Some knitting projects volunteer themselves and prove as delightful as flowers you didn’t plant.

The vision of a new design can grow from almost any seed—from the yarn itself, from nature, from history, and sometimes from all of these braided together. In April I found I couldn’t set aside the remnants of a skein of Spincycle Yarn I’d used for a hat for my father; the earthy tones still wanted my attention, and they wanted prominent display on the yoke of a sweater. As it was spring, I had flowers dancing before my eyes, and as I was leafing through a book of Scandinavian mitten designs, I chanced across a thumb motif I thought might be the right scale for a child’s sweater if worked at the larger gauge I was imagining. I fossicked in my stash for likely partners for the Spincycle—namely a main color—and found three plump fingering-weight skeins of Catskill Merino in the springiest watercress green. Another remnant skein of heathered brown Raumagarn was just right for the flowers’ roots (and I loved that the flowers had big strong roots in the original mitten). I knew I hadn’t enough of the Spincycle to carry me through the foliage in the motif, but lo, there was the skein of BFL/silk I’d made in my first year of spinning practice, featuring the same olive and golden greens with burgundy. It could easily pick up where the Spincycle would leave off. I auditioned a whole raft of neutrals for the yoke background and wasn’t satisfied. Everything was the wrong weight or looked too flat or too stark against the lively color play of the handspun contrast colors. But when I popped into Wild Fibers in Mt. Vernon for some buttons, there was an intriguingly flecked pale golden skein of Noro Kumo that leapt out at me. Everything was coming together.

I’ll have to steal it back to block the button band!

In the middle of my merry progress, I learned that Catskill Merino had lost Eugene Wyatt, its founding shepherd. I wrote on Instagram, “Once in awhile in life you brush against someone with a truly original spark and it kindles something in you that burns for a long time, perhaps unnoticed. Eugene was one of those—and a good writer to boot. That I’m a shepherd now is, perhaps, a little bit due to him.” Eugene certainly expanded my sense of what kind of person might choose to devote himself to sheepkeeping. He kept one of the best blogs on shepherding, equal parts poetic and practical. He punctuated his market days selling wool and lamb at Union Square with jaunts to the cinema; he read a lot of Proust. Even in a brief conversation you could sense the depth of the living and thinking he’d done.

I think about Eugene Wyatt whenever people are surprised that we’ve shelved our city life in favor of a sheep farm on a tiny island. I think about the assumptions I once made that farmers were mostly folks who’d inherited a way of life and hadn’t escaped to anything more intellectual. Eugene made me consider that you could be a passionate intellectual and a farmer all in one. And now I know from experience that learning how to farm uses every intellectual skill you’ve got—and then some. Writing about it as well as Eugene did clarifies your purposes and precipitates beauty out of the daily soup of humble chores like mowing, moving fences, scrubbing water troughs, trimming hooves, mucking sheep sheds, battling weeds, and making up fecal slurries to count worm eggs.

Eugene and Dominique, who dyes the yarn and helps with the flock and now carries the work forward alone, were also at the beginning of my awakening to the farm-to-skein story of the wool I choose to work with. Most knitting shops weren’t carrying yarns like theirs when I took up the craft, and it was fresh and marvelous to sink my fingers into wool raised just a few hours away and dyed with botanical extracts. Since I first discovered Catskill Merino, the market for locally grown wool has really begun to flower, and that’s wonderful to see. I’ve had the chance to knit with many more single-flock yarns over the years, and I’ve loved most of them. The beautiful green skeins in Ada’s new sweater only rekindled my appreciation for the quality of breeding and craft at Catskill Merino: this is really excellent wool, terrifically soft without sacrificing character. It’s still head of the class even now that the class is larger.

The true testament? My kid didn’t take this sweater off all day when I gave it to her, even as the mercury climbed to eighty.

Someone’s going to ask when the pattern will be available. I’m going to revise the motif a little bit—maybe take out some of those three-color rows with long floats—and grade it up to adult sizes. I might make a pullover for myself. I may chart a shorter version of the flower so the yoke depth can be shallower, allowing for smaller kid sizes. I’ve got another design project on my needles right now, but I’m looking forward to picking this up in September.


Back in 2008 I whipped out a design for Knit/Purl’s inaugural sock club—and I do mean I whipped it out, because those socks were imagined and knit in the space of a week. Luckily, it was one of those Athena designs that springs out fully formed without a lick of fiddling or frogging.

