Monday, November 30, 2009

Estonian Lace - The Haapsalu Shawl

I first read about this fabulous-looking book over at Northern Lace, an enormously enjoyable blog in its own right, but especially for tips such as this. (You can read the actual post here.)

Bottom line:

Lace stitch dictionary
Gorgeous photography
History

Do I need to say I've been trying to get my hands on a copy ever since?

The good news: the English translation is finally available!
The bad news: for some reason I haven't been able to get the website to process my payment.

If you feel you'd like to have a copy, you too can try ordering directly from the publisher. The pricing is in Estonian Kroon, which you can convert into your own currency here (it works out to about $55 Cdn., including shipping, as of today.)

Or you can also order it from this very nice shop.

* * * *

Updated to add: my order went through!! so exciting...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Charting

It had to happen sometime... you can't be writing up patterns and admiring lace and cable stitches and avoid charting forever!

Fortunately, others have forged this trail already.

At first, I just used ordinary graph paper to pencil in my plans, only to discover that the shaping - big surprise - looked very different once knit. So I was very pleased to find this free source of gauge-specific charting paper.

Also at first, I made a chart for myself and then wrote up the pattern as text.

But having fallen for stitch repeats greater than four stitches over four rows I can't really get away with that any more, so I was even more pleased to find the blog of a Very Clever and Very Generous person who figured out how to chart in Excel and related software and then went to the trouble to share the details.

And now you know what I'm doing today. Well, that and avoiding the resident box of Turtles.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Comfort shopping

I realize that most people reading this are taking a break from basting a turkey or wondering whether anybody will notice a missing piece of pie (tip: serve the pie from the kitchen, or on a platter of cut pieces, and nobody has to know)

but after wishing said people a Very Happy Thanksgiving, I will also say this:

Read it and weep.

No, seriously. Gorgeous word sketches of Italian places you're probably not in at this very moment! And a freshly blooming white amaryllis, which is also probably not on your table.

And...

beautifully hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn that you can't have, because I beat you to it!

I know, I'm mean.

And fiendishly plotting how best to put Corriedale handspun into a hat.

And very aware that the lovely, peaceful, inspiring thoughts at Quite A Handful can't possibly induce competitiveness or gnashing of teeth. Really, it's almost as good as chocolate, this reading of blogs full of photographs of life in New Zealand.

(But buying yarn from said New Zealanders is better, heh heh heh.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Countdown to panic

While I've been frolicking about prepping holiday patterns to share (there's one more coming in a week or two, so stay tuned) a helpful friend pointed out that there is now

ONE MONTH

to Christmas. Less than that, actually, if the last time you will see people with whom you exchange gifts is a week before Christmas.

And if those people are also the ones for whom you are knitting... well.

Or do I mean, not well? As in: how I am feeling right now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Storage maximization

I have a pretty good stash cupboard for my knitting, but it's a flight of stairs and a couple of rooms away from my desk, where I usually sort out what I'm going to be knitting next.

So a few months ago, when I spotted this garage organizer in the hardware store courtesy of Case Logic, I knew exactly what I could do with it.



I've stuck it to the inside of my closet door with adhesive hooks from 3M. It won't support a lot of weight, but yarn isn't so terribly heavy. And neither are the spare needles, or the empty bags (both plastic and tiny happy) ready to hold a project in progress or yarn in transit, or the earphones I forget why I needed so badly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lazy Day Lace Hat - a free pattern

I had intended to get this sequel to the Lazy Day Lace Shawl out to my fellow Holiday Knitters over a month ago, but as you may have noticed, I've been preoccupied with patterning a different hat set and a nifty scarf.

Better late than never:


This is a much quicker knit than the Shawl, too - two relaxing evenings in front of the TV will do it.

I made my original hat back in September and I've been testing it out in different weather conditions ever since: it is surprisingly warm in temperatures as low as freezing and also in gusty winds, when secured over a ponytail using the resize-able gap for same.


