Friday, December 31, 2010

A goal for 2011

I'm not much for annual resolutions - those are more of an hourly thing for me - but I do like to look back at what I've accomplished in the year I've finished and think what I'd like to do in the new one coming. It's always a surprise to see what I've done, do you find that? Often I have to make a list and then go over it with a friend, who inevitably remembers a lot more than I did.

Here's what made me happy in 2010:

Making just enough socks that I only have to wear non-handknit ones when the situation demands the cotton athletic variety.

Making a cardigan for myself.

Finishing (very nicely if I do say so myself) a really huge project sample for Kathi's new book, which you'll be able to see in all its gorgeousness in about 6 weeks.

Seeing three of my own patterns in print.

Passing my driver's test on the first try in spite of simultaneously having to knit most of the stuff mentioned in the last two points.

Finishing another really huge project sample we shouldn't talk about now but was a big deal to do, falling as it did when my mum was starting to have health crises (which are, thankfully, pretty much under control now.)

Learning to spin on a spindle, and scoring a wonderful second-hand wheel.

Sometimes I have to look at a list like that to feel better about what I didn't do, which is hand over the story my writing mentor asked me to write about 18 months ago. I'm just not in a place mentally where I'm free to write these days, and while I am very, very happy with that story and its related ones, they all need more work. I'm so grateful that I can knit and sew, and so very grateful for the blogs that allow me to write about knitting and sewing while I wait for my fiction brain to reopen for business.

Other cheering things: as Kathi frequently tells me, writing knitting patterns is still writing. And as my mentor very generously told me this week, there is no expiry date on talent.

And that thought, my friends, leads me to the year that's coming. There are a lot of things I'd like to do in it, the most immediate being:

giant woolly collar!

insanely warm hat!


Though right now we're having warmer temperatures, which means I'll drop those to the bottom of the list again and regret it Wednesday when my chin re-freezes.

Less urgent but what I'd like to look back on fondly this time next year:

socks for Ady, who never knows where her next handknit pair is coming from

samples of the four patterns I wrote up a couple of months ago

the hat I want to design with Helena

another pair or two of boot socks, and perfection of the pattern I made for the first pair because I really like the way they look and fit

the Mariner Pullover I keep obsessing about


(okay, this is a biggie)

I want to learn how to use my spinning wheel. Not just to use it, but to use it with confidence. I want to spin everything that is currently in my fiber stash - which is a lot, way more than I could get through in three months with my spindle - and turn it into yarn I can actually knit with to a consistent gauge. Yes. I want to spin a ton of yarn.


the spinning will take a little bit of time every day for a year, so we won't even factor that in. Mariner - probably two months. All the others combined - three, maybe four months.

Which leaves six months to play in.

Okay, deep breath, because there is one more thing that might not be so very much fun to do all the time I'm doing it, but that I know I will be thrilled to have achieved (and to use) when it's finished. I'm talking up there with the whole driver's license thing.

This time next year, I would like to be able to say I knit with the finest yarn I own, the microscopically slim laceweight hand-dyed by Emily in the most gorgeous grey-blue shades on a base of alpaca, cashmere, and silk.

And I would like to have knit with it a Haapsalu shawl, using patterns published in the book I first posted about exactly one year ago today (how's that for ironic?)

There, I said it. Even though I do think it would be a super good idea if I made very sure that 2011 is above all a peaceful year. I mean, it's just lace, right? And it's not like I didn't learn to knit with sock yarn after 20 years of aran weight. I can totally do this.

Anything crazy you want to do in 2011?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scrap spinning

Last week after I gave Carol her Christmas present, I bored her with a comparison of how easily fiber separates when it's thin or tugged gently, versus when it's in a big mass. I seriously never get tired of the comparison with humanity and couldn't help myself.

Well, fiber is not people, and Carol is a trainer, which I keep forgetting because we talk so much while (aka because) she makes me do painful things. When I asked her to try it herself and handed her a sample that came along with one of the from the fall Twisted club instalments, she gave it a little tug and tore it right in two! She was horrified and apologetic and of course I immediately said Not to worry, it'll go right back together when I spin it.

And that's when it hit me: I can spin the samples.

(We already knew I'm a bit slow on the uptake, right?)

One of the perks of club membership is that you're allowed to buy more of the club stuff, even stuff that wasn't in your own club, during a short grace period after the club is over. I've been struggling with what to buy and actually spinning those samples, not to mention some of the full-sized roving I got, is a great way to help me decide. Yes, it really doesn't take more than that to tempt me away from gift knitting.

What Carol broke was superwash merino and tencel, which I would never normally even look at because for me the point of spinning is to be as close back to a natural product as possible. But the tencel was super pretty and shiny, and I must say - super easy to spin.

After that I decided I had to sacrifice the roving I hadn't been able to get out of my hand - the superwash BFL - because if I didn't how would I know whether to order more?

It wasn't as easy for me to spin, but not because of the fiber. I even let myself lose a huge amount of twist in the plying

because I was watching something incredibly riveting on TV (which I can't even remember now, which is weird because normally whatever I watched becomes embedded in my experience of what I was making while watching it... wow, that's going to bug me now. H'mmmm.)

Spinning the superwash BFL reconfirmed my sense of not really enjoying spinning BFL even though it is so amazing to work with as yarn. It's kinda fluffy, with a pale halo that softens the colour, and what I love most about Twisted is the colour saturation. I'm pretty much set now on ordering roving in feltable merino, but I'm tempted by the tencel blend... and I still have to figure out what colourways to choose.

