Archive for the ‘Tips & Techniques’ Category

How To Swatch: Why Swatching Your Knitting Is Important

Saturday, August 19th, 2017
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how to swatch knitting | valley yarns northampton

Learning how to swatch correctly is one of the most important things you can do to bring your knitting to the next level. It’s also the step many knitters are keen to shorten or skip entirely. But often, when we field knitters’ questions about why a garment didn’t work out, the problem could have been avoided if a proper swatch had been worked before starting.

In this three part series, I’m going to walk you through how to swatch to achieve the best possible results in all your future knitting projects. First, we’ll go over why swatching is so important to knitting, especially if you’re knitting garments. In the second part, I’ll cover how to swatch with details about how big your swatch should be and how exactly to count your stitches to achieve the most accurate gauge. And in the third part, I’ll go over some advanced swatching techniques: how to swatch in pattern, how to swatch for colorwork, and how to swatch for pieces that will be worked in the round.

Isn’t Swatching The Worst?

I used to hate swatching, too. I didn’t like to “waste” yarn and all I wanted to do was dive into knitting my sweater. But after hundred of stitches, I would try my sweater on and be disappointed. My sweaters rarely fit properly and my incorrect gauge would even throw off the stitch pattern’s placement around necklines and armhole decreases.  

I eventually realized–especially after taking a few classes at WEBS–that swatching really mattered and I needed to reframe my view of it.

It’s definitely not a waste of yarn. By figuring out a proper gauge I avoid wasting yarn making a garment that doesn’t fit me properly. I also started to look at swatching as practice for my upcoming work: knitting a pattern swatch helps me get the hang of it and develop some muscle memory around the stitches.

I’ve actually sort of grown to love swatching! (Don’t worry, I still hate weaving in my ends!) I pick up an extra skein of yarn and take my time finding the proper gauge whenever I start a project. Sometimes it only takes one swatch, other times a few. If I’m designing, I swatch until I’m 100% satisfied with my gauge and fabric before knitting my first sample.

hot to swatch knitting | madelinetosh tosh sock | malabrigo mechita

Swatches of Malabrigo Mechita and Madelinetosh Tosh Sock I made as I designed the colorwork pattern of a sweater I’m working on.

Why Swatching Your Knitting Important (H1)

The main reason why it’s so important to swatch is to confidently know your gauge: how many stitches fit into one inch of your knitting. If your pattern’s gauge is 5 stitches to the inch on US size 7 needles with a worsted weight yarn, you can’t assume that you will automatically knit the same gauge with size 7 needles and a worsted weight yarn. Take a moment to click on the link for worsted weight yarn and compare the gauges.

Did you notice how much variety there was in our worsted weight selection? The yarns’ gauge could vary anywhere between 4.5 stitches per inch on US 8 needles to 5 stitches per inch on US 6 needles.  

There will even be gauge variation in the yarn itself! Let’s take a look at Malabrigo Rios, pictured below:

Malabrigo Rios Yarn Hanks | WEBS How To Swatch Knitting

We list Malabrigo Rios’ gauge as 4.5-5.5sts = 1″ on US 6-8. Would you be able to knit this gauge at 5 stitches per inch? Definitely! Will it be on the US 7 needles you prefer to use? There’s no way to accurately know without making a gauge swatch.

You might then ask, “But I’ve knit with Malabrigo Rios before and I know what my gauge is! Can’t I just assume it’s still the same?”

The answer is maybe. If you’re going to knit a scarf or a shawl and you know that in the past you’ve really enjoyed the fabric you’ve knit with Rios on US 7 needles, skip the swatch. Just be aware that if you’re following a pattern, you might run into yardage issues if you’re not sure of your gauge compared to the pattern.

But if you’re going to knit a sweater, you should definitely knit another set of swatches. Start with the needle size you think will be right and double check! It’s better to know certainly that your gauge with that particular yarn and needle combination hasn’t changed before knitting a garment that ends up not fitting you properly.

Factors That Affect Your Knitting Gauge 

It’s important to recheck your gauge because so many things can affect it. Anything from how you’re feeling that day to what kind of dye is being used in the yarn can alter the the way you know.

How to swatch Valley Yarns Haydenville

Working large swatches of at least 8″ will help you find your knitting groove and yield a more accurate gauge swatch.

Your Knitting Needles

Different knitting needle materials will yield different gauges from the same knitter. I’ve been knitting with Knitter’s Pride Dreamz for awhile and was reliably knitting about one needle size down from what a pattern would call for. I recently picked up a set of Knitter’s Pride Royale special needles. They have a metal tip but are otherwise the same as Dreamz. This seemingly small difference changed my gauge! On the Royales my gauge is frequently correct in the needle size recommended by the pattern.

