Set Up your SSK’s


About halfway through my Reyna shawl I had an idea. Reyna by Noora Backlund (a free shawl pattern) uses knit two together (k2tog) and the opposite facing decrease (ssk) to create the lace sections.

The slow and jerky nature of slipping stitches to create the correctly leaning decrease started to annoy me. So I found a way to orient my stitches on the needles so they were already set up to ssk and k2tog without having to do any extra slips. This is a free pattern – so I’m not going to be very discreet with the pattern details. However I won’t be regurgitating the pattern in this post, so check out that pattern!

The lace sections in the Reyna shawl are simple – right of the marker is a yarn over + k2tog classic lace combo. Left of the marker is it’s counterpoint: the y/o + ssk. The trouble is, after the speed of the k2tog, the slipping portion of the ssk feels jerky and awful. But there’s a faster way.

The trick is in the purling. On the wrong side rows, I used two different purl methods to change the directions of my stitches. On the side that is going to be the ssk section (wrong side of the shawl, right side of the marker) I used the combination purl stitch. Combination purling orients your purl stitch so the first leg of the stitch is behind the needle and the second leg is in front of the needle. Basically, it’s backwards. Then, after the marker, in the section that is going to be k2tog, I purled in my normal continental style.

Here’s the break down:

Right side: k2tog on left side of marker. Ssk on right side of marker

Wrong side: combination purl, marker, continental purl.

Just for added clarity – I made some videos! (It’s my first knitting and video experiment okay so it’s going to be bad.)

This is how I combination purl:

And this is my awkward continental purl:

So when it’s time for the right side, this is what my k2tog + y/o looks like

And here is my ssk + yo, all set up with no need to slip any stitches.

That’s my trick to setting up my ssk!

I have a secret. That combination purling method? I do that all the time. I confess that I’m a combination knitter. So for this shawl, I actually figured it out the other way around – I had to remember my awkward way to continental purl to properly set up my k2tog stitches.

One of the reasons I’m a combination knitter is because my purling was so awkward and started to hurt my fingers and wrists! So I found another way. A quick google search for continental knitting hand pain brought me to handful of links about arthritic knitters and easier methods on the joints. After switching to the combination method – my joint pain has significantly reduced and I can knit for longer sittings. I’m a full on combination knitting convert.

There are more informed videos out there about combination knitting (I learned from this video). If you’re interested, I recommend checking them out!


Thrifting Tips and Tricks: Sweaters

It’s no secret, the majority of my materials come from thrifted items. The low prices and wide variety of materials make it possible for me to stock my obsessive craft hobby on a tight budget. I’ve spent a lot of time at thrift stores searching for sweaters: so here are my favorite tips and tricks for how to find quality thrifted sweaters.

  1. Season Matters (mostly). I’ve noticed that more thrift stores I encounter rotate clothes on a seasonal basis. Especially larger chain stores, like Goodwill and St Vincent de Paul, seem to only stock seasonally relevant clothes. I rarely find quality sweaters during the summer months. So I stick to cooler weather months for my sweater thrifting. However, I have found that smaller towns or locally owned thrift stores rarely have the staff to be selective about seasonal clothing – so if you are on the hunt for sweaters in the summertime, I recommend searching in a smaller/locally owned shop.
  2. Check the Tags. Very obvious tip, but checking tags for fiber content is the best way to determine if a sweater is worth it. I try to avoid those acrylic sweaters, but sometimes I’m desperate for a specific color so I’ll compromise by purchasing a fiber with some acrylic or nylon content. While that 100% wool sweater might be the prize find, don’t discount other natural fibers or blends. Some of my favorite projects are made from thrifted cotton and finding a silk or silk blend yarn always feels like finding a secret treasure. I like to keep track of the brands I find with quality materials. That way, if I’m drawn to a sweater and notice the brand is one I’ve unravelled before, its likely to be another quality sweater. This also goes the other way, I keep track of the brands whose sweaters are almost always acrylic and avoid them like the plague. Some of my most unravelled brands are LOFT (and Ann Taylor), J. Jill, and J Crew. I also jump on any Eileen Fisher sweater I can find. The one’s I avoid are typical fast fashion brands like Forever21, H&M, and Old Navy (unless I really want cotton).
  3. Explore your area. You might find that the thrift store closest to home rarely carries quality sweaters, so branch out – check out some shops in different areas. Check the next town over, the suburbs, the city center, the outskirts of town. If I’m on the hunt for a specific project, I like to devote a weekend morning or afternoon to my quest and hit up the various thrift stores in a certain area of the city. If you do take this approach I recommend bringing snacks – it can be a big day. It might be a good idea to keep a running list of shops that tend to carry quality sweaters. Keep a list on your phone or in a notebook, that way if you’re in need for a good sweater and don’t have hours of time, your list can guide you.
  4. Stick to your budget. While I’ve had the occasional failed thrift store run, more often than not I can find numerous sweaters with fibers that would love to knit with. But, even thrift stores sweaters can add up in price and could quickly get out of control. Before you even leave your house, acknowledge what you can spend on materials that day. Setting those limits will prevent you from experiencing sweater regret.

