Wayward Knitter Pays for Her Follies

What do you do when you run out of yarn in the middle of a knitting project? It’s the sort of thing that happens to someone like me, who knits by the seat of her pants, without a whole lot of knowledge or regard for things like gauge. You play, you pay.

This project that didn’t go as planned, to put it mildly. I started it for my daughter when she was two. I was trying to knit  a size 4, because I thought it would take me two years to knit my first sweater.

While I was knitting it, three things became clear:

1) If it wasn’t pink, she wasn’t going to wear it.

2) If it didn’t feel like Old Navy cotton pajamas, she wasn’t going to wear it.

3) I had miscalculated gauge (or something) by a long shot, and the body of the sweater was so big it might even fit me. And, oops, there might not be enough yarn for arms. And double oops: the yarn was now out of “print” so I couldn’t get more of it. Yes, I recently tried ebay. No dice.

Not quite able to rip it out, I put it on the shelf. Fast forward five (yes, five!) years later. Suddenly Little Miss is interested in colors like green. She wears wool sweaters. She finds the abandoned project in my knitting basket and professes love for the color and softness of the yarn.

“Mommy, please, please, will you make it for me?”


The arm problem is still here, but rather than settle for a vest, or shortened arms, she wanted to pick out an alternate color for the arms. We had the best time at the yarn store downstairs, setting out yarns on the weaving stool and carefully choosing buttons.

I explained the whole dilemma to the store owner in German—-so proud of that accomplishment! I love having a friendly acquaintance with the neighborhood shop owners, especially when they even remember your mother who visited last summer.

I was a bit surprised when Little Miss picked out the gray (!) rather than a multicolored Noro I had been eyeing. Hopefully she’ll actually wear the result.

Thinking of making a band or stripe on the gray arm (in the teal color—I do have some left). What do you think? And as the shop owner pointed out, I could also add some ribbing on the bottom or neck in gray. But I may need some help from the more experienced family knitters for that.

I’m writing this post in the hopes that you’ll spur me onward. Off to go knit…

Oh by the way, the pattern is Haiku from Knitty (by Kristi Porter), and I do not place any blame on the pattern for my problems. It’s actually really lovely to knit. A perfect first sweater and fast-going even for me, the perpetual advanced beginner. But, you know, get someone to help you with gauge if, like me, you don’t know much about it. The pattern isn’t written for a particular type of yarn (love the flexibility) which means you need to know your business in the gauge department.

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with the lovely and talented Sarah Towle, app author.

Getting Started with Dyes, Part I: Animal Fibers

Want to try dyeing things but don’t know where to start?

A reader wrote me recently asking for help.

Where to start, what to read?

The easiest kind of dyeing to start with is food dye on animal fibers. I love this because you can do it in the kitchen with grocery-store items, the results are super-satisfying, and the kids can join in.

What are animal fibers? Wool, silk, cashmere, you get the idea.

Wool and Cashmere:

You can do some beautiful things with Kool-Aid and wool, and IT WILL NEVER WASH OUT.

Kool-Aid (or Easter egg dye) and wool yarn is a perfect starter project, especially if you knit. You can dye it with a rainbow of colors, using your microwave. The yarn above was dyed with this method. Check out this article on knitty.com for details and instructions. Lion Brand makes an undyed 100% wool yarn called Fisherman’s Yarn that is very reasonably priced. I used to buy it at Hobby Lobby, but it may also be available at Michael’s and other craft stores. Knitpicks also sells undyed yarn, in a wider variety of weights and variations. Their prices are very reasonable also, but you do have to order it. Also try dharmatrading for yarns.

You can dye pieces of old wool or cashmere sweaters in a similar way, but it’s a little tricky—-you should be prepared for uneven results.  Here’s a project of mine with Easter egg dye on cashmere. I would recommend starting with a light-colored sweater and dyeing smaller pieces (an arm or less) at a time, as a sweater acts like a sponge to the dye, absorbing the color before it gets the chance to circulate around the fabric.

The process is similar to the yarn-dyeing project, but use a larger amount of dye and a larger container, on the stove instead of the microwave. I used my big soup pot. The same process should work for wool and cashmere wovens, though I’ve never tried it.


Kool-Aid, Easter egg dye, or food coloring also works well on silk. I’ve used it to make playsilks, with the directions here. I’ve also dip-dyed silk scarves, which you can see here. After heat-setting, these dyes are not quite as colorfast as in wool and cashmere, so I would recommend hand-washing. Even so, the colors  bleed very little. Dry out of direct sunlight, or the colors will change.

With any dyeing project, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. You never know exactly what your finished project is going to look like, and for me, that’s part of the thrill. Be prepared for that uncertainty, because even if your project turns out beautifully, chances are it won’t be exactly as you  envisioned.

For part two of this article, about dyeing plant fibers, click here.

Recycled Cashmere Scarf

 This was a simple yet satisfying project inspired by an article on shibori felting in Interweave Press magazine and by projects in a book called Second Hand Cool. Lately I don’t have the patience for knitting, so sewing up felted pieces of old sweaters is very appealing as a quick and fun knitting “substitute.” Also, it allows me to use high quality fibers at low cost. This scarf was made from a cashmere-silk blend sweater that I picked up second hand. I did not change the color, although any animal fibers can easily be dyed with food coloring, kool-aid, or Easter egg dye.

First I cut a small sample of the sweater to see how it would felt up in the dryer. It shrank lengthwise but not width-wise, so when cutting the pieces for the scarf, I took that into account. Felting is always a bit of an experiment: you never know exactly what the end product will look like, but that’s one of the things I like about it. You can felt just about any 100% animal-fiber sweaters, though for a scarf I suggest something really soft (like cashmere) with a fine gauge. Once you wash the sweater and dry it on high heat in the dryer, it will shrink up and felt in such a way that the resulting fabric is (usually) ravel-free.

In this case I wanted the stitching to be a part of the pattern created by the felting process, so I cut up the sweater before felting it. I then sewed the rectangles together with embroidery thread. I made the seaming a decorative element of the scarf, so that they look like zig zaggy gathers at random increments. Then I threw it in the washer and dryer. The results are pictured above.

For more specific instructions on how to make an old-sweater-shibori-felted scarf, check out this link: