Friday, November 29, 2013

Gift knitting aids: the classic movie link list

Everybody has their favourite environment for making stuff, and for me, it's absolutely a comfy chair with a classic movie playing in front of it. If you can relate, read on!

Before the KnitFrenzy I could just flip on Turner Classic Movies whenever I wanted to get to work on a project, but quite often these days when the time is right for me, the movies are not.  And let's face it - sometimes twenty minutes spent rooting around for a DVD is a good third of the only knitting time you had.

M. Boyer is trying hard to convince me this cowl is meant for him

Obviously the screen quality will always be better with a proper disc, but for emergencies, and hopefully for your entertainment as well, I've put together a list of eight films which are in the public domain and freely available on YouTube.

I've included a mini synopsis and the running time, as well as a link to TCM's data page, the better to help you match one to your immediate needs.  In all, this is about 12 hours' worth of knitters' companionship.

So: I know what I'm doing this weekend - what about you?

Movies as Knitting Aid

Algiers, 1938: 75 minutes of romance and suspense with Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer = yum. Click here for the TCM review.

D.O.A.: 83 minutes of classic suspense as a murder victim refuses to curl up and die (until he’s caught the guy who poisoned him.) Click here for the TCM review.

Kept Husbands, 1931: a 75-minute comedy that features a young Joel McRae.  Need I say more? Click here for the TCM review.

Meet John Doe, 1941: Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck give us 2 hours in the wonderful world of Frank Capra. Click here for the TCM review.

The Outlaw, 1943: With two hours to fill, there’s so much more to this western than Jane Russell, no matter what Howard Hughes has to say about it. Click here for the TCMreview.
Rain, 1932: Joan Crawford is young and scandalous, for about 90 minutes. Click here for the TCM review.

The Royal Bed, 1931: In this 72 minute comedy, Mary Astor is in demand as the daughter of a very busy king (and no, this synopsis has nothing whatsoever to do with the title.) Click here for the TCM review.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 1946: 2 hours of film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck, plus Kirk Douglas in his first movie role. Click here for the TCM review.

Hope this list is a help to you and I will see you again on Monday, and with some finished knitting to show you to boot because if I don't make some serious headway soon I am totally doomed.

(to that end: the latest Churchmouse newsletter came out this morning and with it, another superfast cowl recipe aptly called Last Minute Cowls.  So timely!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Last minute knits and makes: the idea list

At this time of the year, knitters are probably at peak vulnerability to free patterns that promise to transform stash yarns in to near-instant handmade gifts.  And since I hate to suffer alone I thought I'd write today about the patterns that are catching my eye at The Purl Bee.

Architectural interpretation* of my eyes, fixating on superfast Makes

If you don't know this site already, I'm very sorry, especially if people expect you to be doing something other than drooling at your computer screen today.  Because if you click on any of these links you can write off the next hour or so as browsing time - it is that fabulous.  And if for any reason you don't have the materials you might need for the projects there... you can buy them at the adjoining Purl Soho.

(I know, I know.  I'm such an enabler!)

One last word before I unleash the list:  as the weather has cooled in the last couple of weeks, I've heard from people for whom I've knit gifts and who thanked me already.  But now they're using those things, and they've been in touch to thank me again or just say they're thinking of me.  My theory about this is that when you knit a gift, you turn it into a physical manifestation of the friendly feeling that went into it, and that feeling is perpetuated season after season for both parties.  Speaking as a knitter - a selfish knitter no less, for whom gift knitting is super hard - that feels pret-ty darned good.

Okay, now that you've had a reminder about why we do these crazy things: check this stuff out!


a stashbusting, colourful little scarf in worsted weight garter stitch

the ultimate unisex cowl, designed to showcase a gorgeous yarn

a two-colour cowl that reminds me of mint candies

beyond-pretty dish towels that put a fresh twist on this year's 'it' project: the washcloth

a sheep pillow - okay, this one isn't fast, but it's SO CUTE

an architecturally dramatic, luscious cowl
(one that's a major and alluring upgrade from my own boring-by-comparison Magic Cowl) 


a superfast, superpretty bulky cowl I think even I could manage

little ornaments to top a present or make in bulk for a baby-friendly tree

embroidered-stripe balls for babies to roll away or hang onto


colourful sachets from wool felt 

super simple tree ornaments - again, good for pets and the under-3 set

oh, and these round ornaments too

insanely fast coffee cozies to pair with a gift card

Please let me know if you actually make any of these.  I'm seriously considering several and filing away others for future reference - but first: knitting as fast as I can on what I've got.

