The importance of a knitting notebook

Paperwork!  Record keeping! YUCK!

So why do I urge you to keep a knitter’s notebook?  Because I suspect that, like my memory, yours isn’t as long as you think it  is.  And once I’ve worked out a solution to a problem, I really DON’T want to have to do it over.  Also I hate accidentally giving the same gift twice.  And because sometimes I can make a ‘follow up’ present for someone that matches, like a hat or scarf to match mittens or gloves.  Or I can show someone what I’ve done previously to see if they would like something similar.  Finally, I like to look back over my body of work occasionally, and pat myself on the back, for the sheer volume of it, and the progress I’ve made over the years.

Since I have a digital camera, I don’t have to do it all on paper, either. I have one CD with pictures of projects on it.  I’ll probably go to a flash drive when it fills up, as they are easier to store, but for right now, it’s a CD.  I also have a softsided 2 compartment 3 ring binder, with a zipper around the outside that was originally intended to store fishing lures.  (It is a not too attractive olive green.)   Instead of paper pages, it has plastic zip-lock type bags, with holes on one side to keep them in the notebook.

I use  one bag for each person I knit for.  For each project, I use a 3×5 note card. I punch holes in the side of one card, and loop a sample of each yarn used in the holes.  Then I write brief notes about the project, what size needles I used, the stitch and row counts, where the pattern came from if I used one, etc.  If I have measured their feet or hands (usually by tracing on a piece of paper), I put the paper in their bag too, with a date on it, especially for children.  I have thought of writing some information about the person on a card, including birthday, sizes, etc. but I haven’t actually done that yet.  And I keep the CD with the pictures in there too, since the zipper on the outside keeps everything together.

Another option is to use the project page on  This site is great, and will probably replace the CD/flash drive.  I will still need the note cards for swatches of yarn, but the pictures can be uploaded.  I just wish I’d started sooner!

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Tiger skin chart


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Thoughts on designing Fair Isle projects


The first thing to do is decide on the general design of your project, as this will help determine the size and shape of your block. There are several ways to go about this. Starting with the easiest, some of these are:

  • Use an existing Fair Isle project pattern, match the gauge, and make your block the same size, or
  • Work out the size of your block yourself from your gauge and the size of project you’re making, again using an existing Fair Isle pattern. For example, if the garment pattern uses five repeats of a block that is 21 stitches across, you could use 3 blocks that are 35 stitches across or 7 blocks that are 15 stitches across. In each case, the total number of stitches is 105.
  • Or start from scratch and design the whole thing. This is what I prefer.


Remember that gauge AND ease in Fair Isle/stranded work will be different from work with a single strand, so you can’t just adapt any old pattern. Ease is less important if you are making a bag, or pillow cover, but for things to wear, it’s vital. Making a gauge swatch is doubly important. It’s so much faster (and less frustrating) than frogging later. Treat as you plan to treat the garment — wash it, block it, stretch it on a board if that’s what you’ll do with the garment. You may even have to practice some to get your tension correct, so your work lies flat. And while you’re doing this, you can check your color combinations, if you already have yarn.

If you will be inserting a stranded band in a project, it may work to change your needle size for the band, then back for the rest of the work. Be sure to check row gauge, once you get your stitch gauge to match, and compensate if needed.

If you already know how to design your garment, go for it. If you don’t, here are a few references that can help.

  • Knitting from the Top by Barbara G. Walker. I got this book when it first came out, and have never bought a knitting pattern since. (OK, I have bought knitting books, but just for the inspiration. I have never followed anyone else’s step by step garment pattern instructions since finding Ms. Walker’s book.) I love the fit of garments made this way, and the fact that you’re knitting in one piece. You try the garment on (on you, or on whoever it’s for) as you make it, so you can shape it perfectly to the body. (If the body in question is not handy, try to trace the outline of a similar garment that fits them well for a reference.) You don’t have to cut steeks and you don’t have to sew it together later. Bind it off and put it on. Oddly, Ms Walker does not appear to like Fair Isle knitting, preferring the mosaic style in her other books of stitch patterns, where only one strand of yarn is used at a time. Go figure.


  • Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting by Alice Starmore. She has an excellent section on tweaking patterns a little wider or narrower to fit a specific need. Also a nice selection of traditional sweaters you could adapt. She, like the remaining authors, uses steeks.


