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

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.

Jan 1, 2015

A Brand New Year

As the new year dawns, I wish
all of us a year filled with light, health, warmth and joy.

And I'm here to remind you that yes, it's once again time to update the copyright statements on your website and blog.

Why bother with this? Updating your copyright statement:
  • Boosts your search engine rankings
  • Improves your online findability
  • Informs readers, followers and others that you’re current and up to date
  • Confirms you’re still actively engaged
  • Demonstrates you diligently manage your online presence

It does something else as well. It indicates you're paying attention to and staying on top of little as well as big things. This sends a powerful message to readers, advertisers, supporters and yes, search engines.

Remember using specific dates in your copyright statement tends to improve your search engine rankings. Why? Some engines are designed to search for current dates (2015) rather than sweeping statements (copyrighted from 2010 to present). The general statement is easier and requires no additional attention, but it also does little to positively affect your online rankings.

Do it now, while you're thinking about it. Otherwise, it will get lost in the flurry of tasks that accompany this time of year.

Happy New Year one and all!

Dec 28, 2014

You Might Be a Knitter ...

It must be love. 

When the godkids expressed an interest in learning how to knit, I was delighted. When they “oohed” and “aahed” over their small knitted Christmas gifts and repeated their desire to learn, I was thrilled.

Thinking about the challenge of teaching fundamentals to a brand new crop of potential knitters has motivated me to take a fresh look at this fascination with fiber. 

I made a few discoveries, and while I can’t say they will help with the knitting lessons, they’re certainly giving me some insights into my own yarn-based obsessions. (Yep, plural.)

I’ve come to the conclusion you might be a knitter if you  …       
  1. Knit shawls but do not wear them.
  2. Knit [fill in the blank] but do not wear or use [fill in the blank].
  3. Have more UFOs than Area 51.
  4. Have made an afghan for everyone you know.
  5. Made an afghan for each room in the house … including your home office.
  6. Realize yarn, WIPs and knitting paraphernalia are the source of your clutter problem.
  7. View yarn and knitting time as far more valuable than professional therapy.
  8. Invest way too many hours (and dollars) to make someone you love a hand knit item.
  9. Display yarn as d├ęcor.
  10. Conceal yarn in cupboards to disguise your addiction.
  11. Organize yarn by color, weight, fiber composition or all three.
  12. Organize yarn by future intended project (socks, sweaters, shawls, hats, household, etc.).
  13. Hear the word “needle” and think “knitting.”
  14. Have family or friends who hear the word “needle” and they think “knitting.”
  15. Have a chair you refer to as your knitting chair.
  16. Have a space you refer to as your knitting zone.
  17. Have a knitting room, stash room, craft room or studio.
  18. Have shelves, drawers, cabinets and/or tubs devoted exclusively to yarn storage.
  19. Take portable projects to appointments, kids’ events and the grocery, bank, drug store …
  20. Pack and take projects, needles and yarn on vacations and business trips.
  21. Own duplicate sets of needles made from different types of material.
  22. Have every needle size in DPNs, short straights, long straights and circulars.
  23. See the letters EZ and you immediately think “Elizabeth Zimmerman.”
  24. Struggled through foreign language classes, but you see “Ktbl, yo, p3, sl1 pwise wyif” and think, “Well, that makes sense.”
  25. Realize knitting is the only foreign language you can actually read and speak.
  26. Read patterns and stitch combos, but instead of swatching, you imagi-knit them in your head.  
  27. Find the Perfect Pattern, then make a list of modifications so it’s even more perfect.
  28. Post pictures of your WIPs, UFOs and FOs.
  29. Post pictures of your freshly reorganized yarn (needles, books, patterns, knitting space).
  30. Bought a decent camera so you could take even better pictures of your knitting (yarn, project bags, stash, etc.)
  31. Bought a dress form to model knit items … and then gave your dress form a name.
  32. Refer to “Edwina,” and everyone knows you mean your dress form.
  33. Have yarn or UFOs older than your oldest child.
  34. Have yarn you inherited from your mother, aunt, grandmother or friend.
  35. Have a jar, vase or bowl filled with tiny balls of yarn from each project.
Yikes! I don't do all these things, but let's just say many of them strike very close to home ... and this list barely scratches the surface of the wacky and wondrous ways we reveal our passion for knitting.

I have knitting sessions to plan, but clearly I got side-tracked. It's time for me to stop playing around and start figuring out a strategy.

Meanwhile, feel free to share whatever quirky things you do that indicate you might be a knitter, too.

Dec 19, 2014

One-Week Wonders

You won't find any judgment here if you're one of the many knitters scrambling to start and finish a few last-minute gifts for the holidays. I certainly understand, since I'm in the same boat.

To stave off panic, I pulled out a few of my easiest patterns to focus on fast, fun and fiberific things I could whip up in a week or less. In the spirit of the season, I thought I'd share some of them on the off chance you too are in mad-dash mode.

The three projects below meet the criteria and many of you could finish one or more of these quick knits in a few hours. Most of you have the yarn you need in your stash, and even better, the patterns are free. (My gift to you.)

Last-Minute Mitts

Worked flat and seamed, these mitts are super fast and super easy. As a bonus, they're also reversible: One side features simple two-stitch cables and the other features 2x2 ribs. The cable stitch is worked without a cable needle and the stitches fit on DPNs for maximum portability.