Note the use of matching Shawl as scarf. I am really, really enjoying wearing these two pieces together.

And it's funny... you wouldn't think something with as many holes as a lace hat knit on large needles would hold in the heat, but, in wool at least, it does. Strength in fragility, that's what this hat is about.

Other perks:

It's sized for both young girls and grown women, with a variation for light fingering to match a shawl made with that


A buttonhole tab on the side makes further adjustments a snap (I employed this feature for gifting purposes to minimize risk of the wrong size choice, but have been resizing mine near daily to suit my hair of the moment)


You can kind of flop it over to wear as a beret


and

Based on the reactions I get when I wear it, the style appeals to women of all ages.

Does it get any better than this?

(I hope so, because I love tinkering with hat ideas!)


Download .pdf of Lazy Day Lace Hat

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Candy Wrapper Scarflet - a pattern for a song

Remember my amazing discovery of a fast, functional, and fun-to-wear knit that fits adults and children and can be tucked into a pencilcase-sized tiny happy purse for gifting?

And when I say fast, I mean: you can make it in an evening!


I absolutely love pieces that multitask, so you can guess how happy I am with the way this scarflet came out. The loopy lower edge makes natural buttonholes all around the border, so - with the aid of a button hidden on the underside -


you can hold it close or leave it wide open.


It's surprisingly warm for so small a piece.


And it's such a standout way to finish an outfit, or bring some glamour and sheen to basic black - a necklace that isn't cold against your skin or weird with a turtleneck.


It has to be said, though: in a looser-spun yarn like the red sample, it curls a bit.

Not so with the blue Candy Wrapper, which is 'Teal' in Vesper Mohair Merino (formerly Vesper Kid Mohair - same great yarn, new great name.) The Mohair Merino is spun just snugly enough that you have to deliberately separate the three strands. Until you do you have a balanced, round yarn over your palm.

I consider the Vesper yarn a bargain; it's $15 US for a 100g skein, super soft, gorgeously dyed, and though the scarflet pattern calls for 100 yards to allow for a gauge swatch and differences in each knitter's tension, I am pretty sure you can squeeze two Candy Wrappers out of it. I have 65 grams left from the 100 gram skein I didn't knit a swatch from.

As for colours... Vesper yarns sell out almost as quickly as they're dyed, but the shop is updated weekly, so you never have to wait long for a chance at your favourites.

If you're not mad for extra curl and you want to try another yarn in the meantime - say, something already in your stash and ready to go - choose one that's spun snugly, so it's balanced and round. Or block it really really firmly!

Candy Wrapper Scarflet

Difficulty Level:
Easy to Intermediate

Materials:
92m/100 yds Knitterly Things “Vesper Merino Mohair” (55% mohair, 45% merino wool, 129m/142 yds, 100g/3½ oz per skein) – 11 wraps per inch
1 set 5mm/US 8 straight or circular needles
1 stitch marker
1 tapestry needle
blocking pins
1 flat-style ¾”/19mm button


Pattern Cost:
$3.00 US

Buy it now

Avenue Hat and Handwarmers - two almost free patterns

Not long ago, Louise at Biscotte et Cie paid me the enormous compliment of inviting me to knit an exclusive hat design for her shop.

We all know how I feel about Biscotte yarns! Of course I leapt at the chance, and couldn't believe my luck when she offered me not only a blend of lambswool, angora, and cashmere - but also, my choice of solid, semi-solid, or striped.

This, my friends, is the Dream Project to which I have been alluding over the past month:




First off, I have to tell you that the yarn in question, Precieux, is even more spectacular than it sounds. I am an impatient knitter - I knit for product, not process - yet I ripped the hat out repeatedly 'to make it better'.

Yeah
. Not at all to prolong the knitting experience! And there are about to be more colours, to make it even harder to resist.

