Yarn review: my new desert island yarn

I admit it, I'm fickle. Sometimes it seems like whatever yarn I'm currently using is the only one I ever want to use. Well, the two that have held the title of my "desert island yarn" the longest have been Handmaiden's Camelspin and similar blends (so drapey and soft and lustrous!), and loose-spun Bluefaced Leicester, such as Woolworxx Die Vielfältige (so drapey and soft yet rustic and robust!). And now, that lovely Knitting Goddess has come up with a yarn that combines all those qualities, and I am powerless to resist.

As you might guess from the name, this is almost the same blend as Joy's famed Britsock – 40% British Bluefaced Leicester, 20% British Wensleydale, 20% British Alpaca, with 20% silk replacing the nylon. How perfect is that? I have my beloved BFL, plus Wensleydale (ooh!), plus alpaca – not camel, but still a camelid, ooh! – plus SILK. OOOOH. All bar the silk from British flocks, and spun in Devon. 

Have you ever knit with Britsock? You should. It's so gorgeously woolly, in the best way: soft, warm, a bit of halo, rich colour, a lot of character. Britsilk takes those qualities and waves a fairy godmother wand over them: now Cinderella's wearing her ballgown! That 20% silk literally makes the yarn shine, not to mention adding more drape to what's already a very fluid blend. It's a dream come true and will look amazing in shawls or garments, while being comfortable to work with (not too slippery, nor too opinionated).

This delicious little mini-skein was dyed in the colourway "Almost a Rainbow" – as a friend said on Instagram, "That's unicorn yarn!" The irrepressible candy colours really show off how well the yarn takes dye: pure, shining intensity. I swatched it in chevrons, then striped it with some random grey merino and tried slipped-stitch patterning. Grey stripes etc are often a great way to show off wildly variegated yarns, but in this case I like them best undiluted. Those colours don't need holding back.

Britsilk was launched at Fibre East and was (unsurprisingly) pretty popular, so you'll need to move fast if you want to get some before Joy re-stocks later this year. That Coal looks pretty wonderful...

Zeigitag 5.8.17: Thielenbruch

I finally finished my Thielenbruch while on holiday. I started in November – my first Lost in the Woods project (other than my own designs, of course!) and I couldn't wait. But I ran into yarn issues. 

My original plan was to use red, purple and silver. I had only half a ball of the purple, so that was to be just an accent; mostly it would be red and silver. Lovely. But for a while I wasn't making much progress (because of working on other, more urgent stuff), and meanwhile I started to worry that the silver was a bad idea. I decided I didn't want to risk having the red bleed all over it, so I needed another yarn. But what?

I have an extensive stash. I wouldn't even consider buying new yarn for this project. But I couldn't settle on any other yarn that made me really happy when combined with the red and purple. So my poor shawl sat in limbo for aaaaages. By which time I completely forgot that the purple wasn't a full skein, and brightly decided to make it a two-colour shawl! The red and purple were so fabulous just by themselves!

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By the time I was a few repeats into the edging, of course, I'd realised there was no way the yarn would hold out. And I was gutted. Back to the drawing board... I found some purple and berry variegated yarn that looked beautiful with this, and thought I'd won, until I realised far too late it was completely the wrong weight. Not even close. DK instead of fingering. 

At which point I basically gave up and grabbed the first fingering skein that looked almost passable and you know what?

It's way better than passable.

Yeah. I don't know what took me so long either.

Zeigitag 2.7.17: gloves CAN have fingers!

One of my favourite things to make is fingerless gloves – they're fun, they're cute and they're very practical. (If you're sceptical, I get it, so was I. But in fact, keeping your pulse point warm is about all you need for warm hands. And you get to keep your fingers free and knit!) So that was as much excuse as I needed to avoid the challenge of knitting real gloves, with all their 10 fiddly fingers. 

Since I don't like admitting I'm actually scared of a challenge, though, I decided to step up and tackle Emily's Anagach from Lost in the Woods. Plus, they gave me a chance to play with combining five colours! And I do love colour play.

I can report that:

1. Gloves are indeed fiddly, but not as much as I feared, and worked up a lot faster than expected. Even fancy colourwork light fingering-weight gloves.

2. I definitely need to work on my technique for colourwork in the round. I knit these inside out – it's a great way to keep your float tension even; but it did mean that I didn't get a clear view of the end-of-round transition. Which was fine up until the thumb gusset, but then things got a bit hairy. I struggled with tension on the increases, basically. So that needs practice.

3. Apparently I also need to work on knowing how long my fingers actually are. Middle finger on the right hand is way too long and I'm way too lazy to fix it. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that I'll knit an entire pair of fancy colourwork gloves and yet shy away from ripping back and reknitting just like half a centimetre of one finger, but there you go, I'm a mystery. 

4. Conductive thread works and is great! Yay smartphone gloves! My 8yo reckons I should have added it to every finger, just for consistency, but I'm happy with the distinctive two-finger thing. 

Zeigitag 9.6.17: two steps forward, one step back

The thing about creative work is that progress doesn't always look like progress. Sometimes you have to undo everything you've painstakingly accomplished – even when you love it. And that's ok. It still moves you forward. 

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I've been working on this design in Wolff & Schafe Romulus, and it's practically perfect. I love how the yarn is working up. It's a pleasure to knit, and these brioche lines are so graceful. But it can be even better. The decreases leave room for improvement. I'm not sure I chose the perfect cast-on. And there's a flat-out mistake or two. (Spot the misplaced increase up there?)

So this morning this beautiful piece of knitting has been returned to two beautiful balls of wool, and I'm just fine with that. I get to do it all again, knowing that I'm on the right track, but can do better. It's all good. 

Psst: yes, I've made some changes here. Most of my personal posts have been moved back to my old blog. Which isn't quite ideal – you might see some ads there, I'm sorry – but it's okay for now. This space will be kept for sharing my design work, and I'm hoping to do more of these in-progress posts. It won't be every week, because I'm just not able to work at that great a pace, and sometimes my projects will have to be kept under wraps until release. But when I can, I'll show my work. 
Oh, and I couldn't resist borrowing the Swiss word "Zeigitag". Sure, I could have just said show and tell. But Zeigitag sounds more fun.

How to: work a cheat's provisional cast-on

This technique is totally cheating. It's cheating so much that I doubt I will ever actually recommend it in any of my patterns. In fact, I'd say this is the backwards loop cast-on in just about every way I can imagine, starting with how I came to it. 

I taught Claudia (then aged 5) to do a long-tail cast-on, but as she was practising she forgot what she was supposed to be doing and did a kind of twisted loop cast-on instead. I'd never seen that technique and had to look it up. I liked it! I started using it myself… but most often, I like it better when I untwist the stitches in the first row. That makes it just a regular backwards loop cast-on

Now, the backwards loop cast-on has quite a pro/con thing going on, which is why I'd never taken to it before.

