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Aug 31, 2014

Spotlight | Four Seasons Yarn

If you're a regular reader, you know Four Seasons by Classic Elite is one of my go-to yarns. When the company decided to discontinue it, I was fortunate enough to have a truly impressive quantity safely ensconced in the stash.

Four Seasons had many positive qualities. The 70% cotton and 30% wool blend combined the silkiness of fine cotton with just enough wool to offer the springiness and memory I need. It came in a wonderful range of colors, and as an added bonus, it was well suited to myriad projects, producing a mid-weight fabric that was comfortable to work with and use year round.

The differences between Cotton Fleece and Four Seasons are subtle but real, akin to the way cake and bread flour are similar but different. Cotton Fleece works well for many things, but there are times I want that extra bit of woolly memory that has made Four Seasons a stash staple.

Some of you may recall a couple projects that also appeared in the Cotton Fleece round up. The berry Fluted Rib afghan is a good example: the strips were made with Four Seasons, while the seams and trim are Cotton Fleece. I'm focused on knitting from the stash, so I mix and match to make the most of the yarn on hand. 

Enough context. Let's take a quick look.

Afghans
                       
Colorado Baby (2012)
(This is the only photo I have of a small blanket for a friend's first grandchild.)

Cable Rib Berry (2013)

Fluted Rib (2014)



Dishcloths, Coasters & Placemats

April Showers (2013)
Christmas Trees (2013)

Double Luck Coasters & Mug Mats (2014)

Hot Shot Kitchen Set (2013)


Owl Family (2013)

Sweet Hearts (2014)
 Soft Spots (2014)

Red, White & Blue (2012, 2013, 2014)



The projects above are representative but by no means all inclusive, particularly where cloths, coasters and holiday knits are concerned.

As you can see, I’ve grown accustomed to having a significant amount of Four Seasons on hand, but those days have passed. Now that the yarn has been discontinued, my supply is rapidly dwindling. The stash holds a few skeins of red, white and blue, but the rest consists of partial skeins and scraps.

You don't have to be psychic to know one day soon, I'll be desperately searching for precisely the right cotton-wool yarn for a new design or familiar favorite. Frankly, I'd rather avoid that crisis by starting the search for a substitute now.

So, tell me: Do you have a favorite cotton-wool blend? What do you like and dislike about it? What have you made with it?

Share whatever details you feel are pertinent, and together, perhaps we can discover new yarns that suit projects we've longed to make or those we have yet to conceive.


For more fiber talk, visit Frontier Dreams.

Aug 24, 2014

FO | Oyster Bay Shawl

I’m delighted to report the Oyster Bay Shawl is finished.

This was a wonderfully fast knit and it would have been even quicker if I hadn’t miscalculated. I completed 95% of the blue wing and part of the oyster wing before I realized I was going to run out of yarn about two inches shy of the points.(To see work in progress, go here.)

Yes, I could have done a work-around. Instead, I bit the bullet and ripped and restarted both wings. Such is the nature of knitting sometimes.


Highlights
Pattern: Personal pattern
Yarn: Tern in Boothbay Blue and Oyster (Quince & Co.)
Yardage: 442 yards
Weight: Fingering
Needles: US 7
Dimensions: 44 ins wide x 18 ins deep (unblocked); 60 ins wide x 22 ins deep (blocked)

Tern's mix of wool and silk is lovely to knit. It has a pleasing hand, plenty of wooly springiness and a subtle sheen. Equally important, it produces a versatile light weight fabric with a pleasing drape so this shawl will see lots of wear when cooler weather arrives.

The finished dimensions were determined partly by yardage and partly by the blocking method. The goal was to use up the yarn, so I knit until it was almost gone, bound off, wove in the ends, then lightly steamed it to relax the yarn and stitches.

Because it's worked in seed stitch, it's reversible and nearly identical on both sides. Size-wise, it's ideal for me: Large enough to wear as a small shawl but compact enough to wrap as a scarf this winter.

There are several fingering and lace weight skeins tucked in my stash. This concept might be just the ticket for transforming a motley assortment of odd balls into warm and wearable things, so it's likely another will soon be on the needles.

