Decision: Atomic Mitts by Knitty

My very first submission to the free online magazine Knitty was in 2009 with a mock turtleneck pullover. Interesting photos are important to them, and I did a fun photo shoot at my friend Liz’s horse farm.

One of the official photos taken with Shy Ann.

A couple of outtakes with Gabriel—nibbling my hand on the left and looking innocent on the right.

Knitty rejected that sweater, but I was writing books at the time, and didn’t submit again until 2012 when I got serious about designing knitwear.

Knitty is a king maker. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that every knitter in the world reads them, and millions of us have watched several indie designers who have been published by them go full-time and big time. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said, “I have to get into Knitty.”

I’ve submitted to just about every one of their calls for submission, and have been rejected every single time. I’d like to say that I’ve never given up on being published by them, but I can’t. I would submit to three or four calls in a row, then get frustrated and skip one or two, then try again and get rejected again.

But this time?




I didn’t even know I’d gotten in until Knitty’s tech editor asked me to review my edited pattern. Apparently my acceptance email had been sitting in the editor’s Drafts folder for a month.

However it happened, I’m just grateful that it did.


To Ponder: Success is on the same road as failure. Success is just a little further down the road. |-Jack Hyles-|


Inspired by Art

Jared Flood recently posted about the inspiration for his Agnes pullover.

(c) Jared Flood

He says that this design was influenced by and named after the artist Agnes Martin, and he goes into how and why he chose the neutral color palette and how the color palette of other artists inspired the high-contrast version.

I like a little Mondrian here and there, but I’m mostly not into Modernist art because of its self-conscious aspect, which is what makes it (and people) boring. Sort of like a tire wrapped around an Angora goat that I learned about in an art survey class I took as an adult a few years ago.

Robert Rauschenburg – Monogram – 1955-1959

After rolling my eyes at that pollution, the art world was redeemed by the work of Adolf Wölfli, one of the most famous Art Brut artists, if not the most famous, in the world.

You may not like his style, but you can’t deny his genius.

He worked with colored pencils and any piece of paper he could get his digits on. Mostly newspaper because he spent much of his adult life in the Waldau Mental Asylum in Bern, Switzerland, where he died in 1930 of intestinal cancer.

Inspired and inspiring.

The detail, the color, the raw exposure. There is so much going on in his pieces.* What must his thoughts have been like?

Jared’s post reminded me that I once had an idea to design something** based on Wölfli’s art.

The idea scared me then, and it sort of scares me now, but as I was recently reminded by a friend while discussing another project: all you have to do is take the next step.

Okay, next step is to pull out my collection of Wölfli books.

I can do that.

*They remind me of another small obsession I have with Joan Steiner’s Look-a-Like books. She does a much better job than Robert Rauschenberg of using found objects to create intricate dioramas where nothing is what it appears to be. Look closely and you’ll see that sourdough bread loaves are mountains, a grenade is a pot-bellied stove, playing cards and cinnamon sticks make kitchen chairs, and a dollar bill is grandma’s apron.

Not just for kids.

I have spent many an hour marveling at her creativity, patience, and precision.

**Whatever I create, you can be sure I’ll name it something more vigorous than Agnes.

To Ponder: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. |-Rumi-|

Crochet Crush: Sophie Digard

First, let’s be clear that I am not a hooker. I am exclusively a knitter. I use two needles with points on the ends to knit and purl skeins of wool into something wearable. When I use more than one color, I don’t have a squillion ends to weave in, and nothing I make can be started at breakfast and worn at lunch.

It’s not that I don’t like to crochet, it’s that I don’t grok it. What do you do with your other hand? How can anything be made with only one loop in action? (If I’m down to one loop, I’m at the end of the bind-off row which means the thing is done.) And charts without gridlines? Sheesh.

Like Walter Sobchak dabbling in pacifism (not in ‘Nam, of course), I have dabbled in crochet. Knitting sometimes benefits from a crochet edge or reinforcement, so I’m not completely useless with a hook. I can make a chain, single crochet, double crochet, and even triple crochet, but I’ve never made anything wearable. Never really wanted to.

And then along came Sophie Digard.

A talent like hers makes you want to know everything about her so you can do what she does. Where was she born? Did she study poetry and architecture in school, because her scarves have elements of both. Was she an only child given every opportunity by indulgent parents, or did she wake up from a coma one day at the orphanage asking for a skein of yarn and a size G hook?