I hope these tips help you on your thrifted sweater adventures. Let me know if you have any favorite tips and tricks when you search for thrifted sweaters in the comments below. And thanks to Mia for suggesting this topic as a blog post. I hope this helps, Mia!

Happy Thrifting!

Craft Culture: My Top Five Crafty Podcasts

The audio podcast was an essential part component to my full immersion into craft culture. Listening periodically to devoted makers describe their crafting journeys has tuned me into my own perspective on craft. These podcasts continue the tradition of oral education in traditional crafts. I imagine that, at one time, discussing projects, techniques, patterns, and materials was something done by makers who lived close to each other; family members, close friends, and neighbors. Now, as a general knowledge of needlecrafts has disappeared from collective culture, finding these important places of communication requires a little extra effort. Enter: the podcast – today’s version of folk knowledge.

Here are my top five

  1. Love to Sew. Helen and Caroline are my two favorite hosts of any podcast. They make me giggle out loud in elevators, nod along in the hallway, and dream up sewing projects after every episode. I have learned valuable skills and tricks from these two and the wonderful folks they interview. Also, the theme song is brilliant. My favorite episode so far is this one. Overall theme of this podcast: you can make anything.
  2. Mrs. M’s Curiousity Cabinet. Everything about this podcast is my style. From Meg’s attention to the ecological implications of making to her soothing presentation of her making journey – this podcast inspires me to keep asking questions about my habits and materials. Her research oriented approach to knitting and sewing really satisfies my academic side, but I think even non-research folks will love this podcast. Each episode is packed with information and inspiration. Meg even answered a question I posed to her in a comment on instagram (in this episode)!
  3. Making (formerly Woolful). This is a hugely popular podcast, and the first proper knitting podcast I ever listened to back in 2014. It’s new iteration – combining Ashley Yousling’s Woolful with Carrie Hoge’s Making Zine (one of my favorite designers and publications) is pure magic. The story telling and interviewing in this podcast is beautiful.
  4. Curious Handmade. I’m really late to the game on this one. Helen Stewart is a veteran in the knitting podcast genre, but I didn’t start listening to her until last November… I now realize what I was missing. Helen has this ability to describe knitting projects and patterns with words that renders the need for images useless. This podcast really inspires me to dream up perfect projects that fit into my life, while moving slow enough to make space for realistic expectations with our crafty time.
  5. Live from Here with Christ Thile. Okay this isn’t a podcast, its a radio show. It’s also not about crafts, its about music, laughter, and pure radio magic. I had to include it because I love this show and knit to it all the time. Prairie Home Companion was one of my favorite things while growing up in Minnesota – though not without serious issues (like obvious sexism). Chris Thile has transported this show into the 21st century with modern artists, storytelling, and content. Every one of my favorite musicians has been on this show in the last two years including Brandy Carlile, Abigail Washburn, and just this whole episode with Marcus Mumford, Corrine Bailey Rae, Trevor Noah, and Gabby Moreno…). I love to listen to this show while eating wild rice soup and staring at my Dala Horses and dreaming about cross country skiing.

Reclaiming Femininity: how I respond when people call me a 1950’s housewife

Pictured here (clockwise from top left): my bento bag (from making no. 4), a candle made by my friend Brie, my great aunt Joan’s thimble and sewing scissors, a necklace made by my friend Carly, my basic fingerless mitts, a pink skein of Manos del Urugray, and my Flora Mittens.

Domestic. Feminine. Girly. 1950’s Housewife. All “compliments” that require a huge amount of interpretation on my part to be received well. When I first picked up knitting I had no idea about its history or its current cultural connotations as a woman’s activity. As I began to knit around my family and friends, I heard comments using the adjectives above with greater frequency. Being called domestic or feminine felt more like an insult than a compliment. It has taken a lot of thought to reach the point where I say thank you when someone compares me to a 1950’s housewife rather than slam the door in their face.

If I’m being honest with myself, I am feminine. Identifying as feminine is difficult to do considering my strong identity as a tomboy and my rejection of anything girly as a child. This rejection was still present when I picked up knitting in 2011, completely unaware of its feminine connotations. I was also completely unaware how this new hobby would reveal years of internalized sexism. As I became more and more of a “knitter” I wrestled with what it meant for me to be feminine and my deeply held negativity about femininity.

