Free Pattern: Bruntsfield Cowl! Plus Edinburgh Yarn Fest Highlights

new Bruntsfield cowl in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean wool

One of the many perks of living in Europe: I was within reasonable proximity of the Edinburgh Yarn Fest! What an amazing treat to be surrounded by such talented crafters, and such beautiful wool, for a whole weekend.
Highlights: I took a class with Karie Westermann on pattern writing. Karie loaded us up with a ton of great information; she didn’t hold anything back. She also has a great teaching style: she’s organized, she’s encouraging of students, and she had prepared some handouts which I’ve found myself referring to a few times since the class. If you get a chance, definitely take one of her classes.
I saw some great people I already knew, including Sonya Phillips, Ysolda Teague, and Stephen West. I also met some people who I’ve been admiring from afar for awhile now: Bristol Ivy, Thea Colman, Kirsten Kapur, Anna Maltz, Tom van Deijnen, and (OMG sooo exciting) Cecilia Campochiaro. My husband and I both got to chat in-depth with Ellen Mason. What a rad lady. I love her laid-back style and I’m obsessed with her new smock pattern (I got to see her smocks in person and they are so frigging cute).
I was too chicken to introduce myself to Kate Davies. She just looked so unbelievably intimidatingly gorgeous at her booth, and she was undoubtedly quite busy the whole time.

My funds were limited, so I shopped very carefully. I spent a lot of time at the Black Bat Rare Breed Wool booth, and my big splurge was 3 skeins of Whistlebare 4ply (it was just so shiny and pretty!). The surprise sleeper hit of the fest was Rachel Atkinson’s Daughter of a Shepherd, made from her dad’s Hebridean sheep. The breed and the story are captivating enough on their own, and the yarn bewitched me (and a lot of other festival-goers) with its deep natural black color, fuzzy halo, and intoxicatingly sheepy aroma (there were a lot of yarn-huffers wandering around).

From one daughter of a shepherd to another: thanks, Rachel, for sharing your beautiful yarn with us, and I’m so glad I could meet you and chat with you.

I came home with a single treasured skein of DoaS, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I wanted a project I could wear where everyone could see it, in a relaxed gauge that would allow the the fibers to lay flat and bloom a bit. For the Bruntsfield Cowl, I used a stitch pattern called Portcullis Stitch from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury…, which doesn’t curl at the edges, and has an open-textured, almost crocheted look to it. Plus, it’s easy to memorize.

Bruntsfield Cowl

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1 skein Daughter of a Shepherd July 2015 Clip
1 pair 4.5mm (US #7) needles (or size needed to obtain gauge)
Waste yarn
1 4mm crochet hook (size isn’t super important, just something reasonably close to your needle size)
Extra needle one size bigger than knitting needles for 3-needle bind-off
Tapestry needle

Gauge: Approximately 25 stitches x 21 rows= 4” in Portcullis Stitch
Cowl measurements: 28” circumference and 10.5” wide
Notes: Cowl is knit flat, starting with a provisional cast-on. The cowl is finished by knitting the open stitches together with the cast-on edge, using the 3-needle bind off technique.

K: knit
P: purl
K2tog: knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
SSK: Slip next 2 stitches as if to knit, slip them back to the left needle and knit these 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
KYOK: knit 1, yarn over, knit 1 into same stitch (2 stitches increased)
SK2p: Slip 1 stitch as if to knit, knit next 2 stitches together, pass slipped stitch over (2 stitches decreased)
RS: Right Side
WS: Wrong Side

Using one-step provisional cast-on, waste yarn, crochet hook and main needles, cast on 65 stitches. Break waste yarn. Using working yarn, begin stitch pattern:
Row 1: [WS] P all stitches
Row 2: [RS] K2tog, KYOK, *SK2p, KYOK,* repeat **’s to last 2 stitches, SSK.

Repeat these 2 rows until work measures 28” from beginning edge. Repeat Row 2 once more.
Very carefully, remove waste yarn from beginning edge to expose open stitches. Place open stitches on size 7 needle. You should have 65 stitches on each needle. Turn work so that WS is facing out, with both edges of open stitches lined up side-by-side. Using extra needle and 3-needle bind-off method, knit both edges together.

Weave in ends and definitely wet-block! This yarn blooms and softens very nicely after being soaked in warm water. I added a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water.


