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Technique, etiquette, and lifestyle advice for the modern knitter

By Patty Lyons  



Dear Patty,

Seems like some manufacturers (or maybe just me) are confused about what size needle is a U.S. 1. I have always knit my socks on two Addi Turbo circular needles, size 1. Sixty stitches usually worked. I wanted to try Magic Loop and bought size 1 Knit Pro needles. Someone at the weaving guild commented that my socks looked a bit small. Sure enough, no way was I going to get those puppies over my heel. The needles were 2.25 mm as opposed to Addi's 2.5 mm. Made a big difference on the socks. So what's the deal?

Tiny Sock Victim


Dear Tiny Sock Victim,

Oh dear, I feel your pain. It reminds me of my old yarn store days when I was managing a shop in the West Village (now closed), and a tourist from Canada came in. She had been swatching for a chunky hat and was trying her best to fit in and to deal with our crazy needle system. She politely asked to buy a U.S. 12. I told her there was no such thing; we had a U.S. 10, 10.5, 11, and 13. She asked why and I said “it’s because, um, you see… how our needles work is, um… the sizes are… (pause) I have no idea.”

To see where it all went wrong, we have to look back to 1988 when President Reagan signed an amendment to the Metric Conversion Act stating that America should convert to metric by 1992 “wherever practical” (many felt that was less than strong language), or a bit further back to 1975 when Ford signed the act and the whole country started readying ourselves to make the big switch to metric (just google metric cartoons and you’ll see how hard we tried). Wait! Let’s go a tiny bit further back to 1790 when Jefferson chose the British Imperial System of measurements… oh heck, the trouble really began with Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution that states that Congress shall have the power to “fix the standard of weights and measures,” CLEARLY not thinking about how this would affect knitters.

So now here we are with a U.S. needle system that has MANY metric sizes not represented. Take a look at your average metric needle gauge that tries to include the U.S. size equivalent, and you will see a whole slew of U.S. sizes that don’t exist as U.S. sizes in many needle companies—sizes like 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, 1.5, 2.5, 10.75, or 10.85. So, this leaves needle companies open to declare which of the metric “openings” they would like to call their U.S. needle.

This is the knitting equivalent to women’s clothing (totally made-up sizes) vs. men’s clothing, which uses actually human body measurements, so that’s why we gotta check on our handy-dandy needle gauge.

Could be worse, you could have bought a U.K. 1 by accident for your sock. Then you’d be knitting on a needle that falls between a U.S. 10.5 and an 11. That sock would REALLY not fit!!


Dear Patty,

Recently I obediently knit my swatch gauge and it behaved rather badly. When completed, it was a parallelogram. Blocking seemed to help, but not completely. Why is this happening? Is it me or the yarn? How do I counteract this tendency? Do I have to lean the other way so my sweater hangs straight?

Waiting anxiously for your unbiased answer…


Dear Sandy,

My unbiased answer: it’s not you; it’s the yarn. There are some yarns that are spun as “energized singles” or that have an “energized twist” and are meant to knit up to a lovely biased fabric. Check the design page of yarn: is it all wonderful drapey, stockinette garments that look like they were knit on the bias??

Here’s a picture of a gauge swatch I did many years ago with a lovely yarn (the name of which I’ve forgotten) that was a single with a heavy twist. I was swatching for a garment that had short row intarsia and the yarn was really biasing, so I thought I’d give it a soak and a block and see what happens.


The top had short row intarsia, and believe it or not, that line between the white and the grey is supposed to slant the other way.

So, I broke my own never-pin-out-your-stockinette-swatch rule to see if it would dry back in shape.


I waited patiently until it was dry then (drumroll please) took out the blocking pins and BOING, it went right back to where it was.


So I gave the yarn to a friend who knit a lovely tunic and everyone thought it must have been so hard to get the hem to have that lovely slant. So, you can either walk at an angle, or tell the world how hard it was to figure out all the shaping to get your lovely hem to come out at that slant.



Dear Patty,

I am a yarnaholic! Yes, I’ve admitted it. Not only that I am a patternaholic and I think I’m addicted to starting projects.

When I see yarn to is oh-so-yummy I can’t leave it on the shelf for someone else to adopt. It must go home with me!. My husband calls them “tribbles” (like from Star Trek), because they just keep multiplying. Oh, but I love them all. My friends, the enablers, don’t help matters either by sending me links to sales.

I’ll spend hours on Ravelry or looking at every knitting magazine and book. Lovingly imagining myself making this cabled scarf or that Fair Isle hat, oh don’t forget the new knit-along. I buy the pattern, the yarn and maybe new needles. Only to not start or start it only to put it aside and start something new. Months later I find it again and my mind says,”wow, I need to finish that project I spent my hard earned money on” only to leave it alone and sad in its basket. What’s a girl to do? How do I finish a project and not just start them?

The Muse in Missouri
Who’s not amused by her many projects

Dear Muse,

Yes, we have all suffered from the painful itch of “castonitis,” or what I like to call the “squirrel” effect (google it). First we have to separate the projects that we start and then find that we just aren’t “feeling them,” or it’s not really coming out right (those you are allowed to rip and repurpose the yarn) vs. those projects that you legitimately love, do really want, get as far as the sleeves and then run out of steam. I would recommend the Patty Procrastination system. You see, there are MANY things in my job I love, knitting being one of them, and then there are the other parts that are less fun, like writing my newsletter, pattern grading, or editing videos. So I set up a reward system for myself. When I have a sweater in progress (which is, you know, always) I tell myself I can knit ten rows after I finish one of my less fun chores.

So, to spin off from “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold,” cast on for that new project. Knit ten rows of it, knit ten rows of your WIP, and before you know it you’ll have finished objects AND more works to cast on.

Don’t get me started on finishing...


 Have a question for Patty? Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Patty Lyons teaches nationally at guilds and knitting shows around the country. Her popular classes can also be found online and on DVD at Interweave, Annie’s, and Craftsy, where her “Improve Your Knitting Class” was named Craftsy’s most popular class of 2013. Her designs have been published in Twist Collective, Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, and many more magazines and pattern books.