  • Traditional Fair Isle Knitting by Sheila McGregor has an astounding selection of patterns, and great information about design.


  • The Art of Fair Isle Knitting by Ann Fietelson has a great section on color, illustrated with knitted samples, that show the different effects possible. I find her statement that ‘Fair Isle garments are governed by the integrity of patterns; they must always be centered and must never be left incomplete at the sides of a sweater, the cuffs the top of the sleeves or the shoulder’ to be a bit extreme. But you knit your sweaters how you like.
  • The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns by Ann Budd can help you shape and size several different garments, and will give you a notion how much yarn you’ll need. Keep in mind though, that Fair Isle is doubled knitting, so increase your amounts proportionately. It’s much easier to increase your stash than to try to hunt up a matching dye lot. And with Fair Isle, you can use a lot of those odds and ends of yarn.
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Free mitten/sock pattern/recipe

Generic seamless mitten/sock recipe
These instructions are for a seamless, plain-vanilla, finger down/toe up tube, with a thumb/heel, and ribbing at the wrist/ankle. The idea here is to give you a method, rather than stitch by stitch instructions. These require knitting on double pointed needles, so they are not a beginner project, but they aren’t rocket science, either. Remember, we got our brains from our Grandparents, and somewhere back along the line they knew how to do this. And you can too.

It’s like learning to make gravy. Someone shows you how, you try it a couple times, and get a feel for it. It may help you to knit a miniature sock or mitten in a fine yarn first, just to see how it all goes together. You might even knit each part in a different color, so you can refer back to it when you need to. I no longer refer to any directions to knit either socks or mittens. After the first couple, you don’t need them anymore.

That’s why there are almost no measurements. It’s all about fitting the actual person you’re knitting for. Try it on frequently to check the size, if possible. If your person is not going to be handy while you’re knitting, trace their foot or hand, and measure around the thickest part to give you something to check against. For mittens, make an arrow at the wrist on your tracing. For socks, note where the top of the instep is. Or trace a pair of socks/mittens that fit them. Once you have worked out a good size for someone, trace the (washed) item onto a piece of paper, label it with their name, and store it away for future reference, along with notes on what kind of yarn you used, what size needles, and how many stitches per round. Trust me, you won’t remember this, and you’ll be really glad you wrote it all down.

Once you have mastered the recipe, you can branch out into fancy patterns on the top of the foot, or (my personal favorite) Fair Isle mittens. The recipes begin the same, and branch out when they hit the thumb or heel. And you can adapt these to the magic loop, or another technique. I have found it better to knit socks a bit long, and a little tight. They seem to wear better. Do be aware of possible shrinkage in the wash. Many fibers stretch a little as you work them, then pull back again in water.