Pros:
1. It's fast. 
2. It's a short-tail method, so you can use it to add stitches anywhere you need them. 
3. It's flexible and highly elastic.

Cons:
1. It's maybe TOO elastic, if by "elastic" you mean "kinda loose and unstructured and prone to getting way outta control".
2. It's not very strong. As handy as it is, I wouldn't use it for buttonholes, which will take a lot of wear.

Con #1 is the main reason this isn't my go-to, all-purpose cast-on. It's also a problem that can be ameliorated by sticking with the twisted part of twisted loop – that creates more structure, while staying elastic. BUT the twists are quite noticeable (depending on yarn, gauge etc). Decorative, arguably; sometimes the effect is pretty good. But noticeable, so not ideal for all purposes.

Thing is, though, it's only a problem over distance. If you're casting on a lot of stitches, especially in fine yarn, you won't want to touch this method with a bargepole. Pretty soon you'll be struggling to push your loops over the needle join (if using a circular), and yet there will seem to be a bit too much yarn between stitches, and it'll just be a big mess. However. If you need to cast on for just a fairly narrow section, this cast-on is your friend. And if you need to later pick up stitches at that bottom edge to work in the other direction… well now. We finally reach the point of this post.

The tail on the side shows the join, where I picked up cast-on stitches to work the other way. How neat is that?! You can see an oddity on the left, in the first photo – that's because you do need to twist the last stitch in the cast-on row, and it shows. So: not 100% perfect. But if that stitch is going to end up in a seam, or if the fabric is quite textured and obscures this kind of detail? Brilliant. Both of these factors apply in Winterbeere, so in fact, I used it there. (Why didn't I say so in the pattern? Because when you pick up the starting stitches to work down, you're going right into a Latvian braid, and while that's fiddly rather than actually hard, even I decided I didn't need to add that extra layer of complication.)

So. Here's how I cheat. 

1. Make a slipknot and hold the needle in your right hand, yarn in your left. (Note: a slipknot is entirely optional – you can just start looping, pulling the yarn tight with your right hand, but a slipknot provides a comfortable anchor.) Bring your left thumb under the yarn and up, from back to front. 

2. Bring the needle up from underneath and tighten the loop formed. 

3. Repeat until you have as many stitches (loops) as you need. Turn and knit into the first loop – as I mentioned above, this first stitch will be twisted. 

 

 

 

 

4. Knit into the back loop of the remaining stitches. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your work after a few rows. You can actually see in this photo how the cast-on stitches get looser towards the end – this is why you don't want to use this technique for everything: unless you're very careful, those loops just don't play nice. But it's a very nifty trick to have in your bag, anyway.

5. Picking up your cast-on stitches for working in the other direction couldn't be easier – no unzipping required. Just knit into the spaces between each stitch.

Beautiful.

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How to work Latvian braid (and close it in the round)

How to knit Latvian braid flat or in the round – a tutorial from Studio Miranda.

Introducing Winterbeere

Is it the end of winter, or the beginning of spring? I'm not sure either. What I do know is that my latest design, Winterbeere – the final, late surprise pattern in Lost in the Woods, designed for exactly these in-between times – has been in use constantly. But I also can't wait to try it in summer, because the fabric feels soooo good to touch.

It's soft and drapey and sort of papery? I've been wanting to use this yarn for the longest time – and spent much of last year swatching it, trying to figure out what would make best use of its tactile quality, and the subtle tweedy flecks in its amazing colours. Finally I settled on a bit of texture – nothing too complex or detailed; just enough to play with the light, create shadows and a hint of shine, depending on the angle – and a wide A-line silhouette.  

It's one of the most wearable things I've ever made. And one of the simplest to knit, constructed top-down, entirely without seams, and with minimal finishing. I still found room for some special details, though; like these buttons, which finish the rolled cuffs perfectly, and the Latvian braid that provides much needed stability at the yoke. (Look out for a tutorial shortly.)

I'll have it with me in Edinburgh this weekend – if you see me, I may well be wearing it. Say hi! 

How to work German short rows

Short rows can be one of the most fun parts of knitting. They offer up such wonderful three-dimensional possibilities, making it easy to turn a heel, work horizontal bust darts, create a curved shawl worked end to end – or create a dipped hem, as in Regensberg.

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I love how they look and I love doing them. But only when using the right technique; badly made turns are such a turn-off. I might use different methods depending on circumstances, but this one is surely the simplest and most versatile: German short rows. 

This method doesn't involve any extra stitches or preparation before the turn, so if the pattern is written for the wrap-and-turn method, work one more stitch than instructed. The last stitch worked – or first stitch after the turn – functions as the wrapped stitch. 

Here's how you do it.

 

For knit stitches, at the start of your short row:

1. Bring yarn forward.

3. …and tug hard on yarn to tighten the stitch and pull stitch below up over the needle, creating the appearance of two “legs”.

How the stitch appears once worked. 

2. Slip the stitch purlwise…

4. To close the gap on the return row, purl into the centre of this “double stitch” (with two legs in front and two behind).
 

The turns will be almost invisible from the knit side of stocking stitch fabric.

For purled stitches, the method is exactly the same, just, well, purled:

1. Turn the work and bring yarn forward.

3. …and tug hard on yarn to tighten the stitch and pull stitch below up over the needle, creating the appearance of two “legs”. Bring the yarn forward to continue purling.

…like this.

2. Slip the stitch purlwise…

4. To close the gap, knit into the centre of this “double stitch” (with two legs in front and two behind)…

 

The turns may appear a little bumpy on the reverse stocking stitch side, but will smooth out with blocking.

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"It was much more fun to come up with my own creations": Q&A with Christiane Burkhard

I met Christiane Burkhard, also known as Lismi, briefly at the Swiss Wulle Festival this year. I enjoyed chatting with her about the dislocating experience of living abroad (for her, moving to America and then back to Germany; for me, leaving South Africa for first London and now Switzerland) and was pleased to get to know her better with this interview. Her entertainingly constructed Return shawl is high on my wish list!

Find Christiane on Twitter and on her blog.

1. What’s your career background, and how did you get into design?

I learned how to knit as a child and didn’t like it very much. My aunt had to finish my school projects so I wouldn’t get bad grades. Later, in high school, knitting became very hip and we secretly knitted underneath the desk during class. Almost all of the time I didn’t use a knitting pattern. It was much more fun to come up with my own creations. I remember one sweater I called the English Sweater, since I made it during English lessons. At our graduation party we even had a catwalk showing off all our creations. I guess this could be called a start in designing. Due to my work as a PT, family and a busy life, knitting and fibre arts were on the back burner for quite a while. After moving to the US this changed completely. In my local yarn shop I started to teach work shops, learned a lot about the industry and was able to spread my designer wings basically through learning by doing. In this great community I have found a lot of good friends who encourage me to keep going and I am very thankful for their support!

