Guest post: The Right Knitting Stitch Pattern for the Job

by Jessie Kwak

UPDATE: the giveaway is now closed. Thanks!

I know, I know. Two posts in a row where I talk to you only in italics, then let other people do the heavy lifting. You have to admit that they’re pretty great people, though, right?

Like today, see, we have the fantastic Andrea Rangel to tell us about how to choose stitch patterns for knitting projects–particularly for items that are meant to be worn during active pursuits. She’s just released her first book: Woodsmoke & Ash: Knits for Men. It’s a really great collection with projects for every level. I’m particularly excited to make a pair of the Char gloves for myself. (Rob has enough gloves.)

Best of all (bury the lede!), she’s going to be giving away a copy of her book (make the lede bold!) to some random commenter on this post.

Comments will be open until midnight on Thursday the 21st, PST. Good luck, all.

Woodsmoke Final Cover

One thing I completely love about knitting is that we get to create our fabric as we go. Using just some string and a couple of sticks I can make an infinite variety of textures and patterns. Visually, this is really fun and it’s one thing that keeps me excited about knitting. But there’s more to stitch patterns than meets the eye. Changing the combination of knits, purls, increases and decreases doesn’t just change what the fabric looks like, but different stitch patterns can totally change how a fabric functions too. As a designer, this is almost as important to me as appearance. I’m constantly swatching to see how different fabrics behave, and the results help me determine how to use that fabric.

Some functions that may be desirable from a fabric are warmth or breathability, wind-resistance, durability, and resilience/elasticity. As knitters and designers (and sewists too, though I don’t know as much about that), we first look at fiber in order to attain those functions. For warm garments, we have our pick of animal fibers; for cooler garments, cotton, bamboo, or other plant fibers are more appropriate. For durability, we may choose to add a bit of nylon, and wool or elastic to provide resilience. Yarn construction can also help. For example, plied yarns are generally more durable than singles.

But one of my favorite ways to achieve a particular function is by carefully choosing an appropriate stitch pattern. All of the patterns in Woodsmoke & Ash have stitch patterns that not only make a fetching garment, but were chosen for their functional properties as well.

Because the garments in the book are designed for cold weather wear, each of the designs has some stitch pattern that adds to its warmth. One way to make a fabric extra warm is to use any stitch pattern that creates pockets where hot air can get trapped. This is the same principal that down jackets use; it’s not the down that’s keeping you warm, it’s all the spaces in between where the air, made warm from your body heat, can’t escape. Stranded color work, ribbing, and many textured stitch patterns like knit and purl combinations, slip stitch patterns, and cables all make those little pockets. So any garment that includes those kinds of stitch patterns is probably warmer than one worked in plain Stockinette or lace.

Stranded color work, such as that used in Traverse and Heartwood, also adds warmth just by creating a thicker fabric in those sections. Thicker fabric always has the added benefit of adding wind resistance. Of course you can get thicker fabric just by using thicker yarn, but stranded color work and ribbing are two visually-engaging ways to do it without thicker yarns. Knitted-in hems are also genius because they not only create a beautiful, neat edge, but double the thickness of the fabric, making a warm and squishy wind barrier. Working projects at a dense gauge, such as in Sphagnum, Resin, and Plantago, also creates more wind-resistant, durable fabric.

Heartwood is warm for a whole lot of reasons: The knitted-in hem creates double fabric right at the ears where you need it most, stranded color-work creates thickness and lots of places for warm air to get trapped, and the sample uses a woolen spun wool yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter; woolen spinning makes yarn extra lightweight and warm.

Heartwood is warm for a whole lot of reasons: The knitted-in hem creates double fabric right at the ears where you need it most, stranded color-work creates thickness and lots of places for warm air to get trapped, and the sample uses a woolen spun wool yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter; woolen spinning makes yarn extra lightweight and warm.

Stitch pattern can also have an impact on durability. Those of you who knit socks may be familiar with the slip-stitch heel. Working some stitches only every other row creates a denser, thicker fabric that is still comfortable against the heel, but resists wear. The Char gloves use a subtle waffle-like slip stitch pattern to create durability on the hand, and Stockinette stitch on the fingers and thumbs to allow for maximum dexterity.

Don’t forget that stitch pattern also has a dramatic impact on drape. Just hold up a lace swatch next to a Garter stitch one to see what I mean.

I never choose a stitch pattern for a design unless it achieves both the desired appearance and the desired function.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on stitch pattern functions. Do you look at stitch pattern when choosing a project to knit?