I knew I’d be working with a variegated yarn, a specially commissioned colorway from Koigu. Variegateds can be so very alluring on the skein, and if you handle them right they can be a lot of fun to knit and wear, too. But I’m someone who gets a little twitchy when the colors start to pool and my ankles look like barber poles. So I’ll do whatever it takes to break up that kind of patterning. In my personal experience of knitting socks with variegated yarns, I can dodge pooling on 2.25 mm needles and on 2.75 mm needles, but 2.5 mm’s are a sure ticket to big spirals of color. I really prefer to knit socks on 2.25’s (that’s US #0) for durability, but when I was planning this sock club project I knew I didn’t have time for a really fine gauge. So US #2’s it was. Also good for busting up colors that want to be cliquish: garter stitch and slipped stitches. So I quickly sketched a motif of slipped-stitch serpentines over a fabric of garter rib. (Actually, I can’t even remember if I took time to sketch it. I may have just cast on and sailed as close to the wind as possible on this occasion.) And it worked. I named that little sock andamento, Italian for ‘flowing’ or ‘coursing,’ a term used to describe the visual flow of elements within a mosaic. And five years later, the rights to it are back in my hands and I can re-release it into the wild under my own label.

AndamentoMSTurner (small)

This new sample is knit in Malabrigo Sock “Turner,” which is honestly too fine a yarn for this pattern in terms of longevity. M. Sock wants a tighter gauge, in my opinion. I couldn’t resist these subtly shifting olive and spring greens with splashes of iris purples. But I recommend a heartier yarn, something plump, with bottom—more of a sportweight, really—if you want a sturdy sock at 7 stitches to the inch.

AndamentoMSTurner (2 of 6)

We grabbed some photos at the Marquam Nature Park south of town in between rain showers. Here’s a detail of the toe:

AndamentoMSTurner (1 of 6)

And of the slightly lacy cuff (who says a sock needs ribbing at the top?):

AndamentoMSTurner (4 of 6)

I’m astonished to tell you I used a mere 225 yards of wool in these. There’s so much of the skein left over I’ve decided I need to try to knit a very wee vest for a cousin’s any-minute-now baby out of the remnants. I’ll let you know if it works out. In the mean time, Andamento is now available for purchase in my Ravelry store; you can grab a copy via the button in the sidebar. Happy sock knitting!

AndamentoMSTurner (5 of 6)


I wonder how many years you have to spend knitting colorwork before your instincts are really worth trusting? I’ve had to make a course correction on my new Winter Garden after it forced me to admit that my initial sense of how to shift between reds, purples, and greens was just flat-out Not Going to Work.

From the moment I knit the first Winter Garden, I had a vision of an alternate colorway for my Ada: a friendly brown dress with the flowers done in greens and reds with purple accents. I had the yarn in hand. But then I started lining up the colors I’d chosen and doubting my wisdom. Artifact had too much black and too much yellow. Homemade Jam looked oddly dull against the other colors in anything less than full sunlight. I swapped them out and still there were problems. Birdbook didn’t contrast with Nest sufficiently, while Long Johns was too potent against Woodsmoke, and Plume bisecting anything was as disruptive as ants scurrying over your picnic cloth in the direction of the cake. Argh. Of course, I only admitted to myself that it had all gone awry after I’d cast on a few hundred stitches and stubbornly knit four fifths of the chart in the hopes that it would somehow all come together. Rrrrrrrrrip!

I went back to the original colorway (which had fitted itself together as neatly as you please) …


… and lifted half of it. You can always do something with green and purple, I believe. I upended my progression to keep the greens on the lighter background (Woodsmoke). And as a final touch, I restricted the red to the peerie bands and related the purple half to the green half by lifting Sap to divide the purples, Thistle to divide the greens. And then it worked. Oh, it’s not very traditional, and you could argue that Sap really is a bit jarring and ought to be darker to pair well with Birdbook, but it makes me smile.


I’m still not giving up on the dream of a colorway featuring Birdbook and Homemade Jam. Tent-Birdbook-Homemade Jam-Camper might be the way to go, maybe on Fossil and Postcard with Blanket Fort accents?  Here’s the Loft color range so you can see what I mean. What progressions would you try?