2. What motivates you?

… that there are endless possibilities in creativity. Also to see someone wearing something I designed makes my heart jump.

3. You write that your designs are influenced by the places you’ve travelled – what are your favourite places? Where would you live if you had totally free choice?

Special people, events or memories make a favourite place for me. One of them is Roxbury Pond in Maine, where we were able to spend wonderful times as a family in summer.  One of my shawl patterns is named after this place. After a trip to Russia in the early nineties I have always been impressed by the architecture there. The hat pattern Basil is named after St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow. These are only two examples.  

4. What differences did you experience in knitting culture, or in your own knitting habits, in the US compared with Germany?

Since we have only lived here for a little more than a year and are just settling down, I don’t have that much insight into the current knitting culture in Germany/Europe. One thing is for sure, most of the German knitters I have met so far don’t beat around the bush. They are very direct in sharing their opinion about a yarn, design or project. I have met great knitters so far, and even got to know my new neighbour through Ravelry as we were still planning our move from America. One thing I miss are the great yarn festivals in the US and hope that there will be more emerging in Europe too. I found some differences in pattern writing too: Germans tend to love short-worded patterns with charts and the US market looks more for the ones which are written out line by line and have some technical explanations. There is something to learn from each knitting culture and I am excited to be able to explore that.

5. A lot of your designs make bold use of colour. Is that often the starting point for you? Are there certain design themes or ideas you keep returning to?

I love playing with colour. I like colour to emphasize a design theme but most of the time it is not the starting point. Some of things I keep returning to are modular knitting, and using colour work in an unexpected way. 

6. What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Do you think you’ve met those goals, or perhaps surpassed them?

The first time I went public was to submit a design to contest held by a yarn company. My friend and owner of my LYS was very persistent in encouraging me to do it. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence at this point, but also nothing to lose. It was almost like, “give it a try and see where it leads”. After coming in second, I started to dare thinking about designing more professionally. My goal was to start  to self-publish designs and be able to run a booth at a yarn festival. A few years later I reached this goal. I was able to have a booth at several shows the last two years before I left the US, I published quite a few designs and I am happy to have a collaboration with RYN yarns.   

7. Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?

After a one-year hiatus due to our move back to Europe, I started to design again this fall. There seems to never be enough time in the day to get everything done, especially now that I am also working as a PT again. My Christmas wish is a few extra hours each day. Despite this, I would love to continue designing patterns that show my artistic style.  

8. What do you most look forward to in the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?

For me it is just pure excitement to see the creative juices flow in an event like this. In a world of competition, greed and conformity I consider it a privilege to be part of a community event of indie designers and crafters where supporting each other, generosity and creativity are core values.

9. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?

Are you serious ;-). There are so many gorgeous patterns there! Just a few of my favourites: Timber by Shannon Cook, Hel by Linda Marveng, Spanish Mandala Pillow Overlay Crochet by Tatiana Kupryiachyk, Persian Dreams Worsted by Jenise Hope and Fleur Bleue by Christelle Nihoul. I’d love to make your newest design Pravigan. [Note: Not in the GAL sale bundle unfortunately!] I saw it in Zürich when you were still working on it and I am in love...

10. What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to?

Oh, there are many things!!! A water colour painting and singing class, traveling to New Zealand, visiting my friends in Cebu (I named a design after them: Flower of Cebu), have a booth at Rhinebeck, and horseback riding on a beach are just a few of them.

Introducing Regensberg

Today sees my third Lost in the Woods release, and the last one from the book this year. (My final pattern will be with you in early 2017. Consider the hiatus a chance to let things settle before a late digestif!) Regensberg is a sweater I dreamed of for ages – a cloud-soft cuddle of a pullover, with angled cables and a short-row tail creating interest. It's both challenging (in a very different way to Pravigan – the stitches are simple, but you have to pay constant attention to the shaping) and a comfort knit. 

A generous cowl-neck and extra-long sleeves (wear them with the 6-inch cuffs folded back, or pulled down to warm your hands), all in delicious baby alpaca, make this the cuddliest thing in my wardrobe by far. It's an absolute joy to wear (and sooo warm).

Exposed seams at shoulders and armholes provide extra definition. Tutorials for the three-needle cast-off and German short row techniques are included. 

Remember, from 1 December the price of the e-book goes up from €20 to €25. Thank you all for your enthusiastic response to our collection – we're so pleased you like it! 

"It comes out of my question-answering reflex": Q&A with Naomi Parkhurst

Naomi Parkhurst – better known on Ravelry as gannet – is one of the hardworking volunteers behind the Gift-A-Long. She's also known for her fascinating project of encoding words in stitch patterns (the patterns are free for designers to use, but you can support her via Patreon). We've been chatting on Twitter and elsewhere for some time, but I still don't know her well, so it was fun to fill in my knowledge of her with an interview. 

Find Naomi on Twitter and Google+, as well as on her blog.

1.  First, the ignorant question: tell me about your life outside of design. Family? Work? Whats the shape of your days?

I'm trained as a reference librarian, which I love and hope to get back to, but when my husband and I decided it would make the most sense to homeschool our son, something had to give, and that was my extremely part-time job as a substitute librarian. 

So I teach my son some things and he absorbs other things from pure curiosity, and I make sure he does his share of the household chores. And while he's playing video games or making crafts, or reading, I do my design work. It's not a terribly well-regulated schedule, though the school and other tasks mostly happen in the middle of the day.

2. How did you get into design? And specifically into your fascinating word-encoding project?

This is going to be partly in conversation with the answer you gave me to one of my questions, I think. And also long! When I was a small child, I learned all sorts of traditional crafts from my kith and kin, and one of the things I learned was that while it was good to be able to follow patterns, it was important to be able to improvise. But I don't think I thought of it as designing.

I went through fits and starts of knitting as a child and teen, but the thing that really got me going was the Internet, and also then having a baby. It's a lot easier to knit with a baby on your lap than to use a sewing machine. I shared pictures of some of what I did on LiveJournal, and then people wanted instructions. The instructions I wrote then were awful. People in my knitting group that I found because of Ravelry also wanted instructions for the things I made. I started to learn how to write better patterns after joining Ravelry, though it wasn't until I started getting tech editing and pattern testing that I started feeling comfortable calling myself a designer. 

I was still working at the library when encoding ideas as knitting came to me. I was contemplating the Dewey Decimal call number system, and how it could be used as a secret code. That reminded me of how some people describe knitting instructions as being like code. And then something made me ask myself how I could turn library call numbers into knitting, if both of them were code. After a lot of experimentation, I started having some good ideas about that.  