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Emi says, “Thanks for the new bed”

Riff #1: Salt Spray Cowl

photo 2
snuggling up to the new cowl

I promised more free, easy patterns, and February seems like the perfect month to make good on that. There’s really not much going on, and despite this brief warm spell, real spring is probably still a ways away. Our cold snap ended awhile ago, but outside is muddy and covered in dog poop (seriously, Sofiantsi, clean up after your dogs). Since I work from home, the incentive to go out is at an all-time low.

Which makes this the perfect time for what I like to call “riffing.” Riffing, to me, means creating with an emphasis on quantity over ambition. Instead of devising elaborate, complicated designs, riffing might mean just fixating on one detail, maybe a really fun stitch pattern or a lovely yarn, and not really adding much else. The key to proper riffing is momentum. Bind off one project, and cast on your next project before the needles are cold. I usually find my riffs are enhanced by keeping really odd hours, watching the same movie over and over again, and probably wine.

Riffing is vital to my creative process, because I’m someone who succumbs to creative blocks very easily. Like many people, I’m irrationally afraid of failure. Sometimes I go months without making something original, because I’m afraid I’ll “waste” yarn on something that doesn’t turn out right. So this month has been Fearless February, with my only goal being to keep the momentum. I’m cranking it out, just for fun, without much of a plan.

Riffing, by the way, doesn’t have to mean knitting. You can go on your own riff, by writing, drawing, embroidering, scrapbooking, cleaning behind your appliances, really whatever the wine or coffee or tea or old movies tell you to do. Really, the only rule is to keep it up and have fun.

photo 1
Salt Spray Cowl

Since Christmas, gansey motifs have been my main riff fuel. They are trendy right now, maybe because they go so nicely with all the farm yarns that are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I adapted the stitch motif in my new Salt Spray Cowl from one of the many lovely charts in Dutch Traditional Ganseys.

The ripples in the gritty off-white reminded me of the bleakest winter of my existence, in northeastern Bulgaria in 2012. My Peace Corps apartment was on the first floor of a small concrete block, with enormous old windows that whistled at night. Any condensation that gathered inside the apartment froze solid to the inside of the windows. I used to have dreams that snow was falling on me in bed.

photo by Stefan Vasilev Vasilev

link to photo

That year, a brutal ice storm hit the Black Sea coast, pushing the waves all the way up the beach to the shuttered bars and seafood grills, and freezing them in place. A friend and I took a walk on the Varna beach, admiring trash cans that had morphed into lumpy white stones, and lampposts heavy with salty stalactites.

The only break in the empty, frozen coastline was the Varna mineral springs, a teeming sulfurous haunt of barrel-chested old men. The regular bathers had decided that this, the coldest weekend of the year, was the perfect time for cleaning out the baths. Steam rose out of a break in the frozen seawater and icy rocks. About fifteen grandpas in speedos, wool beanies, and plastic sandals, were scrubbing the concrete pool, which had been drained down to about a foot of hot, slimy water. They were rosy and cheerful, shouting and working briskly, as if the ambient heat from the springs kept them warm but not that warm. I was awestruck by this show of industry, a group riff in its own way, putting those dark times to good use.

photo 5
like the hat? it’ll be in a future post!

Salt Spray Cowl

350-400 yds worsted weight yarn. (I used one skein of Green Mountain Green wool/mohair, and about ½ a skein of Abundant Earth Fiber Aviary).

24” circular needles in US #8

stitch marker

tapestry needle for bind off and weaving in ends.

Cowl measures 32″ around and 9 3/4″ deep from cast-on to bind-off.

Gauge: 13 1/2 stitches x 27 1/2 rows= 4″ in gansey stitch pattern


CO 105 stitches using long-tail method. PM and join in the round. Begin gansey stitch pattern at Round 1. Gansey stitch pattern can be worked on any multiple of 7 stitches:

Round 1: [p4, k3], repeat to end of round.

R2: [k4, p1, k1, p1], repeat to end of round.

R3: [k5, p1, k1], repeat to end of round.

Repeat Rounds 1-3 21 more times, or until desired length. Repeat R1 once more. Bind off with EZ’s cast-on-cast-off. Weave in ends and wet block (if you used a fluffy, halo-y yarn like I did, this step is not to be skipped!).


Toroni: A Super-Quick Shawl Recipe


Life in Bulgaria has a very seasonal rhythm. Bulgarians love their four distinct seasons, and even in Sofia, there are palpable differences in how people spend their time from one season to the next. Summer is for eating salad and going to the beach.

Last summer, we had a thunderstorm practically every day. It made running errands a real pain, and meant a mediocre year for grapes, tomatoes, and other summer produce. What made the summer even worse is, it was following an unusually mild winter, and many people felt restive and somehow thrown out of balance.

