An Essential Quality in a Knitter

Thank you readers for sharing your suggestions for positive alternatives to all the political nastiness going on out there!  Hearing about all your constructive activities was very encouraging.

Knitting (and buying yarn) has remained my primary response to stress lately, which was all well and good until I realized I had four projects that had been trotting along, somewhat irregularly, without me checking in and taking a good hard look at what I was making.  I favor swatching by starting to knit the actual garment, then pausing to check on gauge and all that good stuff when a bit of the piece has been worked.  Most of the time, I know how my knitting habits will interact with the yarn and pattern and can make a solid guess about which needle size to use to get gauge.  In rare lucky instances, I know how the designer writes and can make yarn and needle choices accordingly.  In other cases, I do my best and either I don’t know the yarn or I don’t know the fiber or the design implements techniques I don’t often use and for any of those reasons and more it just doesn’t work out.

Determination is a good quality for a knitter to have, and patience, but what I realized as I took a good hard look at (um) five of my UFOs is that honesty is equally important.

Knitted Waterlily Tee in progress

Waterlily Tee, shaping up (for now)

Thankfully, the Waterlily Top is proceeding without incident for now.  Fingers crossed it stays that way!

Beginning of a new vest

Trying again.

The O w l s sweater not so much.  I had both sleeves knitted and the waist shaping halfway done.  The knitting started as a comfort during the loss of our cat Cassie, then just continued.  I convinced myself that it was ok that my gauge was larger, not smaller, than stated on the pattern and that the stiff, potentially bulletproof, fabric I was producing would soften up with wear.  Both those were utter lies and a spin through a yarn store that carried the full complement of Brown Sheep yarns, supported by a conversation with the proprietor, brought me to my senses.  I went home, pulled up Ravelry, and there it was.  Brown Sheep Burly Spun is a super bulky yarn, not the bulky O w l s calls for.  I frogged the whole thing and found a pattern in my library that called for the gauge I was getting.  Maybe the third time will be the charm with O w l s.

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Remember this yarn?

Project the third: a Spring Garden Tee to use up the remains of my yarn from the Francis top.  Should be simple, but I was in complete denial about how much this bamboo yarn stretches.  I have been wearing and washing Francis frequently this summer, and there are no two ways about it: Bamboo Pop stretches.  A little voice wondered about that when I blithely cast on this tee with size 6 needles, but I quelled it for weeks, wrestling with the yarn to get as tight a gauge as I could and pretending I didn’t notice how much the fabric expanded when I gave it a little tug.  Today, emboldened by how the world didn’t end when I frogged my O w l s, I took a good hard look at the tee and admitted what I’d known all along: the fabric was going to stretch and get sloppy.  Now it’s tidily frogged and waiting in its project bag with a size 5 needle.

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The Twenty Ten Cardigan.  It should have worked.  The pattern calls for a size 8 needle, and my gauge was far too tight on a size 10.  I set it aside, I blocked it.  It was no use: I needed to go up another needle size.  Out it came.  The slightly rumpled ball is now packaged up tidily with its new friends, the size 11 straights.

After the initial shock of frogging not one but three projects, I’m quite glad I stepped back and took a good hard look at my WIPs.  If I’d been honest with myself a lot sooner, I would have lost less knitting time, but as far along as all these projects were, it had become impossible to argue that they were going to turn themselves around.  Silver lining, right?

What about you, readers?  When is the last time you had to be brutally honest with yourself about a project that wasn’t working?

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Instead of Cursing the Darkness

This has been a craptastic year for world events, hasn’t it?  Stateside we have this election year that has been doing a great job of bringing out the worst in people. Not as bad as other things that could be happening, but still, a bunch of politicians sniping relentlessly at one another is not making me feel particularly happy with the government. 

Rather than add to the nastiness that passes for political discussion stateside, I present to you a random assortment of things I like to do or have done (and that you can do too, if you’re so inclined) to put some good in the world.

