Mar 1, 2015

The Spell is Broken

You've been  patient and  supportive while I've wrestled with a severe case of startitis. From your comments, it's clear many of us confront similar challenges as we struggle to balance life, knitting and active WIPs.

It's far too soon to declare victory, but COAT weather appears to have passed, the snowball strategy seems to be working and progress has been made. Simply writing that sentence brings a significant sense of relief, one that far exceeds the modest results.

Slicing and dicing the planned multi-piece towel and cloth set into segments turned a longer-term project into what will hopefully become a relatively steady stream of small FOs. Three cloths are off the needles, blocked and resting comfortably in waiting mode. To keep the larger project moving forward, I'll start another slice this week.

The purpose of the towel-cloth collection was to create a cheerful set for the guest bath and convert a handful of stashed cotton-blends into useful items. The cloths surfaced on the needles when I was overcome by a desperate desire to work on something (anything) bright with the promise of spring.

That desire continues unabated, so I've retrieved another colorful project from stasis and am close to finishing it. (I'll bore you with specific project details another day.)

At the moment, I'm happy and relieved to report the startitis spell appears to be broken ... for now.

To see what others are making, stop by KCCOSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.

Feb 22, 2015

The Snowball Effect

There's no doubt about it, the excitement of casting on a new project is difficult to resist. Many of you have commented on this phenomenon, and it certainly helps explain why I'd planned to use this cold and snowy weekend to start an afghan. Or a sweater. Or both.

Instead, I'm launching my own version of a snowball knitting strategy.

What's that you ask? The term "snowball" refers to a popular technique for reducing debt. You focus first on the smallest balance, and once it's eliminated you tackle the next-smallest until it's cleared. And so on. Over time, these actions snowball until you're debt-free, but it only works if you stop adding to the problem by accruing more debt.

The key words there are "stop adding to the problem." On the knitting front, a recent flurry of activity had buried my knitting work table under layers of test swatches, new projects, varied WIPs, and countless design notes and sketches. With growing piles perilously close to teetering out of control, it was time for a self-guided intervention.

Whew, finally! Rather than cast on something new, I'm applying the brakes and working to regain some focus. To accomplish this, I'm targeting one project at a time.

The smallest one in the lineup was a pair of serviceable use-up-the-stash mitts. They languished for weeks at the almost-but-not-quite-complete stage, while I busily cast on other things. They're done now, and as an added bonus they're especially warm and cozy. In fact, the moment they were finished, I popped them on in their unblocked state and have worn them daily since.

The next-smallest project was a cloth and towel set. Like many of you, I'm desperate for the slightest hint of spring. Since mother nature refuses to cooperate, I took matters into my own hands and decided to make a collection of finger towels and wash cloths in saturated colors. They would brighten the guest bath and as an added bonus use up a mix of cotton blends from stash.

The full towel-cloth set may eventually get made, but the immediate goal is to divide and conquer. I opted to break it into a series of smaller efforts, and that one decision has already made a difference.

The turquoise cloth is completed, the pink one is almost finished and a variegated version is underway. By the end of the weekend, I'd like to have all three off the needles and on the blocking mat. Whenever that occurs, this part of the project will be done. 

What happens next remains to be seen. I may tackle another portion of the towel-cloth set or turn my attention toward something else. With several afghans, cardigans, shawls, wraps and various small knits in the queue, there's plenty to choose from.

There are, I think, two snowball effects where knitting is concerned. One type gains mass and momentum until it turns into an avalanche of half-finished projects. The other produces a steady stream of FOs and gradually whittles the WIP pile to a manageable size.

Many knitters are happiest when they have lots of active projects on the needles. It's a concept I comprehend but can't quite master, as this recent bout of startitis and blizzard of knitted bits have clearly demonstrated. Yet again.

Visit Frontier DreamsSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia to see what others are making.

Feb 15, 2015

COAT Weather

COAT weather has arrived, and no, I'm not talking about how cold it is or how much snow has accumulated on the ground.

