Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dusting off the wool bits for a fresh new year

Last year around this time I put my hands out onto two nebulous goals for 2011 and they were:

Learn to use my spinning wheel

Knit an Estonian shawl

I have spun some lovely things on that wheel, so - go me!  Yes, I gave up on the Estonian shawl before June, but I don't feel bad about it because while I love the heritage behind those pieces I know I would not actually wear one.  Also: I just didn't have the right yarn in my stash, and never fell in love with anything appropriate in my various travels.  Maybe another year.

There is one last-minute goal that could replace it though... one that occurred to me thanks to the miracle of Ravelry's project pages. 

Do you know, I have recorded 49 completed knits there for 2011?  Counting the socks I started in December and finished a week into January, which I think is fair because there were so many knit things I started and had to put on hold just shy of finishing, including two me-sized sweaters. 

49 things.  Plus two more that I didn't record in Ravelry because they were samples for Interweave and Biscotte et Cie respectively and I can't find the pictures I took of them before I sent them off equals 51.

There are 52 weeks in a year, right? 

And I have a second sock with just a foot and toe left to knit, at not quite nine-thirty in the morning on New Year's Eve.

Guess what I'm doing today instead of cleaning my desk for a fresh new start to 2012?

Next year's goal:

Make 30 gifts, at least 20 of them before June, so I have time to bake cookies early in December and just enjoy next Christmas! criminy, I'm still recovering from the catchup this year.

I might not knit all of those gifts, because an exciting new sewing machine is coming to my house before next weekend and it will definitely want to play this game.  Assuming I can stop hopping and skipping around about it long enough to sit down and use it.

Hope your last day of 2011 is fabulous and that 2012 is much, much better than this one was.  Crim.in.y!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sock Talk

I should do a regular installment on Sock Talk because I still don't have the concept down.

Here is what happened on Wednesday's road trip: I packed a sock in progress. It's a very nice sock in something between sport and DK weight, so... fast.  Also soft, thanks to the merino nylon cashmere blend.  Plus, nice colours.  But it's got ribbing because I keep thinking socks have to cling.

The ribbing gets its own paragraph.  After my last socks where I did a 2x2 ribbing, I went a little berskero so I mixed up the number of purls and knits to something like K2 P3 K1 P2 etc.  It looks great, but it's impossible to follow so now I not only have to keep switching between knit and purl, I have to pay attention too.  GAH.  If I wanted to pay attention, I'd do cables or lace or something.

Note to self: mindless is only good while knitting, not designing.

Fortunately I'd got the sock on to the foot, so half of every round was plain knitting.  Yay!  I zipped along and well before it was time to come home I was onto the toe.  Around about the third round of the toe I realized something was very wrong with the plan.

The Plan
Knit to the end of the toe, then cast on the next sock and knit it.

(insert the sound of a shoe dropping)

The Wrong
I on purpose left the tool bag at home, thinking I need to be More Relaxed.  I do have scissors on the Swiss Army Knife that is my keychain, but I didn't have a darning needle for the running of scrap yarn, or extra needles to put the first sock onto so as to have enough free needles to start the second sock.


And it's such a pretty tool bag.  But I only lost about 25 minutes of knitting, so - not a complete disaster.

Complete Disaster

The next day was baking day so I pretty much ignored the sock till I'd mixed three batches of cookie dough and baked two of them.  Then I sat down and grafted the toe
without needing to look at instructions this time, thank you
between timers and ran in all the ends and then tried it on.

(other shoe dropping)

TOO SHORT.  Not in the foot, where it would be easy to fix, but in the leg, where obviously the constant ribbing angst made me convince myself to start the heel too early.  gaaaaaahhhhhh

And to add insult to injury, I wore a pair of plain knit socks yesterday that didn't bag or gape at all, having been washed a few times already.  Ribbing: I am done with you.

(as soon as I am done the second sock.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Patience is a virtue

Today is a Very Busy Day full of me baking shortbread, owing to the fact that I really can't feel happy about not getting cookies out to all my neighbours over the Christmas break.  I'm not even super happy about putting on a Happy New Year! tag in place of the Merry Christmas! one, so I will definitely have to adjust my planning for next year, but more on that later.

What I want to tell you over my tea and toast (my motto: multitasking is good unless it involves tea and/or toast falling into your keyboard) is that I FInally got something else done that was very important to me.

According to my records, it's almost exactly two months since I posted about sneaking off from more urgent matters to spin a tiny quantity of fiber bought at the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter's Fair in September.  And I'd actually done the spinning a couple of weeks before that.  Well, Huzzah for me, because I've wanted to spin the rest ever since and I finally got to do it on Boxing Day:


That's six ounces of fiber, that is, and I spun five and plied it all in just one day, which is a record for me.

(or was until the day after Boxing Day, when I spun and plied all six ounces of the blue-green fiber I bought at the same time.  I'll post pictures of that post-cookie fest.  Assuming I still have daylight for pictures by then.)

