Friday, November 28, 2014

Handspun for infinity

This week I revisited my handspun scarf - the scarf I made with the very first handspun yarn I produced when I was learning to use a spindle, whose dimensions vary so dramatically and abruptly as to be describable in no way other than 'Art Yarn'.

Art Yarn = Art Garment!

I'm a little bit sorry that I used Twisted Fiber Art's 'Netherfield' colourway to learn spinning, because I love these colours very much and would have loved even more to have a scarf made from it that is sort of conventional.  But this funny little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of a scarf is what I have, so I just kind of poke a toe at it occasionally and think, Well, I'll wear it sometime.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I brought this home.

It's an infinity scarf from a shop I especially enjoy.  I've never bothered to buy one before, I don't know why, but I loved the colours and plaid here and it was an inexpensive indulgence.  And when you do the double wrap, it's also super cute.

This got me thinking... so I found a little yarn that sort of blended into the Netherfield and got stitching.

And then I did the double wrap, to test whether the length works...

And then I slipped it over my head.

You can still tell it's totally crazy along the sides, but in infinity form - it doesn't look bad!

(still think it's time I bought some more Netherfield roving though, now that I know what I'm doing with a wheel.)

Hope you have a great weekend - you know how I'm spending mine!  (with a scraper and some wall-filler, prepping walls for paint...)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Making coffee cute, with knits

Pete's been bringing home Tim's every weekend for just about ever, but the last couple of weeks I've gone a bit swoon-y because look:

If you are reading this from a comfy chair in the U.S., you may be unfamiliar with Tim Hortons: this iconic Canadian chain of coffee shops is an integral part of most family road trips and hospital visits, morning or afternoon klatches for seniors, after game snacks for kids, weekend renovation projects, and Saturday morning crosswords.

And this winter, their cups are decorated with Christmas sweaters.  The cute!!

I love these designs so much...

Even though they kind of cheat and just superimpose the reindeers on the knit stitches.

In other news, Omigosh renovation.  What is it with Pete and me and fixer-uppers?

When we bought our tiny house, we breakfasted on Tim's coffee and Tim's donuts for several Saturday and Sunday mornings on the then-cement stoop.  You know, to shore us up for another day of cleaning and repairing and painting so the place was ready to accommodate our possessions, with results that would have had Mack Sennett taking notes.

(the most shocking job was also the easiest: removing the ivy that grew on the brick outside, in through a rotting window frame, and along a bedroom wall.)

The condo is nowhere near as rough as the house was, so Pete is sticking with the office while I do what needs doing on my own.  Which is mostly wallpaper removal and painting, fueled more by ham sandwiches than coffee and donuts.  And unlike the house, in whose garage we found a discarded album of wedding photos, the condo had been lived in for many years by a devoted couple who clearly enjoyed their home and were lavish with amazing paintings on every wall.  You can actually feel the happiness they left behind.

So... not a hardship to be there, washing down papered walls with an audiobook for company, and wondering how best to fit a tub into the less than 5' run of space in the master bath... which is currently tiled over, its drain location to be discovered after I get up the nerve to tackle the tile removal.

Just... kind of overwhelming at the point in the year when Tim's is already using Christmas cups. 

Isn't it lucky that chunky gift cowls only take a couple of hours to knit?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hatcowl: a free hat or cowl pattern

Every time my fingers type Hatcowl, my brain sees 'Howl' and I think of Howl's Moving Castle, in which - coincidentally - the heroine trims hats for her mother's shop.  This has absolutely nothing to do with today's pattern, so thank you for your patience.  And do check out Howl's Moving Castle if you haven't seen it.

Okay: Hatcowl!

Inspired by an alpaca-blend hat I had to make myself give away, this charming accessory is a glorified tube with a cable eyelet detail at one end and a drawstring at the other.

You can pull the drawstring tight to produce a hat, or open it up to produce a cowl (which means that you'll need a scarf and a beanie as backup to cover whichever part of you is likely to be left in the cold; sorry.)

When I tried on the original, I was struck by the flattering quality of this very basic structure.  See what I mean?