Apart from trying out a top-down design, the better to rip back a few rows or add some if you discover on Christmas morning that the person you knit for has a longer or shorter head than anticipated (something that happened to me with two different hats last year) I'd been thinking of a particular stitch sequence I thought would be

satisfying to knit
attractive to wear
stretchy for stress-free gifting and
unisex

It came out looking even lovelier than I'd imagined, thanks to the halo and the rich colour Louise is so good at creating.

When I was finally done, I realized there was enough yarn left to make handwarmers, and spent about a week trying to talk myself out of pushing aside my other urgent projects and making them instead.



No luck.

(I ripped these out more than a few times to reknit, too.)

And I'm about to order some more Precieux for myself, because I am just not ready to let go.

So: for the price of a skein of some of the most gorgeous yarn you will ever knit with, you get, free with purchase, a pattern for a hat that is warm as all get-out yet as light as can be, and offered in four sizes from children to adult,

plus a pattern for matching handwarmers offered in both a child and adult size. And you can make even the largest hat and adult handwarmers out of just one skein.


The adult handwarmers fit a guy just as comfortably as a girl - I just knew that stitch pattern would make for good stretch!


Click here to buy yourself some Precieux and get both patterns free

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Announcing: big changes and a new look!

It's been a very busy month or two here at Hugs, and it all started when I met a technical editor so delightful it took me several hours to realize I'd met a technical editor.

Here's the thing: when I started writing patterns a mere 11 months ago, I was writing them as a writer, which - coincidentally - I am. The instructions were long and ramble-y and took up more pages than they needed to. I described how I did things, rather than using standard knitting abbreviations. And the more patterns I offered here, and the more people came to get them, the more I felt I really ought to do better than that.

I needed a technical editor, and I didn't know where to find one - until suddenly, I did!

And now that she's pored over my most challenging pattern (hello, Meditation Mittens) and given me a very good checklist of how a pattern should look, I've updated everything to conform to that standard.

I've also updated my pattern format:


There are several advantages to the new look.

All the necessary materials for a pattern are listed on the left, with a fold line so you can get that information right out of the way if, like me, you sometimes fold up your instructions and tuck them into a little knitting pouch.

There is also a generous margin at the top for those who like to print onto three-hole punch paper, or simply punch post-printing, for storage in a ring binder.

Best of all I think, I've managed to fit everything onto fewer pages - in many cases, just one.

All my patterns going forward will be getting a proper technical edit before I post them to ensure they're as straightforward as possible, though of course, any remaining errors will be mine alone and not the fault of my most fabulous technical editor.

So, thank you to everybody who's dropped in over the last few months for a look at what I've been up to with my knitting, and I hope you'll all enjoy the new Hugs!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another knitty use for the kitchen scale

I don't know about you, but I like knitting my socks simultaneously.

Being so inexperienced with sizing and fitting and heel turning and so forth, I find they travel better that way - when I get done with one mindless knitting section in a place where I can't start into something requiring attention, I can just switch to the other sock. Also: I can be sure to make both identical.

And because I have never met a cake to knit from both ends of that didn't knot itself up in the first 10 minutes, this means I have to count off the yards for two equal-length balls of yarn.

Enter the kitchen scale:


You may recognize this Midnight Sheep yarn from last week's What To Do?? sock conundrum. I still haven't quite resolved that, but I did decide it is going to be socks for somebody, and therefore should be divided.


I think I got pretty close just eyeballing it, don't you? But hey, I have a scale! I can wind one a bit smaller and do better:




HA. I may never have to measure out yarn by the yard on my grandfather's 36"wide desk again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Technical difficulties; please stand by

Just trying to do a little surprise overhaul on the ol' website and... as happens when you do this sort of thing, marykeenanknits and all the patterns lodged there seem to be out of reach at the moment.
We're working on the problem, and will have all that patterny goodness back in no time!

* * * * * *

2:45 pm update: All is now well. Turned out it wasn't my Evil Plan, but a minor power outage at the office that houses the server on which my website resides. Whew!

A tale of two needles

Sometimes I am too smart for my own good.