Best of all: even after not spinning for so long, I still got all the fiber out looking pretty consistent for gauge, so I can probably making a Real Thing with it. 

I wonder what?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy skippy jumpy

Today I am supposed to be sensible and set aside the gnome-patterned flannel PJs that appeared as if by magic yesterday, and leave the house for various things, none of which involve

a/ a knitting store

b/ a sewing store in which to look longingly at Berninas (the one I will pass is closed today: definitely A Hint)

so I don't have much time for writing this morning.  Instead I'm going to show you a picture of the laundry I carried up from the basement the other day, which was so delicious I had to grab the camera and take it outside:


This is only about half of my handknit sock supply - plus a pair of machine knit alpaca socks in grey - and yet it was a real snuggle-fest of an armful.  It made me wonder why I keep thinking I don't have enough socks yet.

(answer: because I have so much sock yarn still waiting to be knit.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Remiss and loving it

Ahhh, the delights of the days following Christmas:

doing the laundry for virtue purposes, but not bothering to fold or put it away

ignoring any developing dust mammals

not turning on the dishwasher because I forgot it was there

washing dishes by hand only when the counter is too cluttered from stuff that couldn't fit into the dishwasher to assemble a new snack

making new snacks only when Christmas chocolates reach a saturation point in the ol' bloodstream

tea and/or milk on tap to accompany aforementioned chocolate


Oddly enough I didn't get anything knitting-related for Christmas except for a book from my cousin and some yarn I bought myself and gave to somebody else to wrap and label.  I'd take that as A Hint except that surely my family would not be so crazy as to suggest I have enough yarn or needles or patterns or fiber or spinning accessories already.  Sorry not to have a picture of the really lovely yarn: I was spinning new yarn during a brief period of sun yesterday.  More remissness!


I have come away from the big day exhausted and happy - not only did I score a new pair of flannel PJs covered in a cupcake motif, some great books, and a ton of chocolate (the key ingredients to my perfect Boxing Day), the meal I cooked came out beautifully with practically no effort at all, and as far as I know people liked the various things I made them, even if I wasn't quite finished my aunt's slippers.  They're done now though.

Here are some photographs of the last few things, taken in the ten minutes between finishing and wrapping:

the coffee cuff, which used up a hopefully tiny amount of the contrast colour from my Professor Slughorn sock kit...

the eighteenth pair of handwarmers (I'm exaggerating, sort of) to the cuff of which I added a tiny stripe of contrasting silk so I wouldn't go out of my mind over the sameness...

and the cowl that I had to entrirely reknit in the only stash yarn I had that was even close to the necessary weight.  I don't love how it pooled, but I do love that it matched the purple alpaca blend I'd used everywhere else since it turns out the favourite colour of the girl who got this cowl is - yes, purple.

Purple was the big colour this season, did you notice it too?


While I was doing all that I was mostly thinking about last Christmas, when for some reason I had time to watch a lot of British programming and spin yarn.  It was, in two words, REALLY NICE to be able to do that.  I wanted to do it again.  So now that the crazy has more or less receded, my wheel is parked near the TV and there are a lot of hand-dyed fluffs of wool on the floor around it.

Also me, steadfastly ignoring all the things I could be doing instead.

Hope you're doing all the things you want to be doing today too!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The twelfth day of knitting!!

Well, here we are at day 12, ready or not!

Today's theme: jewelry.

Remember how berserko people went a couple of years ago for cheap bangles with beautiful knitted fabric stretched over them?  Well, hang onto your hats.  These knits are fast and - in my opinion - irresistible.

Treasure locket for Mom,  courtesy the Purl bee (if you can crochet, you can do the matching ring)

Heartfelt Rings, courtesy tinyowlknits (you have to felt, but still: I bet there's time!)


Okay folks, this is it.  Christmas is tomorrow, but it starts today for me - same every year now, aren't I lucky? - so I'm officially On Vacation.  If I don't post here at dawn on Monday it will not be because I exploded from excess chocolate consumption but probably because I am sleeping off excess chocolate consumption.  Don't worry about me till Tuesday, is the message here.  And then forgive me if I trundle in around midday.

Meanwhile - even if you don't celebrate one of the many holidays that fall around this time of the year I hope you enjoy the more-or-less slower pace resulting from so many workplaces being closed for a break.  (and if you do celebrate one or more of them, have a wonderful time with lots of fodder for future warm memories!)

hugs, and happy knitting to you,


Mary

Friday, December 23, 2011

The eleventh day of knitting

Don't worry, I've got something for tomorrow's post that is so straightforward and simple even the most raveled (unraveled?) nerves can take it.  Today I'm thinking tiny and fast, but assuming we all still have the fine motor skills to pull off a little ornament to put on the top of somebody's non-knit present.  Which could at this point be a single bar of good chocolate.  I mean, chocolate + cute ornament = bliss, right?