See you tomorrow with some weekend knitting aids I hope you enjoy!

* I'm not 100% sure the size is big enough, but if you click on that photo up there you should be able to see the pine-beam ceilings in those eye-shaped windows.  GORGEOUS.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nice weather for knitting

Hello!  And if you live anywhere that's been hit by the storm system that also hit my neck of the woods, welcome to winter.

Winter is perfect for knitting, in my opinion, and I know that many Hugs readers are embarking on their Thanksgiving holidays which are if anything even more perfect.  I mean, what better way is there to recover from shopping and turkey consumption?

Over the next couple of days I have things to share that may help maximize any bonus knitting time, but today I want to show you a couple of sock things.

Square needles vs. round ones

First off, here is a Vesper sock knit with 2.25mm round needles, lying on top of a Vesper sock knit with 2.5mm square ones.

Isn't it amazing, the difference in width?  I mean, leaving out the lack of toe on the round needle sock (I'm getting there.)  Square needles are a little smaller than the corresponding round version, and it's recommended that you go up a size especially if you are a tight knitter.  I am a very relaxed knitter - in terms of my stitch size, obviously, not my temperament - and I still had to go up a size.

Looking at this picture reminds me why I am so much happier in my square needle socks - they are just so roomy and comfortable around the middle.  The stitches are marginally larger and in theory are going to be subject to more abrasion, but in the year or so since I started using them I haven't had even a hint of a hole.  Go squares!

The sock with a hole

Speaking of holes...

Ugh, so painful.  It's got to be a moth hole really but there's just no evidence anywhere else of moth activity so I don't know.  Maybe it got caught in something?

I have to stop being bewildered and just mend the thing, which will be easier now since I got this sock all the way through its toe last night.  Once I've worked some Kitchener magic on the live stitches, what's left of the yarn will be free for the purpose.  Wish me luck and I promise to show you the patch later, if it's not too hideous (or maybe even if it is, because bwa ha ha ha evil Mary.)

For now: have a wonderful rest of the day and drive safe if you're going anywhere!  I'll see you tomorrow with part one of some yummy weekend-y knitting stuff.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

10 things: gift knitting edition

With all the mayhem and cold, wool-friendly temperatures that November and December bring to this side of the world, I'm pretty sure all of we knitters are feeling a bit stretched.  Let me know if any of this stuff rings a bell...

1. I know I'm supposed to be knitting presents, but I accidentally left my spinning wheel out (with the band thingy off so it doesn't stretch out) after the last time I had a chance to use it - in September

So in the midst of some distress the other day, I kind of caved.

Literally just kicked off my boots and sat down. I love spinning so much - and it's true that it really calms you down!

2. Doesn't help that I got this in the mail from the Twisted Fiber Art 'Downton Abbey' club...

... it's a silk blend, and - you know, mostly purple.  Even though I discovered I have a ton of Blue-Face Leicester fiber from earlier clubs, I think I might have to spin this first, assuming I ever finish the Stoddart sock stuff.

3. Timewaster alert: Been reading about Toronto in the news lately, or hearing about an unfortunately prominent resident on every. comedy. show. in the US?  Well, try living here. 

The other day I realized I was losing up to two hours of creative time every day just combing through the profusion of news stories, hoping against hope to find one that announced a criminal charge or a voluntary resignation or, ideally, both.  Computers: a crafty person's best friend and worst enemy.

4. I spent Sunday's gift knitting time illogically, by reviewing the problem that stopped me working on any of the three pairs of socks I started knitting in the spring. 

At first I thought there was one: not knowing exactly how far to knit before starting the toe.  Then I remembered there was a second: none of the needles I was testing are any fun to knit with long term.  And then I discovered a THIRD - a hole in one sock's leg, near the cuff! 

It's as though a moth chewed through the yarn of two stitches, one above the other, but I couldn't find any other evidence of Moth and I dimly remember an accident with scissors that I may have blocked out, but that might be wishful thinking.  Anyway I'm not posting a picture of the hole today because it's still freaking me out.  Maybe when the rest of the socks is done and I figure out how to darn it because I am not ripping out an entire foot, heel, and leg to get back to round 10 of a sock.

5. One evening last week I thought I'd avoid the computer, and just sit with an audiobook and work on Wayson's brown cowl because the fabric I'm making feels so nice in my hands.  Almost immediately I realized I had been asleep for several stitches, and a short time after that I noticed the audiobook was a whole chapter ahead of where I'd consciously left off. I don't seem to have knit during the second nap though.  I'll have to find elves to make that sort of thing happen I guess, or stay awake more.

