The Countess of Landsfeld

The Countess of Landsfeld: a lace shawl for those who don’t enjoy or have not yet tried knitting lace, or who struggle with the wearability of shawls.

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

countess of landsfeld back shawl (2)

Worn like a cozy, cozy shawl

Like many people, I do much of my knitting in public. I have a large handbag, and whenever I have a few minutes free I get knitting. Sadly, this situation means that anything requiring concentration generally gets neglected.  As a result, my designs lately reflect a goal of creating garments that look complicated (because I am apparently very, very needy and adore astonishing people with my mad knitting skillz), but are actually really simple – easy enough to do while yelling “Clear! Clear! HONEY YOU’RE OFFSIDE!!!” (ask a Canadian) or while watching subtitled Norwegian thrillers (Hodejegerne – fun movie! Watched while working on the Countess! Even the scenes with the astonishingly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were watched while knitting!).

The Countess of Landsfeld Shawl is the happy result of my attention-deficit and attention-seeking knitting. It is named in honour of Eliza Gilbert, a woman who famously took shortcuts to get what she wanted. Lola_montezRather than submit to her 19th century choice of either a suitable marriage or genteel poverty, she ran away from family and convention, changed her name to Lola Montez, and presented herself to the world as a Spanish dancer – despite not speaking Spanish or, apparently, being much of a dancer. She blazed across the theatres of Europe, Australia, and America, counting among her admirers and lovers King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was so smitten that he ignored all advice and gave her the title of Countess of Landsfeld. Well, yes, this granting of a title did indeed lead to his eventual abdication, and, well, yes, the revolution of 1848 too, but my point is this: taking short cuts and breaking rules can sometimes be a really efficient means of getting what you want.

The Countess of Landsfeld is a celebration of shameless knitting shortcuts. The short cuts begin at the bottom with a no-tail long-tail cast on (never guesstimate your long tail ever again), and a traditional lace pattern – a 4 row variant of feather and fan – that forms its own scalloped edge, so you don’t have to fiddle about with more than one lace. This lace consists of a repetition of 3 rows of easy-peasy stockinette and one simple, rhythmic, unchanging row of repeated yarn overs and decreases. Well, yes, stockinette in which every 14th stitch is always knit or purled through its back loop – but it’s still easy. Afraid of missing that stitch? Use stitch markers – easier still.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl. Seriously, that gorgeous lacy complexity is created by 3 rows of stockinette and one unchanging row of yarn overs and decreases.

This is lace that is, in truth, easy enough for a first lace project, but looks complicated enough to amaze and astound all those who see it. The whole thing is finished with nothing more than a picot cast off. This cast off is applied the top as well as to stitches picked up along the sides. It was chosen because it provides stretchiness and visual interest without distracting from the gorgeous complexity that is the main lace. You and your gift recipients don’t want to look as if you are wearing a doily, right?

Now that I have convinced you this is a mad easy shawl, suitable for beginners or the constantly distracted, I should probably let you know it does involve 4 to 1 decreases – but don’t panic! The pattern includes some mad easy solutions to the decreases that drive other, less plucky knitters away screaming in fear. Really, you should be happy these decreases are here. These decreases probably prevent this lace from being more widely known, so not only will you come away from this shawl with new weapons of mass decreasing in your knitting arsenal, but you will have a finished object that will make knitters gather round you, wondering how you did that.

countess of landsfeld back

The one row that does all the work (because the other three are always stockinette – amazing, right?) involves decreases that are typically referred to as k4tog and k4togtbl. To those who see these abbreviations and, quite rightly, say “Seriously? – those are really, really hard to do – I cannot get my ding dang needle through 4 stitches at once. Are you crazy? You said this was easy!” I say “Hah! The pattern explains no less than 5  alternatives that produce exactly the same results, and are way, way easier!” Indeed, with all the power invested in me as some random person with a blog, I propose a re-christening of the knitting terms k4tog and k4togtbl.  I dislike these abbreviations because they prescribe a technique (which I reject on behalf of all tight knitters with splitty or ungiving yarn, or unslithery, non-ninja-like needles, or fading eyesight, or arthritic fingers) when really, what the terms should describe is an outcome: namely, a decrease reducing 4 stitches to 1 that slants to the right (dec4R) and one that slants to the left (dec4L). How you get there should be your choice.

countess of landsfeld side view (2)

The yarn used in this project is minkyarn.com’s 70% mink, 30% cashmere 4-ply DK Chamonix. This yarn – which is made with brushed mink (they just brush them! The mink are fine, and live long, happy minky lives!) – was chosen for its delicious warmth, softness, drape, halo, loft, stitch definition, and best-ever-gift-giving-properties. This is yarn that makes you excited about the approaching cold weather. And really, don’t you think Lola would have wanted mink? Having said all that, of course, substitutions are fine.