So cute!  And what a great vehicle for self-striping yarn - the number of stitches never changes, so the stripes don't either.

Because the cable eyelet design stands right at the beginning of the round, it's important to use the cast-on tail to conceal the little jog at the join. 

If that's not something you do well, check out my tutorial on that process, and the first comment that follows.

The cable eyelet stitch is a little more complicated than the rest, but not much if you take it stitch by stitch.  If you aren't comfortable with it, just skip that part of the instructions and jump straight to the ribbing.  Because who cares about the front when the back has so much flourish?

Sizing: I only offer one size in this pattern, but I used the stretchiest ribbing for the bottom for maximum size flexibility within it.  My head is 22" around and this hat, at 19" when resting, is very comfortable.  If your head is bigger than mine, use yarn that's mostly - or all - wool.  Maximum elasticity!

If you're totally in love with this colour combination by the way, I hate to tell you it's a club colourway from Twisted Fiber Art, I think from the winter of 2014: Big Bad Wolf.  If I see it come into regular circulation I will let you know, but trust me: there are tons of other amazing options at Twisted.  Or you can check your yarn stash for another sport-weight yarn.

Difficulty Level
Close to beginner, if you leave out the cable eyelet pattern and just knit ribbing throughout.  The pattern is knit in the round.  Increases and decreases are included and described, and the drawstring is braided by hand.


Twisted Fiber Art Playful (100% superwash merino, 300 yards/100 grams), 80g 
3.5mm 16” circular needle or size to obtain gauge
cable needle 
stitch marker

26 sts, 16 rows = 4” in stocking stitch
Finished Dimensions 
9.75" tall, 19” around

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gift ideas for the frantic knitter

This is that magical time of the year when stores decorate with festive looking greenery, and shelves fill with special foods for even special-er family gatherings, and people like us tear out their hair wondering where their next finished gift knit is coming from.

Speaking for myself: I have no idea, especially now that it's dawned on me that I have to paint every wall and ceiling of a 1550 square foot condo before New Year's, on top of everything else.

So let's look at some backup gift ideas, shall we?  The kind of ideas you can dream up while you are taking care of other important parts of the holiday, and research between other errands, and execute when all hope of a completed gift knit is gone.  The kind, I might add, that are ideally suited to people equally swamped and already as surrounded by possessions as we are by yarn stash.

Disappearing Acts: When it comes to the person who has everything and no place to put it, there is nothing so perfect as food or drink.  Choose staples that your recipient is sure to enjoy, but upgrade to something fancier, as from his or her usual grocery store breakfast tea to a really fine imported breakfast tea.  That way it's not so different as to jump out of the routine and go unused, but special enough to feel like a treat.

Services Rendered: Yes, you can offer to knit socks for somebody you didn't have time actually to knit socks for - unless, like me, you maintain a policy of not letting gift knits extend past the official day for giving them.  We have other skills besides knitting, people!  Pick one of your best, and offer it to somebody who could use it.  Maybe you could wrap up a date to overhaul somebody's office storage, or source actual sofa sized pillows to fit into the covers somebody else bought on holiday and has never used, or consult on website design, or set up a great defense against raccoons in the garden.

(although actually if you know how to do that, feel free to share in the comments as a little present for everybody.  and in response, I will share that over the weekend I sat watching a squirrel trying to eat a giant red dog toy, apparently under the impression that it was a very large nut.  okay, stop reading this and get back to the list.  we are frantic and have gift planning to do!) 

Take a Class: This is a little bit related to services rendered - if you're really, really good at something, maybe you could offer to teach a friend or family member how to do it too?  This only counts if you're good at something really fun, though.  I mean, I'm really really good at cleaning the kitchen and getting the garbage out in about 15 minutes while listening to audiobooks, but nobody would want learning that as a gift.  Alternatively, you could buy somebody a chair at a class that has nothing to do with garbage or cleaning.  Better still, you could buy two seats and tag along, because if your best offer besides knitting is garbage and kitchen cleaning, you could probably stand to branch out a bit.  Note to self.