6. Lately I've been thinking about Twitter, mostly because I keep reading about it.  It seems to me the good tweets are the ones that are funny, or news update-y.  What do you look for in a good tweet?  Maybe the best tweet of all is the one you don't read because you are gift knitting.

7. It's really cold out and I'm really grateful to have lots of warm, mohair blend, boot-weight socks to wear, but I can't help thinking of the four pairs (four!) I knit in the summer that still need their ends run in before they can make themselves useful.  I'm focusing instead on the three I already have and on wearing them in swift, laundry-fueled rotation so as not to put aside any more gift knitting.

8. Yesterday I wore (among other things) a short skirt and leggings to run errands all over the place on public transit, and in spite of the current cold snap I was plenty warm enough because I also had my black wool legwarmers pulled up over my knees.  This does not seem possible. But it does make me want to finish off the bottom cuff of my bright stripey legwarmers.

9. Finishing more knits for myself is no way to finish the gift knitting.

10.  I looked at the calendar:  as of this morning, there are really only 3 more viable weeks in which to finish my personal gift knitting, and I'm pretty sure I just spent several days looking at unfinished socks and falling asleep over a cowl that isn't even for Christmas.  Good thing I caught two of the three episodes of The Bletchley Circle the other night because that show netted me a couple of inches of gift sock.

10 things! and here's an 11th - I'm going to shut down the computer now and not look at it again for at least three hours so I can get something productive done* on my day off.  Wish me luck and I'll see you tomorrow.

* and by productive, I don't mean laundry or dishes or general cleaning tasks.  Naps count though because yay, sleep!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Aspirational vs actual knitting

The photographs on the Churchmouse Yarns and Teas online shop finally did me in:

I just had to order something*, and MAN, even the way my choices were wrapped for shipping was special.

The best part is, I know that when I'm using these tools I will feel the same sense of capability and good order I did when I first saw them.  That feeling - the one where you can most easily believe you're making your life better - is such an important part of knitting for me (even though, if I'm objective about it, it mostly seems that I'm making my house messier.)
Something I think is especially nice about knitting is that whole 'achievable' part.  Aspirational marketing is everywhere, but those pretty photographs and tidy welcoming spaces in yarn shops are not a trick.  To be more specific: buying an expensive watch isn't going to turn you into the model you see wearing it in the ad.  Buying the right yarn and blocking tools and choosing a pattern that matches your knitting ability - or something within reach of it - will net you something quite charming.

For proof, check out some project photographs for the Churchmouse dishcloth pattern.

Where I personally fall down is in the context - the space in which I'm working yarn magic.  Maybe you can relate?

You can tell from the Churchmouse website pictures that everything from the tools to the yarns to the space itself has been set up with style.  Some yarn shops - equally charming in their way of course - stock everything, and the racks of tools are a jumble of colour and sizes and shapes.  Churchmousey ones suggest they've been curated, with tools selected for the way they look and feel in your hands as well as the way they perform, like for example that gauge ruler I bought, which was custom made for the shop.  Stitch is like that too - that's my favourite local yarn and fabric shop, in Jordan Village in the Niagara region of Southern Ontario.

Dream. Eee.

My house?  it's more like the jumble option.  (especially my desk, which as I type this has just enough space for my forearms to rest in front of the keyboard, and is otherwise crammed with yarn and project bags and notes and other bits and pieces.  There's barely room for a mug of tea, even. Did I mention I seem to be making a mess instead of a simpler life?)

Fortunately, replicating context is never quite as important to me as the feel of the tools and the yarn or the fabric in my hand.  And goodness in that department is very achievable indeed.

How about you?  Does the dream of the life that goes with a photograph draw you to cast on the project it's promoting?  Or are you more about the end result, or the colours or the fibers or any of the zillion other gorgeousnesses of yarn and sticks?

* in case you are wondering what I bought there as well as the ruler - there's a very simple closed shawl pin because I can never get my shawls to stay shut and I move around too much to manage one of those stick closure kinds, and some new stitch markers because the lady who makes the very favourites ones I love so much to use seems to not make them any more and I've lost a few since I bought my original supply.  Also some other things, but for some reason not any of the wool fat soap.  I might have to go back and correct that oversight because YUM.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Knitting the handspun hat

There is no getting around it: I have found my perfect dream hat.

And I'm giving it away to somebody else.

Urg, it is SUCH a wrench to do this.  But it matches the cowl I made for Heather and after all, it's not like I need another hat even if it is perfect.  Probably what's killing me is knowing that I can never make another exactly like it because it's made with yarn I spun myself  and I never manage the same weight for more than three yards at a time.