(Aha! It was a documentary on the reproductive habits of the cuckoo. I had actually seen it before but I couldn't stop staring at the newborn cuckoo pushing its tiny nestmates out to their deaths - so gruesome.)

After all that I plied and blocked and thought about knitting tiny tree ornaments out of the samples, in particular the tencel one which produced I think 15 yards:

which didn't happen for obvious reasons. (read: exhaustion.) Maybe next year!

Speaking of which, I am thinking about new year's resolutions. Specifically, goals for what to make or at least learn to do in 2011. I'm pretty close to committing to a Thing or two, but I want to mull for another day so I keep it manageable, because I don't know if you've noticed? I seem to have a problem with taking on huge projects I can't possibly achieve and then panicking until I do. It's not very peaceful, and I'd like 2011 to be very, very peaceful.

Maybe I should just make that my resolution?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Road trip

Yesterday was a Niagara day which are exciting for a lot of reasons, one of which is about three hours of knitting time. Mum's New Year's socks started the day looking like this:

That longer one is almost ready for its heel, here.

There was so much on the agenda, some of it post-Christmas sale shopping. At Stitch. Ha! Yes, I got to go back to Stitch.

Technically, this is a yarn and fabric store, but it's also a bright warm century home with wood floors and high ceilings and antique display cubbies filled with yum and set far apart from each other so you can keep your head clear while considering all your options. The work table in the back room is a big antique wooden one decorated with shallow old muffin tins set out and filled with buttons; the knit-and-chat space features comfy old armchairs set around a carpet near a window.

I loved Stitch first when it was in my original home town, but now it lives in Jordan Village, a lovely historic street set alongside the edge of the escarpment a little west of Niagara Falls. I know I've said this before but if you come to see Niagara Falls, you really want to take a scenic drive and visit Jordan. In thirty minutes max, you've got access to fabulous restaurants and interesting shops and beautiful bed-and-breakfasts and

fiber heaven.

Yes. Because it seems that now there is not only Stitch, with its inspiring selection of yarns and fabrics for knitting and crochet and sewing, but across the street, The Fibre Garden, which stocks everything you might ever think of wanting for spinning. By which I mean, not only the equipment and accessories but more fiber, in both variety and quantity, than I've seen anywhere.

I was conservative in my shopping, mindful of the enormity of my current stash. However at Stitch I did get the giant needles I've been needing, plus some buttons I fell in love with:

and I finally got my hands on the fall issue of Piecework I've been trying to buy since it came out.

Jocelyn was wearing another fantastic sweater, a different style from the Rowan one she had on the last time I was in and which prompted me to make the Carrot Cardi. I resisted asking her for the pattern and regret that now.

At The Fibre Garden, I got some back issues of Spin-Off that Kathi had mentioned especially enticingly in her blog, and some oil for my spinning wheel.

The shop sells extra bobbins for my wheel there too and I forgot to buy any, dagnabbit. I got distracted by these cute fiber parfaits:

I bought these with 2011 swaps in mind, and if you participate in a swap and get one of these from me you will know I think very highly of you because I love them. I mean, Grape Jelly? I don't know how I can part with that, or how I resisted Peppermint and Licorice Allsorts or Bean Salad.

It was very cold out yesterday and cold always makes the Falls extra twinkly.

The new hotels up on the ridge have permanently changed the weather patterns at the Falls: you can no longer walk alongside them and stay dry in the mist they produce. That of course freezes on contact with anything. You can just make out, looking at that tree on the left, the way the mist has iced over the Falls side of the boughs, while the sheltered side is still green.

The big curving plume in the clouds above it are the spray from the Falls themselves.

In spite of all the getting in and out of the car, I did make good progress on the socks. As the light faded toward the end of the day, the second one sat about here:

I got it to the bottom of its leg a little later, and by knitting in a restaurant at the end of the trip the first one joined it. That was really as far as I could get, having dropped my instructions somewhere along the way, oops. So today's job is to reprint the pattern and get going on the heel.

I really want to get these done and blocked for mum by Saturday, or worst case, Monday. But I don't know whether I can pull that off because there is still about 10 hours' work in them. H'mmmm.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas presents revealed

The secret big project I was working on through December was a pair of socks for Lannie:

They are Monkeys, and because Lannie takes one shoe size bigger than I do I made them exactly the same way I made my own (which are too big really.) Apparently they are a perfect fit! as are Man Socks, thank goodness, after all those problems finishing the toe of the second one. I used more Vesper yarn for Lannie's socks, the exclusive Jingle Jangle club colourway to be exact. It couldn't have been more perfect for Lannie unless it had bright pink in it too.

Now, Manhat (scroll down at the link for a pic of this gem) was not such a hit. Too wide, too long, crown too sticky-outie. I won't even frog it but will use the experience as a springboard for new designs; on me, with a different crown and less sporty colourwork, it would be a super warm and pretty cloche.

Mum and Carol both loved their Turkish Bed Socks.

And the mittens and glove warmers I sewed from felted wool seemed to go over well too.

Last year about this time I committed to making more stuff ahead of time, in the early winter months of the year, so as to have my own edition of Kathi Taylor's tub full o' knitted things ready for gift giving when Christmas and birthdays roll around. Admittedly I only got Man Socks done ahead, and those were done in August, but I definitely benefited from the idea.

This year I'm committing to it again, but with an emphasis on that early winter crafting component. Fall is just crazy busy for me every year and it's no fun to be panicked then, you know?

Of course you know.

I have a few pairs of handwarmers and mittens left that just need a little handstitching to be ready to go, and I have some new knitting patterns - two of my own and also, the Turkish Bed Socks - that are quick to make and easily sized. There's really no reason (other than my amazing capacity for being distracted) not to have a stress-free handmade Christmas next year.

