Friday, February 12, 2016

When Pattern and Yarns and Needles Cooperate

I’ve knitted a scarf for my friend and hair stylist, Sharron May of Beyond Salon Holistic Lifestyles. It was an interesting knit for a few reasons.

First, I decided to knit up a pattern that I found on Ravelry: “Autumn Scarf” by Annie Lee-Baker (aka, JumperCables). I like the construction; it’s a charming asymmetrical triangular scarf knitted from one corner to a side edge. You can find this and other of her patterns on her website and her Ravelry shop.

Second, I knitted the pattern using two lace-weight yarns of distinctly different colorways. One yarn was a warm rusty muted colorway that I got years back from Chris Roosien of Briar Rose Fibers. It’s an alpaca yarn called “Angel Face”. The other yarn is a Suri alpaca yarn by Cherry Tree Hill in an unusual combination of colors called “Birches”: cream, pink-y taupe, dull yellow-green (think near winter color of goldfinches), and some blue-ish grey colors. When you put these two yarns side by side it is not obvious that they would combine so nicely – at least it wasn’t obvious to my color-dunce brain. I can’t explain my urge, but I’ve been wanting to knit them together for years. Yes, these yarns have been patiently waiting to be used in just the right project. I am very pleased with the result. For one thing, because these two yarns were hand dyed by two different fiber artists, the knitted fabric that results from holding the two yarns together shows no signs of color “pooling”.

Third, I had just the right needles for the job. I knitted several swatches, mostly to figure out what size needle I should use. I tried my Addi Turbo Lace needles first, but the largest size I’ve got is US size 2 ½ (3mm). I liked that the Lace needles weren’t too slippery and the points were nice and sharp, but the resulting fabric didn’t have the drape I was looking for. I tried a US size 3 (3.25mm) in regular Addi Turbos but the needle tip was not sharp enough. I finally settled on a set of needles by Indian Lake Artisans (a Michigan business). These needles are hexagonal, made of wood, and have nice sharp tips. I only had one size: US size 5 (3.75mm). What the heck! This was my first time using these needles and I give them a thumb’s up. I plan to get more of them.

So, the pattern, the yarns, and the needles came together to provide a wonderful knitting experience.





Tuesday, February 9, 2016

At a Glance Bags

I must share. Emily Johnston (my St. Joseph connection), her sister, and her niece are in business together. They make really really fabulous knitting project and tool bags. The bags feature some mesh, so you can see – at a glance – what is in the project bag. My favorite is the “zippered accessory” bag: it’s perfect for a pair of glasses, small scissors, a cable needle, some post-its, and some darning needles. And I love that it reminds me of a tent that you might camp in.

They use adorable fabrics too. Here’s my medium sized project bag. It’s just right for a scarf with yarn and needles.

They also make re-purposed shopping bags from hefty plastic feed bags. Too useful for words.

You can find these fabulous items on their etsy shop site:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Madison in March, Kansas City in April

I will be teaching at a couple new and new-to-me events soon. The Madison Knitters’ Guild hosts an annual Knit-In retreat in March. This year’s event is March 18-20, 2016, at the Clarion Suites at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Now, the Madison Knitters’ Guild is big. Really big. I gave a presentation for this guild a few years back, and there were over 200 knitters in the audience. Something special happens when you get that many knitters together. I’ve heard good things about their Knit-In, but I’ve never attended. I am really looking forward to my first time. This weekend event includes loads of wonderful knitting and fibery stuff. A “Pajama Party”, a “Wild and Wooly Party”, “Teacups and Knitting Needles”, 30 vendors, keynote speaker (Candace Eisner Strick) and banquet, and lots of classes. I’m teaching “The Surprising Yarn-Over” on Saturday afternoon, “Variations on Long Draw” on Sunday morning, and “The Diversity of Wool” on Sunday afternoon.


There are several fabulous instructors; if I weren’t teaching, I would certainly want to take classes. The list of luminaries includes: Candace Eisner Strick (featured teacher), Carol Anderson, Jan Falk, Mary Germain, Mary Jo Harris, Deb Jones, Kathy Krause, Jen Lucas, Jennifer Miller, Sarah Peasley, Elizabeth Prose, Theresa Schabes, Cheryl Stegert, and me, Amy Tyler. I’m so often listed last if the list is alphabetical.

