St. Distaff’s Day

Pietro_Antonio_Rotari, Young Girl with Distaff

Distaff Day, or St. Distaff’s Day, occurs on January 7. The twelve days of Christmas are over, and it’s time to get back to work, for real.

Distaff Day is a way to recognize and celebrate women’s work in the home. Spinning was hugely important throughout history, and in European traditions it became synonymous with women’s work.

Pietro Antonio Rotari-Young Girl with Distaff

Today, some spinners celebrate January 7 as a kind of event, getting together for spin-ins and other fun.

Even if you’re not a spinner, I think it’s good to stop and think about all that unrecognized work that women have done to keep generations of people clothed. If you work with any kind of fiber to create fabric, you are doing the same thing. And we don’t need to be gender-specific here. Let’s recognize and celebrate all fiber crafts done by everyone!

What is a Distaff?

A distaff is a tool used to hold unspun fibers. The fiber is loosely wrapped around the distaff. The distaff can be held under the arm when drop spinning, or attached to a spinning wheel.

Man and Woman with Distaff
From 1941. Notice the woman and walking and spinning. [FOTO:FORTEPAN / Schwertner Ágnes, Woman, man, double portrait, street view, moustache, distaff, weaving, hat, village Fortepan 73437, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Woman spinning from distaff
1907 German postcard, spinning flax

There are different styles, but a basic distaff is simply a smooth stick with a finial of some sort. Russian-style distaffs look more like boards, and can be highly decorative.

collection of Russian distaffs
Russian Distaffs [shakko, Russian distaffs 01 (Ferapontov), CC BY-SA 3.0]

Who was St. Distaff?

Nobody. There wasn’t an saint, or even a person. (My opionion? The name probably came about because it is the “13th day of Christmas” and somebody back in history was trying to be clever.)

The 17th Century poet Robert Herrick wrote about shenanigans that happened on “S. Distaff Day”.

Saint Distaff’s Day, or The Morrow After Twelfth Day

Partly work and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaff’s day:
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them.
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow;
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maidenhair.
Bring in pails of water, then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give S. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow everyone
To his own vocation.

If you’d like to read a bit more about the history of St. Distaff’s Day, and spinning in general, check out these links:

Saint Distaff’s Day
Chambers Book of Days

Back to Work

To celebrate St. Distaff’s Day, I suggest you pick up your favorite fiber tools, gather some fiber (already spun yarn counts!) and get back to work.

6 Crafting New Year’s Resolutions I Can Keep

6 Crafting New Year's Resolutions I Can Keep
6 Crafting New Year's Resolutions That I Can Keep graphic

Conventional wisdom says that sharing New Year’s resolutions with someone else is supposed to keep us accountable and thus more likely to achieve success.

I’ve come up with 6 reasonable and sustainable goals for my crafting life in the New Year. With your help, I think I can achieve them. Who wants to join me with these New Year’s Resolutions?

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support me but don’t cost you anything extra.

Resolution #1: Allow My Yarn to Mature

Resolution #1 Mature Yarn: skein of natural-colored Candide Yarn
This classic yarn has been in my stash for many years.

Not all yarn needs to be used immediately. Sometimes it needs to age until it is ready to reach its full potential.

This process may take years. Since yarn doesn’t go bad if properly cared for—in moth-proof storage, for example—there’s no time limit on when it must be used. I have yarn that is more than 25 years old. It’s still a nice color. It’s still wool. It just hasn’t decided what it’s going to be.

My yarn stash serves as high-quality housing insulation.

I resolve to not stash bust this year.


Resolution #2: Allow My Yarn Stash to Grow

Resolution #2: New yarn from Stunning String Studio
Who wouldn’t want this beautiful pink yarn from Stunning String Studio? And some cute stitch markers, too?

Forget “yarn diets”! They just make me feel guilty about buying new yarn. Yarn doesn’t have calories and it doesn’t make me fat, so why should I diet?

Instead, I want to embrace the joy that purchasing a beautiful new yarn brings: the expectation of a future project; the zen of repetitive motion as colorful fiber slips through my fingers; the prospect of unlimited options.

Budapest Yarn Shop
I bought souvenir yarn with my last forints in this shop in Budapest.

