Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Mile of Fair Isle (Help! I'm Stranded!)

I love frost.

I love how it gives a silvery outline to plant leaves.

I love how it accentuates and complements their natural colors.

I love how it lightly speckles the insides of leaves.

We've gotten an occasional snowy day with no real accumulation and a few frosty ones. While the cold reigns outside, I'm working inside on a project that's eluded me for the past year: learning fair isle, or stranded, knitting. My two biggest problems are obtaining even tension and having the dominant color show through the work when I carry floats.

Working laboriously through YouTube videos, I taught myself to carry a different yarn color in each hand. I decided on a thicker, more forgiving yarn, and light colors. My first project this way was a simple pair of mittens. Unblocked, they don't look like a success. They're bulky and the tension seems off. But apply water and some light stretching...

...and everything smooths out. See the difference between the blocked (left) mitten and the unblocked (right) mitten?

They fit perfectly and I'm absolutely thrilled with them!

The pattern is very forgiving, with no "floats". When you knit a stretch of at least 5 stitches in one color, you need to strand (or "float") the other color along with you so the strands inside your project remain small and tight, rather than loopy. You'd create quite a loop here if you knit 15 stitches in blue and then pulled your white across the back of your work to knit the next few stitches. You'd catch your fingers on it, and it can wreak havoc with your tension. Thankfully, no color went for more than 5 or 6 stitches here, I didn't have to worry about catching any floats.

Here is another example. My next project was a pair of stranded toddler socks in thick yarn. Inside out, you can see that none of the white stitches stretch for more than a few stitches. You can imagine the big loops if I tried to carry them much farther. This way, everything is tacked down nicely.

I learned something else with this project: afterthought heels. Basically, I knitted a tube that began with 1 x 1 ribbing and ended with a series of decreases that became the toe. Halfway through, where I wanted the heel to go, I dropped my green and white yarns strands and knit several stitches with some throwaway tan yarn. After knitting them, therefore placing them on my right needle, I slipped the stitches back onto my left needle and knit on as the pattern dictated with my green and white yarn. It's really easy and doesn't require any special skills.

Here you can see the tan line that designates the placement of the heel.

When I was ready to start the heel, I took a needle and ran it through the left "leg" of each stitch that held the top part of the tan stitches. Stockinette stitches have left and right "legs" and either is fine to use. I did this on the top and on the bottom of the row of tan stitches.

Then, I snipped away the tan stitches. I'd already captured the stitch legs with my needles, so no stitches are dropped.

Next, I slipped half of the top stitches and half of the bottom stitches on new needles and started to knit in the round with my green yarn.

I did a simple series of decreases, just like with the toe. In no time at all...a heel.

I'm really pleased with how they turned out, too!

I tried to tackle my next weakness, the floats that show through knitting. I started on a pair of white gloves...

...but even though I'm sure that I'm doing the technique correctly, the stranded blue yarn still showed through the white yarn.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I may have to frog these and try another project!

Cranberries were on sale at the grocery store last week. I don't like cranberries, but Todd does. I'd found a tasty-sounding recipe on the Smitten Kitchen website and decided to try it. The resulting muffins were so good that I was eating as many as Todd and loving the cranberries!

Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake (or Muffins)
Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 muffins

One teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick + 1 tablespoon butter, softened and divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease your muffin tins. In a bowl, mix vanilla extract and sugar together until well-blended. Take 1/2 cup of this mixture and your cranberries and pulse in your blender or food processor until finely chopped.

In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, beat together 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With your mixer on low, add half of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, and repeat. Mix until just combined.

Spoon batter in muffin tins, only filling halfway. Place a dollop of the cranberry mixture in each tin, and then cover with the remaining batter.

To make a crumble topping, mix the remaining 1/4 cup of vanilla sugar with the remaining tablespoons of butter and flour and crumble over the muffin tops. I skipped this step and didn't miss it a bit!

Bake for 1bout 18 minutes, until golden brown.

Oh my goodness...these were amazing. Sweet, tart, and flavorful.

I hope you make some this week. Enjoy!


  1. Gorgeous work! Like you, I have recently learned how to do 2-handed fair isle. Love your idea about using light colors ... my most recent project has waaaaay too much contrast so the colors peek through. Ugh!

    What patterns did you use for the mittens? I'm redcanoe on Ravelry ...


  2. The mittens are END OF MAY. I'm determined to figure out how to keep those colors from peeking through...somehow! :)

  3. Thanks so much! They are now in my queue and begging to be moved to the top :-)

  4. No problem! There's a matching hat, too...it's really cute! Good luck!

  5. I love frost as well, and those photos made my heart smile. :) I have the same problem with my floats showing through the main colour. I guess the only thing you can do is keep practicing. Maybe the key is to make sure your tension is nice and even and tight when you've got a long float behind the main colour, or try to choose a main colour that is slightly thicker than the float behind.

  6. I've been taking a slight break, but I'll get back to it soon. I definitely want to keep practicing!