On Friday, Tom delivered my KnitPicks order (yes, I do know my Canada Post Parcel Delivery Friend by name - doesn't everyone?), releasing me at last from my Addi Clicks and their not-sharp-enough points.

But I didn't have time to change to my new Harmony needles before leaving the house on Saturday, so I stuffed them into my knitting bag and switched over on the road. When I got to a series of decreases, it occurred to me that having both sets meant I could do a less inconvenient version of Magic Loop once I had too few stitches for just one circular needle:



I was feeling a little less clever about this fix when things bogged down, Saturday night, while I watched Saboteur. It took me almost the whole movie to accept that I needed actual dpns to finish my project, and then I cursed and rummaged for a while in the needle stash to piece together a too-long set of 4 metal and 2 plastic ones.

SO depressing. And how is it that with all my ridiculous numbers of needles, I don't have a proper 4mm set?

As it turns out, I do. I bought them last July; they are beautiful and I adore them and just last week I put them into the knitting bag specifically for the decreases in question. And somehow I managed to forget they even existed until I was unpacking said bag, at midnight.

I must really need more sleep.


* Sadly, I am less in love with the Harmony interchangeable set than I anticipated. I know that KnitPicks, being wonderful, will replace my defective cord without question, and I know I can tighten the tips to keep that one side from constantly unscrewing itself, and they really are more seamless and sharply-pointed than my Addi Clicks, but... the cord is just not as flexible as the Addis, and I'm spoiled. I think I might have to save up and buy a few more Addi Lace circulars in fixed-length form.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Calculating yardage (over tea and mint chocs)

Knitting with my brilliant friend Sandra yesterday was full of learnings, such as:

It's tough to top a tea/York Peppermint Patty combo, though tea/lemon cookies come close

400 or so - my estimate - knitting magazines become a striking design feature if you store them in graphic cardboard holders from IKEA (as opposed to my boring white ones)

and

You really do use kitchen scales to calculate yardage!

Here's the deal. If you have, say, 191 yards in a 50 gram ball, you will find - while marveling at the way we so freely mix metric and imperial in our knitting terminology - that it works out to about 3.8 yards per gram.

In practical terms, that means that if I pair what's left of the pink Mirasol Nuna I used for my Last Minute Lace Yoga Socks:


with what's left of the grey Biscotte & Cie Soyeuse I used for my Marlene socks (also, as it turns out, 3.8 yards per gram):


I have 69 grams and about 262 yards. That's plenty for another pair of yoga socks, something it would be handy to have set by, what with Christmas coming up and all. In fact, I could do the pair with what's left of the Soyeuse on its own! Mmmm.

Best $25 I ever spent, buying that pretty little scale. Makes me wonder how much longer I can go without a swift?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tea party + knitting = bliss

Today I get to visit a friend and drink tea and knit! I never get out to Stitch n' B nights, so this is Very Very Exciting.

Now if only I could decide which project to carry along:


And in related news, don't the two in the back corner look awesome together? The Colinette I bought at a big knitting fair in September, and the beautiful blue from Midnight Sheep? I might have to capitalize on that, plus the fact that they both came from Wales.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering, and the power of handknit socks

I don't often knit in front of the TV - it makes me knit slower, and I'm usually overcommitted to start with - but I did last night, because there were so many special programmes on about WWII. The kind that include eyewitness accounts from veterans, I mean.

One gentleman described how, about an hour into a 4-hour assault during which the men on his side were killed or seriously injured at a rate of one every 45 seconds, he dove into a hole near the body of another man.

He needed new socks, he said, and so he reached into the rucksack of the dead soldier and there on top was a fresh pair. He took off his boots, put on the socks, put his boots back on, and "I felt like a new man."

I expect they were handknit, and though many women knit for strangers, they may have been knit by a member of his family, or perhaps a sweetheart.

Either way, they proved to be powerful socks: they must have greatly cheered the man who received them and set them at the top of his pack for easy recovery on the day he died, and they gave another man the strength and spirit to survive an unimaginably bad situation that left him an injured prisoner of war.