I'm referring of course to the phenomenon known as "cast on all things" (COAT), a distracting but non-life-threatening condition that lurks in the shadows waiting to snare unwary knitters.

And snared I have been.

(Clockwise: cloth set; mitts; test swatches; cardigan)

Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I've been diligently swatching and casting on for all sorts of projects, so many in fact, I'm beginning to run out of the over-sized bowls I use to corral WIPs.

Some of the projects have a definite future, others are on much more tenuous ground, and let's not discuss those that aren't pictured. 

The real problem? The recent cluster of cast-ons contradicts my commitment to focus on one or two primary projects and finish them before I start more. Because my knitting time is limited, one smallish project coupled with one mid- to large project tends to offer the right mix.

Obviously, I'm way past that point. The problem is magnified by a flurry of designs that are on the drawing board and eager to leap on the needles. I've tried consoling myself with the reminder this happens to most of us at one time or another, and one day soon, I'll stumble across my misplaced ability to focus, which is undoubtedly buried under a pile of yarn or cowering in the stash cupboard.

Meanwhile, I've been eyeing this lovely Cash Vero and wondering if perhaps I should cast on a cardigan ...

It appears COAT weather might be here to stay. 

Stop by  Frontier DreamsSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia to see what everyone is making.

Feb 8, 2015

Not Lemonade

We all have our own methods for coping with life's little challenges. In my case, I'm wrestling with a range of issues that aren't particularly dramatic, but in combination they're doing a fine job of draining time, energy and brain power.

To counterbalance this effect, I've been focusing on quick, small knits and experimenting with different stitches, an activity I find strangely soothing and often surprising.

This variation on a mock rib is a good example. It's unprepossessing in solid colors ...

but it's unexpectedly attractive in two, a timely reminder that sometimes small changes make a big difference.

To test a different stitch, I cast on for another pair of simple mitts, a favorite go-to project when life gets complicated. In contrast to the last pair (luxe yarn, inviting colors), this pair personifies practicality.

The stitch is a variation on a 3x3 slipped rib. It's easy to work and fully reversible, and because it's serviceable rather than exciting, it's well-suited to a pair of workaday mitts.

The yarn is equally prosaic. The plum is a lone skein of Classic One Fifty (Classic Elite, discontinued) offset with scrap lengths of the attractive but annoying oatmeal Softwist (Berroco). Truthfully, I'll be happy to have both out of the stash.

Right about now, you're probably nodding off through sheer boredom. I should be too, but I'm not. This is precisely the type of knitting that appeals to me most at times like this.

Everyone has a different reaction when a load of lemons lands in their lap. Apparently I swatch and make mitts, not lemonade. What do you make?

Don't forget to visit  Frontier DreamsSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia to see what others are doing.

Feb 1, 2015

FO | Simple Mitts

Periodically, I go through phases where I rummage around seeking new-to-me stitches.

Whether I'm just in the mood to swatch (I do that sometimes) or have a specific project in mind, these expeditions are driven by three constants.  It will surprise you not at all to learn the ideal stitch must be:
  • Fast
  • Easy
  • Attractive
A simple 3x3 slipped rib seemed to meet the basic criteria, so I made a quick swatch to pinpoint needle size and establish a working gauge. I also discovered two added attractions:  It handles stripes well and is fully reversible. (Most traditional rib combinations are reversible, but the same isn't always true for slipped rib stitches.)

With this enticing knowledge in hand, I decided to make another pair of quick mitts:

There's nothing extraordinary about them, but I'm quite pleased with the result. The black wool-cashmere blend (Baby Cashmerino) is exceptionally light, soft and warm, and it forms a nice contrast to the variegated Happy Feet.

Fast & Easy Mitts
Pattern: My own
Yarns: Baby Cashmerino (Debbie Bliss); Happy Feet (Plymouth)
Yardage: 123 yards (+/-)
Weight: Sport/fingering
Needle: US 7 (4.5 mm)
Size: M

As an added bonus, the colors complement the Blackberry shawl ...

and the Wineberry wrap.

