Friday, November 14, 2014

I Heart Chocolate

It seems like there's been a lot in the news lately about chocolate.

First of all, did you read the article in the New York Times about flavanols? They're an antioxidant which improves memory, blood circulation, and heart health, and they can be extracted from cocoa beans. (Yay! I always knew chocolate was a health food.) The article does say, disappointingly, that the flavanols need to be processed and taken as a dietary supplement, since it would take about 7 chocolate bars a day to get the high levels of flavanols necessary to reap the benefits. You know what I say to that? "Challenge accepted." (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Then this morning, I saw a TV commercial for Chocolate: The Exhibition at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Chocolate? It's science, people!

And I just ran across a link to the Huffington Post's 2012 list of Hot Chocolate Recipes To Warm You Up On Chilly Days. I'd love to try a la mode's Lavender Hot Chocolate and Minimalist Baker's Mexican Hot Chocolate.

So now, it's time for me to contribute to this pre-winter chocolate-y celebration. Feast your eyes on the Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket. Remember the Mayan Hot Cocoa Tea Cozy? This is a coordinating blanket knit in worsted weight yarn. It's large enough for a sofa and being double-knit makes it thick enough to be mega-warm.
Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket
I can't promise flavanols, but at least you know it's calorie-free. :)

Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket- $6.95
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Mayan Hot Chocolate Tea Cozy - $5.95
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View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Or get both together for a special price in an ebook ...
Mayan Hot Cocoa ebook- $9.95
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View details at Ravelry

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Object Lesson in Gauge

Have you ever wondered why knitting patterns include both recommended needle size and gauge requirements? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words ...

These socks should be identical, were it not for gauge. They were knit with the same pattern*, same yarn and same needles, but by two different knitters. I'm a continental knitter (picker), while Mom, who taught me to knit, is an English-style knitter (thrower). Her stitches are tighter than average, whereas mine are looser than average. The result? Her sock, with a gauge of 5.5 stitches per inch, would fit a small baby. Mine, with a gauge of 4 stitches per inch, would probably fit a large toddler.

That's the reason patterns also include gauge. If the pattern had said to aim for a gauge of, say, 5 stitches per inch, we'd know that Mom should use a larger needle to make her stitches bigger, while I should go down a size or two to make my stitches smaller. In that case, we'd have matching socks at the same gauge. That's the reason gauge swatches are important, at least if you want your finished object to fit.

If you've ever wondered why a needle on one of my designs is a different size - probably a smaller one - than you'd use, that's the reason. I tell you the size that was actually used to knit the item in the photos, then the gauge you should strive for. Use a bigger needle if you have to to get the recommended gauge. Every knitter is an individual, and that's okay ... that's why there is such a thing as different needle sizes!

* Pattern: 2-needle baby socks from Marianna's Lazy Daisy Days

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's hot cocoa time!

What are the first words you learn when you learn another language? Hello, goodbye, yes, no, how are you, please, thank you, and bathroom. What’s the next word you learn? Chocolate, of course. (And if it isn't, maybe it should be.)

In Spanish class, we had a homework assignment involving the Mayans and chocolate and I became fascinated by the Mayan symbol for "cocoa." It looks like a feather and a fish and is actually very cute. You can see it here on this cocoa pot from Río Azul (460 AD).

You can learn more about the history of the Mayans and chocolate at and It's pretty interesting.

The cocoa glyph was so fascinating that I decided to make it part of something knitted. I wanted the glyph to be as authentic as possible, so I did some research into the written Mayan language. Two exceptionally helpful sites were and Here's what I gleaned, in a nutshell. The ancient Mayan language was a combination of phonetic glyphs (symbols), which represented syllable sounds, and picture glyphs, or logograms, which represented ideas. Individual glyphs were grouped together into a square format to convey a word or phrase.