But she’s the J.D. Salinger of the fiber arts—a rather enigmatic French genius who doesn’t have a website or blog, or any online presence, really. I could find no interviews with her and very few details about her and her art—and this is art, not craft—except that she lives in Madagascar with her family and employs hundreds of local women to produce these masterpieces. Mostly accessories like scarves, necklaces, and purses.

A Sophie Digard scarf costs more than my monthly mortgage payment, so I figured I could learn how to crochet those little puffy flowers and make my own. (Yes, I know…but a master makes everything look easy. What writer doesn’t read The Catcher in the Rye and think they could write another one?)

My crochet vocabulary is limited, so that’s what I searched for—puffy crochet flowers. Naturally, it took forever to find instructions for them because they’re called Mollie flowers. And they’re not easy to make.

Plus, if you’re not Sophie Digard, they look like this:

I didn’t even try.

And even if I did carve out a month’s worth of time to figure them out, I couldn’t duplicate the colors. Sophie works with merino wool, linen, and velvet, using up to 60 hues in a single color palette that is hand-dyed to her specifications.

Her scarves are made from several strands of laceweight yarn held together, so creating just the right color and fiber combination is something only Sophie Digard can do. (Well, Sophie and a bunch of hookers living on an island off the coast of southeast Africa.)

Just so you’re clear about the majesty of her color sense, I believed myself to be a genius when I combined these two yarns together on a hat.

Ironheart Hat by Robin Allen - A Texas Girl Knits

“People always clap for the wrong things.”

In a future post, I’ll tell you how I came to own a Sophie Digard scarf.

To Ponder: We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself. |-Lloyd Alexander-|

Knit WIP: Inspira Cowl

Yes, I should be working on The Sweater.

Yes, I should be knitting inventory to sell at the farmer’s market.

Yes, I should be creating new designs to self-publish or submit to magazines.

Yes, I should be getting my yarn stash under control.

But all of those shoulds are boring and they would take time away from my new obsession: binge-watching CSI and knitting an Inspira Cowl.

Truly one of a kind.

I favorited this free pattern on Ravelry a while back, but didn’t have the right yarn for it. Given the size of my stash, you might think I was pulling your leg, but this pattern calls for—and needs—a gradient yarn, and I tend to favor solid colors.

I love multi-colored yarns in the skein, but I they never live up to their promise when knitted, so I just stay away from them.

And then had a serious sale on the very yarn Inspira calls for—Lion Brand Amazing—and I spent an entire morning looking at projects on Ravelry, assessing and comparing the various color combinations other knitters had used, adding skeins to my cart until I had enough to get free shipping and knit a few Inspiras.

For my first cowl, I chose the Mesa and Arcadia colorways.

They look more complementary in person.

The whole thing is staggered bands of corrugated ribbing, knitting two stitches with one color and purling two with the other. The cool thing about this cowl, and what keeps you knitting for, say, five consecutive hours on a Friday night, is watching the color changes and seeing how they work together in each band.

And you can’t judge the whole by the parts, or I would have frogged it after that rasta band showed up.

You just have to keep on knitting, which helps you deal with all the story lines they never tie up on CSI.

To Ponder: We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about. |-Charles Kingsley-|


Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > Sleeve Decisions

I’m quite picky about a lot of things in my life. I don’t like 3/4 length sleeves. I don’t wear logo t-shirts or necklaces that hang lower than my collarbone. (A squash blossom necklace—only turquoise and silver and not the needlepoint style—would be an exception, but I don’t own one yet.) I never sit on the bedspread in a hotel room. I hate getting my hands dirty. The sound of a mockingbird “singing” for hours on end makes me want to commit a felony. And yoga students who hang their head in paschimottanasana after being corrected a million chicken pluckin’ times heat my internal organs.

In knitting, I don’t like drop sleeves or ribbing knit on smaller needles than the main body to make it tight. (I never did get that in the first place. The nature of ribbing is to draw in, so why knit it on smaller needles?) I don’t like lace and I don’t knit shawls. Ribbing must naturally flow into a cabled design. I’ve already outlined how I feel about asymmetry and particular kinds of cables. And I’m a lazy knitter.

Traditional Aran sweaters crowd several of my knitting quirks. They were originally knit for men who did physical work in the outdoors and elements. Nothing should restrict or bind their arms and shoulders, so the sweaters had raglan sleeves or drop/modified drop sleeves—effectively square shapes with no fitting and lots of bulk around the resting arm.

