Friday, February 28, 2014

A stripey handknit hat, revisited

Last fall, I was more than a little obsessed with knitting a large and stripey garter stitch hat in stone, red, and teal.  This in spite of the fact that I have absolutely no other accessories to go with these colours and am a little particular about being matchy.

Adding to the lack of logic, you may recall that it all ended in tears when I realized at the top of the crown that I ought to have done a gauge swatch before I started.  Honestly, design a few hats for other people and the next thing you know you're thinking you can take shortcuts for yourself.  It is, in a word, HUGE.  Not to mention completely out of proportion in length versus width.

All that is the recap though, because the other day I put some time into phase two of the stripey hat.

YAY.  I still haven't got it out of my system, and as other schedule projects got cleared off my desk I snuck back and dug the unused yarn and needles out to start a much smaller version.

Not before measuring for gauge though, and writing up the pattern as I discerned it from the existing hat.  I have so much learned my lesson.

Obviously it would have been much easier to write it up from the notes I took as I was designing the original, right down to the clever trick I came up with for changing colours securely, but those notes were lost in the shuffle when we had to move everything out of my working room after the basement flooded.  I'm sure they still exist, somewhere, but the memory of the clever trick is gone and I can only hope either to recreate it or find the slip of paper I was writing on lo these many months ago.

Still: the original hat was enough to go on, and anyway I did some finetuning this time, not least to deal with the size issue.  Even though I still don't have anything to go with it except perhaps the excuse to knit handwarmers to slip over a pair of black gloves, I am as smitten as ever.

That's partly because of the colours, and partly because this Debbie Bliss Blue Faced Leicester yarn is so fabulous, and partly because garter stitch is so squashy.

Just the most satisfying knit...

... until you measure it, and discover it's still not producing the right proportions.  Le sigh.

I had to act quickly because much as I love the process and being finished things, I know I will not wear a hat that matches nothing and doesn't have the style I was aiming for.

Yep: off the needles.  I couldn't bear to photograph the frogging.  If I can get this right some day, it's going to be beautiful, don't you think?

Here's hoping third time's the charm!  May all your knitting go right the first time, at least until I see you on Monday.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Updating the emergency knitting kit

Many moons ago Helena mentioned the wisdom of keeping a sock-in-progress handy for emergencies - the real life medical kind, set in an actual emergency room or other hospital zone - and boy was that a good idea.  I went through a real rash of that kind of event a couple of years ago and if you've been through one, you know: they often involve endless anxious waiting where knitting is a huge, huge comfort.

Thankfully 'emergency' takes on more benign definitions for me these days, but I'm wary now, and don't take chances.  Better to be careful, and make sure I have at least one sock of a pair started and past the ribbing in case it's needed.  Past emergencies are why I carry a bigger purse now than I used to: that sock lives inside it, and comes out on the subway or outside a store that hasn't opened yet or when I have fifteen minutes to kill between appointments.

Digression Alert:

Speaking of the subway: lately, I've been noticing what people are doing with their phones in there.  They're not usually reviewing their e-mail or reading a book - they're playing a game, and amazingly, it's always the same game.  Some bejeweled or fruity form of Tetris.  I kind of get it, but really I'd rather knit, or look around at the other people riding in my car.

I mean, have you noticed how looking at other people is a great way to get knitting inspiration?  There are some fantastic hats on public transit this winter!

End Digression.

Though I usually refer to it as 'travel knitting', the fact is that my purse project is my emergency first-aid kit.  It's got to have at least 2 hours' knitting time in it, and the needles have to be short for working in tight spaces and stowing safely in my bag, and the actual stitch has to be pretty mindless.  Plain socks are ideal...

... and these ones no longer qualify.

Luckily I always have a few pre-caked sock yarns to take the place of the previous emergency pair.  And even luckier, I still love sock knitting enough that one pair passing the torch to another feels like a huge achievement.  Not least when the old socks have ended and the new ones begun without a single dreadful phone call.

Let's just take one look back at the old ones, shall we?

So, so pretty.  They're Vespers, of course - the emergency kit is almost always Vesper, because it's so compact - and I'll give them a proper showcase another day.

