Get to know your summer yarns

I know, I know. When most people think about knitting they think of cosy autumnal and wintery scenes, possibly sat in front of a fire, definitely with a big pile of cosy snuggly wool. It’s a craft that screams “cold weather” at you.

But knitting isn’t just for winter, I promise you. In fact, summer knitting is some of my favourite knitting, thanks to some lovely yarns and some equally lovely patterns.

The only thing to be aware of is this; yarns that work well for summer knitting often behave a bit differently to your classic wool yarns. You see, they’re often made of plant fibres, which kind of do their own thing. They don’t have the elasticity of wool, and so feel different to knit with, and can grow a bit with washing and wear.

But panic not; all it means is that you really should swatch, and wash and block your swatch, before you crack on with a summer knit. Because otherwise you might find that that stylishly oversized top is just…really, really big.

The pros and cons of cotton yarns

Let’s kick off with an obvious one, shall we? Cotton yarns are all over the shop, and come in all sorts of yarn weights.

If we’re getting into sweeping generalisations – and let’s do that – then there are two basic forms of cotton yarn – mercerised (like Anchor Creativa Cotton), and not mercerised. Mercerisation is a process which creates a shiny, slightly stronger, slightly more stable cotton yarn. But in getting all that shine and strength, you’re losing a bit of softness. Not necessarily the end of the world if you’re knitting a loose summer tank top, but try and give a baby a mercerised cotton blanket and they’ll probably get a bit annoyed with you.

Standard – as in, not mercerised – cotton lacks that shiny strength, but is still an excellent fibre choice for summer knits. As everyone who’s ever worn clothes knows, cotton is lovely and lightweight, and works extremely well for warm weather clothes. You could definitely do a lot worse than knitting a classic summer tee like Jessie Maed’s So Summer Shirt in a cotton yarn.

But two words of warning; cotton can stretch out of shape (just think about the arse of your jeans after a few wears), and its production can be very, very water intensive. There’s an increasing number of organic, GOTS-certified cotton yarns out there though, which is excellent news for those who care about sustainability in their knitting (which should be all of us).

I’ve had my eye on some Krea Deluxe organic cotton for a while now, and am just waiting for the perfect pattern to use it on.

Knitting with linen yarn

Man, I love me a linen yarn. It’s a sneaky little bugger, linen; when you start out knitting with it it feels a bit stringy, and can make your stitches look a bit uneven, and it can seem…not great.

But then! Then you wash and block it and oh my, does knitting that project in that linen yarn suddenly seem like a magnificent idea.

Linen softens with washing you see, and knitted linen has one major advantage over its woven counterpart in that it doesn’t crease like tissue paper the moment you breathe too strongly on it. It also has fantastic stitch definition, which means that lightweight lace tops look amazing when knitted in linen.

Take my Day Off Badge tee. I knitted two samples last year, one in pure linen (Lithuanian Linen from Midwinter yarns to be precise) and one in a cotton and linen blend (Mojave from Kelbourne Woollens). They’re both absolutely brilliant warm weather yarns, and I’d recommend them for just about any summer knitting you might fancy.

Lithuanian Linen Day Off Badge tee
Day Off Badge tee in Kelbourne Woollens Mojave

Lithuanian linen is a light 4ply/heavy laceweight, and Mojave is a sportweight/DK, but thanks to the wiggleability of knitting they both worked for the same project. You’ve just got to swatch to make sure you get gauge, and then you can knit away.

Another excellent linen blend that I’ve recently enjoyed is DMC Natura Linen, which comes in some lovely ice cream-y, pastel-y shades. It’s got a rather fun thick/thin slubby thing going on, which naturally adds a bit of texture to your knitting as you work, so it’s a great choice for a relatively plain pattern.

Bamboo – not just for pandas, but also for yarn

Bamboo is one of nature’s magic fibres. It’s super breathable, anti-bacterial (or so google tells me), lovely and soft, and really good on heat regulation. And it’s – to make a sweeping generalisation – often a more sustainable option that cotton, because bamboo grows like hell without very much help at all. Just ask my old garden, which got overrun by the stuff. Should’ve harvested it and turned it into yarn. Missed a trick there.