  1. Celebrate a birthday.  Just because it’s a national holiday doesn’t mean the fourth of July can’t be someone’s birthday, so ask around.  Leave the red, white, and blue at home and show them this is their day, too.  (As a bonus, they might have birthday cake.)
  2. Adopt a pet.  I’m a month late in posting, but Eloise and Malthus are now three. I was not in the market for a pet when they were found in a box outside a friend of a friend’s house, but they were only three weeks old, and I knew I couldn’t let them go to the county pound.  Three years later, they still indulge in the occasional kitten stampede or game of Whack your Sister on the Head, but mostly they are Very Helpful Wittens.  If you need your own Helpful Wittens, do a web search for cat rescue and the name of your city and county.  There are many, many cats in need of loving homes (pro tip: if you adopt an adult cat, they will sleep between playtimes).
    Tabby cat sitting in a bathtub with a blocking sweater

    Malthus feeling the need to supervise


    Cream colored cat on an ironing board

    Eloise loves her kitty perch, even though I insist on doing my ironing on it

  3. Buy local food. I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I’ve gotten out of going to the local farmer’s market, getting to chat with the vendors and learning what foods are in season when. Everything at our market comes from nearby farms, and after learning how good vegetables taste when they are fresh picked, it’s hard to go back to grocery store veggies. Right now we’ve got chickens and All the Tomatoes.  Cooking makes for nice together time with friends and family too: although Querido is a reluctant chef, he is very good at preparing (and taste-testing) cuts of meat while I tackle the rest of dinner.
  4. Give to a good cause.  I think everybody here knows that I am an unabashed Stephanie Pearl-McPhee fangirl, so it’s not much of a surprise I’ve donated to her team in the Friends for Life Bike Rally.  But seriously.  She believes in this cause so much she is not just giving her time to serve on the steering committee, she is also riding 600 km, and camping the whole time.  Imagine that.  Do you believe in something enough to bike 372 miles for it without the promise of plumbing at the end of the day?  Exactly.  That’s why I gave money.  If there’s a cause nearer and dearer to you, go give to that.  You’ll feel good.

Ok, everyone, do something nice, then get yourselves a nice cold drink and relax, because you made this Monday better than you found it.

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In the Middle

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Here we are, knitters, in the middle of the year.  This holiday weekend is billed as the epitome of vivacity by cooking and lifestyle magazines, but here in Kansas it has been uniformly dour.  Some rain, but mostly just solid, dull clouds and a cool wind.  Malthus and I are on the couch, listening to the intermittent pop of fireworks (do they show up at all against the gray or is this just an outlet for ennui?) and sleeping and updating my Ravelry library, respectively.

This weather has me in an introspective mood, so let’s take stock of the year to date.  I have cast on for 23 projects this year, most of them garments, but only completed 11 projects (two this quarter).  While nearly 8,000 yards of yarn have entered the stash, I’m not doing too badly on output, having knitted up 3,200 yards.  Remember, I don’t count yardage until the project is finished.  That means another thousand yards or so are hanging out in the form of UFOs.

In spite of my distractible nature, I have been consistently knitting off the wishlist: Hitchhiker, Koolhaas, Snug Hood, and Jilted are already FOs, and Waterlily, Twenty Ten, Still Light, Owls, and Bonny are all in progress.  Spring and early summer were a bit heavy on garments.  This was a good opportunity to expand my experience with garment construction techniques, but my eye is starting to wander.  I have been actively coveting socks and shawls (Kate Davies’ Book of Haps did not help with this).  And since we’ve passed summer’s peak, I could also start planning fall sweaters.  Velma, Everett Henley, Fitted Dolman, Verchères pullover, Windswept.  The planning may have already happened.  Speaking of Windswept, I could instead implement my plan to knit one of every design out of Handmade in the UK.

The good news is that although my interest in particular projects waxes and wanes according to how many new patterns I’m drooling over at the time, I am still loving all my yarn.  The infuriating but lovely slipperiness of pure Romney, the chubbiness of Merino sock yarn, the drape of a silk blend.  We still have one more day left in this cloudy  long weekend.  Let’s see how much yarn I can get my hands on.