A Lift: got a friend who can't get around so easily, owing to lack of transportation or mobility generally?  Wrap up a card for a regular date to drive to someplace helpful, like the hairdresser's or a knit night or IKEA.  (seriously, even if there's one in your very own city, getting to IKEA in a roomy car is a Thing.)

A Night Out: I don't recommend actually booking tickets and wrapping them lest your giftee has arranged a cruise for the date in question, but if there's a show coming to town you know would be high on his or her wish list, wrap up a calendar page or two with possible evening or matinee dates and make the call while you're together.

Time: If you're not able to take on somebody's home office organizational overhaul, maybe you could create time for him or her to take care of it personally.  By, for example, weeding the garden or watching the kids or making supper or taking stuff to a charity shop.  Or, perhaps, painting a condo for somebody who should really be working on a novel instead.  (Kidding!)

Gift Cards:  When they first came out, gift cards struck me as being cash that's tied to a particular store. Then I was given coffee cards at a time that coincided with often having to kill time in coffee shops regardless of whether or not I had change or small bills, and Whoa.  Those cards make life SO much easier.  And have you seen how cute some of them are?  Pair one with something cuddly, like a pair of festive magic gloves or a deluxe chocolate bar or a cashmere-blend superfast hand knit Earbud Pouch, and you are good to go with a personalized but crazy easy present.

Maybe none of these ideas are viable for you in which case, please accept my best wishes for getting all your gift knits done with time to spare.  Maybe one of them will give you a different idea, in which case I'd love to hear it.  Either way, knit responsibly, because the last thing any of us needs right now is a sprained wrist or sore grip.

Tomorrow: with luck, the new hat pattern.  Send good thoughts!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Knitting in the round: how to hide your cast on

Have you ever noticed that the best thing about knitting in the round is the cause of the worst thing?  You don't have to sew up a seam, but because each new round starts a layer higher than the stitch that came before it, the start of the round always shows.  Bleah.

When I design hats or cowls, I look for ways to hide that jog, and when I'm running in the cast on and cast off tails I try to weave them in to hide the gap at the edges of the piece.  Before I share my pattern for the hatcowl later this week, I thought I'd show you today how I do that in case it's a tip you can use.  And if you've got another approach, I'd be glad to hear it!

Essentially, I embroider a fake stitch into the cast-on border with the tail, before running in the end.  You can click on this photograph if you need a closer look at where I place the darning needle, but what you're looking for is the midpoint of the bottom of the first stitch to the left of the tail.

When you slip the needle through and pull the yarn snugly, and certainly after you run the end through the back of the work, you can't tell there was ever anything different about that patch of stitching.

The cast off gap is often a good deal worse, as seen here:

But it's an easy fix.  Again, use your cast off tail to embroider a fake stitch that runs to the midpoint of the next stitch, but this time, you're choosing the one to the right of the tail.

Pretty, yes?

Here you can see there is a little hole from how far apart the stitches were stretched, but that's easily hidden by the tail when you run it through the back.  Frankly I'm still impressed, even after all this time, at how much better an end looks after you do this little trick!

In other news, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend?

I spent part of mine admiring the huge new condo (which, as I may have mentioned, is larger than our entire house) and the other part realizing that every single room in it needs repainting and not just the two or three I thought were too tired to go on.

After which I made my choice between hiring painters or having a bathtub in the master bath (because the previous owners removed the one that was there, tiled over it, and put a storage cart in the space.)

And then spent what was left of the time off trying to convince myself that I really can pull off painting all that cavernous space, plus Christmas knits, plus my usual workload, plus the start of the design stage for the renovation, all before December 20th or so.

I didn't quite swing it, but I've decided to go in optimistic and think of contingency plans while I go on as best I can.   Pretty good philosophy for most situations, don't you think?

Hope you don't have to lean on it today though - have a fun day instead, and I'll see you back here again tomorrow!


Friday, November 21, 2014

A big bad hat

After the last Twisted Fiber Art club, I was super excited to buy a ton of yarn in the Big Bad Wolf colourway.  You don't often see grey and black - my standard winter uniform shades - paired with coppery brown, which is what my hair looked like before my natural highlights (aka 'grey hair') blossomed. 