Bicitoro joins a knit-along and you should too

by Jessie Kwak

The most delightful Andrea Rangel (you may remember her) is leading a pants knit-along over on Ravelry. (And here’s the link to her blog about it.)

She’s got a trio of pants/shorts patterns that you can choose from, so if you’ve ever wanted to get into the knitty-gritty (ha!) of shaping something to fit you ass, this is your chance. (Click the photos to be taken to the corresponding pattern.)


I’ve been wanting a pair of the Kalaloch leggings for a while, but I’m such an inconsistent knitter that I haven’t gotten around to knitting them on my own. This is just the kick in the butt I needed.

(I just got off work. Children’s clothing catalog. I write whimsy and puns for a living. Sorry.)

This is the yarn I’m using:

knitting cycling leggings - bicitoro

It’s Lace Merino Worsted by Ella Rae. It’s going to knit up kind of loud, but I really dig it (and it’ll look nice with my short gray corduroy skirt and Minoru jacket.


Don’t worry if you’re not a knitterly type–you’re not likely to hear many more knitterly posts from me than usual. (I’ll make sure and show you the final project, though.)

If you are a knitterly type, then hie thee to Ravelry and join in the knit-along. See you there.


Guest post: On knitting winter activewear

by Jessie Kwak

Today I’m excited to announce a guest post by Andrea Rangel, the talented designer behind Andrea Rangel Knits. This woman taught me how to knit when we were in college together, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her without her knitting in tow.

I’ve asked her to talk a bit about the things to consider if you want to knit activewear. Since she’s moved to gorgeous Vancouver Island, she and her husband have taken up cycling as their primary mode of transportation, and she’s begun to come up with some cool designs inspired by bike riding.

Andrea’s patterns are not only lovely, they’re also extremely functional, durable, and fun to knit. That’s why if you’re a knitter who likes the outdoors, you should be excited that she’s planning to publish a book of outdoor knitwear in 2013 (I know I am).

(Giveaway is now closed.) As part of today’s guest post, we’ll also be doing a giveaway! Andrea has graciously donated a free pattern download to a random commenter, and I’m sweetening the pot with a pair of recycled inner tube earrings (Starry Night—Andrea’s favorite). Just leave a comment below between now and Friday December 7th to win.


Knitting for activewear

Since I recently took up cycling as my primary mode of transportation, and since I’m always thinking about knitting, I’ve begun to think about cycling and knitting together. I’ve seriously contemplated the feasibility of knitting while cycling, and while I don’t think it’s impossible, I’ve decided that at my current level of skill I had better not try it. Which is a bit disappointing.

But, it does leave open the door of knitting FOR cycling, which is a long and unexplored path in my mind (though I have thought intensely about knitting for yoga.)

I have technical rain gear, but a heavy wool sweater keeps out the rain too. I wear a snugger cowl now though – this draping one got too wet.

When I start to think about knitting for a particular function, I usually start with fiber choice. It will probably be no surprise that I’m going to suggest knitting winter activewear with wool. Wool, after all, is almost the perfect fiber for keeping warm while trying to do exciting things out of doors in cold weather. Wool resists water, and when it does start to soak it up, it can get very wet before the wearer feels at all damp. It dries quickly and doesn’t smell too funky when wet (though you can get a sheep-y small that I find really delightful.) It also comes in an amazing variety of types so that you can find the perfect wool to suit almost any garment or accessory. You can even blend in some other fibers to get a bigger range of characteristics without losing the benefits that wool has to offer.

First I’d like to talk about wool for items that need to be durable. Anything that gets a lot of abrasion fits into this category—socks, gloves and leggings are examples. Yarn used for knitting these items should be plied, as single-ply yarn tends to pill and is not nearly as durable. It should be spun fairly tightly and perhaps be machine washable. Easy care is more important for socks and leggings than it is for gloves or mittens, but if you wear those mittens while playing in the snow or rain, a machine washable yarn won’t be as likely to felt during your snowball fight or from gripping wet handle bars with warm hands. Add a little bit of nylon to the mix and you’ve hot a hard-working, long-lasting material.

The yarn I’m talking about is, of course, sock yarn. You can get sock yarn in weights from fingering to DK, but what makes it sock yarn is the tightly-plied structure made with machine washable wool that is usually blended with nylon. And to top it off, you can get lots of different sock yarns from small independent dyers who make incredible and unique colors.