I'm more than a bit lucky because along with my December mailing from the Twisted Fiber Art club (gorgeous Bluefaced Leicester roving I can't show you till everybody else gets theirs) I got two patterns for tiny adorable ornaments.  However, there are other patterns out there for similar ones, and I've sourced 'em.

Today's Tips

The first ornament pattern I found and loved is for these felted bells from the Purl bee (which site is a gift in itself by the way) but it involves a lot of extra steps like producing felted balls and so forth which you might not be able to face this late in the season.

Perhaps you will be more inclined to a mini sweater on its own hanger - Cheers! by Cheryl Niamath of Fetching Knits.  A couple of hours sound good?

My heart melts for the tiny snowmen at Anna Hrachovec's Mochimochi Land...

But you could also make some acorns and really confuse your tree (pattern by Carmen Rigby.)


Meanwhile, back at the knitting ranch

I am just about to tie string around a parcel of the last knit gift for the season, if you don't count the slippers I'm now making for my aunt, and I'm trying not to so I'm free to say 

YAYYYYYY!

It was pretty hairy the last few days and I've had to give up making cookies for the neighbourhood to pull it all off... something that might actually be causing me pain.  It could be exhaustion doing that, but I think it's the loss of this particular tradition.  I'm thinking I'll just be attentive and if it's still sad by December 27, I'll do a big cookie bake for New Year's.

As I always do, I am asking myself what I have learned.  There are various things, and various responses to the things:

Stop caring so much.  Sorry, I just do.

Maybe find faster patterns?  I thought I did!

Then START EARLIER!  I'll try, I promise.

I'm also going to try - really hard - not to care about Valentine's day, but when I made that resolution I immediately thought of a fast way to do a felted heart pin (machine-stitch the felted wool heart onto a rectangle of contrasting wool that felted firmly enough not to need any blanket stitching.)  So I'm probably going to have another round of the crazy pretty soon. 

For now though, can I just say whoa: is the scent of a balsam fir tree ever awesome to breathe in while knitting.  I am totally putting up the tree before the crafting is done every year from now on.

Have a good day folks - see you tomorrow for two last-minute suggestions!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The tenth day of knitting

First things first, so you can choose not to read my tale of woe:

Let's think pins and hair clips, shall we?  Quick knits that really are quick, taking well under the four (or six, depending on how much ripping out is involved) hours required by, say, improvised coffee cuffs.

Of course the first that springs to mind is Ysolda Teague's hoot! pin, for the animal and/or Harry Potter lovers among your set.

But I also like Kittipin by Diane Trap.  In fact it's just now occurring to me that if I have a spare hour today or tomorrow I should make one for a little girl down the street who has not one but two cats, one of whom lets her cart it around like a stuffed animal.  (a very much loved and protected-from-pain stuffed animal.)  It's quite adorable to see.


Tale of woe

I could not find the third colour I wanted for the coffee cuff I was making yesterday and lost an hour or more to ripping out and reknitting when even the second colour proved to be horribly wrong.  GAH.  Then, while blanket-stitching the edge of a handwarmer cut from a felted wool sweater, I realized the cut edge was not finishing properly at all and looked so terribly it would never be worn, ever.  This about 11 hours, several of them destined to be spent in sleep, before they were to be given.

Happy ending

That thing I have about buying way too many zip- and drawstring-bags at tinyhappy meant I had an extra one I'd been saving, and could use in place of the Very Bad Handwarmers.  WHEW.


and now to knit another pair of slippers.  and wrap.  and sew something for mum, and oh I hope, bake cookies for the neighbourhood.  See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The ninth day of knitting

I stumbled across the sweetest blog the other day: Little Cotton Rabbits (that's the blog link, the etsy shop is here.)  Inspiring R It.

But also, life-saving - potentially - because there are some seriously cute Christmassy patterns there which, though fiddly, are also small and well-instructed.

Check out the little bear ornaments for a giftee's tree.

And don't miss the mini stockings!

As for me - I got two of the four urgent knits finishing during a day long marathon of Irene Dunne movies on TCM.  I think I must only really have known her for My Favorite Wife, the comedy with Cary Grant.  Turns out she starred in a crazy number of melodramas in the early 30s in spite of being obviously very funny.  So I'm feeling a bit melodramatic today but hoping to bear up under the strain and push through to success with the last few presents.

See you tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The eighth day of knitting

I did the math, and if I don't finish three different projects today and get them into a bowl of Soak and water to block, they will not be dry in time for gifting.  GAH.

So: keeping this short, which is easy because today's recommended pattern is a dream of dreams.

It's a coffee cuff.

I know a lot of people knit coffee cuffs and pair them with a coffeeshop gift card, but I also know I have never, ever personally seen anybody actually use a coffee cuff outside of a very attractive staged photograph.  This has made me slow to embrace the idea of knitting one, even though they are fast and you can go wild with stitches and use up small amounts of yarn.