Meanwhile, I hope you have a lovely day today that's emergency free!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gift-knit socks, in use

It took a long time to organize, but I finally got the SockMonsters to pose for me with the socks I knit them for Christmas:

They were very kind and even pulled up their pantlegs a bit to show off the full effect.

The stripes here are very different - they're both Vesper yarns, big surprise, but one orange stripies on SockMonster Two are a Halloween colourway (Spooktacular), and the blue reds on SockMonster One are not (Fire and Ice).  Still: they get worn much the same way.

There's just a little something wrong.  Something I noticed while taking the pictures, and especially when I was resizing them to post here. Something no knitter ever wants to see.

Probably just a trick of the eye, right?  Or maybe the sloppy way SockMonsters throw on their socks and/or forget to pull them up again after pulling them out of boots.  Let's just not think about it, while there are such nice socks to look at.

It's hard not to want to knit socks for boys who pose them so well.  Even if they are boys, and not grownups.  As in, people whose feet are still growing.  GAH.

Feet aren't supposed to grow just a few weeks after their owners got new socks to put on them!

Me: SockMonster Number One, are you sure those socks are still long enough for you?

SockMonster Number One: Absolutely!  They feel great.

Me: But they're really pulling through the heel.  I mean, it looks like you're walking on the bottom of the leg part.

SockMonster Number One: Nope.

Me: H'mmmm.

SockMonster Two must be happy - his feet are smaller, so he'll get next refusal on what One's outgrown.

But it seems as though SockMonster One is also content.  And really, there's only another month or two that these guys will want wool on their feet, so I'm going to try not to beat myself up about the whole thing.

I think if I do knit them socks again though, I will knit them a bit longer in the foot than I think they need, and give them to them the moment they're done instead of waiting for an event.  Because ouch: the pain of all those hours of knitting, and not getting it right!

(it's not all bad: these socks are both my size, and the Monsters agreed to donate them back to me when they've both outgrown them.  worst case, I'll have to mend holes, but at this rate they won't get enough use out of them to make any of those.)

Gift knits do go wrong.  When I was young and thoughtless I knit a romper thing for a co-worker's baby to be, and I took so long knitting such a starter size that his parents had to squeeze it over him to send me a picture of how cute it looked on him.  They were even kind enough to make a point of saying how well it fit.  Learned my lesson there - too-big cardis and bonnets and booties after that.  But I do hope they had another baby afterward who could make better use of it.

Inexperience is not the only problem in gift knitting, either.  Recently I gave one of my handspun cowls as a hostess gift, not realizing that said hostess is allergic to wool.  Sigh... at least it's something you can wear over other clothes and behind a collar, for a warming necklace effect.

Even so... gift knits are just terribly satisfying when they go well - it's still worth making them instead of just knitting for ourselves all the time, ahem.

Okay, time for me to go tackle a project or two.  Take care today and I will see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It doesn't have to be handknit

We talk a lot here about the value of handmade accessories, especially for gifts, and even more especially as we near December (or think about getting ready for it super early for once.)  In fact, we're going to be talking about gift knits again tomorrow.  But today I have something quite different to tell you: the one item I wear every day it's not actually being washed, or drying after a wash, from the moment the temperatures start to drop until at least the end of March is not made by hand.

(Veronica Lake should have been so lucky, right?  Okay, maybe this is more of a Cousin It thing - either way, now you know why I'm so fond of hats.  They do such a great job of keeping my hair out of my eyes.  But if you look down to my chin you'll see my beloved grey and black scarf, which I think is worth talking about today.)

As you know if you've been reading Hugs for a while, I've knit many things that could keep my neck warm.  All lovely, all with many merits, not least the fact that I spent a fortune on yarn and hours and hours of my time to make them.  But none of them suit me so well as this scarf.

It seems to be a grey silk panel sewn up perfectly to a black silk one, so that it shows both colours when you wrap it around your neck.  And since I wear black and/or grey most of the time in cold weather - I know it's gloomy but I can't help myself, I just like to - it always matches perfectly.  The fabric is such a dense weave it's indescribably soft, and it's been brushed as well so it doesn't have that slick feel of other, perhaps lesser silks.