We all saw that coming, didn't we?


Joining Wisdom in WonderFrontier DreamsSmall Things and Tami's Amis.

Aug 17, 2014

WIP | Oyster Bay

This year has been about focusing, finishing and frogging, the strategy I've adopted in an effort to accomplish more by doing less.

The upside? Overall, this approach is working. Typically, there's one major WIP on the needles along with a few projects in the concept and swatching stages. As a comparatively slow knitter, this hard-won restraint is the best way for me to start and finish a project within a reasonable timeframe.

The downside? Every now and then, the call of the wool is too strong to resist.

While the Fluted Rib afghan in warm coffee tones continues to perk in the background, progress has slowed a bit. Why you ask? For reasons I can't explain, two stashed skeins of Tern (Quince & Co.) in Boothbay Blue and Oyster attracted my attention.

So simple. So sedate. So understated.


So sly and seductive. That humble little start quickly turned into this: 


Then it grew into this:


And now it's evolved into this:


It's a concept I've been toying with for awhile and now that it's on the needles, it's revealed something quite terrifying: Shawls, like afghans and potato chips, are dangerously addictive.

Why didn't you warn me?

Joining Frontier Dreams, Small Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Tami's Amis.

Aug 10, 2014

Hand Knits in TV Land (Halifax)

If you’re a knitter or fiber fanatic of any sort you should check out Last Tango in Halifax (PBS).  The story takes place in Halifax, West Yorkshire, the historic center of wool production in England.

The main story line features an elderly couple who reconnect after 60 years apart. Key characters include Alan and Celia, the romantic leads; Alan’s daughter Gillian, who owns a sheep farm; Celia’s daughter Caroline, who is headmistress at an elite school; Celia’s son-in-law who is often drunk, always philandering and striving to recapture his status as a best-selling author; plus various grandsons, lovers, bedmates and pals who create the requisite cast of quirky characters.

Accents and colloquial expressions run rampant, but they're intriguing and sound quite genuine to my American ears. Currently, the program is wrapping up season two. (Some episodes are available online and both seasons are available on DVD. Season three starts in Britain in the fall, but a US release date has not yet been announced.)

Enough context. Let’s get down to business.

Subtle threads of knitwear and wool fabrics weave through the show. It starts in the first few minutes of episode one with several key characters wearing warm wool scarves and sweaters. As the show progresses, each episode features something woolly to drool over. Hand knit or not, these include:
Gillian’s fair isle sweater that’s intricate, colorful and suited to her active life as a sheep farmer.
Caroline’s fabulous silvery gray wool topper that’s stylish, upscale and perfect for a polished, wealthy headmistress. (I own something similar in black and brown alpaca, but I covet this version in gray.)
Caroline’s lush gray sweater made with a stitch that resembles the Sprig Pattern (Walker, Second Treasury, p. 32).
Gillian’s practical red cardigan with a simple cable accent.
Alan’s myriad pullovers, vests and cardigans that are timeless and traditional.
Raff’s fair isle vest glimpsed under a coat.
Gillian's long-sleeved gradient pullover and Kate's similar short-sleeved version.
Kate’s long cabled cardigan made with tweedy brown yarn.
The baby’s sweet pink and gray garter square blanket that will make knitters ooh and ahh out loud. (The baby's cute too.)
The program is engaging, but the knitwear definitely boosts its appeal. Watch carefully and you’ll spot many more examples than the few cited above.

I’ve said it before but will say it again: If the producers want to juice their already successful ratings and broaden international appeal, they’d be smart to provide some behind-the-scenes info on knitwear featured in the show along with facts about wool production and sheep farming in West Yorkshire.

Feed the insatiable appetite of knitters, weavers and fiber enthusiasts and Last Tango in Halifax could become the quintessential “must see TV” show for an entirely new group of rabid devoted followers.

We are legion.


For more fiber and craft talk, visit Frontier DreamsSmall Things and Wisdom in Wonder.

Aug 3, 2014

WIP | For Better or Worse

When I was about 12 years old, I talked my mother into buying me a suit.

It consisted of what I now know was a Chanel-style jacket and a very plain skirt. The original price was steep, but because it was very late in the season, it was radically reduced and almost within the range she’d set before we ventured out to shop.