As it happens though, this year there is a man on my list who buys a takeout coffee every day exactly two blocks from where he's going to drink it, and a gift card with a little sweater to keep hot the contents of his paper cup is the perfect gift.  And now that I'm knitting one, I want to knit about 16, just because I now suspect the reason I've never seen one in use is that the poor people I see drinking takeout coffee don't have a knitter in their lives.

The pattern I'm using is Coffee Cup Six Ways, which is another free download from Ravelry that uses a simple series of ribbing and cables to look interesting while hugging cups of various sizes.  Bonus: it's designed by Nicole Mattson via Prairie Yarns, a shop which last year used some of my chemo cap patterns along with a ton of others to do a massive chemo cap drive.  I really want to get out to that shop but North Dakota is a bit far for me to drive to, heh.

And the reason I love Nicole's pattern?  Folks, she's written it in fingering, so I can use leftover sock yarn to come up with my giftee's team colours.  But she's also written it in DK and worsted weights, so I can whip up another for a giftee whose cowl turned out to be a massive failure when I cast it off yesterday (since she is not in her free time a re-enacter of dramatic moments in the Elizabethan court.)

Take care my friends.  I hope that today is not your make-or-break day, and that if it is, it is a Make!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The seventh day of knitting

Today's tip: an old friend, the Turkish Bed Sock from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas.


I know, this photograph wins the award for world's most bland colouring, Blog category.  It was cloudy yesterday when I finally emerged from housecleaning mode*, what can I tell ya.

(These are not sandal-type slippers with a gap along the side of the heel - I just haven't sewn up those parts yet.  It's quick, don't worry.)

There's nothing in that picture to give you scale, but the proportions should be a clue.  The slipper is small.  And you don't need to felt it, which saves you time/stress if you are on a deadline, as is common for we knitters at this point in the game.

It's small because the instep doesn't even come all the way up to the ankle, and it's small because it's recommended to be shorter than your foot in order to stay snug and not fall off.  This is a paid pattern so I won't give away how much shorter.  But in knitting terms, it's a not-insignificant amount of time savings over a full sock, and your recipient may can actually wear them as a sock in certain styles of shoe.  So you look awesome and generous, and you can be fairly relaxed about it all.

Another time-saving tip: gift them to friends with unbelievably small feet.  These ones are just 7.5" long from heel to toe and they fit Carol perfectly (I couldn't believe it myself so I made her try the first one on before I started the second.)


* I had to clean the house to make space for the Christmas tree, and I thought I might knit faster if I had that constant reminder of how imminent Christmas is.  So far, so good.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The sixth day of knitting

I think I might be off with the whole days of knitting thing.  If today is the sixth, then the twelfth is Christmas Eve.  I'm gonna have to source something SUPER fast to knit that day.

Today's suggestion is pretty fast.  It's a cosy (or cozy, for my American friends) for your e-book reader - in this case a Kindle - compliments of Haramis Knits.  At whose shop incidentally one might purchase knitted monsters mentioned in an earlier Christmas Knits episode, thereby speeding the whole process.  In fact you can even buy knitted Kindle sleeves there.

I'm still out in the field about e-readers.  I know people who really love them, and I do feel slight envy on a crowded subway car when I have to put away my dpns for safety and somebody else is casually perusing some fabulous novel.  I have a tiny house with many, many bookshelves that are all already full, so it would make sense to go paperless.  In fact, somebody actually wanted to give me one for Christmas to avoid the whole More Yarn?? question.  (like there's any call for that.)

But I played with one in a local bookstore and it was just... No.  Not so much.

If I did get one though, it would be a Kindle, and I would definitely knit a cover for it.  If I hadn't promised myself to clean the house today and put up a tree.  See you tomorrow, hopefully with pictures!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The fifth day of knitting

Today I'm going to share one of the patterns I have most wanted to knit: Holly, Ivy, and Steve, the Christmas Hooligans. You'll have to click through the link to see how adorable they are.

Technically these are tree ornaments, knit with sock yarn of which I certainly have a great deal.  But I think they might be fiddly for a bus, or take a bit longer than some of my other suggestions, so I'm pitching them on a Saturday for weekend work.

That's assuming your Saturdays are home-based.  Mine are all over the map! Time to pack up my bag for the duration - see you tomorrow with another yummy pattern idea.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The fourth day of knitting

You've seen today's quick-knit Christmas Chaos suggestion before:


Yep, I'm knitting another Candle Flame Cowl, by Julia Allen. 

(this one is a free Ravelry download, which means there's no other way to get it but from there.  I'll try not to include these potentially less-accessible patterns for the rest of the 12 days but honestly: it's just such a great project, I couldn't leave it out.)

The purpose of the poorly-lit photograph above is to illustrate what it looked like at bedtime of the day I cast it on over a lunch break.  I got it up into the pattern repeat so I could move forward on autopilot, then put it away till I got on the bus.  I got it out again for a meeting in the evening, where I made a few mistakes when things got interesting, and had to rip back.  Then I sat down in front of the TV for a documentary on Beethoven's final years and knit some more.