All these glyphs are the same word: cacao.
The Mayan word for chocolate, kakaw (cacao), is put together with phonetic symbols. The fish was one of the symbols for the syllable "ka". Add the feather-like symbol for another "ka" sound and the circle and crescent for w(a), and you get "kakaw." Symbols could vary in exact appearance and arrangement, much as modern handwriting does.

Since the symbol was going to be part of a tea cozy, it seemed appropriate to show the chocolate being warmed. Enter the logogram for fire, which looks like a flame. I rearranged the cocoa symbol to fit the flame below it, and voila - hot chocolate!

This pattern was so much fun to design and knit. I just want to cuddle the little fish! The chart wouldn't be appropriate for plain stranded colorwork due to very long color floats, but in double-knitting, this isn't a problem. Bonus: it's reversible. There's no sewing involved, since the pieces are joined with i-cord.

Mayan Hot Cocoa Tea Cozy - $5.95
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View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Will this winter never end?

So we're expecting another snow / ice storm to hit us overnight: Winter Storm Titan, this time. They give them such ominous names, don't they? What if we named it Winter Storm Fluffy? That might make it a little less intimidating.

While I don't deny that snow can be beautiful, this winter has provided enough to last a lifetime. I've almost forgotten what leaves and flowers look like in the wild.

One thing I'll say about the cold: it's ideal knitting weather. This winter has inspired in me a deep desire to make a warm blanket. The yarn arrived last week, and the project is well on its way. It's double knit in worsted weight - the perfect project to work on during this storm.

In case you too have nearly forgotten what the landscape looks like in colors other than gray, white, and brown, here's a happy thought. The snow-covered trees above will look like this in a few (hopefully) short weeks:

Happy knitting. Stay warm!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Picture This

So today I finally had a photoshoot for a design-in-waiting. No, you can't see it - yet. It has to be secret until it's released. Sorry about that. All I can tell you is that it's an Egyptian-inspired accessory. Various photos show it styled with reproduction Egyptian earrings and necklace, a Scottish brooch, and a Japanese teacup and saucer. They all harmonize surprisingly well.

Modeling my own designs is the weirdest part of being a designer. Some days I love it, other days I hate it. But like any skill, it becomes easier with a little research and practice. Have you ever felt like you're not photogenic? Haven't we all? Then have a look at these links. You'll see that being photogenic is less about the body and features you were born with and more about how you pose them. Maybe you'll soon be clamoring to have your picture taken.

How to Be Photogenic Infographic from Google+
Yes, You Are Photogenic from Studio 5
20 Things I Wish I Knew About Photography Posing from Photography Awesomesauce

One thing the lists don't tell you is to take *lots* of pictures. The more you take, the better chance you have of getting final photos you're really pleased with. The marathon of photos may be tiring, but it will be worth it. At one point, I was ready to fall asleep.

"Modeling is *so tiring*," says my photographer. "Yes, it is," I respond, with no hint of sarcasm. "Not always," he answers. "I've modeled for you." It's true, he has - hats and vests and the occasional scarf. But it's not the same, is it? He wasn't up at midnight last night ransacking two closets for the velvet skirt which was to be an essential part of the outfit and not finding it. He doesn't have to wear the dress and stockings and makeup and fret about whether he's gained a pound or twelve. But I guess it's good to have a real 3-D person model for a garment or accessory that real 3-D people will be wearing.

By the end, the camera battery was almost empty. "Oh, good!" I said. "No, I mean, oh dear, I'm so disappointed." It meant no more photoshoots today, despite the stack of samples waiting.