There are classes in mosaic knitting, shadow knitting, double knitting, cast ons, Fair Isle knitting, cording and beading, spinning, lace knitting, entrelac, wet felting, Estonian knitting, crochet, finishing techniques, toe-up socks, Tunisian crochet, shawl design, and more. Something for every knitting taste.

In April, I’ll be flying to Kansas City, Missouri for the first PLY Away spinning retreat. This four-day event, sponsored by PLY Magazine, is April 21-24, 2016 at the Crown Center’s Westin Hotel.

The list of 27vendors makes my mouth water. I see shopping in my future. 

The retreat has an interesting format: there are four 2-day workshops, five 1-day workshops, and twenty-one half-day workshops. I’m teaching half-day workshops on Saturday and Sunday: two sessions of “Variations on Long Draw” (which are already full), and two sessions of “Variations on Short Draw” (one is full, but there’s still room in the Sunday afternoon session).

The top level instructors include Deb Robson, Beth Smith, Coleen Nimetz, Stephenie Gaustad, Jillian Moreno, Patsy Sue Zawistoski, Esther Rodgers, Amy King, Michelle Boyd, Abby Franquemont, Amy Tyler (that’s me), and Christina Pappas.

I so look forward to both events. It’s exciting to be a first-timer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lighthouse Knitters Know How to Have Fun

Most folks would hesitate to schedule car travel in Michigan in January. Not me. I am January charmed. I’ve driven to the U.P. three times in January to teach. And last weekend, I travelled to St. Joseph to teach. St. Joe is in the far southwest corner of the lower peninsula. And I’m in the far northwest corner of the lower peninsula. I drove down on Friday; the roads for the first 30 miles required slow driving, but the rest of the way was completely clear. I returned on Monday, with clear roads all the way. As I said, I’m January charmed. I’d like to add that I’m not as confident about my luck in February, March, and April, but that doesn’t stop me from scheduling trips.

I have some fans in and around St. Joe. They call themselves the Lighthouse Knitters. I was housed and pampered for the weekend at Emily J’s house. She and her husband, Andy, made me most welcome, comfortable, and well fed. The workshop was also at Emily’s house. She had cleared her living room for the activity: a perfect space with wood floors and large windows overlooking a creek. There was plenty of room for the 8 workshop participants and me.

This was a two-day workshop, Spinning Wools of North America, which features wool from sheep breeds that have evolved or been developed in North America. I like multi-day workshops because they allow for enough time to really spin, not just sample. I’d brought with me various wools and preparations. In creating this workshop, I decided to present the wools in order of how long they’ve been here: Navajo Churro, Gulf Coast Native, Tunis, Hog Island, Columbia, Romeldale/CVM, Targhee, Montadale, California Red, Polypay, and Canadian Arcott. We spun combed tops, carded rovings, and we hand carded and hand combed some washed fleece. What could be a better way to spend a weekend? Here are some of the samples I prepared; the swatches show how the different fibers felt differently (different amounts of stiffness and shrinkage). Navajo Churro shrunk the most; Gulf Coast shrunk the least.

We also discussed the elasticity – the stretchiness – of the different wools. Here I am holding up skeins of 5 of the wools, all wound onto the same size niddy noddy. From left to right: Gulf Coast, CVM, Churro, Hog Island, Columbia. The least elastic of the wools (Navajo Churro) appears to be a longer skein, while the most elastic of these 5 (Columbia and CVM) appear to be shorter skeins. But they are all the same length when held under tension.

These 8 spinners were fantastic company for the weekend. And generous too. I am overwhelmed by the gifts they gave me. Emily had a “swag bag” ready for me in the guest bedroom when I arrived. The first thing I saw was an included bag of Kilwins' peanut brittle. My favorite! (I managed to not open it until I got home, but once opened the brittle was gone in a hurry.) Emily also gifted me some lovely black combed mohair as a parting gift. (I know just the project it’s going in to.) Kallie gave me a carded batt of a blend of Tunis and Dorset wool. Christine gave me a set of single pitch Louet hand combs – perfect for de-hairing various downs.

