Monday, March 31, 2014

Step away from the knitting

Long post alert! but with pictures and a Very Important Message, so - yay.  Ready?

Because we will be talking today about carnivorous knitting.  Non-knitters don't really get this, because from the outside it looks so peaceful and passive, but we crafty types know there are a lot more hazards in knitting than just very sharp needles.

sock knitting
Very sharp and pointy needles that no person in their right mind wants to go near, unless they are us.

Knitting is one of those insidious exercises that leads fairly quickly to accumulated supplies and hours spent with our hands full of fiber instead of, say, laundry or spreadsheets.

For example - even with the powerful addition of weaving to my arsenal, plus the Amazing Knitting Planner, I am barely making a dent in the yarn that's tucked away here.  (not buying new yarn is probably the best answer to that problem, but let's not go there.)  I know my yarn stash is not the largest in town, so I'm pretty sure this particular issue is universal among knitters who have strayed from the 'supplies for one project at at time until finished, then shop for a new project' path.

hand dyed sock yarn
Small-batch yarn: it's irresistible

Actually, I had a really interesting (to me, probably not to him) conversation about this with Leslie's husband, who happened to be in town last week, sadly without her.  He remarked on the way this business of yarn dyed in small batches, but appealing to people in very large batches indeed, runs contrary to the approach of businesses who want to grow grow grow, but works anyway.  And this made me notice a truth about our spreading yarn stashes.

Before artist's yarn:
not only did yarn used to be boring, its boring colours and fiber contents were widely available in yarn shops and department stores.  you never bought more than you needed for a given project, because you could always get what you needed for the next one, when the next one was ready to go.

After artist's yarn:
if you fall in love with a yarn, never mind what you're going to use it for, if anything: BUY IT NOW.  because otherwise it will be gone and you will have lost your chance forever.

hello, knitters swimming through yarn to get to the phone or the front door.

Also, when we aren't feeling all gleeful and stuff about all that stashed yarn, we are at risk of feeling a bit guilty and/or overwhelmed by the fact that we will never, ever knit it all, no matter how much it deserves to be knit.

Possibly worse for our living spaces than a growing yarn stash is the time we don't spend on other things because we're knitting.  I don't know about you, but I see knitting as an excellent opportunity to multitask and feel very proud of the fact that I can learn all about things aired in documentaries on TV, or travel to my destination, while making a sock.  Focusing on that makes it so much easier to overlook dust and filing and other distractions that can't be paired with simultaneous knitting, said Mary, whose backup kitchen counter is currently about 1" deep in papers that need to be put away somewhere or other.

And then there's the whole Writing A Blog experience, a hole into which many an unsuspecting knitter has dropped, never to be seen again.

handknit socks

The Writing A Blog Experience

A lot of people mark the anniversary of the day they started their blogs, which makes me feel like I missed something in early February when Hugs turned five.  Yep!  That's five whole years of five posts a week, with only a few short breaks here and there for emergencies.

Some people come for those posts specifically (you know who you are, and I thank you for helping me seem marginally less crazypants for putting in all this time on an effectively unfunded website) and some people come for the many patterns I seem to have written (and I thank them too, because quite a lot of them send me really kind and encouraging messages about said patterns.)

Writing all those posts isn't a hardship for me because a/ I am chatty and b/ I am a writer and this is how I warm up every day.  But sometimes it occurs to me that if I wasn't putting an hour or two out of every twenty-four into prepping material for Hugs, I might not be as far behind on other things.  The thought of this usually leads to the idea that I might perhaps scale back, and without exception, on the day that idea begins to take serious hold I get a particularly nice e-mail or comment from somebody who really, really enjoys my posts or my patterns or both.  So I keep going.

But... I'm thinking this is a good time to change things up a bit. 

This sock is in shock.  Socks get knit with such regularity here, the thought of 'change' is not reassuring.

Changing Things Up Doesn't Mean Stopping

These five-plus years of Hugs have coincided with five-plus years of me pretty much not writing any novels, which is the one activity that makes me happier than knitting, except it's not as portable and pick-up-and-put-down-able and flexible about how many people are in the room talking at you while you work.  But lately... I have been writing again, and it's going well, which means I'm having to dip into all the other buckets to keep the momentum going.

And the biggest bucket of all is the time I spend just knitting.

So: I have stepped away from (some of) the knitting.

And: I therefore have less knitting as a subject for cute photographs.

Which Means: This blog is gonna get awful dull.

which I think would be very sad, don't you?  assuming you don't find endless sock photographs awful dull already.