Of course I will anyway, but unlikely aspirations seem to have become part of this nice lazy Christmas afterglow. They're probably fueled by excess chocolate.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Now, where were we?

Oh, right: Christmas Eve!

I didn't post on Friday in my normal fashion owing to my Christmases starting a day early, and not having time to say hello amidst all the festivities. But I was sending many a fond Merry Christmas wish to all the lovely people I've met online, especially while eating chocolate and perusing the issue of Spin-Off that made it into my stocking.

Remember last week I mentioned the friend who said No Yarn for You! because I would knit all through Christmas Day? Well, um... somebody else did give me yarn and I did knit all through Christmas Day, getting more and more frustrated because I wasn't getting what I was after, until finally very late in the day the light dawned and I got where I wanted to be. Here is an early progress picture:

And there will be more pictures later in the week, I expect. The main point is, I really can't be trusted with yarn at Christmas, and I will stop asking for any.Much more sensible to get a membership in a yarn club, so as to receive yarn later (hello again, Biscotte Club!)

I had been hoping to spin on Christmas Day, and was prevented only by the yarn. But I did spend the last couple of pre-Eve nights blearily drafting out fiber from the autumn Twisted club, which was very soothing after all the frenzies.

I did it while watching what I suspect were the last two episodes of Foyle's War, which makes me think that asking for the DVD collection would be a wise choice for next Christmas. Not yarny, but yarn-friendly. Unlike Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me, which are both filled with cliffhangers and imminent drops from extraordinarily high places and produce exactly the sort of sweaty palms you do not want while drafting or knitting or even touching wool, really.

(Both great fun though, and I totally want Gru's scarf.)

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and that it continues for you this week, as it will for me!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Faint hope

Christmas knitting: done!

But of course, I have something else up my sleeve, a forlorn little hope that didn't quite die even though this week went sideways downhill into the depths of cookie baking (and consumption, leading in turn to more baking I will have to begin in about ten.)

See, I wanted to knit my mum a pair of socks.

Not bed socks, because those were fast and easy, but actual socks with a leg and a pattern and all that. Something that really shows love and devotion, you know? I asked her one time in the fall when I was knitting a pair for me whether she would ever want me to do a pair for her and she said yes, in a thoughtful considering sort of way as though she would love a pair but knew perfectly well exactly what goes into making socks even though she's more of a crochet girl, which is probably true because she's watched me knitting the same pair of socks every Saturday for weeks at a time before they finally make it onto my feet.

So even as I was wandering off and knitting hats and cowls for myself, I was plotting away at sock ideas for mum. I picked out my least crazy Vesper yarn, because mum and I take the same shoe size and I know exactly how many stitches I need to fit my foot comfortably in a Vesper yarn. And I thought about the easiest pretty pattern I've knit, which is Monkey, except I was thinking about the No-Purl version in which there you just knit all the purl stitches, which seemed to me to be probably faster. Faster is one of those things that really appeals to me as a sock knitter, since it takes me a month to churn out a pair as it is.

The socks currently look like this:

and I am giving mum her present tomorrow, so obviously they are now officially Not For Christmas.


There is always New Year's. I've done the math and there are only about another 16 hours' work in them. If I actually worked at these socks without allowing myself to be distracted by other pretty things they would totally be ready in time, even if I block them before presentation.

Speaking of presentation, I just stitched up the hem of Manhat and I'm pretty sure there is only a 12.75% chance I will not be laughed out of the room when it is unwrapped:

Two key problems leap out at me, one being the size (bigger than intended) and the other being the inadvertent gathering that's visible above the stranded colour band. If the hat is small enough to stretch over Man's ears the gathering will disappear, and if it isn't, it won't, and it will look like a Ladyhat.

I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nothing to see here

Nothing to see because Carol's long-delayed second Bed Sock finally finished drying (YAY) under cover of darkness and had to be wrapped in same to be ready for delivery this morning.

Nothing to see because I have been so busy baking cookies to deliver to the neighbours for a little Christmas love, I didn't have sufficiently free brain to think of any other projects I absolutely must knit for myself before Saturday.

(though I did work on Carol's second Bed Sock while hovering over the oven timer the other night, putting it down to switch the pans around so the meringues would brown evenly.)

Nothing to see because


the one thing I hoped to avoid has in fact come to pass: owing to my hat and cowl digressions last week, I must finish Manhat in social settings with people who will probably blab to Man, assuming Man himself doesn't actually pop in.

Fortunately I'm up to the crown. If I knit it close enough to the zip top of the knitting bag it's in, maybe it will just look like a boring navy blue blob not worth even asking about, and not an intriguing something with maple leaves on it?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fiber, it's good for you

Somebody said the craziest thing to me last night:

"I not getting you yarn for Christmas! I don't want you knitting on Christmas Day."

Apparently I have been giving the impression - how, I can't imagine - that knitting is something I do frantically at the last minute for a gift or a contract or to wear yesterday and not while relaxing or being sociable.

But my reaction was to stare out at a bleak mental landscape in which Christmas Day does not afford me a single moment to sit down and relax and be sociable. Ack!

I recovered and smiled and nodded and thought "you're quite right, I should spin instead."

Speaking of which, my last installment in the Twisted Fiber Art fiber club arrived yesterday and I am in love:

It is called Maple and is making me so happy just from looking at and touching it.

The package also contained a sample of the other colourway for this month, in superwash Blue-Faced Leicester:

and that one, whoa. After supper I set it on the palm of my hand and it stuck there, tingling. I literally spent the next half hour not able to put it down. I love the colours, but the way the fiber feels is amazing. So I'm ordering some of that, for sure.