I think whoever made them would have to feel very proud, don't you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scales and why I need some

I got no farther yesterday with a solution to my Sock Conundrum.

However, I did spend some quality time with some new yarn from Biscotte et Cie, Precieux, which is best described thusly:

breathtaking colour in
lambswool
+ angora
+ cashmere

mmmmm

And then I sat down to figure out yardage for another hat I've been fiddling with for a while.

Here's how I do this:

I knit a few rows and then measure out 1 yard and tie a knot, then knit to the knot and count how many stitches it took to get there. Voila! Once you know the number of stitches per yard, you know how many yards each size will take.

Not being one to let well enough alone, I also:

Measure out what's left of the skein and subtract that number from the yards the label says I started with.

And this is where I go reaching for the ice cream sandwiches, because the numbers never add up.

Yes, I should factor in the yarn lost to my gauge swatch, and tension differences resulting from minor interruptions such as the offer of cake (okay, I never get offered cake, but I can dream, can't I?) Still, it's perplexing.

The other day on the Yarn Harlot's blog I noticed a passing mention of scales and it occurred to me one can measure the weight of a skein at the start and finish of a project. It would make a third reference point.

And that's why I think I might treat myself to a nice kitchen scale.

Well, that, and the prospect of finally being able to bake up some of the yummy chocolate recipe booklets my cousin sends me from England each Christmas.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Okay, now I'm confused

Recently I made an impulse purchase at Midnight Sheep, prompted by this rich blue merino:



My mum's favourite colour is blue, and I was thinking of making her socks for Christmas, even though she doesn't wear socks - mainly because she is the only person I know with my exact shoe size, which makes her just about the only person I could be sure of having the right fit for. I am after all a beginning sock knitter and a little unsure of whether I'm good enough yet to make any as gifts.

Well, the merino arrived with its little snowy friend, which is already in a ball and well on its way to being a petite scarf, and I fell in love all over again. Did I mention it's merino? Organic merino? and squishy soft, especially once wound into a ball (immediately after the above photo was taken) and knit up into a gauge swatch?

Once I got that far, I thought that maybe it would be an even better gift for the only man I know who would wear hand-knit socks and for whom I could reasonably be expected to knit a pair. I mean, it's such an awesome colour, and he is a guy who does colour.

Here's where this gets interesting, or at least familiar:

Karen has pointed out to me that merino has a short staple, and consequently is best reinforced with nylon knit into the sole of the foot. Especially since I can guarantee this guy would wear them around on hardwood floors.

BUT

I've also read that nylon reinforcing thread sometimes bites into the wool and causes holes where they might not have occurred on their own. Plus, I don't have any reinforcing thread and don't know when I can pick some up or where I could order it online.

At this point, you can surely forgive me for thinking I will just make socks for myself with this gorgeous yarn and figure out some other option for my friend, and of course, that is exactly what I am thinking.

However, I am stubborn. I am also thinking that I could wind off some off the ball and simply double up on the merino for the heel and toe (or would that make the toe too thick?) Or that I could add some very thin sock yarn with nylon already spun in for this purpose, thereby shielding the organic merino from any overt biteyness.

Around about this far into my inevitable journey from making the purchase to making it be for me, I showed the yarn to another male friend (admittedly of the non-handknit-sock persuasion), and explained my predicament.

He looked at the yarn, and he shook his head. "That is way too bright for a guy," he said.

You'd think this tactful version of "Mary, this yarn was dyed to be on your feet, don't even pretend you bought it for anybody else" would make me feel better about agreeing, but no. I still think this colour would suit my friend down to the ground, and I feel all guilty about wanting to keep it after all.

(Even as I wander down more mental avenues, like what a fabulous hat it would make. I mean, seriously... bright happy colour, no hint of itch on the ol' forehead...)

