Aug 23, 2015

FO | Color Me Blue

There was a time when my entire stash and all my knitting needles and tools fit into one small drawer. There's no mystery behind that miracle: At the time I was a highly monogamous knitter, so I picked a pattern, chose the yarn and focused exclusively on that project until it was finished.

Those days are long gone.

It's difficult to define a specific turning point, but like so many other slippery slopes the shift was gradual. Suffice it to say, the evolution from one WIP to several on the needles or in the planning pipeline meant more patterns, more yarn and more needles. Perhaps some of you can relate.

And that, my friends, is how this yarn joined the stash.

The original intent was to use it for cowls, mitts and similar accessories, but as lovely as the yarn was, it simply wasn't soft enough for the projects I had in mind. In the end, multiple FOs and WIPs were frogged, and the yarn was rewound and returned to the stash where it languished for several years.

Then inspiration struck. I was working on the bold, bulky weight afghan when it occurred to me the same modular construction might work for this yarn if I adopted a multi-strand approach

Once the idea surfaced, I couldn't wait. I swatched, cast on and knit happily while the pile of modules grew.

The entire project moved at a rewarding pace: It took two weeks start to finish and came together so rapidly, only a few pictures were grabbed on the fly. 

I'll try to get better photos soon, but in the meantime I'm relishing the results.

Afghan | Modular Blue 
Pattern: In development
Weight: Multi-stranded to approximate chunky/bulky
Yardage: 1125 yards
Needles: US 11 (8 mm)
Size: S (approx. 28 x 36 ins)
Related post: Here

This stubborn stash yarn finally found its destiny. The slightly crisp fiber that was frustrating before works perfectly in this project, giving the fabric a subtle handspun texture that's very appealing. The turquoise blue is pretty on its own, but the cream takes it to a new level. As an added bonus, the wool-silk blend lends a subtle sheen and produces a fabric light enough to use year round.

As wonderful as these qualities are, this fact stands out: This project used nearly every last yard, so for all practical purposes this yarn is gone.

And that takes us back to the starting point. 

My stash no longer fits into one small drawer, but after years of dedicated stashbusting it once again lives comfortably in its designated cupboards. Afghans can claim much of the credit: They eat yarn. They're fast, fun and easy. They're a soothing knit at the end of a harried day. They're more than mildly addictive. And for me at least, it's clear they're the ideal way to transform truly stubborn stash into something terrific and useful.

Color me blue, which in this instance is a very happy color indeed.

For more thoughts about afghans and color, click here.

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Aug 16, 2015

9 Color Combos for Guys

The search for non-fussy designs and interesting color combos for guys can be frustrating.

Because we all share a passion for fiber, it's easy to forget many highly skilled knitters and crocheters don't trust their color choices or claim they have no color sense. Others make the mistake of using trendy shades for men who are super traditional or vice versa.

There's no one-combo-fits-all solution, but through the years, I've found a handful of colors consistently appeal to most guys young and old. Whether you're gearing up for fall or knitting for upcoming birthdays and holidays, the following options aren't groundbreaking, but they'll work for virtually any item you might choose to make ranging from afghans and gloves to hats, scarves, socks, sweaters and vests.

Earth Tones
Browns, rust, orange (often with olive green)

Warm Neutrals
Brown, tan, sand

Cool Neutrals
Charcoal, grey, gravel

Navy, cobalt, true blue

Olive, sage, moss

With red or gold (and/or blue, white, cream)

In the US: red, white and blue (substitute your national colors)

If the guys you're knitting for are young (toddler to preteen), super-hero colors hold timeless appeal. Classic combos include:

Red, yellow, blue

Red, blue, white

If you're still struggling, here are a few more tips. Use crossover colors to enhance your main selection: Add a dash of yellow or gold to liven up red, white and blue. Mix muted greens with earth tones, rusty red with warm neutrals or burgundy red with cool grays. Or combine two palettes (earth tones and warm neutrals or cool neutrals and blues for example) to use in projects that require many colors.

If you're truly stumped, adopt this almost foolproof fallback strategy: team colors. Whatever sport and team your fella chooses to follow, set aside your own preferences and let his favorite team's colors be your guide.

The options above won't solve every guy-based knitting dilemma, but they'll serve as a starting point. If you're tackling a non-stealth project, sit down with the guy in question and scroll together through this post to narrow the list.

