Posts Tagged ‘knitting’

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!

Cashmere, Of Course

Friday, January 27th, 2017
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Continuing my love affair with yarn that is not sport or fingering weight, I have been anxiously waiting to get our new Valley Yarn Wachusett on my needles. If you haven’t caressed this yarn yet, you are missing a very comforting experience. A very luxurious blend of merino wool and cashmere (the magic word!) makes knitting with Wachusett a treat. Getting a gauge of 19 stitches to 4 inches in stockinette makes a sweater fly off the needles, and a very generous 163 yards in a ball will let you settle in for hours of fun. A very slight halo and a range of clear brights and smoky neutrals give you lots of choices if you like colorwork or color blocks; of course, any of those colors could stand on their own as well.

Amy's loving Valley Yarns Wachusett, read more on the WEBS Blog at

The Backstage Boss hat from Advenure Du Jour Designs would be a great test knit for Wachusett–with two colors that can either complement or contrast, you’d get a real feel for what this yarn can do. I’m a fan!

Big, Bigger, Biggest

Friday, January 13th, 2017
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I realized that my last two substantive projects (sweaters, that is) were both knit in teeny, tiny yarn. Usually I’m a fan of a gauge that is smallish, but it just takes too darn long. And my hands ache by the time I’m seaming.

I went back to an old fave, Rowan Big Wool. About 10 years ago, I knit a sweater in this yarn and I remembered that feeling of being able to finish not one, but two sleeves in an evening. It’s BIG. In a good way. Less than 2 stitches to 1 inch on size 17-19 needles. It’s like knitting with two broomsticks! But for a small project like a hat, a cowl, a scarf, even a vest, you’ll get that superhero feeling of making a garment in no time at all. Big Wool is 100% merino wool, tightly plied, so it’s not fuzzy. A generous 100-gram ball gives the knitter plenty of bang for not a lot of bucks. Even more enticing, when you buy 5 skeins of Big Wool, we’ll give you the Rowan Archive Collection Big Wool book FREE! Lots of great patterns that use this lovely stuff to its best advantage are in this treasure trove.

Rowan Big Wool and Amy's plans for a quick knit on the WEBS Blog, read more at

Because I love the feeling of being wrapped up in a blanket, I might make the Pioneer Cape, a really smart shoulder covering that will stay in place, unlike a shawl or a scarf. The color palette is muted but expansive, giving you just the range you’d like for a conspicuous yarn like this. Now go, knit like the wind!

Mind Over Matter

Friday, December 16th, 2016
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I’ve been unsettled lately. The universe seems to be sending me (and lots of people I know) signs that we need to simplify, focus, cultivate warmth and compassion. Of course, I turn to knitting, as it is one of the crafts I can count on to engage my mind without leaving much room for thinking about what seems to be a bleak next few months. A yarn I’ve been loving is West Yorkshire Spinners Illustrious, a serious wooly wool that isn’t scratchy or fuzzy. West Yorkshire Spinners are based in England (of course!) and source their wool locally, processing it in a very traditional way on state of the art equipment. It’s the best of both worlds or handmade craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. The result is a tightly spun DK-weight yarn in 12 delicious colors to use as you’d like. Stranding, cables, textures, open-work; Illustrious can do it all.

West Yorkshire Spinners Illustrious yarn and pattern collection. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

West Yorkshire Spinners commissioned designer Emma Wright to come up with a series of garments, accessories, and wearables to showcase Illustrious, and her 11 patterns reflect the design process from start to finish. I’ve been eyeing a fantastic colorwork cardigan called Hermione so I can use as many of those 12 colors as possible.

What kind of knitting takes you to a happier place? Let us know in the comments.

Arranmore by The Fibre Co.

Friday, November 25th, 2016
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I wanted to write about this wonderful stuff a few months ago, but we went through a dry spell and didn’t have it in stock (that’s the sign of a great yarn–you have to suffer through a drought before the good stuff rains down). Now we are fully stocked and you should know about it because once you try it, you won’t want to knit with anything else.