Like my Sweet Spot Socks, the Countess of Landsfeld was created to keep me amused, and relies on a standard knitting model (in this case, a short row bottom up shawl) with a standard lace stitch, freely accessible in myriad stitch dictionaries plunked in. In other words, “Hurray! Another free pattern!” With that in mind, I am not precise in the yarn amounts. Working amounts out precisely would require some test knitting, and then it would be work, and purchasing of more yarn, and then I would have to expect payment.  I know it took me about 2 and a half of the 230-yard DK skeins, which would be about 600 yards. It is fairly long, so if you would prefer to be a bit more frugal, go for 460 yards and just cast on fewer of the lace repeats.

Click here to open the pdf: countess of landsfeld – Oct 2013 update 2. If you decide to make one too, let me know. I look forward to seeing some Countess of Landsfeld Shawls around!

My friend Suzanne - world's best shawl model ever.

My friend Suzanne – world’s best shawl model ever.

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Sweet Spot Socks

Anyone who has ever worn a pair of homemade socks knows what foot heaven is like. The experience is akin to… well, having your feet kissed by butterflies. Or Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and/or Olivia Munn (the Happy Home Economist is inclusive).  Now, if you or anyone you know is somewhat arthritic, as is the Happy Home Economist, double that happy foot feeling. If it helps, imagine Nikolaj Coster-Waldau/Olivia Munn on one foot and Johnny Oduya/Christina Hendricks on the other.

And now that you have imagined this heavenly foot rub, here is the other rub: hand knit socks take time to knit, and you need hand knit socks! Lots of them! You, your whole family and all your friends need some damn hand knit socks!

Now, a nice thing about socks is that busting out a few in simple stockinette should not take too long. However, for many of us, the temptation to gussy something up, give it a little something something, earn the oohs and ahhs of family, friends, and random strangers passing by, is irresistible. And so we find ourselves slowly working away, patterns open on our laps and glasses on our noses, through spectacularly cabled, or richly stranded, or ornately lacey socks. Maybe we will never wear them with anything more glamorous than a croc, but in our minds we will wear them with kicky high heels and we will look adorable.

The economics of knitting design encourage these complicated projects. The basic structure of a sock is fixed – feet are generally similarly shaped, and there are only a few ways to do a heel, toe and cuff, all of which are easily and freely googlable – so if you have made one sock, you can make more, without need for a pattern. In order to sell a design, therefore, designers must come up with a design that is both beautiful and complicated enough to provide a compelling reason for a purchase. Generally, this is a win-win situation: designers are rewarded for their labour, as they should be, and knitters get some damn fine socks.

But what if you need lots and lots of socks? Quickly, because winter is coming in? And you keep losing your cable needle, tangling your bobbins, and winter is just too damn cold for lacey socks anyway? And you can’t get the requisite gauge with your new 40 inch 2.25 mm Addi Turbos and if you don’t change your needle size the socks will never stay up, but you don’t have a smaller size and Addi Turbos don’t grow on trees?  And the only time you have available for knitting involves either public transit or a subtitled version of the complete box set of Once Upon a Time in China and you are in the middle of the legendary fight sequence between Jet Li and Donnie Yen? Should you consider that pride is a deadly sin anyway and just crank out some stockinette socks? Well, yes, when I write it that way, I guess that does indeed seem a reasonable answer. However, that is not my answer.

Instead, I suggest the Sweet Spot Socks, so named because the twisted stitch used in the pattern occupies the sweet spot between mindless, simple, gauge-ignoring knitting and fancy looking results. Best of all, the design is gender neutral, and customizable to easily fit children or adults. It looks just as good peeking out of the top of a hiking boot as it does a high strappy sandal. Just use whatever yarn you have kicking around, start at the toe, increase until the sock fits the intended foot, figure out what arrangement of six and two stitch twisted rib panels works in your unique stitch count, then start knitting and keep going until it is time for the heel, and after the heel keep going until you feel like you are done.

For her - with kicky high heels. Made with Classic Elite Alpaca Sox.

For her – with kicky high heels. Made with Classic Elite Alpaca Sox.

As you can tell from the above paragraph, this is not really a design that merits payment. Expert sock knitters with knowledge of twist ribs (or access to a stitch dictionary) can take one look at the picture and duplicate them without any need of opening my humble pdf. Accordingly, I thought it might be more fun just to write up this design as a sort of toe up 101. The pattern is written up as a tutorial on Judy’s Magic Cast On, loop increases, short row heels, Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, and of course the right twist stitch. For those sock experts who only want to figure out the right twist stitch, save a tree – all you will need is page 3.

For him - made with manly Cascade Superwash 220.

For him – made with manly Cascade Superwash 220.

The pattern does assume some familiarity with double pointed needles (DPNs) or magic loop; however, if you haven’t used these methods before, don’t worry – they’re actually pretty simple. You’ll be fine. There are heaps of excellent youtube videos out there showing you how. Personally I prefer magic loop simply because I find that method is less likely to fall off my needles when I shove my project in my purse and then forget it there for a few days, but DPNs have plenty of fans too.

So, without further ado, here is the link to the PDF. I hope you enjoy knitting, and wearing them – if anyone has any questions at all, let me know… I’ll be around. Perhaps lounging in my sweet socks. sweet spot socks

Why yes, yes I did make matching socks for my entire family. No, I don't think there is anything odd about that.

Why yes, yes I did make matching socks for my entire family. No, I don’t think there is anything odd about that.

Shake Your Bootie

Thoreau on spring: “This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.”

Having purged my own winter-related fumes and indigestions, I feel it appropriate to return to work with a post on booties. What could be more spring-like than a celebration of new life?    My inspiration is my friend Andy, who has begun a project of knitting booties for babies in the hospital.  She asked me for advice on how to knit them; accordingly, I am writing up and sharing the blueprint I use for booties. This is a blueprint that has evolved over the years, becoming more and more efficient as my knitting knowledge grew. They are knit entirely in one piece, leaving you with only the first and last yarn ends to weave in.

The blueprint requires no math (other than an ability to divide by 3) and no particular yarn or needle size. Use whatever you have at hand (assuming, of course, that what you have at hand is suitable for soft tender baby toes, and that the needles you have make sense given the weight of your yarn). The booties are knit in one piece from the top down, and require only one teeny little seam up the back of the leg. They are worked back and forth, and can be knit on straight needles or circular.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED: non-itchy, soft yarn; needles (straights or circular) of a size appropriate to your non-itchy, soft yarn; one extra needle in the same size or smaller (in a pinch you can use a chopstick or any slender tapering object…); one tapestry needle.

  1. Cast on enough stitches to fit around the leg in question. In my example, I used worsted yarn and a size 5 US needle to cast on 18 stitches for a bootie that would fit a baby aged 3 – 6 months. The number will vary with your yarn, tension, needle size, and baby leg size. If there is a particular pattern stitch you wish to use for the leg, take that into account when you cast on. Make sure your cast on is reasonably stretchy. Ideally, the number of stitches cast on would be divisible by three. Even this is not a hard and fast rule, however, as will be discussed later.