Given my discovery last winter that a plain grey hat really isn't flattering around my face, I saw instantly that Big Bad Wolf was the perfect solution.  Start with the brown, and knit on!

Isn't this ribbing gorgeous?  I could have gone on with it forever, but I was aiming for a hatcowl rather than a turtleneck or a tea cosy.

And not a moment too soon, because do you see those few flakes of snow sitting on that pumpkin?  Cold weekday weather was imminent.

The nice thing about a hat with a drawstring top is that you don't decrease as you near the crown, or at any other time either.  You can use gorgeous stripey yarn and not mess with the progression of it at all.  Of course I couldn't resist messing with it just a little - I threw in a little cable eyelet detail to wear over my left eye or else as an accent at the back to echo the drawstring effect.  Probably it would show better on solid coloured yarn, but I still like it.

There, done.  Mindless as this knit was, it took all day last Sunday, plus some of Saturday night.  That is a LOT of lost gift knitting time.  I did say I'm a selfish knitter though, right?  Not to mention a cold-headed one.

I'll have to be cold-headed a bit longer though because this little sweetie needs a nice bath and a long air dry to soften up.  Superwash merino is not alpaca-merino blend, and my big bad hat is not going to fall as beautifully as Jan's purple hatcowl, but it's going to look great on my head while I walk everywhere I need to go this winter.

Okay: go have a great weekend.  Since we'll have keys to what is about to be officially Our New Condo, you can bet I'll be spending much of mine with a measuring tape.  But with luck I'll have something knitty to show you on Monday anyway.  See you then!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to choose white paint

I'd like to note that as of this week, I've written just over 1500 posts here at Hugs For Your Head. Most of them feature colour, or at least fiber.  I can only think of one about white paint - the time I painted a pair of vintage chairs, which incidentally are still gorgeous.

Today though, in 'what has my life become' news, what's at the forefront of my existence is white paint.  And since white walls do set off bookshelves full of yarn stashes or pinboards full of pattern ideas, I thought I'd share the subject here.

When you think about simple decorating, white is a no-brainer.  It's a bright clean neutral to contrast darker simple pieces or balance chaotic colour and pattern.  It's also less personal than blues or tans or greys or yellows, if you're in a space only temporarily and don't want to have to repaint when you go.  But white is different in every material, as I'm sure you know.  I didn't discover that helpful fact until we first moved to our house and updated our tiny bathroom with all-white fixtures.  Our sink is cream, the tub ice, the tiled walls not unlike down.  So much for monochromatic.

At, designer Kelly Porter describes the problem of, and approaches to, white.  Essentially, its shades vary as much as that of any colour, and are as affected by shifting degrees of light, and have just as much potential to look terrible.

Thomas Pheasant, in a story by Laura Eckstein for House Beautiful, shares some great perspectives on whittling down the choices to suit your particular situation, as well as a tip for whitening the ceiling paint to subtly increase a room's brightness.

These two articles sum up the problem I am facing with the new condo - for which we get keys tomorrow, yay!!!

In a word, that problem is 'dark'.

I think.  When we saw it the day we decided to try to buy it, it was just about sunset on a grey day, so even though the windows face west we weren't seeing much light.  In the morning, I can't imagine it will be much brighter, and there are no overhead lights in the bedrooms or the living room.  If we can't have lights installed easily (by which I mean 'without tearing down all that drywall and rewiring everything') it's going to be a white paint fix.

Mostly because there was a huge snowstorm in Toronto yesterday and I am not eager to go through many more commutes like today's will be, just so we can do a big elaborate fix-up downtown.

But which white to choose?  And how soon can I choose it, since I have to paint the place before we can even think about when to move in?  I know the safest thing is to tape a variety of swatches (or to paint some actual samples) onto the wall and check the changing shades over the course of several hours, but that's going to mean several visits over a week or so if I'm to fit in all the different times of day.

I can't remember having this much trouble the last time I chose white paint, also for a west-facing room.  Whatever it was I chose looks great here at the house.  I wonder whether I still have a can of that paint?