That led to realizing that call numbers, while awesome, weren't going to be practical for a lot of things, but there are lots of ways to turn letters into numbers, and well, here I am, turning letters into numbers, and numbers into knitting charts! 

3. What motivates you? 

Curiosity. Answering questions for other people. Solving problems. Avoiding falling into depression if I don't use my brain enough. Being responsible to other people in the right sort of group project. Routines, but not schedules: I have to blog every Monday, or I fall out of the habit of blogging, but just marking a date in a calendar that's a deadline for a pattern doesn't work for me.

4. Do you struggle with time management like I do? How do you manage to keep productive and not beat yourself up? 

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I get on a roll and can work steadily on things that need doing; other times I fall into a slump and spend too much time playing iPad games and reading Twitter. I don't have a really good solution to this yet, though it has gotten better as I've gotten older. I have three things that do seem to help me:

A. Remembering that if I get mad at myself for not getting as much done in a day as I would have liked, it actually makes it twice as hard to do the work the next day.

B. Keeping a long-term to-do list with no deadlines, and then keeping a daily to-do list that's rarely longer than three small tasks. If I cross one of the tasks off the daily list, I add another. Sometimes I finish one thing. Yesterday I finished five. It's all good.

C. Posting that short list in a private forum that I share with a few friends. They don't say anything about what I do and don't finish. It's just there, and for some reason I find that helpful. (The lack of judgement is key.) 

5. My patterns always seem to get held up by photography. Do you have any particular stumbling blocks in the design process? What are the best and worst parts?  

Photography is one of my stumbling blocks too. I also sometimes have trouble just sitting down and writing out a pattern. And sometimes I have so many ideas that I get stuck and don't know what to do next. On the other hand, I love figuring out how to make complex stitch patterns flow and tile nicely. I enjoy the knitting, and then using the finished objects. I like geometry. And I like figuring things out for myself, and seeing what people make of my designs. 

6. What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Are those goals still relevant? 

To answer this, I need to split the concept of designing into two parts: coming up with an idea for a finished object and writing a pattern for it. The former is going to happen for me regardless, and I don't have goals for that, aside from making things I like and satisfying my curiosity about how to make that happen. But pattern writing comes out of what I think of as my question-answering reflex. I don't think of that as a goal, either. People asked me how to make what I'd made, and so I started writing my patterns. That is still relevant, but I've added the desire to earn a fair wage on top of that. (This is, of course, more easily said than done.) 

7. Where do you see your designs in five yearstime?

Sometimes I wonder if I'll keep writing patterns for finished objects, or if perhaps I'd rather focus exclusively on stitch patterns. Then I'll come up with a shawl shape that interests me, and, well, I guess I'll keep doing both. I don't really have a strong sense of things beyond that; every time I think I've got my design plans settled, something comes along that shakes everything up. As an example, these hexagon lace ideas (https://gannetdesigns.com/2016/03/07/more-on-hex-lace/) are very much on my mind and I hope to do something larger with them. 

8. You’re one of the GAL volunteers every year. (Thank you!) What do you like best about the Giftalong? Do you ever maybe dread it, just a tiny bit?   

Well, I wasn't involved in major organizing in the first two years, though I did volunteer to help with the Pinterest boards and was somewhat involved in the conversation that led to the GAL's existence. I started taking a bigger role last year with organizing the collection of the information that lets me create the giant bundles of GAL patterns on Ravelry, and am doing that again this year. 

There's several things I really love about the Giftalong. I really like the sense of community among designers, that we're there to support each other and promote each other's work and not just our own. It's fun to watch participants having a good time with a giant event that encompasses both knitting and crochet. I like having Team Bundle and Team Pinterest working together to collect the patterns and organize them in different ways so that everyone participating in the gift-a-long can find what they need. Some of my librarian tendencies are satisfied by making the bundles: being able to organize information and then be able to search it for just the right answers. Finally, having a group project is less lonely. 

It does make it harder to do my own design work, especially in the week during which I'm organizing the bundles. And I tend to fret (unreasonably) about breaking Ravelry when I add the sale pattern bundle, which is generated from a list of about 5,000 patterns. But it's all worth it to me.

9. What GAL patterns have caught your eye this year? Are you making anything? 

Oh, there's so many things, it's hard to know where to start. But I'll certainly be making Boy Sweater, by Lisa Chemery, for a local agency that collects winter clothes for babies in need. Once that's done, I hope to knit Elwood, by Jenny Wiebe, for my son. Meow-Meow Hat, by Mjuk, catches my eye because it's just so adorable. A dreamlike lace pattern that I've loved since she published it earlier this year is Illumine, by Nim Teasdale.  

10. What havent you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to?

In order of likelihood: Knit myself a sweater that fits. Go to England to see where the Parkhursts came from. Meet all my internet friends in person. (I do keep meeting more, but I doubt that I'll ever meet all of them.) 

11. One more question, looking at your GAL bundle! I see your beautiful, distinctive lace stitches all over in other people's bundles, but your own designs (other than Bread & Roses) don't use them. Are you exercising different parts of your design brain when conceptualising an entire project vs imagining a stitch, or do you not like lace that much for your own use, or...?  (I'm interested in how people's tastes vary sometimes between what they like to design, and what they like to knit – this seems related!)

I've been thinking a lot about this in the last few months. It turns out to be a little more complicated than you might expect! On the one hand, Bread & Roses was made by a sample knitter, and I have two more lace samples I need to write up which were knit by a second sample knitter. I do often have a sense with my lace that designing the stitch pattern is what I wanted to do, no matter how much I like it.

On the other hand, I'm working on a lace shawl sample myself; it includes lace I've designed, though not encoded lace. And I'm planning on knitting some encoded lace shawls myself when that one's done.

Part of it is that I do better when I have something complex and something with plain knitting going at the same time, so I'm likely to spend as much time knitting garter shawls as the stitch pattern designs for my Patreon and my lace shawls put together. The simple patterns also often feel more straightforward to write up than the complex ones, though I've learned this is just a illusion. Simple isn't always easy! But this means that I've finished writing more patterns that aren't lace. I've also been wanting to explore certain shapes before I put lace into them, and so those have been popping up on my design page first in the form of garter shawls. 

In other words, I hope there there will be more of a mixture in the next year, though there is something appealing about designing complex stitch patterns and then leaving the finished objects to other people.

How to knit two-colour brioche – the easy way!

Pravigan is a big scarf. A huge scarf. A big huge scarf in laceweight. A big huge scarf in laceweight two-colour brioche.

A big huge time commitment.

I totally cheated.