(and while I'm at it, maybe even some yarn, ha!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Handspun's evil twin

No point pretending that gift knitting didn't go to the wall when I discovered I could actually make stuff with my handspun. I finished this second hat pretty darned fast:

and believe it or not, the undyed Polwarth in this hat still smells sweet!

I never thought I would like plain white as the dominant colour in a hat on my head, but I really like the way this one works for me, even more than the one I made to give away. Not only does it stay on and in place in spite of my long hair always shifting things around, it's incredibly warm and was crazy fast to make, what with the big needles and all.

You can see why I knit the crown of this second hat with one idea in my mind, and it wasn't knitting the last Turkish Bed Sock. No, it was my first-ever handspun, the one in the colours I adored most of all my fiber at the time. I have 200g of it. It looks amazing with my coat. I have already failed at two hat attempts owing to the extreme thick-and-thin-ness, but this pattern seems like a no-fail.

The third hat took about 3 hours to throw together.


Yep, another fail. A horrible, dreadful fail.

Which served as a reminder to get back to that Bed Sock already! I have to deliver it on Wednesday morning, and I not only have to knit and graft it, but block it and wrap it. Oh golly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Unfinished business

With 8 days to go, and all the baking yet to do, my current tally of must-do unfinished Christmas knits is 1 Turkish Bed Sock (with its mate looking very disapproving every time I reach for some other project resting alongside it) and 1 manhat.

Manhat did make it past the colourwork stage before I got distracted by keeping warm with personal knits:

and I think it does look like a maple leaf now, don't you?

I did a disastrous thing though. Some time after taking this picture and feeling quite pleased with myself about it, I ventured to a mall and passed a shop selling Canadian-branded coats and hats and Tshirts and hoodies. How could I not go into such a place under the circumstances? But I shouldn't have, because they were selling the Most. Fabulous. Hat. complete with maple leaf motif knit at a fine fine gauge which I realized immediately is the hat that Man would wear without protest.

They only had them in child sizes.

Still, lesson learned. Next year, assuming Man doesn't like this hat which now appears likely, I might look around for some finer yarn and start earlier and chart out some impressive Nordic-style images for a thinner, softer hat.

(I did say I take this whole lack of hat thing as a personal challenge, right?)

But never mind all that - I am obsessed with the revelation that I can make functional hats from my handspun. I cast on for this instead of making supper the other day:

I'm striping it so I get a little touch of the Twisted handspun, and am hoping there is enough left to be consistent with the striping for the duration.

This one is a little narrower through the body than the original, owing in part to the undyed Polwarth being a bit more finely spun and in part to my having messed up the increases in a way I can easily fix at the crown and therefore don't care about, but I kinda like it. If I keep it though I am totally going to need a white scarf, so I'd better get on that whole spinning thing - there are still 3.5 bags of the Polwarth left to process.

Speaking of which, wouldn't it be awesome if there was time before Christmas for me to get out the wheel and figure out how to use it?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A handspun beret

Considering the way my last attempt at handspun worked out - you know, that whole 'dramatically thick to dramatically threadlike yarn not lending itself to shaping' thing - I was extra thrilled with the hat I made in just a few hours the other day (if you don't count the week it took me to produce the yarn last summer):

I've been trying for a long time to break down the beret concept into something I can actually design, and either all the failures seeped into my subconscious and shortlisted what would win, or I just got totally lucky this time. Anyway this is what I've been trying to get at and I got it on the fly, barely bothering to write down the recipe as I went.

Bonus: this was only my second block of yarn from last summer's Tour de Fleece, and I had already progressed to the point of being able to knit such a thing. Double bonus: it's Blue Faced Leicester fiber which has an insane amount of grab and halo such that I had no fun spinning it at all, and it turns out to be crazy warm and super soft and lofty and just everything you want for a winter hat in Toronto but never really get.

So that makes up for having to frog and reknit the Big Cowl I showed yesterday, don't you think?

This hat isn't done; I'm giving it some little embellishments I haven't decided on quite yet. And then

it's going away.

Heartbroken = me.

However, a funny thing happened yesterday when I collapsed on the sofa with the little Totoro, thinking about whether or not I had the energy to embroider on his eyes (Decidedly Not.) I haven't stuffed him yet either, you see, which means he is at the moment a perfect finger puppet, and after about ten minutes of holding him while staring with glazed eyes at the television which may or may not even have been on, it suddenly struck me that my fingers were warm.

I know, what a lightbulb moment for a knitter. Wool, it's warm! Who knew!

Also, it's not like I didn't buy the undyed Polworth to use in a hat in the first place. It's just that I had been planning to use it as a background from which to feature stronger colours. But I hardly used any of the first plied round on the Totoro, and I spun it to about the same weight as the pinky green stuff.

So now I'm kinda thinking - beret number two?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anatomy of a frog

We're in the midst of a cold snap where I live, with a wind chill taking the feeling of most temperatures low enough that kids go straight into school when they arrive, none of this mucking about in the snow nonsense.

Ten minutes outside, your cheeks are bright red: the other day when I was on my way to the trainer's a very grownup lady actually started saying Ho Ho Ho! Meeeeerrry Christmas! and tapping her tummy with her mittens when she saw me. (at first I thought maybe she was still recovering from a Christmas party the night before, but then I checked the mirror at Carol's and saw Mrs. Claus looking back at me.)

In these circumstances I always think about knitting warm hats, because I am always freezing, and this time, I got obsessed with cowls. You know, the long kind that you can wrap twice around your neck and still pull up like a hood?