H'mmmm.  Let me just go check that out while you go have a great day.  I'm going to show you some knitting tomorrow and I hope I see you then!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The purple alpaca hatcowl

As I typed that heading, it struck me how interesting it would be to watch a herd of purple alpacas from the window of a cosy farm kitchen, but I'm sorry to disappoint you: today we are talking about a hat/cowl combo made from alpaca yarn that is dyed purple.

I found the hatcowl at the Meadowview Alpaca Farm booth at this year's Royal Winter Fair, and of course I thought immediately of Jan, she of the purple socks.  Her birthday falls into an unseasonably bitter week of weather: great timing.  But that's not all, because the tubelike shape renders this little item suitable for a cowl if your neck is cold, and the drawstring at the top means you can tie off the end for a hat if you're worried about your head.  Perfect gift!

Too perfect, actually.  I tried it on to make absolutely sure I wasn't giving her something that looked stupid (as if purple alpaca could ever look stupid, ha!), and it turns out to look great on me.  As well as being incredibly soft and buttery.

I am telling you: alpaca is nice, but fingering weight alpaca is heaven.  The fabric you get is just so gorgeous.

Well, as you know, I am a selfish knitter, and it's natural to assume (correctly) I am also a selfish shopper. I really, really did not want to give this hatcowl away after I saw how nice it looked on me and how soft it was on my forehead, even though I knew that would be very, very wrong.  So I did the next best thing.  I got out some tools...

and measured and counted and thought and swatched...

and cast on a hatcowl for myself.  I'll tell you later how all that came out.

Meanwhile: do me a favour and give yourself some sort of treat today, even if all you have time for is to find something beautiful to look at while you take a few deep, slow breaths.  It's the middle of the week and we all need a little break!  See you tomorrow, but have a good day today if you can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sheep, dog, human

If I could change one thing about myself I'd have to choose blindly from a list, but that list would include not wanting to get too close to actual farm animals.

Stuffed versions: totally.  Admiring from a distance, sure thing.  Within proximity of their aroma or the source thereof: thank you but no.  And while there's nothing actually shameful about not loving the smell or squish of manure, I feel it's unbecoming of me to covet the fiber off these animals' backs and pinch my nose (and toes) at the animals themselves.

Still, I felt better about my arm's length relationship with the animal responsible for so much of my relaxation and comfort when I went to a sheep herding exhibition at this year's Royal Agricultural Fair.

I know, I know - what am I doing, going to the Royal every year if I don't like smelling large numbers of animals in a fairly compact space?  You know the answer to that, silly.  YARN.  and also, kettle corn.

I've never actually seen sheep herding in action before, unless you count watching the movie Babe, and I learned a lot.  For example, the meaning of 'border collie' turns out not to be 'dog that will herd you and your children into the corner so it can have the sofa to him/herself.'  (Border refers to the region where they were developed, and Collie means useful farm dog.  so succinct!)

Also I learned how important it is to have the help of a really good dog in rounding up sheep to bring them back to the barn after they've been off grazing hither and yon.  And that sheep don't like to be divided up from their peers, and that 'Combye' means Come by a Clockwise Route and 'Way' means Away from me Counterclockwise, and that subtle changes in the tone of each command tells a border collie something a little different.

Check out the sheep on the left, pretending to find grass instead of openly watching the dog

Mostly what I took away though is that there are people for whom dogs are as dangerous a hobby as knitting.  The very informative woman who was sending out her dogs to demonstrate the process explained that she actually has a city job, but got the sheep and rented a barn and some farmland pretty much to exercise her collies.   She has a particular fascination with recreating the conditions early shepherds had, when they needed the dogs to do all the sorting and dividing and directing of sheep into the barn.

All I could think was: this is like people who learn to knit, then learn to make yarn, then covet a whole fleece.  You can just keep going back down to the farthest root of this stuff and never lose interest.