Eager to cast on but still undecided about color? Try my personal tried-and-true guy-knitting rule: 

When in doubt, make it blue.

For non-fussy guy-worthy afghan designs, check out:

For more tips, tricks and tools, click here.

Aug 9, 2015

Pattern | Color Check Afghan

Color Check is the project that launched my passion for hand knit afghans. 

It was designed to emulate the large calibration or “color check” charts that hang in print shops and design studios to make color confirmation a quick and easy process.

True to these roots, the Color Check afghan may look complicated but it's surprisingly quick and easy. In fact, if you love the look of block-based blankets but dread assembling all those bits and pieces, this design is for you.


How so?

Instead of individual squares, the blocks are worked in strips and the strips are joined to create the afghan. For instance, each of the versions shown (size M) has twelve color blocks created by working four strips joined with just three seams.



Here's a quick roundup of Color Check features:

  • The slipped stitch knits quickly, is easy to execute and produces stockinette checks on the front and a striped reverse stockinette texture on the back.
  • The colorwork is a snap, since only one color is worked on a row.
  • The strip strategy keeps your project compact and portable. You can work a few quick rows on the go and knit afghans anytime and anywhere without the weight of a full blanket in your lap. 
  • The seaming method uses a modified three-needle bind off that's fast and reliable, so assembly goes quickly and smoothly.
  • The pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. Concise but comprehensive, it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes (S/baby, M/lapghan and L/throw).
  • The handy Quick Reference guide and useful tips and tricks make modifications easy.
  • The yarn shown is a mid-weight cotton-wool blend that produces afghans perfect for year-round use. This stitch is particularly well-suited to yarn with a bit of memory so wool and wool blends are ideal, but both the pattern and stitch accommodate almost any fiber blend or weight you might choose. 
  • The design is highly adaptable and offers infinite possibilities. Opt for bright or muted rainbow hues, adopt a tone-on-tone strategy, contrast solids with variegated yarns, use a range of sandy neutrals, or pair gray with turquoise or rose for a sophisticated baby blanket.

In combination, these factors make Color Check a satisfying, speedy knit that many of you will be able to complete in a handful of weeks.


Yarn: Worsted / light worsted
Yarns Shown: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep)
Needles: US 9 (5.5 mm) and US 10 (6 mm)
Sizes: SML (baby-lapghan-throw)

Blocks: S = 9  | M = 12  | L = 20
Yardage: 825 to 1750 yards (approx.)

Creative juices flowing? 

Go ahead: Rummage through your stash, find fresh fiber at your favorite LYS, or do both. The pattern provides yardage estimates by block, strip and size (SML) to make customization easy. For quick calculations, remember each block requires about 75 yards total in worsted weight (30 MC/45 CC). 

Size S/baby consists of nine blocks, size M/lapghan has twelve and size L/throw has twenty. The pattern is infinitely scalable, just add or subtract blocks, strips or both to customize the size.


Eager to cast on?

Click here to purchase the pattern and read the Ravelry description.

In the years since I knit my first Color Check, I've made many afghans, but this one remains a favorite. Fast, fun and versatile, I can't wait to see the color and fiber combinations you use to make this design uniquely your own.

Yardage estimates above are generous. See the pattern for detailed breakouts.

Own an LYS? All patterns are activated for in-store sales.

Color Check is sometimes affectionately called the Swafghan. Why? The original plan was to make a loose, unstructured sweater, but plans change, so it became a much-loved afghan instead!

Aug 2, 2015

WIPs | Multitasking Modules

It might be a natural side effect of fresh fiber fumes, but the decision to buy more yarn to use up stash has been energizing.

Ideas for shawls and wraps continue to bubble in the background, but at the moment I'm focusing on a handful of active WIPs.

Translation: Several new afghans are in the works. (Yes, several.)

As you can see, each one is at a slightly different stage of development from new WIP to fresh FO.

Put these unavoidable differences aside, however, and it's clear these projects share certain commonalities:

Reading that short list reminds me that as knitters, we all have our obsessions. 

For some of us, it's intricate lace shawls worked in the finest yarn and needles. For others, it's socks or hats worked in interesting textures and bright yarn. For still others, it's complex cables and expertly fitted cardigans.

For many of us, it's afghans, which in my world immediately equates to modules. In addition to its inherent versatility, the modular approach offers the payoffs I crave right now:

Multitasking modules. For me, it's a combination that's impossible to resist.