Or rather: I got smart. (Yes, that's better.) In swatching, I very quickly decided I couldn't be doing with this double-row nonsense. For those who don't know: brioche is characterised by the way each stitch carries a yarnover behind it, forming something like tentlines running down at an angle, and creating the deeply corrugated, three-dimensional fabric that is so irresistibly squooshy. (You can get the same effect by knitting into the stitch below the next stitch on your left-hand needle – working this way is usually called fisherman's rib, and the resulting fabric will look slightly different because of how it affects gauge. Bee stitch, used in Julia's Thielenbruch shawl from Lost in the Woods, uses this technique and is sometimes categorised as a brioche stitch.) Worked in two colours, those tentlines create a beautiful visual depth and can sometimes be used to dramatic effect. 

In brioche, the stitches in a row or round alternate between having a yarnover wrapped around them, or being themselves worked into a stitch and yarnover together. When using just one colour, that's no problem. But in two-colour brioche, you normally have to work each row first in the background colour, slipping every other stitch and wrapping yarn round the needle; then return to the start and repeat the whole row in the foreground colour, working those slipped stitches together with their yarnovers.

Slow going. And for some of us bears of little brain (or, more generously, little attention span), it's annoyingly easy to forget about going back to work that second colour. So I figured out how to do both colours in one row. It's very simple – as long as you're comfortable with holding one yarn in each hand. (Which is a great trick for colourwork generally, so if you're still attached to either the English or continental knitting style, I highly recommend training yourself in the other one.) This is how it's done. 

A typical brioche pattern for plain rib will look like this.

Abbreviations:

BC/FC: background/foreground colour
sl1-yo: slip 1, wrapping yarn round needle
brk: brioche knit – knit into next stitch together with its yarnover
brp: brioche purl – purl into next stitch together with its yarnover

Row 1 RS BC: k2 edge sts, [sl1-yo, brp] to last 3 sts, sl1-yo, k2
Row 1 RS FC: slip 2, [brk, sl1-yo] to last 3 sts, brk, slip 2
Row 2 WS BC: k2, [sl1-yo, brk] to last 3 sts, sl1-yo, k2
Row 2 WS FC: slip 2, [brp, sl1-yo] to last 3 sts, brp, slip 2

But we're going to cut out all that time-wasting slipping. Of course, that does mean we'll be missing some yarnovers ready to work with our stitches, doesn't it? Just have to create them as we go. Here's how – your cheat's guide to working brk or brp without pre-formed yarnovers.

(Note: the photos don't show every step of brioching, because this isn't really a beginner's brioche tutorial; they only show how stitches worked in the foreground colour differ to usual brioche stitches. If you're new to brioche, I recommend you start with the brioche primer included in Pravigan, or with another simple brioche pattern, just to acclimatise. This tutorial also assumes that the brioche pattern is already set up; whether you work your brioche in the usual two-row method or not, or if you've started with single-colour brioche, the results are all the same.

The method

Hold your background yarn in your left hand, and foreground yarn in your right. Your new, simplified pattern is this, with detailed instructions below:

Row 1: k2 edge sts in BC, [brk in FC, brp in BC] to last 3 sts, brk in FC, k2 in BC
Row 2: k2 in BC, [brp in FC, brk in BC] to last 3 sts, brp in FC, k2 in BC

Brk in FC (shown top right): Lay BC yarn over the top of your left-hand needle, next to the waiting FC stitch, and using FC, knit into that stitch and improvised "yarnover" together (as shown top right). Bring FC forward.

Brp in BC (not shown): Purl into next BC stitch together with its yarnover. Wrap FC yarn over needle from front to back. (This step is very much like the usual sl1-yo – you just happen to be actually working the stitch, not slipping it.)

Brp in FC (shown bottom right): Lay BC yarn over left-hand needle, as for the FC brk, and purl into that stitch and "yarnover" together.

Brk in BC (not shown): Knit into next BC stitch together with its yarnover. Wrap FC yarn over needle from front to back and around to front again, ready for the next FC brp. (Again: very much like the usual sl1-yo.)

 

You'll find that after just a few stitches, this rhythm – work and wrap, brioche, work and wrap – becomes second nature. If you occasionally forget to wrap, not that I ever do that ahem ahem, it's simple enough to pick up the float on the next row.

The slightly trickier part is following conventional brioche instructions while working the one-row method. I recommend following charts rather than written instructions, if available. As long as it's plain rib, you're fine. But when shaping enters the picture, watch out; you need to collapse two charted (or written) rows of instructions into one, following two rows at the same time.

Examine the chart to see where different kinds of shaping stitches are worked. In Pravigan, for instance, decreases are almost always worked in the background colour on right-side rows – followed by matching increases in the foreground colour on the second pass at that right-side row. So, work to the first shaping stitch, whichever yarn it's worked in (whether it's in the "first" or "second" row as charted), perform your increase or decrease, work to the next shaping stitch, etc. That doesn't present any particular challenge: since the decreases are worked first, you won't find any "extra" stitches in the chart. (Stay with me. This will make more sense after the next example.) 

When decreases – or indeed gathered stitches such as 3-into-3; anything that takes up more than a single stitch, regardless of how many result – are worked in the foreground colour, it gets a bit more complicated. The BC row, the first one shown in the chart, will show the full number of stitches that the FC row then takes away. In certain rows in Pravigan, a brk5-into-5 gathered stitch is bracketed by br-p3tog on either side. In the chart, the br-p3tog appears on the first, BC row; brk5-into-5 on the second, FC row. When using the one-row method, you have to be careful with your counting! Remember that those extra 4 stitches between the decreases aren't really there (ooh... freaky...), and be sure not to leave too many stitches between your br-p3togs. As long as the BC decreases really are worked directly on either side of the FC gathered stitch or decrease, this isn't too hard to remember. But when columns of regular ribbing intervene – it can feel surprisingly complicated!

As with most knitting techniques, this process quickly comes to feel natural. It's also much easier to follow a two-row chart once the stitch pattern is established. So I recommend working a swatch for your chosen brioche pattern, using the one-row method, both to practise the hand movements and to internalise the stitch pattern and how to read the chart. I do not recommend switching to the one-row method halfway through a project! Your tension is likely to be significantly different, almost certainly much tighter, when brioching this way.  

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Gifts a go-go!

Something happens to otherwise sane knitters once a year. Some time in late autumn or early winter, we get this peculiar urge. We start thinking: I could make that person a present. Knitters usually of a healthily selfish persuasion, such as yours truly, get a bit twitchy looking at patterns for cute kids' knits or pretty scarves. Maybe a hat or two. We think of the people in our lives whose happiness (and possibly bankable gratitude) really means something to us, and we ponder. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that where a trend exists, a promotion must follow, and doubly so if this trend is tied to a commonly celebrated holiday, like, oh, say, just for example's sake... GIFTMAS.

And so there is the Ravelry Gift-A-Long. 