The Exciting Solution To This Perplexing Problem

Starting now, I will be posting hopefully not-dull things at Hugs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

And I am introducing Twitter Tuesdays and Twitter Thursdays.  Yep, I am dusting off my Twitter account, and on those two days I'll be trying out something that could be silly and fun, or completely humiliating.  Feel free to let me know if it's the latter so as to save me from myself - though preferably not on Twitter - should you decide to stop by to check it out: I am @marykeenanknits.

And in between all of that I am going to go through my stash again and be really, superhugely realistic about how much of it I can knit.

In Conclusion

I'm sure you understand that knitting less does not mean not knitting at all.  I mean, none of us want my head to go exploding.  Also, I still have to weave the monthly scarf, though I will tell you right now the March Scarf is going to be the March/April Scarf because I did say laceweight, right? 

The key is going to be not getting all obsessive about some new and complex project.  So in preparation, as one who packs for a long arduous journey, I've cast on two new pairs of socks for easy pick up-put down knitting.  And tested them to make sure they work, ahem.

I hope you don't mind the change too much.

And if you don't come to see me on Twitter tomorrow, I hope to see you here again on Wednesday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Weaving the March scarf

For my March scarf, I had planned to handspin some fiber and use it to weave another evolution-style beauty, but the fiber had a lot of black and grey in it and so does the sky most of the time these days, so I set up the loom with Something Else.

In theory this was a good idea, but on the other hand... this much more colourful yarn (Ember, by Twisted Fiber Art) is fingering weight.

weaving, table loom

And the stuff I planned to weave onto it?  Laceweight cashmere I bought from Viola and then had to double up on my wheel when I realized laceweight is not something I will ever in a million years put onto needles for knitting.  Even doubled, it's still pretty much laceweight, though less like thread than before.

Seriously: after settign up more than enough yardage to make this scarf, I still have 55 grams left.

There is no escape.

Setting up a loom is, I'm finding, the most critical and time-consuming part of the whole process.   Pulling all those threads through the reed is my least favourite part, and there are so very many slots to fill on the size you need for such fine yarn.  GAH.

Ashford Knitter's Loom

But it does get done eventually, and I did have one compelling reason for getting this particular project out of the stash cupboard.


Can you see this?  Maybe the image is too small - you can click on it if you like, to make it bigger.  What I'd like you to notice is that the Viola (called Sea Storm - so perfect) matches the blue-grey bit of the Ember to perfection.  It is a completely and utterly dreamy colour, and it matches, and both yarns are stupendously soft.

The Ember has been in my stash for years, and I have more of it in a heavier weight which will be ideal for making a matching hat.  So: with that in mind - hardship in the making, plus colours I like, you can imagine how I felt when I got about here...


... and Pete wandered past, stopped short, and said Hey! I'd wear that scarf.

Seriously.  The man who made me promise I'd stop asking to make him anything, because he is not a handmade kind of guy and was tired of saying No Thank You all the time.  This is the man who wants the scarf I want for myself.

Sigh.  You know I'm going to let him wear it, too.


Okay: that's me for the week.  Have a wonderful weekend and I will see you again on Monday!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tired of winter, loving my spinning wheel

Breaking news: there are birds outside my window today.  I've been hearing them the last two mornings, and now I've seen  them, and I hope they know something I don't know because


I am so done with cold and snow and boots generally.  I don't know what it's like where you are, but probably you could use a good dose of the non-white bright stuff too:

handspun yarn

Whew.  Thank goodness for colourful yarns and fibers and fabrics and, also, paint and paper and all the other arty things.  Colour is just so reviving, don't you find?  Not quite enough to get me cheerfully through this winter, but enough to give me hope the darned thing will end.

spinning wheel

Oddly we've had a few days with skies as blue as this fiber (called Moxie, from Twisted Fiber Art), which would be cheery if they weren't so chilly.

As the cold days wear on, I find myself remembering Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, in which her family and all their neighbours nearly starve to death when the supply trains to their isolated town get stuck in the snow and can't get through to them.

What I remember the most - possibly inaccurately - is how they slept through as much of the time as possible, under piles of blankets to keep warm in the terrible weather.  I vote Yes! to that, only on the days I've tried it, I've also worn my hat and mittens.  And I still freeze.

Though my house is probably better insulated than Laura's was, the fact is the radiator under my desk doesn't work, and the window over my desk leaks cold air.  I feel like my nose is ice-cubey all the time, which would only be good if I were a dog, assuming that thing about a cold nose meaning a healthy canine is true.

spinning yarn

Away from my desk and tucked safely at the spinning wheel in a much warmer room, I have noticed only one drawback to this sort of leisure activity.  Which is, you don't move around a lot or generate much heat doing it.