Arranmore is a beautiful example of a true Donegal tweed yarn, spun in Ireland. In colors that capture the Irish coast, it’s a true aran-weight yarn, meaning it is toothy and authentically wooly, with flecks of color throughout highlighting the earth, sky, and water tones of the yarn. Composed of wool, cashmere, and silk, Arranmore has a springy, sturdy feel and a substantial crispness that relaxes and blooms once wet-blocked. at 3.5 stitches to 1 inch on US size 8 needles, your projects will fly off your needles quickly, and the twist ensures no splitting or catching on your needle tips.

The Fibre Co. Arranmore on the WEBS Blog at

Of course, The Fibre Co. has great pattern support, and thoughtful garments and accessories showcase this colleen of a yarn to it’s finest. I think if I wasn’t drowning in gift-knitting, I’d probably be casting on The Lake Isle tunic. It’s a fascinating combination of plain stockinette and colorwork, with an unexpected funnel neck to keep one warm in the chilly UK winter weather. Or the chilly New England weather. Try it and see; you won’t want to stop knitting.

The More You Know

Friday, November 11th, 2016
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I tried out a new circular needle recently and it was a game-changer. Knitter’s Pride Royale fixed circular needles are wood with metal tips, which I like (somehow, metal seems pointier). What I really love about the Royales are that they SWIVEL at the join. Come on! Yes, they do. No kinking up, no twisted joins, just smooth sailing. This swivel is only available in the fixed circular needles, not in the interchangeable sets, alas. But what a great reason to stock up on sizes you may need for your holiday knitting! They’d be a great stocking stuffer for a knitting group buddy, or an in-law at a gift exchange.

Knitter's Pride Royale Needles on the WEBS Blog at

I’ve been making some deadline projects lately, but once I free up my time and buy the right size Royale, I’ll be casting on the Genevieve Baby Cardigan for a special baby arriving in December. So fast, so delightful on the right needles. Check them out!

Noro For Grownups

Friday, October 28th, 2016
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One of the first sweaters I made, for my then-7-year-old son, was in Noro Kureyon. He loved the colors but it was a tad scratchy, and after he grew out of it, I couldn’t find any child that would love that sweater like he did. Noro has always been the gold standard for eye-catching, long color repeats and brightly-hued blues, pinks, reds, and greens. At least, I thought that’s what I loved about Noro yarns.

Read more about Noro Tennen on the WEBS blog at

What did I spot in one of my hoarding window-shopping expeditions into the store? Why, Noro Tennen, a gorgeous blend of wool, silk, and alpaca in colors evocative of nature in late November. The color names bring to mind images of stone, smoke, wood, and salmon, and the yarn brings those images onto your needles. Each worsted-weight skein is a very generous 275 yards, making the possibility of a hat, cowl, ear-warmer, or fingerless mitts out of one of those skeins very real. But I think this slightly fuzzy, rustic yarn demands a sweater, and our Shay Cap Sleeve Pullover would be perfect to show off the muted colors and unique texture of this special yarn. Perfect to throw on over a slim long-sleeve shirt or under a heavier jacket, Tennen will be a savvy investment for moments of quiet, contemplative stitching.

Kits = Best Thing Ever

Friday, July 29th, 2016
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Kits seems to be the New Thing. I think that I’ve never seen so many kits in the store as I did on a recent meander through the yarns. I hasten to add that I think kits are a fabulous thing, because you have every single thing you need to knit or crochet (or weave!) a project with no need to make any kind of decision whatsoever, other than what color palette you most enjoy. There are so many different project kits I’m just dying to use that I thought I’d let you in on some of my favorites.

Project and specialty yarn kits available at Read more on the WEBS Blog at

The Fair Isle Box of Itty-Bitties captured my heart. If you’ve ever done Fair Isle knitting you know that you use about a yard of each color and it makes no financial sense to buy 10 different skeins of yarn and use a quarter of each to make a hat. This beautiful box of teensy skeins of sport weight yarn in 8 colors will turn into a beautiful Fair Isle hat in your talented hands. Three different colorways give lots of options.

More options await you in the Wonderland Yarns “Mad Hatter” kits. Included in each kit is a large skein (344 yards) and 5 smaller skeins (86 yards each) for a total of 774 yards of lovely sport weight yarn. That’s plenty to make the “Which Way” shawl that is free with the purchase of one of the 6 color options.