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Jul 26, 2015

FO | Bright & Bold Afghan

Yarn has a mind of its own.

For way-too-many years a large quantity of beautiful bulky weight merino has lingered in my stash. A dear friend saw me admiring it in the LYS, so she gave me some as a birthday gift and I soon acquired more with the intention of making a cozy, over-sized sweater.

Over the past nine years, I've swatched, knitted, frogged, wound and reswatched this yarn more times than I care to count.

Finally, that persistence has paid off.

Once I landed on a stitch, strategy and design, this afghan flew off the needles.

From start to finish, the entire project took 4.5 weeks.

For a relatively slow knitter like me, that's remarkably fast. Even more remarkable is the fact it includes nearly a week of swatching for this project and finishing a pre-existing WIP. (To avoid a startitis relapse, I'm diligently limiting the number of projects on the needles at any given time.)

That timeframe also includes nearly a week spent weaving ends, a task I force myself to tackle slowly and carefully to make sure the back is as attractive as the front.

Some serious shawl knitting is still on the horizon, but while I sort out the particulars, it feels good to have fiber running through my fingers, streaming out of the stash and becoming something useful and appealing.

Bright & Bold Afghan 
Pattern: In development
Yarn: Korall (Laines du Nord), Torino Bulky (Tahki, discontinued)
Weight: Chunky/Bulky
Yardage: 800 yards +/-
Needles: US 11 (8 mm)
Size: S (approx. 28 x 36 ins)
Ravelry notes:  Here 
Related posts: Here and here

That may explain why, before the last ends were woven, I chose a radically different but equally stubborn yarn and began swatching for another. That afghan has also moved forward at a swift and satisfying pace. Meanwhile, two more yarn clusters have crept out of the cupboards to vie for inclusion in a third.

For me, this speedy knit offers such significant stashbusting potential, it may well mark a dramatic turning point in my ongoing efforts to wrangle the yarny hordes into submission.

And that's a tantalizing prospect indeed.

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Jul 19, 2015

Shawl Worthy

As fiber folk, many of us have an undeniable passion for shawls.

It's perfectly comprehensible. They’re the ideal way to learn new stitches, experiment with construction and play with color and fiber combinations while we also create something pretty, practical or both. Shawls, stoles, scarves and wraps are particularly popular right now, but many of us wear them year in and year out regardless of fashion trends.

Way back when, I sewed a lace shawl for special occasions and wore it often. I've also purchased shawls and stoles in varied colors, weights and configurations. For years, I admired your lovely hand-crafted versions, but I didn't knit one myself until 2012: It was a summer-weight Weaver’s Wool Mini Shawl made for my lovely Aunt K who was ill, frail and always cold. (FO details are here.) 

Since then, I've been bitten by the bug and made several more, each of which is worn on a regular basis. In fact, I’m wearing one as I write, because a shawl is the best defense against the occasionally cool morning breezes. (Today's choice: The Oyster Bay shawl shown below. The blend of wool and silk is cozy but light.)

As you may recall, earlier this summer I was reorganizing and consolidating the stash, trying to figure out what to do with an extremely varied collection of singletons, partials and long-term lurkers in fingering, sport and sock weights. This group began to coalesce.

All of the yarns are leftovers from shawl projects for which I'd bought multiple skeins to test color and fiber combinations to customize each piece to suit the recipient. The yarns at the center and top were used in dashing Aunt D's shawlette, which featured gradient silks and variegated Blue Heron with flashes of metallic gold. The solid shades were acquired for sweet Aunt K's shawl, which was worked in soft, light Wool Cotton 4-Ply (Rowan).

Knit worthy aunts and shawl worthy yarns. 

Somehow it feels like a cosmic connection. Am I the only one who sees a fresh spate of shawl knitting on the horizon?

For those who've inquired: The pattern for the Oyster Bay (above), Blackberry and Wineberry shawls is slated for release. Soon!

Jul 12, 2015

Stashbusting? 3 Reasons to Buy More Yarn

Many of us share a staunch determination to knit down our stashes.

For some of us that desire is so strong, we take the cold-sheep vow and buy no yarn until the stash is reduced to a predefined size. For others, the commitment is more flexible, so we shop the stash first but buy yarn in whatever quantities we need, when we need it.