Here are a couple of examples of items made with sock yarn:

Lochside (click for pattern)

These little socks are made with Hazel Knits Artisan Sock, probably my very favorite sock yarn. I got the opportunity to work in the Hazel Knits dye studio while I was living in Seattle, and every new color had me desperate to design with it. Aside from being beautiful, this is a sturdy and soft yarn that’s a bit thicker than some other fingering weight sock yarns, which I like quite a lot. It’s amazing for color work and has lovely stitch definition.

As a little side-note, making socks with stranded color work adds a whole other layer of cushy warmth. They end up extra-thick and the stranded work creates even more pockets for warm air to get trapped and keep your toes toasty. If you haven’t tried color work, I encourage you to do so. Watching the pattern appear as you knit is almost as rewarding as wearing those socks on a frigid day!

Kalaloch (click for pattern)

These leggings are made with Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock Heavyweight, which is a DK weight yarn. It’s heavy enough to keep your legs really toasty on a winter bike ride or hike, and is pretty fast to knit as well, but isn’t so thick that you’re going to get uncomfortable between the legs or when seated. Another benefit of this yarn is that it’s very resilient, meaning that can stretch and then bounce back to its original shape. This is really helpful in garments that you want to be very tight-fitting because it won’t stretch out with wear. Leggings like this are wonderful for wearing under skirts so you can have an extremely practical outfit while looking cute too! Even if they wind blows your skirt around, you’re not sharing anything immodest with the world.

Sock yarn is fantastic for lots of other things too – sweaters, hats, cowls – but it’s not your only option. If you’re very adventurous and like backpacking or bike camping, weight is a consideration when choosing your clothes. In that case, you might want to try a wool yarn that’s spun in a method called “woolen spun.” (It sounds redundant, but what can you do? It’s the English language.) This method jumbles up all the fibers while spinning them instead of combing them neatly, which creates lots of tiny air pockets that hold in warm air in the same way your down jacket does. Magical. Along with being exceptionally warm, the yarn created with this method of spinning is unbelievably light.

Shilshole (click for pattern)

A woolen spun yarn that I love is Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. Shilshole, shown above and worked in Shelter, is comfortable to wear and weighs very little even with the hood, pocket, and stranded color work. As well as being easy to carry, another benefit of light-weight yarn is that it maintains its shape without stretching because it doesn’t have heavy yarn weighing down on it. Though it’s a bit fragile while you’re knitting with it, Shelter creates a strong fabric that’s surprisingly good at keeping the elements at bay.

Books have been written about the different breeds of sheep and methods of spinning wool, but let’s just say here that if you know your yarn, you can get a stunning range of characteristics out of wool. If you don’t know your yarn, I recommend picking up my favorite book on the subject, Clara Parks’ The Knitter’s Book of Wool.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started knitting winter activewear:

  • For a light sweater, like a cycling or running jersey, choose a fingering weight yarn – any heavier and you’re likely to get hot too quickly. And make your armholes a little looser than usual. Tight armholes are not only uncomfortable and binding when you’re trying to have an adventure, they get sweaty fast, and even wool can be clammy if it’s completely soaked. Underarms also have a tendency to felt if they’re too snug, even when worked in machine washable wool. So give yourself an extra inch or so of armhole depth.
  • Keep your accessories fairly snug and avoid anything that hangs off your body like long scarves. Cowls can be worked at around the same circumference as a hat: big enough to get over your head, but not so loose that it can drape. A draping cowl is a little harder to comfortably zip into your jacket, and worse, it can collect rain water. (I learned this the hard way.) For arm and leg warmers, consider using encased elastic to help keep them up while you’re climbing, running, riding, or otherwise moving around a lot.
  • Knit some stranded color work socks and wear them in your boots or clogs. I say this because I adore my color work socks and am constantly wishing I had time to knit more of them.
  • If you want a cap that can fit under your helmet, choose a fingering weight wool and a pattern that isn’t too complicated. Cables are a wonderful thing, but can be too bulky for wearing under a helmet. My favorite cycling cap is a simple slip stitch pattern hat made with Brooklyn Tweed Loft (it’s the one I’m wearing in the top photo).

Having the right clothes and accessories, especially lovingly handmade ones is a beautiful encouragement to get outside during the dark months, a time when we need the activity the most. I’m so fascinated by this idea of hand knitted active wear that it’s what my next pattern book will be based on, so keep an eye out for it next year.

What hand knits do you wear while adventuring?