The hat is perfect partly because of the shaping, which I finally got to exactly what I like - snug around the outer edge, fuller around the head to trap more heat or tuck in some hair, and long enough not to pop up over a coat collar.  I've knit many hats that hit some of these points with precision, but never all of them at once.

This is me pretending I get to keep the hat

Mostly though it's the fabric.  This is made with Blue-Faced Leicester wool and I'm really starting to think it's my favourite of all fibers.  It's just got so much bounce! and it feels so lush in your hand, and there's even a bit of sheen in some of the hairs that makes the finished product look irresistible.  Plus: it's warm.

The day I bought this fiber, I also bought some Polwarth wool fiber dyed in a colour that's better on me - green.  Because I spun this fiber around the same time with the same settings on the wheel, it's a similar weight, and I love Polwarth too so in theory a hat out of this should be a good consolation prize.

But it does feel very, very different - even Pete, who for some reason doesn't engage in hours spent examining and admiring different fibers and colour combinations, could tell immediately there was no comparison at all.  Heather's hat is just better than mine could ever be.

And that's why I'm handing it over this weekend.  If I keep it in this house much longer there's an awfully good risk she won't get it at all!

Hope your weekend is wonderful and I'll see you again on Monday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Random acts of knitting

I know this looks like another drop stitch cowl, but actually it's something quite different:

It's a random act of kindness, on behalf of one of Pete's uncles who passed away earlier this month.

Jerry was always doing nice things for people, and in fact was so busy doing that over the last couple of years he missed checking to see why he was having all sorts of odd symptoms and pain.  His family had him for a little more than two weeks after he finally took the time to find out what was wrong.  In lieu of flowers or donations, his children asked for random acts of kindness and this is mine.

(I reserve the right to commit more of them in the future, but you know what a selfish knitter I am, so we'll see.)

One thing that Jerry did for me was SO much more huge than he may have known.  See, it's a weird thing, but Pete's parents both grew up pretty near the town where I went to high school, so even though I didn't meet Pete until I was in my 20s and old university friends introduced us, I knew quite a few of his relatives for much longer than that.

Jerry and another of his brothers and their wonderful wives both lived in that town, and because they were all very active in the same church we went to then, they heard from the parish priest last summer when we were gathering for our own sad burial back there.  I was so distraught at the time it never occurred to me to call them, but sure enough - Jerry and his wife and his brother's widow came walking along the curve of the road just as we were gathering around my family's grave.  They'd known my parents of course, and they love Pete, but I knew they were there for me.

And it helped a lot to have them there - I had no idea how much it would then and still does today.

So when I very randomly got the idea to knit a cowl for somebody who's having a sad time, and found out a few hours later that Jerry had died, I knew this was something I was doing for him as much as for my friend.

The yarn is handspun made from a gorgeous bamboo blend I bought at the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter's Fair a couple of years ago. I chose it for the colour, and the softness, and the renewable aspects of bamboo that just feel special to me.  Plus, obviously, the fact that I'd spun it myself, which seems important in a situation like this.

As always: it looks so great in drop stitch.

It was incongruously cheerful to knit, and I love the way it came out, and I think Leslie liked it, so - in all, a good demonstration of the power of knitting.  

I hope you're able to use your knitting for good today, even if it seems as small as just feeling nice in your hands!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Seasonal knitting

There has been a surprising amount of progress on the Christmas Knitting front here at Hugs.

Surprising because I've been distracted by pretty much any shiny thing that crosses my field of vision.  Like for example this shawl-collared cowl that Lynn told me about the other day, by Alana Dakos.  (I am not knitting it though.  truly.)

The reason is that I've set my heart on gifting two pairs of handknit socks.  They are the nicest, kindest, most generous and definitely the most uncalled-for gifts I can possibly make this year and I figured out a long time ago: the only thing that gives me the most remote shot at a good Christmas is this sort of self-sacrifice through making.

(Boxing Day is another story: that day is MY day, and always features me on the sofa knitting and watching movies and eating chocolate and maybe reading.  All day.  No work allowed, unlike all my other 'days off' over the rest of the year.)

They are destined for the SockZombies - with the caveat that they give them back to me when they outgrow them at the end of the season, since we currently take the same size.

(I explained this deal to somebody I don't know the other day when she asked about what I was knitting, and she said, with such compassion for my plight, "Oh, don't hide your generosity behind your selfishness!" I still find this hilarious.)

