Elinor Brown Knits

Knitting Designs by Elinor Brown

Month: February, 2010

How To Wash Your Woolens

Recently, several knitters – that is to say, people who should know better – noted to me the unnecessary hardship of asking a new mom (it’s always mom), and especially a non-knitter, to handwash woolens. This is such bunk. You know that, right? I have never found it much of a chore, but I knit, I like wool, and I use (and wash) cloth diapers; it’s quite possible my tolerance of laundering is high. However, upon further discussion with the let’s call them Begrudgingly Acrylic Knitters, I discovered they have no idea how quick and easy it is to wash a wool garment. I thought I would put together a brief tutorial on how to do it quickly and effectively. I promise that it is at least as easy as, and I think easier than, regular laundry.

First, always keep your dirty woolens in their own basket. This ensures they remain separate from the regular wash and protects them from accidental felting.

Wool laundry basket

I wash my woolens either when I run out of socks or when my wool basket gets too full. I did a wash today because Odysseus is low on sweaters and he spit up all over his bunting this morning. He is a very leaky child. I will return to this point later (I know, you can’t wait).

Dirty woolens

Prepare your washing machine (yes) for a small load and allow it to fill with cold water. Add a capful of wool soap – not too much, just a small capful. I use Eucalan, but SOAK is nice too. Do not use Woolite – your knits deserve better. Stop the machine before the agitation cycle begins.

ETA: Without access to a washer, smaller items can be washed in this manner with a salad spinner. For that large, cabled, tunic-length sweater? You’re on your own!

Wool soap

Toss in your knits. Trust me, I won’t felt your woolens.

Load the washer

Load the washer

Load the washer

Your sweaters and socks will float on top of the water. The wool will eventually take up water and sink, but it is incredibly resilient. Help it out: push down your items to submerge them.

Full washing machine

This is the variable stage. I often set this up before bed so they can soak overnight. Some people only soak an hour. I have been known to forget about wool washes and leave them for 36 hours. Don’t do that, but soak them for as long as you find convenient.

Be sure to tell everyone in the household that there is wool in the washing machine. Deliver this information in the same way you would share that the iron is hot, the gas burner is lit, or the car is running. Impress upon your cohabitants that under no circumstances are they permitted to so much as enter the laundry room. Oh wait, that’s the rule in my house… I encourage you to be as bossy as you like.

Spin Only Cycle

Done stewing? Turn the washing machine dial to spin-only. This is the end of the washing cycle in which the water is spun out of the clothes. I assure you, your washing machine has a spin-only cycle. Mine does, and it is the cheapest, most worthless machine money can buy (it has two cycles: on and off). Ask me about how we bought appliance insurance then cloth diapered now two children in an attempt to kill it. The stupid machine runs like a champ.

Right. You don’t care about my piece-of-junk washing machine. Sorry. Let the spin-only cycle go to completion. When you open the washing machine, you will find damp but by no means soaking wet woolens. If you find them too wet, run the spin cycle again.

Drying on a towel

Lay out garments on towels. Sometimes, I spread out a couple of towels on a bed. If I’m washing lots of socks, I string a clothesline and pin the socks to dry. That’s a lot of work. Do as you see fit, but know that depending on the fiber content, your garments will be dry in anywhere between a few hours and a day. If they take longer to dry, you did not spin out enough water.

Drying on a towel

I feel I need to make one final point about babies and wool. Babies leak. Odysseus has never met a surface he deemed unworthy of spit up. He is the messiest baby I have ever known. Yet, he wears the woolly bunting Sally made him every day and today is the first time it has been washed. And no, it hasn’t been gross and covered in baby goo all this time. Careful use of bibs (or in his case, large cloth diapers as bibs) has kept it plenty clean.

Don’t ever feel like you have to sacrifice quality for ease of use! Teach people how to wash woolens. It will prove useful long after their babies leave the house – after all, who survives without wool socks??? Babies can wear wool. New, sleep-deprived moms can wash wool. And you know what? Dads can too.


AccessoryFest 2010: Ladybug Picnic Mittens

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

These mittens take their name from the Sesame Street counting sketch about a ladybug picnic. You know you know it. Don’t remember it? Click the link. I dare you. Here, I’ll share it again. You’ll be singing that goofy song for the rest of the day.

(You’re welcome.)

Oh, come on, it’s not so annoying, is it? I think it’s kind of cute! Elizabeth Mitchell does a wonderful rendition of it on one of her children’s albums.

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

Once I got the idea to knit some ladybugs, it bounced around in my head just as relentlessly as that silly song will in yours. I swatched them on a white background on the way to Washington, D. C. a few weeks ago, but the dark floats really showed through. Unfortunately, I did not have any other appropriate yarn with me so the idea had to kick around my head for a few more days before I could actually do anything about it!

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

I made this pair of mittens for JulieFrick, who claims to be incapable of stranded knitting. I don’t believe it. Have you seen her knitting? It is categorically not the work of the knitting skill-challenged. Nevertheless, I thought the lady needed a pair of stranded mitts because I know she’s never going to make herself any!!