What I know for sure is that it's a man's scarf, given to Pete a couple of years ago by a friend with a menswear shop.  Pete came home with this one as well as another made the same way but with browns and blues in it, and when he showed them to me I just commandeered it.  Is that the word I want to use here?  Perhaps 'stole' would be more accurate.

Either way: it's nice that we have matchy scarves now.  And it's probably worth mentioning that Pete wears his all the time too, in spite of pointedly avoiding wearing scarves before he got this one no matter how cold it got outside.

Basically, it's an awesome, fabulous, can't live without piece that came from a store that got it from a textile manufacturer. 

My point?

A gift doesn't have to be handknit, my friends.  It's nice when it works out that way, with a good pattern and great yarn and lots of loving hours put into it, but sometimes the best thing is just a really beautiful, soft, surprisingly hardwearing piece you bought in a store.  Especially if you're too pressed for time to do anything else.

And on that note - I have a little spinning to do today, in readiness for the next gift knit, ahem.  What's on your needles?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sometimes knitting takes faith

Not too long ago, Lynn sent me a link to a quick pattern she thought I might like.  She was right, and in a weak moment when I realized I had bonus time in my schedule, I dug out some yarn leftovers and cast on.

Sometimes you just have to be optimistic about a project like this, because what it looks like in-progress might not bear any similarity to the picture on the pattern.

Also, it might require extras like embroidery to get closer to the stated objective.  Or maybe something not like embroidery that, if you're me, you're just too lazy to do when you already have a yarn tail in there just asking to be used for something.

It's a good thing I got out to Stitch for irresponsible shopping in January though, isn't it?  Because I really needed super thin felted wool for this project.  Also a good thing: the fact that I picked white felt.

We're not going to talk about how long I spent sewing the felt on with black scrap yarn, because I will cry.  I just don't have the skills to embroider two things that have to look the same, like eyes - you know, you have to bring your needle through the fabric at just the right angle and one slip results in a completely different expression than what you were aiming for, to say nothing of how fragile a small circle of wool felt can be.  In the end I had to ditch one white circle entirely and start over. 

(Let's also not talk about why I keep trying to make two things that look the same, each with two eyes on them.  Why not two different things?  Why not, Mary??)

Anyway, I did get there with the embroidery, which led to the moment when I could feel very sensible for not having been emotionally equipped to toss the short scraps left over from trimming the ends of a woven scarf or three.

Probably I'm just making a moth's nest putting this much wool together, but on upside, yarn scraps as stuffing are super squishy and environmentally friendly.

Still.  Are we thinking Veggie Tales at this point?  Because I am totally thinking Veggie Tales.

Never mind - one must have faith in one's knitting.

You close the top of these things with Kitchener Stitch, which makes a lovely finish.

and: voila!


No?  Not owls?  Okay, maybe rocks with red pants on?  How about little fire demons?  Or maybe, getting back to the Veggie Tales idea, aging red peppers with faces on?

Eh, I messed up, but I still think they're cute.  And each one makes a great stress ball - must remember to throw one into my purse before my next dental appointment. 

Pattern: Owl Puffs, by Jenna Krupar
Yarn Scraps: DK weight wool, DK weight wool/cashmere blend
Needles: 3.00mm square needles for a nice tight fabric
Stuffing: DK weight scrap yarn

Hope you had a lovely and refreshing weekend, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Slow knitting

Some knitting just flies off your needles, and some makes a tortuous journey into the depths of despair before getting anywhere near turning into something you were glad you did.

These fingerless gloves, for example.  I cast them on last year at about this time, expecting them to be finished in spring and well-used come fall.  But they proved to be so complicated once I got them up to the fingers that I had to put them away and concentrate on Christmas knits.

Then, when I was getting all my yarn and gear organized in the new year, I dug them out again thinking they could now be a priority.  Ha.  They were still fiddly and complicated, and to make matters worse I wasn't convinced I liked them - which is the real reason, I'm sure, they were back-burnered.  But it seemed a waste not to leave the fingers in once I'd started, if only so that I'd have an easy reminder why I shouldn't try to knit fingers another time.  I tried to persevere.