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Plugging Away

The Twenty Ten cardigan is getting a time out while I decide what to do about the three-stitch disparity between my gauge and the pattern gauge.  In the meantime, I have picked up my Midtown cardigan again.  If I can just get past the fronts, I may actually finish it less than a year after I started. 

(As an aside, I am not a particularly good indie design ambassador with this project. It’s a great pattern, and it’s unfinished because I have the attention span of an Eloise kitten, not because there’s anything wrong with the design. Go knit one of your own, and if you do, please blog about it so I’m inspired to get my rear in gear and finish mine already)

I am excited by the prospect of actually having and wearing it, but I am also a little scared by the length of the side seams. There’s going to be a lot of seaming up to do, and as we all know, I throw up a fuss over seaming.  Fingers crossed the allure of starting a new project will get me through. 

What about you, dear readers? Is a new project or an old project keeping you company this Saturday afternoon?

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Restart


Far back in March, I wound the yarn for a Twenty Ten cardigan and put it with the needles in a bag. I must have been in a confident mood, because I listed that day as my start date. Sometime in April I cast on and put everything back in the bag. Today, I gave the pattern a careful read, realized I had chosen my size based on the waist measurement, not the bust measurement, so I tore the cast on out and started over. This cardigan joined my covet list shortly after it was published, meaning it’s only been marinating there six years. 

Let it be known to all and sundry: June 4, 2016 is the actual start date of my Twenty Ten cardigan. 

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The Neverending Quilt

As you well know, there have been some gaps in the blogging record.  Some represent actual dry spells in my knitty activity, while others are times when I am consumed by another craft.

Late in summer of 2014, I needed a gift for my groom, and in a moment overflowing with warm fuzzies, I decided I would make my Querido a quilt.  A marvelous quilt!  Out of his very own shirts!

(Side story: Querido is a serial killer of dress shirts.  The elbow is always the first to go, always the same elbow, always in exactly the same spot.)

I had a dozen or so dress shirts, carefully culled from the wash, and a vague idea that I would have rows of squares separated by lines of sashing.  That’s totally enough information to start a quilting project, right?  I don’t think I need to mention that I’d never quilted so much as a potholder before.

At first, I was just cutting out squares and things were hunky-dory.  I’d invested in a rotary cutter and cutting mat, the most marvelous gift ever given to sewing-kind, and I was a square-cutting machine.

Cream colored cat sitting on a square of fabric

Eloise the helpful kitty

With the occasional interruption.

We bought a king sized bed.  No problem, right?  Just gather a few more shirts.

The quilt was a surprise, and also I couldn’t think of a good excuse for why I was cutting up a whole bunch of Querido’s shirts, so the project progressed slowly.  So slowly, in fact, that the wedding passed and all I had were cut up squares.

One week in March, Querido was out of town, so I buckled down and started churning out squares.  All I did every night was work on the quilt until I was cross-eyed.  It was absolute insanity, but I started to make progress.  I cut out dozens of squares, sewed hundreds of seams, and ironed open those tiny seams.  Ironing is already not my favorite activity, and getting those little quarter inch pieces of fabric to unfold enough to get the iron going was a royal pain.

Melba the chiweenie asleep on squares of fabric

I’d forgotten this picture :..(

Cream colored cat cleaning her toes on a quilt in progress

Clearly, I was experimenting with quilt layouts to give Eloise a place to clean her toes

I had high hopes that the end of this week of quilting madness would end in a finished quilt.  It ended in a finished top, but I was defeated by the realities of time and this:

Cream colored cat rolling on a quilt backing

Quilt sandwiching time is kitty playtime!

I had four cats and nowhere enough space to sandwich a quilt in our house.

Utterly exhausted, I presented Querido with his quilt top and the promise of a finished quilt.  He took the unfinished gift and discovery that I’d destroyed a dozen of his shirts quite well.  Summer brought travels far and near, and getting that madness-inducing quilt out didn’t seem like a big deal.  But when August arrived with its nasty humidity, I started dreaming of cold and remembered we still didn’t have a quilt.