I very quickly decided on the gorgeous Marian cowl (again, this is free at Ravelry) and my super chunky Cascade Magnum. Winding that into a skein was an adventure, let me tell you; the ball winder was full to overflowing just after the halfway point, and I was thrilled to find a knot a little beyond that so I could stop handwinding onto the cake:

I didn't have the recommended 15mm needles, but Trish had some in close to the right length in 12.75 with which I was able to get gauge, so I got straight to work and - feeling I must say like I was using the Giant's sock yarn and needles after they were shimmied down the beanstalk by Jack - finished in about two hours from cast-on.

Isn't it fabulous?

It came out to exactly the diameter the pattern calls for, and I was able to go a little longer in the height department because there is so much yardage in one skein of Magnum. In fact, I still have quite a bit left over. All good, yes?

Not so much. Problems:

Glam as it is, it's too wide to hold heat next to your body in a cold snap, and too narrow to wrap twice.

In spite of trying, I failed to achieve the twist that would have made it a stunning yet warm necklace.

Folded close to retain heat over my short neck, it looks like a puffy neck brace.

It makes an awesome shawl you don't have two worry about the ends of dipping into the dishwater, but the Cascade sheds like nobody's business, so I wouldn't be tossing it on over my usual black Ts.

Also, my body shape no longer cries out for a horizontal, flat band of colour across my upper region.

So into the frog pond it goes. I will make it again, either narrower to be a stand up collar I can tuck my chin into - the Magnum is super soft and cuddly - or wider for the foldy option. or both! Because I have some super chunky black wool from a different company that I bet would look awesome paired with the underspun green of the Magnum.

News You Can Use:

When you work with super huge bulky yarn at loose gauge, you don't need to think about threading a needle to work the ends in. Just poke the ends through the holes in a weaving fashion with your fingertips, then separate some fibers to push the last little bit through where they will, wool being wool, get stuck.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

By hand

We had sun yesterday! so there are pictures to go along with today's post. It's generated the sort of excitement I might expect to feel on finding non-poisonous mushrooms while lost in a forest so there's something to go along with dry bread rations or something.

What I want to show you now that I can is what I've been knitting with my very own handspun. First, as you may recall, I had a little Totoro in mind:

This is a character from My Neighbor Totoro, meticulously recreated in knitted form by Brella, who lives in Toronto just like me and is definitely somebody I would like to watch this and other Studio Ghibli movies with.

If you look visit Ravelry and look through people's knitting experiences with this and Brella's pattern for the larger Totoro, you will notice everybody says the larger one was way harder to do. I have to say I did not take these remarks very seriously, because I've done so much with multiple needles over small spaces and the only other tricky bits are increases and decreases, and a cute bobble for the tail:

If I had knit this with something from Twisted Fiber Art - all those yarns are super sproingy - I might still feel that way, but it seems I spun zero sproing into my Polworth. It's like knitting with stupendously soft (yet strong!) twine.

The pattern takes about 40 minutes to knit but I had to keep stopping to nurse my fingers, sore from all the manipulations of unyielding needles. So I think I won't knit the bigger Totoro, and I might not even stuff this one, because it holds its shape without any effort at all.

I will add eyes though, because even a baby Totoro needs to see, if only to approve and bless my future knitting endeavors. Like for example the easy non-stretchy unshaped scarf I'm going to make with the rest of the Polworth.

Speaking of Twisted, my continuing hat quest led me to pull out the Blue-Faced Leicester I spun from roving acquired there. I'm improvising a pattern which may or may not amount to something:

This yarn seems to have a lot more sproing, while being as soft and squishy as the Polworth. On the other hand, it was my least favourite fiber so far to spin, because it was so stubborn in the drafting stage. I guess I will need to weigh these factors as I go on with the spinning thing.

Oh! and speaking of spinning - I wanted to mention that Jessie has reopened A Piece of Vermont on Etsy, and is offering fiber as well as hand-dyed yarns. Jessie not only has an incredible gift for colour, she often offers a close-to-the-farm experience. The current fiber for example has been on some local Romney sheep, and in her hands, and that's about it. Highly recommended, even if you have to visit a few times before scoring anything.

Skirt News

I snapped a shot of the new knitting skirt since Brenda expressed interest in seeing it:

See how it's a bit longer in the back, for extra warmth and boot coverage? So clever.

It's from Animale, a slightly weird line of clothing I like for these frequently-applied big crazy pockets that keep me from having to cart a purse around all the time, or wear a jacket, while keeping a sock in progress nice and close. These particular pockets have been accented with a decidedly fall fabric and I think I'll have to do something about that, because in all other respects this thing is suitable for all-season use.

And I did a mini tutorial over at my Procrastination Diary for my felted wool sweater skirt, which I seem to be - yes, in fact, I'm wearing it again today. Can't get enough of wool, I guess, or comfy squashy soft things. Which I'm okay with, because it's winter after all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Starts and stops

This weekend my understanding of the real possibility I will finish all my Christmas Knitting early solidified into a menacing form with arms stretching out into next week and darkening each successive day with chocolate-themed bar squares

(which I will be eating if my hands are not busy.)

I had to stop it, of course. I mean, I just bought a cute new skirt that fits me right now. (Okay, I also just made a cute new skirt that will fit whenever thanks to a softly felted wool waistband, so I'm probably covered, literally, in any emergency. More on the Made Skirt later this week over at my Diary.)

So instead of even casting on for the last Turkish Bed Sock, or completing the final finesse that would allow me to take Secret Christmas Knitting off the needles at last, I started several new things that I will be showing you over the course of this week.

