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Arts and Crafts

Everything You NEVER Wanted to Know About Gauge – Part II

Knitting Mama Bear shares part two of her professional guide on gauge.



This week, Knitting Mama Bear shares part two of her professional guide on gauge.

In the last article, we learned how to make a gauge swatch and why it is important to make one for items that need to be correctly sized. This time, let’s talk about what to do if you discover that your gauge does not match the gauge called for by the pattern. 

Let’s say you took your time knitting a gauge swatch using the same (or substituted) yarn and recommended needle size from the pattern. Here’s a sample gauge note:

Gauge: 35 stitches & 37 rows = 4.5″ over Feather & Fan stitch

Your swatch may not match horizontally, vertically, or both; the horizontal measurement is more important. Once you have changed needle sizes to achieve the correct horizontal gauge, you can plan ahead to adjust vertically.

Here are some scenarios you may encounter:

Scenario 1:

On your swatch, there are 39 stitches horizontally within 4.5 inches. This means your tension is tighter than the designer’s tension. To put it another way, your stitches come out smaller than the designer’s stitches, so that more of yours fit into the 4.5″ space.

To fix this, try knitting the swatch again in the next needle size up. Repeat as needed until you have the right number of stitches inside the right number of inches. 

Scenario 2:

On your swatch, there are 29 stitches within 4.5 inches. This means your tension is looser than the designer’s tension. To put it another way, your stitches are larger than the designer’s, so fewer of them fit into the 4.5-inch space.

To fix this, knit the swatch again in a smaller needle size. Keep trying smaller needles until you have the correct number of stitches inside the 4.5 inches.

Before you look at the next two scenarios, you must fix Scenario 1 & 2 before proceeding to 3 & 4. Once you resolve either of these, you will have the correct number of stitches horizontally. 

Scenario 3:

You have to count 40 rows to get to a height of 4.5 inches but you have the correct number of stitches horizontally. This means your stitches are shorter than the designer’s stitches.

Because you are getting the same number of stitches horizontally, this is easy to resolve. All you need to do is add a row or two to get to the correct length required to achieve the size you’re making. Only repeat rows which do not include increases or decreases to maintain the correct size in terms of width. Repeat the rows in the pattern so it doesn’t become disrupted. The easiest way to do this is to add more rows at the end of the project. Make sure you are measuring the length as you work. 

Scenario 4:

You have only 34 rows in a height of 4.5 stitches but you have the correct number of stitches horizontally. This means your stitches are taller than the designer’s stitches.

Because you have the correct number of stitches horizontally, this is also easy to fix. As you work on the project, don’t work as many rows as the pattern calls for. You should skip only rows that do not include an increase or decrease to maintain the correct measurements in terms of width. Make sure you are measuring your length as you go. Again, the best way to resolve this is to skip ending rows. 

Remember to fix either one or two before resolving three and four! These four fixes should cover all problems with gauge you encounter.