In addition to the physical gifts were the bits of information shared among the group. Emily mentioned a nearby source of both Polypay and Suffolk wool: Shady Side Farm in Holland, Michigan. They have an etsy shop.

Kallie mentioned a source of dyed Cheviot combed top, Curly C’ewes. This vendor has a weekly Thursday night sale and is on Facebook.

I know of several good sources of Targhee combed top (Raven Ridge Fiber Arts, AbstractFiber, Mountain Colors). I can’t remember who it was that mentioned another source: Greenwood Fiberworks. I’ll have to check it out. Targhee is one of my current top 5 favorite wools.

When we did some hand carding, I shared my strategy – largely based on the technique I learned from Carol Rhoades. And then Suzy shared hers. I was delighted. It is so fun to compare techniques. And there are so many ways to card wool! Suzy is an RN (I think), and she was also able to answer some of my questions about blood donation – something I used to do on a regular basis until I had surgery for breast cancer. Thanks to the info from Suzy, I will investigate donating again.

On Sunday, Kallie brought several of her hand knitted shawls and cowls to show. It was a “Shawl-and-Tell”. They were all lovely. I was especially charmed by the shawl with cream, rusty orange, and natural beige stripes/chevrons.

Ann gave me her phone number. Why? Well! If you spend any time with me you’ll likely hear me mention my previous dogs: Taxi and Toby. Both were Dalmatians. I’m rather crazy for these spotted dogs. Ann mentioned that she knows a lady in Allegan who raises Dalmatians. Holy Cow! When I’m in a position to get a new puppy, you know who I’ll be calling…

Did I mention being well fed? We had a potluck lunch on Saturday, featuring lasagna and garlic bread. Everyone was scheduled to bring some one thing to go with. Everyone brought more than one thing. We had side dishes and snacks galore. I tried my best to be restrained. Sunday’s lunch was Chinese take-out. I had pork lo mein. And I tried dumplings for the first time. Christine ordered them to share with the group. I will most certainly have them again.

What a great weekend. I can hardly wait to visit this group again. Maybe support spindling? Maybe more on silk? I’ll have to come up with some good ideas. What fun!

One more thing. Here in Lake Ann, we have loads of snow; we are in a lake effect area. But in St. Joe, very little snow. See?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Slip Plus Lace. First Try.

Last fall I taught a knitting workshop on what I call extended and manipulated slip stitches. A few days later, one of the participants – I think it was Lynne McCormick – asked if I’d ever tried combining slip stitches with lace stitches. My response was “You’ve read my mind! I was just thinking about trying that.”

I do love texture in knitting: knit-purl combos, cables, lace, slip stitches. I’ve been over-the-top crazy for slip stitches for many years. Well over 50% of my designs involve slip stitches. So I guess it’s not too strange that I want to combine lace and slip stitches.

My first effort is a simple one. I merely used a narrow slip stitch pattern and a narrow lace pattern and alternated them, making an interesting textured ribbing. I then used this stitch in a sock pattern. I’ve knitted two pairs, and I’m on the third. It’s a nice pattern and a fun knit. (And I do plan to write up the pattern.)

Here are the instructions for knitting the stitch pattern flat:

Amy’s First Slip-Lace
Multiples of 7 sts.

Rows 1 and 3: (WS): *k1, p2, k1, p3; rep from * to end.
Row 2: *sl1wyif, k1, sl1wyif, p1, yo, ssk, p1; rep from * to end.
Row 4: *k1, sl1wyif, k1, p1, k2tog, yo, p1; rep from * to end.

(sl1wyif = slip 1 stitch with the yarn in front)

Here is the pattern charted:

Here is a swatch of the pattern (4 repeats with a garter stitch border) in one color.

Here is a swatch of the pattern in a variegated yarn.

To me, knitting patterns that require frequent and repeated manipulations – such as yarn-overs or slipping with the yarn in front – is like performing a dance pattern. I get into a rhythm and movement flow. And I love it.

Despite its brevity and simplicity, this particular combination of stitches produced a very interesting rhythm.

Notice that if you just use R1 and 3, you get a k3,p1,k2,p1 rib.