All told: a little over 3 hours of knitting time, and I'm half a repeat plus a border away from completion.  Not bad for a gorgeous handknit gift in wool and mohair!

Of course this assumes that the tiny amount of yarn left from my stash is going to get me through the half repeat (it won't.  I'll have to bind off early and hope there's enough for that much.  think I can do the remains in hot pink?  no?)

Look for me here again tomorrow and Sunday - I did promise 12 days of Christmas Knitting patterns, you know.  And also you'll get to find out early whether I was able to finish this cowl or not.  What a bargain!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The third day of knitting

I think we've established quite firmly that I am a hat person, but today I am going to recommend picking up a copy of Interweave Accessories 2011 (or buying the digital copy) so you can knit up a bunch of these cute headbands:


It's the Dryad Headband by Katya Frankel, and I could not wait for my contributor copy of the magazine to arrive so I could make one for Hannah.  It's got lots to keep you interested on the very short ride to completion including a clever increase technique that was new to me.  Plus, check out how it's hugging the side of my head there!  So snug.


If you go inside and want to get it off your head without losing it, you can just pull it down.  It will be mistaken for a pretty little cowl.


I stacked two buttons because the one that matched the headband was too small for the loop, and the one that fit the loop was so much the wrong colour.  Another one of those very happy accidents that life sometimes hands you.


The sides of the headband are made up of angled stitches.


So pretty!  Also: confusing to the knitter who is counting rows.  I used a safety pin to keep track of where I was.

I made this headband over two choppy evenings but I'm pretty sure you could do it in one, if you weren't interrupted by phone calls or needing to wash up a lot of pots after supper.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The second day of knitting

Today's quick-knit pattern recommendation: Churchmouse Yarns' Welted Fingerless Gloves.  I've just finished my second pair and they are so easy, to such great effect.  Also: adaptable.  I did the first pair with all the recommended welts at the wrist and decided it works best that way for somebody with a very slim wristwatch. 


I knit the second pair with just one welt, and I didn't use the pattern's suggested smaller needle for even that one; then I added one more repeat to the thumb gusset and got the length I wanted without the snugness such that even my big clunky watch fits underneath.


Well, it would if I had it on.  I'm asking Santa for a new watch this year because the clunky isn't doing it for me any more, even if it did have the appeal of coming to me free with the purchase of running shoes.


You're in safe hands with any Churchmouse pattern but these gloves are certainly quick - maybe two evenings' work - and I'm going to get two single-welt pairs out of one 100g ball of Berroco Ultra Alpaca (you need three balls of Manos de Uruguay Silk Blend for two pairs, if you want exactly what the pattern shows.) 

The thumb bindoff can be a bit tricky to get consistent between the two gloves, not least because you really need to knit the last row before said bindoff a little loosely, but the thumb itself if so comfortable, it's worth the care.

My purple pair is for Hannah, and I'm giving them to her tonight along with another little item that still needs some finishing... so off I go.  See you tomorrow with the third day of Christmas panic knitting!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 knitting days left

Assuming you don't plan to knit a gift actually on Christmas Day - for example, in the car on the way to your parents' place for supper* - there are twelve days left in which to knit gifts.  So as a public service, and not at all because I am still scrambling myself, I thought I'd do a string of quick-knit suggestions for handmade gifts.  Sort of a 12 Days of Christmas thing.

So: Day one.  How adorable is this Sweetie Pie hat from Purlbee?  Thank you Jen!

And speaking of hats, I know you want to see what a hardworking hat looks like in a Toronto winter:


Yep, that's my Turn A Square after a walk and errands on a very cold morning - the one I'm keeping to match my almost-visible blue-grey coat there.  When you're piled up with layers this is what you get - utilitarian headgear and a supercrushed hairdo.  It's warm as can be but I think I should have blocked it before putting it on the first time; it's pretty scratchy, unlike the one I'm giving away, which I did take time to soak in Soak.

Speaking of which - here's another 12 Days tip for you. Soak is offering free shipping until December 14th.  Couldn't do without that stuff! and in fact I need to order more myself because I'm on my last bottle. 

Back to the hat.  Technically the big bonus of this project is the learning of jogless stripes, but check out how they look when you're using a variegated yarn for the contrast:


You can definitely see the start of the round, but it's a design feature now.  Love it.

And now back to my Christmas knitting.

* I have never done this.  Christmas Day is for eating chocolate and reading a book, not being selfless!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Those crazy cowls

There's a lot of the crazy around my place right now, go figure

(I'm looking at you, Christmas knitting amid crazy Christmas schedule)

but the craziest of all is the cowls I've been making from handspun.  It's in the way they look, the size of needles I'm using to make them, the shocking variance of yarn size along any given yard, and the fact that I'm knitting them when they aren't destined for any particular person and other projects are SO overdue.

Here is the mostly finished one:


and here is the one that isn't terribly finished at all:


The mostly finished one has ends to run in, and they didn't stay when I tried doing that with my fingers.  I mean really, who has a darning needle as big as you need for this superbulky handspun?  Or buttons large enough for those giant buttonholes?