The downside to bamboo? Oooh, does it grow with blocking. It grows so very, very much. But so long as you got into your project aware of this – and wash and block your swatch – you can totally work with that, and end up with a very lovely summer knit. You might find yourself having to go down in your needle size, and there are likely to be some small panics along the way that your WIP is looking a bit on the small side, but after that blocking all will be well.

I used King Cole Bamboo Cotton for this Colin, You Flutter Me tee and it is LUSH.

There are loads of commercial bamboo yarns out there at some really reasonable prices – like King Cole Bamboo Cotton, which I’ve used for my upcoming Colin, You Flutter Me tee pattern.

Oh, and a heads up – some folks decide to refer to bamboo-derived fibres as Viscose, so, y’know. Keep an eye out.

And how about that tencel yarn I keep seeing?

When I first think of tencel, I think of a dress I had in the mid-90s that looked like denim but was in fact crazily soft tencel. I loved that dress. It was my favourite thing, but alas, I grew and by about 1997 it no longer fitted. Shame, because it would be right back in style these days. 10yr old me was a fashion icon, I’m telling you.

Anyway. I digress. Let’s talk about tencel yarn, shall we?

Tencel is another sustainability golden child, as it comes from wood pulp. It’s got a lot of the same properties as bamboo, and it has a lovely shine and drape to it. It’s having a bit of a moment right now; West Yorkshire Spinners released a new yarn this spring with a decent chunk of tencel in, and I’ve been meaning to knit myself a warm weather Summerdown top ever since they did. I’ll get round to it one day.

Summerdown, which would definitely look superb in a Tencel yarn

How about silk yarn? Is that still an ethical no-no?

If you’re anywhere near knitting instagram in the summer months, you’re going to find yourself seeing a LOT of Knitting For Olive Pure Silk. And I do mean a LOT; it’s very much the poster child for insta-friendly summer knitting.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve not used a pure silk yarn for a while, but I do have a soft spot for a merino/silk mix, which does an excellent job for warm-but-not-boiling-weather knitwear. Two of my favourites are The Wool Kitchen merino silk, and The Woolly Tangle merino silk – because if you’re going for silk, then you may as well go all out on the luxury, right?

So, from using 50% silk yarns I can tell you that the drape and the sheen you get are, as you’d expect, off the charts. Silk has traditionally had a rep as not great on the cruelty front, but there’s a new breed of ethical, cruelty-free silk yarns like the insta-fave Knitting for Olive.

Mixed fibre summer yarns

I’ve already mentioned a few mixed fibre yarns here, but it would be remiss of me not to give them their whole little section. For sometimes mixing up your plant fibres – either with each other, or with a bit of wool – can give you a very lovely yarn indeed.

Definitely worth a mention is CaMaRose Organic Summer Wool, which has 70% wool and 30% cotton. I used it for the kids’ Only Magical Girl in Town cardigan, and it’s a brilliant summer layer; keeps the chill out, without causing overheating.

Only Magical Girl in Town – a summer staple

Also great in the wool/cotton yarn are is BC Garn Bio Balance, another GOTS-certified blend of 55% wool and 45% cotton. I knitted Hoopee from last summer’s PomPom magazine in it, and it’s a cracker of a yarn.

So, despite the entire premise of this blog post, you don’t need to steer entirely clear of wool in the summer at all.

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Picking a size for the Big Jimmy Jab jumper

The Big Jimmy Jab knitalong is kicking off in just over a week, so I thought I’d share some handy tips on how to pick a size. For the Big Jimmy Jab is not, you see, like other circular yoked jumpers. (I’m trying and failing to resist the urge to say “it’s a cool jumper” here, because many, many jumpers are cool. But MEAN GIRLS REFERENCE. Got to be done.)

You see, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with circular yoked jumpers. Not such a big one that I’ve stopped knitting them, or a big enough one for me to attempt to start a campaign against them. But they’ve always just…got on my tits.