In the end, the photos - at least a large percentage - turned out very well. Some incentive for next time!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

If only he had known about wool-wash

I don't know about you, but I grew up with the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends was always checked out of the school library and even had a waiting list. His poems were fun and funny, not too serious but with a few touching moments. As an adult, I still enjoy rereading them from time to time. But in the intervening years I've added another humorous classic poet to my bookshelf: Ogden Nash. Some of his poems are strictly rhythmed and rhymed, others read almost like free verse with rhyming words at the ends of each phrase only, for instance "What Almost Every Woman Knows Sooner or Later". He wrote on a wide variety of subjects, from animals to airplanes and children to grandparents. One of my favorites is this:

The Centipede
by Ogden Nash
I objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he's not,
Or if he is, he makes a spot.
I dare you to find another poet who uses the word objurgate. Meanwhile, yarny goodness makes an appearance in his works, too. If only dear Mr. Nash had known about Eucalan or any of the other fine wool-washes we now have for our hand-knits, we might never have had "Shrinking Song," his ode to woollen socks.

Shrinking Song
by Ogden Nash
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
Full of color, full of clocks!
Plain and fancy, yellow, blue,
From the counter beam at you.
O golden fleece, O magic flocks!
O irresistible woollen socks!
O happy haberdasher's clerk
Amid that galaxy to work!
And now it festers, now it rankles
Not to have them round your ankles;
Now with your conscience do you spar;
They look expensive, and they are;
Now conscience whispers, You ought not to,
And human nature cries, You've got to!
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
First you buy them in a box.
You buy them several sizes large,
Fit for Hercules, or a barge.
You buy them thus because you think
These lovely woollen socks may shrink.
At home you don your socks with ease,
You find the heels contain your knees;
You realize with saddened heart
Their toes and yours are far apart.
You take them off and mutter Bosh,
You up and send them to the wash.
Too soon, too soon the socks return,
Too soon the horrid truth you learn;
Your woollen socks can not be worn
Unless a midget child is born,
and either sockless you must go,
Or buy a sock for every toe.
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
Infuriating paradox! Hosiery wonderful and terrible,
Heaven to wear, and yet unwearable.
The man enmeshed in such a quandary
Can only hie him to the laundry,
and while his socks are hung to dry,
Wear them once as they're shrinking by.
See how a little wool-wash and laying flat to dry would have solved his problem? Although one little sock for each toe sounds very cute. If you need to wash your wooly hand-knits in a location where you don't have access to your favorite wool-wash, try a little shampoo in cold or tepid water. Rinse and squeeze water out gently as you normally would. To conclude today's post, here's one more of Mr. Nash's shorter works which can be enjoyed by yarn-o-philes everywhere:

The Mermaid
by Ogden Nash
Say not the mermaid is a myth,
I knew one once named Mrs. Smith.
She stood while playing cards or knitting;
Mermaids are not equipped for sitting.
(Although how she managed to stand, I don't know - as Gilbert & Sullivan acknowledge in the Pirates of Penzance, "tails they may - but feet, they cannot!")

For more about Ogden Nash, see

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A hat really does keep you warmer

You know the old saying that we lose 80% of our body heat through our head? Many sources now say it's a myth. We lose the same amount of heat through every part of our body, and since we're warm-blooded creatures, as long as we're alive, our bodies maintain their temperature.

I think the real issue is semantic, though - all in the words. When our mothers told us to cover our heads, they didn't really think we'd turn into a kid-sicle if we didn't. They meant we'd be warmer if we kept our body heat in. When the weather is cold, we bundle up in coats and gloves and boots, which keep body heat from escaping through the majority of our skin. If we don't cover our head, heat will still escape through our scalp. BUt iif we do wear a hat, it keeps that heat in and we stay warmer.

Have you ever looked at a road in the summer and seen wavy air above it where the rising heat is causing distortion? I was standing at a door once on a very cold day with the light shining from behind me. The door was white and my shadow was very clear. I wasn't wearing a hat. Above the shadow of my head, I could see that very same ripple effect where the heat was rising out of my head. From that day on, I've been a believer - when it's cold, I wear a hat.