Because there is absolutely no obligation for me to knit anything for them and because they are SockZombies and because I am putting myself through miles of ribbing just to make sure they will fit their skinny legs and not fall down, they will be amazed.  Assuming they don't get anywhere near Hugs for the next month or so - yes, I live dangerously, and yes, that's why this post started off with a picture of poinsettias.

But as Trish can attest, there is absolutely nothing more boring than endless socks, and especially endless ribbing.  So the fact that I am already two thirds of the way through the legs of two of these socks is amazing!

The other two socks aren't showing such dramatic progress:

And they look a bit wonky too.  Still: I'm happy.  These two are on shorter needles to fit in my purse, allowing me to zip through few rounds while I'm waiting for something or sitting on the subway.  Judging by the advances on the at-home socks, I'll be swapping needles when I get the at-home socks over their heels, to even out the progress.  I can get away with having one sock done for each SockZombie, but I don't want the second socks hanging over me on my precious Boxing Day so I'm still going to try to pull all four socks off at once.

Wish me luck, and good luck to you with your gift knitting too!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why bother handspinning your yarn? Exhibit A

Check out the colour gradations you get when you work with yarn handspun from dyed fiber:

This is one of the things that keep me spinning yarn even though I'm still so very unpolished about it - apart from how addictive the process is, of course.  You just can't get yarn that looks like this any other way.  Also, in this particular form, it's incredibly dense and squishy - not sure whether you can see the bit of shadow between the side of it and the arm of the chair it's on, but it's got so much air spun into it it's practically a pillow.

A note on fiber: this was hunk of Blue Faced Leicester wool from Briar Rose. 

Having been through the entire experience now of choosing Briar Rose fiber, spinning it, blocking it, and knitting with it, I would buy more in a heartbeat.  (hey, I told you I'm an enabler! and yes, that link is to the online store.)

I used my Magical Cowl recipe for Heather's new cowl, and because this handspun yarn was about the same weight as my original Polworth version, I was able to make it the same way again with the addition of just six more stitches.  Oh, and a LOT of inches.  The final length was almost 9.5" long.

As before, the bottom features a flat knit with that's split at the shoulders so you're protected from wind whipping down the front or back of your coat.  At the top, the generous length means Heather can pull it up over her nose if it's really cold and gusty, which unfortunately happens a lot in winter in Toronto (though a good deal more in Ottawa, and I don't even want to think what people go through in Winnipeg and points further west.)  Or she can fold it down like a turtleneck.

The ribbing is intended to hold the wool close and warm, but I worried that it would be too itchy until after the steam blocking (there wasn't time for wet blocking, but steam is good too.)  It was amazing how that process softened and relaxed the fibers again, and when she tried it on she said it didn't itch at all.

Also: it's pretty much just ribbing, and completely reversible.

I love this cowl so much.  But not as much as I love the matching hat, which is still living dangerously inside my house.  I'll have to block it today, and we'll have to go back to see Heather this weekend to hand it over because there is such a colossal risk I might try to keep it!  I'm trying to distract myself from such ideas by working on Christmas Socks today, so please send good thoughts.

Probably you are working away on gift knitting too, so please accept my own best wishes for you not to love any of it too too much, and I will see you again tomorrow.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Saturday knitting

Some days it's better to dwell on the day you just had, and this is one of them.  It's Monday, it's cold and grey and windy, and it's got a dental appointment in it - plus, I'm pretty sure I saw some rain starting a second ago.  But Saturday?  whoa.  Saturday was sunny and mild and still.

I was knitting a cowl that isn't for Christmas (naturally) and it was going along super nicely.

This yarn was handspun by me a long while back, and the colour is the only one I had that will suit Heather, for whom I wanted to make something she could pull up over her mouth and nose in January and February to warm the air before she breathes it in.  I know the stretch of brrrr she has to cross to get from her new place to the commuter train, and if it were me, I would want this cowl.

(in fact, I want this cowl anyway - you know how hard it is for me to give stuff away.)

The only thing that was less than ideal about Saturday was the fact that these are the last knitting pictures I will ever be able to take on the ol' two-seater chair.

Yeah.  Pete picked it up to move it up onto the porch for the winter and one side just fell off, rotted right through.  We knew it was coming, but I was so sure we'd get another year out of this thing, it still came as a surprise.

Meanwhile, Blue was stalking the street.  Blue is one of two kittens who live - nominally - a few doors down.  She and her sister Jersey are out most days, wandering into people's houses and even refrigerators if we're not careful, and being made a fuss over by everybody.

Here is Blue, trying to persuade me to come outside to take her picture, so she could slip in the door while I was slipping out.

