• The Magpie Knitter…

    ...trying to get from "Oooooh, shiny!" to a design.
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  • Jen Johnson began knitting in 2007 while pregnant with her daughter and does most of her knitting for her daughter and son. When she couldn’t find the patterns she wanted, she added designer to her job titles of Navy wife and mother. Jen loves the inspiration she gets from all the beautiful yarns available, as long as she doesn’t get distracted by—ooh, shiny!
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Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur

shawl design

When the email came out from Fibre Space a few months ago with the list of upcoming classes, “Shawl Design with Kirsten Kapur” was the first one my eye lit on. I love shawls. You wouldn’t know it, looking at my project page–sadly devoid of any shawls, although I have knit a shawlette–Mary-Heather Cogar’s Simple Things. I love the pattern (obviously, since I’ve knit not just one, but two of them), but part of what I love about it is that it’s great for showcasing colorful hand-dyed yarns that would obscure intricate lace patterns. So my lace shawl experience is non-existent…

…which would probably make the idea of me taking a shawl design class sort of silly, but I’ve never let a little thing like inexperience stop me. Now that I know about shawlettes (I think part of the reason I’ve never knit a shawl is because of the size and time; I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I knit children’s items because they’re smaller and quicker), I can see me knitting more, and I’d love to be able to design my own. More than that, I knew I should jump at the chance to expand my design knowledge, even if I never design a shawl pattern to share.

So I signed up right away, thinking there was a good chance the class would fill up quickly…and looking around the room as the class got started today, it looked like it was sold out. I’m sure as much as the class itself, the teacher was a draw. I didn’t recognize the name Kirsten Kapur at first, but she’s the designer behind the great designs at Through The Loops. Her Pembroke Vest in the inaugural issue of Petite Purls is on my to-do list for every male in my family under the age of 8. And this was personally exciting for me because I’ve never taken a class from a well-known designer before.

The shawl design class was a 4-hour class, and I have to say I was surprised when people started cleaning up their gear that 4 hours had already passed…at the same time couldn’t believe that I’d learned so much in just 4 hours. As I told Steve, I left both confident that I could design a lace shawl with multiple stitch patterns and in even more awe of people who do design those intricate patterns. I knew intellectually that a lot of work would have to go into those designs, but now I know that from a bit of experience as well.

Really, the whole experience was wonderful. Kirsten is an awesome teacher: friendly, personable, fun, and very confident in her subject matter. I was really impressed by how she managed to juggle a class full of people with a wide variety of experience; she easily bounced from students having trouble with charting their initial stitch pattern to others who were asking about altering stitch patterns, to others still asking for advice on designs they’d started putting together before the class. And I enjoyed working and chatting with my fellow students, who all seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was.

At the end of the 4 hours, I left with the beginnings of a shawl design. It’s nothing intricate or terribly special, but I’m quite proud of it. I learned how to pick out lace patterns–both an initial pattern and then other patterns to coordinate with it, and I learned some tricks on how to modify lace patterns and fit them in. I think my resulting design is going to be cute. Now all I need to do is find the time to finish it…but I’m going to finish it and knit it!

6 hours of sock knitting…

…and this is what I have to show for it:

Steve's First Socks

Three rounds.

The night got off to a slow start, admittedly. These socks are for my husband Steve. Once upon a time, that husband had grudgingly said I could knit him socks if I really wanted to…but they had to be black, brown, or gray. Then, I bought him a pair of alpaca socks (machine made) at Rhinebeck…and that same husband bought me a skein of alpaca-blend yarn in deep green and purple as a Christmas present to knit him socks.  Unfortunately, I was pretty sure that 360 yds weren’t going to be enough to knit a decent-sized pair of socks for my husband’s big man-feet.

The 6 hrs of knitting took place at fibre space, an LYS in Alexandria, VA. It was a Sock In Lock In, complete with Indiana Jones movie marathon. So I took the yarn Steve bought with me and showed it to the ladies at fibre space to ask their opinion–and they confirmed mine. No big deal–I bought some new yarn (Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine) in a deep blue with purple flecks. Not as colorful, but I thought Steve would like it. Problem was, I now had to swatch my new yarn, and swatching in the round takes time. Not as long this time–it was pretty clear pretty quickly that the needles I’d brought for the old yarn weren’t going to work for the new, and they were the only needles I’d brought. Good thing I was at a yarn store, huh?

So I swatched again with my brand new needles, figured out my gauge, and used that to calculate the number of stitches I was eventually going to need:  84. Then I pulled out my handy copy of Wendy Johnson’s Socks From the Toe Up and began my first attempt at Judy’s Magic Cast On. Just looking at the pictures gave me the sense that this was a very difficult and involved cast on, but once I just let myself do exactly what the instructions said, I realized how easy it was. The only problem was that the book didn’t give me a good sense of how many stitches to start with. It suggested 16 sts, but I had a gauge of 10 sts/inch, and that seemed awfully small to me.  I didn’t want that pointy of a toe, so I decided on 20, 10 on each needle. I cast on, knit several rounds…and decided it was still going to be too pointy. Riiiiiiiip.

Sock 1, Jen 0.

This time I cast on twice as many stitches: 40, 20 per needle. The cast on went even faster, and I began knitting away merrily. There were a few problems as I went–I had some holes along the sides where I was increasing, and I didn’t know why, for one; at one point I ended up with an extra stitch on one needle somehow, for another–but I wasn’t going to sweat it too much since it’s my first pair of socks. It was when I found that extra stitch that I knew I was almost done with the increases…but the toe seemed really shallow. I pulled the book back over to me and reread the last part of the cast on instructions.

The increases were supposed to be on every other row. I’d missed that part. Riiiiiiiip.

Sock 2, Jen 0.

I could have whipped through the cast on my 3rd try, if it weren’t for the fact that my left hand was beginning to cramp. (Have I mentioned I’m a tight knitter?). But I got it done, and managed to get 3 full rounds knit–only increasing on every other round this time–by the time Indy and his dad finished their last crusade.

At this rate, Steve will be getting these socks some time in 2012.