GAL is mass temporary insanity that falls on Ravellers every November. Thousands of us suddenly believe that we can find time to knit all kinds of things, and what we don't finish in time we'll definitely knit in January. It's ridiculously fun. It starts with a week-long promotion in which participating designers offer 25% off selected patterns, and continues as a rollicking knit party till the end of December, with knit/crochet-alongs, prizes, chatter… This is my third year participating as a designer; my fourth as a willingly deluded knitter. You really don't want to miss out.

How do you find the party? Come hang out in the GAL group. Look out for red ribbons and gold gift-tags on avatars, pattern photos etc, or check your favourite designers' pages to see if they have a Gift-A-Long bundle. (Here's mine.) The discount will run from 8pm tonight EST (so, 2am tomorrow for me!) till midnight EST on 30 November. 

There are hundreds of designers with literally thousands of patterns in the promotion, so Pinterest boards have been set up and divided by category to tempt you – I mean, help you choose! Another fun aspect of the Gift-A-Long is the social element. There are always a lot of designer interviews flitting around, so if you're curious to know more about the people who make your patterns, watch the social media thread. (Or you could always ask a designer for an interview yourself!) You can find the interviews I've done in past years over here, and yes, there are more on the way. 

I'm not sure how active I'll be this year, in either blogging or knitting. I've got quite a lot on already. But then again… I say that every year. And every year I end up in my own private GAL whirlwind.

Like I say. Mass temporary insanity. But in a good way.

 

Introducing Pravigan

Mothers don't have favourites, right? We love all our children equally – differently, but equally – and the same naturally goes for our creative children. 

Of all my Lost in the Woods designs, Pravigan is the favourite I don't have. 

Brioche knitting, especially two-colour brioche, is deeply satisfying, on every level. The stitches are worked in a satisfying rhythm. The fabric is satisfyingly squooshy. The aesthetic effect is satisfyingly layered, and reversible, and detailed, and really rather magical. And working that magic is a satisfying challenge.

Pravigan, being an oversized two-colour brioche scarf worked at lace gauge in mohair, is definitely a challenge. It demands your full attention. It demands endless patience, and perhaps forgiveness, if you have to rip back to fix a mistake not that I'd know anything about that ahem ahem. But it's so rewarding. 

It's also absolutely possible for a brioche novice to handle, if you're adventurous. I should know: it's my own first brioche project. With Emily's help, I've produced a very thorough primer on two-colour brioche knitting, which is included with the pattern: more than just a photo tutorial, it includes a small sampler pattern to help you internalise the structure of brioche knitting, and practise the shaping stitches, before tackling them in mohair. You're welcome.

Let's pretend you weren't already a knitter…

…what would turn you into one? What kind of pattern would make you want to pick up those needles?

For me, it would have to be something that looked amazing, but not intimidating. Something that wasn't just a ribbed scarf, but also didn't look like it had been whipped up by a hundred Shetland elves in a hundred hours.

I happen to have a dear friend (hi, Nita!) whose creativity has, so far, extended to painting, sewing and embroidery, but not knitting. I want to change that. So I made her a bundle.* (I'm sharing it with you in case you, too, have such a friend.) It's a bundle rich in colour and texture and surprising shapes. Many of the patterns aren't suitable for complete beginners, but most of them add just one or maybe two ingredients to the basic knit/purl mix: increases and decreases, say, or a simple stitch pattern, or stripes. A lot of them would be suitable for a first go at a particular technique, be it short rows or knitting in the round. A few are possibly a bit more complicated, but small enough to be manageable. (Pro tip: modular projects like blankets are brilliant for trying out new things. Especially if you happen to have a kid who'd enjoy, say, a doll blanket if you get bored halfway.) They're all things I'd enjoy knitting myself – it's a boredom-free zone. 

And the thing I want her to try right now? Louise Zass-Bangham's Foolproof Cowl. It's ridiculously clever and requires only simple increases and decreases – no tricky cast-ons, picking up stitches, seaming, none of the things that can be such a turn-off when you really just want to practise your actual knitting. Huge fun. Part of the fun of course is mixing colours, but using a funky handpainted or gradient yarn would also give great results without the stress of carrying yarn up the sides. 

(One bonus recommendation: while skipping the cast-on and cast-off is undeniably a draw, those are vital skills. Winnie Shih's Swiss Cheese Scarf is the perfect project to practise them.

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* Ravelry bundles are brilliant, aren't they? Want to share your favourites?

Introducing Unterholz

Today it's my turn to release a pattern from Lost in the Woods. This is Unterholz; a cowl for the changing seasons. I use colour-shifting yarns and a layered, textural stitch pattern to suggest the secrets and surprises you'll find in the forest then, whether the green buds of spring or multicoloured drifts of fallen leaves. This stitch (adapted from lotus stitch) is a little fiddly to work at first but you'll soon get into it, and I found it highly addictive – it's so rhythmic and the fabric so deliciously squooshy!

Unterholz (meaning scrub, or brushwood) uses two colours of yarn in any weight – or two balls of a single colour-changing yarn, as shown in the chunky version above. I love how the colour plays against itself when doing this, sometimes revealing a contrast and sometimes blending together – very autumnal! If you use a bright solid underneath a variegated upper layer, you get stronger pops of colour coming through, which I used in fingering weight to suggest those amazing knots of green that appear as the forest bursts into spring. 

You can see, in the folds shown in this picture, how the top yarn almost floats on the surface… I had so much fun getting this stitch pattern just right. It's one of those cases where the finished pattern is deceptively simple, but getting to those eight perfect pattern rows was an adventure! And see how beautiful the wrong side is…

The pattern includes full guidance on substituting any weight of yarn, making it a great stashbuster. I can't wait to see what you do with it. 

Buy now on Ravelry, or get the whole ebook of 12 patterns (three so far, more on the way!) – remember the price will go up next month. 

How to do Cat Bordhi's moebius cast-on

Have you encountered moebius knitting? It's an arcane mathemagical concept translated into deceptively easy twisted knitting. (A moebius strip has only one side and one edge – it's explained here if you aren't familiar with the idea. Grab a piece of paper and sticky tape and go check it out. Then come back for the yarny version.)

You can make a moebius cowl by knitting a strip lengthwise, then giving it a half-twist before grafting it closed. What's way more fun though is using Cat Bordhi's technique,* from A Treasury of Magical Knitting, to knit a moebius from the inside out. A unique, but fast and easy, cast-on** sets you up to work in the round in a way that feels normal... but actually extends both up and down at the same time, ending with a cast-off edge that wraps right around the top and bottom of your cowl. Magically.

Why bother? Well, because it's really, really fun. But also: it looks great. The half-twist drapes beautifully around your neck and shoulders. If you're using yarn with long colour shifts, those colours will appear perfectly symmetrically, which can be helpful to ensure aesthetic balance. And if you're not sure how far your yarn will get you, a moebius cowl can minimise the amount of planning required; you're done when you run out of yarn, and your stitch patterns will be perfectly balanced. 