Mostly though: I just want to sit down and knit myself a pair of regal blue Monkey Socks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rewards by mail

HA. Yesterday I finally managed to write up the two really really important patterns (as opposed to the just 'really' important ones) and, as if it was meant, I found this in the mailbox when I was done:


I keep getting these beautiful Vesper Sock Yarns in the mail and thinking "This one - this is the best, Julia can't possibly top this," and then she does.

I love this.

And I'm so pleased I got those patterns finished!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Knitter's guilt

Last night, instead of

finishing the dream project a friend invited me to take on for her

casting on the next freebie to (once again) test knit the pattern I've now written up in three places so I don't lose it this time

writing up the pattern for another submission

writing up the pattern for the next freebie but one

working on one single Christmas present or

even winding a skein into a ball for a Christmas present


I watched TV and sketched out a design for Yet Another Hat.

Okay, to be fair, I've been down with some sort of non-H1N1 virus since last Thursday and it's a miracle I was conscious at all, but still.

GUILT.

I will do better today, unless I have to spend it all napping again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The need/want identification process

I'm trying to be Very Sensible lately about yarn-related purchases, not least because I have next to no space left in my very large stash closet (especially now that I have all those felted sweaters.)

However, I do have a wishlist, and some of it is feeling quite urgent.

For example, I really want a set of KnitPicks interchangeable needles in Harmony Wood. I'm sorry, but I've been using my Addi Clicks for nearly a year now and they just aren't all that. I can overlook being able to feel the join, because I wouldn't expect not to, but the tips are just way too blunt compared to the Addi Lace needles, or my Harmony Wood dpns. They slow me up, and slower knitting is not going to get me any closer to new yarn.

I also want some seriously bulky yarn for the hat idea I had a few weeks ago.

And I want more of just about anything from Twisted Fiber Art. Lately it's been cold enough to need a scarf, and I've been wrapping my Lazy Day Lace Shawl (in TFA 'Playful') around my neck for this purpose.

It's... unspeakably soft. I have a lot of really nice yarns, but the TFA is something else. I love knitting with it - especially with a sharp-pointed needle - and I love the colours, and the feel under my hand. But wearing it? Wowza. It's lightweight and pliable and seems to embrace little pockets of air, warming them to use for warming me.

And there are old colours in stock that I've been looking more than twice at, and a new colour I am crossing over into wanting Very Much Indeed.

I think I might have to give in on that one and call it a Need, I really do. But I will finish what's on the needles first because, you know, I'm such a paragon of yarny virtue.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Felting fest

My felted thrift-store sweaters are glaring down at me from their perch at the top of the yarn cupboard, but I have not forgotten them! In fact, I've been placing unprecedented numbers of holds on various books at the library about felting, looking for the perfect projects to do with them.

Mittens, of course. Lots of mittens!

And I figured out how to build my dream vest out of larger pieces, thanks to Felted Wool Fashions.

However, the lightbulbs are dimly glowing since I stumbled across excellent instructions for making felt out of roving, in Feltwork.

I have quite a lot of really lovely roving from Twisted Fiber Art that I might never get around to spinning, and I think it would be pretty awesome to do something very creative with it. Like a hat, formed over a saucepan and the lid of a teapot as shown in the book, or a bowl for keeping yarn in. Wouldn't that be cool?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let it snow

I can't tell you how sick to death I was of orange and black after all my personal Halloween madness this year. Yesterday I woke up to a whole new non-Halloween world and I was SO HAPPY.

Not least because it was also the day on which I got to legitimately open my latest Biscotte Club yarn. Can you stand it?


Blues! Crisp pale blues! The kind of colour that says Winter - but the nicest kind of winter - and Spring buds all at the same time. Then I turned the label and saw the colourway is named 'Snowflake'. Bliss.

As always, an adorable pattern came along with these, a pretty sock with a lattice stitch, and I know I can wear mine right through spring and summer, too. If only my 10 minute stint of housekeeping yesterday hadn't turned into a 10-hour cleanup... but hey, at least I got the skein into a knit-able state before I fell back into bed at the end of it.