I took it to work, where we have huge tables, and on a deserted summer afternoon I got the whole thing sandwiched:

Blue and white quilt being sandwiched on tables

QUILT

I was not nearly insane enough to attempt to hand-quilt, but I did want to learn the whole process, so I rigged an elaborate arrangement of tables and chairs to support the immense weight of a king-sized quilt, and sewed straight across the quilt: once in each stripe of sashing and twice across each row of big squares.  That’s 26 times, which is a lot, but not nearly as many as the number of times I stabbed myself with pins as I wrestled all that fabric through the machine.

Large blue and white quilt spread out across tables

Neverending quilt.

I used up two and a half full-sized spools of thread.  All 26 seams obviously didn’t happen in one day, and when I wasn’t working on it, the quilt became the cats’ new favorite sleeping spot.

Fermi the cat drowsing on a folded-up quilt in progress

Best kitty bed ever

Are you tired of reading about the quilt yet? Not as sick as I was of working on it, because it still wasn’t done. There was still the binding!  All 35 feet of pieced scraps of shirt, which, in a crazed moment, I had sewn with straight seams.  I cannot say how grateful I am to the colleague and seasoned quilter who gently but firmly informed me the seams needed to be sewn on the bias.  I ripped all the seams and did them again.

Patchwork bias binding ready to be sewn onto a quilt

The bias.

About 100 tiny seams, all of which had to be ironed open.  Then the whole strip had to be ironed in half.  Then, and only then, could I put the cats away, get out my cereal bowl full of pins, pin the binding to the quilt, rearrange all my dining area furniture, and begin to sew.  Finally, on Día de los Muertos, I slit the final thread, dragged several pounds of fabric off the machine, and it was a quilt.

I was too cross-eyed and exhausted at first to be happy, but Querido loved it.  Once I’d had a good night’s sleep and the realization that there was no quilt left to finish had finally sunk in, I loved it too.

Large blue and white quilt spread out across a couch and two tables

I never thought I’d see the day.

And that, dear readers, is how I quilted an entire king-size quilt in a year and a half.  We sleep under it every night. The cats play chase-the-wrinkles on it.  When they throw up on it, or when the strips of white start to turn Fermi-colored, I wash it in the washing machine and dry it on whatever is big enough.  In making this quilt I learned that I know next to nothing about quilting, and didn’t always have the right tools or equipment, and both those things made the process a lot harder.  I took a lot of weeks and weekends off quilting, but those were times we saw friends married, and explored our new home, and held parties, and helped one another finish other large projects.  After every break, I picked it back up again.

It was a labor of love, and stubbornness, and dedication.  Kind of perfect for a wedding gift.

 

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Things at Which I do Not Excel

This is a year of trying and learning: knitting patterns I’ve coveted, learning to pick instead of throwing, completing the Master Knitter coursework, spinning on a wheel, and learning to sew like a grownup.

Sometimes, I’m a little daunted by all I’ve taken on.  There’s really no reason it had to be done all at once, except that I decided to make it so.  Quite frequently, the learning process is much slower than I want it to be, and I get annoyed that everything is not all Done and Perfect right away.  Thankfully, there are things that I am happy to be terrible at.

Exhibit one:

Woman wearing a Hitchhiker shawl

Shawl Gothic

My selfies get one shot, and as you can see the struggle is real.  Move over, Nan Wood Graham.

Weeks of serious research (namely being the employee of a university) has empirically proven that the most effective way to take a selfie is to run through a variety of camera angles, poses, and facial expressions for several minutes, taking multiple photos before settling on a favorite.

Which is why I will never be good at selfies.  Just getting what I want in the frame takes forever, and then it’s not straight, and I feel like every single person in the surrounding area is staring at me as I spastically  try to take a simple picture.  Heaven forbid, they might think I’m an undergraduate (once was enough, don’t make me go back), or maybe they’re doubting that I can be a proper professional, I mean how long can it take a person to take a selfie?  I try to focus and straighten the frame faster so there will be nothing to gape at in horror, and end up with the daguerreotype face documented above.

