Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Designer Notes’ Category

The Shetland Adventure – and some Fairisle Nerd Stuff

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Here’s a nice write up by Muddy Stilettos about the tour I am heading up this summer.

The designs for this are at the prototype phase – in my head and my note book.  I know I am going to design a throw that can be steeked – indeed, it must be steeked or remain a tube for ever.   I think this will possibly have a miniaturised version – a tubular scarf.  This is dependent on the design for the Fairisle chart.

For example, this design would be perfect for throws, scarves or cowls:

But this one (still a WIP), not so much for scarves, though it would be very possible with an off-set addition, as it is motif based:

None of the above will be the new Shetland designs, but as an added bonus, you can choose any of my other Fairisle designs as a gift-pattern, including my all-time favourite (so far) the Bee Designs:

One of the many things we will be teaching on this tour is the importance of the top or dominant yarn when knitting Fairisle.  Because we will also be teaching you how to carry yarns in both hands, you will be able then to choose which yarn – say A or B, or the background and the motif shades – you prefer to ‘dominate’ the pattern you are creating.  I think this is fascinating stuff, but then I am HRH, The Queen of Nerd, as you will find to your delight on Shetland.  You see, if you carry A in your right hand and B in your left, and A is your motif, it will sort of stand out more.  This is more of an issue if you are knitting with closely matched shades.  This difference in appearance is about how the wrong side stranding lies.  All will be revealed on Shetland.

There will also be another version of the same basic design that will not be steeked and the problem is I keep changing my mind about whether this will be a hat – possibly a tam; or mitts; or a cowl.  Nice dilemma though.  I do want one to be fairly small so it might be finished while we are away!

But the main thing I want is to pass on my absolute passion for this style of knitting.  I know my Fairisle is not super traditional, but that’s why I love it so much – this ancient knitting craft is so adaptable to both traditional and modern designs.  I am sure you will love it too. And if you already do, you will love it more.

The flight info for this tour has now been added to the ECT Travel website.  I would really love to share this adventure with you!


‘Ice Boa’ from Elements

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

I wanted to show you this:


It is Ice Boa from Elements.  Jane, who has knitted two of these now, edged the cast-on side with velvet fabric/ribbon which I think is really lovely and would also have the added bonus of making sure the boa never gets any longer!  I think I will *borrow* that idea.

By the way, I have knitted this is in chunky yarn other than Rowan Cocoon; I love it in luxury Juniper Moon Farms silk/wool chunky but any chunky wool will knit to tension.  Another thing:  you can knit this in DK or Aran weight wool and use the appropriate needle.  Then, I add a few repeats to make it long enough.  It is a very fast knit and need not be at all expensive.  Great gift, really. When making one in DK, I would also add a few row repeats to give it enough depth.  The Boa is knitted flat, on one long fixed cable needle.  It does end up with *a lot* of stitches, but on the other hand it is only a few rows deep. Highly memorable pattern too after the first two or three repeats.

You can buy Elements here.




Swatchety Swatch

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

I recently read this.  It is about swatching.

I know many knitters really hate swatching.  What I don’t really know is why.   It’s true that taking a bit of time to make a little sample is time you could have spent making The Real Thing.  But if The Real Thing will be too big or too small, or too complex, or too simple – what is the point of swatch-dodging?

So in that blog post, with which I heartily agree, you will learn about why swatching for tension is a good idea – and how it can vary.  In my world, where I design a lot of things, the swatching is all that and also a crucial part of the design process.  It not only gives me data that I will need for The Real Thing, it also tells me how much I am going to like knitting it. And/or how much I think you may like knitting it.

Many many of my swatches never get made into grown-up knits.  This may be because of several things, such as:  I can’t really do it/make it work; I can do it/make it work, but it is ugly; I thought I’d like it when I designed it in my head and then wrote it down or drew it – but it turns out I really do not like it; my calculations reveal The Real Thing will consume eleventy nine skeins of yarn and about a year of my/your life and you will hate me. That kind of thing.  These hapless swatches get filed in the ‘hopeless’ file.

I was once called, to my face, a ‘weirdo’ for not only swatching but saying (truthfully) that I like swatching.  To be fair, I am a weirdo, but not because of the swatching.  You know me, kind of, and the weirdness is fine and mainly not the dangerous sort.  But I really did get all huffy about that. Because swatching, whilst it may not be for everyone, is essential.  Someone has to do it.

And sometimes, that someone is you.  Why?  Because swatching is also an invaluable teaching aid.  I may design an item, let’s go with a Fairisle cowl, knitted in the round, and this item may form the basis of a workshop.  To make the design really work, I had to begin that cowl with a fairly long and dull stretch of rib.  One-by-one twisted rib which no-one needs a workshop for.  So I thought:  if I just rock up with a pattern and they all go right ahead and make the item with no practice, no-one will be further than line 2 of the chart by tea-time – the entire day will be spent knitting rib.  So I did two things:  1)  I designed a small swatch so that the pattern which was beaded Fairisle, could be knitted as a little practice; and 2) because I knew that almost no-one would be keen on that, I sent out the pattern up to the point where the rib ended so that anyone who was a swatch-dodger could prit* that part and then dive right into the main charted bits.

*prit: to pre-knit something before a workshop for the sole purpose of avoiding swatching.  I have that term copyrighted, OK?

I don’t mind doing that.  If it makes you happy.  In fact for my Smoke and Mirrors Felted Bag, I designed the inner pockets as swatches – stealth swatching.  Totes worked.