Yarn Materials & Dye

A worsted weight yarn that’s 100% wool is going to knit differently than a worsted weight yarn that’s a cotton blend. Even the same yarn you used a year ago could have a slightly different dye component that can affect your gauge. There’s really no way of knowing how a yarn is going to behave on your needles, even if it’s a yarn you’re familiar with, until you knit up a new gauge swatch and find out.

How Much Time You Spend Knitting 

We recommend large gauge swatches for a reason, and it’s really not because we want you to buy more yarn! A large gauge swatch of at least 8 inches helps you get into your knitting groove. If you only knit a 4” x 4” swatch, you’re not really knitting the way you would knit when you spend a couple of hours working on the body of a sweater while binging your favorite Netflix show. We all tend to loosen up a bit as we knit for longer periods of time and a large swatch helps mimic your natural knitting. A swatch that is closer to your natural knitting rhythm will yield a more trustworthy gauge swatch and a more accurate final project.

How You Feel While You’re Knitting

The mood you’re in on any given day can also affect your gauge! If you knit a small swatch while you’re really stressed out after a hard day at work, imagine how much tighter your tension will be than if you knit that same small swatch after a couple of glasses of wine on a Saturday. Neither will be an accurate representation of your gauge! Knitting a larger swatch will help alleviate any quirks in tension caused by any good or bad emotions you might be feeling that day.

A Small Difference In Gauge Makes A Big Difference In Final Project

So we convinced you and you’ve knit a nice big gauge swatch, now it’s time to count your stitches per inch. (We’ll cover this in more detail in the next post.) You realize that instead of your gauge being 5 stitches per inch on the nose, it’s 5.25 stitches. It’s such a small difference, you might be tempted to say that it’s good enough and knit your final project.

But a ¼ stitch difference per inch across an entire garment really adds up. Let’s say you’re making a sweater with a gauge of 5 stitches per inch. If your sweater’s total circumference is 38”, at 5 stitches per inch, the pattern would ask you to cast on 190 stitches. If you cast on those 190 stitches with a gauge of 5.25 stitches per inch, your final garment will actually measure about 36”. You’ll lose two whole inches of circumference from that little difference!

Now, if you really wanted to keep your gauge of 5.25 stitches per inch, you could do a bunch of math to make your pattern fit your gauge. But that’s a post for a different day.

Everyone Knits Differently

This is really important when you’re following patterns. Your gauge with a worsted weight yarn on US 7 needles is most likely different than what the pattern author’s gauge is with the same yarn and needles. Take a look at these two swatches of Valley Yarn Northampton:

Valley Yarns Northampton Swatches | two different knitters

At first glance, you might think these two swatches are knit on drastically different size needles. However, they’re the same yarn on the same needles knit by two different people! It’s the perfect example of why you can’t assume that your knitting is going to match the knitting of a pattern designer.

TL;DR? Swatching is key to insure that you’re knitting at the correct gauge for the pattern you’re following. It will ultimately save you a lot of time and frustration. There’s no better feeling than being able to trust your knitting and follow a pattern without fear that your end result won’t fit properly.

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to catch the next installment of our Swatching Series!

5 Tips for Tent Sale!

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017
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The wait is over – clean out the trunk of your car! This weekend, Saturday, May 20th and Sunday May, 21st WEBS will be hosting our 15th Annual Tent Sale at our Northampton, Mass store!

Whether this is your first trip, or you’re a Tent Sale pro, here are a few insider tips for shopping our biggest in-store sale of the year!

 

1. Come prepared!

If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, it’s not a bad idea to take a peek at our website and check out our offerings. Our May Sale is in full swing, and you can score some excellent deals under the tent, as well as in the store, and the warehouse. Coming with a few patterns, and having a list is an excellent idea, and will help give you some inspiration. Knowing what PDF patterns you’ll need printed out at checkout will help you as well. Of course, there will be yarns or sales that are just too good to pass up – so, be open to trying something new! WEBS offers a volume discount of 20% off of full priced yarns if you spend $60, and 25% off of full priced yarns if you spend $120. For more information about our discount system, click here!

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Historically, the Saturday of Tent Sale is our busiest day of the entire year! Every person who works for WEBS will be on hand to help, but not everyone will have the same knowledge as our retail store staff, especially in the hustle and bustle of a busy day. If you have specific questions about patterns, we suggest stopping by the store on another day, or taking advantage of our free drop in classes, if you can! We want to provide you with the best service we possibly can!