Yarn makes an excellent travel souvenir. Every time I see that ball of yarn I bought in Budapest, I remember the adventure I had finding the yarn shop. I couldn’t read the street signs, the store was on a small street away from any tourist areas, and no one around spoke English (or Spanish or French, which were other languages I tried). When I found the shop, we all had a marvelous time visiting and admiring each others’ work, despite some pretty significant language challenges. They helped me figure out how many forints I could spend and still have enough change to take the tram back to the boat. If I had been on a yarn diet, I would have missed that entire experience!

I resolve to buy more yarn this year.


Resolution #3: Allow My Yarn to Range Free

Resolution #3 messy studio space with free-range yarn
The sad truth is that my studio is never Instagram-worthy.

Some people like a very tidy desk, a very tidy house, and a very tidy studio. I am not one of those people. While I like a neat kitchen, living room and bedroom, when it comes to my creative spaces, “tidy” is not a word that any one would use.

When I’m being creative, I want to see things out in the open. As I sit and crochet with one yarn, I like to let my eyes rest on other yarn that I have yet to use. I allow my mind to wander and dream of my next project. If everything is tucked away from sight, I can’t do that. I prefer free-range yarn.

I resolve not to organize my stash this year.


Resolution #4: Allow Some Yarn to Depart

Resolution #4: bag of yarn to donate
Not all yarn needs to live at my house.

This resolution may seem at odds with Resolutions #1 and #2, but it’s not. I do have a finite amount of storage space, and an even more finite amount of open (free-range) space.

Sometimes as yarn matures, it tells me it needs to leave the house and spread joy elsewhere. (Infrequently, it tells me this the moment it arrives at my house, but often it takes a bit longer.)

Maybe the color is not my thing, or the fiber content. Maybe I swatched with it and just couldn’t get it to behave in the way I wanted it to. These are the yarns that are ready to spread their wings and depart my nest.

There are plenty of people who would love my unloved yarn. I’ve given to senior centers, elementary and middle schools, and church groups, and they are always happy to accept donations.

I resolve to give away yarn this year.


Resolution #5: Use the Best Tools

Resolution #5: Circular knitting needles stored in The Circular Solution
I don’t love every single one of these needles. It’s time for some to find a new home.

I have a lot of crochet hooks, and even more knitting needles. I have tape measures in every drawer and project bag.

However, some of those tools aren’t the greatest. Needles may have blunt tips or sticky finishes that I find annoying. A few circular needles have a catchy cable-to-needle join. Certain brands of crochet hooks don’t fit my hand and make crocheting awkward and uncomfortable. A couple of those tape measures are surely stretched out and faded.

Some of these items should be discarded entirely, while others would be perfect for another crafter. Why am I keeping these tools?

I resolve to use only tools that make my crafting more enjoyable.

Resolution #6: Practice Safe Crafting

Resolution #6: Knitting Comfortably cover

If I want to keep knitting and crocheting for years to come, I need to take care of my body. This means avoiding repetitive stress injury, getting up and moving instead of sitting at my computer and behind my needles/hook. It means getting sufficient full-body exercise. It means using a body-friendly bag when I go to teaching gigs, fiber shows and shopping sprees. It means paying attention to proper lighting, keeping my yarn and electrical cords out from underfoot, and more.

These are not new resolutions to me, but it helps to remind myself of them. One of my go-to resources for reminding myself of these things is Carson Demers’ excellent book Knitting Comfortably. (Read my interview with Carson.)

I resolve to pay attention to crafting ergonomics this year.

Final Thoughts

Of course, I could make more traditional goals that would make me more organized, tidier, and maybe even more financially responsible. But I probably wouldn’t keep them, and that failure would just make me feel bad.

I’m content with the way things are, and these goals fit into my lifestyle this year. If they don’t fit into yours, that’s fine. Perhaps you need to save money and thus should use stash yarn all year. Maybe an untidy crafting spaces gives you the creeps, or UFOs make you nervous. Perhaps your living space doesn’t allow for more yarn.

Embrace what works for you, and set your goals accordingly. This fiber-crafting thing is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Make it so.

What about you? What are your goals for the New Year?
Share in the Comments below.

How to Knit Intarsia in Garter Stitch

Garter Stitch Intarsia
Garter Stitch Intarsia Swatch

Intarsia knitting can be a fun color knitting technique! The trick is in understanding how to prevent holes at the color changes. While a lot of intarsia projects are knitted in stockinette stitch, it’s easy to do in garter stitch if you know how.