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

Pattern: Ladybug Picnic Mittens (Ravelry link)

Yarn: Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport in Limestone, Red Fox, and Pepper

Needles: US 0 (2.0 mm) and US 1 (2.5 mm)

I tried so hard to get this pattern to come out with only twelve ladybugs – like in the song – but in order to maintain uniform tension, the adult sizes required fifteen ladybugs. I made sure that the child-size mitten, the XS, only has twelve. After all, why call them Ladybug Picnic Mittens if there were not twelve ladybugs? That’s the entire point of the song! The mittens feature a picot cuff and red and black braid at the cuff, a peasant thumb, and a rounded top. The ladybugs are knitted into the mitten; however, the bugs’ spots and feet are duplicate stitched on afterwards.

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

I am especially pleased with the palm side. I did not really want to put ladybugs on the inside, but I needed a way to carry the yarn across. I love this effect. I might see about using the stitch pattern in other designs.

Ladybug Picnic Mittens

Now that the Fricknits family is outfitted with stranded knitwear, they can start shoveling out from under all that snow!

AccessoryFest 2010: Helping Hands Mittens

1960s Wool Plaid Mittens

These started as a stashbuster but at the urging of several friends, I wrote up the pattern to contribute to the Help for Haiti effort on Ravelry. I will donate all proceeds of the mitten sales to Haitian relief efforts for as long as the pattern is available. To be honest, I feel conflicted about urging people to buy things because portions of pattern sales will go to charity. If the cause is compelling, we should not be goaded into supporting it with cheap or free items. Perhaps I sound cynical; I do not mean to be. All I’m saying is that the best way for any of us to help in the earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti is to give directly to reputable aid organizations doing good work. Buy my mitten pattern if you like the mittens, but if you really want to help, bypass me and give directly to aid organizations now. And, perhaps more importantly, give again in March. And in July. And in September. And in 2011 and 2012.

And of course, enjoy the mittens!

This pattern is available as a Ravelry download for $6.00. For the lifetime of the pattern, all proceeds will be donated monthly to Partners in Health’s Stand With Haiti campaign.

1960s Wool Plaid Mittens



Skills used

Reading a chart, knitting in the round, knitting with two colors, increasing, decreasing, picking up stitches.


S (M, L)

Model shown in size S.

Finished measurements

Circumference: 7.25 (8.5, 9.75)”
Length: 8.5 (9.5, 10.5)”
Thumb top length: 2 (2.5, 3)”


26 stitches and 28 rounds = 4″ in stranded stitch pattern on US 6 (4 mm) needles

1960s Wool Plaid Mittens


Berroco Ultra Alpaca [50% alpaca, 50% wool; 215 yd (197 m); 100 g skein]; color: #6289 Charcoal Mix (MC), #6201 Winter White (CC1), #6234 Cardinal (CC2), #6294 Turquoise Mix (CC3), 1 skein each.


US 6 (4 mm) circular needle, 32″ long or 1 set US 6 (4 mm) DPNs


Stitch markers
Waste yarn
Tapestry needle

1960s Wool Plaid Mittens

AccesoryFest 2010: The Hat Edition

I did say that I’ve been busy knitting, did I not? Let’s start with a major stashbust of winter accessories. I love knitting hats. That much is abundantly clear, is it not? I rarely make hats for members of my household because we have so many already. However, Beatrix outgrew her hat from last year so of course, she needed a new one.

A hat for Beatrix

I whipped up a child size Min Ulla because I wanted to have made all four versions of the hat by the end of the winter. This is Version C.

Inside lining, Min Ulla Hat

I love the 8-point star decrease, don’t you? I would use it in every hat if I could.

Min Ulla Hat, Version C

Mr. Frick, of Fricknits fame, received Version B of Min Ulla. When visiting the crafty Frick household a few weeks ago, I learned that Mr. Frick needed a warmer hat for his commute.

for Mr. Frick

What an excellent excuse to make another one of these!

for Mr. Frick

Better yet, the hat arrived in the DC Metro area with two feet of snow for the true Nordic experience! I hope it comes in handy during the great snowmageddon of 2010.

Pattern: Min Ulla Hat, Versions C and B (Ravelry link)
Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Cardinal and Winter White for Beatrix, Turquoise Mix and Winter White for Mr. Frick
Needles: US 6 (4 mm)

Kirsten Kapur published her Wood Hollow hat and mitten pattern just days before a dear friend lamented her inability to find a decent winter cap. I promised mittens too, but they will need to wait until spring because I’m back in the throes of deadline knitting until then.

Wood Hollow Hat

Pattern: Wood Hollow Hat (Ravelry link)
Yarn: Harrisville Designs New England Highland in Midnight Blue
Needles: US 6 (4 mm)

Finally, I dropped some unexciting, stashbusting hats in the mail to add to Liz’s campaign for kids in Nepal.

And that was just hats! Just wait until I tell you about the mittens! I will have two new mitten patterns for you this week. I will publish them as soon as I’ve made the final revisions to my drafts and cleaned up the tutorial photos.

Stay tuned!