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2. We can (almost) always order more!

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Because our store is in one location, and our shipping warehouse is in the next town over, what it says we have in stock online, doesn’t always reflect what we actually have on hand, which can be frustrating for customers who are traveling a long way to come to Tent Sale. There’s no need to fear though – we can order you the quantity you need at checkout, and if it’s in stock, we’ll ship it home to you for free! If the item is out of stock, we’ll backorder it for you, and charge your shipping fees when it hits the mail. If you’re shopping online this week, you can also select “in store pick-up” at checkout, and your items will be waiting at the store for you . . . but you’ll have to act fast – we need about 48 hours to fulfill these orders!

 

3. Don’t forget about our Fleece Market on Saturday!

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Everyone’s always excited for the Fleece Market, which takes place from 10 until 5 on Saturday. We’ll have 15 (!!!) local farms who will be set up around the perimeter of our parking lot, selling all kinds of goods, from fleeces and handmade yarn, to lamb meat and jewelry. Bring some extra cash – you never know what you’ll find! Check out a full list of vendors over here, with links to their websites.

4. There will be lines!

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There’s no avoiding it, there will be some waiting. Thankfully, we will have parking attendants on hand who will help you find a place to park easily. To alleviate wait times, we’ll have extra cash registers set up to accommodate everyone as quickly and smoothly as possible. We can’t avoid long lines though, so try to bear with us. So, wear comfortable shoes and bring a friend to chat with (or your knitting!) – you’ll get through that line in no time!

 

5.  Bring a snack, or stop by the bistro bus!

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It’s a given – most people plan to spend a good chunk of time at Tent Sale. We encourage you to bring plenty of water and a snack. The Bistro Bus will also be parked in our lot for most of the day (10 – 3), so there’s no need to leave for lunch. Check out their menu! They have delicious offerings, like Asian Fusion Tacos, and Quesadillas, as well as weekly specials!

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Are you as excited as we are?

WEBS will be open on Saturday from 10 – 5:30, and from 10 -4 on Sunday. Don’t forget to tune into WHMP for Ready, Set, Knit!, which will be airing LIVE at 9. We’ll also be posting a virtual tour of the Fleece Market for those who can’t make it, but still want to get in on the action.

 

We can’t wait to see you!

Step Up to the Plate: Spring Training 2017

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
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When most people think about Spring Training, they’re picturing their favorite baseball team getting ready to start the season. Here at WEBS, Spring Training means getting warmed up for all of our fantastic spinning events, like Tour de Fleece and Spinzilla! Dust off your drop spindles and wheels, grab that fiber you’ve been hoarding since Rhinebeck, and join us on Sunday, March 12th for Spring Training from 10-4!

We even have an exclusive Rookie or All Star fiber pack from Louet, which includes all the fiber you’ll need to get started AND the 2017 Spring Training tote bag!

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Choose two clinics, one in the morning from 10-12, and one in the afternoon from 2-4. In between, you’re encouraged to bring a lunch and join us for some Sunday shopping, and yoga for spinners, taught by our very own Amy Greenman! Check out the full list of skill-building workshops, here!

 

Planning on joining us and haven’t signed up yet? Click here. The more, the merrier!

Altering a Hand Knit Garment

Thursday, August 4th, 2016
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Many of you know Marthe – one of our store team members.  Last summer, she decided to knit a sweater as a gift for her daughter, Lilah.  Standing nearly 6 feet tall, Lilah can never find garments, particularly sweaters, that account for her height and long arms, so Marthe took up the challenge to knit a sweater that fit her daughter’s shape.  Marthe chose to knit a cardigan in Sweet Georgia Superwash DK in the Cranberry colorway.  After lots of knitting to accommodate the 29 year old’s frame, Lilah’s beautiful sweater was shipped off to her. She was thrilled but found the upper arms to be a bit too loose which made her feel frumpy (photo).  There was too much ease in the upper arms. She asked her mother if anything could be done without reworking the sweater altogether.

Marthe altered her daughter's Custom Fit sweater, details on the WEBS Blog at blog.yarn.com

Marthe’s solution was a three-step process. She began by removing the mattress stitched seam from the forearm to the armpit,  folding over the excess fabric, and pinning it to create a new line for seaming.  She then re-seamed the sleeve to the more accurate dimension, along the folded edge, using mattress stitch.  Finally, Marthe used her serger to remove the excess fabric and secure the yarn ends. She did say, however, that a serger is not essential. The same result may be achieved by using a sewing machine to straight stitch, and then trimming the excess knitted material – just like doing a steek.