But given that hand knitting, which we all love, is by its very nature a steady, rhythmic and repetitive process that takes time, I really do not understand the reckless – yes, indeed, sir, I go so far as reckless – avoidance of a little practice for the purpose of mastering the stitches and gaining the assurance that The Real Thing will be good.  I am also, as you know very well, a big fan of instant or fairly rapid knitting gratification so I do get the urge to rush ahead and get started – because then you will be finished sooner, right?  But take a little time to swatch, especially if the item is a size critical thing, or the stitch(es)/techniques are unusual or new to you.  In my patterns, I usually mention the stitch/row repeat in the notes and add a note about what to cast on if you want to swatch.  This is because I don’t design a lot of stocking stitch things.  I’m not stitch-ist by the way, I love a bit of stocking stitch soothing as much as the next weirdo, but I also like a bit of adventure!

Embrace the swatch.  Be a swatch-ninja.  Like me.  (I can just hear Lily’s eyeballs rolling about if she read or heard me say that.  I think I will say it to her as soon as she gets in.  I’ll let you know how that goes).

Designer Notes: The Landscape Throw

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Designer Notes: The Smoke and Mirrors Felted Bag

Friday, September 9th, 2016

I have now taught this design a fair bit and I have also released the pattern which is here, for anyone who has not attended the course.  So I think now is a good time to also set out some Designer Notes.

This is a felted bag, washed in your washing machine.  I have done a great deal of hand-knitted felt including Shibori Felt but this my first big venture into non-Shibori texture.

The concept is for a large, sturdy project bag which is knitted in three pieces excluding the pockets.  The stitches I use create a significant depth of texture after felting and so the bag does not need lining.  But you can of course, if you wish.

Here are the basics:

  • Knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed in 2 shades; you will need 3 of A and 6 of B.
  • It has been designed to fit well with handles from here.  But if you find other handles you prefer, use these approximate dimensions.
  • There are beads, placed traditionally, i.e. not with a crochet hook, but in clusters of 3 rather than singly.
  • You will need 4 mm needles.  For the sides which are quite hefty, I used a fixed cable circular needle about 80 cm long.
  • Felted at 60 degrees for between 80 and 90 minutes in a standard wash programme.
  • There are two interesting but not difficult stitches in use, all fully explained and I will set some notes out here too.
  • Suitable for an average knitter – it is easy to moderate.

The bag begins, inevitably, with some stocking stitch.  There are few centimeters of this because we are knitting a wide flap which, once the bag is felted and dry, will be fed through the slots in the handles and then sewn down.  There is a fold line half way.  Once you complete this bit of knitting, I suggest in the pattern that you mark the beginning and end of the last row.  This is because that marked row is the row where the sewing up of the sides to the gusset will also begin and end.  There is also a visual clue in that you also, at this point, start the folded beaded pattern.

The beads are placed in clusters of three – just as easy as placing them singly.  This section has deep folds which are formed by literally picking up the back of the stitch from the wrong side, so it is easy to see, some rows down, and purling this ‘stitch’ along with the next real stitch on the left hand needle.  You do this four times, then purl four stitches normally, all along these fold rows.  The row you are picking from is seven  rows down – you count the bumps.  My top tips for this are:

  • Slightly stretch/pull your work down to expose the ‘ladder’ of bumps.
  • You know you are in the right area if, when you look at the right side, the clusters of beads are about in the middle of the fold.
  • Once you have the first of your four pick-ups right, you just pick the stitch next door for the following three pick-ups.

The stitch is a multiple of eight.  But, both the beads and the folds are off-set, so for the first part where the bag is also being shaped with increases, the numbers have been adjusted to make sure they remain off-set.

The second part of the side uses two shades together, but never on the same row.  The shade not in use is carried up the side.  This part is based on garter stitch and slipping stitches in between.  The garter stitch element essentially forms the ‘framer’ of colour around the contrast shade.  I held this double, but the other yarn is held single.

My top tips for this are:

  • Do not pull the yarn tight as you carry it up the sides.
  • There are slipped stitches so there is yarn ‘carried’ across the back.  You don’t have to do anything, it just happens, but again, make sure you do not pull this tight.
  • Do not worry that this part looks rather distorted and puckered.  All will be well after felting, but I have added extra rows to take account of the loss of height that will happen when you wash it.

The two sides are made the same, then you knit the gusset which you will pin and then sew all round the sides, along the bottom and back up the other side.  Use a firm back-stitch to sew these seams.

You can knit the pockets first to practice the stitches, then also felt them first to test your machine.  The wash is about 80 – 90 minutes at 60 degrees.

Once the bag is sewn up, but the flaps are NOT sewn down until you sew in the handle later, you wash it and then dry and de-fluff it.  This yarn used to be very fluffy after felting and some knitters have said their bags were fluffy, but none of my samples or the two full bags I have knitted have been bad at all.  But anyway, this just needs you to use a damp hand and stroke the bag firmly inside and out to get the fluff off.  I do this outside!  Once de-fluffed, that’s it, it never happens again.

I really enjoyed designing this bag and knitting it is not boring at all.  Yes it is a longish knit but the results are worthwhile.  A bag that is unique and will last you a life-time of knitting.

You can buy the pattern here. 



Designer Notes: Drift Mitts by Smith from Elements

Sunday, August 21st, 2016


This is the first in a series of posts – Designer Notes – about unraveling the design and thus, the knitting and often the teaching process for some of my designs.  Some of these posts have previously appeared on the Smith and Jones Knits website.