Straight lace

That’s a piece of lace, straight off the needles. Looks pretty unimpressive, doesn’t it? It’s nothing like the beautiful delicate lace creations that you see on people’s Ravelry project pages, and it’s easy to think that something must have gone wrong. It hasn’t, and there’s one magic word that will reveal the loveliness.

Blocking.

Blocking is the yarn equivalent of styling your hair. Sometimes you just want to give it a quick brush and tie it back, sometimes you want to do a bit more. Lace needs that bit more: it takes a little time, it needs a little care, but the results are oh! so worth it. This post illustrates the entire process of blocking a triangular shawl for you, because we’ve been asked several times to cover the topic (and because it was an excuse to knit some lace specially!).

The materials you need are simple: a basin of cool water, a towel, some string, some rustproof pins, a measuring tape and something you can stick the pins into. That can be a carpet, a mattress, or blocking mats. (If you use your own bed first thing in the morning, your lace will be dry by bedtime. NB: do not use your bed if it’s a waterbed; trust us on this.) If you’ve got blocking wires, you won’t need the string, and the whole process will go faster, as we’ll see below. A spray bottle filled with plain water is useful if you’ve got warm conditions, so you can give your lace a nice misting to stop it drying too fast as you block it out.

Before you start, weave in your ends, but don’t clip them short just yet.

Next, thread some string through the long side of your shawl, using a piece at least one and a half times the length of the side. (You can expect lace to grow by 30%, so longer is better than shorter here.) Tie a loop in each end of the string so you can pin it to your blocking surface.

Give your lace a nice long soak in a cool bath. If you want, you can put some wool wash in there, and some people swear by a drop of hair conditioner (after all, most yarn’s hair too). Leave it for at least twenty minutes, because you want to make sure the fibre is all evenly saturated (an hour’s even better, and overnight won’t hurt).

You want your lace to be evenly damp but not dripping, so blot it in a towel so remove excess water after you rinse. Leaving the rolled-up towel for a couple of hours will ensure that you’ve got nice damp lace, but if you’re in a hurry, standing on the rolled-up towel will hasten the process.

Pin the string, well stretched out, to your blocking surface, and then pin down the point of the shawl.

Now you can start pinning out the sides. The measuring tape comes in useful here to make sure you’re getting an even size.

Keep on pinning until you have the points all pinned out and the long side straight – pinning out the string rather than the lace on the latter helps to keep your edge nice and even.

If you’re using blocking wires, then the procedure is even simpler – just thread one wire through the long edge of the shawl and another through each of the short sides:

Then pin out the wires. A few pins on each side will be enough, rather than a wee forest of them for the string-and-pin option:

When you’ve got your lace all blocked out, leave it to dry completely. Overnight will do nicely, or overday if you’re using your own bed. It goes without saying that you should exclude your beloved pets from the area (though this won’t always work, as this Ravelry thread demonstrates). Other humans, large and small, should be dissuaded as well.

Then unpin your lace and prepare to be amazed.

Magic!

Wonderful Woolly Wormhead

We must have some of the fastest keyboardists on Earth, you know – no sooner was Woolly Wormhead’s Hat Design Workshop announced than it was booked out. It’s on Sunday August 12th, which is some time away, and a lot can happen in four months. So we’re talking a little about it here, and encouraging those of you who weren’t lucky enough to nab a place to put your names on the waiting list (this worked out very well for Kate Davies’ workshop – a few spaces came free and were made available to the entire waiting list on a “fastest finger first” basis!).

Woolly Wormhead is a terrific designer, specialising in hats: traditional, quirky, show-stopping (often all three together), and all cleverly designed and a delight to knit. But rather than tell you all about her in our words, we thought it would be better to read her own. So here’s our interview with her:

TIK: When did you start designing and why?

WW: I started self publishing my designs in 2005 through my old blog, as a way to not only record what I was doing, but also to see if there was any interest in what I was doing. At the time I was a full time Art/Textiles teacher and was struggling with health issues, and found that writing my designs in pattern form helped keep my brain active, as well as provide another creative outlet for me to explore. I’d always made and designed my own clothes, whether sewn or knitted, that’s something I’ve done since I was a child, but writing them down to share, and grading them for different sizes, made everything more real. The response to those first designs provided the encouragement I needed to continue.

TIK: Why do you design hats?

WW: There are many reasons why I like to design Hats!