The alteration was successful!  Lilah was thrilled and immediately asked her mother for another handknit sweater. Her next request?  Could Marthe knit the sleeves a half inch shorter next time!

Fit Fiber Crafters: Good for Your Brain

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
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As the new year begins, many like to focus on shaping up and getting healthier. Each Tuesday in January, our Fit Fiber Crafters series will give you tips on getting your personal yarn world a little healthier, from the health of your stash to the health of your body while crafting, keeping your finished project looking healthy, and exercising your brain when your craft.

Good for Your Brain Learn a New Technique

We’ve all seen the news stories touting what we’ve all known for a long time – knitting (and other fiber crafts) are good for your brain. Not only does it help cognitive function, these activities can help with depression. We like to think that any learning can’t be bad, so why not take some time this year to help your brain’s health and stretch your knowledge a little.

We challenge everyone to learn one new fiber-related skill this year. If you’re not sure where to start, you can take a look at our class offerings. Another option is checking out that pattern or weaving draft you’ve been eyeing but have always thought, “Oh, that’s too hard.” It’s not. You can do it. Use 2016 as your chance to learn how to do it.

Many of us often try new things and stop immediately because it’s too hard. Stretch yourself this year. Take the time to truly learn something new. Show your friends what you did. Maybe you’ll encourage them to try it too.

What are you going to challenge yourself with this year?

Fit Fiber Crafters: Project Care

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016
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As the new year begins, many like to focus on shaping up and getting healthier. Each Tuesday in January, our Fit Fiber Crafters series will give you tips on getting your personal yarn world a little healthier, from the health of your stash to the health of your body while crafting, keeping your finished project looking healthy, and exercising your brain when your craft.

Project Care Choosing the Right Technique

How do you care for your handmade finished fiber projects? This is a question that gets asked often. Many times, the items we make are outerwear, so they don’t have to be laundered as often, but it’s important to know how you’re going to clean something before you create it.

One of the benefits of swatching or sampling is that you get to practice taking care of your finished project. Launder your swatch or sample they way you plan on taking care of it once it’s done. Taking a little extra time at the beginning of your project helps go a long way towards ensuring that you won’t have a sweater that grows into a dress, or a towel that shrinks so much it becomes a washcloth.

As far as laundering goes, you’ll want to check the care instructions that came with your yarn, then consider what the purpose of the project is. You probably want to be able to machine wash, and even dry, a baby blanket, or a kitchen towel, but a shawl or even an adult sweater would be fine to live its life being hand washed. Before even starting your project, you want to make sure it’s going to last. If your swatch comes out of it’s first trip in the washing machine looking a bit worse for the wear, your entire project will probably behave the same way.

On the other hand, if you throw that swatch or sample in the washing machine and it comes out looking just beautiful, you want to keep the finished project looking that way. Sometimes, especially on wool, our usual laundry detergent can be a little too harsh. A wool wash, like Eucalan is not only great for handwashing, it’s also perfect for using in your machine like regular detergent. It’s great for woolens, but also other delicate items you may have in your life.

Before you wash your project, take a quick look at it (whether your hand or machine washing) and make sure there aren’t any stitches that need fixing or ends that need weaving. You don’t want to wash your gorgeous sweater with a small hole that later becomes a giant, tangled mess, when it could have been prevented.

A little care in the health of your finished projects will go a long way in ensuring they’re in your life for years to come.

Check out this great video about washing your projects, too.

Fit Fiber Crafters: Sitting Pretty

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
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As the new year begins, many like to focus on shaping up and getting healthier. Each Tuesday in January, our Fit Fiber Crafters series will give you tips on getting your personal yarn world a little healthier, from the health of your stash to the health of your body while crafting, keeping your finished project looking healthy, and exercising your brain when your craft.

Sitting Pretty Good Posture and Breaks Prevent Injury

We all dream about being able to sit down and knit, crochet, spin, or weave all day, but our bodies are not especially excited about that idea, especially if we’re not being careful to take care of them as we craft. It’s important to avoid injury when crafting so you don’t miss out on extended periods of time doing your favorite activity.

Some things to keep in mind when crafting:

Lighting and Seating
You want to make sure your area is well lit. Having to strain your eyes takes the fun out of your favorite activity and can lead to things like headaches. When you choose where you’re going to sit, it’s best to choose a comfortable spot that has plenty of support where you can sit up straight. I’m guilty if sitting on the couch turned sideways without much care for which way I’m sitting, and I know that leads to pain.

