To mark my fifth anniversary as the owner of Uncommon Threads, I asked the shop staff to share their top five choices to answer five different questions. What’s your favorite one-skein project? Splurge yarn? Best tip learned? Bucket list project? Book to have with you on a deserted island? I hope you enjoy the results as much I did, and that we’ll save you time as well as provide inspiration for your stitching in the year ahead. Read on for the their pearls of wisdom…
As for actual celebrating, I invite you to join us on Friday, November 14, for a day of anniversary treats: draw from our “Pick-a-Perk” jar all day long, enjoy coffee and cake starting at 3 p.m., and pop open the champagne with us at 5 p.m. as part of the Los Altos Holiday Stroll.
Because You’re Worth It
Every once while, a yarn comes along that makes you swoon. Is it out of your league? Not necessarily–there are plenty of one-skein patterns waiting to show off a beautiful high-end yarn. Most of our top five “splurge yarns” have a few things in common: supreme softness, delicious color, and luxurious sheen.
1. Jade Sapphire 4ply Cashmere is on everyone’s mind. Once you’ve held a skein in your hands, the buttery softness will haunt you. We have a gorgeous selection of rich colors in stock, as well as many colors of Jade Sapphire 2ply Silk Cashmere. Darcie is eager to start her Dutch Cowl featuring the 2ply in a simple slip stitch pattern.
2. Artyarns is another strong contender: Ensemble Light and Ensemble 4 both blend silk and cashmere in a glamorous cocktail of color, while Lyle’s pick Beaded Mohair and Sequins elegantly combines light and a soft mohair halo. Artyarns’ Iris Schreier has created a stunning collection of sophisticated accessories and tops, and many patterns are free with the yarn purchase.
3. Handwerks Silky DK. One of my personal favorites, and not just because it’s dyed locally by our own Laura Schickli. The feel of the yarn is comfortably round, the twist perfectly springy, the color palette carefully selected, and the silky sheen of it all is intoxicating.
4. S. Charles Crystal. Holographic sequins make this sparkler a bit more special than your average bling yarn. Olga has her eye on Thinking of Waves by Yellowcosmo, using Crystal along with S. Charles Stella and Luna for a dramatic evening shawl.
5. Rowan Chunky Alpaca. This chunky yarn is light and lofty thanks to its chain construction. Rowan has published many terrific accessories patterns, but a big, cozy pullover would be true luxury for Zoa. (Below: Hyslop Hat and Apricot Wrap, from Rowan Warm & Toasty.)
One for the Road
What’s not to love about one-skein projects? They’re easy to take with you on a trip or just running errands, and usually quick to work up with minimal finishing. Also, they’re perfect for leftover balls or a very special skein. Here are our top choices for one-skein projects:
1. Socks are the hands-down favorite! Variegated yarns make magic of simple patterns, such as Esther’s go-to socks: Wendy Johnson’s Generic Toe-Up Sock or Churchmouse’s Turkish Bed Socks. Enticing stitch patterns bring excitement to your favorite basic yarn as in Bonnie Sennott’s Couplet socks, one of Sherri’s favorites. (Want to knit them now? Join Sherri’s Fall Sock Knit-Along in progress!)
2. Cowls are a close second, offering just as much variety as socks and the advantage of flexible size. When you’ve got a precious yarn, a one-skein cowl will use every inch to maximum effect, and you won’t have the same wear and tear as you would on socks or a sweater. Sherri recommends Jared Flood’s Ptarmigan for an elegant look; or try Caroline’s choice, Gudrun Johnston’s Crofter’s Cowl in Malabrigo Worsted for a cozy alternative. Clementine pairs simple seed stitch with Madeline Tosh Pashmina for a cowl you’ll want to wear any time of year.
3. Hats. Maybe I watch too many old movies, but I think hats are more an expression of your personality than any of the other one-skein projects. Just choose your mood: strictly functional, as in Zoa’s pick Classic World War II Watch Cap; ladylike, such as Cathy Carron’s Determined; or plain wacky with Cat Bordhi’s Anemone Hat. Most of us fall somewhere between the extremes, and Jared Flood is Jean’s favorite with Irving.