Plain sock/mittens, by Loretta Banta

Starting out is the same for socks or mittens Comments
Use figure 8 method to cast on about an inch of stitches. For an explaination of the figure 8 cast on, see Figure 8 cast on. I use needles that are about half the diameter of the ones I’m going to use for the mitten, to minimize the extra yarn in this step. I also like to tie a slipknot on the lower needle to control the excess yarn in the cast-on. This measurement can be smaller for a child or larger for a big adult. The number of stitches will depend on your yarn selection.
Knit 2 rounds, using needles suited to your yarn gauge. You will want to add a needle to at least one side of your round, so the work is more flexible, but leave the stitches positioned as they are so you can tell where the sides begin and end. After a few rounds, you may notice your cast-on row is larger than your normal stitches. You can pull the extra yarn out toward the tail of the yarn and work the tail in at this point, while it is easy to reach.
Knit in rounds, increasing one stitch at beginning and end of each side, every other row, until mitten/sock is as wide as desired. The work will form a small pocket, which will grow into a tube with a closed end. I like to increase by knitting into the row below the one you’re working to add a stitch. This gives a nice pattern down the side of the increases, and does not leave a hole. I knit the increase at the beginning of the row into the first stitch column and the increase at the end of the row into the last stitch column.
For mittens, work even until piece reaches from fingertips down to thumb on the hand it is for. For socks work even until piece reaches the bend in the ankle for the foot it is for. I like to rib the arch in k1 p1 so that it hugs the foot better, when I remember to. When I have the increases done, I knit the stitches so they are evenly distributed on 3 needles, and knit 1 or 2 stitches extra stitches onto the working needle at each needle change to minimize “stretch marks” between the needles. I put stitch markers on the needles to show where the sides are so I can position of the thumb or heel.
Mitten instructions Comments
Decide on thumb position. Knit about 1” of stitches where you want the thumb to be onto a piece of waste yarn, then slip these stitches back to the left needle and knit them as usual. You can put the thumb where you like – it can be centered on the side of the mitten for reversible ones, or on the palm for left and right mittens. Be sure you pay attention to the second mitten! It is surprisingly easy to knit 2 lefts or 2 rights.
Work even down to wrist. Switch to ribbing and work till cuff is desired length. Bind off loosely, so the mitten can be put on easily. Work in end of yarn. You may want to do a few decreases before you start ribbing for a tighter fit. Or you can switch to smaller needles for the ribbing.
Using 2 or more needles, pick up the stitches above and below waste yarn, then remove the waste yarn. Pick up 1 or 2 stitches at ends of opening. Removing the waste yarn gives a hole for the thumb without cutting the work. A thumb that seems a little big at the base seems to wear better than a tighter one. You can decrease the diameter as you knit the thumb. I also like to knit any stitch near the ends of the hole that seen to be streched a little twice – that is, knit the stitch, slip it back and knit it again. The thumb wears better with a little more ease in it.
Knit even till thumb is about ½” shorter than desired, or to the base of the thumbnail. Begin decreasing 3-5 stitches per round till 3-4 stitches>

Even if I knit a patterned mitten, I usually knit the thumb plain. It’s hard to do much with so few stitches.
Cut the yarn, leaving a tail about 4″ long. Thread tail into yarn needle and run needle through remaining stitches, going around twice. Pull tight and weave in ends at top and base of thumb. Going around the remaining stitches twice prevents raveling.
Knit the second mitten, being sure to make a left and right mitten. If you place your thumb at the side, and don’t work a pattern on the back, the mittens are fully reversible, so you don’t have to worry about this. I generally do mittens for small children this way. They have enough to worry about.
Sock Instructions Comments
First half of the hourglass heel Knit the heel on (bottom) half of the stitches. Knit across the heel to the last stitch. *Put the yarn in front of the needle, slip the next stitch, (and the marker) put yarn in back, slip the stitch back*. Either 1) turn the work and purl across or 2) knit left-handed back to the other marker. Repeat from * to *.
^Turn again, or just knit back to the next to last stitch, and repeat from * to * (without the marker). Turn or knit left handed to the next to last stitch, repeat from * to *^ Repeat from ^to ^, knitting one less stitch each row, till you’re down to about an inch of stitches, and on a wrong side.
What you are doing is knitting fewer and fewer stitches until you get down to about half the total number of stitches you started out with, then (in the second half) knitting more and more till you’re knitting them all again. This makes a pocket for the heel.
Learning to knit lefthanded was really difficult at first, but worth it since it’s so much easier to tell what’s going on from the knit side of the work. I did it by carefully watching my hands as I worked right handed, and then reversing the motions.
Second half of the hourglass heel. Continue knitting back and forth, knitting one more stitch each row, and picking up the yarn wraps as you pass them. Continue adding stitches until you reach the markers, then begin in rounds again. Be sure to snug your stitches up as you begin in rounds again to avoid holes. When I start picking up the loops, I like to pick up one loop when I am working one direction, loop the next stitch, and pick up the second loop on the way back. This is after the first two rows, since they only have one loop.

I like to knit the heels in a variegated yarn, because it’s easier to see where to change directions. Also, if the heel wears out, it’s easier to pick it out and knit a new one, though you will have to do the (for me) dreaded Kitchner stitch. You may want to knit in a strand of reinforcing thread with your regular yarn into the heel.