Let’s return to my identity as a tom boy. This identity had a very clear origin: sometime in elementary school I chose to embrace all things “boyish” and reject anything “girly.” Previous to this point I was a huge fan of the characteristic girly stuff: dresses, pink, dancing, dolls, etc. I chose to push aside those interests and take on totally new interests like football, the color orange, and cargo pants. Now I find it absolutely hilarious that to my eight-year-old brain cargo pants and orange were the most boyish things I could imagine.

One of the reasons I rejected femininity as a child was because, in my community, feminine things were characterized as boring, frivolous, and limiting. If I was girly, I couldn’t enjoy playing outside or being loud and rambunctious – which I desperately wanted to do at all hours. Somehow I made the all-or-nothing calculation that if I were to be strong, athletic, and loud, I couldn’t be feminine. I identified with these traits that could be traditionally labeled masculine and gave up my feminine traits. While I am glad I embraced those parts of me that were loud and strong, I can identify that for most of my childhood I did not feel like I could be myself. My decision to reject the feminine had been detrimental to my sense of identity.

After years of schooling and some very helpful academic courses on feminism and theology, I realized that qualities labeled masculine and feminine could, in fact, be embodied in one individual. These traits that are labeled feminine or masculine aren’t actually inherently gendered. The color orange does not, at its core, belong more to men or women. The ability to follow a recipe for cupcakes does not inherently belong more to women than men. Gendered traits are formed by communities and cultures. I realized that in my community, those traditional feminine qualities get quite a bad reputation. Even though I was raised in the era of “girl power,” girly things weren’t considered powerful and girls could only feel powerful if they rejected femininity.

Because I believed words like domestic and feminine to be boring, I had a hard time imagining why someone would tell me, to my face, that I was so domestic or I reminded them of a 1950’s housewife. In my mind these phrases were akin to calling me boring, frivolous, or antiquated. However, now I understand that my association of femininity with frivolity was internalized sexism and revealed how my community valued (read: did not value) traditional feminine traits, qualities, and activities. After coming to terms with my community’s belittlement of the feminine, I began to explore the values of traditional femininity. I rediscovered my love of dresses, embraced my appreciation for the color pink, and owned my skills in baking, knitting, and sewing. Rather than hide my love for these things, I embrace these activities as equally valuable to my skills in more male dominated spheres like rock climbing, technology support, and building/fixing things.

My obsession with knitting, and perhaps my initial ignorance of its gendered history, was the spark that began my reunion with femininity. Now that I no longer view feminine qualities and activities as boring, I feel more connected to the strong, creative, and feminine women who have preceded me. Women like my great aunt Joan who was a master weaver, natural dyer, and spinner and my great grandmothers Eleanor and Mary Belle who could knit lace weight garments with their eyes closed. These women were previously just names on my family tree before I took up knitting. For them, traditional women’s crafts weren’t limiting, but provided necessities and freedom in the form of economic independence. When I think about them, being called a 1950’s housewife seems a bit more bad-ass than it did before.

Frogging, Tinking, and other ways of un-knitting


My favorite of the knitting lingo has to be the various ways we describe undoing our knitting. Different terms describe specific aspects or feelings about the undoing process.

Frogging: Most often, frogging refers to the phenomenon of completely undoing all of your knitting. The entire project is returned to yarn ball form. Usually this involves frustration, a massive mistake, or a lackluster project. There are some fantastic reasons to frog a project (like my portage cardigan), but if and when to frog is completely up to the knitter. I’ve noticed that most knitters I meet consider frogging an incredibly painful process, and sometimes it can be. However, I think frogging can be the most liberating part of knitting. When I teach beginner knitters how to do the knit stitch, I build in a bit of frogging in our first class. After newbie knitters have knit about seven rows of garter stitch (remember how hard that was??) I ask them to rip out all their knitting so they can learn to cast on. I’m often met with moans and groans, “but we just did all this work! how will I manage to do this again?” I always try to assure my new knitting friends that frogging isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s sad to see hours of knitting disappear in a matter of minutes, but I would rather have usable yarn freed from a hideous project. And if we’re really looking on the bright side, this means I get to do more knitting! Synonyms: rip back, rip out.

Rip Back: this is also a synonym to frogging, but can also refer to undoing only a portion of one’s knitting. For example, I had to rip back a hat to the ribbed edging because I used the wrong needle size for the body of the hat. Some people might also refer to this as frog back.

Tinking: (literally knit backwards). Tinking is the process of undoing only a small number or stitches when compared to frogging. It can be a partial row, or maybe even two or three rows.