Every now and then, little things come together in a delightful way that exceeds the sum of the parts involved. These mitts were a good reminder that for me, simple truly does work best.

Happy Chinese New Year (Feb 4)! To knit something fun, fast and filled with potential luck, try these quick mug mats/coasters

Jan 26, 2015

WIP | Make More Mitts

Outside, the air is frigid and the ground is blanketed in snow. Inside, the air is filled with the rich aroma of homemade French onion soup and I'm wrapped in layers of knits.

It's been a busy month. The pattern for Breidan has been released and the shawl pattern is in the test knitter's hands. Several new projects are in development and later this week I intend to cast on for another afghan. 

Meanwhile, I've been craving a fast, fun and functional knit, so I rummaged through the stash and cast on for fingerless mitts to wear with the Blackberry and Wineberry shawls.

Rather than break into another precious ball of Tajmahal, I'm using my single skein of black Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino (55% wool, 33% microfiber, 12% cashmere) coupled with the last of the variegated Happy Feet (90% merino, 10% nylon)

I've opted for a slipped rib stitch, because it handles stripes well. The black yarn is soft, the variegated yarn pops and the ribs are plush, so the combination holds promise.

Every knitter has their preferred go-to project when they crave something fast and easy. Hats and socks are favorites for many, but in my world, the answer is always the same: Make more mitts.

To see the FO, click here.

Jan 18, 2015

Pattern | Breidan Reversible Afghan

In the mood for a simple knit? Love the look of cables? 

Breidan, the latest in a lineup of fast and easy reversible afghans, might well be the solution. It features cables on the front and a 2x2 rib on the back. The simple cable technique prompted the name, which comes from a Middle English word for “twist.”

The cable rib texture is extraordinarily versatile: It looks charming in soft shades, cheerful in brighter colors and classic in neutrals. Below it's shown in vibrant berry tones, hot off the needles and unblocked.

A variety of factors make Breidan an engaging project:

  • The stitch is reversible, easy to execute and easy to memorize. Better yet, it does NOT require a cable needle.
  • The strip strategy keeps your project compact and portable. It’s easy to work a few quick rows on the go, and as a bonus you can 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. It’s fast, easy and reliable, so assembly goes quickly and smoothly.
  • The pattern is simple enough for any moderately experienced beginner. It's concise but comprehensive, and it includes a basic schematic along with directions, stitch counts, yardage and dimensions for three sizes (small/baby, medium/lapghan and large/throw).
  • The pattern includes tips and tricks to make modifications easy.
  • In terms of yarn, it's particularly well-suited to yarn with a bit of memory, so worsted weight wool and wool blends are ideal.
  • The design is highly adaptable. Go classic with luscious yarn in a single color, fun with a mix of bright yarns from stash, or tailored with solid or tweed yarn.

Breidan is a quick knit, so even slow knitters (like me) could complete a compact afghan to snuggle under now while the weather's cold or as a lovingly crafted gift for Mother's Day, Father's Day or a baby on the way.

Yarn: Worsted Weight
Yarns Shown: Cotton Fleece (Brown Sheep); Four Seasons (Classic Elite, discontinued)
Needles: US 7 (4.5 mm) and US 9 (5.5 mm)
Sizes: SML (baby-lapghan-throw)
Yardage: 900 to 2000 yards (approx.)

To celebrate the pattern release, Breidan is available at a 33% discount until midnight January 25 (EST). On January 26, it reverts to full price.

Click here to purchase the Breidan pattern and view the Ravelry description. (Remember, you don't have to be a Ravelry member to buy patterns.)

Jan 11, 2015

FO | Blackberry Shawl

Earlier this week, as the latest swath of snow, wind and cold swept through this region, I finished the Blackberry shawl ... just in time, too. I've worn it every day since the last stitch was bound off.

It's the perfect size and weight to add a light but welcome layer of warmth to combat frigid temperatures. In fact I wore it around the house for days in its "hot off the needles" state with stitch markers in place and unwoven ends dangling.

