Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holidays are for handspinning

After Christmas - even before Christmas - crafty people who are at all free with their e-mail addresses receive a positive barrage of e-mails from every imaginable yarn company pitching Boxing Day Sales.  As a gift knitter with a freshly depleted yarn supply, I can be pretty vulnerable to these pitches, but this is also the time I'm thinking about pruning and grooming what's left of the yarn supply.

All of which is to say that for a short time last week I considered treating myself to some belated Christmas presents, and then I realized the perfect present from me to me was time to spin up some of the gorgeous roving that's built up in my stash.  It's a great way to make space, and it's an even better way to restock with very special, very soft, bulky yarns for future fast gift knits.

My goal for Saturday, after I'd finally cleared off my wheel from the endless reign of mohair sock singles, was to plow through two or maybe even three braids of roving, so that I could ply on Sunday.  Faster delivery even than an express courier!  And I knocked off my first two choices in about three hours.

Both of them are single braids from Twisted Fiber Art clubs, destined I suppose to be (more) cowls as that seems to make the best use of them.  On the left, we have Posies:

And on the right, Juliet:

It wasn't even lunchtime once these were done, so I prepped another Twisted roving called Hijinx.

Which I also spun up into singles after determining my drafting hand wasn't sore yet.

Lesson learned: bulky yarn is not just faster to knit, it's faster to make.  And a good thing too, because this is just the tip of the iceberg and I've just joined another Twisted roving club.  Wish me luck (and drop back in later for the post-plying pictures, heh.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Handknit cowls - the reveal

Watching gorgeous movies and knitting the same (easy) pattern over and over in different yarns is a great way to make nice memories out of gift knitting season.

The purple cowl in the middle should be familiar - it's the one I knit twice, because the first time I knit it too wide to work as a hood for a friend who wears her hair up a lot such that hats are a challenge.

I was very worried about how this one would go over but I loved the finished product, and I guess I was right to do so because she says it works exactly as I hoped, and she loves it.  Yay!

The other two were both made with stand-in yarn because the Noro Odori I'd intended to use came out scratchy and a bit seaweedy-smelling when I made a test cowl with it.  That was so weird - it didn't happen with the Spin Cycle Hat I made with the same yarn in a different colour.  I was so close to my deadline though I couldn't worry about the Why.

This autumn-coloured cowl is made with very soft wool spun into an extreme thick and thin by Fleece Artist (Tosca).  Making the drop stitches was a bit of a challenge with this yarn but I loved all the colour and texture and I think it will be really warm to wear.

My favourite knitting experience though was making one for Lannie:

When it came to Lannie's cowl, the only possible solution was Yarn Held Double, but even that was a stretch - the only soft-enough yarn I had on hand in any weight heavier than sock was a single ball of Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend, a variegated silk/wool sport weight, plus most of a second one in an entirely different colourway.  Thankfully there were enough overlaps in the two sets of colour to suggest the idea of combining them.

And then I took it all to a very special Christmas concert and knit almost all of it during the program.

This was absolutely the most lovely knitting to do, and what a great place to do it - soft lights, gorgeous choral music, heavy snow outside, and a matchy favourite knitting bag to boot.  Yum.

Meanwhile, since all the cowls settled down, I've been spinning.  Drop by tomorrow to see!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holiday spinning (the unathletic kind)

Holidays are about the three Rs: rest, relaxation, rejuvenation.  Reading is a good route to all that but yesterday my eyes kept drifting from the page to the wheel:

This fiber has been sitting here untouched for months, and it's been paining me.  Not just because I'm tired of spinning it (it's from a series of 200g lumps of densely packed mohair and romney wool I started spinning during last summer's Tour de Fleece), but also because this Christmas I ran out of handspun next-to-skin yarn for special gifts and I really need to restock.  Plus I have a bucket full of fiber to spin that's taking up space I could use for other things.

So: I set aside my oh-so-inviting Reading Tray,

and got to work on the remaining Stoddart fiber...

... which is, because I'm sure you'll have forgotten, my third attempt at my 2013 goal of spinning yarn both fine and consistent enough to work for handspun, handknit socks.

Maybe that doesn't look like a lot of fiber to you but it took hours to get through it all.  Probably four of them, and it felt longer.  But I kept going because I knew that this was the last section of the last lump of fiber - there are two sets of three spun singles sitting in teacups in the china cabinet (that's where everybody keeps resting singles, right?) just waiting to be plied, and this one would make a third set, and then I would be done.

