Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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Love that Lasts: Knitted Stuffed Animals

May 10th, 2016

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Want to knit a sheepdog?  Or an elephant, rabbit, bear, or skunk?  Go for it!  I began knitting toys decades ago, for myself as much as for special kids.  Lately I’ve been knitting toys for my grandchildren.  Knit a sweater for a toddler, and she’ll outgrow it in a season.  Knit a stuffed animal for a toddler, and she’ll have a forever friend.

I have two rules about knitting stuffed toys.  The first:  Always use a washable yarn that’s mothproof.  You want your animal to have a good, long life.  Acrylic is best for surviving love’s energy, moths, and the dust of time. I favor Vanna’s Choice® for its durability and clear, vibrant colors.  (I also admire that Lion Brand donates a percentage of Vanna’s Choice® sales to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.)

The second rule:  Assume that the toy will not look exactly like the pattern illustration. Just as expectant parents have a vague idea of how their newborn will look, so too do knitters have a general sense of a project’s outcome.  But stuffed animals, like kids, have characters independent of the creator, and they always become distinctive selves. I promise that you’ll be delighted by the uniqueness of your knitted pet.

Recently, when I made the Knitted Farm Animals Sheep Dog, I observed my rules, and I’m completely in love with the result.  Sheep Dog is knitted in black and white Vanna’s Choice® acrylic worsted.  Even though I carefully followed the instructions, he definitely has his own look, different from the pattern photo.  Why?

Unlike many toy designs, Sheep Dog is knitted on straight needles, rather than double points. Sheep Dog has twelve flat pieces that are sewn together. That’s significant sewing, and his face is embroidered, too. (Here’s a tip:  leave six inches of yarn attached to each piece after binding off, and use it for seaming.) The extra steps required by the sewing, as opposed to the fewer steps required by knitting in the round, impact the toy’s appearance.

Yet Sheep Dog has a flexibility enabled by the joint-like connections of some seams. If you look at the photo of Sheep Dog next to Babar (a free pattern on Ravelry, also knitted in Vanna’s Choice®), you’ll see that Babar’s legs—knitted on double points and integral to his torso—don’t bend, but Sheep Dog can easily sit because his legs are hinged to his body by seams.

Since Sheep Dog’s face is embroidered—except for his nose, which is a very small knitted triangle—each knitter will impart her own sewing “signature” to his features.  That’s the main reason his individual look is guaranteed.  Gauge, and density of stuffing, will also affect Sheep Dog’s appearance.  I stuffed Sheep Dog somewhat loosely, to impart a floppy “Beanie Baby” look.  Additionally, I didn’t strictly follow the designer’s instructions for sewing Sheep Dog’s ears or tail, because I wanted him droopy.

Sheep Dog took about a weekend to knit and assemble.  If you’re the kind of knitter who likes swift results, toys are good projects.  Just be aware that you might have a hard time surrendering your knitted pets for adoption.


Tranquility in a Skein: A Look at Shawl in a Ball

March 25th, 2016

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It was pure serendipity and a welcome distraction when three skeins of Shawl in a Ball arrived in the mail.  Frequently faced with interruptions, demands, and pressurized decisions, I constantly long for peace and simplicity in my life.  Especially for the peace of knitting.

Knitting is how I escape from the daily barrage—it feels like a protective bubble around me.  As I swatched the colorways called Community Coral, Soothing Blue, and Mindful Mauve, I sensed the calming properties of this yarn.  The more I knitted, the more I discovered about Shawl in a Ball, the better I felt.  Why?  Let me count the ways….

First, it’s an honest yarn.  I love that Shawl in a Ball is exactly what it claims to be—just one skein does it all.  As warmer weather approaches, I’m not inclined to tackle big projects.  I don’t want to deal with weight or bulk.  I want something simple and light—something to occupy my hands when sitting outdoors, or chatting with a friend.  Shawl in a Ball is streamlined:  one skein equals one garment.  Everything fits in a small tote bag.  No measuring required, since the patterns designed for this yarn (in the Lion Brand database) are one size, so no worries about running out of yarn.  This is stress-free knitting at its best.

Second:  the calming colorways of Shawl in a Ball.  Have I mentioned that  I’m often overwhelmed by too many choices, by too many demands for my attention?  And that I crave simplicity?

Each of the eight magical colorways prompts the serene contemplation of one gorgeous shade melting into the next.  The yarn is the palette.  You are the hands.  The free patterns from Lion Brand are basic shapes—triangles, rectangles, semi-circles, circles.  Not complicated, just classic and universally flattering.  They facilitate yarn meditation of the highest order.  Just breathe, and go with the flow.