Important Take-Aways

  • Never try to knit tighter or looser to match the pattern gauge. You have a natural tension that will reassert itself.
  • Always make a gauge swatch. Don’t skip this step for patterns that should be appropriately sized. Keep repeating the swatch until you have found the right needle size to yield a matching gauge (you can reuse the yarn again and again until you get it right).
  • Always knit your swatch at least 3 additional stitches and rows wider and taller than the pattern requires. This will improve the accuracy of your measurements.
  • Never measure from the edge; start with a few stitches from the border to avoid distortion. 
  • Always work a border around the swatch. This will prevent edge distortion from throwing off your measurements. I prefer Seed Stitch because it looks the same vertically as horizontally. Bonus: if you don’t want to keep your swatch, you can repurpose it as a washcloth with a very nice border!
  • If your project is worked in the round, make your gauge swatch in the round too. Make it larger than it needs to be, cast off, and cut up the side vertically through a row of stitches so that you can lay flat to measure. Tension in the round is different from tension worked flat. 
  • Always use the recommended stitch pattern for your gauge. If it doesn’t suggest a stitch pattern, assume it’s Stockinette Stitch. 
  • If the pattern calls for the project to be blocked, block your gauge swatch before measuring. 
  • Always adjust your gauge to match the width before trying to adjust for height.
  • Avoid swatching squares smaller than 4 inches. There is no such thing as an even stitch to 1-inch ratio. It is always better to average your tension out over a larger area. 
  • If you are designing your own project and are looking to figure out a gauge so that you can predict the number of stitches you will need throughout, make swatches for each stitch pattern you will use in the project. Stitch patterns are not all the same! Cables pull everything tighter and lace stretches everything larger. 
  • Once you have achieved the correct number of stitches within designated inches, keep your swatch! Attach the yarn label and a note explaining the pattern you were using, the gauge required by that pattern, and the needle size you used on the swatch. Add a photo of the finished work when you’re done. This will come in handy for other projects if they use similar yarn and gauge sizes or if you want to make the same project again. I keep mine in a binder. 

Hopefully this information will help you grow in your skills as knitter or crocheter. If you liked this information, you can find me at where I share more valuable information and free patterns. 

Arts and Crafts

Illustrating a Children’s Book

Show your work early and often. In your communications with the writer, show them your thumbnails, scribbles, and roughs. As artists, we have a tendency to cloister away until we have a polished piece of art; this tendency is detrimental to collaborations.



Illustrating a Children’s Book

So you wrote a children’s book, now what? This article will help writers understand the illustration process and help artists come up with a plan to tackle a picture book project. After working on quite a few children’s books in the past two years, I’d like to share some tips on the process of creating them.

First, you must answer a few questions:

How many pages?

Traditionally, the standard picture book format has 32 inside pages, with the first 4 taken up by copyright, barcodes, and other interesting bits and bobs. That means we have a total of 28 pages to work with in terms of illustrations.

But since the advent of print-on-demand publishing, book lengths have become much more flexible. However, it’s good to keep in mind that the traditional length is what parents and children (a.k.a. your potential readers) are used to, and deviating from it may be a jarring reading experience.

What trim size?

(A few of the available trim sizes.)

Trim size is basically the size of the book. Square books are popular for children, but letter size is also a respectable format. Horizontal picture books are very classy, but not many print-on-demand services offer them. It’s best to research the printers you want to use (KDP, Ingram Spark, Lulu, Blurb, etc.) and then decide which is best for the project.

How many illustrations?

It may be tempting to want a picture on every page, but the picture-to-text ratio is determined primarily by the intended age of the reader. As a rule of thumb, the younger the target audience, the more pictures you’ll want in the book.

Color or black and white?

(Black and white interior illustration for “The Lion Who Forgot”)

You may be wondering why a children’s book would not have color, but as we discussed above, older children often don’t need hyper-colorful images to hold their attention. If you’re illustrating for the 9-12 age range, some stylish black and white ink drawings may be more appropriate, depending on the subject matter.

There are exceptions to this rule; young children are sensitive to high contrasting images, so simple black and white images such as in “The Lion Who Forgot” will work well. 

Another consideration is that color printing will be more expensive than black and white; the more vibrant and intricate the illustrations, the better printing quality you’ll need to use.

Is your style a good fit for the book?

Younger kids like big heads and big eyes that emote clearly; older children can appreciate more sophisticated compositions and moods in a landscape. What’s your strong suit?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten when I was starting out in art was to never accept a project that doesn’t jive with your style because each project builds your portfolio in a direction you don’t really enjoy. And since you’ll be hired based on your portfolio, your career might take a turn in a direction different from your true talent.

Once you’ve answered these questions and have determined to accept the job, it’s time to take the next step.

The planning phase

1. Thumbnails— your Roadmap

(Thumbnails for “The King’s Colt”)

There are many places online where you can download a thumbnails template. These make it easy for you to see the whole story at a glance and spot obvious story flow issues early.