4. Fingerless mitts. My friends in the Midwest have a hard time understanding the appeal of fingerless mitts–don’t our fingers get cold? Well, what better way to use your last skein of Noro Silk Garden? Tante Ehm’s Camp Out Fingerless Mitts is Ellen’s pick for its easy but interesting construction in warm aran weight yarn. With just one skein of Koigu you can work up Laura Eckel’s Woven Fingerless Gloves; Lyle likes how the stretchy yarn and stitch pattern will fit a wide range of sizes.
5. Jewelry is a small but growing category that has been fun to explore. Olga’s favorite piece is sev[en] circle scarf by Kirsten Johnstone, knit in Dyed in the Wool Spincycle (shown below), Koigu, or one of the Noro Sock yarns. This past week I’ve knit up two Gatsby Necklaces, and I want to knit at least twenty more! Between the beads and sparkly yarn, there are so many beautiful combinations to try–and it’s a lightning fast project as well. Join me on December 7 for an afternoon tutorial on this flapper-fabulous accessory.
It’s Not Over ‘Til the Bucket List is Finished
At the opposite extreme of one-skein projects are the Bucket List projects (i.e., what do you want to knit before you die?) What’s your Mount Everest of knitting, crochet or weaving? It turns out that the ladies of Uncommon Threads love a challenge…
1. Fair Isle/Colorwork. For Shetland aficionados, Alice Starmore is the first and last word on stranded knitting–her color combinations are both elevating and intimidating. I suspect Marcella has more than one project tucked away, and Darcie put the Morning Glory Vest at the top of her list. Lyle’s choice for challenging colorwork and construction is Jane Slicer-Smith’s dramatic Harlequin Swing Coat.
2. Fabulous lace. Complex charts, tiny needles and tinier yarn are worth the trouble when you finish a spectacular lace shawl. Clementine wants to tackle Jared Flood’s Girasole, while Sherri has her eye on any and all shawls by Boo Knits (Below, Out of Darkness).
3. Grand cables. The hardest challenge for many of us is just finding the time to knit a project bigger than a hat or a cowl–throw in some magnificent cables and you’re knitting at a slower pace than usual. So it is for Zoa and Sarah Hatton’s Harwood, a timeless cabled coat; Jean, who covets Norah Gaughan’s Sous Sous cardigan; and me, who can’t decide between Jacqueline Van Dillen’s Transverse Cable Coat and her Wavy Peplum Sweater.
4. Wool-d Series. With apologies for the pun… Caroline’s goal is to knit every pattern in Rowan’s Vintage Knits book. Other worthy “series” might be any of Kim Hargreaves timeless collections (below, Still), or Vogue Knitting’s Ultimate Hat Book.
5. Finishing. A practical few are keeping it real. Ellen is focused on finishing the many half-done projects in her knitting room, and Laura aspires to knit and assemble her Kaffe Fassett Mystery KAL afghan currently in progress.
Imagine you were stranded on a deserted island, and had enough food, water, and shelter–which knitting book could hold your interest for the weeks or months while you wait for rescue? Our staff gives a slight edge to the practical guides over something more entertaining…
1. Stitch dictionaries. A good stitch dictionary is possibly the most inspiring tool a stitcher can have, and it would definitely keep you busy working through each pattern. Lyle appreciates Barbara Walker’s commentaries in her First and Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, also favorites of Esther and Zoa. Jean suggests Wendy Bernard’s Up, Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary, and Clementine will track the time passing with the perpetual calendar 365 Knitting Stitches a Year.
2. Technical guides. In the event that shipwreck has caused serious memory loss, Laura will be prepared with Vogue Knitting’s Quick Reference Guide, while Marcella opts for Nancie Wiseman’s The Knitter’s Book of Finishing Techniques. Even without a shipwreck, both books are a worthwhile investment for answering the inevitable questions that come up for knitters of all skill levels. Alternatively, you could master the secrets of knitwear shaping with Lynne Barr’s The Shape of Knitting, one of Jean’s favorites.