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Knit Perfectly Simple Rectangle Shawl Crochet Burnham Market Shawl


Third, the texture and drape created by Shawl in a Ball are fabulous.  The yarn consists of two different strands plied together—one cotton, one a fluffy thick-and-thin acrylic. Watching density and coloration change as stitches add up—it’s simply mesmerizing!  Although a worsted, when knitted on size eight or ten needles, the yarn becomes a fabric that’s fine and lacy.  Yet it drapes well—with body, and without curling edges.  Shawls won’t slip off your shoulders.  And if you want to turn your shawl into a heavier scarf, just fold the finished garment to make it thicker.

Perhaps you’ve already experienced the joy of crafting with a gradient yarn, and you know how the yarn’s shifting colors do much of the work.  The same is true for Shawl in a Ball, but just as important, this yarn creates art.  You could knit or crochet a skein into a large rectangle, frame it, and hang it on your living room wall—it’s that beautiful.  So, besides all the simplifying, de-stressing and mood elevating qualities contained in just one ball, you can consider the shawl you make a wearable work of art.

What’s not to love?

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Knit Drop Stitch Shawl Crochet Diagonal Eyelets Shawl



A Landscape in Yarn: The Neutral Cabled Afghan

February 25th, 2016

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In this post, Selma Moss-Ward completes her afghan as a gift for a friend, and delivers good news. Read Part 1 of this story here.

Knitting the Neutral Cabled Afghan for my friend Ana was a swift, but not impulsive decision.  Like many knitters, I’m subconsciously prepared to drop my ongoing knitting projects when a friend’s crisis intervenes.  There was a health emergency, and Ana underwent a serious medical procedure.  Getting results was slow.  It was an anxious time for us both.

Working on the Neutral Cabled Afghan provided me with helpful distraction from worry.  During this period of uncertainty, I was again reminded of the calming effect of complex knitting—quite similar to meditation.  The pattern directions are like a mantra that clears the mind, focusing it serenely on both the immediate process and eventual outcome.

This afghan divides into five panels, each a different knitting landscape.  The center panel of diamond-shaped cables and grape-sized bobbles, knitted first, was the largest and most complicated terrain, but I quickly discovered that knitting with size 15 needles enlarges, clarifies, and accelerates everything.  This magnification is, of course, helpful and encouraging when you’re learning something new.  I’d never knitted such unique bobbles—they’re semi-detached, clustered, and tassel-like—but the clear steps provided by the pattern, as well as the large scale of the stitches, made the process thoroughly enjoyable.  As a decorative element the bobbles are whimsical and rich, providing dimensionality and a bit of movement to the afghan’s dominant section.

The other technique the pattern asks for is cabling.  Cabling involves suspending a specified number of stitches on a cable needle.  You hold that needle above or behind a row while you work a few adjacent stitches.  Then you knit the stitches off the cable needle.  Cabling generates twined or running motifs that seem magically superimposed on the knitted fabric.  It creates a thicker fabric because of yarn layering and air trapping, so cabled knitting is usually warmer than single knitting—perfect for a blanket!

The Neutral Cabled Afghan employs different cable designs to great effect—honeycombs, braids, zigzags, diamonds, and a series of triangles filled alternately with reverse stockinette and moss stitch.  While these patterns define individual sections, overall they mesh into a harmonic design.  A blanket like this, flat and unseamed, is a direct way—like a huge gauge swatch—for the knitter to really understand the essence of cable stitches.


It took about eighteen days of leisure-time knitting to finish the Neutral Cabled Afghan.  By then, Ana’s test results were in.  Like many women’s health issues, her problem was triggered by cyclical changes, and even before her doctor delivered the good news, everything had resolved.  Nonetheless, it had been an upsetting experience for this self-reliant single mother, who raises her little boy on her own, holds down two jobs, and attends college at night.  With such a tightly scheduled life, any deviation from routine can throw everything else off kilter—so I hope there will never be another health crisis detour.  Meanwhile, what I can do is offer her emotional support, as well as a beautiful blanket to express my admiration and caring.


Knitting Attachments: The Neutral Cabled Afghan

February 4th, 2016

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When my friend Ana (pictured at right) recently had to undergo a worrisome medical procedure, my automatic impulse kicked in.  “I’m going to knit you something,” I announced.  That’s what I do when people I love enter crisis mode.  Knitting is a way of coping, I suppose; it lets me feel helpful in situations I can’t control.  It’s also how I turn nervousness into productivity, and creative energy into caring.

Ana’s situation deserved a big expression of my caring, I decided.  She was going to get a blanket.  Lion Brand’s pattern for the Neutral Cabled Afghan, done in three shades of Hometown USA® yarn, immediately caught my eye.  Its soothing colors complemented the décor of the small apartment that Ana, a single mom, shares with her three-year-old son, and I knew the cabled designs would give the blanket pleasant weight and warmth.  That the afghan is knitted on size 15 needles suggested I’d finish the project within a reasonable time, too—no point in starting something like this in winter if she wouldn’t get it until summer!