Shall we? 

1. Start with a slipknot on your lefthand needle tip. Pull the tip through so that the slipknot sits on the cable. Hold your righthand needle tip and the slipknot together between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand. Support the cable with your left thumb and middle finger, and tension the yarn with the index finger. 

2. Dip the righthand tip under the cable, up over the yarn, and bring it forward. One stitch made.

3. Hook needle behind yarn above the cable. Another stitch made.
Repeat steps 2-3 to make as many stitches as required. Don’t work too tight! 
Each time you make a stitch on the righthand needle tip, a loop also appears underneath the cable. You will work into these in the first round, but don’t include them in your cast-on count. I find it extremely helpful to place stitch markers every 20 stitches or so while casting on – so, if told to cast on 120 stitches, you simply stop at the sixth marker. This not only makes counting easier, it saves confusion as to which stitches are above the cable and which below! (If you counted all the stitches both above and below – both of which will be knitted into – you'd find you have 240 stitches on the needle.)

8. double loop.jpg

4. Spread the stitches along the cable as you go, allowing the cable to form a double loop. Check that the cable is crossed exactly once when you join to start working in the round – creating the 90° twist essential for a moebius loop. 

5. When you start knitting your first round, you will find every other stitch is mounted the wrong way around. Simply knit into the back of these stitches.

 

 

 

6. After knitting the full number of cast-on stitches (120, in our example), you will find yourself directly above the start-of-round marker, which is sitting on the cable below your needle tips. Continue following the instructions for this first round until you arrive back at the stitch marker, this time on your needle and ready to be slipped. 

You will see that the stitches above your cast-on (shown here as knit stitches) will form the "right side" of your pattern, with the "wrong side" appearing below. So choose your stitches with care: reversible patterns such as those based on garter or knit/purl combinations, or welted patterns, work best. 

My moebius design Purzelbaum uses three related garter-stitch lace patterns to show off a wonderful graduated yarn – just change stitches whenever the colour changes, and lo, a perfectly balanced, fully reversible cowl. Try it out! 

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Bordhi is an actual genius who has two books as well as a Craftsy class on this technique. Check them out!
** There are a number of other ways to cast on for a moebius. For instance, Iris Schreier uses a modified long-tail cast-on; or you can cast on using any method you like and then pick up stitches between those cast-on stitches to create your double loop. I find Bordhi's method still the neatest and certainly the fastest; I just need to take care to work loosely enough that the stitches can slide easily right around the double loop.

Lost in the Woods: 5 things about collaborating, 24.10.2016

1. I have an announcement.

Lost in the Woods is an upcoming eBook of 12 patterns – both garments and accessories – from three designers in three countries, inspired by the forests we love. This isn't one of those themes that seem a bit random; the concept is what drew us all together, and as you might guess from the teasers above, the inspiration shines through very strongly on the finished pages.   

2. My wonderful collaborators are Julia Günther (aka @asselknits) and my Ravelry stablemate Emily K Williams (aka @flutterbyknits). Working with them has been a fantastic experience, and a great antidote to the downsides of working for myself. Besides being strong designers with a flair for clever construction and perfect details, they both have very valuable skills to contribute – Emily is a great, thorough tech editor, and Julia (whose idea the whole thing was) is a professional graphic designer, so she gave us beautiful layouts and drawings. Don't you love that pinecone? We've all given and gratefully received a lot of input on our designs in progress, refining each concept together to make each one as wearable, knittable and beautiful as possible. The encouragement and feedback has been invaluable.

3. Then again, the whole work process has been a learning experience. Instead of my usual footling around to refine my idea, I've had to plan things from the start, "pitch" them to my collaborators and then deliver on schedule. I felt a lot of pressure: any time things weren't working out, or when I was falling behind, I wasn't just screwing up on my own; I was letting the team down. And that was interesting. In my "day job", I've always coped extremely well with pressure. Put me on a newsdesk on deadline and I'm a calm, super-efficient speed demon. But in the unstructured environment of working from home, with kids, on a creative project with multiple elements and long deadlines, I felt the pressure as a creative block. I didn't have faith in my ideas, I struggled to prioritise, I struggled with the whole process. It didn't fit the way I saw myself as a worker, and that was not so fun. But it's been a very valuable exercise and has certainly made me a better designer. 

4. I'm proud of the work I've done on this. I have two accessories that are, frankly, perfect, and two garments that are exactly what I want to wear now. (Actually, right now, I have only one garment. The last one is to be released in early 2017 – a late treat, kind of like the Knitty Surprises.) 4. I'm super impressed with what Emily and Julia have done. Together we have created a beautifully balanced collection: something for every season and every adult body, with a full range of sizes and very wearable, flattering styles. (No men's sweaters, true, but some unisex accessories.) We've got great photos and Julia's spreads look so good! You know how much fun it is looking at a great knitting book, with lavish pictures as well as exciting designs? This is that. It truly is. 

5. Early last year, frustrated with the loneliness and vagueness of working by myself, for myself, I set a goal: to find a team project. When Julia approached me for her "forest collection", it was a gift. I couldn't be happier with who I got to work with, or what we've created. And I am so excited to finally be able to share the results of our collaboration with you.  

Watch out for more teasers on Instagram under the hashtag #lostinthewoodscollection. Patterns will be released throughout November (with one late addition, as mentioned). They will be available individually, or you can buy the whole book. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Hey doesn't that look a lot like...

So this popped up on Instagram last night. 

I'm sure you recognise the Baa-ble Hat, designed by Donna Smith for last year's Shetland Wool Week. Everyone was making them, even here in Zurich, and apparently over across the pond too. Smith has told blog readers she is working on a matching cowl pattern… but no, that cowl beneath it is not hers. (ETA: Smith's cowl and mitts pattern is now available!)

The "I'll Pack a Cowl for Rhinebeck" pattern was created for a New Jersey yarn store's Rhinebeck trip, and has been published for free on Ravelry. It's explicitly inspired by Baa-ble and worked at the same gauge, but includes an alpaca as well as the sheepies. Cute! There are also an extra two layers of dots at the bottom, and presumably the dots in the sky had to be plotted anew since there are no crown decreases. It no longer appears on the store's Instagram account, following a slew of negative comments. Comments are still continuing on the Ravelry page. 

I actually have some sympathy for the situation. "Originality" is a tricky thing. (Which is why I'm writing, by the way. I have no interest in attacking this designer, but I think it's worth hashing out what's going wrong here, especially in retrospect. Consider it a case study.) There are a lot of instances of people separately coming up with similar ideas, and even more instances of reverse engineering a cool thing you saw somewhere. That said, this is not that. The cowl pattern directly follows the hat. It's not just "inspired by" it, it uses the actual chart (with some modifications).