They are portable, and as we travel a lot and live in a relatively small space, portable is a must. They are perfect for learning and practising new techniques, as they don’t need the same commitment that a larger project does, and they’re relatively quick to make and reknit. I have a short attention span and get bored very quickly knitting larger projects, so Hats make perfect instant satisfaction projects. Let’s not forget circles and spheres; a Hat builds on these shapes and allows for some pretty amazing patterns and structures. Hats are expressive and fun to wear – they can dress up or dress down a mood, the most versatile of accessories. Finally, to me, Hats are little wearable sculptures. My specialism is 3D Textiles, and Hats are as good as it gets when it comes to mixing fashion and sculpture.

I did say there were many reasons, right?

TIK: What’s the most important characteristic for a hat to have?

WW: Good fit is pretty important – one size doesn’t fit all – sure, knitting stretches, but stretch it too much and it distorts. In my mind, it also needs continuity between the brim and the body and the crown – that’s pretty important for a good design.

TIK: What’s your favourite knitting technique?

WW: Hmm… not sure I have a favourite technique! There are several I like to use, such as kitchener, provisional cast-on, short rows. I’m especially loving short rows at the moment! I think any technique that allows me to create a seamless 3-dimensional construction is going to be a winner with me. I don’t like seams or picking up stitches, and would much rather graft something or find another way around the construction that, while it may seem a little challenging at times, will overall produce a neater finish and provide continuity in the design.

TIK: What do you say to people who claim that hats don’t suit them?
WW: There’s a Hat out there for everyone, they just haven’t found the right Hat yet.

You can read more from Woolly Wormhead and browse her designs at her website at this link. We can’t wait till August, when we get to find the right hat, and design it, and make it!

(All images in this post are (c) Woolly Wormhead)

Just the ticket

We’ve talked a good bit in recent weeks about our new online shop and some of the spiffing things it can do. There’s another innovation we’ve been rather pleased with in recent months: our booking system for classes and events. We thought it might be useful to tell you how it works, so here’s a walkthrough.

When you see something you’d like to attend, whether it’s one of our classes or a special event like the Yarn Tasting, you start the booking by clicking on the blue button (we’ve put an arrow pointing to it):

This brings you to the booking form, where you enter your details, and where you can also add any useful information, like whether you need wheelchair access or what sort of project you need help with:

When you’ve filled in your details and clicked on “Book Now”, you’ll be brought to a page telling you to check your email inbox – we’ll just have sent you an email with a link for confirming your booking:

Beware! At this point your booking isn’t complete – you’ll need to open that email, which will look rather like this:

Click on the link contained in that email, and you’ll be brought back to the final booking page. At this point, your booking has been made, and the only thing that remains is payment. You can use your PayPal account to make the payment or you can call us on (+353) (0)1-6709981 with your credit card details.

That page also includes your booking reference number and information on our cancellation policy.

If you’ve got any questions on the booking process, post in the Comments below to ask. One final word: we’re planning a number of exciting events in the coming months (shhhh!), so keep an eye here and on our Twitter feed for updates!

Cutting edge

What a lovely day we had on Saturday! We were honoured to host Kate Davies’ Steek Sandwich class, and the mezzanine was transformed for the day into a workshop space, with plenty of space for the fifteen lucky attendees.

Steeking is a traditional Shetland technique, allowing complex stranded colourwork to be worked in the round even if the final article is flat, like a cardigan or a blanket. We got a chance to examine some really impressive work, including the beautiful cardigan dating back to the forties that she blogged in this post – it’s an amazing piece of knitting (Kate found it second hand on eBay!) and shows that steeking, well done, resists wear over generations.

But Kate’s come up with a new spin on the technique which gives a smoother, neater edge to the steek, and that’s what she was teaching on Saturday.

We had to do a certain amount of preparation before the class, working up a small piece of colourwork in the round using Studio Donegal 2 Ply Merino. This turned out to be an ideal yarn for the purpose – with lots of colours to choose and contrast and excellent rustic “stickiness”, it also works up fast.

The first thing to do was to stabilise the edges of the steek with a line of crochet – even people who didn’t usually crochet found this fast and easy:

For the next stage, there was a certain amount of nervousness, which turned out to be completely unwarranted:

When the steek was cut, nothing bad happened at all! The edges didn’t fray, the knitting didn’t dissolve. What happened instead was neatening and tidiness and a fair deal of smugness, which turned out to be completely warranted:

By the end of the class, there was a lovely expanse of confidently steeked and edged headbands, and fifteen knitters with a new technique in their toolkit. We can’t wait to see what they do with it, but we’re certain it’ll surpass our wildest imaginings.

The thing about knitters is that they tend to be a good as their word. When we announced that Kate would teaching a class here, a certain contingent proclaimed that they would be there, with bells on.

See? As good as their word.

You can read Kate’s account of her trip over on her blog – she had as good a time as we did, it seems! We miss her dreadfully, and we’re already thinking of how we can entice her back. So watch this space….