Let’s work through this simple intarsia sample together, and I’ll show you how wonderful it can be to knit intarsia in garter stitch. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for a video.

This post may contain affiliate links which may provide a small income to me if you buy something, but don’t cost you anything.

What is Intarsia Knitting?

Intarsia is a color knitting technique that uses one yarn color at a time to create blocks of color. You work across stitches in one color, then drop the old color and pick up the new color to begin working the next stitches.

The yarns are twisted around each other at the color change to prevent holes.

Compare this to stranded knitting techniques where you hold multiple colors across a row, or slip stitch techniques which use just one yarn and just one color across the entire row.

yarn balls and yarn butterfly
I’m using three colors. The pink is wound into a yarn butterfly.

You can use separate full balls of yarn, or wind your yarn into yarn butterflies or yarn bobbins.

In this sample I used full balls for the blue and the green and a yarn butterfly for the pink. I’m using Marly Bird’s Chic Sheep from Red Heart, and Clover Takumi bamboo knitting needles, size 5 mm.

Intarsia in Stockinette Stitch vs. Garter Stitch

If you’ve never done intarsia before, it can seem intimidating. Just remember that you are only holding one strand of yarn at a time, so how hard can it really be?

There’s a simple rule for remembering how to twist the yarns at the color change:

  • Hold the old color to the left
  • Pick up the new color from underneath (and to the right of) the old color
  • Begin working with the new color.

The trick is to cross the yarns on the wrong side at each color change to prevent a hole. In stockinette stitch this becomes intuitive, because the yarn is just where it needs to be, at the front or back of the knitting, as you come to it. In garter stitch, however, when you are knitting wrong side rows, you have to bring the yarn forward between the needles to allow that yarn crossing to happen on the wrong side.

Confused? Me too. I’d rather show you.

Reading a Chart

Garter stitch is usually worked from a chart. While there are different ways of presenting the information for a garter stitch chart, we’ll be working from this one.

Intarsia in Garter Stitch chart

I’ve made a printable pdf of the chart available to make it easier for you to follow along.

Download the PDF for chart Button

This chart is read in the ordinary way, with each rectangle representing a stitch. Right side (odd-numbered) rows are worked from right to left and wrong side (even-numbered) rows are worked from left to right. Note that all the rows are knit.

Intarsia in Garter Stitch chart

Cast On and Row 1

Garter Stitch Intarsia Cast on and Row 1
Cast on 10 stitches in each color.

You’ll read the chart beginning with Row 1, a right side row. If you use a long-tail cast on, you can count the cast on as Row 1. This is what I like to do when working garter stitch.

Using a long-tail cast on, cast on 10 stitches in blue, then 10 stitches in green. At this point, the cast ons will not be connected to each other.

Row 2

Row 2 is a wrong side row, read from left to right. Knit 10 stitches in green.

Garter Stitch Intarsia Row 2, photo 1
Bring old color between needles to the front.

Now that you’ve finished with the green for this row, it’s time to change to blue, but you need to twist the yarns to prevent a hole. This twist needs to happen on the wrong side. Since this is a wrong side row, that means that the twist needs to happen on the side closest to you.

Garter Stitch Intarsia, Row 2, photo 2
Pick up new color from underneath so that the old color crosses over the new color.

Bring the old color (green) to the front between the needles. Hold it to the left. Pick up the new color (blue) from underneath the old color and bring it between the needles to the back.


Bring new color to the back and knit with new color.

Begin knitting with the new color, and knit to the end of the row.

Row 3

Garter Stitch Intarsia, hold old color to the left
On right side rows, hold old color to the left.

This is a right side row, and the color change will happen on the back (wrong side). Knit 10 with blue, then hold the old color (blue) to the left


Garter Stitch Intarsia Pick up new color from underneath old color.
Pick up new color from underneath old color.

and pick up the new color (green) from underneath the old color. Knit 10 with green.


Row 4

Once more on a wrong side row, for good measure: Knit 10 blue, bring yarn forward between the needles. Hold the blue to the left. Pick up the green from underneath the blue and bring the green to the back. Knit 10 with green.

Row 5

Garter Stitch Intarsia Add pink on Row 5
Add pink on Row 5.

It’s time to add a third color! Knit 9 stitches in blue. Leaving a long tail, knit 2 stitches in pink. Hold the pink to the left and pick up the green from underneath, knit 9 stitches in green.