Specifically, they’ve got on my tits wrong.

Why don’t boobs and circular yokes get along?

There’s a simple problem with a circular yoked jumper; they’re the exact same width on the front and back. That may be fine for some, but if like me you are “blessed” (I use the quotation marks because of back pain) with what is referred to in polite company as a “full bust”, then you might find this fact a bit troublesome.

Because you choose the size to knit based on your full bust circumference, plus the intended ease, you often end up having to pick a size that will fit your boobs but not the rest of your body. It can make for a jumper that totally swamps you, which is…well, annoying. A bit of waist shaping might take it in and do away with some of the “boob tent” effect, but it’s never going to be a properly good fit.

And how does the Big Jimmy Jab jumper fit boobs better?

In short; because I’ve stolen a concept that has long been used in sewing and have decided to apply it to knitting. The bust adjustment.

The basic principle is simple: you knit a sweater that fits the rest of your body, and then make extra space for your boobs. It solves all your annoying fit problems in one; the shoulders are the right size. The upper back doesn’t gape. The sweater doesn’t make you look several months pregnant.

So how do I pick a size for the Big Jimmy Jab?

The simplest way to explain it is to give you a look at the size chart. Because while you’re often told to pick a size based on your bust measurement, things are a little different for the old Big Jimmy Jab.

See that second column there, “actual upper bust”? That’s the key measurement for the Big Jimmy Jab. You want to be measuring that on yourself (here’s a handy tutorial on how to do that), and then picking the size that’s closest to that. Obviously, the normal rules of fit apply here; if you’re between sizes and want a looser fit, then go for the bigger size. If you’re looking for something a bit more fitted, then go down.

Once you’ve got your upper bust measurement and picked a size, you need to decide whether to work the bust adjustment. I’ve put two measurements in for the finished chest circumference of the jumper – with, and without the bust adjustment. Think about whether you want/need the additional space that the bust adjustment gives you, and then you’re golden.

But what about wearing ease?

Well, that’s all factored into the sizing table; the jumper is designed to have 4-6in (10-15cm) of positive ease, so that it’s got a loose, comfy fit to it. That means the finished chest measurements for the jumper are that 4-6in (10-15cm) bigger than the actual chest measurement of the body they’re intended to fit.

So, let’s take me as an example. I have an upper bust measurement of ~39in, and a full bust measurement of 46-47in. So I’ve knitted myself both a size 5 without a bust adjustment to get a boxy, cropped sweater, and a size 4 with a bust adjustment to get a slightly more “classic” fit.

And when it comes to my jumper for the knitalong, I’m going completely rogue and knitting myself a size 3 with bust adjustment, for a close-fitting jumper that for once will be relatively close-fitting all over.

The lesson here? You can make pretty much whatever fit you want, but for once your boobs will have been factored into the equation. Nice, hey?

If you want to know more about adjusting jumper patterns to fit your boobs, I run an online workshop all about it.

The Day off Badge Tee is a lazy knitter’s dream

A few weeks ago, on an absolute whim, I decided to do some polls on Instagram to find out what bits of knitting people hated the most. You know, all those fiddly little bits that we just really can’t be bothered with because inherently, it seems, a lot of knitters just like knitting and hate all the other bits that come along with it.

What started out as my being bored while trapped in the playroom turned into a bit of a contest where I pitted all those fiddly knitting skills against each other until we’d found the worst part of knitting. The thing everyone hates. The absolute pariah of the yarncraft world.

Seaming.

Why do so many knitters hate seaming?

Results from my little insta-poll

OF COURSE it’s seaming that knitters hate the most. OF COURSE it is. There is nothing worse than finishing knitting a garment and then realising that you still have to spend bloody hours sewing the whole thing together before you can wear it. That sense of achievement at casting off is immediately ruined by the realisation that you still have a metric butt-tonne of work to do before you can block your work, let alone wear it.

Trust me on this. I have many a project that has been abandoned somewhere in a pile of yarn because it had the audacity to require a bit of seaming.

I mean, if I wanted to sew then I’d sew, wouldn’t I?