I’m a slow knitter, but even I can finish one mitt in an evening. Start tonight and you’ll have a pair of handknit mitts in a day or two – the perfect last-minute, one-skein gift. (I've made multiple pairs and you can click here to see what others have done.)

The design suits a variety of yarns, but for the best results, choose something with a bit of memory. The pattern is written for worsted weight, works well in aran, DK, sport and even sock yarn carried double, and includes directions for three sizes (SML).

April Showers Spa Cloth

Don't let the name confuse you, these are a great winter holiday gift. Like the mitts, they're reversible with small cables on one side and 2x2 ribs on the other. They too are highly portable, since the cable stitch is worked without a cable needle and you can use short needles.

If you're really short on time make one cloth, pair it with a pretty soap and you're done. Or knit a quick set of two or three in matching or complementary colors. (To see what others have made, click here.)

The pattern is written for worsted weight, adapts to a variety of yarns including cotton, bamboo, linen and cotton-wool blends (my personal favorite), and includes directions for three sizes (SML).

These reversible seed stitch coasters feature a strong vertical line on the front created with centered increases. They're small, fast and easy, so they're a great on-the-go project during this busy holiday season.

The directions include edge stitches that create a finished look, so simply weave in two ends and you're done. Most knitters will be able to complete at least one or two in an evening, so they're a great option if you need a small token gift or want to quickly create an entire set. Use red, white and/or green to create a classic holiday look or opt for a rainbow of colors.

The pattern is written for worsted weight, but you could use leftover sock yarn carried double or try bulky weight for something more substantial.

There's no denying reality, Christmas is only seven days away. But don't panic, there's still time. Simply dig through your stash tonight and cast on for any (or all) of these one-week wonders.

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

Dec 14, 2014

The Best Gift

Recently, I received one of the best gifts a knitter can get. No it wasn't yarn, or needles or a handcrafted treasure. It was this ...

Following a lovely, relaxed Thanksgiving dinner, the extended family was sitting around the table chatting when my youngest goddaughter poked her dad and tilted her head. (She’s a bit shy in large gatherings.)

Reading his cue accurately, he leaned back in his chair and casually remarked how much she wanted to learn to knit. The oldest GD immediately piped up and said, “Me, too!”

The youngest GD is a true newbie, but technically the two oldest ones know how to knit. When they were young, they used to spend a chunk of time with me every week or two. We’d cook, bake, draw, craft and chat.

Occasionally, we’d pop in a video, light a fire and they would wind yarn while I knit. When they asked, I taught them the basics and we spent one enjoyable Christmas season making scarves for their mom, grandmother and aunt.
They loved to go yarn shopping and feel the different fibers. They also loved untangling, which was fortunate. We bought very soft, very expensive yarn for all the projects, but when we tried to wind the yarn for the aunt’s scarf, we found a snarled mess. We should have returned the skein, but instead we spent an entire evening carefully teasing apart the tangles to salvage enough to finish the project in time for Christmas.

Back to present day. Oldest GD had cleaned out her closet and found a small WIP from long ago, but when she tried to restart it, she no longer remembered the basics. If I was willing, she said, she’d really like a refresher course.

So now, in addition to the flurry of pre-holiday knitting, I’m striving to put together a simple strategy for a series of post-holiday knitting sessions. It's a joy not a burden and I'm glowing like a Christmas tree at the prospect. 

Sometimes the best gift a knitter can get is the chance to spend quality time with beloved godkids ... and begin planting the seeds for a new generation of fiber fanatics.

PS: If you have any hints, tips or suggestions for fast and easy projects for new knitters, please share.

PPS: For the record, I have three goddaughters and one godson ranging in age from 11 to 21.

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

Dec 8, 2014

There's Still Time

The holidays are right around the corner and once again I find myself marveling at the weird and wacky mindset that surfaces this time of year.

Granted, this probably doesn’t happen to you, but it certainly happens to me:
My logical brain looks at the calendar and notes Christmas is 2.5 weeks away.
My knitter’s brain looks at the calendar and whispers, “There’s still time!”

Time for what? Good question. It’s different each year, but in this particular instance, it occurred to me there might be time to …
  • Finish the cashmere scarf above. (I’m in the home stretch.)
  • Design a pair of last-minute mitts to match the cashmere scarf.
  • Knit the mitts and have them ready for Christmas.
  • Start (and finish) at least one small knitted item for each of my four godkids.
  • Start (and finish) a few holiday decorations to add to the collection.
  • Start (and finish) a holiday tea towel and cloth set.
  • Finish the shawl that’s on the needles. (About 35% complete.)
  • Finalize the cable rib afghan pattern and get it to the tech editor.
  • Cast on a new afghan. 

And that list captures only what I'd like to do before Christmas. Clearly I’ve succumbed to a delusional state fueled by fiber fumes and the tantalizing temptation secretly spun into every strand of yarn.

In this state, it's easy to glibly gloss over many other things that must be done. Pesky things like work. And more work. (This is a busy time of year in my non-knitting world.) Decorating. Cleaning. Holiday cards. Cooking. More cleaning, cooking and decorating. Plus time with family, friends and colleagues.

My logical brain says, “Save your sanity! Trim the list!” 

My knitter's brain shouts, “There’s still time!”

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