Trouble is, my perseverance coincided with the moment I finally got my sleep cycle back to a healthy routine.  I used to get so much knitting done by staying up late at night, and suddenly I was so tired by 9pm I couldn't manage more than one finger - and I here I was dealing with several, plus thumbs.  Gah.  Which was more important: my health, or my gloves?  (you know I agonized about that decision, don't you.)

At long last, after putting sleep first like a sensible person, I was finished - Yay! - and then I realized that running in all those tails was going to be another Herculean effort.  Not that I minded doing them, but in spite of not being unbearably fiddly they take time and attention, and I kept on being short of either.

Ultimately it was putting them at the top of my current week's To Do list over and over again that got them through to wearability.  That, and investing in some really good audiobooks.

And now that they're finished - not actually blocked, but the knitting done - I am so happy.  I even like that they have finger pockets - though they they probably will be the only fingerless gloves I ever make that do, because Yikes.  12 months, guys.  That is a long time for something that isn't a sweater.

Have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you back here again on Monday!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Handknit socks for springtime travels

It's pretty great when you're able to travel with a very compact wardrobe.  Lighter luggage means more energy for sightseeing, and maybe even more space for bringing home interesting things.  The trick is to come up with a good wardrobe plan.

Naturally, any really good wardrobe plan starts with choosing which handknit socks to pack - or in my case, make.

Yeah, I'm taking another vacation this spring, which is just weird because normally I go 10 years minimum between getaways.  This time it's to Boston, where I plan to do a lot of walking in warmish temperatures, and after the hilly strolls in Italy last year I am certain I will be much happier if I can pack many a pair of handknits rather than plain black cotton socks.   At the end of the days I wore cotton socks - hoo boy, were my dogs barking.

If it were just a matter of throwing some socks in a bag - no problem, I have tons at the moment.  But I like to coordinate them with my go-to scarf, which I am pretty sure I  have pegged as this nice floral one.  It was a Christmas present from a friend who never saw a purple thing she didn't like, and I rather love this colour combo myself.  It says Spring, it's got several colours that really suit me, it will cheer up my favourite things that are black, and it's the perfect size for travel.

This yarn from last spring's Vesper club is a perfect match for it, don't you think?

I was just worrying that one match wouldn't be enough when the latest Vesper club yarn turned up in my mailbox:

Pretty sure that's going to work too.

Ideally I'll find a third colourway or else a second backup scarf that matches one of these plus a pair of socks I've already made, but in the meantime, there is another question to consider:

Do I want full length socks to hide under pantlegs, or ankle socks to wear with skirts in warmer weather?

I could answer this myself (full length, always safest) if I wasn't acutely aware of how much faster ankle socks are to knit, and how useful in summertime.  Maybe I should knit them toe-up this time, and decide later, perhaps over tea and a travel guide.

It's a nice problem to have, either way.  Hope your day's knitting problems are as cheerful!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sharing the (handknit sock) love

It feels good to knit one of your favourite things for somebody else, even if it's the kind of project with a lot of time-consuming ends to run in.

This pair of Stoddart wool/mohair boot socks, as you may recall, is going to a friend down the street.  Did I say why?

I am lucky to have many friends who look out for me and offer support even when I don't know I need it, and especially when I absolutely do.  Though these are not for her it would be wrong of me not to point out that Trish is one of them - she's saved me from so many complicated, tough situations with her practical outlook and many life skills and generosity.  Probably I should be knitting socks for Trish but she might think that was another evil scheme to get her to stop hating the knitting of socks.  I'll have to ask her about that.

Though she herself doesn't knit, my neighbour is as true a friend.  The morning Les died, she showed up at the door with breakfast things from our local bakery, and a few hours later she came by again with cut fruit from her mom, who also lives in the neighbourhood.  She just kept checking in on me and staying to talk, and as a result what I remember about that day is not that terrible empty wracking grief, but being cared for.