These different approaches to stashbusting and yarn buying are on my mind for one very obvious reason: I'm poised to make several strategic yarn purchases. This is a carefully considered decision, but it took some serious effort to wrestle it to the mat. Why?

     Charlemont in action

Technically, I'm not cold-sheeping, but for nearly four years I've bought very little yarn (comparatively speaking). I don't regret any of the recent fiber investments, but in examining my overall satisfaction level, three things became very clear. I was and am happiest with those that allowed me to:
  1. Leverage the existing stash rather than expand it
  2. Complete a special project or make a gift
  3. Test a design concept in a particular color, weight or fiber
As restrained and mature as this sounds, my system is far from foolproof. Sometimes the stash grows stale and I itch to buy something new and delectable. (Remind me to tell you the the tale of the $500 sweater.)

      Morehouse Merino 2-Ply in action 

When that urge strikes, I revisit my criteria and ask the tough questions: Will it help me use yarn from stash? Is it essential to make a gift or bring an active WIP to completion? Does it allow me to more accurately test a design concept?

One yes might prompt a purchase. Two or more confirms it's a Smart Yarn Buy, offering that magical mix of fresh fiber coupled with the irresistible prospect of stash depletion, project completion, gift giving and/or design realization.

       Tern in action

Recent investments that met the Smart Yarn Buy criteria included new skeins of:

Non-fiber folks are undoubtedly raising their eyebrows in skepticism, but we know it's true: Sometimes the best way to reduce the stash is to buy more yarn.

UPDATE 1 (July 17)
Bought the first batch, a baker's dozen of cream merino from the LYS, Knitting off Broadway. If all goes as planned, this versatile yarn will help transform twice as many stash skeins into real-life FOs.

UPDATE 2 (Aug 4)
Found the second batch of targeted yarn at Hampton Knitting. All of it will find its way into existing WIPs or projects in the pipeline.

UPDATE 3 (Aug 29)
Acquired the last batch: Some Cotton Fleece and Valley Superwash bulky for projects OTN or in the works. 

Jul 5, 2015

Call of the Wool

Last summer, I donned my Frog Princess crown and devoted many sticky, steamy days to undoing a variety of projects that simply weren't working. As painful as that process can be, the end result is always quite satisfying.

I thought I'd frogged everything, but somehow I overlooked a nearly finished boxy vest worked in lovely bulky merino. I'm now systematically frogging those pieces and caking the yarn as time permits, and this is just a small sampling of what's been reclaimed.

It's peak summer in this part of the world, so I should be knitting light fibers and airy designs. Instead, I feel a driving desire to tackle this heap of warm wooliness and cast on something simple, fast and easy.

An idea is beginning to form, but it's way too soon to declare victory. First, I have to consult the yarn in question, because in the past, it's stubbornly resisted every effort to be converted into something productive.

Translation: The pile of swatches is growing.

This trend will continue, while I search for that enticing but elusive mix of yarn, stitch, needle and design that beckons to be knit.

It may be summer, but this much is clear: The call of the wool cannot be denied.

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Jun 28, 2015

Spotlight | Red, White & Blue

As knitters, we all have our quirks. One of mine (as you know too well) is an ongoing obsession with cloths and coasters in red, white and blue.
Some of this is purely practical, since the stash holds an impressive amount of red, white and blue yarn from a project that didn’t work quite as planned.

Some of this is convenience, since cloths and coasters are a practical way to test new stitches or concepts. 

Some of those experiments work (Sweet Hearts & Soft Spots).

Some of  them don't.

Some of this is therapeutic, since working on a small, quick piece is a refreshing change from larger or more complicated projects.

Some of this is laziness, since the plain red and white cloths suit multiple occasions and can be pressed into service all winter from Christmas through Valentine's Day.
Strangely enough, it turns out if you do "some of this" on a regular basis, one day you'll discover you have an entire collection of handcrafted holiday items that looks something like this. (And yes, there are more. Many, many more.)

You don't have to be American to be a passionate about red, white and blue. In fact, there are 21 countries whose national flags feature that combination, and the list is much longer if you add those with multi-colored flags.

One of these days, I'll get photos of the rest of the collection. 

For now, let me wish Canadian readers a happy Canada Day (July 1) and fellow Americans an enjoyable Independence Day (July 4). 

Summer is whizzing by so wherever you live, take time to celebrate each day in true knitterly style.

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