We’re all kind of lazy knitters

If there’s one thing that did surprise me a bit from the results though, it’s the realisation that almost every knitter is, at heart, a bit of a lazy one. Nobody seems to universally love all parts of knitting. There’s always a corner that you want to cut, or a technique you don’t want to do, or a bit of the process you’d rather just avoid.

It goes back to something else I said on my Instagram stories; my driving instructor used to say you had to learn to drive two ways. The way that means you pass your test, and the way that people drive in the real world. I swear knitting is JUST like that. There’s how you’re meant to do it, with swatching and mattress stitch and using the suggested yarn, and then there’s how a lot of us actually do it.

Erm…I thought this was about the Day Off Badge Tee?

White woman standing in front of a plain wall wearing a lace handknit tee.

It is. For it occured to me after I’d finished posting these polls that I’d accidentally done a bit of a guerrilla marketing campaign for my newest design, the Day Off Badge tee (Ravelry link). For this pattern is the lazy knitter’s dream.

When I was designing the Day Off Badge tee, I basically did it in a way that avoided all the bits of a project that I hate doing. Obviously, since I hate seaming, it’s knitted in the round (although, fun fact, it’s very easy to convert to knitting flat if you fancy because as well as being full charted, the lace panel is written out for knitting both in the round, and flat).

Going the extra mile to avoid seaming

But the technique avoidance didn’t stop there. I get annoyed by seaming shoulders, because…well, it’s sewing again, isn’t it? So I decided to join the shoulders on this one with a three needle bind-off. I could tell you that’s because doing it that way gives a lovely stable seam for such a light and floaty garment to hang off. I could. But while the statement about the stability of a three needle bind-off is true, any claim that that was why I used it would be an outright lie.

Another thing that came up a lot as being absolutely awful to knit: picking up stitches. I know from chatting to people on my online knitting workshops, and in my Patreon knit nights, that people really hate picking up stitches. Knowing how to space them is a nightmare.

So I minimised that as much as possible; the Day Off Badge tee has a lovely wide boat neck, where almost all of the neckline stitches are placed on hold while the shoulders are shaped. Then you just have to put them back on your needles, pick up a measly 6 stitches on each of the tiny little sides of the neckline, and then do a bit of garter stitch.

Because 1×1 rib is also annoying to knit.

And there’s definitely no picking up stitches to finish off the armholes; you just knit the garter stitch edges at the end of each row as you work the main top.

You see? Super lazy knitting. But I’m not done yet.

How will you wear yours? (Answer: however you happen to put it on)

Because – and here’s the truly genius thing about the Day Off Badge tee – that boat neckline means that the shaping of the front and back are totally identical. Yep, you don’t even need to bother working out which side is the front and which is the back; you can just throw it on whichever way it comes and wear it with that statement lace panel in either the front or the back.

Which means you can get two totally different looks from one top, thus enabling you to wear it on consecutive days without anyone even realising.

And when you’re a lazy knitter, things don’t get much better than that.

2020: A year in garment knitting

(A little heads up: this blog post includes links to Ravelry, so if you have trouble with the site do take care.)

Here’s a thing: up until recently, it was a long, long time since I’d knitted myself a sweater. We’re talking 5 or 6 years long. I made excuses for this for a while; back when the Woolly Badger was in its Etsy store incarnation, it was because I had to be knitting stock. Then it was because they took too long, and I just didn’t have the time.

Really, what was behind it was this: I did not believe that my body was worthy of spending the time on a handknit.

Since I knitted that last sweater, I’ve had two children. I’ve breastfed them both. I’ve gone up two dress sizes. I’ve got a stretched out ribcage that will never quite go back to where it was before my sons shoved all my internal organs out of their way so that they could get a bit more growing room. I’ve even gone up a shoe size, because apparently that’s a thing that pregnancy can do to you.

And what I told myself, without realising I was telling myself, was this: this new body did not deserve nice knits. It would deserve them later, when the baby weight had gone. When it was smaller. When the knits would “look better”.