By the end of the week, I'd managed to take it off long enough to weave the ends and do a fast, light blocking to ease the yarn and the stitch. 

Blackberry Shawl
Pattern: My own
Yarns: Tajmahal (Lane Cervinia; discontinued); Happy Feet (Plymouth)
Yardage: 600 yards (+/-)
Weight: Sport/fingering
Needle: US 8 (5 mm)
Dimensions: 66 x 28 ins (+/-) 

Tajmahal (black) is a luxurious blend of merino, silk and cashmere. At first it seemed odd to pair it with the nice but rather pedestrian Happy Feet (variegated), but this atypical combination helped move yarn out of stash and into productive use. 

So far, I'm delighted with the result. Blackberry is soft and cozy, large enough to wear as a shawl, and light enough to drape in folds to wind around my neck like a cowl or scarf. It's also reversible, so it's easy to grab, wrap and go.

Blackberry features the same construction as the Oyster Bay shawl and Wineberry wrap, but the contrast between the deep black and the variegated red-pink-purple is a bit more dramatic.

I was slow to embrace the concept of shawls, but when they're as warm and wearable as this one has already proved to be, I'm discovering what you've known all along: They're versatile, relatively quick to knit and a wonderful wardrobe staple.

PS: Readers and Ravelers have asked when this shawl pattern will be available. While no firm release date has been set, the pattern is currently in the process of being test knit.

To see what others are making, visit Frontier DreamsSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.

Jan 4, 2015

Year of Projects 2014

It’s that time of year where we pause to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, what slipped off the radar screen and what we hope to achieve in the months ahead. Here's a quick roundup of my 2014 knitting efforts.

Focus, Finish & Frog
In 2014, my goals were quite simple: Focus, finish and frog. With these fundamentals in mind, I decided to:
Focus on WIPs                               
Select and start new projects with restraint
Finish projects already on the needles
Frog languishing WIPs and UFOs
Frog FOs that didn’t pass muster
Donate yarn that no longer suited my preferences and priorities
This strategy helped me process (knit, frog, donate) close to 15,000 yards, a figure far more modest than what many of you achieved, but I’m okay with it.

Finished Objects
As the year drew to a close, there was one active project on the needles, a cluster of swatches for potential new projects and a number of FOs, including: 


Many of the small things shown were knit in quantities and quite a few WIPs and FOs large and small were frogged with abandon.
Designing has always been a part of my knitting life. In 2014, I took a deep breath and started formally publishing patterns rather than just outlining them here or on my Ravelry project pages.
The patterns share certain commonalities: They’re fast, easy and designed to help you make the most of yarn from stash. So far, all of them are also reversible and hopefully nearly fool-proof. 

As of this moment, five patterns are available and several more are in development or the hands of the tech editor.

When I made knitting the stash a priority, one thing was clear: All the yarn and knitting gear had to be pared down so everything fit into its designated space. I have more than enough storage for any reasonable person, but over the years yarn acquisitions far outstripped my very limited knitting time and rather slow knitting pace. Enough already.
Technically, I’m not cold-sheeping but taming the stash remains a long-term objective. At the close of 2014, my yarn fits into the designated cupboards and drawers, and all needles and tools have a home of one sort or another. Keep in mind yarn, patterns, swatches, worksheets, needles and blocking mats are always sitting out somewhere. But when the urge to tidy up strikes, it can all be stowed out of sight.
That’s progress in the right direction and I’m willing to call it a win.

The 3F (focus, finish, frog) strategy worked well, so I'm continuing it again this year. I have a high-level plan in place, but as always, it's likely I'll end up wherever the yarn and inspiration lead.

There's something particularly appealing about the start of a new year shining bright with promise and opportunity. I have one very simple wish: May this be the best year ever for each and every one of us.

To see what others are working on, visit Frontier DreamsSmall Things, Wisdom in Wonder and Natural Suburbia.