This is also the best time to work out your creative differences with the writer and avoid the nightmare of revising a fully finished illustration because you didn’t hash it out early.

Thumbnails guide you as you illustrate your way through the manuscript and gives you an easy way to scope out the project and count the cost before building the tower, if you will.

2. The test page and character designs

From the thumbnails, pick a page that has the main character(s), and take it all the way to the finalized stage. Take note of the techniques you’ve used and how long it took you to do them. This allows you to figure out your process and accurately assess the total amount of work involved in the project. From this one exercise, you can extrapolate the amount of time needed for the whole book, the budget the writer will need to come up with for hiring you, and as a bonus, the main character’s design is now hammered out too.

If the writer agrees to go ahead with the style, design, budget, and estimated timeline determined by the test page, you are now safe to dig into the production phase of the illustrations.

3. Streamline your art process

If you’ve paid proper attention to your process during the test page, you should be able to replicate that process for each book page. However, there is inevitably a style shift when a project spans weeks and months, and I’ve found the easiest way to keep the whole book cohesive, and the style consistent is to streamline the process.

This means doing the rough drafts of all the pages, then the line art of all the pages, and finally the color and paint of each page. This may look different for you, but the principle holds; finish the whole book in one stage before moving on to the next.

4. A few technical considerations

When designing your illustrations, keep in mind the following:

• The spine will pinch the middle of the book, so each page has a strip at the spine that will be hidden. That is called the “gutter.”

• Around each page, there is a border that may get accidentally trimmed. It’s best to keep essential bits like faces and text away from that border; this is called the “margin” or “safety.”

• Do your images go all the way to the edge of the page? If so, you’ll need to include an extra “bleed” border around your page, where the image continues to bleed past the edge of the trim size.

The printing service you use should be able to provide a template peculiar to your book’s specifications. Download that template and follow it to the pixel.

5. Formatting the text

(Contrasting text example from “The Peanut Trap”)

There are a few options when it comes to displaying the text. Firstly, your pictures should be composed with the text in mind to integrate nicely. To make the text legible, you’ll need to have the background in a contrasting tone to the text—i.e., dark text, light background, or light text, dark background. There are a few ways of achieving this. If your illustrations don’t have that contrast, you can use a box, a banner, or a speech bubble. 

Another often overlooked option is to format the whole book to have a blank facing page dedicated to text. This is actually an excellent option for all ages, so make sure to discuss the option with the writer you’re working with.

(Example of facing-page text and text on banner)

Some final thoughts

Show your work early and often. In your communications with the writer, show them your thumbnails, scribbles, and roughs. As artists, we have a tendency to cloister away until we have a polished piece of art; this tendency is detrimental to collaborations.

(Hilarious simple thumbnail to final for “Aurora Bearialis”)

The writer may not understand your thumbnails at the outset, but as you take them through your process, they will acquire more and more educated eyes. I can confidently say that the writers of “Aurora Bearialis” are able to decipher my scribbles now.

I hope you found this article useful. Of course, there’s nothing like lessons learned by doing, so go forth and create, my brothers and sisters!


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Arts and Crafts

Drawing the Line



A written guide by Handdrawnbear

What is a line?

Lines don’t exist in nature, it is a two-dimensional construct of the mind in an attempt to understand and represent three-dimensionality.

One might be tempted to think of edges as lines, that is how we describe a cube after all, but there are plenty of objects such as a ball, which has no edges, that also must be described by lines.

Lines are statements about where one surface ends and the next surface begins from our point of view. A line is used to define the limit of our perception, when an object or surface goes beyond our view; like the horizon line, it means we can see this much and no further.

How do we use a line?

It’s more a question of where, rather than how. Lines can be used to describe any object, but first, determine your level of magnification. How lines are used will differ whether we’re drawing a forest, a single tree, one branch, or just one solitary leaf.

We are informing the viewer where the edges of our perceptions are for this particular drawing, which will be defined by the level of magnification of the subject.