The following summer, she came to the door with an orchid in a pot.  She said she remembered it was about a year since we'd lost Les, and she thought I could use some cheering up.

I've had lots of losses, and I try always to acknowledge those of others with gestures of support, but I've never thought of doing something like that.  It was really special and it did cheer me up.

A few years ago - long before Les' death - I was faced with a disaster for which I was completely unprepared and had no coping skills whatsoever.  All I could do was talk through what I was experiencing, hoping to identify the core problems so that I could try to resolve them and make the others manageable.  Unsurprisingly, Trish set herself to the task of organizing anything that would help.  But otherwise, you can probably imagine how socially desirable I was at that time! It's not a surprise that new friendships withered and even some long-valued old ones fell away for a while.  Remembering that, I try to watch now for any excess whining and stop myself before I drive anybody away.

But somehow, with this friend whose frequent kindnesses I appreciate so much, I find myself wading right into that pond every time we chat.  I've apologized for it, and thanked her for bearing with me, and I think she really doesn't mind.  She is that nice.

I think she needs a pair of these amazing socks anyway though, especially because I kind of wish I was keeping them.  She's sacrificed so much time and thought in helping me, it feels important to offer her the time it takes to knit a pair of really warm socks - not to mention the gift of warmth, in the coldest winter we've seen in years.

Aren't we lucky to have a skill that channels our gratitude into useful vehicles for expressing it?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Matching yarns to projects: a clickable list

Today I want to share a tool I put together to help me overhaul and organize my stash yarns.  Ready?

Often we're inspired by knit or crochet projects to pull together yarn and tools.  But when you start accumulating a lot of yarn, sometimes it's necessary to work in the other direction.

Today's clickable list, with links to pattern categories in Ravelry, is meant to help you do that and maximize your Make time.

Matching Yarn to a Project

Each yarn has its own qualities - its own colour, fiber, and weight.  Sometimes two different yarns in the same fiber can have very different itch factors, depending on how they were processed, and sometimes they can have very different fluff factors, too.  All these things make them more or less appropriate for different applications.


You wouldn't make a fingering-weight baby blanket out of super scratchy yarn that works up as stiff as a board.

You probably wouldn't enjoy a coffee cup cuff with fibers so long and floaty they get into your mouth with every sip.

As very busy crafty people, it's good to be able to hit on the best applications quickly, so we can stop starting blankly at a yarn and start knitting with it.   So let's look at the key factors of each yarn, and what you might do with it.  If it makes things easier for you, you could sort out your yarns either by these categories, or by the ones that follow them - ideas for projects you might actually make with them.

Note: remember, what we're covering here is general project categories.  When it comes to specifics, you will probably not want to choose a 100% lace or cabled project for a self-striping yarn, and variegated yarns are best for stitches that break up any blocks of colour.

Itch Factor

Everybody has their own tolerance for itch; some people really love wearing a hardy farm yarn right next to their skin, and others find silk a little too itchy to bear.  Determine for yourself whether a yarn is too itchy for next-to-skin projects: if yes, it's automatically disqualified for that kind of project.  Easy first consideration.


Do you have enough for a sweater or blanket or other large project?  If not, can you pair it with something similar in your stash for such a thing?  If no, you can go straight to looking at smaller projects.  If yes, it might be kind of  a waste not to take advantage of the opportunity - but that's up to you.

Fluff Factor

Some yarns knit flat, some have some halo - little fibers that stand off the fabric and are visible when it's viewed from the sides - and some are so fluffy they could be taken for an angora cat.  Fluff adds bulk, and it can get into your mouth, so you might not want it for a cowl (or the cowl part of a sweater) to pull up over your face in winter storms.  Also, fluff can be kind of a fashion choice.  Some people just won't wear extreme or even moderate fluff levels in spite of loving them wrapped over a hot water bottle.  Is your yarn super fluffy?  Set it aside for projects or people where that's an advantage.