Raglan (l) and drop (r) sleeves, along with the extra ick of diamonds, honeycombs, and abrupt ribbing.

This sweater I’m designing is not for working men, but rather fashionable women with curves. They might wear the sweater to meet a friend for coffee in the city or they might wear it to muck out horse stalls as a volunteer at a Boy Scout camp. Whatever we do, we should look like women, not hand-me-downed little sisters.

The drop-sleeve Aran sweaters also sometimes use a saddle shoulder, which is a little strip of knitting that continues up from the sleeve to the neckline to add a little bit of shaping to the shoulder.

Saddle shoulder and honeycomb cables.

To me, a saddle shoulder says “more work.” Instead of two shoulder seams to deal with, you have four, plus the extra maths of measuring, plus the drama of working the saddle strip into the neckline. Knitting and designing are already a lot of work, so I didn’t think I wanted to saddle myself with this design element.

I love raglan sleeves, and that was my default direction with this design, but I know that a lot of knitters don’t like them even a little bit, so for this sweater, I’m working on a compromise—a little bit of raglan shaping to reduce bulk at the underarm, then work straight up for a little bit of a square armhole, then a saddle shoulder. (Yes, I decided to do the work.*)

That’s the intent anyway. I’ve knit the front of the sweater to the armholes and started the raglan shaping.

Raglan shaping in a pasture of seed stitch**.

Cool cable continuation along the decrease line, yes? I had to dance a little to make it work for all sizes.

*I was forced by laziness to do the work. (An irony that has forged many parts of my life.) After knitting that far, I thought that the raglan decreases were happening too quickly and I needed to slow them down, which meant ripping and reknitting. But because I don’t want to start over, my only other option is to leave the decreases as they are and change the sleeve.

**If you think you might want to knit this sweater when the pattern is available, start falling in love with seed stitch (rice stitch for you Brits). There’s lots of it.

Sometimes a Great Novel

I just last night finished Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, a story about logging and family and never giving an inch, but with an over-arching theme about the ruthlessness of living in the past and the dangers of making assumptions (and the life-altering consequences of acting on them). “When you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind.”

I suck at book reviews, but I will say that this is in my list of top five favorite books. She also loves A Confederacy of Dunces and The Debt to Pleasure (which she judged and bought because of its cover) and reads them when she’s feeling literarily disturbed and wants to reclaim her mind and climb back into God’s pocket.

I can’t wait to forget it so I can reread it.

How is this related to knitting?

This morning, while the ending was gelling in my consciousness, I did a little browsing on the internets about the book and came across this photo of its author. As crisp and moody a black-and-white photo as ever there was. (You don’t get this depth with digital.)

Ken Kesey in a hand-knit-with-love Cowichan vest.

I have a certain obsession with Cowichan sweaters, and now I’m pretty sure I need one with dragons on it.

I’m getting closer to knitting intarsia, which doesn’t seem like such a great notion, but she could do it if she put her reclaimed mind to it.

What’s inspiring you today?

Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > The Ribbing of My Discontent

After I found the main and supporting cables I wanted for my Aran cabled sweater design, I swatched a few others individually just to be sure there wasn’t another, better, more flattering cable combination to be made. (Plus, I’m in the briar patch swatching cables.)

The few that made it.

A lot of cables were frogged after the first repeat, and some didn’t even make it that far, but I kept going with several of them. I laid each new cable on my large initial swatch, trying them out like characters in a novel, squinting and turning my head to see how they worked with the others. They were good, and I liked them (otherwise I wouldn’t have given them a full audition), but none of them worked with the story I’m trying to tell. So, I decided to proceed with my first cast.

I was quite pleased to have the main plot worked out and set to work on the beginning, which on a sweater knit from the bottom up, is the ribbing. I went searching for what others had done and was fairly surprised shocked to see that lots of Aran/fisherman/Celtic sweaters (knit in Ireland by Irish knitters) use a plain 1×1 or 2×2 ribbing. That’s like starting a story, “Once upon a time….”


Some didn’t use a ribbing at all, starting the cables right away, which is something I like.

Raw diet, raw edges.

But after considering that option, I decided I needed a ribbing, and that ribbing would have to flow into the main cables.


I swatched a few and found one I liked. Loved, actually. It was part of an all-over cable design that I singled out for stardom. It’s base was 2×2, but it had a little something special that elevated it to interesting.