“We used to have four seasons in Bulgaria and it was very nice,” a taxi driver said to me once (Thomas Friedman would be jealous of how many conversations I have with taxi drivers), “Now the climate is changing, so we just have a few months of cold and the rest is warm and wet.”

In the long run, this may bear out to be true. Every snowstorm, every perfect breezy day, every tree full of plums or bush full of rosehips might be our last. This year at least we managed to get our seasons. Winter was respectably cold and snowy, and this summer has been relentless; the days are hot and long. The tomatoes are what Westerners would call “heirloom,” the kind that would raise rents in the surrounding neighborhoods if they were sold in any farmer’s market in the urban USA.

In winter, the question people ask each other is, “What do you heat with?” Answer “electricity,” and you’ll get a groan of sympathy. In Sofia, steam is the most fortunate answer. Everywhere else, it’s wood.

In summer, the question is, “Are you going to the sea?” For two years, I lived within an hour of the Black Sea. There, we never asked each other this question, because everyone was already at the sea. Sofia is several hours inland, though, and trips to the seaside are relished.

summer in Halkidiki
summer in Halkidiki

My husband and I took our beach trip two weeks ago, to a quiet village in Halkidiki, Greece. For this, I needed some instant-gratification knitting. You know the kind. Something small, in a fun yarn. Fingering weight was ideal, because it meant lots of blissfully repetitive stitches. An off-center triangle shawl, started at the narrowest point, requires little shaping and practically no thought at all. The end result shows off hand-dyed and variegated yarns perfectly, without being too busy or overwhelming the rest of your outfit. A project like this is the tomato-soup-and-grilled-cheese-sandwich of knitting.


Here’s my formula.

Toroni Shawl Recipe


materials: 100g fingering-weight yarn (sock yarn works great). I used Republic of Wool Twist Fingering in color Thrasher, which I found at Twisted in Portland not too long ago.

US #6 needle; I like 24″ circular

gauge: doesn’t matter!


KFB: Knit next stitch through front and back. 1 stitch increased.

Using long-tail method, CO 11 stitches

Row 1 (WS): K2, P to 2 stitches before end, KFB, K1
Row 2 (RS): KFB, K to 3 stitches before end, K2tog, K1

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 until you’re almost out of yarn (leave at least 3 yards for bind-off). Bind off stitches using your favorite method. I recommend a stretchy bind-off like EZ’s Sewn Bind-Off (click for link to tutorial), or this pretty lace bind-off (click for excellent youtube video by Laura Nelkin).


Note: Repeating these two rows will give you a stockinette-stitch shawl, which might curl at the ends. You might have also noticed in the photos that my shawl has some little purl ridges on the right side. You can achieve these purl ridges by working the wrong-side like this instead:

Row 1 Version 2 (WS): K to 2 stitches before end, KFB, K1

Super-easy! Knit all the wrong-side rows, and your shawl will be in garter stitch instead of stockinette. I love how stockinette shows off the flecks of color in the yarn, so I mostly did that. Just for fun, every time I picked up the work afresh, I would knit the first wrong side row I worked instead of purling. This added a little planned spontaneity to the shawl, and created a little record of how much I worked at a time (the purl ridges got progressively closer together, as the shawl increased in size).

Once the shawl is finished, weave in the ends and don’t be afraid to block aggressively, especially if you’ve worked mostly in stockinette. I wrung mine out and stretched it on my clothesline.

beach hair, don’t care

Does anyone else have go-to vacation projects? What’s your ideal instant-gratification knitting?

Quickies: Little Yellow Chushki

left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка
left: обикновена чушка right: самодивска чушка

My friend Lora has knit some adorable little Chushki with a kind of maryjane vibe. Chushki is part of my Woodstove Series, four fast, toasty little accessories for the chilliest part of winter. Here’s what she says about her mods:

I did a single crochet seam on the outside – I think it’s quite pretty. Sewed up the toe side for only about 8 selvedge stitches. Then folded the slipper and sewed from the top of the heel side for about 8-9 selvedge stitches. So it makes a cute little elfin slipper.


I bet these elfin Chushki would be great slippers for sitting out on my balcony on a sunny morning. As an awesome bonus, Lora shared a little glimpse of her Bulgarian childhood:

There’s a whole variety of ‘terlici’ [Bulgarian for ‘slippers’] that can be created from this lovely, quick, and easy pattern… In any case, I absolutely used to abhor terlici as a child – my great grandmother and grandmother would knit endless piles of them, from home-spun wool that I had probably helped to clean earlier in the year. Despite how romantic this all sounds now, I used to think they were prickly and horrendous looking, and as a young person with good circulation, simply could not understand why my feet had to be constantly swaddled in thick wool (the draft of course, the dreaded draft!).