After a couple of hours I marked my progress.  It was like crawling through the desert at this point,

but I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to get back to small lumps of easy-spinning silks and wools perfect for simple bulky cowls I can knit now and have ready for next Christmas.  La la la, carrots in my path.

And then, suddenly - finished!!

Oh I was thrilled.  I got out my basket with the bag of spinning stuff in it and pulled out the other two spun singles and...


Well, at least Gwen is happy.  And hey, who's to say I can't take a break from sock yarn to whip up some silks before I get back to work?  (seriously, please don't be the one to say I can't.)

Hope you guys are doing something fun this weekend - see you Monday with some gift knits I can show off at last!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day

Boxing Day: the day knitters take a vacation.

Mug, bowl, stack of books, a Gwen, some chocolate, maybe even some spinning: bliss

Hope you get to take the day off too!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

I hope you are all having a lovely day today, whatever it is you are doing!

We are still living in ice and snow here, in some cases also without heat or power, but if Christmas is coming your way, it is going to come regardless - just as icy branches still reach out to each other for what they need.

Yesterday I was reminded that this special day is really about love: the amazing gift not only of our being able to love, but of our being able to be loved in return. 

Then I had a note from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas suggesting that this day is about peace, even if it means wrapping up a gift-knit-in-progress with needles still attached!  You know what: just stop.  Be at peace.

I think both thoughts apply very well, and I hope there is a lot of love and peace in this day for you.  See you again soon!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monster knitting

As expected, I acquired new companions last week from CGMonsters.  They arrived yesterday and got straight to work like all good monster knitters do!

Here is Cameron, finishing off the Churchmouse hot water bottle cover.

Gwen likes to run in ends, so she is a perfect best monster friend for me:

She can take care of finishing the hot water bottle cover too I think, while I make my favourite beets in orange sauce a day ahead of Christmas dinner.

Kendall got started on the first sock of a pair that will be gifted in January.

I like how Kendall has some teeth that are too big for her mouth, but keeps them neatly flat against her lip so nobody gets hurt.  Except insects.  Apparently she eats insects, and I hope that includes both mosquitoes and blackflies because that would make her the perfect best monster friend for the cottage.

And here are the monsters in their official portrait:

As you may recall, Super Batty and Steve had already taken up residence at my house, so here they all are together.  Super Batty is on the right, with the purple eyes.

(I'm so glad I never had to grow up from stuffies because these guys look so awesome and are so smiley.)

Here's what Gwen finished for me:

It's a lip balm tube, such that you can hook your lip balm to something where it's easy to find in your bag or on your keys.  The pattern is by Dawn Riden and you can get it here.  It's a little fiddly at first of course - hard not to be at this size - but it's very satisfying and super fast, which is what we care about most this close to Christmas.

Gwen was hoping it was for her, but No.  It was for a small friend, and if I were a nicer person I would have given said small friend Gwen as well because she really, really liked the monsters and Gwen especially.  (I don't think it's possible to calculate exactly how much nicer I'd have to be, but it's definitely a lot, because Gwen is awesome.  There is no way I'm ever giving Gwen to somebody else.)

Maybe it was the guilt, but I did pile on the cute when I wrapped the balm.

There's nothing like adorably-packaged chocolate bars as foundation for a rolled-up mystery in tissue paper, and the lot tied up in sock yarn scraps, don't you think?

Okay, today is Christmas Eve and if you celebrate Christmas you will be having a SUPER busy day I bet.  And if you don't you may well be anyway.  So: take care of yourself, find something that makes you happy, and have a wonderful day.  I have to go bake cookies now but I will be sending all of you many good thoughts for finishing any essential gift knitting - with or without monster aid.

(and remember, it's not too late to tell somebody who will spring for it if you want a monster yourself!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Knitting through an ice storm

It looks like I've emerged from this weekend with almost all of a hot water bottle cover - so timely!

Where the colour shifts are speckled, this almost looks like I worked a Fair Isle pattern instead of blindly knitting along and letting the Cascade Eco Duo work its magic.  And soft?  whoa.  soft.

The grey of these stitches is a great match for the grey of outside, too.

We've been having an ice storm, you see, and there's no sun in sight.

Just the amazing and bizarre image of branches encased in a thick layer of glass as though imprisoned by some superhero's personal arch villain.

But that's not all.  There's also the not-enough-infrequent sound of crashing, as huge limbs crack off their trees and descend to the ground.