Hopefully in pictures, though we are in a patch of a lot of stormy days where I live that make for poor lighting, which is why I have no pictures to show you today.

Now, the natural thing to do when trying to fill all available time with gift knitting is to conduct a massive pattern hunt. If I just reached for stuff in my queue, I would be knitting and finishing much faster, and that is exactly what we are trying to avoid. I have yarn, I have people I could in theory make things for, surely there must be patterns that unite the two. Yes?

Yes. And if you are not yet a member of Ravelry, you should totally join for this reason alone, because the pattern search engine there is awesome. You can find out what other people made with yarn that you have, and then shorten the list to specific pattern types you are interested in knitting. Or you can find out the most popular patterns and read about other people's experiences and any adjustments they made. Or you can quickly view the virtual specs for patterns you already own and be spared sitting in a pile of actual magazines and books.

Such a pattern search yields many mysteries. The biggest for me:

The vast - and I mean vast - number of people who have knit one particular pattern, 90% of whom said they had to frog at least once and usually three times because it came out so massively off the size they anticipated. The sheer stubborn bravery of so many knitters reading these remarks and then casting on themselves - to prove it can be done in one try, perhaps?

I was not so steadfast. Instead I am planning on a Marion cowl (free at Ravelry) with the help of some needles from Trish, and possibly a Mara shawl. And I'm well into a little hat I'm improvising with bulky handspun. And, um, I started some Monkey Socks, with all the purl stitches knitted because that might be faster. That, combined with a single Turkish Bed Sock and Manhat and the bit I have to finish at the end of the Secret thing and the hand stitching I have to do on some other little pressies and All The Baking - that should cover me, don't you think?

And maybe when all that's done I'll start an Everyday Wrap. That would make a great gift for next year, don't you think?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The joy of multitasking

I learned something new about myself yesterday, after getting two whole hours to knit in a quiet room that nobody else was using, without a TV or any music or even the sound of traffic thanks to really good windows:

I can only knit so long in isolation.

Here I was thinking the movie-watching is a shameful indulgence that slows down the knitting, when all along it was necessary to keep me in the chair. And the knitting while walking thing? Probably ditto. It's not like I didn't catch myself last night reading a magazine article while walking the garbage out the door to the can, after all.

This theory doesn't explain why I am able to knit in coffeeshops, unless you consider that I never do that for more than an hour, and I am usually distracted by the progress of some delicious beverage down the inside of a cup, and at any moment I might look up to see a friend, and for most of the time I am eavesdropping on conversations more interesting than some poor patient's pattern of testing.

And this, my friends, is why I only knit for two hours and not the two and a half allotted to me: I was going berserko.

Fortunately I did get a little good news yesterday.


Look again!

Ha - I had one on top of the other in the first shot to prove that the sizes match this time. That's how I made sure - I kept fitting the in-progress one over the one that was done, and I only had to frog back once. Whew! One more sock to go, at a tighter gauge this time, and then I'll hunt around for something a little heavier for when I make a pair for myself. (After Christmas, of course.)

Now the only dilemma is whether to wait till Christmas to give these ones to my mum. They were supposed to keep her toes from getting cold in the night, but it turns out her toes get cold in hospital emergency rooms too, and since nobody seems to know yet what's causing the problem that keeps bringing her back to one she is likely to have cold toes again before the 15 - 15! - days remaining to Christmas are through.

If I do it I could wrap them up festively and tell her they are her Christmas present... or I could come up with a second idea. I mean, if I get Mystery Gift and Manhat and Second Small Bed Sock done by, say, the end of Monday, I could probably churn out one more special thing, right?

Assuming I have a serious stack of movies to watch.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time out

Things are looking much brighter today, but yesterday really was a bit of a dance on hot coals. I wish literally, because it is currently too cold to snow where I live - it's so dry, too, the snow has turned crunchy and any precipitation would come down as little ice stabs.

I can say this with authority because when I realized there was no way I could sit down and do Christmas gift knitting after posting here, I decided to take the morning off and go right off my routine to see if that wouldn't reset things, and I began the process with a long walk. By the end, my face was bright red and my fingers were numb, so I guess it's officially ski mitten weather.

(this also makes it officially Not Handknit Sock weather: if I have to wear my winter boots for heat retention, I have to switch over to cotton athletic socks because the boots, while insanely warm and comfy, keep chewing up the heels of the socks I put into them. So I guess I have some non-pressure time now to knit more socks for spring.)

My first stop after about 40 minutes in the cold was a Starbucks, because it was the first coffee shop I found. I really prefer The Second Cup, a Canadian chain with a very nice hot chocolate, less crowded spaces, and bigger comfy chairs, but freezers can't be choosers and so on. I ordered a hot chocolate with salted caramel, no whipped cream, because I would never normally do that. Not the whipped cream part - I don't like anything getting between me and my hot chocolate - but the salt part. I know it's delicious but do I really need any more of that?

(review: delicious, pretty evil, probably won't order it again unless I bring a tube of lipstick with me because I kept having to gnaw caramel encrusted with salt grains off my upper lip. Did I say delicious and evil?)

During the long hot chocolate wait my hands warmed enough for me to grab the last chair, right at the pickup counter, and get my knitting out. I was a little shaky and it was hard to work, but I gradually got some rhythm as I channeled the goodness of the person for whom I am knitting this particular project that I keep not being able to show you pictures of because Somebody, and you know who you are, reads this blog. Heh.