Artyarns has also conspired to seduce fiberlovers with Gradient Kits. These are colors in the same family that range from light to dark, perfect for shawls and scarves in ombre or gradient designs. WEBS carries several different color palettes including 3 that are exclusive to our customers. And Merino Cloud yarns are deeeee-lightful, a merino/cashmere blend that is twisted for beautiful stitch definition.

There are plenty more to drool over–Zen Yarn Gardens Cordoba Shawl kit, using Superfine Fingering yarn in their signature intense colors, Lorna’s Laces String Quintet kits in Shepherd Sock, Baah Yarns “Wings” cowl kit in Baah Yarns’ La Jolla, pattern included in the kit. I think you’ll have a hard time deciding to make just one project. Tell us what kits you love the most in the comments!

Best In Class

Friday, July 15th, 2016
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Every June, I am honored to celebrate another class of graduates from the WEBS Expert Knitter Certification Program. We just had our graduation and 9 new designers have been launched into the knitting universe! Our very swanky ceremony was held at a very nice hotel/conference center nearby for the first time ever–because we’ve outgrown our former celebration venue otherwise known as “the back classroom.” Want to see some eye candy?

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Our graduates this year are, from left to right, Lorraine McGough, Sara Gibbons, Liz Frosch-Dratfield, Andy Tarr, Alexis Price, Lindsey Lindequist, Susan Baron, Donna Smith, and missing from the photo is graduate Cindy Romaniak. Each created a masterpiece of design and construction using the skills learned in the 16 required classes that make up the WEKP, as we call it.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

This year’s sweaters ran the gamut of texture and construction. Susan Baron made an absolutely perfect coat in Madelinetosh Chunky; the detail was incredible. From the complicated math she used to figure out how to end a cable at the shoulder seam, to the ingenious use of a sport-weight yarn as a facing for the heavier front panel of the jacket, Susan made a garment that any professional designer would be proud to call their own. And, she got the stamp of approval from the designer herself when Amy Hendrix, the co-owner of Madelinetosh, saw Susan’s Capstone at her appearance at WEBS and loved it.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Alexis Price made a lovely cabled pullover, keeping it traditional in her yarn and color choice, but making it her own with shaping and textural details. You can see the pride she takes in her Aran sweater (as well she should!).

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Cindy Romaniak’s complex paneled design contains a number of elements completely unique to her design sensibility. Her use of several different stitch patterns, unique Empire shaping, directional knitting, and eye-catching colorwork made this garment stand out.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Sara Gibbons created an exquisite saddle-shoulder lace-and-cable sweater with 3/4 sleeves and knit it in a heathery green that beautifully complements her coloring. Sara was the most independent of our designers, needing only to consult her mentor Kirsten Hipsky for a few final questions about her finishing. Sara’s design was inspired by a sweater of her mother’s and she really nailed the essence of that earlier sweater.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Lindsey Lindequist achieved the impossible – she finished her Capstone sweater while caring for a 2-year-old and a newborn. My hat is off to her! Her 2-color cable and sweet “Tree of Live” design on her front pockets (pockets! yes!) add standout elements to a reverse-stockinette background. Congrats, Lindsey!

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Lorraine McGough’s “Butterfly Sweater” (as she and I both called it) reflects her sunny personality as well as her perseverance. She knit the front as one piece and then steeked it (in order to preserve the unity of her butterfly eyelet stitch pattern), and knit intarsia butterflies around the shoulders and hem. Her sunny yellow color choice and bright bursts of color were exactly what she planned.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Donna Smith made a designer’s dream sweater: she used stitch patterning to shape the back design of her cabled rib cardigan. The placement of her buttons emphasized the vintage look of her swing design and the blue color she chose added the perfect final touch.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Andy Tarr had a tough year but still managed to pull off one of the most beautiful sweaters we’ve seen–and the complexity involved in her yarn and design made her dedication to her project even tougher. Andy hand-dyed Valley Yarns Huntington in shades of lavender and purple to achieve a gradient pattern, and she knitted a contrasting lace overlay as the front panel of her cardigan. It can be worn either buttoned on both sides as a fitted cardi, or open, as a draped open piece. Either way she wears it, the craftsmanship is evident in every detail.