When didn't work, she decided the driveway was better, only to be scooped up by a nearby preschooler and carried off to his house.  Ha!  I won that round, Blue.

Here is a distant shot of Jersey, who came by later but didn't like the sound of Pete breaking up that chair.

After lunch Pete realized it was the perfect day to get several errands done near the restaurant where Heather works, so I finished the cowl, steam blocked it for speed, and we headed out for dinner.  Except none of my urgent Christmas knitting came with me because...

... there was enough handspun left for a matching hat.  

Ahhh Saturday, I wish you could go on forever.

Instead it's Monday, so if you'll excuse me I have to put on another sweater and get to work - the 'leisure' part of which, for the first time in a few days, will focus entirely on Christmas Sock.  yay, it's sensible Mary time! and not a moment too soon either.

Have a great day, sensible or otherwise, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How now, brown cow(l): the irresponsible knitter

When faced with looming deadlines you almost certainly can't make, it's important to jettison anything that isn't absolutely necessary...

...and then sneak in something you don't need to do at all but just feel like spending time on.

That's Wayson's cowl up there.  It's not a Christmas present but sort of a cold-weather present, which means January would also be fine.  In fact it would be especially fine because unlike my other cowl projects, the stitch on this one is a little bit slow to work.

On the other hand, it's a really simple stitch that produces a lot of texture and won't fold over - so many cowls do end up folding up on themselves and while that feature can look fine on a woman, it takes quite a man to carry it off. 

And I wanted to write up the pattern as a little gift to you guys, in time before Christmas to be a help to you if you were looking for such a thing for somebody on your list.

So: in between socks, I'm sneaking in stitches on Wayson's brown cowl.  And the farther I go, the more I am enjoying it, because the yarn (Twisted Fiber Art Duchess, a DK weight superwash wool, knit at a pretty loose gauge) is getting softer and softer with every inch.  The knit-purl texture makes holding it as I knit feel increasingly like petting a super soft poodle that's just out of the groomer's.

(I'm not going to be calling it the Poodle Cowl though.)

(and also, it's not the only non-Christmas cowl I'm planning to work on in the next couple of days.)

(I am going to be in lots of trouble making the sock deadlines, aren't I.)

I hope you are going to be working on some irresponsible things this weekend too and I will see you again on Monday!  With, hopefully, a much more sensible outlook on my knitting because OMIGOSH, November is already halfway done.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Knitter's math

Time to look at some colourful new sock yarn:

The two on the right are for the must-have pairs of socks on my Christmas list.  Since I took that picture, I've caked them and cast them on.

And that makes it time for another round of Knitter's Math: yay!

You know what I'm talking about, right?  It starts by timing yourself, and before you know it you need a calculator.

1 round = 4 minutes
90 rounds = 360 minutes
360 minutes = 6 hours
6 hours x 4 sock legs = 24 hours

estimated time for sock from heel to toe: 7 hours
7 x 4 sock feet - 28 hours

28 hours sock foot + 24 hours sock leg = 52 hours


(break for coffee, especially if you don't drink coffee)

(deep breathing)

5 weeks = 35 days
52 hours divided by 35 days = almost 2 hours per day


(wait, weren't there other things on that Christmas list that need making?)

52 hours divided by two socks = 26 hours
26 hours divided by 35 days = maybe 1 hour per day

Math complete,
conclusion drawn:
2 socks wrapped, 1 for each recipient, promissory note written
2 socks saved for leisure knitting during the holiday.

Sigh.  Remind me again why this was such a good idea?

Oh right.  Fair enough.

So I guess I'm knitting today - what about you?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fingerless gloves vs handwarmers

Have you ever knit handwarmers?  I've knit a lot of them, but every time I finish a pair I think - man, these could really use some actual fingers.

Last spring I decided it was time to learn how to do that...

and within an embarrassingly short time I decided it was too complicated for me...

and then two nights ago - yes, right after making a ridiculous Christmas knitting list that will require 120% dedication and focus for the next 5 weeks - I decided it was time to figure it out and finish already.

(in my defense, I desperately needed the needles these gloves were on in order to get the list's two essential pairs of socks underway.)

This was my equipment.

1/ the gloves
2/ lots of scrap yarn
3/ scissors
4/ darning needles
5/ audiobook (now playing: The Eighty Dollar Champion, which is excellent.)

After several hours and lots of fussing, I got both gloves up to a complete index finger.

Hello start of a glove!