Well, as I sat there trying to calm down I heard a lady behind me apologizing for not noticing her coffee was ready - something about being distracted by the knitting. So then we chatted a little about what I was making and how pretty it was and how she's only ever made scarves and when she had taken her coffee and left I felt so much better!

It was like a miracle. I literally had just needed somebody to talk to me, even for a moment, about something that has nothing to do with anything. So thank you, knitting.

The stores started to open just after that and I went to my favourite clothes shop, the one I discovered with my much-loved cousin who lives in England. It's expensive but I always feel near her somehow when I go in there, which pretty much overcame the significance of the whack of physiotherapy I am still facing, and the Mariner sweater I still really want to knit in its recommended yarn.

I bought a mostly acrylic cardigan, which tells you something about my state of mind. It won't wear well, and it won't be super warm, and it cost more than the Mariner yarn will, so that was crazy. But it does look very weird and shapely, and more importantly I could wear it today if I wanted to.

And then I bought a super weird cotton skirt with giant puffed pockets at the hem, perfect for storing a ball of yarn and a sock in progress and maybe even my little bag of tools if I'm really strapped for space.

Reset complete.

When I got home I did a bit more work on Manhat:

I'm not convinced this evokes 'maple leaf', but I won't know till I finish the colourwork so I'd better go on with it.

Ah Manhat, so much like life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Filling the time

Somebody moved the ongoing game of musical chairs onto a roller coaster in the night, but I am persevering with great perseveringness on the whole Christmas Knits thing.

In fact, I have been persevering with such success I might actually run out of Christmas Knits well before Christmas Eve.

Can you imagine?

I don't think I've had a year of not being frantic up to the last minute since I was 16 and my mum suggested I sew my dad a woodshop apron. And even then, I picked up a super bad stomach 'flu from some sick kids their heartless parents had me babysit a few days before Christmas, and threw up till Boxing Day, and didn't finish the apron till I think Easter.

So obviously I can't let this happen. It's not like I don't have yarn just waiting to be made into something and one or two people I haven't yet put on the Crafty Gift list. After much thought while knitting I've settled for sure on one project, and that is:


Okay, you may recall my mentioning the guy who patiently lets me try hats and even ManSocks on him to be sure I'm getting the size right. He'll try them on - but he wouldn't ever wear them. He is not a handknit guy. And it gets my goat, being as obsessed with hats as I am, that I always see him outside in winter either entirely without a hat (or scarf or often gloves) or, more often than not, wearing a tatty old acrylic toque he has had for at least 30 years.

In fact it's like I'm being perpetually dared to come up with something he will actually reach for when the temperatures plummet the way they already have this year.

So I've been thinking... what are the features of the hats he's tried but look ridiculous on him, and what are the features of that horrible toque, and how can I avoid the first and replicate the others?

One thing I know he'd require is super soft yarn, which I can only hope to achieve through the magic of Soak Wash because I don't have anything but Patons Classic Wool in navy, his base colour of choice.

Other must-have features:

no ribbing

finest possible gauge

a top that stands somewhat apart from the head, and isn't round

And the icing on the cake:

a big whomping maple leaf. Nobody is a prouder Canadian than this guy, and if it's got a maple leaf on it, he's 90% guaranteed to wear it.

Here's what I've got so far:

Yeah, I know. On the bright side, if it doesn't get any better than this, I can always use it as a wreath. Right?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bathtime for baby(wool)

The Polwarth made it through plying,

and then winding into a skein prior to its first bath:

I should mention that while plying, I did a lot of cursing and dropping and untangling and trying not to remember that I have a spinning wheel in the closet upstairs I could very easily have used for almost no-fail spinning practice. I'm a little afraid of touching the spinning wheel this close to Christmas with so much still to do, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

While I was indulging in all that mental and physical anguish, I was prepping some of the destash yarn my friend dropped off last month for possible sweater use:

I thought it could use some freshening up before it went to work.

Spinning is new enough to me that can count on one hand the number of times I've given yarn a bath for any reason, and I've never given two different varieties of wool a bath on the same day. It was interesting because:

in addition to the difference in feel (the purple is a little rough, while the Polworth is cotton-ball soft and pillowy, just the way it looks on the swift if my camera did a good enough job to show it)

there was a marked difference in scent.

When wet, the purple smelled like wet wool always smells, and then some - strong to the point of Ew. But the Polworth smelled sweet, the way it did when I first opened the bag of fiber and the way it's smelled ever since. Being wet didn't change it at all. I found that weird, or at least unique in my experience of woolly behaviour.

I took my sniffer over to the bag of hand-dyed Polworth I bought in September and that fiber smells of dye, so I still don't know whether undyed Polworth is just really nice, or whether mine was perfumed in some way; I'm allergic to perfume though, and this isn't giving me headaches, so if it is perfume it's something very natural.

Not that I care much, really. I am just very excited for making the particular toy I have in mind out of such magical fiber as this, and for finding out whether knitting Polworth is as fabulous as spinning and hugging it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two left feet

A glance at the calendar told me I'd better get going on my super secret big Christmas project, so I was dutiful over the weekend, making huge progress in anticipation of a long day of waiting-room knitting later this week. You know, you don't want to be stuck in a long patch of counting and manipulating while sitting in an office from which you might be plucked at any moment.

However, I did find time to knit a second Turkish Bed Slipper and graft the toes, which gave me this:

Thanks in part to bad lighting - and get used to that by the way because the temperature has plummeted here such that I won't be going outside with bare ankles any time soon - you can't tell from this picture how perfectly the colours match up. They do though, thanks to my compulsiveness about matching the cast-on point.

Oddly, since I was apparently less compulsive about maintaining even tension, one is about two sizes bigger than the other. The short one did stretch to fit as you can see, but it wasn't comfortable.