Thankfully, knitting my Hitchhiker shawl was a much more pleasant experience.  I adore the yarn, which is Nerd Girl Yarns’ Quantum in the Oh Snap base.  As an avowed knitter of solids and semisolids, this colorway was a departure for me.  After the initial scandal of Three Distinct Colors in One Skein (gasp!), I got super into it, and named the shawl the My Little Pony shawl.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the color is a good match for plum, as well as the more obvious navy and black, which means I can wear it with most of my work outfits.

The pattern is super simple: each repeat makes one little tooth, and it’s quickly memorized.  I took advantage of the abundance of garter stitch to practice knitting as a picker instead of a thrower.  I think it worked: 40 teeth and 464 yards later, my gauge had started to loosen slightly.  Several of those yards were knitted twice, because changing to a picker introduced problems I’d long since left behind as a thrower: split stitches and unknit stitches where the yarn is wrapped but never pulled through the needle.

Coveted pattern knitted, check, yarn out of stash, check, new skill learned, check.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a really terrible selfie.

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Never Too Late for a Hat

Red Koolhaas hat

I can’t decide if it looks like I have a raspberry on my head.

Welcome to one cold May, people. I don’t know what the weather’s like where you’re at, but here in Kansas it is gloomy, chilly, and damp. While other crafters are kicking off Me Made May with bright, springy little outfits, I am quite glad to have a hat.

This is my Koolhaas hat, only nine years late. The yarn is Mountain Colors Twizzle.  I went to check to see if it’s discontinued (amazingly, it is not!) and discovered that my stash photo from my shoponthehighstreet days is up on the Rav page for this yarn.  Warm fuzzies!

Anyone else here remember when the Koolhaas craze swept the knitting world?  I had to have this hat, enough to buy the holiday edition of Interweave Knits that year…but clearly not enough to knit it right away.  I’m sort of glad I didn’t.  The pattern directs you to use a 16″ circular, a length I eschewed on principle…but probably should not have.  Twizzle is a wool/silk blend, and stitches kept slipping off the ends of my needles.  I also think I would have gotten the swing of the pattern much faster if I wasn’t constantly worried about the stitch count on each needle.

Besides the anti-mod of DPNs, my only change to the pattern was to begin with a tubular cast on.  I am mildly obsessed with this technique at the moment, and use the technique where you cast on with waste yarn.  I swear to you, there was a Techniques with Theresa in Knitty for it, but I cannot for the life of me find the article.  (If you have the link, let me know.

Moving on, with my as-usual short row gauge, this hat came out as a beanie.  During its test drive, it sat nicely on the back of my head, and nobody told me it looked like I was wearing a raspberry, so we’ll run with it.  If I wanted a real pull-over-the-ears sort of hat, I would have gone back and added another pattern repeat.  Or more likely, I would have decided that unpicking several rounds of decreasing twisted stitches in a silk blend was not worth the trauma and knitted a second hat for pulling over the ears.

One project off the wish list.  What little light we had is dying, but there’s still a little weekend left.  Time for more knitting!

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Tornado Knitting

Good evening, all.  This night’s knitting began with me losing a 10.5 circular needle in a 100-square-foot room, so prepare yourselves.  This may be a rambling post.

I haven’t talked too much about the weather this year.  Spring has, by and large, been lovely.  After a mild winter, spring was surprisingly, deliciously cool.  Bunches of red whirligigs sprouted from naked trees before falling to let little green leaves appear, all rumpled and fresh.  Robins strutted and lilacs bloomed, just waiting for librarians to wander into their arms to smell the most delicious scent ever.  Tidy, petite trees bloomed with exquisitely dainty little white flowers that wafted an unfortunate scent across gentle breezes.  Squirrels frolicked, knocking new foliage off trees, digging up brave shoots of new grass, and generally making a mess.

Until.

Dark clouds across an evening sky

Ominous much?

Spring has apparently decided that sweetness and light are passé, and that what we really need is a good tornado.  Sunday’s temperature rose to sunburn warmth before descending abruptly into moody clouds.  I was pottering about, tidying up dinner, took one look at the solid slate-blue sky, and thought tornado sky.  The thought seemed rawther melodramatic, until the sirens went off.