Knit even in rounds up to about the ankle bone, then switch to ribbing. Knit your sock as tall as you want it, then bind off loosely, or use one of the extra stitch bind-off methods, such as knitting every other stitch again, after it’s bound off. This looks a little lacy off the leg, but smooths out when it’s on and is MUCH more comfortable. If you’re knitting knee socks, you could skip the ribbing until you’re near the top of the sock. My work tightens up when I knit Fair Isle, but changing needles to a couple sizes bigger handles this for me. You may need to add some stitches to cover the calf of the person you’re knitting for.
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Best deals in knitting, IMHO

For interchangable needles, Denise has the best. They are easy to assemble, and have only one teesy piece that is easy to loose. My only wish is that that teensy connector piece was made out of fluorescent orange, so it was easier to see if I drop it.  I got mine when they first came out.   The case is wonderful, though after 30 years, I do need a new one.

For great yarn deals, try It’s kind of an Easter egg hunt, as their stock varies over time, but the deals are tremendous! You can get a subscription for samples once a month, so you can pet the yarn, and work up a swatch, before you buy it.

For knitting tips, is the next best thing to having your granny there to teach you.

For Fair Isle design, of course I like YOFIK the best!

For knitting advice, and camraderie, Ravelry, hands down.  Unfortunately, it’s very addictive.  I may have to start putting myself on a timer, since my days just disappear!

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My Own Fair Isle Knitting

Diary of a Fair Isle Sweater

January 26, 2011. As I wait for YOFIK’s rollout I realize I can at least knit in the meantime. So I search my stash and come up with 3 4oz skeins of off white wool, to go with 2 50 gram balls of purple I got in a bag of purple yarn at the Tactile sale. The white is OLD!! The price tag says $1.19! But it’s been stored well, and shows no evidence of moths.

My vague idea is a stockinette raglan with a band of Fair Isle around the yoke, and maybe one around the waist, depending on how far the purple goes. I think I’d like to do the neck band and cuffs in purple, as it’s softer than the off white. I drag out “Knitting from the Top” (thank you for saving me from buying endless almost-right patterns, Ms Walker) and knit a swatch. In solid off white, my gauge is 4.5 st/in. I know my gauge tightens in Fair Isle, so I switch my needles to size 10 (Thank you Denise, wherever you are) and continue in a random zig zaggy Fair Isle pattern that lets me check the stranded gauge without having to think too much. It looks good so I bind off my swatch and forge ahead.

The I hastily measure the back of my neck and find it is 5” across, which gives me 22 stitches. (4.5 x5= 22.5, and I decide to round down. Rounding up would have been a better idea and having someone else measure, at the point  where I want the neckband to start would have been an even better idea. But I wanted to KNIT.) About a third of that is 7, for each sleeve. Then 4 seam stitches and 2 for the fronts gives me a grand total of 42 stitches, (22+7+7+4+2=42) which I cast on, using an invisible cast on with a piece of blue acrylic to hold the stitches. I tie the blue ends together and promptly cut it off in the wrong spot, leaving me a shorter thread than I’d like. I swear and retie the blue. At least it wasn’t the white.

I knit a purl row, then begin increasing 10 st per right side knit row- 2 at each section marker and one at each end of the row. I use the increases I used for socks, which actually uses 2 seam stitches, so I once I have enough stitches on the fronts, I use the stitch on either side of my section markers to increase. The increase sequence goes, K to the stitch in front of the stitch marker, K1 in the row below the next stitch, K1, slip the marker, K1, knit 1 in the row 2 rows down from the stitch just knit. This give me a raised row along the increases. I use the second type of increase after the first stitch of the row and the first type at the last stitch of the row to increase the fronts.

As I knit, I contemplate how the Fair Isle patterns will fit. I have a 15 stitch difference (22-7) between the back and the sleeves, so perhaps a star Pattern, centered in the front and back, and with the edge of the star in the center of the sleeves?

I knit until my hands begin to complain (I’m not doing nearly enough knitting lately!), then fire up YOFIK to look for 15 stitch wide Fair Isle Patterns. Nothing that really fires my jets. I experiment with drawing the entire front/back section, and a 23×8 Pattern, drawing a new 9×8 Pattern to go above it. Hmm Maybe. I play with that for a while, but nothing looks right, so I go to bed.

January 26 I’ve got 14 rows done, so I slip the neckline stitches off the blue acrylic onto a Denise cord, turning every other one so they all face the same direction, and add a cord to my live row, so I can spread the stitches out and see how it looks. I will want to do one more increase row, then cast on the neck and move into rounds. Also, I see my Fair Isle band will go way over my shoulder if I wait much longer to start that. So back to YOFIK to see if I can come up with an attractive Pattern.