Another swatch later, I discovered that my darling ribbing, as-is, could not begin the story. It flowed into some of the cables, but not all of them.

Not on my sweater.

See how the center cable up there flows out of the ribbing? But see how the outer two side cables don’t? And those outer side cables are stradling half a cable and half the 1×1 ribbing. What a mess. (That’s not my sweater with all those diamonds and horseshoes. Plus, it has sleeves, which makes it a sweater, and I’m not there yet.)

That’s how my ribbing was acting.

I was going to have to stand on my head to make this work.

After three days and many hours of researching and figuring and charting and recharting, and a few words unbecoming a lady, I started to tell myself that I couldn’t do it. What made this ribbing interesting also made it difficult. It needed special treatment around some of the other cables, but that treatment wouldn’t work with all of the other cables, and why should I keep trying anyway? If no one else, not even authentic Irish cottage knitters, cared about boring or dammed up ribbing, why should I? There’s nothing wrong with, “Once upon a time….” People like, “Once upon a time….”

But then I tried one more idea.

And we all lived happiliy ever after.

The End.

Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > The Swatching of Elimination

My clean, humorous Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop amateur sleuth mystery series.

When I was writing my Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop amateur sleuth mystery series, all three books developed from a different seed.

With the first one, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I started with Poppy’s job—a health inspector—and the fact that her family owned a restaurant, and built a story around that.

In the second, Stick a Fork In It, I had the death-themed restaurant setting in mind and let the story come out of that.

And in the third, Out of the Frying Pan, my vision was to put all of my main and recurring characters in the same place at the same time, say at Eeyore’s Birthday Party (a real Austin event), and let the plot and subplot happen from that. As it turns out, the third books takes place at a dinner at an organic farm, and some, but not all of the recurring characters are there. (Stories rarely do what you want them to do.)

All of that to say that a creative work can start from anywhere. It has taken me many years, but I’ve finally learned to trust the process and keep feeding the noodle until something starts to firm up. In the case of writing, I brainstorm and mind-map. In the case of knitting, I swatch.

In our last episode, I showed you a couple of swatches I had started with. I liked them as cables, but I knew they wouldn’t be the main character that’s front and center and would drive the story of the sweater. They could be ribbing or supporting cables, though. (Had I liked one of them enough, I would have used it as the seed and searched for a main cable that would work with it.)

I don’t like having too many choices (for anything), and with the history of knitting going back centuries and the talents of Melissa Leapman, there are a lot of cables out there, so I needed some way to narrow my options. I don’t particularly like diamonds or honeycombs, so those were out. And I didn’t want to use a plait cable for this sweater. I do love them, but they aren’t different enough for my vision of this sweater. I really dislike asymmetrical anything, so I could skip those kinds of cables, including anything described as “drunken.” And then there are the drapey horseshoe-type cables. Nope.

Nope. Nope. And nope.

You might be wondering if there are any types of cables left. Yes, bunches. Ropes and braids and XO and snakey.

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Back to the dictionaries I went, looking for something else to speak to me. I looked at side cables and main cables. I looked at all-over cables. I even looked at pieces of cables, knowing my design could spring from any of them.

When designing with multiple cables, row count is more important than stitch count, so I decided to make things easy on myself and establish the main cable, then look for cables that go with it, both row-count-wise and overall feel.

(The Harmony Guide 220 Aran Stitches and Patterns is the only stitch dictionary I’ve seen that understands row count importance, helpfully sorting the cables by number of rows. But it offers only 220 cable patterns, which isn’t a lot when you’re trying to design the world’s most awesome Aran sweater, so I had to hunt down row numbers from the charts or instructions in my other stitch dictionaries.)

I swatched one that I liked, but it didn’t seem important enough. So I found another bigger one that was similar and changed it* to include the seed-stich element I liked from the first cable, which means that this particular cable is entirely unique.

The new cable is 27 stitches wide and 48 rows high. Pretty substantial. So my selection of supporting cables is now limited to ones with a row count multiple that is evenly divisible into 48—3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 24.

I found an 8-row cable that had the same feel as the main cable (8×6=48), and a 12-row cable that used seed stich (12×4=48). Then I created a chart in Excel with the sequence I wanted to test.

Part of a chart with my design shorthand.

I cast on 67 stitches (in prettier yarn this time), and a couple of hours later, I had this.