Apart from making a very large blanket and draping a lot of it over your legs as you knit or crochet your way through, it's probably true that most crafty exercises aren't fabulous for keeping you warm.  Still, spinning is probably the least effective of all.  Unless of course you're using a walking wheel, because you actually stand up and walk with those.

Now there's a good idea!  And let's hope none of us needs to use it specifically for keeping warm next winter because yikes.  I don't think I could bear two in a row, unless in the second one nothing whatsoever went wrong in the house, as has been happening every week or so since January.

With the birds singing outside - their song perhaps translating to a plea to be let inside - I would just like to take a moment to say Thank You Wheel, for standing by me for the duration like a good friend should.

handspun yarn

And now it's time for me to go find a warmer sweater.

Take care of yourself and I'll see you tomorrow, okay?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Looking back: February weaving

Taking the last week of a month to celebrate a victory from the previous one can lead to a choice of two things.

weaving, handwoven scarf

1/ it can make you feel a complete failure for not getting anything similarly great done this month

2/ it can motivate you to achieve something even better in what few days remain.

And since I really feel the need to stick to my dream of weaving a scarf every month this year (except maybe in April because the schedule there is looking downright dire already) and am nowhere near finishing the one for March, I'm hoping for option two.

Here then is the February scarf:

handspun scarf

Which, as you may recall, got given away before it was even fully finished, along with the January scarf, which puts me not one bit closer to the dream of having some Christmas knits ready to go before the end of August.

twisted fiber art evolution scarf

As I wove this scarf, I was not overly excited about it.  Too preoccupied with trying to not mess up the sides, and too worried about getting it done at all before the month was out - two sorts of considerations that can ruin the fun of just about anything.

handspun yarn

Now, having taken some glamour shots, I'm quite impressed with it.  Probably it helped that it was a gusty day when I took these pictures, giving the scarf a chance to Do Its Stuff and be all drapey and flowy.

handspun scarf

In case you've forgotten how I tackled this one, I used a hardy sport weight solid yarn for the length and a coordinating handspun for drawing back and forth (I don't know why, I just really want to resist using the technical terms for these things.)  It's my first time trying handspun in a scarf and I'm so impressed with how it looks in the weave:

At this point in the scarf, the colours are very close to being the same, but just look at the change in texture with the handspun!  So cool.

And then there's the way the colour evolves over the length of the scarf, which is a little different from most scarves out there.  I think those two features make up for any imperfections in the actual execution, don't you?

Overall, I'm happy with it, and I almost wish I hadn't given it away already.  On the bright side, I have a TON more yarn stashed in this house, and a rather urgent need to turn it all into something functional.  So...

... I guess I'd better go polish off that March scarf, hadn't I?

Have a great day, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spinning yarn for a handknit hat

Special events are a perfect opportunity to show your love for somebody, and of course, handmade things are fantastic at doing that.  If you read Hugs, you probably make stuff like birthday or cheer-up or You're Wonderful presents all the time.  But do you ever do it for yourself?

I did, a few years ago.  A pair of socks (surprise!) and what made them special was that I set a target date for them to be done.  Seems like nothing, but every time I wear those socks now I feel loved.

So a few weeks ago, when I really did not think I could stand one more day of grueling, relentlessly cold and grey winter - clearly, I underestimated myself - I thought Yep, time to make myself something.  A hat.  Just for the beauty of something different to put on every morning for cryin' out loud.

I got this roving ('Foxhunt') in a Twisted Fiber Art club and though I didn't think of it before I got the gift idea, the colours are really perfect for me.

The greens match my eyes and my special Italian driving gloves, and the orangey bits will match my other special Italian driving gloves (ahem).  Plus, handspun hat!  My three girlfriends from school have hats from me, and I wanted one too.

Bonus matchy-ness: these colours look fabulous with my fingerless gloves, should I ever choose to wear the combo together.

There was some rushing involved, because there was a dreamy possibility that winter might end before I was done even with my due date.  I spun the four sets of singles early enough...

... although I have to admit that by the time I got to the fourth one I'd stopped caring whether I was filling the space neatly...

... but the plying happened just four days ahead.

Notice anything odd about these two?  Something not quite The Same?  Because I did.

SO much more barber pole in one than in the other.

But I had no time to fret about it because: weighing and skeining and also tying, lest it tangle up in its bath.

To say nothing of drying time.  Thankfully it was extremely cold out (so much for winter ending), the furnace in the house was kicking on all the time, and my air-dry laundry hangs in the room where the furnace lives and radiates pipe arms out all over the rest of the house.  So by the next morning, I was ready to cake and cast on.

Actually knitting the thing took hours though.