    cast on as many stitches make sense for a leg circumference

    cast on as many stitches make sense for a leg circumference

  2. Work back and forth over these stitches until the length is what you want for the leg before the foot begins – later on, you will be seaming the sides together into a tube, but don’t worry about that right now. I  worked my demo bootie in garter stitch (knit every row), but of course you can use whatever pattern stitch you want: lace, ribbing, cables, colour chart, whatever. For those new to knitting, if you use stockinette (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) it will curl. The resulting rolled over brim could be a cute effect, but just be sure this is what you want.
  3. OPTIONAL: when the leg is long enough, you can add an eyelet row before you start shaping the foot. The eyelets are little holes through which you can insert a ribbon or an i-cord. For those who can read knitting abbreviations, an eyelet row would be written as k1 *yo, k2tog* rep to end. For those who do not read or speak knittingese, this means knit one stitch at the beginning of the row, then do something called a yarnover (abbreviated as YO). To do this, you just bring the yarn between your needles to the front, then lay it OVER the top of the needle in your right hand. Once it is on top of that needle, insert your right hand needle knitwise into the next TWO stitches, and knit them together. A yarnover makes a hole, as well as an extra stitch – that is why each one is balanced out with a decrease. When you get to the end of the row, if you have one stitch left over rather than two, just knit it and don’t worry about putting a yarnover in. It is probably a good idea to count your stitches again at this point – you should have the same number as when you started.
    The optional eyelet row - unnecessary, but cute and fun. Think of the ribbon possibilities...

    The optional eyelet row – unnecessary, but cute and fun. Think of the ribbon possibilities…

    Yarnover for (optional) eyelet row

    Yarnover for (optional) eyelet row

     

  4. Okay, remember how I said cast on a number divisible by three? It is time to start making the foot, and it is pleasingly symmetrical to divide the stitches into 3 equal groups –  a group for each side of the foot, and one group for the top of the foot You can totally fudge this however – just make sure the side groups are equal and then the top of the foot group can be more or less by one or two stitches. So here is what you do now:
  5. With whatever side you have facing at this point, knit across the first 2/3 of your stitches. Stop. Turn your work. Working in either garter stitch (again, knitting every row) or stockinette (knitting the right side, purling the wrong side), or your own choice of pattern stitch – the sample uses stockinette for the top of the foot but you don’t have to – work across the centre 1/3 only. Stop and turn again. In the example, I cast on 18 stitches – so that means that for this step I knit across 12 stitches, then turned and knit 6 stitches, and then kept working these 6 centre stitches over and over. Keep going, working only this group of stitches in the middle until you have created a centre strip that strikes you as being long enough to cover the top of the foot in question. Oh – for the next step you will want to pick up stitches with the right side facing you, so be sure to finish your centre strip with a wrong side row.

    Working on the centre panel to make the top of the foot

    Working on the centre panel to make the top of the foot

  6. Now that you have finished the top of the foot, it is time to pick up stitches along the side of the panel you have just created and re-connect to the sides. For the picking up stitches process, I have chosen a method that is relatively easy for non-bendy straight needles as well as circulars. OK – with the right side facing, knit across your centre panel. When you get to the end of your centre panel, gaze at the leftmost column of stiches running along the side of it. Give this left side a gentle tug, and observe the strands that connect this column to the rest of the panel. Take your LEFT needle, and insert it under one of the strands close to it. Continue to insert it under these strands, skipping one every now and again so that your left needle is basically woven through these strands. Pay attention to how many you pick up this way – you will want to duplicate this number on the other side.
    Needle is inserted into first strand to begin picking up stitches

    Needle is inserted into first strand to begin picking up stitches

    All the strands are picked up and ready to be knit

    All the strands are picked up and ready to be knit

  7. Alright – you are ready to knit down your freshly picked up stitches, so do that and then keep knitting through your neglected side stitches to the end of the row. From here on, work everything in garter stitch – no more purling. OK – now that you have finished that right side row, you need to work back on the wrong side. For those of you who say “Hey – I know I need to pick up stitches on the other side of the foot, and I know I can’t pick up stitches on the wrong side!” I say “Relax. All will be revealed, and by all I mean a method for picking up stitches invisibly on the wrong side.”
  8. So – on the wrong side knit across all your stitches to where the unpicked up cliff-like edge of the centre panel is. When you get there, turn your work so the right side is facing you. Now take your RIGHT needle, and do exactly what you did on the other side of the centre panel – pick up the strands that join the last column of stitches to the rest of the panel. Ideally you want to pick up the same number that you picked up on the first side of course, but judicious fudging by increasing or decreasing later can take care of any inequalities. Once those stitches are picked up, turn your work again so you have the wrong side facing you again. Knit across your newly picked up stitches – observe how the less-than-lovely seam from picking up stitches remains hidden on the wrong side where it belongs.