3. Inspiration. When you need to escape reality, a beautiful, well-written book can transport you and soothe your senses. Finding respite in color, Marcella’s emergency kit includes Alice Starmore’s Tudor Roses, and Lyle is packing Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Knits. Darcie can imagine herself on the Shetland islands with the classic and enticing Simply Shetland series.
4. Basic pattern guides. A collection of basic patterns is like a survival guide for knitting in the wild–with one of these in your pack, you can make all the essentials. Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns is Ellen’s choice for the full spectrum of projects in multiple gauges. Sherri will sustain her passion for socks with Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Socks; while Esther craves basics with style from Sarah Hatton or Martin Storey, such as Simple Shapes Panama.
5. Fun. Caroline’s nominee, Elizabeth Zimmerman’s The Knitter’s Almanac, really belongs in each of these categories, as this legendary knitter and teacher offers folksy advice, delightful anecdotes and foolproof “recipes” for knitting a variety of garments and accessories. Olga satisfies her love of all things 20s, mystery and knitted cloche hats with A Head for Trouble: What to Knit While Catching Crooks, Chasing Clues and Solving Murders.
Did You Hear the One About…?
I was positively overwhelmed by the tremendously practical tips that poured in from my conscientious staff, so in truth I have far more than five to offer you. I’ve grouped them by topic for easier browsing–I hope you’ll put these tips into practice and see the difference in your finished projects!
1. The Perfect Cast-On. Set yourself up for success right from the start of your project! Before discovering Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast-on, Olga says her cast-ons were “as tight as Scrooge before the visitation from the Ghost of Christmas Past.” This cast-on is easy to work, looks good and doesn’t require a long tail. The runner-up cast-on technique is from Marcella: when working a traditional long tail cast-on, use two balls of yarn so that you don’t have to guess how much yarn to pull out at the start. And if you’re casting on lots of stitches, placing a stitch marker every 20 stitches or so will make counting a breeze.
2. Swatch…or Else. I’m sure nearly everyone has heard the advice about swatching to check your gauge, which is certainly important, especially for fitted garments. Caroline gives another good reason to swatch: do you like the fabric? You might be on gauge, but the knitted fabric feels like armor, or a wilted piece of lettuce. Make sure you like the fabric before spending hours of your precious time using a yarn that might be better suited for a different project. Sometimes your swatch lingers a while before you’re ready to cast on your project–Sherri and Lyle remember the needle size used by either working a number of yarnovers / k2togs to match the needle size, or by tying the same number of knots into the yarn tail. For a US 10.5 needle, tie a different color yarn onto the tail!
3. Invisible Joins and those Pesky Ends. I confess to being a little slapdash about joining new yarns, but after watching a video on the Russian join recommended by Laura, I might change my ways. If you take the time to work this join, you’ll be rewarded with a magically invisible transition from one yarn to the next. Darcie reminds us that Shetland knitters can deal with joins and ends in one step, by spit-splicing the yarns–if the thought makes you squeamish, this instructional video from Interweave uses plain water to felt the ends together. And if your yarn doesn’t felt, Clementine suggests you weave in ends as you go as described here.
4. Subtle Short Rows. Short rows add beautiful shaping to shawls, sleeves, necklines, hemlines and just about anywhere you need a curve. Jean recommends the German short row technique to keep your work even and seamless, while Sherri finds Eunny Jang’s bobby pin variation of wrap-and-turn to be “the most perfect short row technique I’ve ever seen.”
5. Details, Details. Fine finishing is the hallmark of a meticulously handmade piece. Many knitters dread buttonholes, but you won’t have to thanks to Olga’s and Zoa’s favorite, expert-tested techniques: Techknitter’s tulip buttonhole, and the one-row buttonhole from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns.
Congratulations for reading to the end! I hope you enjoyed our collection of favorites, and I’d love to hear about your own top five–send me an email and I’ll post the results on our website and Facebook.
From the bottom of my knitting basket to the tips of my needles, I thank you for choosing Uncommon Threads for yarn, patterns, and a friendly community of stitchers. Here’s to another five years, and many more after that!