The trees in my neighbourhood are pretty old and very tall, so some of those limbs really pick up speed on the way down.  The worst is when they land on somebody's car... there were two smashed windshields on our block by about noon on Sunday, and that is just sad.  I almost feel guilty about being relieved it isn't my car's windshield this time.  (I had that honour with a summer storm a few years back, and I'm not anxious to relive the experience.)

Amazingly, as of Sunday evening nobody had been seriously hurt yet.  Anyway that's what we heard from the police officers who stopped by to check on the fire we'd been monitoring up in the wires surrounding the street lamp across the road.  A couple of branches had gotten caught there, and the wires were shorting out from the contact, which seems to be all it takes to cause trouble.  But we were lucky: there was a lot more freezing rain coming down while we watched, and that kept the flames from getting too big.  Also, none of them took out the power to our house.  Yay.

That may come - for the next few days, nothing is due to happen that would make any of the ice melt, so those poor branches will be under a lot of strain indefinitely.  Some of them are guaranteed to take out power lines if they fall.  If I don't pop in tomorrow to show you pictures of the really cute last-minute insanity gift projects I cast on, that's why - there's a very high risk of No Internet in my immediate future.

On the upside, our house is well equipped with wool blankets, battery operated book lights, party snacks, and a freshly charged tablet for listening to audiobooks, so I'm all set to knit... which is lucky, as there are a few gift knits I would still love to make this week.

Hope all is well where you are, and stays that way till I'm able to turn up again.  And just in case: Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Notes from a lazy-day knitter

Most of my knit gifts have been delivered and opened now - and the friend for whom I striped the original of this year's two woven scarves was happily wearing it when I saw her unexpectedly yesterday, yay! - so today looks pretty peaceful, with the exception of one BiG excitement that may be exciting news for you as well (I'll share at the end of this post.)

For now though, let's just breathe and look around.

I don't know about you (I can only hope) but I have the day off.  It's cold and miserable outside and I am inside, cosy with sweaters and handknit socks.  Another parcel from my online Christmas shopping arrived as I typed that last sentence, and that marks just about the last of them, which means I planned right this year when I timed my ordering. 

True, I still have three outstanding knitting projects that have to be done and dry in just five days.

And people are expecting me to bake enough shortbread to deliver to a whole lot of neighbourhood friends, to say nothing of the chocolate chip meringues so essential for board-game night.

I haven't put up any Christmas decorations yet - not even the tree! - because the house is still such a mess from three weeks of knitfrenzy that there is no space to do that.

(the other day when I looked in my stash cupboard and found it almost bare? turns out the stash was actually lying around in baskets, and loose on various horizontal surfaces.)

Also, there are Christmas cards on the table I really need to write today for any chance at their arriving before New Year's.

There are a few more knits I want to cast on and have ready for... oh, maybe Tuesday night?  but I'm not saying that out loud because I know that is totally unrealistic and also, unnecessary, even though I really really want to do them.

And yet...

cosy sweater, handknit socks, mug of tea...

... and an alpaca knit.  YUM.

Learnings for today:

tea gets cold if you're really enjoying your knitting and forget to stop and drink it

thank goodness I'm past the beginner point of buying needles suggested in a pattern, and instead have multiple sets in every conceivable size, because I never, ever get gauge with the suggested needles

love love love Cast On, Bind Off, without which I could not have achieved my cable cast-on for the water bottle cover

cable cast on is super easy (you knit stitches onto the needle, by knitting in between the last two stitches instead of into the last stitch - so elegant) and looks nice even in fuzzy alpaca

it's good not to push yourself too hard with too many things in too many different directions, and it would be really good to do more of doing less.

And now, the excitement.  Do you remember Super Batty and Steve?

Well, this morning I discovered their maker now has an Etsy shop.  An Etsy shop!!!!   And, at the time I am writing this, she is having a sale.  I really want another of these improbably cheery-uppy monsters, and I know I will have ordered one before bedtime, but which?  this is the same problem I had before - they are all so fantastic, it's impossible to choose. 

So now that you know what I'm doing today - not doing anything on my list, but slowly knitting alpaca while clicking through pictures of monsters - let me tell you I hope you get to do something lazy today too, even if it's just for a few minutes.  See you Monday!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to make candy-friendly bookmarks

I've had this idea for bookmarks cut from double-sided card-stock scrapbook paper for months, so naturally I waited until three days before I wanted to tie them to candy canes and give them away before I started making them.

Fortunately, they are fast.