Not me.  Here is some gear I picked up at the fabric store on the weekend:


That was an ordeal in itself, what with the fabric store I count on having closed its most local location after 30 or so years.  I mean REALLY, don't they know I need them, especially in December?

The upshot is, I love these cowls. I think I need to whip up the pattern for how I'm making them because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person with bulky stash yarn just begging to be under somebody's tree this Christmas in some useful form.  If you're another such person, you might want to start looking for pairs of 1.5"-ish buttons.  Just sayin'!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The alpaca sock experiment

Finishing off the alpaca socks didn't take quite as long as making them, but it felt like it - have you noticed that with your most longed-for knits?


I spent an entire evening doing Kitchener stitch and running in ends, though I suspect it would have taken less time if I hadn't been watching a movie starring a youthful Rossano Brazzi at the time.  So distracting, that man.


And then, being heavy alpaca, they took a couple of days to dry, even in the warm room where most of the radiator pipes live. 

I decided to run the ribbing straight down the leg because I just don't love looking down at a baggy sock, and plain socks invariably do bag on me.  By the ankle I remembered (and how!) that I also don't love knitting endless rounds of ribbing, but when I tried to do a plain foot I found the transition to stocking stitch was super lumpy and awkward looking so I went on as I'd started.

I am trying to remember that there is knitting an item and there is wearing it, and if you're lucky the wearing part will last the longest and be worth any effort beforehand.

Of course this is a pure experiment, the alpaca socks.  The yarn is from Meadowview Alpaca Farm and, though the blend seem to be different there now mine are a mix of alpaca with 15% or maybe 20% nylon for strength. I've done the heels and toes in strong-but-soft wool (Duchess from Twisted Fiber Art) for added endurance, but I will confess I trembled when I took them off after their first blissful-for-me day of being essentially felted inside my boots:


There's some fluff that suggested wear, until I noticed the same thing on some merino/mohair socks I've been wearing for a year without ill effect. 

The other thing I wanted to mention about these socks is the actual ribbing, which was for the first sock K2, P2 all the way round.  Worked beautifully till I got past the heel and realized that the front half was not symmetrical with the back, but heavier on the knit on one side than the other.  I got around this problem by making the second sock P2, K2 all the way round.  Now, whichever one I put on my right foot, they balance out.

Makes me kinda glad for the needle shortage that has me knitting just one sock at a time, instead of alternating between parts of the pair.

Have a good weekend! I'll see you Monday, hopefully with lots of finished Christmas knits in hand.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Technical difficulties, finished objects

Owing to the walking issues that have me back at the chiropractor's office two or three times a week (am I the only one who thinks I'm a few decades too young for this?) I'm getting in lots of surprise bonuses these days.

Such as:

knitting time while waiting in the waiting room, then waiting in the treatment room

knitting accountability because I am just competitive enough to want to have a different answer for my chiropractor every time, when he asks what I'm making

knitting support for repetitive stress injury.

It's so great to have a chiropractor for a neighbour who is also a friend, because it makes him totally biased about the whole disfunctional leg/arm thing: I bake my mum's famous chocolate chip meringues for his family every Christmas and he knows if I can't stand for two hours and/or use my right arm I'm not gonna be able to deliver this year.

You probably have to have one to appreciate how horrific this would be, but try to take my word for it.  Or just whip up a batch because the recipe is at the link.

Amazingly it's not speed knitting that has put my right arm out of commission, but cookie baking for a fundraising bake sale.  I used one of those cookie dough scoopy-squeezy tools that ensure all the cookies you bake are the same size, and after a day of making about 20 dozen cookies that involved three or four squeezy motions each I could barely move my arm around at all.  So it's lucky I have these constant appointments, yes?

Best of all, my chiropractor's sister-in-law is a knitter, so he doesn't even bother suggesting I take a break from my needles to let my arm heal already.

Which is how I finished the guy hat I want to keep:


I mean honestly, could you give this away?  (yes, if you knit yourself another as soon as possible, which I did, and will show you if we get a break in the rain long enough for pictures.)


I love the squares on top.

I also finished the Candle Flame Cowl...


... which is surprisingly hard to photograph when knit in dark purple, but at least you get an idea how long it is and how it doesn't gape or sag, qualities I value highly in a neckwarmer, what with living in a cold place in winter and all.  I pulled it down a bit for the picture but it is nothing short of adorable how the scalloped border hugs the cold edges of one's exposed jawline when allowed to do so.


This is better, yes?  It's very pretty and I can see how it would be a good gift for more people in spite of the current trend for hugely oversized cowls that either expose your neck entirely or brace it like there's been a terrible ski accident in your vicinity.  So: I'm going to knit another.

But not yet! because there are more urgent Christmas knits, so urgent I can't even stop to tell you about them today.  Meanwhile: knit well, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sleepless - a free pattern

My posting schedule is all off this week, but tomorrow I'll be back to my normal circa-dawn writing session.  Today: you are getting a late afternoon alert to say that the latest Knitty is out.