Both pieces were knit from a very fine wool. The skirt was solid gray, but the jacket featured a tweedy combination of cream, camel and gray trimmed with gray edging. The clean, classic lines and sophisticated color combinations were definitely not a typical preteen look. 

I adored that outfit and wore it for years. It also revealed an essential truth: My fascination with knitted fabric and love of muted neutrals are woven into my DNA.

Fast forward to today.

For better or worse, I’ve been planning another afghan using this combination of Cotton Fleece yarn:


For better or worse, I decided to do something a bit different, so I started swatching and experimenting in the background. After all, if you dig deeply enough, there are a number of fast, easy and reversible stitches to choose from, right?


For better or worse, I finally buckled down and got started.


Yep. At the last minute, I returned to my roots and cast on for another tone-on-tone Fluted Rib afghan, this time in warm, earthy neutrals.

I simply couldn't resist the desire to see how the stitch and pattern would work in muted colors. For better or worse.


To see what others are working on, stop by Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.


Jul 31, 2014

FO | Whimsical Woodpecker

A busy little Downy Woodpecker seems determined to deconstruct the six-foot cedar privacy fence that encloses the backyard. (To read the backstory, go here.)

So far, the damage is relatively minor but visible. In an effort to prevent more damage and stop that persistent tap-tap-tapping noise, I'm trying behavior modification techniques.

Every time I catch her in the act, I shoo her away. (Yep, my nemesis is female.)

Because she's clever as well as determined, she's developed a predictable pattern: She leaves her favorite "work site" and perches on the fence, studying me intently to see if I'm serious or just shooing for the fun of it. Her look says it all: Silly woman, stop that crazy clap-clap-clapping and stop flapping your arms. You can't fly, but I can!

To prove her point, she flits away. A little time passes, then: Tap-tap-tap.

Downies are supposed to be somewhat shy but this little girl has a single-minded focus that's admirable. And annoying. For her own amusement and perhaps mine as well, she likes to pick up her mission of destruction on the opposite side of the yard in what is clearly her second favorite site.

I shoo. She flits. The whole cycle starts all over again.

In an effort to retain some semblance of sanity (and to divert my attention away from that darn noise), I tap-tap-tapped into my creative side:


My little woodchipper is clearly female, so her natural coloration is black and white. Because the knitterly version clamored for a dash of color, I valiantly resisted the urge to give her demonic red eyes and opted instead for the red crest found on males.


This whimsical woodpecker is an adaptation of my reverse miter seed stitch coaster-cloth pattern and you can see the basic two-color version here. The yarn (Cotton Fleece) and buttons are of course straight from stash.


Meanwhile, the verdict is still out. Cute? Quirky? Or completely crazy?


Let's pretend it's a whimsical mix of all three.


NB: I feel compelled to point out no Downy Woodpeckers were harmed in the making of this whimsical knit. Also, stay tuned for my upcoming tutorial: How to Train a Downy Woodpecker in 3 Easy Lessons. (Just kidding.)

For more fiber talk, visit Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.

Jul 27, 2014

Tap-Tap-Tap

A persistent background noise has been driving me crazy. 

Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap.

Is there someone at the door? Nope. Is it the roofers working on the neighbor’s house? Nope. Is it the noisy new water heater? Nope. Is it something about to melt down or blow up? Nope. (At least I hope not.)

There it is again. Tap-tap-tap. It’s like water torture without the water. Again: Tap-tap-tap. Over the course of several weeks, I finally tracked the sound to its source: a Downy Woodpecker.

The good news? It's not the water heater. The "shoulda-known-better" news? The first time I saw the culprit, I thought it was cute. The bad news? The demented creature has fallen in love with my tasty cedar privacy fence and appears to be on a driving personal mission to take it apart. One annoying and devastating peck at a time.

Because I am who I am, I went off to learn more.

Downy Woodpeckers are about the size of large sparrows and can be recognized by their distinctive black-and-white checkered coloration. The beak is comparatively short, sturdy and broad, and the males can be identified by the small dash of red located at the back of the head.