Some yarns are too fragile for hard-wearing items like socks or mittens or slippers.  For example, a snugly-spun merino wool can work very well for socks, or an alpaca spun with nylon or mohair, but a loosely spun alpaca could wear itself into holes before it hits a half-dozen wears.  Other yarns, especially super soft loosely spun ones, are prone to pilling - which can be annoying to discover under the arms of a sweater you spent forever knitting.  You can learn more about how a specific yarn will stand up by reading the comments tabs in Ravelry's yarn database, an amazing resource that has prevented me from making many an expensive mistake.

Project Categorization

1. Is it soft enough to wear next to your skin?  If no, then scroll down to #2.  If yes, then review the following, with fluff factor and durability in mind.

If you've got a lot of this yarn, consider knitting...

Pullover Sweaters

If you've got less of this yarn, consider knitting...

Hand coverings

Hardly any yarn left? consider knitting...

Afghan blocks
Bath mitts
Anything in the previous two groups, but sized for babies

... plus anything on the scratchy list.

2. Anything too scratchy for next-to-skin use would work for these items, if durability and fluff factor suit.

If you've got a lot of this yarn, consider knitting...

Pet Bedding

If you've got less of this yarn, consider knitting...

Hats - if you use a next-to-skin yarn for the ribbing or as brim liner
Outer-Layer Shawls
Outer-Layer Shrugs
Table Runners
Christmas stockings
Slippers to wear over socks

Hardly any yarn left? consider knitting...

Appliques or embellishments
Doll Clothes
Sachet casings
Single Coasters
Cosies for anything from books to teapots
Pot Holders
Pet toys
Hanging ornaments

These links are just a start - Ravelry has lots more categories to choose from, and within each of them, you can filter the results by yarn weight, fiber, and exact yardage.  With luck and enough time, this inspiration list should get your yarn stash cleared up in no time!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dashingly handknit socks

Photographing handknit socks is an adventure in thinking of new stuff to say.

If you photograph socks a lot, that is.  Speaking of which, I photograph finished handknit socks beyond a lot, and boy is it embarrassing to do that on the front porch while people are walking past along the sidewalk.  Seriously, the ones who aren't actually my neighbours and don't know me must think I'm crazy.  My neighbours on the other hand are well versed in the crazy.

But to get back to my point: once you've exhausted every conceivable way to pose a pair of socks without traveling to some particularly scenic place that is, frankly, not my porch - or will not be my porch in the spring when we replace this rotting, peeling version (oh how I will miss the rustic, photogenic one when I am walking up stairs that are not disturbingly soft and squishy) - sock photography gets a bit silly.

I mean, I knit most of them to exactly the same totally plain pattern and everything.  The only variation is yarn colour, have you noticed?  You've probably noticed.  Actually I'm amazed you're even here looking at these handknit socks after all this time, and just a little flattered.

These socks though - they are special.  Normally I can get four or five attractive sock pictures out of the 25 that were taken, but these ones?

It was so cold and snowy out I could only face taking a dozen, and they were all fantastic.  I pared them down so your eyes wouldn't glaze over completely and inspire you to doze off, sliding off your chair and possibly hurting yourself in the process.

Except that wouldn't happen because these are easily the most photogenic socks I've ever made - and wouldn't you know, they're the Viola yarn ones?  The ones in yarn I can't get any more, because Emily stopped dyeing small-batch yarn in favour of England and textile study.  Okay, I don't blame her, but now that I finally have the courage to be knitting with my Viola I'm wishing I'd bought a ton more than I did.

(note: I bought a ton in the first place, so we'd be looking at two tons if I'd thought ahead.)

They're a little snug because the yarn is a bit finer than what I usually knit with, and I used needles slightly smaller to match, and it never occurred to me that this might produce something a little narrower through the bend.  Do I care?  Of course not.  It's Viola.

The only shoes I have that really do these things justice are some velvety suede flat Oxford things suitable only for completely dry and dust free weather - there must be highly fashionable women in this world who rarely if ever set foot into anything other than Dry And Sunny, because somebody went to the trouble to make these things - but in the end I decided not to put them on for the pictures because they would cover too much sock.

Tired of looking at these things yet?  Maybe just one more?

Okay, I'll stop torturing you.  Go have a good day, and knit something - I'm sure it will be beautiful too.