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Patty's Purls of Wisdom

Technique, etiquette, and lifestyle advice for the modern knitter

By Patty Lyons 

Dear Patty,

Every time I finish a new sweater, I both look forward to and dread wearing it out in public. Why? Because I get both “that’s so beautiful” followed by “will you knit one for me?” ARGHH!! I wish I could somehow become the grumpy cat meme who answers “NO” to that question, but I know it’s meant as a compliment. How do I deflect without sounding rude or like a diva?

Selfish Knitter


Dear Selfish Knitter


This is a tough one. You’re right, it is meant as a compliment, but when non-knitters assume that whipping up a sweater is easy, we must say to ourselves, “Forgive them, they know not what they ask.”  There are several approaches to this dilemma; let’s break down the pros and cons of each.


1) You have the option of claiming ignorance and say you have no idea how to knit; your aunt made it for you. Pro: this lets you off the hook and you won’t have to knit a sweater for your friend. Cons: this option will not work if you have ever been seen knitting in public, AND it means your friend will never buy you a knitting-related gift.

2) You could say yes and charge an insane amount of money. Pro: You get an insane amount of money. Con: You have to make the sweater.

3) You can barter the sweater for a service or skill. Explain the the cost of the materials and how much time it might take to knit. Then offer to knit it in exchange for something the asker can offer. If you have a sweet tooth and the requester is an amazing baker, barter a supply of baked goods for the finished sweater.  The Pro: You get cake (or something equally attractive) Con: You have to make the sweater.

4) Nicely say no. If knitting for someone else is just not something you want to do, be kind and be honest. Acknowledge that you’re flattered, but knitting is something you do to relax and treat yourself to sweaters you love. Then offer to bake them a cake. Everyone wins.



Dear Patty,

Can you give us some guidelines for blocking different yarns? How do we know whether to wet block or steam block?  Are there certain yarns that can be blocked using both methods?



Dear Linda,


While selecting a blocking method depends in part on the garment construction and in part on your stitch pattern, fiber content is always my first consideration.


Start by checking the ball band for care instructions. If your yarn is labeled dry clean only it’s is a sign that you may not want to wet block. If the ball band reads “no iron,” then it’s likely sensitive to heat and steam blocking may not be ideal. Is your yarn colorfast? If you’re not sure, snip a piece, get it wet, and then tie it around an old white T-shirt or rag and let it dry. Then untie and see if it leaves a mark. If it does, it will probably bleed in wet blocking as well.


As a general rule wool and wool-blend yarns do wonderfully with steam or wet blocking. The exception is superwash wools, which behave more like rayon than a wool. The scales of superwash wools have been sealed down leaving nothing to grip the columns of fibers together when wet. Because of this the fabric can grow quite a bit in water. Pinning a now oversized piece to schematic measurements can be a bit hard to manage. For that reason, I like spray bottle blocking for superwash.


I also like to spray-bottle block fibers with a halo or a short, delicate staple length like cashmere, alpaca, or mohair. This is because the heat from an iron can mat the lovely lofty fibers and the weight of the water in wet blocking can stretch out delicate fibers. All-cotton yarns, especially if loosely knit, can also stretch, so you must be gentle when handling them, or spray-bottle block.


Acrylic and acrylic blends do well with wet blocking, as do linen and wool blends.


To be safe, block your swatch both for gauge and to see how the yarn will fare under the method you choose. If you find you’ve made the wrong choice, you’ll just ruin the swatch, not the finished garment.



Hi Patty,

If I were to introduce myself at a meeting I would say “hello, my name is Stacy, and I’m a lace-a-holic”, but the other thing I might add is “and I obsess over the details.” I’ve asked everyone in my knitting group and they all say I’m nuts, but I’m NOT. My yarn-overs are different sizes, and I hate it. It’s a simple pattern, it has p1, YO, k2tog, ssk, yo, p1. I try so hard to be even with my tension, but no matter what they don’t match.  WHY!!!? Is there a trick to fixing it?


Lace-a-holic in Tennessee

Dear Lace-a-holic

First, let’s dig into the “why” it happened, and that will lead us to the “how” to fix it. (You know me; I love the why!)  Here’s a typical mismatched yarn-over.

:Unedited photos:1 - mismatched YO.jpg

Mismatched yarn-over.

When you do a yarn-over, your yarn travels over the top of your needle by moving it to the front and then to the back. It slants up and to the left so the leading leg (the leg that’s closest to the tip of the needle) sits in front, ready for the wrong-side row. The next step is to move your yarn into position for the next stitch. If that next stitch is a knit, it’s already there.

:Unedited photos:2 - standard YO.jpg

Yarn-over position for a knit stitch.

If your next stitch is a purl, you have to move the yarn back to the front.


:Unedited photos:3 - YO P.jpg

Yarn-over position for a purl stitch.

What this means is, when you work a yarn over followed by a knit stitch, your yarn travels three-quarters of the way around the needle. But when you do a yarn-over followed by a purl stitch it travels all the way around the needle, hence the two differently sized yarn-overs.

If you make your yarn-over backwards by moving your yarn from the back to the front, and then purl, your yarn travels the same distance as a regular yarn-over and knit stitch. You can see how symmetrical they are, with both yarn-overs leaning in towards center.

:Unedited photos:4 - backwards YO.jpg

Moving the yarn from back to front for a purl stitch equalizes the size.

When you work the purl for continental knitting, just hang onto the yarn-over with your right index finger. If you are a thrower, leave the yarn in the back and enter the stitch to work the purl, moving the yarn over the needle to make your yarn-over.

On the next row you will simply work that yarn-over through the back loop.


:Unedited photos:5 - work backwards YO.jpg

Work through the back loop.

And ta-da, perfectly matched yarn overs.

:Unedited photos:6 - match YO.jpg

A perfect match!

If you want larger yarn-overs the yarn will need to travel all the way around the needle for both. Do your backwards yarn-over before a knit and your regular yarn-over before a purl! Dealer’s Choice!!!!