You Will Need

cutting mat
rotary cutter
a ruler longer than 12"
a hole punch
lengths of ribbon/scrap yarn - allow 11"/22" per bookmark
candy canes, the kind where the wrapper follows the contour of the hook

How to Proceed

First, cut out the bookmarks.  I made mine 1.5" wide and 6" tall but obviously this is flexible depending on the size of the candy you want to tie them to.  If you're using 12" x 12" paper your job could not be easier: just keep cutting the pieces in half.

You know... from two 6" x 12" pieces, you take one and turn it to cut into two 6" x 6" pieces, and take one of those and cut it into two 6" x 3" pieces, and then cut one of them into two 6" x 1.5" pieces.

Even faster: take your 6" x 12" piece and just keep slicing every 1.5".

I cut some from 8" squares too, leaving out the excess bits, before I realized the paper was really too flimsy for a bookmark.  But if the paper is good, it's still easy to use an 8" square piece.

Most of my bookmarks were intended for people with a very small appreciation for florals, and a lot of my paper was pretty far down that road, but when you cut up the patterns it's amazing how 'floral' becomes 'abstract'.

If you're not attaching these to anything, you can stop here and maybe even pick up a book to put one to use for yourself.  If you are, however, keep reading.

Next:  punch a hole in one end of the bookmark, not too close to the top that it will rip, and as close to the center as possible.  Don't be like me and get too tired and absently punch both ends of the bookmark because that is just not pretty.

Now you are ready for yarn or ribbon or whatever you are doing at the top.  First, do some colour coordination because that's fun.  And rewarding, if you're like me and have lots of yarn left over from other projects that is too nice to toss and too short to make something else with.

If you're using ribbon you are probably fine with single 11" lengths of it; if you're using yarn, you will get a cuter tassel with a double strand.  Cut 22" lengths for these if you're using slim yarn, a bit longer if you're using something more bulky, because you will need flexibility when you go to tie these onto the top of the cane.

I found it easier to wait till I was ready to 'finish' the next bookmark before I cut each of these long yarn lengths into two.  At that point, you line them up perfectly and fold them in half again so you get the top of a loop.

And now, you're doing the same thing no matter what your tassel is made of: poke the top of that loop through the hole, and slip the loose ends of the yarn/ribbon/whatever through said loop.  So cute!

Finally, it's time to tie the bookmark to the top of the top of the cane.  If you want to add a To and From card onto this present, slip it onto the front half of your tassel strand(s) before you do your tying.  Set the cane right in front of the bookmarker (and tag if you're using one) so it/they make a secure backing, and pull your yarn tight when you tie it to the top of the cane.  If it's snug enough, it won't slip off either end, which is extra Yay.

Done.  Done and cute and ready to go out spreading bookish cheer to your friends and neighbours.  Have fun!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A burst of knitting, plus paper craft

At about this point in December, crafty people are starting to hand off the gifts they've made for people they won't see on Christmas Day.  My strategy for this year was to do that, instead of running overtime on making stuff, and then wrapping presents till 2am on Christmas Eve... and Christmas Day... and then well on into the season.

Because that plan seems to be working for reasons I really need to pin down for future reference, this is how I spent Sunday evening:

Yep, working on the last of the gift knits.  As you may have surmised from the picture, this is the Churchmouse hot water bottle cosy pattern, and it is so very lovely to knit you should cast one on right now and worry about the matching bottle later.  (sadly, the matching bottle is smaller than the ones I see for sale locally, so if you live in Toronto too you may want to order one of the Churchmouse ones.  Or maybe you would want to order one anyway.  They are priced to reflect their specialness, but they also smell like vanilla? so you are going to get what you're paying for.)

When the box turned up last Friday and prompted me to push through every other project so I could cast on as soon as possible, I unwrapped the Cascade Eco Duo I'd ordered (pre-caked!) and expected something a little bit rough because affordably-priced woolly yarn so often is.  But no, it turns out it is essentially an underspun cloud of baby alpaca blended with merino wool, with a very subtle colour shift as you go along, such that you can practically fall asleep as you work your way along the row.  Or, in just one word: bliss.

(Just don't make mistakes that need ripping out, as for example when determining gauge, because did I say alpaca?  Alpaca doesn't like to be ripped away from its neighbouring bits, and you do not want to cross it.)

In other news: my Knitter's Mending Tray is no longer crowded with mending, because I ran in all the ends of all the mohair boot socks and have even washed all of them and worn a pair.  That's how 'old news' the mending tray is already.

Now, it's a paper craft tray.