And I am in it.

Or rather, a hat I made is in it.


And I guess also me, because I modeled it.

The Knitty writeup gives you pretty much everything you need to know about this hat (charts, written pattern, under 50g of sportweight yarn etc.) except the backstory, which I will share here.

Spoiler alert: you may need tissues.

(don't worry if you haven't dropped by here before: this is an atypical post, so you're perfectly safe and even welcome! to come back again.)


If you've been reading Hugs for a long time, you will remember there was a death in my family over the summer.  Les was over 80 and had had a good - well, great really - life, but his last six months could serve as the dictionary definition of heartbreaking and were spent entirely in hospital.  I can tell you right now you never want to see anybody go through what he did, even if you don't love that person, and everybody loved Les a lot.


For most of the six months I kept thinking It's okay! They can fix this!  and then there would be another thing and I'd think They can totally fix that too! and then the first thing would go back wrong and - you get the picture.  One night in July I woke up around 3:00 AM and realized:

Les is going to die.

Immediately I went into a couple of insomnia-like hours of FixIt mode and tried to figure out what doctor to talk to, what treatment might help, what anybody could possibly do to keep that from happening.  And - so weird - at the very same time my mind was building up a hat with stitches that traced every one of the steps I was taking in that go-nowhere circle back to accepting the fact that we were going to lose him. 


Now, I realize this is a pretty depressing source of creative inspiration and a not-compelling reason to knit Sleepless, but from the start, I have felt very strongly that this hat was a gift from Les.  (Hard not to find that feeling reinforced when it was accepted to Knitty, no less.  Who gets a hat pattern into Knitty for heaven's sake?  Better designers than I, surely.)

I've spent months trying to figure out the meaning of that conviction and a few days ago it finally came to me:

Even in the midst of the worst things you can possibly imagine, there is beauty to be found.  It can coexist with anything.  And whether you seek it out consciously or just open your eyes to it when it's in front of you, it's a great comfort.


And I do think this is a beautiful hat.

(also: a lovely shovel.  Les gave me that too.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

PuddleJumper Socks - a pattern for sale

For a lot of last year and a good deal more of this one I've obsessed about the perfect socks - aka the socks for which I could:
memorize the pattern
not need a stitch marker
be able to stop at any of four different needles when called upon on walk off a subway car or down the stairs of a bus without losing my place, and
not go crazy from not being able to see obvious signs of progress
(because it takes me two months to find time to finish the average pair of socks.)

 

Oh! and I didn't want the actual sock to be saggy at the back of my ankle.  I don't know why I should care about that but I do.


I really wanted to know where to mark the leg and foot so I wouldn't mess up with one sock being longer in either of those areas than the other, which kept happening to me.

I really, really wanted to have all the information I needed for all of the sock on a tidy, compact piece of paper (or series of same) that I could slip into my bag and cart around for all occasions.

And as the proud owner of a ridiculous amount of self-striping sock yarn, I especially wanted the pattern to do something cool with stripes.


Now, there are a lot of great patterns out there for stripey socks, but none of them quite met all of my needs.  Figuring out my dream stitch took a couple of months, and I got so used to ripping out my efforts and starting over that I nearly did the same with this one until I realized that the funny wave I got after one repeat of the lace pattern turned into a super fun asset after three of them.  I'm so glad I kept going.


Don't they look just like kids' rainboots, even inside actual boots?  Like the kind with the handles to pull them up by, I mean.


I love these socks.  I feel so cheery every time I wear them, even on gloomy rainy days - and with rain in the spring and the fall, who doesn't want that?



PuddleJumper Socks

Included:
Both written pattern and charts
Full directions plus a cheatsheet to cut out and carry in your bag
Tips (with photographs) on how to minimize holes while picking up gusset stitches
Step-by-step Kitchener stitch instructions for grafting toes shut

Difficulty Level:
Intermediate

Materials:
Knitterly Things’ Vesper Sock (100% superwash merino, 428 yds/100g), 1 skein sufficient for most foot sizes
(if you have both a long and wide foot, consider adding a contrast colour for ribbing, heel flap/turn, and toe)
2.25mm set of 5 double pointed needles, or size to obtain gauge
safety pins to mark rows, if desired
darning needle

Gauge:
34 sts, 46 rows = 4” in stocking st 
38 sts, 46 rows = 4” in pattern st

Sizing:
Instructions are given for adult sizes Medium and Large, the larger in brackets. 
Foot: 7.5 (8.5)”  circumference
(Medium stretches to fit comfortably on 8” foot)
Length: 8.5” from heel base to cuff centre back

Pattern Cost:
$4.00 US

One for you, two for me

I feel like I'm doling out candy in an uneven me-centric way but... yeah.  I'm knitting for myself again!

Oh, I couldn't stand it. I finished off some Christmas knits and blocked them and found myself with a ten-second window of indecision what to cast on next.  You know that's always doom. 