My hunch was correct.  The project moved quickly, and in a week I’d knitted more than half.  This is one of the most interesting patterns I’ve ever followed, and it’s definitely a skill builder.  Knitters, listen up:  if you want to become a cable maven without tears, here’s your education!

Viewed from above, the Neutral Cabled Afghan is a large log-cabin rectangle.  If you’ve knitted a log-cabin pattern, you know it’s a modular construction that grows by attachment.  You start by knitting a central piece, and enlarge it, not by sewing it to other pieces, but by picking up stitches along an edge and working another rectangle outward.  The advantages of this type of modular construction are strength, potential variety of color, and potential variety of texture.

With the Neutral Cabled Afghan, another factor comes into play.  Textural variety develops, of course, from the qualities of the yarn, but most strongly, from the texture the cables give each section.  Since the design is worked on large needles, the cables assume mega prominence.  This blanket is all about them, and in the center section, it’s all about cables and bobbles.  If you’ve never worked cables or bobbles, or if you want to improve your skills in the cables and bobbles department, here’s your lifetime chance!

Cables aren’t difficult, but like any process with multiple steps, they can be complex.  Rule number one:  Read the Pattern Carefully.  Rule number two:  Go Slowly.  As you move through the pattern, say the stitches aloud as you knit.  That will keep you on track.   And whether you follow the charted patterns or those written in words—Lion Brand provides both—please do this:  enlarge the pattern on your computer printer or with a copy machine, and use highlighter tape to mark where you are in the pattern.  Register your progress, too, by ticking off the lines as you finish them.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the process of knitting each section, and share some results, both knitted and medical.

I Knit It My Way …

November 28th, 2015

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Selma Moss-Ward writes and knits in Rhode Island. She is a regular contributor to the Notebook.

You’re in an airplane before takeoff; the flight attendant is saying that in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling, and those traveling with children should don theirs before assisting others. Maybe that seems counter-intuitive, because generally we’re trained to help children before adults … but on second thought, you understand that you have to take care of yourself in order to effectively care for others.

Needlecraft, too, is often like that. Right now many of us are racing to make gifts for the holidays, and we’ve put our personal projects on hold. I’ve come to believe, though, that this operating procedure is counter-intuitive—maybe even backwards.

One recent morning the temperature fell into the twenties, and getting ready to walk my dog, I yearned for a new winter hat. I already have several hats, though they’ve seen better times, so I didn’t technically need a new one. I thought of all the gift projects lined up—a baby sweater, cowls for friends, a scarf for my sister—and I couldn’t see how to pause that procession. Feelings of mild frustration ensued. Why hadn’t I been realistic about what I could accomplish before the year’s end?


Then I recalled the Parable of the Oxygen Masks. Maybe I really should take time for myself before attending to others. That seemed potentially beneficial to all, and likely I’d return to my gift projects in a great mood. A hat would work up quickly, without causing much delay. I went to Lion Brand’s Pattern Finder database and looked for inspiration.

The Seed Banded Slouch Hat offered everything — clear instructions, clever construction, a stylish yet classic look. Best, the yarn required was that Queen of Fibers, LB Collection® Cashmere. To me, cashmere equals bliss. Its texture and gentle warmth are unparalleled.  I ordered supplies and began as soon as they arrived.

Knitting this pattern was almost as wonderful as wearing the finished hat. It took only a weekend to complete.  Every time I worked a few rows, I’d eagerly check the emerging fabric.  Supremely soft, and in a twilight shade called Pewter, it would become a hat I’d love for years. When my sister saw the final result—and tried it on—she asked me to substitute a Seed Banded Slouch Hat for the earlier-promised scarf. This time, the cashmere was a rich shade of terracotta, and since I already knew the pattern, the knitting went even more smoothly.

loopA great pattern like this slouch hat is always interesting to knit, and trying a new color the second time around sustains the novelty. Similarly, the Loop Scarf, entirely in garter stitch, cleverly mixes different yarns — LB Collection® Silk Mohair and LB Collection® Superwash Merino — for a lively, graphic look. It’s a good pick-up-and-go project, with stunning textures and color changes. After finishing my sister’s hat, I started working on the Loop Scarf as a kind of side interest, but its design was so compelling I once again put aside my main projects so I could see, quickly, its finished beauty. As with the Seed Banded Slouch Hat, the Loop Scarf garnered its share of admirers among my friends.

Looks like I’ll be making two more Loop Scarves in the very near future! I’ll use different colorways for two different friends, the pattern will become even more familiar, and as each project progresses I’ll enjoy watching how the colors uniquely interact. That’s one of the best things about knitting: you never really make the same thing twice, so it’s always wonderfully compelling.


The LB Collection® is 20% off until Monday, November 30th, 2015.