This is yet another example me getting a good idea and then going totally overkill on it: bookmarks cut from double-sided scrapbooking card stock.  I wanted to attach them to some candy canes for various and sundry kids who read, and then I thought they were such a great idea they could do trimming service on some presents for grownups, and then I realized I just wanted to cut a lot of bookmarks and there was simply no point in worrying about where they will go.  I think there are about 80 of them stacked up there in this picture, waiting for holes and scrap-yarn tassels.

Marketing is everything when it comes to the kind of presents I usually give, so in more of my spare time on Sunday I made some card backings for the seasonal pins I found for a few nice ladies who don't read Hugs (except for Lannie, who already has hers.  What are the odds of finding a Christmas pin with bright pink in it?? and if it's bright pink, it's gotta be Lannie.)

In progress:

and a few Afters:

This idea is the result of my scoring about a dozen vintage Christmas pins over the summer.  I hadn't seen any of these things for sale in forever, though they were very popular when I was little, and I thought I was going to look so genius come December.  Then in November I walked through Sears and found two huge revolving racks of them.  (I still think mine are cuter.  Plus, vintage!)

I used different accent tapes to fill the boring white space on the index cards - the hole punch I used for a secure way to attach the pin only goes in so far from the edge - including washi tape of course, and some paper tape which I guess is a scrapbooking accessory also.  I saw the paper tape in a discount store over the summer and thought: there will come a day when I will want something that will do what this does.  And that day was Sunday, and by some freak of nature, I knew where to find it.

(I'll have to tell you about the organizational tools that made that possible, because I can't be the only one who needs that sort of help.  Maybe on the break between Christmas and New Year's, when we go back to caring about that sort of thing, after weeks of just trying to make as much stuff as possible in not enough time.)

Tomorrow I think I'll do a proper tutorial to show you how the bookmarks came out.  I really love them, and they made good use of soooo much scrap yarn.  Not to mention the scrapbook paper I used to make them.  Seriously, I paid less than $10 for the package and I've already gotten 2 cute wall banners and a ton of tiny gift toppers out of it. And there is still so much left over to play with.

For now though: have a great day, and I hope a super productive one!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The story of the second loom-bred scarf

When I left you last, I was telling you about the crazy idea I had on Friday night: to start a whole new scarf to solve the problem of two gifts that had to be ready by Saturday around 5pm, so that I could do a third while I was out at a concert that night.

Okay, maybe I didn't mention that last part. 

It was looking pretty grim on that first evening let me tell you.

Actually no - not grim.  It was looking like this:

That's a whole lot of pretty scarf, isn't it.  This time I set the loom up with DK weight Duchess, from Twisted Fiber Art, left over from my UpCountry Hat and Cowl.  I'd been saving it for socks, but it was something of an emergency.  So: by about 7pm I was sitting down and weaving, and hoping for the best.

After a while at the loom I started to think about what was going to happen when I had to change yarn.  I mean, I managed to get the loom set up with just short of all the semisolid yarn I had, but the striped yarn was in two cakes left over from the two previous projects and I was going to have to match up the stripes if the continuity of the middle of the scarf was going to compensate for the lack of it at the edges.

In the event, matching the stripes wasn't hard at all - I just made sure I stopped at an obvious colour shift so I could overlap with the same one shift on the next cake.  Hiding the overlap?  that was more interesting.

Eventually I remembered reading somewhere that you can snip off  some of both strands to make the join less obvious.  Duchess is a 3 ply yarn, so I snipped 2 strands away from one piece, and 1 from the other, and let them lie as flat as they could.

You can see that, right?  It's still pretty obvious to me, but much better than it was, so - Yay!  And did I mention what time it was when I was doing this?  Well, it was about 8:30.  And there I was, halfway through my yarn supply.

After another while I noticed I was at the end of the roller and had to look at my watch again.  Some disturbance to the space/time continuum maybe?

It wasn't even 10 pm!  and I'd taken a lot of breaks.  Somehow, after taking 2 months over a much more interesting scarf, I managed to pull off this one in under three hours.  And the quality hadn't suffered either, since both are rather lacking in expertise.

La la la, off the loom, and suddenly I am thinking that weaving is the best thing in the whole world.  I could not have finished a cowl in less time than I finished this scarf, and the scarf is a little more versatile.

So impressed with this thing, truly.  And I will admit, I am looking at the tons of other yarn I would normally never consider weaving with, and considering this very speedy route to stash reduction/present readiness.

But I put the loom away anyway as soon as I had the two scarves into their blocking baths because Omigosh, two more presents to make the next day!  Plus a few other distractions the day after, some of which I'll show you tomorrow if you have a chance to drop by.  Till then, have a great day, and good luck with any gift-making you're getting up to.