They can be found throughout much of the US and Canada. They range from coast to coast, wander as far north as Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and enjoy spending time in sunny southern California and the Gulf states. Smart birds. (To see photos and learn a few basics, go here.)

Because I am who I am, I did the only rational thing a knitter could do. I started this:


The verdict?

It might indicate I’m dealing with this cute but destructive creature in a calm and rational way by tap-tap-tapping into my creative side. 

Or it might be a sign I've well and truly lost it.

We shall see.


For more fiber and craft talk, visit Frontier Dreams and Tami's Amis.

To read the rest of this tale and see the FO, go here.

Jul 20, 2014

FO | Fluted Ridge Afghan Bright

Of the three Fluted Ridge afghans I've completed so far, this one is my favorite.

Why? It's bright, fresh and new, so it’s nearest and dearest to my heart. This week, that is. We all know how fickle I can be.


Like all my recent afghans, this was fast, easy and featured the essentials: Strip construction. Solely from stash. Reversible.

The fluted ridge stitch is the same on both sides, although in person there are subtle differences created by the alternating bands of light and dark yarns. In the photo above, the top portion of the afghan is folded over so you can see the reverse side of the stitch. (If you're in the mood for comparisons, take a look at the solid colored stitch in the almost neutral and gemtone afghans.)

The bright version is composed of four strips and each strip consists of two shades from the same color family. This strategy allowed me to use eight partial skeins and the contrasting trim brought the partial-skein total to nine. 



I had planned to spare you the obligatory shots of the assembly phase, but the photos above and below help show how vibrant the colors are. (Yep, there's a reason it's called Fluted Ridge Brights.)



Highlights
Project: Fluted Ridge Afghan Brights
Pattern: My own
Yarn: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep)
Weight: Worsted
Yardage: 900 yards +/-
Needles: US 7 (4.5 mm)
Dimensions: 28 x 40 ins +/-
Ravelry Notes: Here
Related Posts: Herehere and here

Meanwhile, my afghan addiction continues unabated. 


I’ve begun swatching for another, and knowing me, I’m sure I’ll be unable to resist telling you all about it soon. I think it will feature another slip stitch, one that's fascinated me for years. It creates two very distinctive looks and since I find both sides attractive, it meets my criteria for reversibility.

If all goes as planned, the new afghan will feature a mix of warm, earthy neutrals. It will use up another 900 to 1000 yards of stash. It will also reduce the supply of Cotton Fleece (my go-to yarn) to scraps and remainders, a prospect I still find a bit unsettling.


For more fiber talk, visit Wisdom in Wonder, Natural SuburbiaFrontier Dreams and Small Things.

Jul 13, 2014

The Frog Princess

If your world is at all like mine, not every knit project turns out precisely the way you envisioned it.

Sometimes the result is far better than expected. Sometimes the outcome is just as you imagined. And sometimes a project falls far, far short of the goal.

When the latter occurs, I'm learning to be more ruthless. Last fall, for example, I frogged this wonderfully soft Half-Braidy which I rarely wore ...



and repurposed the yarn into a snuggly, closer-fitting neckwarmer that saw near-daily use during the cold and endless winter.


For good measure, I frogged these mitts and reknit them as well.


In the hapless example below, the afghan strips were completed and ready for seaming before I finally accepted the fact blocking wasn't going to solve the fatal flaws.


The strips were frogged and the reclaimed yarn became this ...


In other instances, projects have been frogged but the yarn has yet to find its cosmic purpose.

Nimbus sweater? Frogged ...



Flair sweater? Frogged ...


but the yarn is already being swatched again.


The swatches tell the real story. 

Knitting offers many challenges and rewards. We strive to create what we've envisioned, perfect our skills and put great yarn to good use. The advantage with knitting unlike so many other facets of life is that when a project fails to meet our expectations, we have the opportunity to try, try again. 

It's impossible to point to a particular date or specific project, but one thing is crystal clear: Somewhere in my knitting journey, I crossed an invisible line and moved from the "frog-free" zone to the "frog freely" zone.

I have become the Frog Princess and for now that's fine with me.


Don't forget to visit Wisdom in Wonder, Natural SuburbiaFrontier Dreams and Small Things.