    Stitches picked up by picking up strands on the right side with the right hand needle

    Stitches picked up by picking up strands on the right side with the right hand needle

  9. This part is easy – just knit a few rows in garter stitch over all the stitches, back and forth, until you think you have a good height for the foot. This could be anywhere from, say, 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch or more.

    This looks about the right height to start shaping the bottom of the foot

    This looks about the right height to start shaping the bottom of the foot

  10. Okay, with whatever side is facing you, knit across the original side group of stitches, the picked up stitches, and ONE STITCH LESS than the centre group of stitches. Knit this last stitch together with the next stitch (through the back loop if you are facing the wrong side, and through the front loop if you are facing the right side). Stop and turn your work. Knit across your centre panel, again knitting the last stitch of this centre panel together with the next stitch, either through the back loop for a wrong side row or the front loop for a right side row. Keep doing this as you work down through the foot.
    k2tog tbl - knitting 2 stitches together through the back loops

    k2tog tbl – knitting 2 stitches together through the back loops

    K2tog - knitting 2 stitches together through the front loops

    K2tog – knitting 2 stitches together through the front loops

The bottom of the foot is taking shape...

The bottom of the foot is taking shape…

About half way down the foot, depending on how wide your bootie  is and whether you have an odd or even number of stitches in the panel, you could narrow a bit for a heel by just knitting some stitches together on the centre panel. You will need to have an EVEN number of stitches on this panel for the bind off, so be sure you decrease as necessary to have an even number on the centre panel before you get to the end. You probably don’t want to have more than, say, 6 or 4 stitches left on the centre, in order to have a nice small heel. Keep going until  the number of stitches left on the sides add up to equal the number of stitches on the bottom. For example, 3 on each side and 6 in the middle, or 2 on each side and 4 in the middle.

Here I have 3 stitches left on each of the sides and 6 left in the centre - time to bind off!

Here I have 3 stitches left on each of the sides and 6 left in the centre – time to bind off!

12. To do a 3 needle bind off of these stitches, you will need to slip the centre panel stitches to their own needle (with the yarn in position to begin knitting). Liberate the side stitches and observe how they must be joined together in order to start the seam that goes up the back of the leg. Join them on their own needle, again orienting them so that this needle is positioned to use the same yarn as the centre panel. This is easiest to do with double pointed needles, but can also be accomplished easily enough with regular needles.

The centre panel is on its own needles, and the sides are being pinched together before being slipped to their own needle

The centre panel is on its own needles, and the sides are being pinched together before being slipped to their own needle

The stitches are now lined up for binding off. Remember both needles need the same number of stitches!

The stitches are now lined up for binding off. Remember both needles need the same number of stitches!

13. OK – hold both needles parallel with each other. Insert a 3rd needle through the first stitch on the front needle AND through the first stitch on the rear needle. Pull a loop through both stitches – just like regular knitting – and pull both stitches off their respective needles. You now have one regular stitch on your right needle. Repeat with the next stitch on both needles. You now have two regular stitches on your right needle. Slip that first stitch over your second stitch, just like a regular bind off. Keep going across the remaining stitches, knitting stitches from both needles at once then binding them off. Work until your last stitch, then cut the yarn, leaving a thread long enough for seaming up the back of your bootie. Alternately, of course, you could also use a kitchener stitch to graft these stitches together instead of the bind off. Kitchener is more elegant, but I think there is something kind of fun about the chunky bind off on the booties.

Inserting the 3rd needle through stitches on both needles.

Inserting the 3rd needle through stitches on both needles.

The 3 needle bind off, completed

The 3 needle bind off, completed

The end: thread that yarn you just snipped through your tapestry needle, and begin seaming them together. Essentially, seaming is just inserting your tapestry needle up through a stitch on one side, then up through the parallel corresponding stitch on the other side. Then insert your needle up through the next stitch up on the first side, and across to the parallel corresponding stitch on the other. Remember that only one side gets the next up stitch, and the other side always gets the parallel stitch and you should be fine.

And voila – one little bootie made! I hope this post inspires you to play around with different knitting techniques, adding colour or lace or cables… or that it inspires you to join Andy in ensuring that babies in hospitals have booties!

Shaking my bootie

Shaking my bootie