The 2016 WEBS Expert Knitters Graduates at their Capstone Ceremony. Read more on the WEBS Blog at

Liz Frosch-Dratfield had a rough year as well–and almost decided to wait to finish her sweater. However, with some persuasion, she decided to forge ahead (since I knew she’d been planning her Capstone design for over a year!) and her finished design is absolutely exquisite. Knit in Valley Yarns Northfield in purple and heathery green, she used a leaf motif throughout. The ties in front, the hemline, and the sleeves showed off hand-crafted leaves, and the lace patterning echoed the leaves, climbing like vines up the front and back panels of her cardigan. The final result is a flattering and eye-catching work of art.

I’m so proud of this year’s grads. Huge thank yous go to our Capstone mentors: Stephanie Gibbs, Cyndi Shepard, Erin Holman, Ping Wood, Kirsten Hipsky, and Sara Delaney. A thank you as well to Kris Potasky of KP&Co Designs, who hand-made lovely, lovely matching bracelets as our gift to the graduates. And a final thanks to Kathy and Steve Elkins, who started the WEBS Expert Knitter Certification Program in 2008. It’s grown to almost 100 folks at present, and 34 have graduated since 2009. I hope you find inspiration in these designs.

Want to be Inspired?

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
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Do you have a knitter in your life who consistently amazes and inspires you? Someone who tackles challenging projects and actually finishes them on a timely basis? As Store Manager, I’m fortunate to get to know lots of WEBS customers and their work. Sometimes I’m so impressed that I ask them to be sample knitters for the store. I’d like to introduce you to one of these ladies today. Her name is Susan Drew and if you’ve been in the store and admired one of our samples, there’s a good chance that she knit it.

Susan and I have had many occasions to talk and when I hit on the idea of featuring some of our customers and their beautiful work as an occasional feature of my blog posts, I immediately thought of her. Susan is one of the smartest, accomplished and conscientious knitters I know. We sat down a couple of weeks ago to talk about her knitting life.

Customer project spotlight on the WEBS Blog at

Clockwise from top left: Russian Medallion Shawl by Inna Voltchkova(Piecework Sept/Oct 2015) in JaggerSpun Zephyr Wool-Silk 2/18, Curry. Kowhai and Fern Shawl by Margaret Stove from Wrapped in Lace in Juniper Moon Farm Findley, White. Daydreams in Lace by Brooke Nico(Knitter’s Magazine 100, Fall 2010) in Jojoland Ballad, Coffee Beaded Diamond Shawl by Catherine Devine in Schaefer Yarn Company Andrea Beaded Wedding Purse by Susan Rainey in Red Heart Fashion Crochet Thread (size 5), Silver This shawl was knit by my mother in the early 1960’s. I do not know the name of the pattern or yarn.


Like many of us, Susan’s mother taught her to knit at the age of eight. After a 20 year hiatus (during which she worked and raised a family), Susan picked up the craft again, exploring a new world of fibers, teaching herself new techniques, attending Stitches conventions, and enrolling in our WEKP program five years ago. After some initial difficulty with a complicated lace shawl using 100% silk yarn, she realized two things: she was intrigued by lace knitting and, lace was not the type of knitting she’d be able to do for the rest of her life (fine yarn and tiny charts!). Susan wanted to create a collection of exquisite knits to pass on to future generations who would wear them and appreciate the art and craft of knitting.

Susan has built her Heirloom Collection around projects that she loves the most. A stole that her mother knit was the piece that launched her Collection. She is drawn to traditional lace from around the world and is intrigued by the stories behind the designs, particularly Estonian and Russian creations. She’s even made her peace with nupps using bamboo needles that she sharpens herself! Susan credits Ravelry as a research tool for upcoming projects and as a means of communication with other knitters and designers world-wide. A portion of Susan’s Heirloom pieces are featured in the photos here. All knit with luxurious fibers, being able to appreciate them in person was a real treat.

I join Susan in her belief that knitting is one of the most rewarding things that we do. Knowing that we’ve used our own hands to make something unique is a pleasure that all crafts people share. We are all very privileged in perpetuating a centuries-long art and making it our own.

If you know of knitters or crocheters who inspire you, drop me a note.  I’d love to share their work here.

Knit away!