When you work ribbing like this, you are moving the yarn to the front to purl and to the back to knit. Yarn-overs and slip stitches can also require moving the yarn front or back. In the combination stitch pattern here, the movement of the yarn front or back becomes a bit unusual and I found I had to really pay attention.

Row 4 requires the most number of switches of yarn placement: knit 1, move yarn, slip 1, move yarn, knit 1, move yarn, purl 1, move yarn, k2tog, move yarn, move yarn again, purl 1. So, there are 7 yarn moves (8, if you are repeating the pattern).

Row 2 requires fewer switches: slip 1, move yarn, knit one, move yarn, slip 1, purl 1, yo, ssk, pl1. Only 2 yarn moves. Yet, I found Row 2 to be considerably more mentally challenging than Row 4. I’m on my third pair of socks (and I’ve knitted the two swatches), and I still have to pause once in a while to avoid mistakes. I think it’s funny that the row with fewer movements is harder.

I plan to continue playing with – and being surprised by – lace and slip stitch combinations.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dog Time

I’m now living on Dog Standard Time. For the past few years, I’ve been doing an extended dog sitting during the winter for my friends Dick and Jill while they warm up in Guatemala. They dropped off Mari (the dog) at my place on Tuesday. Mari will be with me until early April.

Mari is now 11 years old, a big winter-worthy mix maybe of Malamute or Husky with some Collie or German Shepherd. I love her wolfy face.

Since I don’t have a fenced-in yard, Dick put up a line in the front yard so I can put Mari outside. She likes it outside. The colder, the better. She naps in the snow. And we have a lot of snow right now. Well, it is winter.

Mari gets some movement on the line, but not much. So I need to walk her a couple times a day. In other words, Mari requires that I adjust my daily routine. First thing in the morning I take her for a walk. Sounds simple, but winter here requires significant logistical planning and action. It’s surprising how long it takes to put on long underwear, sweats, scarf, hat, mittens, socks, boots, yaktrax. And don’t forget a couple of plastic bags for poop patrol, and a hankie for the snot that starts to flow after about 10 minutes outside. All this before I even have my cup of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. I am delighted to have Mari around. She’s pretty well behaved both on and off the leash. It’s very good for me to get outside more often. I do love snow and winter. I can certainly use the extra exercise I get from our walks. Three walks a day. I like the walks, but I’m already getting bored with the necessary donning and doffing of winter clothing.

Mari has a massive coat, and she leaves bits of it everywhere. She also leaves bits of snow everywhere (she does not like to have her feet cleaned).This requires more logistical planning. The living room has wood flooring, so I need to put towels everywhere to capture snow and Mari fur. I need to wash the towels and I need to brush her.

So, my routine is currently dog-centered. That’s a good thing. I am happy to make time for Mari. I still get my fiber stuff done. So what if I don’t clean the house as often…

Monday, January 18, 2016

Change of February Plans

I was going to make this blog post about the workshops I’m teaching in February. Change of plans.

Last fall, the Michigan Fiber Festival started a year-round fiber arts education program  so that workshops could be offered at their new headquarters in Nashville, Michigan. I was very excited that they wanted me to teach both spinning and knitting workshops over several days in February.

I found out earlier today that those workshops have been cancelled due to lack of enrollment. Bummer. Now I need to rethink my February. I had rather counted on the income from teaching those workshops. I will have to tighten an already tight belt for this winter.

What can I do to make some February income sufficient for rent, groceries, gas, and bills? Well, if you know of a group that would like to take any of my workshops, I’d be happy to oblige. Even in winter weather, I’m willing to drive to a venue to teach. I’d also be happy to have a small group of folks over to my house in Lake Ann, Michigan for a workshop. You can find descriptions of my workshops on my website. Or, if you have a spinning or knitting topic that you’d like me to cover, let me know. Contact me at

Cold, snowy days in February might just be perfect for me to get some long ignored knitting pattern writing done. I’ve got a shawl pattern, an afghan pattern, and four (four!) sock patterns that I’ve worked out, but I just need to get good photos and write up those pesky patterns.

Then I’ll be able to add those patterns to the 15 patterns I already have for sale on Ravelry.