Cutting you knitting: This might be the most drastic measure on this list. For example, If I had knit the back portion of a  sweater, only to realize that I accidentally used the wrong needle size for the rib edge section, I could rip back the entire portion of the sweater, or I could make a small incision into one stitch above the ribbing, unravel that row, pick up the stitches from the body and knit the ribbing again in the correct needle size. The Fruity Knitting Podcast has a great tutorial on cutting and grafting your knitting. I often cut into my knitting if there’s a particularly tricky bind off that won’t budge, is too tight, or refuses to unravel.

It’s clear to see that each term describes different reasons one would undo knitting. We could view these moments as tragic, or we could embrace them as part of the making journey. I view these moments as an exercise in humility and as a reminder to slow down. I have never been forced to knit. Knitting is a hobby, a time for leisure and relaxation, also necessary for my soul (so I might even call it a spiritual exercise). I can take the time to undo knitting. And it might even make me a better person.

Craft Culture: Process vs Product Knitting


Knitting culture is definitely a thing (I always find myself saying this while some guy laughs at me…) I will admit that I use knitting lingo in my everyday life – like every time I have to start something from the beginning I call it frogging, it’s just a perfect term! My personal favorite is swapping worst for worsted (that’s the worsted!) I have no control over the yarn love that just spills out everywhere.  If you’re a non-knitter, a new knitter, or have been confused by knitting lingo, I’m here to help.

Within craft culture, we crafty folks like to be able to identify ourselves and our approaches to projects. One way to do this is by calling yourself a process or product knitter.

What is product/process knitting?

It’s quite simple. Knitters identify themselves in one of these camps to describe how they approach the projects they’re currently working on. If a knitter says they are a product knitter they are most interested in the physical end product of their time spent knitting. They choose projects because they want or need that finished object. This will inform how they choose the pattern or the yarn, especially the color. In this camp, knitting is all about creating an object that will be loved and well used. A good example of this is a cardigan that will fill a spot in your wardrobe or a hat that is destined to be a gift. These products drive your knitting goals.

The intensity of the Circlet Shrug in all her cabled glory – total product knit

The process knitter is most interested in the actual process of knitting. The physical stitches and the movement of the hands informs her choice of pattern, yarn, and color. One example might be someone who constantly has a sock on the needles while he commutes to work, the product might be nice, but the most important thing is the knitting that keeps one occupied during an otherwise boring block of time.

A relatively calm and mindless sock on the needles – all about the process

Of course, because we humans are complex creatures, the process/product divide is more like a continuum. You can fall anywhere along this line between the two extremes. I don’t know if I have ever met a knitter only interested in the product who hated the process or vice versa.  I, myself, have experienced both sides of this scale with individual projects. Sometimes, a project gets intense (my Circlet Shrug…) or boring (miles of the same stitch in my mountain gods vest). When things get boring or crazy and I keep knitting, I identify as a product knitter. I need that finished object! But, sometimes I just need something to do with my hands in front of the tv, on the couch, or in a lecture; these are my process knits. The movement of my hands and the feel of the yarn work their magic on my psyche and I’m no longer at risk of death by boredom.

I find both descriptions to be extremely helpful in planning my projects and knitting time. Knowing when I want a process knit or a product knit is especially important if I’m concerned about using my materials responsibly. I don’t want to buy hundreds of skeins of a type of yarn I find unpleasant or commit to knitting everyone hats for Christmas if I hate knitting hats. It can also save me from hating a project. The “I just have to get this off the needles” feeling might subside for a while if I pick up a project on the opposite side of the continuum. I just did this recently, my Circlet Shrug with her high stakes 20 row cable chart was starting to drain my inspiration, so I cast on an easy sock pattern just to keep my fingers moving and my mind at ease (also to practice a little english style knitting).

Sometimes, product or process knitting can refer to learning an new skill. I might be process knitting if I am learning a new method of holding the yarn. I recently branched into english style knitting to improve my colorwork game and decided the best way to practice was on a low stakes project like my simple socks (see above). In this way, identifying something as a process knit takes any pressure off perfection and allows the knitter to familiarize herself with the technique. In this same vein, product knitting might be oriented toward mastering a skill or executing it perfectly. However, I find that this conception of process/product is less common among knitters.

While I don’t know any stark process or product knitters, the distinction is still a helpful one. It helps us identify our feelings toward our craft and a specific project, it can help us pin point what we didn’t like about a certain object-was it the feel of the yarn or the impossible to memorize lace pattern- and it can help us decide what kind of project we need to cast on next. Wherever you fall slog the process/product continuum, I think he most important thing is that we, as makers, can identify what we love and do more of that! So if you love your finished object, keep doing it! And if you love knitting squares – okay they’re technically called swatches – keep doing it! All this process/product lingo only helps us get there.

Happy making!