Excitement

We’ve got a lot of reasons to be excited just now. First of all, there’s new yarn in the shop, and it’s amazing!

There’s Jamieson and Smith Jumperweight in the subtle undyed colours you can see above. Shetland wool has Protected Geographical Status under EU law just as Roquefort cheese and champagne have: wool can only be legally sold as Shetland if it’s actually from the islands. This is beautiful yarn – it’s what traditional Fair Isle is knit in, so it’s strong enough to steek and soft enough for garments.

Just a few days ago, we got our first delivery of Skein Queen yarn, which is just as lovely but utterly different. We’ve got sockweight, laceweight and cobweb, and the colours are as vibrant as the Shetland’s are quiet.

The sockweight comes in two blends, one that’s half merino, half silk, and one that’s merino with some nylon for strength and wear. The laceweight (they call it Delectable, and they’re quite right too) is half merino and half silk, with generous yardage of 700 metres. But for yardage, the cobweb wins: 2600 metres of merino/silk/cashmere in colours that have to be seen to be believed.

But our greatest reason for bouncing up and down in excitement just about now is that Kate Davies is coming back to This Is Knit to give a workshop on steeking tomorrow. The event’s been booked out pretty much from the moment it was announced, though some people were lucky enough to get a cancellation place last week (it really is worth putting yourself on the waiting list if an event’s booked out, you know).

Kate was here for the Yarn Tasting last September, and it was very very hard to let her go away again. She’s an excellent teacher and a very talented designer, and we’re very honoured to host her workshop.

Some of us simply can’t wait.

Settling in nicely

It’s a couple of weeks since our new online shop went live, and we’re delighted with the positive feedback it’s got. We said at the time that we’d point out some more of the new features in time, so this post fulfils that promise. This post is also a great opportunity to tell you about our fun prize draw, that is running until the end of April. Read on for more…

We’re happy to say that we’ve extended the offer of free shipping to all addresses in Ireland, north and south, until the end of April. As before, you just enter the coupon code “SendMeYarn” when you’re placing your order (you need to set up an account to enable this, but it’s a fast and easy process).

We had a couple of enquiries about how to enter the coupon code, so here’s a screen shot of where to click. When you’ve selected your Shopping Cart, just click the “Use Coupon Code” button, enter the code and carry on with your order. (Click here for a bigger image)

We’re also rather excited by the ability for you to tell us what you think of our products by reviewing them. We really want to hear your opinions, so until the end of April, every review submitted will go into a prize draw for a super goodie bag containing one skein each of our newest yarn ranges. Shetland 2ply, MillaMia Merino Soft, Petra Crochet Cotton and “Powerscourt” (our exclusive shade) in Hedgehog Sock yarn.

Here’s a screenshot of where to click either to write your own review or to read other people’s. (Click here for a bigger image)

You will need to be logged in to post a review and you can submit as many entries as you like…. So please share your opinions with us all – crocheters and knitters everywhere want to hear them!

Happy Easter!

We’d like to wish you all a lovely weekend. We’ll be closed on Good Friday, open from 10.30am to 5.30pm on Saturday, and then closed on Easter Sunday and Monday, re-opening as usual on Tuesday at 10.30am.

The weather may have taken a turn for the cold, but there’s still a a very high chance of chocolate over the coming days.

Where am I?

Counting rows has been much on our minds lately. The patterns in our Spring Knit-Along feature stretches of regular increasing and decreasing – “work the decrease round every six rows seven times”, that sort of thing. Not counting rows at such times gives you weird sleeves.

There’s many ways of keeping count – you can use a mechanical device like the barrel counters and the Kacha counter that we mentioned in this post, or you can make neat marks on paper. But both of these require you to count the row at the time that you knit it. (Hopeless confusion results otherwise. Ask us how we know).

There’s another way of keeping track which has several advantages. It’s easy, it’s flexible and best of all, if you forget to check off a row, you can make it up later. Instead of counting individual rows, it counts blocks of them, so it’s perfect for keeping track of your spaced-out increases and decreases.

All you need is a length of contrasting yarn, a bit longer than the final length of the piece you’re going to knit. When you come to the first row you want to mark (say, your first decrease row), just lay the contrast yarn over the work, between the needles.

Then you just leave it there and knit on.

It sits there, minding its own business, and as you knit on, it gets further and further down. It’s easy to count the number of rows above it, and so to spot when your next increase or decrease row comes along.

After you’ve marked a few rows, the contrast yarn will start to look like giant running stitches in your work, just as in the first picture above. When you’ve finished your work, the contrast yarn just pulls right out.

And if you forget to mark a row, why, then poke the yarn through the fabric at the right place and act innocent.