And I can tell you, I'm glad I am content to stop at the spinning yarn part, because what's next after washing and spinning fleeces and then raising the sheep they come from?  the dogs, that's what.  You'd go all the way back to training border collies.  And when you'd get time to knit once you've gone that far, I really don't know, because those guys just never rest. (and I mean never: there's a reason I didn't get any pictures of them.  they did lie down alertly a few times, but never long enough for me to get the camera ready and snap my digital camera at a still figure.)

Hope you had a more relaxing day yesterday than these poor sheep did.  And I want to thank Darlene and Su for their help on my fuzzy, fluffy, llama cowl

Take care of yourselves everybody, and I'll see you tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fuzzy, fluffy knits

Owing to a shortage of handspun yarns (which has almost nothing to do with my having scooped up most of the giftable handspun for personal projects, ahem) I found myself digging into my yarn stash for the next few gift cowls.  What do you think of these two together?

I love them, personally.  Colourwise, and also for the way they both feel.

But there is a problem, because nothing is allowed to be simple when it comes to knitting, even simple knits.  It's kind of like golf, isn't it - you have so many little failures and missed shots, and then suddenly you get a fluke hole in one and you're more committed to the process than ever before.  Completely illogical, but compelling.

In this case, the problem is the fluff factor.

Can you see all that hair lifting out from the stitches?  At least it's staying put in this photo. When you're actually knitting, the little hairs fly everywhere.  It's a bad project for a knitter in black, or for a giftee who favours that colour even part of the time.

I don't really know what to do. On the one hand the colours are gorgeous. On the other hand, what would you wear these colours with?  besides black.  On the other other hand, the green yarn especially - 100% llama from Americo, now discontinued, I wonder why - is incredibly soft and buttery.  And on that hand over there in the corner, omigosh fluffy:

So... throwing it out there.  Should I go on, trusting that 100% llama paired with 100% wool will be warm and soft and a welcome gift no matter how hairy and sheddy the cowl is?  Or should I accept that hours of work has produced a very small cowl so far and a lot of fiber up my nose?

Yeesh, look at it - it might as well be about to devour the stripey yarn.  Though I guess if it did the knitting would be magically finished and I could relax already.  Hope you have a good day - I'm going to work a little on something else while I ponder this cowl problem.  See you tomorrow!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The giant hat, revisited

As the weather's turned cold I have noticed a terrible shortage of Mary hats in the cupboard.  I still love my favourite superwarm green one, but it's too much for milder-cold days, and I seem to have misplaced my midweight transitional hats after last winter skipped that stage and went straight to frigid.  So I grabbed some quiet meditative time while working from home on Remembrance Day and reknit the Giant Hat.

That was probably the last time I'll be able to knit on this edition of the porch, and I appreciated the luck of unseasonable warmth and sun to have it.  So much so, in fact, that the knitting just whizzed along while I listened to another audiobook.

It whizzed along so fast that I didn't notice I increased the wrong amount AGAIN.  And, upon noticing this while I started the decreases, had to rip back almost all the way to the ribbing to make it right.

After all that it had grown too cold to linger outside any longer, so I shifted to my armchair under a sun patch and carried on.  It really is incredibly fast to knit a super bulky hat, if you don't mess up.  And by bulky, I mean three stitches and four rounds to an inch.  It only takes a couple of hours to knit a whole hat at that gauge.

I'm so happy with the finished product and regretted only that it was too dark when I finally finished to do proper glamour shots.  For now, let's just admire the decreases that, this time, do not come to a pixie point.

Also, I remembered at last why I had bought this yarn in the first place.  It hadn't made any sense to me at all when I found it in the stash cupboard - wrong weight for the other yarn I'd bought in this colourway - but then it suddenly occurred to me: one of the Twisted club shipments had included a beautiful little flower with a pretty embroidered button sewn onto the middle.  I'd fallen deeply in love with the bulky yarn weight on the basis of that flower, and had to have some more of it.  Lucky I gave in!  And lucky I kept the flower on the side of the refrigerator for instant cheery-uppiness as needed.

So: how cute is this flower/hat combo?  Think I should sew it on for real?

And with that happy problem, let me bid you a wonderful weekend.  Wish me luck for some actual knitting time (so there's something to write about here next week) and I'll see you Monday!