So this is the designer's argument:

I did consult with a few designers once interest was generated for me to publish the pattern. I did put a lot of work into the design and placement and feel it was enough of my own work to warrant publication. I never intended to make money off the pattern. 
There has been a pattern published almost a year ago on Ravelry that is a blatant copy of Donna’s design right down to the actual chart of decreases. There are also patterns that were published prior to the baa-ble hat that incorporate the same charted sheep.
Please be aware that I have been in correspondence with Donna prior and since publication in an attempt to clarify similarities and differences. Within hours of publication I did offer to link to the hat. 
I am extremely distressed by the negative comments but stand by my belief that this is my design inspired by the hat and credit given to that fact.

What immediately strikes me as odd is that she "consulted with a few designers" rather than consulting with the actual designer. "Being in correspondence" with her is not the same as asking permission, just as "offering to link" is not the same as actually linking. Which she does not do. The pattern and pattern page mention the Baa-ble hat but not the designer's name – and no link. 

Second mistake: It seems she's following the common myth that there's a certain number of changes to a design that constitute "originality" in copyright. (Copyright law for knitting design is super complicated and varies between countries. I'm not going to try to address the legalities, but in no legal system that I am aware of is does this "three changes makes it yours" rule exist.) 

Third mistake: she thinks that offering the pattern for free makes it okay. Legally that has nothing to do with it, and practically, it's actually worse. This puts her free pattern in direct competition with Smith's paid pattern. I'm sure she didn't know Smith was working on her own cowl (that blog post appeared only two days ago), but a lot of people might buy the hat pattern just for the chart. Plenty of people have already knit cowls based on the hat chart. It's not a great leap. And while free, the pattern was produced for and promotes the yarn store. 

Aside: I can't find this previous pattern she claims to be a blatant copy of Baa-ble, but maybe I'm just not looking that hard. It's true that there are other patterns preceding Baa-ble using a very similar sheep chart. The dots however originated with Smith's design, making this cowl instantly recognisable as a direct copy. 

The biggest mistake? Digging her heels in. This is her first pattern and it's drawn attention in exactly the wrong way. As I say, there's a lot of muddy ground when it comes to what makes for an original, publishable design. I can see why she felt justified in releasing it. But when people start telling you, en masse, that you've screwed up: you should consider whether they're right. Rule for life. (This is why I like the disagree button on Ravelry! One or two disagrees mean nothing, but if you get a lot? Check yourself.) And there's the simple issue of reputation management. If she has any aspirations to design in future, she should care about what this is doing to her name. 

There's a simple fix. Take the pattern out of her Ravelry store, stop distributing it in the yarn shop, and link the pattern page to the Baa-ble hat. She doesn't even have to apologise if she truly thinks there's nothing to apologise for, though "I'm sorry, I made a mistake" is always a good step. Her store still has the cowl for their Rhinebeck trip. And hey, if nobody was making a penny on it, then nothing lost by ceasing to distribute it, right? At this point, the longer she leaves it up, the greater the damage. It's a shame. And it's completely unnecessary.

Hey, if you do want an adorable Baa-ble cowl pattern (and mittens!) from Donna Smith herself, looks like you won't have long to wait…

Free stock photos! (Don't work for free.)

My instinctive reaction to free stock photo website Unsplash (really, really good photos btw) was, "Ew. That feels exploitative." Free photos, but there's a "we're hiring" section. So… somebody's getting paid, right? I clicked around and found that it's a side project for freelance developer platform Crew.* And I found this post about how and why they came to start Unsplash.

Nutshell: it's marketing for them (driving traffic to Crew, which is interesting since there's no direct link) and marketing for the photographers. Yes, that dreaded word: EXPOOOSURE. (You hear the doom-laden intonation, right?) But… in this case it makes sense. Various business lessons here.

Pic © Marcus Spiske, from Unsplash. 

Pic © Marcus Spiske, from Unsplash. 

1. They don't explain the business model; they tell a story. Unsplash started with Crew giving away photos they'd paid for and didn't need. And then the photographer emailed them that his portfolio was getting a lot of attention. And Crew was getting attention too… Telling the story won me over in a way that explaining the reasoning wouldn't have. 

2. Conventional marketing doesn't work. You need to create value

 Jay [Bauer] states that you must create “marketing so useful, people would pay for it.”
This doesn’t mean you need to charge people for access to your marketing. It means that your marketing should be so good that people would gladly pay for it if they were asked.

In the craft world of course this commonly takes the form of free patterns, or tutorials. It's very far from being a new idea. There is a trap here: it's not clear how great the overlap is between the market for free patterns, and the market for paid patterns. (I imagine this goes at least double for the photographic market.) That is, many people hoard free patterns wherever they find them, but will these people be willing to buy more patterns from you? Are they your right customers? Some of them probably will be – a lot of people will pay, but like free if it's available. (And if you're not well-known, a freebie is a good way to show the quality of your work – so make sure it is up to the standard of your paid patterns.) It's a numbers game. The more people see your free stuff, the greater the chance of reaching paying customers. This is one of the things that makes Knitty a great option for designers with a portfolio of paid patterns. (Plus, of course, Knitty does pay.)

3. Side projects are a familiar addiction for everyone involved in creating stuff. You're making extra stuff anyway, because making is like breathing for you – so put it to work. This is not about doing something for somebody who isn't paying you (but exposure!); it's doing something, then letting people use it, and discover you in the process. You're working for yourself, not them. 

Top deadpan points to them for using Jessica Hische's flowchart as an example of side project marketing. (Totally fair. Lots of other great stuff on her site, go check it out.) 

Side projects, they point out, work far better than blogging in driving traffic to your site, and can take less time. (Interesting, no? Making something might take a few hours, and a blog post might take just 20 minutes**… but one blog post is useless. You have to put time in constantly to keep your blog active and attract new readers. A tool you've made available is reusable and keeps on working for you.)

4. If you have a bunch of extra stuff you're offering besides your core product, give it a life of its own. Put it on its own domain. This doesn't work for free patterns, but what else are you making? A separate website with its own name (and, we hope, high traffic) is easy to remember, easy to search for and great for SEO.

Conclusions? Well, obviously I'm sold on Unsplash itself. Which is convenient for me, since I really like their photos and would like to use more pretty pictures myself. (I have so many thoughts on making blogs pinnable, etc etc, but that's a subject for a whole other post.) It's also a good reminder that I'd like to submit to Knitty again. And it has given me a rather different way of thinking about some other stuff I'm working on. Maybe you've got something new to chew on too.

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* I have a bit of side-eye for that too, actually. They boast about "valuing quality over competing on the lowest price", but far less prominently than they promise "charging 4X less". Analysing that would require engaging with the platform far more fully than I have time for, though. At least until I need a better website…  
** Or a lot more. This particular post took a couple of hours all told.