Take Breaks and Stretch.
As much as we love a long session of crafting, breaks are incredibly important. Every half hour or so, get up and take a walk around the house. Go get a glass of water, play with your pet, or go through a stack of mail. Do some stretches. Stretch your hands and wrists, and your shoulders and back. Do some shoulder rolls and get everything a little loosened before you sit back down to go back at it.

Be Mindful
When we’re working on something really complicated, a lot of us hunch up so our shoulders they’re touching our ears. Try to be mindful of where your body is as you craft. A simple readjustment in your body position can also give you a break from a difficult task you’re trying to get done, and it’s long enough to come back at it with new eyes. Maybe a lightbulb will go off!

Most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re hand is going numb, or your back is starting to feel funny, it’s time for a break and reevaluation.

Fit Fiber Crafters: Stash Health

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016
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As the new year begins, many like to focus on shaping up and getting healthier. Each Tuesday in January, our Fit Fiber Crafters series will give you tips on getting your personal yarn world a little healthier, from the health of your stash to the health of your body while crafting, keeping your finished project looking healthy, and exercising your brain when you craft.

Stash Health

The stash! Most of us have one, but we don’t always think of the best ways to keep it healthy. We’ve pulled together a few tips to help you maintain the health of your stash so it’s ready when you reach for it with the perfect project in mind.

Organization
The new year is the perfect time to get organized. Many of us are dealing with colder temperatures that make outdoor activities harder, and less enjoyable. Spend a little time every day to organize your stash, so you know what you have. You can check out previous blog posts we’ve done on organizing and cataloging your stash.

Check for Unfriendlies
The word many yarn-lovers live in fear of – moths! There are a few different critters that can get into and damage your yarn, so while you’re organizing, it’s a good idea to check for them. If you’re already organized, take a little time every so often to inspect your yarn and fiber well. You can store your yarn in zip-top bags, or plastic bins. Again, you’ll want to let some air in every so often to keep things healthy. Keeping a generally tidy space can also help deter critters from hanging out in your stash.

Enjoy It
One of the most fun things about having a stash, is rediscovering yarns that you loved and just needed to have. Keep your stash healthy by showing it a little love.

Handspun, now what? What to knit with your handspun yarn.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
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I have plenty of yarn to work through in my handspun stash this year thanks to Tour de Fleece and Spinzilla but deciding what projects to make can be simultaneously tedious and overwhelming.  There is one website and one important tool that I use when deciding on a project, Ravelry and my yarn gauge.

Spinzilla wrap up, what to knit with your handspun yarn. Read more on the WEBS Blog at blog.yarn.com

First I use my yarn gauge to figure out what my yarn is. Is it worsted, DK, bulky? I wrap the yarn loosely around my gauge and count how many wraps per inch (wpi) I have. I’m using the Fractal spun yarn that I plied from a center-pull ball back in Sept. I ended up with 15 wpi, so I have a fingering weight yarn. Here’s a handy chart that will help to translate wpi into more useful information.  You’ll notice that the stitch gauge is roughly 1/2 the wpi.

Spinzilla wrap up, what to knit with your handspun yarn. Using Ravelry.com to narrow your pattern search. Read more on the WEBS Blog at blog.yarn.com

Now you know your yarn gauge and you can go looking for patterns! Ravelry not only has a fantastic pattern library but they have an advanced pattern search feature that lets you narrow down your search by gauge, yardage, fiber, and more! Go to the pattern tab at the top of the page and you can choose the advanced pattern seach – right there on the left of the screen under the binoculars. Then you can scroll down the categories on the left hand side and narrow down your choices! By choosing Fingering, 300-450 yds and Merino I was still left with over 9,000 pattern choices. So I narrowed it further by choosing a cowl, shawl or scarf pattern and that knocked it down to 3,000 options, but still too many! So I chose adult only patterns and then narrowed my search one more time to Free patterns and that left me with 164, not too bad.

Spinzilla wrap up, what to knit with your handspun yarn. Read more on the WEBS Blog at blog.yarn.com

I didn’t want anything with colorwork or with too much texture since I really want the handspun to shine, I want the fractal color shifts to be the star of the show. I found the Terraform Shawl and it fits the bill! Not only is there a bit of stitch work to keep me interested (no worries about miles and miles of mind-numbing stockinette stitch), but the pattern will show off my yarn, and I can just keep going until I run out of yarn. It couldn’t be more perfect! How do you decide what projects are right for your handspun? Have you made anything with your Spinzilla yarns yet?

Check Out Northampton

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
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Our friends at Smith College created a cute video featuring Northampton. Make sure you check it out, and watch until the end for a special cameo from your favorite yarn store.