The upside: I was making one pair for somebody with a size 7 foot, like me, and the other for somebody who takes a 5. So what I have now are two left feet.

And pressure to produce two corresponding rights. I don't know whether you've ever had to match tension but I can tell you from experience it sure isn't easy for me. So this week should be rather interesting.

In other news, I did a little more spindle spinning with my undyed Polwarth and finally made it here:

Ready to ply. This project is destined to make a stuffed toy for a Christmas-vicinity treat so I figured I'd better get onto that, too. I looked at the calendar again this morning, and it seems there are just 11 crafty days left before I have to pack up my stuff to make way for the tree and the annual baking fest.

(after which I will have to sneak out some small knitting to keep from eating so much at least of the gooey stuff. I wonder if that could be a good strategy this year - only making gooey crumbly stuff?)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Musical chairs

My head is reeling over the tattered remains of this week, from the end of which I have one overriding thought:

Thank goodness I got SUSP done and into the mail before the music started.

Musical chairs, that's what I'm playing at - only not only do the people keep moving, the chairs are going in as fast as they're coming out. Almost everything that was planned has shifted or disappeared, its place taken by some other emergency or illness.

I'm a little grateful that the music kept playing long enough to shift today's chair, though. On the upside, I would have had a whole day of knitting in a waiting room - on the downside, I'm so exhausted from Days 1-4 that it would have killed me not to be able to nap discreetly there.

Instead it's a different chair, and a different person in it, and I am back to where I was supposed to be on Tuesday: sewing Christmas mittens that have to be ready for delivery by - oh, yes, tomorrow! So maybe I won't be getting that nap today anyway.

This is how crazy my life is right now (or possibly, This is how obsessive I am): normally I carry a little bag of mindless knitting wherever I go, with a small cheat sheet of the bit I'm doing currently just to keep things portable. Right now, I'm carrying the entire pattern, plus my tool bag, because I know that at any moment I might be sitting in some waiting room for 8 hours straight.

(upside: the one pressing holiday knit might get finished, then. Yay!)

(h'mmmm, maybe I really did mean This is how obsessive I am.)

Speaking of holiday knits, look!

In spite of the crazy, I got the first Turkish Bed Sock done, except for the toe grafting. I figured I'd need to be able to see to do that, and sleep was indicated.

Compared to the lump it was in its first photography session I do think this looks pretty good - apart from the bad lighting - but let me tell you something:

When it's on, it looks exactly like the pattern glamour shot.

All I need are white floaty pyjama pants.

I am so in love with this pattern, even though there is a bit that you have to sew. Its construction is unusual so I thought it might be tricky: no. All I did to get this gorgeous foot was follow the instructions, and I am pretty sure that I can knock off a pair in two days without batting an eye, now that I've done one.

Which is lucky because I have to do another three feet, at least... and then maybe another two, for me. Heh.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Something is afoot

... emphasis on the something.

Yes, it's true, this awful-looking lump is supposed to transform itself into the beautiful image of elegance that is the Turkish Bed Socks glamour shot.

I am not worried: they could go on looking exactly like this and still make me popular with their recipients because they will feel fantastic.

See, they have a 7 st per inch gauge, and I could only get that (on 2.5mm needles which is still a little too big for my liking) with my almost-self-striping merino from The Black Lamb in Port Hope, Ontario. It's soft like my other sock yarns are soft, but it's also got drape and sheen and is just super awesome to knit with, plus I love all the colours in the three different colourways I have stashed.

Bonus: the pattern is incredibly fast. It took me about 2 hours to come up with this much while getting used to the directions, and I'm already through all the complications and on to straight knitting. They're meant to be a little short on the foot so as to stay on, which will make that part fast too. I might, um, make more. (but probably for next Christmas, because this month is just filling up like crazy and I still haven't made any shortbread.)

Meanwhile I'm glad to finally have a chance to use this yarn for something that will stick; I had to frog almost everything else I tried, owing to not yet being willing to knit socks when I first brought it home.

Speaking of which, I am definitely frogging yesterday's hat; I gave it a good test run with my hair down and later in ponytails and really, the yarn I used for it deserves so much better.

Fingers crossed I can stay generous and finish the gift knitting before I do it...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A matching hat

Helena and I have been cooking up a hat design together using her hand-dyed yarns, and I decided to make a first draft that matches my Clockwork:

Even without having much of a pattern yet it took just a few hours to make, and I love the way it came out (in spite of its not being the shape I intended). It was a little small when I took this picture, so I took advantage of some previous experience to fix it.

News You Can Use: some - but not all - superwash wools will relax and stretch out when you wet block them, and it' s impossible to know which before you finish your project and put it into the water. For this reason, it's a very good idea to make your first-time use of a new superwash a project that won't be ruined, such as a shawl. If you do have a disaster with something that's meant to be fitted, I've heard that blotting the Wet Thing and putting it into the dryer will reverse the stretch.

This hat has some superwash in it, and I know from previous projects that it does stretch (though not in a horrible way.) So I wet blocked it and sure enough the self-striping yarn was relaxed enough to let me stretch it out a little, and chummy enough to take the non-superwash solid with it.

The hat is still the right length not to slide down over my eyes, but it doesn't pop up when I shrug my shoulders any more. Plus, I'm definitely not going to have any hat dents in my hair.

I'll have to give it a test run out in the cold before I decide whether or not to frog and reknit, because it's pretty loose around the brim, and the shape is still not what I had in mind. I'll correct both of those features in the next draft of this design.

In the meantime, I kinda like it!