Also, when it's cold, I knit hats. They're quick and cozy, they don't use much yarn, and they make good gifts. They're fun to design, too. Sometimes a cooperative snowstorm will even pop up to provide the perfect backdrop for photos! Depending on your preferences, there are lots of patterns available to knit or crochet your own. But since it's not possible to have too many choices, I've added a few to the list:

Tesla's Lightning - $5.95- includes 4 sizes (Baby, Child, Woman, Man)
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Candace's Cables
- $6.95 - includes instructions for a matching cowl
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View details at Ravelry | Patternfish 

Red Dog Blues - $6.99- includes instructions for a matching scarf
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Duchesse - $6.99 - includes instructions for a matching scarflet
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish
 Everyone stay warm and safe in the snow, and happy knitting!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Totally Tubular, plus a review of grafting

I just learned the absolute best technique for casting on and binding off 1x1 ribbing: tubular cast-on and tubular bind-off. When complete, they look almost exactly the same, and they give the ribbed edges of the knit piece a smooth, rounded finish. Here are some brief instructions:

Tubular Cast-On

Picking up stitches for a tubular cast on.
Picking up stitches for a tubular cast-on. Lighter color
is waste yarn; darker color is working yarn.
Using contrasting waste yarn, cast on 1/2 the number of stitches you will want for your ribbing. Knit 1 row or round. Cut the waste yarn, leaving a 6 inch tail. 
Join pattern yarn and work 2 rows or rounds of Reverse Stockinette Stitch. On next rnd, *purl 1, then slip purl bump from first row or round of pattern yarn onto needle and knit this st. * Repeat from * to * until all stitches and purl bumps have been worked. (See diagram.) The number of stitches is now double the cast-on. From this point, work P1, K1 ribbing to desired length. After a few rows are complete, carefully remove waste yarn.

Tubular Bind-Off

You will need two empty needles for this step. Circular are best; it doesn't matter if they are slightly different sizes, as long as they are close to the size of the working needle.

Beginning with a purl stitch, work P1, K1 ribbing to desired length. When final row or round of ribbing is complete, divide stitches as follows: Hold both needles together in your right hand with tips facing left. *Slip first stitch (purl) onto one needle and hold in back; slip next st (knit) onto other needle and hold in front.* Rep from * to * until all stitches are divided. All purl stitches should be on the back needle; all knit stitches should be on the front needle. Break yarn, leaving a tail at least 3 times the length of your bind-off row / round. If you used straight needles, slip stitches onto a new needle so the yarn tail is at the working tip; if you used circular needles, slide stitches so tail is at the right tip. Graft stitches using Kitchener stitch, exactly as you would for a sock. Don't worry about the ribbing - it doesn't affect the way the stitches are grafted.

Grafting: a Quick Review

Here are the steps for grafting (aka Kitchener Stitch). When you're grafting stockinette or 1x1 ribbing, it helps to remember that on the side facing you (the front needle) you see the knit side of the stitches. On the side facing away (the back needle), you see the purl side of the stitches. So when you're completing a stitch, you'll be doing so knitwise on the front needle and purlwise on the back needle.

Begin by cutting your yarn, leaving a tail at least three times as long as your bind-off row. Thread it through a yarn needle and repeat the following 4 steps until all the stitches are gone off your needles:

1. Back needle: Draw yarn through first stitch purlwise, slip off needle.
2. Back needle: Draw yarn through second stitch knitwise, leave on needle.
3. Front needle: Draw yarn through first stitch knitwise, slip off needle.
4. Front needle: Draw yarn through second stitch purlwise, leave on needle.

Periodically use your needle or a crochet hook to adjust the completed stitches, making sure they are even.
This is the memory aid I repeat as I graft:

Back: Purl 1 off, knit 1 on; Front: Knit 1 off, purl 1 on.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why is "abbreviation" such a long word?

* YO, K2tog * Rep from * to *. What does it mean? It's like another language! You'll find these abbreviations and more in most modern knitting patterns. So I put together a handy list for translating the ones commonly used in North American patterns. You'll find it here at the new Abbreviations page. If you knit one of my patterns, these are the ones you'll encounter.