Rows 6-24

Work in pattern according to the chart, crossing the yarns when the colors change.

Bind Off and Weaving In Ends

Garter Stitch Intarsia Bind off closeup
Knit the last stitch of the blue with green yarn.

Bind off on a right side row, using the following trick to make sure you maintain a clean color transition. Beginning with blue, bind off until there is 1 blue stitch on your right needle and 1 blue stitch on your left needle.



Garter Stitch Intarsia completed bind off
This bind-off method prevents the blue from creeping into the green section.

Knit the next stitch in green (turning the blue stitch into a green stitch). Continue binding off in green.


Garter Stitch Intarsia Weave in ends.
Weave in ends.

Use the remaining pink tails to close up the holes at the beginning and end of the diamond, then weave in those ends on the wrong side of the pink section. Weave in remaining ends.

What are you going to knit next? Will you give garter stitch intarsia a try?

Stocking Stuffers for Knitters and Crocheters

Stocking Stuffers for Knitters & Crocheters
Stocking Stuffers for Knitters & Crocheters

Stuff a stocking with tools and notions for a fiber artist in your life. They’ll love you for it, and you may even get a handmade gift in return! Here are some suggestions for stocking stuffers for knitters and crocheters.

Scroll over the image for more information, or click the links to learn more.

This post contains affiliate links, which may provide a small income to me if you buy something, but won’t cost you anything extra.

Stitch Markers

Every crocheter and knitter uses stitch markers, and if they don’t, they should! And markers have a way of getting lost, so we always need more.

There are several different styles of marker. Even if the gift recipient has a current favorite, it’s always a good idea to try new products. Try them all!

Hint: Crocheters need markers that open. Look for the words “locking”, “split ring”, or “opening” in the title to make sure you are getting the right kind.

Scissors

A good pair of scissors is always appreciated. I’m always on the lookout for tiny scissors that pack easily but are sharp enough to cut well.

Wondering about scissors in your airplane carry-on? According to the TSA, scissors with blades less than 4″ are allowed. However, razor blade style circular thread cutters are not allowed.



Small Tools & Notions

Besides stitch markers and scissors, there are all kinds of little tools that make a fiber artist’s life easier. Here are some suggestions.

Hint: Check before buying tape measures. They either have WAY too many already, or not quite enough.


Note Cards & Paper

We can’t play with yarn ALL the time! Sometimes we have to write old-fashioned notes, on paper.

A Google search will lead you to lots of knitting and crochet-themed paper products. Here are some of my favorites.

Things to Drink From

It’s important for crafters to stay hydrated. Whether that’s water, soda, or wine, there are plenty of options for yarn-related beverage containers.

Once you open your eyes to the possibilities, there are lots of stocking stuffers for knitters and crocheters.

Want ideas for larger gifts? Read 12 Gifts for Knitters and Crocheters, and Sheep-Themed Gift Roundup.

If you find something I’ve missed, please share your ideas in the comments below.

How to Wind a Yarn Butterfly

How to Wind a Yarn Butterfly

Sometimes you need just a small amount of yarn for a project, and it would be uncomfortable to use a full ball of yarn. That’s when you need a yarn butterfly! Here’s how to wind a yarn butterfly. It’s quick and easy.

A yarn butterfly is simply a “re-packaging” of yarn into a small butterfly-shaped bundle. If prepared right, the bundle stays wrapped and secured, making it possible to use the working end of the yarn for your project while the rest of the yarn waits patiently.

Yarn butterflies are usually used for the intarsia method (knitting or crocheting), but they can be used any time.

It can be easier to use a butterfly than a yarn bobbin. In my experience, plastic yarn bobbins get tangled more than butterflies. Plus, I can never find enough bobbins when I’m ready to start a complex intarsia project.

OK, I didn’t say that very well in words. It’s really quite easy to do, so let’s try some pictures. Follow these step-by-step instructions or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

Step-by-Step Instructions

How to wind a yarn butterfly Step 1: Hold yarn tail under thumb.
  1. Hold the yarn tail under your thumb and out of the way.

Begin wrapping in figure-8.

2. Begin wrapping the yarn around your fingers in a figure-8 pattern.


Keep strands parallel.

3. As you wrap, keep the strands parallel to each other. Don’t let them cross over each other.


How to wind a yarn butterfly Step 4: Pinch the yarn bundle together at the center.