A jolly good start.

I can already see a glitch, but I need to finish the swatch to a) better understand the design and how to fix it, and b) decide if I want to keep going with this combination of cables because it’s really hard for me to believe that I nailed so much of the design on my second swatching attempt.

*Changing a cable is not as easy as it would seem from that short statement.

Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > Swatching

Even though I have read Deborah Newton‘s many articles on design, and I own her books Designing Knitwear and Finishing School, in which she recommends not only making a swatch, but making a significant swatch that includes design elements like sleeve and neck shaping to create a silhouette, I usually start my designs without swatching.

Sometimes, if I’m trying to rework instructions for a stitch pattern from flat to in-the-round, I’ll swatch that pattern, which later becomes a hat I can sell to feed my yarn habit. But usually, I have an idea, I figure out stitch counts, then I cast on and start knitting the prototype, taking design notes as I go.

What if I did this?

Or this? (Without the ugliness, of course.)

Indulging the impulsive and impatient six-year-old knitter inside me has bitten me in the hind end a few times, forcing me to swatch in medias res, but I still mostly go from idea to needles.

I knit my designs more than once, so let’s call the prototype a big swatch, okay? But for this cabled Aran sweater, I’m going to grow up. I’m going to listen to Deborah Newton and do it right.

I gathered a few of my stitch dictionaries and started paging through them.

A portion of my knitting library.

I was anxious to get started, so I started swatching the first cable that spoke to me. (With, yes, the most boring yarn, but it was what I had at hand. Why did I have it at hand? Because I had just finished knitting the most boring prototype sweater from it.)

I like the cables in the upper right, but two cable needles are required to execute them.

This wasn’t a hardship because I love swatching cables. Stitch dictionaries are my bedtime reading, and on nice mornings, I’ll sit on my porch and knit up a cable or two that I bookmarked the night before just to see what it looks like.

Very often, I create designs around those aimless cables. A banjo cable became my Arcadia Scarf. A criss-cross cable accented my Very Blackberry Pullover, which I then used as the main event of my Irene Adler Pillow.

But this time, I’m swatching with a purpose, and I’m feeling a little pressure to choose the right ones right away (even though I know that isn’t the way my designs come about). I want a cable combination that’s familar, but different. I want my finished design to be recognizable as a traditional fisherman’s sweater, but with a unique interpretation. I want it to be so spectacular that someone at Rowan takes notice and asks me to be an in-house designer. (I would politely decline.)

And I want it to be easy for me to design.

Design WIP: Cabled Sweater > Inspiration

I’m starting a new design—an Aran-/Celtic-/fisherman-type sweater. It’s something that’s been on my knitting mind for a few years, ever since I read somewhere that designing one of these sweaters is part of The Knitting Guild Association‘s Master Knitter program. (I don’t know if that’s true because I’m not in the program, and TKGA doesn’t post the requirements on their website, but it doesn’t matter for these purposes.)

I’ve designed several heavily cabled items, but not something this complex because it’s a big, serious project that’s going to take a lot of time, and over the fall and winter, I had been trying to publish as many patterns as I could, which means small, quick items like hats and scarves. I’ve also been responding to several calls for submissions, designing small stuff for those.

But now I’m ready for total immersion in an intricate project that’s going to require every single one of my little gray cells, and probably all 11 seasons of Poirot. Twice.

Several things have inspired me.

Hop into the wayback machine, and we’ll see Alice Starmore’s book Aran Knitting, specifically her design, St. Brigid.


I haven’t knit this because I can’t afford the yarn.

We’ll also see Kim Hargreaves’ Demi from Vintage Knits.

Cables *and* twisted stitches.

Then last year, I knit Melissa Leapman’s #14 Cabled Turtleneck (Vogue Knitting Winter 2012/13).

Mine is on the left.

Then Kathy Zimmerman’s Bread Basket Pullover came out in Interweave Knits Winter 2014 in one of my favorite colors.

(c) Interweave Press

Hot pink cables.

I’ve also been working on my Stormy Cables sweater that has me making eleventy hundred cable crossings every four rounds. (Which you would think would put me off knitting any more cables, but it has done just the opposite.)

Earning my PhD in cabling without a cable needle.

And I’ve been seeing and pinning a lot of these types of sweaters on Pinterest.

Infinite cable combinations make these sweaters as unique as snowflakes.

Let the swatching begin.