Well, for all the things that 2020 has taken away from us all, it has given me one thing; a nice, new sense of just not giving a shit. Sure, I do not love my body. I do not even like it most of the time. But I am never going to learn to be OK with it if I keep telling myself that it is not worthy of nice things.

And so, I started knitting myself garments. Here’s what I’ve done.

Projects one and two: the lace tees

Two lace tees hanging on a wooden slatted room divider.

Patterns: Geraldine by Agata Maciewicz (pink) and Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes (grey)
Yarn: Merino Silk 4ply from The Wool Kitchen

I love me a bit of lace knitting. I really, really do. And I loved knitting both of these tops back in the summer, because I used one of my very favourite yarns for them. Wool Kitchen merino silk is both crazy soft and just beautiful of colour, and paired with these lace patterns it made for some truly top-notch lightweight summer knits. I know it’s cliche to call things “light and airy”, but man, are these light and airy.

I even wore these two tops while I had my youngest in the sling, and neither of us ended up a horrible sweaty pool of grossness.

Project three: the everyday knitted tee

Woman standing against wall wearing a loose cotton knitted v-neck top

Pattern: Rock It Tee by Tanis Lavellee
Yarn: Summerlite 4ply from Rowan Yarns (found in deepest darkest stash)

Another light and airy summer tee here, although this time I perhaps got a tad carried away with the “airy” part of the equation. I went big on the positive ease, and forgot that cotton has a tendency to stretch out a bit. The final result has something of a tent vibe to it, but I kind of love that about it. Excellent for just lobbing on and still feeling a bit put-together.

Project four: the rainbow sweater

Woman in the woods wearing a v-neck rainbow striped jumper

Pattern: Camaro by Tanis Lavellee
Yarn: Milburn DK from Eden Cottage Yarns

I don’t think it’s actually possible to love a sweater more than I love my rainbow sweater. The construction of the pattern is magnificant; it’s really fun to knit, without making your brain explode. The yarn is a beautiful soft wool and silk mix, with perfect rainbow colours. The fit is magnificent. I get compliments every time I wear this jumper out. Which is a lot. Because I love it. I really, really love it. If I were a jumper myself, I would want to marry this jumper.

That got a bit weird, didn’t it?

Anyway. I love this jumper.

Projects five and six: the inevitable Love Notes

A close up of a pink, slightly fuzzy, lace jumper

Pattern: Love Note by Tin Can Knits
Yarn: Le Petit Lambswool and Le Petit Silk and Mohair from Biches and Buches

It was always going to happen, wasn’t it? I was always going to knit a Love Note after seeing so very many of them on instagram. And I’ve actually knitted two of them – one pink, and one blue – because it turns out everyone is right and this pattern really is a joy to knit. It’s also got me into high-low hems, but we’ll see more on that a bit later.

Project seven: the colourwork yoke

Pattern: Goldwing by Jenn Steingass
Yarn: Croft Aran from West Yorkshire Spinners

It was right about here in my garment knitting odyssey that I started to go a bit rogue. Up until know I’d done exactly what the pattern had told me to do, but I got a little bit adventurous here. Only a little bit, mind. I went up a needle size for a slightly looser gauge, shortened the body, and took the colourwork cuffs out of the equation. And I’m very happy with the result; this one is so supremely warm that it’s become my go-to ‘babywearing jumper’, because it’s far easier to get a sling fitting correctly over a warm jumper than it is over a massive coat.

Also: who said gingers can’t wear orange? Fools.

Project eight: the stash dive of dreams

Pattern: Soldotna Crop by Caitlin Hunter
Yarn: All sorts; leftover Croft Aran, some Mr B Aran, a bit of Ginger’s Hand Dyed Sheepish Aran and some other stuff that I found in my stash that is a total mystery.

And here we arrive at my latest, as yet unfinished, project. For which I have gone totally rogue; I’ve added the high-low hem (thanks Love Note!), improvised some colourwork at the bottom, am adding sleeves, and have knitted the whole thing in a selection of stash yarn that isn’t even technically the right weight for the project. And I bloody love it. I’m going to go ahead and give myself 10/10 for this one, just because I can.