I could stop here and leave you with a happy ending - as you can see, there are no needles anywhere in these things now, so I've made major progress - but no.  Because as soon as I got this far I was forced to accept a sad truth: I don't like the fingers.  They are a pain to knit, they are not as comfy as I thought, and worst of all, where an open end leaves my fingers looking all elongated and starvy-arty, an actual finger pocket just makes them look stubby.


I'm going ahead with all the fingers on this pair as a cautionary tale for the next time I think fingers are better... but when they're done?  I'm knitting open ones for Richard, to go with his cowl.

(okay, probably I'll be doing that after I have the essential socks done: I'm crazy, but not that crazy.)

And now, with best wishes for you not to be at all crazy with regard to your personal pile of knitting, I will wish you a very good day and go tackle the next thing.  See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Setting a knitting schedule

If life was organized my way, we would just knit what we want when we want to and not worry about silly things like meals or commitments and all that stuff.  Sadly, for some reason I still haven't been named the person in charge of all that.

My compromise, as it occurs to me that something happens every year rather soon after the leaves turn:

a list of what I really have to knit for Christmas presents, with the understanding that I will be branching off in many other fruitful directions as I please.

(Okay, I realize that a photo of autumn leaves is a bit of a stretch to illustrate the idea of a list, but the other morning I caught some amazing pictures of the neighbourhood's trees catching the bright light of sunrise and I thought you might like them.  Even though they are not knitting.)

So here's what my dream list amounts to, more or less:

about a dozen cowls (I no longer care if people want them; I want to knit them)

a woven scarf

some handpspinning, for the cowls

3 or 4 pairs of socks

2 pairs of handwarmers (because I want to finish mine, and Richard expressed interest in a pair after he put on his cowl yesterday.  in other news, the cowl looked fabulous on him and he liked it. yay!)

And now, the math

If each cowl takes a day: 12 days
weaving, another day: 1 day
handspinning: 4 days maybe
2 pairs of socks for sure: 14 days at full tilt

Is that 31 days? I think that's 31 days but I'm not going to count again in case it's actually more.

And it's November 12th today, which mean I have 43 days if I end up knitting straight through to Christmas day, which is usually true.  I think a 12 day buffer is pretty good, don't you?  Or maybe 10 days, since I'll need to do the annual neighbourhood shortbread frenzy as well.

If I end up not needing the 10 day buffer, I can probably finish the two pairs of handwarmers too.

Plausible, do you think? 

Sure you do - you're knitters too, and we live to overcommit.

Let's look at some more leaf pictures while you draw up your own list and then we can sing LA LA LA I can't hear you to our inner logicians.

There now, don't all those trees make the KnitFrenzy feel all hopeful and realistic?  I thought so.  Have a lovely day, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Stealth progress: sock knitting edition

I wonder whether you've ever knit away on something - almost absent-mindedly, and only for a few minutes every day or two - and then suddenly noticed it's almost all grown up?

Because on Friday, I spotted something interesting about the socks I take turns keeping in my purse.  And with just an hour or two of dedicated, intentional knitting, I suddenly had this:

A pair of sock legs, both of them nicely onto their heel flaps.

The nice thing about top down socks for smallish feet is that once you're done the leg, there's not a lot left to worry about.  After the tedium of a plain leg, heels feel like you're inventing something a lot more exciting and delicious than sliced bread.  After that the gusset offers the rewards of two fewer stitches every other round, and by the time you're starting to get bored of plain old foot knitting, you're onto the toe.

Yay, stealth progress!

Even the sun wanted to shine on these things.  I'm beaming at them myself.

Also, a little curious as to what is going to be my travel knitting until after I get the gussets well in hand, because every time I try to take something this porcupiney out of the house I lose a needle, and these ones are not replaceable.

Maybe I should start another cowl?

(Ha!  You know I already did.)

Hope you had a super productive weekend and I'll see you tomorrow!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Alpaca blend yarn festings

I bought this yarn the other night because it's so very purple, and am dwelling on the fact that it's composed of alpaca and bamboo.

Alpaca and bamboo?

Backstory: I was at The Royal Winter Fair.  A bunch of us go for a variety of reasons (Nana's Kettle Corn, Butter Sculptures, Cows, Horses, and Tiny Tom Donuts among others) and the one place I have to stop every year is the Meadowview Alpaca Farm booth.  That link will take you directly to their yarn shop, by the way, because I am the world's worst yarn enabler.

I've gotten amazing boot weight sock yarn from their booth in the past and knit even more amazing socks with it, so I never like to miss a chance, but this year the colours I liked were all a lighter weight and I made myself say No.  I still haven't knit last year's boot weight, after all.  Plus I can always order online if I find I regret that decision too horribly.