It seems the younger you are, the better your body is at keeping itself warm, and the more your elders will worry that you’re cold. Many many times in Bulgaria, particularly on the train, an older person has remarked on how “naked” I am (post-Communist Bulgaria is not a particularly prudish place, but in winter, Bulgarian grandmas will accuse you of public nudity for having your collarbone exposed). If I assure them I’m warm enough, they bob their heads from side-to-side and say it must be my “young blood.”

Check out Lora’s project page for her “Zholti Chushki,” and see all of her gorgeous knitting here. Thanks for the story, Lora, and happy knitting!



The Woodstove Series: Chushki and Mekitza

And finally, to round out my little ebook, I bring you Chushki:


and Mekitza:


Chushki is a super-quick little pair of house slippers, in garter stitch with just a couple little slipped-stitch accents. The pattern is written for a slipper of about 9″ unstretched, but is easily adjustable for whatever size you want to make. For an adult foot, cast on the same number of stitches, and aim for a slipper just about one inch shorter than the intended wearer’s foot (these will stretch to fit nice and snug).

With Mekitza, there are no such sizing quibbles. Just cast on with some great big needles and go. This would be an ideal project if you’d like to try short rows for the first time.

These two patterns, along with Snezhanka and Pechka, are included in my Woodstove Series.

In creating the Woodstove Series, my intention was to present wearable designs that would appeal to knitters of all levels, that would be clear enough for beginners to understand but fun enough for advanced knitters. These are all quick, chunky knits, with some fun details. I’d love to see what kinds of color combinations other people might come up with for these designs. If you have questions about any of the patterns, or you’re thinking about casting on one of them, leave me a comment and I’ll respond.

The Woodstove Series: Snezhanka


Hot off the presses: the second design in my Woodstove Series!

Meet Snezhanka. This luscious little hat takes only one skein of Puffin. Knit in brioche stitch on size 11 needles, Snezhanka might be the quickest knit of all the Woodstove designs (and that’s saying a lot!). I chose a pale, delicate color that accentuates the brioche stitch’s lovely topography.


Next up in the Woodstove Series: some sweet little slippers, and a cozy, chunky bandana cowl. Stay tuned.

Announcing: The Woodstove Series

Just in time for the dead of winter, I’m so excited to announce my new mini-collection of designs. Introducing The Woodstove Series.


The photos are the work of my friend, George. Aside from his amazing photography, and graphic design work, George spends his time fighting fascism and eating bananas.

All knit up in Quince & Co. Puffin, these four winter warmers can be worked up in a flash. They’re perfect if you need an instant-gratification knit, or if you spent all December making gifts for other people, and now find yourself exposed to the elements.


I chose bright colors with a vintage vibe, inspired by Bulgarian folk costumes and the monkey bars outside my block. The shapes and stitches are basic, but each design incorporates a couple techniques that might be new to you. I hope they’ll be fun, quick projects for experienced knitters. And, if you’re a beginner, I really hope you’ll give them a try.


I’ll be releasing the patterns one at a time, every few days, for the next week. Once they’re all up, they’ll be available in an ebook on Ravelry as well. The first design in the series is Pechka, a super-cozy double-layer hat.


Check back all week for more releases. Stay warm out there.

New Pattern: Chervena

So, after that last post from ages ago, all my dreams came true and I got to knit with Verb’s lovely new yarn, Clover (shout out to Big Sky, as well!). I also got married, but more on that later.

Clover was everything I hope for/expect from a Verb yarn. Soft, but not a pushover. Warm, but not stuffy. And it’s fascinating to see how wool/silk gives off a very slight sheen, and brings out new facets to Kristine’s natural dyes. Since blocking my new hooded cowl, Chervena, I’ve been wearing it pretty much constantly. In the lovely Bandana color, the cowl has the added advantage of making me more visible to Bulgarian taxi drivers when I cross the street.

R1011579If you want to see more photos of Chervena, my latest design, check out the guest post I wrote for Verb’s blog.

Verb and I are also giving away (like, for free) 20 copies of Chervena, to whoever buys Clover fast enough. But if you’re thinking about grabbing two skeins of Clover, you really should, because it’s absolutely lovely to knit with and wear.