saw that same garment on the rack at the store, you wouldn't give it a second look. As a knitter, you're sinking many hours and many dollars into your sweater - it should be something that makes you feel fabulous and makes your friends ask you where you got it.
  2. Clear, detailed, and specific, instructions. With a great knitting pattern, even a beginner can succeed. They specify what kind of increases and decreases to use and exactly where to make them. They spell out how to work the left front rather than just saying "Work left front as for right, reversing all shapings." It takes more time and effort, and more paper space, but since so many patterns are electronic, I think more information and support is always better.
  3. Accurate instructions. How frustrating is it when you find that the numbers for the neckline or shoulder or whatever are totally off, and you rip it out half a dozen times before you find that the pattern is actually completely wrong in that size. Yes, pattern drafting is complicated, and we all make mistakes, but Rock Star designers are knitters themselves, and they use good test knitters and anal-retentive tech editors.
  4. Reasonable size range. I've seen patterns with bust sizes like Small 34", Medium 38", Large 42". I'm sorry, but that is lame. Many American women are outside that size range and shouldn't be excluded from knitting good-looking garments for themselves. Yes, it's more work to draft plus sizes. You can't simply extrapolate all the measurements and expect it to work. The shoulders will be too wide, the armholes too deep, and the shaping will just be wrong.
  5. Honest pattern photos and complete schematics. The patterns in many knitting magazines are gorgeous, but you've got to remember that these garments are all professionally lighted, exquisitely styled, and most importantly, they are probably pinned to create a particular silhouette. The garment depicted is not necessarily what you will get if you follow the pattern as written. Rockstar patterns have schematics that show you the exact size and shape of what you're knitting so that you can choose to modify the pattern to suit your figure and your taste.

So, there you have it. My standards are high, but they're not unreachable. In fact, there are loads of Rockstar designers who put out consistently great patterns.  I'll post some of my favorites later this week.  Stay warm and stay tuned!

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Live Grateful

It's First Friday this week. The Town of Leonardtown's First Friday theme is "A Grateful Harvest -- Share the Bounty" The merchants are collecting non-perishable food items for local food banks in the area. The event will kick off First Friday, but we'll accept donations all month. When you donate, you'll receive a ticket for chance to win a gift basket put together by generous Leonardtown Business Association members. And yes, there's yarn in there - in fact, we've donated a kit for our First Friday project, the Box Stitch Cowl!

 

The Grateful Harvest theme got me thinking about gratefulness and the bounty of our lives. At the grocery store newsstand I saw that Oprah's theme this month is "The power of gratitude" She says that the first thing in her mind each morning is "Thank you" because she believes that "If you focus on what you have, you will begin to see that you have more. And if you focus on what you don't have, you will always live in a space of lack." I think that's very true.

Our knitting always presents us with opportunities to be grateful. Just having the ability to knit is a gift - to do something so constructive and relaxing - to be creative and engaged. Every time you pick up your knitting, take a breath and thank your mother/grandmother/sister/friend who taught you to knit. Silently thank the sheep who grew beautiful fleece, the people who spun it into yarn, and the artisans who dyed it for you.

Even when things go badly, there's an opportunity to be grateful. As we all know, no matter how rotten things are, they most certainly have been worse! Mistakes in knitting are teachable moments. Reworking six inches is more knitting fun from the same yarn investment - be grateful that you have the ability to fix your mistake - or access to someone else who does. Maybe it sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, maybe it sounds like "spin", but really, it's just about perspective. Focusing on the positive allows you to be grateful, and grateful people are happier people. Try it this month and see if you don't feel happier.

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Blue Heron Yarns

I really love Blue Heron Yarns. Their fibers are beautiful and unusual, so your project looks special with very minimal effort. Who doesn't love that! Rayon Metallic, with its gorgeous hand and shimmery metallic accent give a glam fabric that feels beautiful against the skin. Rayon loop, a charming boucle, makes a gorgeous textural fabric with a terrific sheen and drape. Their new chenille is the definition of luxury - it feels amazing and knits up like velvet - you just want to stroke all day.

Another thing I love about Blue Heron Yarns is their color. They are, first and foremost, a hand-dye company, and they really get it. The high rayon component allows the fibers to really drink up the dye, so the colors are very saturated, but their color sense is sophisticated - dark jewel tones and luminous pastels as well as bright, playful multi-colors that are fun and playful without being garish. Take a quick look at their yarns on my Pinterest board.

Blue Heron Yarns come in big, generous hanks, so even one gives you enough to make a big scarf. But who can get just one? Pick up several different colors of your favorite fiber, or choose several fibers in a few coordinating colorways and get creative with texture. A few hanks of Blue Heron Yarn in your stash is an inspiration and a treasure

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