The thing is: that hat I was knitting as a gift may or may not look good on the guy it's meant for, but it looks super awesomely slouchy on me.  Also: the fabric of it is amaaaazing.  (You should get some of this stuff if you can afford $20 for a pretty generous skein - it's Toots LeBlanc's Jacob/Alpaca DK yarn.  I suspect I'll be buying more myself.)

Yes, the spin is a little uneven in places and yes, I am picking out hay as I go.  I never mind that anyway but especially not here because my goodness, the fabric.  It's not just soft, it's buttery in a way you don't mind putting on your head.  And warm? wowza.  I used this same stuff at the same gauge for my Eloquence mitts and gloves but in a hat it's a revelation.

So you can see how I had to have one for myself if I was going to be able to give away the first one.


This time instead of striping with the same yarn, because I'm hoping to squeeze another hat out of my reserves, I'm striping with the silk/wool blend that matches my problematic blue-grey coat.  No mean feat when you figure the base yarn I'm using is a very dark brown, but it's looking pretty fabulous in person.

(Not that you can tell from this picture because it's been so dark outside since I started and the flash insisted on going off every time I took a picture.)

I will admit the silk insertions are not as satisfying as the original with its consistent flow of wool and alpaca, but it will match my coat and I will try to focus on that.  And I'm going to finish it and get it out of my system today because I just have to get back to the gift knitting, and also because the weather is freezing again.  Brrr!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Clown car knitting

Over the weekend I finally got around to casting on one of the yarns I handspun last July, during the Tour de Fleece.  It's not quite as uneven as my early handspun which I felt made it viable for something, but it's uneven enough not to use for a hat or anything else that should fit... or, you know.  Have a recognizable shape.

It's so bulky I knew I couldn't do an actual scarf, so I decided to start with the narrowest strip I could justify and knit as much yarn as I had, then stitch it into a round and call it a cowl or, worst case, a neckwarmer:


I'm using the biggest, shortest straight needles I happened to have - 7mm, because I felt the really oversized ones would be pushing it - and making giant holes to stretch the yarn as far as it'll go:


Kind of pretty, do you think?


It's got a lot of depth and shadow anyway, with such bulky yarn.  I just feel like I could be knitting this in the middle of a clown act, with bright red needles so much bigger than what I'm used to these days.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Turning a square

I have to pat myself on the back for forging ahead with my gift knitting in spite of being so scatty about it.  Well, I have to, but I can't, because the forging ahead is keeping my hands occupied.

Just not on one pair of needles at a time.

For example:  the other day I got super close to finishing the Candle Flame Cowl, but then I put it aside and started a Turn A Square hat by Jared Flood.  I've always been intrigued by the simplicity of this design and the promise of jogless stripes (you know, where it's not brutally obvious where you started a new round every time you change colours) and it's nice to finally be able to give it a go.

Of course, nothing is simple: the yarn I wanted to use is totally the wrong weight, so I had to recalculate gauge and cast on an entirely different number of stitches and guess at how far to go before starting the crown decreases.  Also, the needles for the ribbing were currently in a certain pair of socks I shouldn't have started.

I got the needles out and did the band and got the hat about this far:


at which point I got tired of knitting it.  I should have put the now-finished sock needles to work casting on a pair of gift slippers but somehow they wandered back into the socks and went through another round, sigh.

Meanwhile that cowl was still sitting there with about an hour of knitting left in it.  What gives?

The next day I got a little farther in the hat:


after getting the cowl almost through its castoff.  Almost = right to the last stitch where you cut the yarn and pull through.  Seriously.  I put the cowl down rather than snip yarn and pull it through, to go back to a hat.  I don't get it!

On the upside, the hat goes a lot faster than you think it will, even with small yarn.  And the stripes are looking nice.  I'll show you more pictures with all the gory yarn and adaptation details next week - but in the meantime, have a delightful and productive weekend.  See you!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have baby yarn, will knit - eventually

Last week I bought yarn for the baby-sized Milo vest I want to make for my friends' soon-to-be new little boy:


It has a lot of acrylic in it because neither the mum nor dad knit, and I don't think they're going to want to fuss with a lot of handwashing when there is a cute new baby to cuddle (and feed and change at all hours of the day and night.) 

While I was at the store I also bought some needles:


I know I said I probably wouldn't buy square needles again after I tried the 2.25mm ones for my usual fingering-weight socks, but I haven't been able to source more of my favourite wood ones locally and the square ones do feel pretty amazing in your hands.  This time I bought a 2.75mm set because I've been knitting DK-weight socks on 2.5mm needles and, with the rounded edges squared off, I found I should have gone up a size before.

They might have already found their way into another pair of socks.


Sigh.

The aforementioned baby was due in January, but it seems he may arrive at any time now so my plan of After Christmas! is possibly not as ideal as it was.  I was making a bigger size anyway but... well.  Since I seem to be putting off all the Christmas knits anyway, maybe I should start soon?