4. When you have wrapped enough, pinch the yarn bundle together at the center point, and slide it off your fingers.


Wrap the tail around the bundle

5. Leaving at least 12″ [30 cm], cut the working yarn. Wrap this end around the center of the bundle. Wrap tightly, but not too tightly.


Tuck end under center wraps.

6. Tuck the end under the center wraps. A crochet hook is handy to use for this task.


Step 7: Use the free end of the yarn to work with. It should pull neatly out of the butterfly.

7. When you have finished, use the working end (the end that was under your thumb). It should pull out neatly as you need it, leaving the rest of the yarn still wrapped up in its butterfly shape.


The yarn I used for the demonstration is Chic Sheep by Marly Bird. Looking for more yarny information? Check out How to Wind Yarn with a Yarn Swift and Yarn Winder and How to Block Knitting and Crochet.

Now that you know how to wind a yarn butterfly, what will you make with your yarn butterflies? Leave a comment below.

Free Knitting Pattern: Easy Two-Toned Pillow

This easy two-toned knit pillow uses the simplest of stitches to create a modern geometric design. Gauge isn’t crucial, because you just knit until the size is right.

Easy Two-Toned Pillow for beginners designed by Edie Eckman

Instructions for the pattern are listed for free below, but if you’d like an easy-to-print and easy-to-carry ad-free version, buy the pdf.

CTA Buy the Pattern

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support me but don’t cost you anything extra.

The Yarn

Craft Yarn Council 4-medium weight yarn
Craft Yarn Council 4-medium weight yarn

Medium-weight (worsted-weight) yarn is easy for beginners to use. Lion Brand Feels Like Butta has a dreamy-soft feel that you really want to snuggle up to!


Feels Like Butta yarn

I choose Pale Grey and Charcoal for a modern neutral palette, but the yarn comes in eighteen colors, so you are sure to find a couple of colors that appeal to you. It only takes one ball of each color.


The Pattern

Garter stitch is the first stitch pattern that beginners learn, because there’s no purling involved. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a versatile stitch! You can do all sorts of incredible things with just garter stitch!

Matching the pattern gauge is always important, but sometimes it’s more important than others. In this pattern, you want to at least get close to the pattern gauge so the fabric you are knitting is tight enough and so you don’t run out of yarn. However, don’t fret if it’s not EXACTLY the same; you have a little bit of leeway so you can knit until the size is right.

Easy Two-Toned Pillow

One Size: 12″ [30.5 cm] square

Materials
Lion Brand Feels Like Butta Yarn (100% polyester, 3.5 oz [100 g], 218 yd [199 m]), 1 ball each #150 Charcoal (A) and 149 Pale Grey (B)

US Size 7 [4.5 mm] knitting needles or size to obtain correct gauge

2 stitch markers or bits of waste yarn

Tapestry Needle

12" square. pillow insert

12″ {30.4 cm] square pillow insert


Gauge
21 sts and 42 rows =4″ {10 cm] in garter stitch. Although gauge is not crucial in this pattern, it’s is best to take time to check gauge. Watch How to Measure Gauge in Knitted Garter Stitch.

Abbreviations
garter stitch: knit every row
k2tog: knit two stitches together
kfb: knit in front and back of one stitch
RS: right side
st(s): stitch(es)
WS: wrong side

Instructions
Make 2 pieces alike, as follows:
With A, long-tail cast on 3 sts.
Row 1 (WS): Knit.
Row 2: Knit to last 2 sts, kfb, k1—1 st increased.

Place a marker on the front of the row just knit to indicate the right side of the fabric.

Repeat Row 2 until there are 85 sts on the needle, or until one shorter edge of the piece measures about 11″ [28 cm], ending by working a WS row. Cut A, leaving a 6″ [15 cm] tail.

With B, knit to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1—1 st decreased.
Repeat this row until 3 sts remain.
Bind off.

Finishing
Weave in ends.
Hold pieces with wrong sides together and with colors matching.
With tapestry needle, sew around three edges using mattress stitch andmatching yarn color.

Insert pillow form. Sew final seam. Weave in ends.

Other Projects

Check out these other easy knitting patterns:

Quick & Easy Summer Placemats

Blue Springs Double Cowl

Easy Quick-Knit One-Skein Tea Cozy

Molly Hat

Stoneybrook Shawlette

Zig Zag Eyelet Scarf