Drawing a forest means defining the edges and boundaries of the forest, therefore we must not concern ourselves with defining the edges and boundaries of each leaf.

Likewise, drawing a chicken means we can’t be tempted to define each feather; drawing a bear precludes us from focusing on every hair. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Handdrawnbear’s approach to drawing.

I can only speak for myself here, but the approach I take with any drawing is to use the least amount of lines possible, and start with the most important lines. Just as brevity is to wit, economy of lines is to a drawing. No one likes a line-salad of a drawing.

Let me explain. Say we’re drawing a bear, if you could only use one line to describe that bear, what would that line look like? I usually choose the line of the spine from nose to heel, which describes the posture of the animal.

Next, if you could only describe the bear using two lines, which line would you add? I’d put in the head in this instance. And then from there we continue to build the drawing from most important to least important lines, also known as drawing from the general to the specific.

This approach not only helps organize the drawing process, but also ensures that if we’re drawing from life and the subject moves or wanders away, we have put down as much essential information on paper as possible.

These methods have served me well over the years, and I hope you find them helpful, too.


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Arts and Crafts

How to Draw Faces – A Quick Introduction

A written guide and video by Handdrawnbear



A written guide and video by Handdrawnbear

There was a fat little Asian kid who sat alone at every lunch break, furiously scribbling on stacks of scrap paper salvaged from the classroom recycling bins.

This is how I spent my public school days, not a minute was wasted on “learning.” Now, I confidently say that I can draw anyone I lay eyes on. It’s not a boast, quite the contrary, drawing is the only way I can truly understand what anything actually looks like. My husband is often exasperated by how mechanically illiterate I am, I answer him honestly, “Dear, I’ve never drawn a car engine.”

Now you might say, but Handdrawnbear, I’m not as weirdly wired as you, how can I learn to drawn everyone?

Let me first clarify, we are speaking here only of observational drawing, which differs from technical or architectural drawing in function and form.

Drawing is a language, but not a hieroglyphic one. Hieroglyphs are preconceived symbols, clichés if you will. How would you like to read a novel written only in clichés and figures of speech? You wouldn’t like it at all. Even though symbols may be a shortcut to meaning, they are also extremely limiting; if you don’t have a glyph for something, then you can’t describe it.

Instead, when you draw from observation, look at it with the eyes of a blind man who’s just been given his sight. Throw out your preconceived notions of what anything should look like and really see what you’re trying to describe with your drawing.

When drawing someone’s face, really look at them and see what makes it unique from other faces. These three legends below could all be described as “a bearded man”, but they are actually so very different from each other.

Woodshopbear has a very striking countenance, his eyes are farther apart than the average man which gives him a very intense look.

Westsidebear’s soulful eyes are like gems if you can find them in his sheer amount of hair.

BigBear’s cheeks are like tall shields over which his sharp eyes pierce through and sees your browser history.

Everyone has an ideal average face in their mind, but it’s the departure from the average that individualizes each face. There is a danger in exaggerating features however, as you veer further away from reality you may venture into the monstrous. The way to avoid this is love and charity, it may sound funny but it will show through your drawing. I am unable to make someone I despise look good, and I’m probably not alone.

Of course, practice makes perfect, or as close to perfection as we can get this side of the eschaton. So draw everything, draw all the time. Draw from life whenever possible. Don’t be precious about your drawings. Craft comes before art, it’s hard before it’s easy. But whatever you do, never trace a photograph. Tracing is a useless exercise that gives instant gratification but no lasting benefit.

Drawing is observation and adoration combined. Because this realm is full of beauty, drawing is a reply in kind, a dialogue with creation.

Don’t seek accolades, you’ll only find emptiness; instead, give with your craft relentlessly to those you love, and you’ll find tribe and so much kindness and gladness in return. This is the beautiful truth I’ve encountered with the community of Bears.

And that little fat Asian girl? Well, she’s still drawing and learning to see. 

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