Sidestory: omigosh the lambs this year at the Fair.  They were soooo perfectly shorn and immaculately clean, like the ones that jump over fences as you fall asleep, or the ones you buy in Jellycat stuffed-animal form and hug as you fall asleep.  (actually I don't think Jellycat makes baby sheep this cute.  Get on that, Jellycat.)

Mainstory again: alpaca and bamboo??

The first thing I know about alpaca is that it's super soft, and super warm.  Also, that it can absorb a lot of water before you feel wet.  And finally, that it has no elasticity.  Bonus knowledge: it is a real drag to rip out in knitted form because it sticks to itself, and it is such a bad idea to weave with if you're setting up the loom with it instead of using it for back-and-forth, because it will break.  Guaranteed.

Bamboo has antibacterial properties and is immensely renewable - although the process of making it into fiber is not always environmentally delightful.  It's not very warm which makes it a great choice for summer weight socks.  And it's got no elasticity.

So why pair alpaca and bamboo?  Sheer novelty value?

I've been into my reference books and here's what I think.

Alpaca gets very heavy very quickly and this particular bit of yarn has been spun to be a very heavy weight yarn indeed: it's Lopi.  Bamboo on the other hand is airy.  It may be that the idea is to produce a yarn that will drape, instead of droop.

What do you think?

And don't bother thinking about what on earth I will use it for.  We all know the answer to that, right?

(drop stitch cowl, drop stitch cowl, drop stitch cowl...)

Meet Plony

Okay, I admit - it wasn't just that the colours and weights didn't coincide nicely for me this year.  While I was supposed to be looking at sock yarn I noticed this puffy thing just below all of that, resting on a pile of alpaca knits.

It was so fluffy I had to touch it, and having touched it, I had to take a closer look.

Hello Plony!  (I am not responsible for this name, I don't think.  It sort of happened in the car on the way out of the Fair and it seems to be sticking.)

This has to be the first time I've taken a picture of something soft and not had to say I'm sorry you can't reach through your screen to see what I mean by 'soft'.  The 100% alpaca softness shows, doesn't it.

That said, I'm not sure how Plony fits into my personal menagerie here.  He looks a little demented and he's not actually cuddly, being at core a wire frame rather than anything Pillow.  But omigosh:


Okay, it's time for me to go and be a productive member of society, for a few hours anyway.  I hope your weekend has something soft in it too, or at least something nicely new to you, like alpaca with bamboo, and I'll see you again Monday!

Turns out you can get your own Plony.  Or Alpaca, or little tiny Bear.  You're so welcome, ahem.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The beauty of the drop stitch cowl

I don't know whether you ever get hooked on a particular stitch, but right now I find myself immersed in the many possible variations of Abi Gregorio's Drop Stitch Cowl.

It's a really simple pattern - I've seen it repeated in lots of places - and even though it's written for super bulky yarn it's not hard to adapt it to any weight you have handy.

Service Announcement on How to Do That

Knit up a quick gauge swatch with your preferred yarn (allow about 110 grams of any weight for a 23" wide cowl) and needles

Count how many stitches it's taking you to get an inch

Multiply that by the number of inches you're after - somewhere between 20 and 24 is good, or close to double that if you want to wrap it

Go up or down one stitch if necessary to get an even number

Cast on that even number and trust that your yarn will hold out for as long as you want the cowl to be and

Get knitting!

If you make this cowl pretty roomy, it's okay if you don't use the softest yarn in the world;  it's very effective as a warm textured necklace over the collar of a blouse or even a turtleneck.

And this stitch?  It's such a great showcase for yarn.

It doesn't look like much before you block it...


but afterward is another story.

In a solid, you notice the stitch.

In a stripey yarn, you maximize the impact of the stripe while introducing a ton of texture. 

I mean, you've got all the little waves of garter stitch, and the horizontal bands the garter stitch creates, and the smooth vertical lines of the drop stitch too.

And, after you've blocked it - in a handspun yarn, WOWZA.

There are situations where it wouldn't work - a drop stitch hat would be pretty chilly I think, and a drop stitch shawl would catch on everything.  Let's not even think about the cartoonish drop stitch socks that just popped into my head - those are crazypants.  But a cowl?  So awesome.

And so fast!  Four to six hours, and you've not only got somebody's gift done, you've emptied out some serious stash just in time for somebody to put yarn presents under your tree or beside your cake.  It's like a magical pattern from a distant fairy-tale land or something.

Overall: I find the drop stitch cowl just... super addictive.

Do you have a favourite stitch or pattern to share?