So far, the list only contains knitting terms. For crochet patterns, there are a whole other set of abbreviations. Fphdc, anyone? On the last pattern I crocheted, I learned that stands for front post half double crochet. It's actually kind of a fun stitch.

Happy knitting!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy Shortbread Day

According to, today is National Shortbread Day, in honor of which I'd like to share with you my favorite shortbread recipe. Thanks to the Tetley Tea Twitter feed for the heads-up. Enjoy; it's delicious!

Cranberry Shortbread
Victoria Magazine, 12/01

2 sticks (1 c.) softened unsalted butter
½ c. superfine sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 c. coarsely chopped dried cranberries
¼ c. minced crystallized ginger

1. Line one large or two small baking sheets (to accommodate three 6-inch rounds) with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients slowly, and the cranberries and ginger, mixing just until crumbly. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead until it just comes together. Divide dough into three balls and transfer to baking sheets, pressing each into a round about 6 inches in diameter. With a large, sharp knife, cut each round into eight wedges. Do not pull sections apart. With a small knife, score the edges of each round to create a scalloped edge. With the tines of a fork, decoratively score the top of the dough. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
4. Bake the shortbread for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cool for 15 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely. Shortbread can be cut into wedges while warm or kept in rounds to be cut at serving time. Makes 24 cookies.

In case you're wondering, the picture behind the ingredients is from a drawing I did of Mary, Queen of Scots' garden at Stirling Castle. Shortbread is a traditional Scottish treat, and it goes wonderfully with tea. Here's the original ink drawing.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bad Blogger

Hello and welcome to January 2014 at With Strings Attached. Since you're reading this, may I just say thank you for your persistence. I logged into my blog software and discovered that in all of 2013, while I managed to keep the pages for Patterns, Freebies, and Errata up-to-date, I only gave you three blog posts for the entire year. Obviously, I'm not the most frequent of writers.

When you were in school, were you required to keep a journal for any of your classes? I was, for a couple years at least. We were supposed to write at least 6 times in the space of two weeks. It didn't matter what we wrote. When I couldn't think of anything else, I'd play Word Association against myself. I was very glad when we weren't required to keep a journal anymore.

I still enjoy Word Association, though, but in a form I like to call Song Chain. It's a fun game to play with yourself if you're bored, or with someone else whether you're bored or not. Unless you're Sherrie (who co-invented it with me), you've most likely never heard of it, so here are the rules. If you're playing by yourself, you're both Player 1 and Player 2.

Player 1: Sing a phrase of any song - at least 8 words.

Player 2: Choose one word out of what was just sung. Sing a phrase (at least 8 words) of another song that contains that word.
Player 1: Choose one word out of what was just sung. Sing a phrase (at least 8 words) of another song that contains that word.

See the pattern? Keep it going as long as possible. Make your own additions to the rules: continue the song that was just sung, or sing another by the same performer, allow (or don't) songs with words in other languages or different phrases in songs already used. You'll be amazed at the amount of lyrics you didn't know you knew! (On short notice I can come up with lyrics containing the words residuum, hippopotami, or liverwurst. They're not the same song.) It's also fun to see how widely varying the songs can be. Start with a nursery rhyme, and the sky is the limit as to where you end. Play it with kids on a long car trip - you don't need any extra items, no reading or writing is involved, and you don't have to wait for a license plate with a Q in it.

One of the nicest things about this game is that it's non-competitive. Don't keep score, harmonize when you both know the words, and just have fun!

So what did this post have to do with knitting? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you're looking for recent patterns, check out the Patterns Page - the newest ones are listed at the top. And even if you don't find new blog posts here too often, the informational pages are kept up to date. You could also follow me on Pinterest or Twitter, both of which I update more than I write blog posts.

Happy knitting (and singing!)