And coming next…a Woolly Badger original

But, what is the moral of this jumperiffic tale? Is it that you should totally wing it and never bother swatching (totally didn’t swatch for any of these, by the way). Is it that everyone deserves a nice jumper? Is it that it’s totally fine to go off-pattern and make things your own?

Turns out it’s all of the above. Because after getting so stuck into this sweater knitting thing, I’ve designed my very first sweater. It’s for kids, it’s top-down, it’s seamless, and it’s really fun. I’m hoping to have it out early in 2021. Because sweater knitting is one thing that I don’t wish to leave in 2020.

Never have I ever knitted… (or, the knitting bucket list)

For someone who considers themselves a seasoned knitter, there’s a surprising amount of knitting that I’ve not done. And I’m not just talking about all the planned projects that currently just exist in the form of a load of stashed yarn and some dreams. I mean there are loads techniques, and types of knitting, that I’ve just never done.

Admittedly, I’m not the most adventurous person. My idea of a cracking night is a cup of tea, some knitting, and a nice sit down. But I am adventurous in my clothing, and my colour choices, and I like to think I’m adventurous in my design. And yet, there are huge gaps in my yarny experience.

For example: I just knitted myself a pair of socks. They were my first ever socks. Not my first toe-up socks. My first socks, full stop. This is not really an acceptable state of affairs for a professional knitter.

And so I’m compiling a list of all the things I’ve never knitted so that I can work my way through them slowly. Prepare to be appalled, my fellow knitters. There are some gaps here as glaring as the gap in my cinematic knowledge that comes from never having seen The Wizard of Oz.

Top-down socks
Not really a big surprise, this one, given that I’ve just told you that I’ve only ever knitted one pair of socks and they were toe up. But for the sake of completeness, it still needs including. And rectifying. Swiftly, with some of the sock yarn I’ve just accidentally bought. Turns out knitted socks are really cosy. Who knew?

Everyone? Oh.

Anything else top-down
Yes, that’s right. I’ve never knitted a top-down sweater, or cardigan, or anything. I’ve only ever done one top in the round, although I did at least knit that one twice. I know there are huge benefits to whole top-down method, like checking the fit, and feeling smug, but I’ve still never quite been brave enough for it. I just look at those items and think “ooh, that looks tricky.”

A fairisle yoke
Science fact: I’d never done any colourwork until less than a year ago, because – shockingly enough – it scared me. It’s that whole top-down thing again. So I suppose the obvious conclusion here is that I should knit a top-down fairisle yoked sweater, isn’t it?

Magic loop
Another ridiculous omission, given that it’s apparently brilliant and much easier than using double pointed needles. But something about the name makes me think of law firms, and I apparently just can’t get past that. If I wanted to be a lawyer I would’ve done something more than watching a lot of The Good Wife and going ‘oh man, that looks EXCITING!’. And so, my brain’s idiocy in collating magic circle law firms with magic loop knitting has condemned me to a life of things being far more difficult than they need to be. Serves me right, really.

A triangular shawl
This one, admittedly, is more about aesthetic choice than a fear of technique. I’m not really a shawl-wearing person; I’m more chunky cardigans and coats with pockets full of crap from years ago. But, it’s occurred to me in writing this that I could use a shawl a bit like a cape and swoosh my way around. And that I could knit it in really bright fun colours and it needn’t be granny-like at all.

I’ve talked myself right into that one, haven’t I?

Brioche
I’m not going to lie – brioche looks like the result of some dark magic to me. How? How does it do that? I don’t have even the faintest idea. Suppose I should probably find out at some point soon.

An I-cord bind off
What is it? Is it a bind off made by Apple? How many other people have made that joke before me? It’s another one I’ll have to knit to find out. Although maybe not about the joke. I don’t think I’ll finish the bind off and suddenly a voice will go “10,006 people made that joke before you!”

That’d be cool, though.

So that’s it. That’s the list, a least as far as I can remember. And, now that they’re committed to the internet, I’m committed to rectifying the situation.

Eventually.