I used my Instant Love Hat pattern thinking I would be listening to a yummy audiobook for three hours tops, but I didn't get the shape I wanted at first so I fiddled with the timing of the increases, and then I thought it should be longer, and then I started missing individual decreases in the crown.  Eventually, at hour five, I put a ton of markers into the mix so I'd catch every K2tog.

After that it was smooth sailing (except for the part where I almost ran out of yarn, ahem.)  .

You'll have to hold on for the glamour shots and the end of this story but in the meantime, I sure hope you're thinking of something special you can give yourself next time you deserve a special treat.  Tiny knitting disasters aside, it's so much fun when you do!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Knit planner progress: February

Planners can so easily fall by the wayside if they don't perform well, but the knitting one I adopted seems to be working out very well indeed... so I've stuck with it.  Here is how February looked behind the scenes at Hugs.

February's work list

the fingers on a pair of fingerless gloves
3 pairs of socks (!!)

Started and finished:
2 more pairs of socks
the sample for the Instant Love Hat pattern
spinning for a gift hat (more on this soon)
spinning for a scarf
weaving said scarf
2 cute owls

February time tally

Although I pulled off 62 knitting/weaving/spinning hours in January, I didn't expect to do more than that in February and would have been happy with 31.  In fact, I found it particularly hard to work on the mandatory woven scarf project and left it to the very end of the month (hello again, guilt!)  Still, the total I got when I added up the projects I worked on turned out to be 77 hours.  SEVENTY-SEVEN.

This must have something to do with that statutory holiday and the day I spent knitting the 6-day socks but still.  Wowza!  And also: no wonder my house is such a mess.


The big question is: am I still on track to knit all the stuff I wanted to finish this year?  And it's a fair one too, because even though put in a lot more than the minimum 31 hours necessary to make it all happen, I also added in a lot of projects that weren't on the list at all.

Answer: yep.  I need to put in about six hours a week on essentials, and although I didn't do any more than those six, I didn't do less.

Still, there's no way I can keep up this pace and this many off-list knits, particularly since March has turned out to feature a lot of me obsessing about fingering-weight sock knitting - I'm sure you hadn't noticed that at all - whenever I'm not writing.  (and, to be realistic, for much of that writing time also.)  Still, fun to try!

Hope you have fun with your projects today, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Guilty knitting

All knitting is productive in some way, so there is no reason for any of it to produce guilt.

But these socks are managing just fine.

sock knitting

There are two reasons for that.  Let's open door number one.

This colour combo doesn't actually match anything I have.  Even this one scarf I wanted to take on holiday - some of the colours are right, but the greens (in person, trust me) are SO wrong.  Probably I will wear the two together anyway because there is an appreciable distance between my neck and my ankles, but given that the current sock priority is Socks That Match Scarves, this particular pair were supposed to be pretty low on the knit list.

Door number two is all about the purple.  The friend for whom I knit the purple neckwarmer at Christmas loves purple SO MUCH.

When we go Urban Hiking together - this is a much better way to look at 'shopping', by the way, implying as it does that there is exercise and time in the great outdoors going on, which is true if your destinations are not all connected within a mall - she will stop for anything that is purple.  In fact, she wears purple almost exclusively, and let me tell you, it is quite amazing to me how many things one can buy in this colour (that are not already-handknit socks.) 

Also: she takes my shoe size, which means she takes my sock size, and given how much we Urban Hike together and how well I know that handknit socks are better for hiking than anything you can buy I should totally be knitting her a pair of socks.

Did you notice?  Not just one, but two shades of purple.  Plus a blue that would totally go with jeans.

so. much. guilt.

Because you know I am not going to knit these socks and give them away, even to her.  Unlike Certain Readers (you know who you are) I just can't bring myself to give away a pair of Vespers.  I mean, Lannie has a pair from not quite four years ago, and doesn't that take care of my obligation for Vesper-related generosity?  No?

I don't really think so either.  So here is how I can live with myself:

1/ I am 99% sure my friend the Purple Monster would rather have a pair of socks that are just purple.

2/ She would probably much more love a nice pair of purple socks from Biscotte, whose gorgeous semisolid Felix yarn - in Lavendar, maybe? - is available all the time and not as a limited edition thing.

3/ Felix is a super fun yarn to knit with - so soft, and so lustrous.

There.  Pretty convincing, right?  Except I still feel guilty, which has led to superfast knitting even in improbable situations (dark movie theatres, by feel) and results that can't help but look like A Sign.

Yes.  After managing to get through all of the gusset decreases perfectly in the dark, I added a random stitch and put in a good 90+minutes of perfect movie knitting with it in place.  GAH.

and might I add, rip, rip, rip.

This looks better, doesn't it:

And this looks better still!

Okay: time to get back to our knitting - I wanna finish these babies and put them out of my mind.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.