I want to see how each attempt looks when repeated, without closing the Pattern editing screen each time, so I open another instance of YOFIK and switch back and forth between them, to see how the new Patterns look. I try out a couple knot designs, and come up with this one:

Knot Pattern for sweater

I draw Blocks the size of the front/back and the sleeve, and add the Pattern.  And discover that YOFIK makes a great row counter! I have 2 instances of YOFIK open on my laptop, so I can switch between them as I move from section to section.  I color the dark stitches of each row purple as I finish it, and the light stitches of the one I’m working on a bright green. I can see where my increases go, and how the Pattern is progressing. I knit with my computer on my lap, and I don’t even have to print the Block out! And I remember to switch to size 10 needles.  COOL!

Feb 7  I have finished the Fair Isle yoke, AND remembered to switch back to size 8 needles to continue.  Here’s how the patterned yoke looks:

March 19 I knit 7″ from the end of the Fair Isle band, and break the knitting into sleeves and body. Finally! Maybe it’s just the comparison between the sweater and the socks I knit for comic relief, but the rounds of the yoke seem endless! They get up to about 350 stitches before being split out into sections, which is about 7 times as many stitches as in a sock round. Maybe it’s not good to work on them in alternation.

I finish the second skein of white about one inch into the body. I’m getting nervous about having enough yarn. My LYS (Knit Knack in Arvada) helps me weigh the skein, and estimate the yardage. I think I’ll squeak by, but I can use Cascade winter white if the white doesn’t reach. Pictures as soon as I can get someone to take them.

June 27, 2011

The awful truth is that I don’t like how this is coming out.  I set it aside for a while to decide if I could rework it as it sits, or if I should just frog it and start over.

Here’s where I went wrong:

1) I measured my own neck, instead of getting help.  And I did it hastily, being eager to start knitting.  As a result, the neck of this sweater is much higher than I’d like it to be.  I may be able to cut the yarn and unravel the first inch or so, to get the neckline back down to where I want the neckband to start.

2)  I probably don’t have enough yarn to make even a 3/4 length sleeve sweater.  Both lots of wool are relatively ancient, so the chances of matching the dye lots are about nil.  I might add a third color, if I could figure out which one and how to make it look like I did it on purpose.


I think I’ll take the sweater over to the next Denver Knitting Guild meeting, and/or my Thursday group, for their opinions.

Wednesday,  July 7

I frogged my sweater back to about and inch and a half before the original armpit.  Looking critically at the sweater, it was droopy under the arms, as well as too big in the body and the arms.  So I took it apart back to where I went wrong, added 6 stitches to the armpit, and knitted the body and both the arms for 4 rows, then tried it on again.  Much better now!  And still plenty of ease under the arm, so I’ll still be able to move.

I also took the unusual step (for me) of measuring myself, and computing how many stitches I would need for the body just below the armpit.  Since the numbers were in general agreement, and the sweater seems to fit better, I think I’m good to go.  I think I’ll also measure my waist, and figure out how many decreases I will need to make in the remaining body.

I also found some more of what I think is the original yarn!  Amazing what you can find when you clean house!  The texture is exactly the same, though the dye lot may be slightly off.  It was already knitted into a rectangle of garter stitch, using 2 strands of yarn.  Since I plan to re-purpose this for the sleeves, this was quite handy.  I just frogged it and wound it up into 2 balls.  They each way about 25 grams, which may take me to at least 3/4 sleeves, if not 7/8.  Slightly short sleeves are better for me, as I’m less likely to drag them through the gravy.

September 6

I’ve made great progress, but haven’t written about it.  I have finished the body, including the purple band at the bottom, and have been working on the sleeves.  I will use up all the white yarn I have on them, then all the remaining purple after I put a band on the neck.  I also pulled about an inch off the neck.  I had to cut the yarn and pull one row completely out to do this.  Someday, I’ll learn to measure correctly before I go off half-cocked!


I’m using the magic loop technique to knit the sleeves, as I don’t have any size 8 DPNs (yet).  I’ll reshape the front of the neck, with a modified steek, to make it rounder, and probably trim off the excess, rather than enclose it in the neckband.  I expect to be able to wear this sweater this winter!

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