Have you ever tried to wrangle a handful of cats into a powder room?  Lucky you.  It is the Worst Kitty Experience Ever, and humans aren’t too fond of the process, either.

Tabby cat sitting in a sink with a sad face

So hard.

We waited out what turned out to be a severe thunderstorm with miniature Netflix on a phone screen and knitting.  Thank goodness for knitting.  If I’d been stuck in our little box of a bathroom without my knitting, I probably would have been crying as loudly as Fermi.

Two sleeves of different lenght

Those sleeves are totally the same size. Right?!

I was very proud of my progress, feeling rawther like Anne of Green Gables, knitting to the war news on the wireless in Rilla of Ingleside.  I completed the second sleeve of my o w l s sweater, and it was even the same length as the first one!  Um…at least until I took it off the needles.  Then I felt even more like Anne, who knitted four inches past the heel of her stocking.  We’ll just set that one aside to fix later.

Two sweater fronts in progress, knitted at the same time

I have been knitting two fronts in a slipped stitch pattern for a short eternity

Tomorrow, we have more bad weather forecast, so I’m thinking I’ll keep my Midtown cardigan handy.  I like this sweater, truly I do, but I usually knit stockinette in the round. Knitting two fronts at once in a slipped stitch pattern feels like the slowest.  Knitting.  Ever.  I am finally through the front edge decreases, though, so I only have to knit straight for up to ten more inches.  Up to because Romney is a bit slippery, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it will grow with washing.  Even without the slipperiness, this beastie would have a date with the blocking bucket in the near future, because if I knit farther than I need to in a slipped stitch pattern, there will be more wailing than three cats being carried into a tornado shelter.  Wish me luck, knitters.  The weather variety, or the project variety, or both.  I’ll take it all.

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The Yarn Fumes Got Me

Thank you all for your patience, everyone!  Camera, light, and yarn finally came together, and here we have it: my spoils from the Knitting in the Heartland vendor hall.  I tried to be really, really practical and look at everything twice before pulling out my credit card.  I did look at everything twice, but…I may have purchased more than originally intended.

First up, fiber:

Orange, yellow, green, and brown roving from Topeka Twister

Polwarth and silk from Topeka Twister

Green, blue, and gray roving from Topeka Twister

“Yarn School Dropout” domestic wool from Topeka Twister

 

Fluffy white Coopworth roving fom Parsons' Prairie Farm

Coopworth from Parsons’ Prairie Farm

I have yet to take a deep breath and sit down with my wheel since I stumbled through Jacey Boggs Faulkner’s drafting class at the convention, but I wanted to stock up in advance of a wave of inspiration, so all those should do the trick.

Choosing just a few yarns was really, really hard.  Stone Soup Fibers had clutches of mini hanks that I really, really wanted, but I still haven’t knitted up the Stone Soup sock yarn I bought from my first trip to the Yarn Barn a year ago so I went for yarns from two new-to-me dyers, Treasure Goddess and Nerd Girl Yarns.

Treasure Goddess yarn in a rich semisolid forest green

Treasure Goddess yarn in Land Ho!, a.k.a. Allison’s favorite color

Nerd Girl Yarns fingering weight yarn in gold, turquoise, and fuschia

Nerd Girl Yarns Oh Snap in Quantum

Last, but definitely not least, I sought out the Studio Knitting and Needlepoint on the recommendation of a friend, and found this pretty skein:

Turquoise yarn from Th'Red Head

Th’Red Head Mini Boomer

If my math is right, that one massive skein is enough for a Waterlily top.

One of the many things I love about working with materials from small producers is getting to meet the people behind the yarn.  Each and every vendor at Knitting in the Heartland reinforced this: I chatted with the ladies of Topeka Twister about Turkish spindles and shopping strategies.  Christine of Treasure Goddess had sound gauge advice, and every single person manning the Nerd Girl booth had a suggestion to help this semisolid-to-solid color knitter wrap her head around the idea of working with super bright colors.

Just photographing all these yarns has me itching to start new projects.  Maybe next post…

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